Fortunately for me, I am a never ending well of picture book ideas. I've never experienced writer's block. I don't think I'll ever experience writer's block. The ideas are percolating in my brain constantly. So much so, in fact, I have to carry a journal with me every where I go, just so I don't forget a great idea.
Having said that, I think there's a big reason that I'm a never ending well of ideas, and the reason is simple-I'm completely surrounded by kids 24 hours a day. Kids at home. Kids at school. Kids at the store. Kids at the park. Kids! Kids! Kids!You get the point.
So the question is this, what do you do if you're NOT constantly surrounded by kids and you're a picture book author? How do you break through that wall and get ideas flowing? Below are my 5 suggestions.
1. Volunteer or substitute teach at a school. If you can afford to do this, the ideas will hit you from all sides. Once, I was talking to a kid about his overflowing desk and listening to the tale of how someone took his homework( NOT, he just lost it); a minuter later, I have the idea of a prankster desk fairy who steals children's homework outlined in my mind. The children believe that that they're being pranked by a fairy, and they set out to prove it to their doubting teacher. Funny, right? But if I hadn't had that simple, yet totally mundane experience, I wouldn't have had that idea.
Not to mention(fyi-my favorite phrase), volunteering in a school is a great way to get feedback from your future readers. I test out stories all the time with my kids. And the funny thing is this, sometimes they actually give me ideas that I have never considered. Once, I was reading a story from a father's perspective and one of my 2nd graders said, " You know, if you change it to mother instead of father, you would have a perfect rhyme with the word other." I know. Genius, right? It amazes me to this day that I hadn't thought of it, yet that 7 year old did.
2. Volunteer for story time at the public library, or local bookstore. Those places are always on the hunt for readers for story time. And maybe after you read a book of their choosing, they'll allow you to read one of your stories. It's worth a shot! Not to mention, (told you it was my favorite phrase) you'll be honing your presentation skills. Some day you're going to want to get paid to do author's visits. This is your chance to see what works and what doesn't, in a low pressure environment.
3.Read children's books, not just books on writing. This seems like a no brainer, right? But sometimes, I wonder if people really do this. Sometimes, I think that people try to cheat their way through writing a picturebook. They just don't get how important it is to do the research. And as a result, their stories seem tired and outdated.
My suggestion, pick timeless and current, bestselling books. Also, pick books with a strong child's voice, even if it's not a picture book. I, personally, love the Junie B. Jones series. Barbara Parks is brilliant! She channels her inner 5 and 6 year old better than anyone I've read. I, also, love the Fudge series by Judy Blume. Fudge, like Junie B, is hilarious. When he goes through his money/miser phase, I laughed til' I peed(figure of speech, I'll never tell if I really peed). And when I became a parent and read it again, I enjoyed seeing how his parents reacted to his crazy phases. Every good children's writer owes it to themselves to read these books. They WILL make you a better writer, or at least appreciate good writing.
4. Kid watch.(Sorry men, I hate to discriminate, but this probably isn't your best research strategy. This research strategy is best for females, preferrably ones that resemble grandma.)And be sure to 'kid watch' in a non scary, non stalkerish kind of way. Taking out a notebook and staring at a child, will freak the soccer moms out.In fact, they may call the cops. This strategy is only useful if you happen to find yourself sitting on the subway or a bus one day, and a child is sitting beside you. In this situation, it's totally normal to glance over at the child to see what he or she is doing. Is he or she reading a book? If yes, what kind of book? If no, what are they doing? Are they pretending to be a monster, or playing with a certain toy? If you take a quick peek, in a non threatening way, it won't wake the sleeping bear that is their mother. But if that mother happens to make eye contact with you and look wary, for-the-love-of-Pete, smile at her. Maybe, even talk to her. If you don't, she could pounce on you at any moment. Be forewarned.
5. Watch Cartoons and kid shows. They're funny. The kids love them. And they'll tell you anything that you want to to know about what's in right now. It's a perfect way to research kids and what they like. My favorite shows span from Spongebob to the Wizards of Waverly Place. And today, I spent the whole morning watching How To Train Your Dragon-twice. I mean what's not to love about dragons? They're like fire breathing, oversized dogs. Who wouldn't want to live in a viking village with a dragon pet? I'm just sayin'. Brilliant!
So that's it, five strategies on how to break through the wall of writer' block and get those ideas percolating. Feel free to chime in if you have another strategy that might help others, too. Together, we can change the world of picturebooks!
3Ws – Susan Bernardo & Courtenay Fletcher
15 hours ago