Cultivating curiosity, Writing

PiBoIdMo: The Nonfiction Perspective

My PiBoIdMo Notebook

It’s PiBoIdMo! In layman’s terms, that’s Picture Book Idea Month, brought to you by children’s author Tara Lazar. The challenge involves coming up with one picture book idea each day for the month of November. It’s a fun way to get your creative juices flowing and hopefully come up with a few executable (is that a word?) picture book ideas.

I have a special notebook I’m using. My friend Sheyla bought this for me when I decided last year to write for children. Each day’s idea gets its own page, so I can do a bit of research and flesh out the ideas when I have time. I already have one I’m pretty excited about. Perhaps I’ll make it my 12 x 12 manuscript for the month.

Honestly, I am hardly ever short on ideas. It’s often a case of too many ideas and too little time. I have to sift through my ideas and see which ones I can execute and which ones have a wide enough audience.

Even though I write nonfiction, I bet many of my ideas come from the same places as those of fiction writers. Here are some places I’ve found ideas:

  • Books (mostly nonfiction). My very first children’s book idea came from a footnote in PACKING FOR MARS.
  • Articles: newspapers, magazines, online. The truth is often stranger than fiction. A capybara loose in a waste water treatment plant once inspired a piece.
  • My kids. Sometimes it’s things the things they say. Sometimes it’s the way I have to explain things to them when they ask, “Why?” or “How?” Children are an endless source of inspiration.
  • Fiction picture books. Today’s idea came when my six-year-old cuddled in my lap. (He is so big!) It reminded me of the classic picture book, LOVE YOU FOREVER, which was a recent topic of discussion among some 12 x 12 writer friends. A few more things fell into place, and voila!
  • Museums and other cultural institutions. I’m a real tourist. When we visit somewhere, I take as many pictures of the exhibit signs as I do of my family. There are always interesting tidbits I can mine for ideas later. Which reminds me, I have a few pictures from this summer that I haven’t looked at…

I’m curious, if you are a fellow writer, where do you get your ideas?


12 x 12 x 12

What’s that, you might be thinking? A cube with a volume of 1728? The size of a new ottoman I’m buying? A 3D scrapbook page? Guess again.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the fact that I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. I do set goals, but I create them organically throughout the year when opportunities arise. Well, a once in a lifetime opportunity popped up last week: the 12 x 12 in ’12 Picture Book Writing Challenge, and I jumped on in.

12 x 12 in ’12 is the brainchild of pre-published author Julie Hedlund. Two years ago, Julie brainstormed 30 picture book ideas during the month of November as part of the PiBoIdMo challenge. However, Julie realized that she only completed one manuscript from the 30 ideas she’d come up with. Thus, a new challenge was born: write 12 children’s picture book manuscripts in 12 months in 2012.

More than 300 people have signed up for the challenge from published authors and illustrators to newbies like myself. There are tremendous benefits: an ongoing support group, opportunities to form critique groups, prizes that include manuscript reviews by published authors. We work on the honor system. No one has to post a manuscript anywhere, we’re just honest with the group about whether we’ve reached our goal for the month. Manuscripts don’t have to be publication ready, but they do have to have a beginning, a middle and an end.

For me, the greatest plus  of accepting the challenge has been a shift from “trying to be a writer” to “being a writer.” Julie Hedlund calls herself a “pre-published author,” a term I adore, and one I’ve adopted for myself. Julie’s completed books, she just hasn’t acquired an agent or a publishing house…..yet. I liken writing to running. If you lace up your shoes and get on the treadmill or track to run, you are a runner. You don’t have to complete the Boston Marathon to be a runner. Writing, like running, is a process. If you put pen to paper or finger to keyboard, you are a writer regardless of whether you achieve publication.

I’m excited about this opportunity to write the types of children’s picture books I love: activity-based science books, biographies of scientific heroes and so forth. And I’m sure by December, they’ll be at least one or two fiction pieces in the mix. At this rate, I might even be pitching agents at the August  SCBWI conference ( Society of Children Book Writers and Illustrators) a full year ahead of my previous goal.

Do any aspiring writers want to join me for 12 x 12 x 12? You have until Jan. 29th to officially get in the game. Have any parents, teachers or grandparents seen holes in the nonfiction children’s book market that need filling? I’d love to hear your book ideas. If you don’t want to write them, I just might.