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It’s amazing how many story ideas you can miss if you’re too busy to jot them down before they fly away. Mine often hit when I’m driving, about to sleep, or in the shower. Luckily, I’ve been able to get most of them into notebooks or on my laptop. Whew!
I recently realized that I didn’t have a NaNoWriMo idea for this November. I know there’s plenty of time, but I love being able to jot down notes, flesh out characters, run it through Joyce Sweeney’s Plot Clock, and be as prepared as possible when November 1st comes (especially since I participate in PiBoIdMo that month, too). I had thought of writing a sequel to my latest NaNo novel, but realized it isn’t a good idea yet. I’ve been busy revising older MGs after having some major ‘aha’ moments through classes and conferences, and have only revised part of that manuscript so far. I was planning to tackle it next…but a brilliant new idea for the beginning of my first MG hit me recently, and I’m dying to play around with it after I finish polishing up my MG, Mom Wars.

While I was reading The One and Only Ivan (which is a totally amazing book that you should all read—I was so emotionally invested in those characters and their heartbreaking story) it sparked an idea for a middle grade novel, in a style I never thought about trying before. It’s a little scary, but I think I can still showcase my heart and humor and can’t wait to play around with the idea to see if it might work for November. It’s wonderful how reading can broaden your writing. I never had considered writing fantasy, and came up with an amazing idea a while back while reading Libba Bray’s Rebel Angels in a room filled with flickering candlelight during a hurricane. Whenever I try a new genre, the learning curve is huge! It can take much longer to figure out how to make my voice and humor work…but I love experimenting and pushing myself to grow as a writer.

Sometimes, inspiration can be found in unexpected places. I went to an amazing novel retreat, and came home with tons of ways to strengthen my novels. What I didn’t expect was to have a major ‘aha’ moment while eating a meal with two awesome editors and some writers—for a picture book! Even though the focus was only on novels, the conversation sparked an idea for a picture book that is shaping up to be one of my favorites. And I think it could be really marketable, too!

Novels take so long to write and revise, that I sometimes neglect my poor picture books. I’m great about making time to revise them, but can go long periods of time without writing new ones if I’m not careful. Challenges like PiBoIdMo and the 12 x 12 Picture Book Challenge help a lot. For years, I’ve been participating in Paula Yoo’s NaPiBoWriWee. The goal is to write one new picture book draft a day for seven days (from May 1st through May 7th). Paula has all kind of inspirational blog posts from herself and other writers and illustrators. And you can win prizes, too! Although  having seven brand new manuscripts to mold into shape is an awesome prize by itself.

I’ve been going through my lists and fleshing out the ideas, and hope to Plot Clock as many as possible before the 1st (yikes, time is running out). So…who is going to join me?

If you want to join but don’t have a clue what to write about yet, you can start by thinking about your own childhood wants/needs/fears, or seeing what your own children (or other children in your life) experience. You can come up with a unique character and figure out what kind of conflict he or she can have. Brainstorm creative ways you can retell stories. Just keep your eyes, ears, and heart open at all times, and the ideas will come. J

Here’s a link to a post I put up on From the Mixed-Up Files…of Middle Grade Authors a while ago, called How To Find Great Ideas.

I’ll also paste part of a blog post I wrote that highlighted some things that helped me the year I came up with 87 PiBoIdMo ideas in one month:
Here are a few tricks that helped me come up with so many ideas:

* I looked for inspiration online, like Jean Reidy suggested.

* When the ideas seemed to slow down a bit, I created characters I'd love to write about, which sparked several of my story ideas.

* I used Tammi Sauer's suggestion to come up with settings and brainstormed what could go wrong in each one.

* I also used the suggestion from Aaron Zenz to come up with story ideas after looking at pictures drawn by kids.  

* I wrote down all the possibilities that hit me.  But I didn't want to have those tiny nuggets sprinkled around my more fleshed out ideas, so I created a section at the bottom of my file for random thoughts.  Some of them are just titles, a funny phrase...anything I think I might be able to use in a future manuscript.  The amazing thing is that I fleshed out many of my random thoughts throughout the month and had to move them into my main file.  I happy danced every time that happened.  The ideas started off so small, I probably would've forgotten about them if I hadn't jotted them down.  For all I know, some of them could end up in bookstores in the next few years! 

How do you come up with ideas for new books?   
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( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 27th, 2013 01:50 am (UTC)
I find ideas pretty randomly. Often, I think of something while watching an educational video with the kids or a particular phrase will spark something for me. :) I really should mine my own childhood more though!
Apr. 27th, 2013 01:57 am (UTC)
Re: ideas
Phrases and videos spark ideas for me too, along with books. It really is amazing to dig back into my childhood memories and see what I can use in my manuscripts. An editor led an exercise during an SCBWI workshop where we had to write about the first friendship we remember and it sparked so many amazing story ideas for everyone.
Apr. 27th, 2013 02:21 am (UTC)
Re: ideas
Ideas really are everywhere...it's just sometimes hard to see them. :) That sounds like a terrific workshop!
Apr. 27th, 2013 09:08 pm (UTC)
Re: ideas
So true, Teresa. :) I love how these challenges help open our eyes.

It was a terrific workshop! Tamar Brazis led it. I also took an incredible Picture Book Intensive with Alexandra Penfold and Lisa Wheeler. I'm always using tools from there, especially Alexandra's interview to help flesh out characters and the way Lisa taught us to analyze published picture books.
Apr. 27th, 2013 09:43 pm (UTC)
Re: ideas
I'll keep an eye out for any workshops that they might lead at our local SCBWI events!
Apr. 27th, 2013 03:27 am (UTC)
picture book ideas
A lot of my ideas come from day dreams and night time dreams and pictures I come across on the internet...

Great post!

Donna L Martin
Apr. 27th, 2013 09:10 pm (UTC)
Re: picture book ideas
Thanks, Donna. Wow--it's wonderful that you have such vivid dreams and day dreams (and that you're able to save those ideas before they fly away).
Apr. 27th, 2013 05:26 pm (UTC)
Travel gives me ideas. At least that's what I tell my husband and he doesn't mind indulging me. :-)
Apr. 27th, 2013 09:11 pm (UTC)
LOL! That sounds like a perfect excuse to travel. I love visiting new places, too. You never know when they'll work their way into a manuscript.
Apr. 27th, 2013 05:47 pm (UTC)
I often find ideas in those small, filler-type pieces in the newspaper (yes, I still read the paper). Sometimes all you need to do is add a "what if." Also, pictures in magazines, even in ads, can spark an idea. And don't forget your past. One book I'm writing is based on the year I spent in sixth grade in very urban Philadelphia--quite the change from suburbia! Aren't we lucky to be writers!

--- Michele Ivy Davis
Apr. 27th, 2013 09:16 pm (UTC)
Re: Ideas
Wow--thanks for sharing how you often find ideas. I have to admit that I rarely read the newspaper, but I went to a workshop led by Libba Bray years ago, where we had to reach into an envelope and pull out a newspaper heading and write a story based on it. I was shocked by how powerful mine came out, and loved the samples others read out loud.

It's great that you're able to draw on your past, too. I've done this a lot (more in my MG than my picture books though--those are often sparked by my daughters--my girls have given me the idea for several MGs, too).

That 'what if' question truly is magical! And yes, we definitely are lucky to be writers. :)
Darshana Khiani
Apr. 29th, 2013 12:32 am (UTC)
Great post Mindy. Best of luck with all your ideas!
Lot of good stuff in here.
Where do my ideas come from. My kids, posts/pics from fellow parents on the web. news articles, national geographic pics. lately i found this blog site Oddity Central, which has odd stories from around the world.also found a site Kid World Citizen for multicultural ideas.
Apr. 29th, 2013 08:56 pm (UTC)
I tend to get ideas from everywhere. Sometimes they come fast, and other times very slowly. I tried PiBoWriWee (or whatever it is! LOL) last year. I did okay, but I'm don't think I'm participating this year.
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )


Mindy's head shot
Mindy Alyse Weiss
I write humorous middle-grade novels with heart and quirky picture books.

I'm an Administrator on the SCBWI Blueboard, the FL SCBWI Newsletter Editor and Critique Group Coordinator, and a proud member of From The Mixed Up Files...of Middle-Grade Authors

I've been married for twenty years and have two beautiful daughters, an adventurous Bullmasador adopted from The Humane Society, and an adorable Beagle/Pointer mix pup who was rescued from the Everglades.

I've been published in Highlights three times and placed in the 80th Writer's Digest Competition.


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