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by Rebecca Gardyn Levington

When people ask what I do for a fun, I tend to be brutally honest:

I have playdates with words!”

Sure, I get some strange looks (I get a lot of those anyway), but it’s the truth! Playing with words is my favorite way to spend the day.

I love the sound and rhythm of words and how they can come together in new ways to create a specific mood or emotion. I enjoy puns, idioms, lyrical language and trying on different points of view. I love writing in rhyme because, to me, a rhyming poem or picture book is one big puzzle. When, after hours of tinkering, I’m able to uncover the perfect word that exactly encapsulates the meaning and feeling I’m after AND perfectly slides into my meter, I get SUCH a high! (Anyone else?!)

And when I stop to think about it (as I did to write this blog post) I realize that most of my picture book manuscripts began as poems, and most of those poems were created during a playdate with a single word.

Take my debut picture book, BRAINSTORM! (illustrated by Kate Kronreif), for example…

There I was, Butt In Chair, waiting for my Muse to arrive (she is, like me, usually running late) when I began brainstorming about how weird the word “brainstorm” sounds. (You know how the more you think about a word, the weirder it sounds?)

And then it began raining outside and I thought: “So now, I’m brainstorming about ‘brainstorm’ in a rainstorm!” (It was very meta). And that led me to wonder what a “brain-storm” might look like? Brains falling from the sky?….um, eww… Or maybe…. IDEAS falling from the sky?!”

KER-PLINK!

 Suddenly all these images of a child playing outside in a literal storm of ideas, pictures, story titles, themes, nouns, verbs, characters, beginnings, middles, endings, etc. completely flooded my mind (pun absolutely intended).

Before I could grab my umbrella, I had a picture book on my hands!

The idea for my upcoming picture book, WHATEVER COMES TOMORROW (illustrated by Mariona Cabassa), was similarly sparked during a word playdate.

For the last three years, I’ve participated in a Poem-A-Week Challenge with three of my amazing critique partners. And in late November 2019, our weekly prompt word was: “Surprise!”

I began my playdate by thinking about all the unexpected surprises we experience in life and how we never know what tomorrow might bring.

I jotted down this stanza:

Tomorrow may bring thunderstorms,

or snow or sunny skies.

Tomorrow may bring visitors.

A gift. A big surprise!

The poem started out as a simple list of musings about all the random surprises life throws at us. But pretty quickly (by drafts two and three) I found my thoughts going much deeper.

I thought about how I personally dislike ANY surprises (and did so even as a child). And when I considered why, I realized that my dislike of surprises is very much connected to my struggles with anxiety and fears of the unknown.

And thus, WHATEVER COMES TOMORROW (after many, many drafts) turned into a poem picture book about managing all those worried feelings. It is essentially a mantra written to myself and to other kids (and adults) like me, a reminder that we have faced and overcome many hard things in the past, and we will continue to do so in the future. Whatever comes tomorrow, we will find a way through. We will journey on.

The word “surprise,” by the way, was cut in later drafts, but if it wasn’t for that initial word playdate, I would never have written what will soon be my second published book!

So, now it’s YOUR turn to plan a playdate with a word! Here’s your assignment:

Step 1: Pick a Word, ANY Word!

 Don’t think too hard! If you have trouble, open a dictionary at random and point with your eyes closed, or use a word generator like this one: https://randomwordgenerator.com/.

Step 2: Try One of These Exercises…

  • Set a timer for 2 minutes. Without lifting your pencil, write down everything your word reminds you of. After the timer goes off, search your list for any seeds of ideas!
  • Plug your chosen word into Rhymezone.com and write down on a piece of paper all the words that rhyme with it. Often rhyme pairs spark associations that lead me to unusual or interesting stories.
  • See if there is an idiom, pun, or saying that contains or is related to your chosen word. I get many ideas this way. I love this search tool for finding idioms: https://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/cheer
  • Determine what part of speech your word is, then randomly pick two additional words from two other parts of speech. Ex: if your word is a noun, pick a verb and an adjective. (You can use the word generator above for this). Now, brainstorm a story around those three words.

Okay Storystormers, I’ve just one last word for you… THANKFUL! This is my 7th year participating and I am so thankful to be here on this journey with you all.

Wishing you a HUGE DOWNPOUR of ideas this month (and all year long!)

 


Rebecca Gardyn Levington is a children’s book author, poet, and journalist with a particular penchant for penning both playful and poignant picture books and poems – primarily in rhyme. Her debut picture book BRAINSTORM! (Sleeping Bear Press, 2022) hit bookstores last summer. She has six more rhyming picture books being published in the next two years, including WHATEVER COMES TOMORROW (Barefoot Books, March 7, 2023), AFIKOMAN, WHERE’D YOU GO? A Passover Hide-and-Seek Adventure (Penguin Random House/Rocky Pond Books, 2024), and I WILL ALWAYS BE… (HarperCollins, 2024). Rebecca’s award-winning poems and articles have appeared in numerous anthologies, newspapers, and magazines. She lives in the suburban jungles of New Jersey with her husband and two boisterous boys. Find out more about Rebecca at RebeccaGardynLevington.com. Follow Rebecca on Twitter @WriterRebeccaGL and Instagram @RebeccaGardynLevington.

Rebecca is giving away THREE prizes: a copy of BRAINSTORM! (US), a copy of WHATEVER COMES TOMORROW (US, when it releases on March 7th), and a 30-minute Ask-Me-Anything Zoom Session!

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm 2023 participant and you have commented only once on today’s blog post. ↓

Prizes will be distributed at the conclusion of Storystorm.

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