Writing Picture Books – 4 Ways to Get Inspired

As I mentioned in my last post, this year I’m taking part in the 12 x 12 in 2012 picture book writing challenge. Some of the participants are using ideas they came up with during PiBoIdMo in November, which gives them a great starting point. I didn’t do PiBoIdMo since I was busy entrenched in NaNoWriMo at the time. This means I’m going into 12 x 12 without a stockpile of ideas to pick and choose from. I was lucky enough this past week to have been inspired by a particularly hot day (actually it was about three hot days in a row). Sometimes inspiration can just strike like that, other times it doesn’t. I’ve still got eleven months of ideas to find (not to mention an extra six during NaPiBoWriWee if I do that too).

So how does one go about finding picture book inspiration?

These are some of my favourite ways to get inspired:

– Observing children at play. I’m lucky enough to have two little muses running around my house and they provide fantastic inspiration. It’s hard not to find story ideas when watching children play as they have such vivid imaginations themselves. You find yourself immersed in their world and you’re brought down to their level. If you don’t have children of your own and you’re not a teacher or childcare worker, seek out places where you can watch children play: a local park; the McDonald’s playground; friends/family with children. Don’t forget to take a notepad!

– Sitting outside. I’ve always found sitting outside and just absorbing the world around me to be a great way to get inspired. Take a notepad or laptop and find a nice spot in the garden/at the park/at the beach/by the river to sit and let your senses take over. What can you see, hear, smell, taste and feel? Try to see the world from a child’s point-of-view. Is that a fairy hiding in the roses? Is that a pirate ship out at sea? It doesn’t all have to be fantasy, of course. A game of soccer could be the starting point for a story about being left out/trying your best/trying something new. If the weather is bad, try sitting and staring out the window.

– Draw on your world (aka Write what you know). I live on a farm and I draw on those farm experiences to find inspiration. A mouse in the hayshed? What if he was trying to find a new home for his family? Think about where you live and how you can draw on it. Perhaps you live in the city or by the beach or in a small neighbourhood; what unique experiences can you use in a story? Look at your world from a child’s perspective; what would they see? What about an animal?

– Go places. Go to the zoo and watch the lions/meercats/penguins. Go to the museum and imagine stories behind the exhibits (Who flew that plane and where did they fly it? Was that dinosaur shy or boisterous?) Go to the beach and observe the people/families/animals. What are their stories?

As you become inspired, just keep one important point in mind: Picture books are written for children, so when crafting your character (whether human, animal, monster or alien) make sure your character has a child’s perspective. Children should be able to relate to the character and the character’s situation.

How do you get inspired? I’d love to hear where you find inspiration when writing picture books.

Picture: omar franc via stock.xchng

12 thoughts on “Writing Picture Books – 4 Ways to Get Inspired”

  1. These are great places to get inspiration, Jo! I don’t have regular access to kids, but I do have regular access to the kids I’ve encountered over the years who still populate my memory and imagination, and sometimes thinking about them jumpstarts the creative process.


    1. It’s great you can still call on those memories for inspiration. When I’m writing for older kids I try to call on my memories of teaching primary school and working in after school and holiday programs.


    1. Reading picture books often inspires me, too, whether browsing through the library or reading with my children. And nature is one of the reasons I like to sit outside to find inspiration–something about being surrounded by nature sparks the muse.


  2. Great post! I live in NYC and am a nanny…so inspiration is all around. Remember, just because PiBoIdMo is in November, doesn’t mean you can’t strive to jot down ideas any day of any month! You could make your own PiBoIdMo in the spring. πŸ™‚


  3. I have four kids six and under, so my problems is too much inspiration with too little time! I also didn’t do PiBoIdMo, so we are heading into this with the same stockpile. We can do it, we can do it! At least that’s what I keep telling myself. πŸ™‚


    1. I have two aged five and under (with another due to arrive very soon), so I can relate to the time problem! I’m sure we can both do this. At least we have the perfect subjects to test out our ideas on πŸ™‚


  4. Great ideas. I just unpacked photo albums with funny pics.
    I have afew stories nearly done. I just need to get pics for those an dlearn phot shop or GIMP. thanks for the inspiring post. Malika


    1. Photos would be a great way to find inspiration. I use Paint Shop Pro for graphics and photo editing, which I think is a bit more user friendly and easier to navigate than Photo Shop, though it doesn’t have some of the elements Photo Shop has, like selective colour. Good luck with finishing your stories.


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