How to Brainstorm Ideas for Your Children’s Book

There have been many times I have struggled to adhere to the “write everyday” practice.

I mean, I often have work projects that require me to compose words into some kind of organized fashion. So I am usually writing everyday in some form.

But there’s also the practice of writing everyday toward some goal. Like writing a children’s story, for example.

I would dutifully sit down and set a timer for anywhere from eight to 30 minutes, and try to write. 

And have no idea what to write about!

A writer’s worst enemy: the blank page

If You Want to Write For Children, You Need a Story Idea

I realize this is kind of a no-brainer, but the first thing you need if you want to write for kids is something to write about.

It’s the first step in this handy flow chart that you may or may not have seen already. (If not, you can take a look here).

Many of you may already have a great story idea. You might be inspired by something from your life, or from your family’s lives, that you would like to share. Or perhaps your child has a quirky habit that triggered an idea for a story (like only wanting to sleep on the floor. True story!).

What if I Don’t Know What to Write About?

But when nothing comes to mind after “Once upon a time…” don’t despair! There is inspiration everywhere.

Here are a few helpful tips for moving forward and not getting stuck on Step One.

Stop Trying to Think of Ideas

Writers Digest has a good post on Senior Literary Agent Paula Munier’s book, The Writer’s Guide to Beginnings that shares some ideas for how to get  those brainstorming juices flowing. 

One of my favorites is the tip to do an activity (NOT writing) that uses your conscious mind, but frees your subconscious to wander and explore. Apparently author Agatha Christie found washing the dishes as the best time to plot her stories. I often get my best ideas while in the shower (I really must get one of the waterproof notepad things!) or driving (but turn off that radio or podcast!). 

Get ready to write down ideas!

Hang Around Kids

I don’t know about you, but I find my kids to be a constant source of entertainment and inspiration. 

When they were younger, they were always saying funny things, asking lots of questions that I didn’t have answers to, and going through life milestones that made me think, “there should be a children’s book about that!” 

The problem is, I didn’t write anything down.

Some things were so noteworthy, I would think there was no possible way I would forget them. But I did not account for my brain being in such a constant state of overload that it simply had to offload lots of great memories to maintain my sanity.

So if you have kids, or are around them a lot, then write those gems down

And if you are not around them so much, try to take advantage of opportunities to observe them whenever you can. Even watching them while waiting to board your flight at the airport can be a surprisingly rich source of material.

Pay attention–there could be a story idea here!

Kidlit Author Resources for Brainstorming

Within the children’s writing community, there are many authors organizing challenges and events to help writers get their idea machine in gear. Here are a few to look out for:

Storystorm

One really awesome  resource for brainstorming is kidlit author Tara Lazar’s Storystorm challenge. This annual event takes place in January of every year. Writers sign up to participate in this free event, and pledge to come up with 30 story ideas in 30 days. There’s lots of support and camaraderie involved every day, and Tara keeps things fun and offers LOTs of prizes for those who complete the challenge. 

12×12 Picture Book Challenge

In 2012, author Julie Hedland launched the 12×12 Picture Book Challenge as a way to build a community of writers and help them come up with story ideas as well as polished manuscripts. 

The year-long challenge encourages writers to create one manuscript a month, with the goal of having 12 by the end of the year. There are two paid membership levels that give you access to many great benefits, such as monthly webinars and feedback on your manuscripts from your peers and published authors. The higher membership level also comes with opportunities to submit to agents. Registration takes place every January and February.

NF Fest

Now might be a good time to put in a plug for writing nonfiction for kids. 

Most people who are interested in writing for children are wanting to write fictional stories. 

And that’s fine. But if you enjoy nonfiction, you may want to consider exploring writing a nonfiction book for kids. 

One reason is that the market for children’s nonfiction has been seeing some growth in recent years. Publishers Weekly reported sales of children’s fiction was down from 2017 to 2018, but UP for nonfiction. It means nonfiction can provide more opportunities to get published in a less crowded market. 

Courtesy of NPD Group

Okay, back to NF Fest!

This is not exactly a challenge to generate ideas, but it certainly helps those interested in writing nonfiction polish any ideas they have. This month-long challenge, which ran for the first time in February 2020, is described as a “crash-course in writing nonfiction for children.” 

Lots of insight and tips are shared each day in February by authors and others in the nonfiction kidlit industry. For those who participate actively, there are lots of great prizes. And just like Storystorm, the entire event is free!

50 Precious Words

Kidlit author Vivian Kirkfield is a huge champion of aspiring children’s writers, and in 2016 she decided to create a different kind of challenge. With picture book word lengths trending shorter, she thought it would be fun to see how well people could craft full stories–using only 50 words.

Her free annual event, which takes place in February/March each year, is a great way to muster up some inspiration and come up with a quick story. Of course, writing an entire story with a beginning, middle, and end with only 50 words is pretty darn challenging! 

Vivian’s contest this past year garnered almost 400 entries! She makes it fun and exciting, and she offers loads of encouragement. There are also tons of great prizes, so there is plenty to get you motivated to participate.

And once you have some ideas to work with, you can move on to the next step.

No, it’s not starting to write. Not yet!

Want a FREE copy of my Resources for Aspiring Kidlit Writers? Click here!

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