By Lisa Rogers
There’s a good reason that “How do you get your ideas?” is an author’s most-commonly asked question.
Creative inspiration is a mysterious process that teeters on the edges of a lifetime of experiences, a piece of information, a moment of observation. When that world tilts in your favor, aha! there’s your inspiration. At least that’s how it seems to work for me. A few years ago, that tilt led to the creation of my picture book, 16 WORDS: WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS AND THE RED WHEELBARROW.
My world shifted one morning, when, as part of my breakfast routine (see my earlier New in Nineteen blogpost Breakfast is Ready, and so is My Manuscript) I opened The New York Times’ arts section. I noticed a headline: The owner of the wheelbarrow on which “so much depends” in the William Carlos Williams’ poem had been identified.
My skin prickled. The owner of the wheelbarrow! In all of the many times I had read that poem, I had never thought about who might have hefted that barrow. I wanted to know more about him and how he inspired Williams’ favorite, and most famous, poem!
I knew immediately that I had a story to write.
It had to wait. I didn’t want to rush it. A few days later, I would be embarking on a family vacation to Venice and the Italian Riviera. I cut out Jennifer Schuessler’s story, tucked it into a folder with a tiny Moleskine notebook given to me by my closest childhood friend, and let my thoughts simmer.
Then, on a train from Venice to Parma, I began to write.
I merely outlined the story, but I knew I wanted to show the respect and caring between Williams, the doctor-poet, and his neighbor and patient, Thaddeus Marshall. I imagined the two of them, each going about their business, each filling an important role in their Rutherford, N.J., community.
Rutherford’s sense of history and community is palpable. I walked the short distance between the Marshall and Williams homes. I walked to the Meadowlands Museum and examined a room full of Williams’ memorabilia: his doctor’s bag, his straw hat, his walking stick. I stood in front of Mr. Marshall’s home and imagined his garden. I stopped to see the stained-glass window in the village church, commemorating lives lost in World War I, to which Marshall contributed.
I noticed every detail possible. Evanescent inspiration became real.
The world tilted again when Schwartz & Wade Books decided this story should become a book.
Illustrator Chuck Groenink has tenderly and thoughtfully brought this story and its people to life, enriching it with his own inspiration and making it something new. I hope it inspires you to do your own noticing.
Lisa Rogers is an elementary school librarian and a former newspaper reporter and editor. Her debut picture book, 16 WORDS: WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS AND THE RED WHEELBARROW, will be published by Schwartz & Wade Books on September 24, 2019. She is a winner of the 2016 PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award. Find her at lisarogerswrites.com and on Twitter @LisaLJRogers.
By Wendy Greenley
If you want to be a writer, having no idea what to write is a big problem.
Fortunately, this has never been a problem of mine. An interview of Oliver Jeffers last year by Maya Lim resonated with me. Ideas are everywhere. Scraps of paper litter my home recording moments of inspiration. So, what’s my blank page problem?
Having GOOD ideas! Picture book worthy ideas (the age group I generally write for). Ideas that I feel passionate about, and have marketability. Because, let’s face it, some ideas are too similar to something already on the market (great minds DO think alike), some ideas are ahead of their time (when subversive veers off into downright controversial), some ideas are for the wrong age group, others don’t lend themselves to illustration, and some are just too niche for wide appeal.
My initial drafts of LOLA SHAPES THE SKY (releasing March 12, 2019!) had several of these issues--and now it's a a beautiful book. Is it some rule-breaking book unicorn?!
Sorry, but nope. It's the product of revision. Re-envisioning a plot while retaining the heart and passion that inspired the first draft. So my advice to all writers staring at a blank page--show the blank page who's the boss! Sure you can sit and stare at it, but why would you? When a page is blank, you don't have anything to work with. This is why I like paper drafts instead of computer prose. Paper feels like a draft to me and I don't hesitate to write ridiculous ideas. I cross out, circle, list options and shoot arrows linking ideas in every direction. I get something down on that paper.
If you're really having trouble coming up with ideas--you're in luck! January is #StoryStorm month. Author extraordinaire Tara Lazar has a superb annual idea-generating series (once called PiBoIdMo, targeted to picture book writers, now StoryStorm for all genres) that helps writers develop their creative spidey-senses. A FB group and past posts are online for extra support during the remaining months. It is a genuine treasure and while I didn't come up with LOLA's story as a direct result of any single post, the first draft was written during a January PiBoIdMo month when my ideas were flying! Yay, StoryStorm! Follow @Taralazar on Twitter or FB NOW so you don't miss it!
Hope you're ready to fill that blank page with some love.
I'll be blogging again for #newin19 at newin19.weebly.com and at wendygreenley.com. Follow me @wendygreenley if you don't want to miss that (or all the other new picture book releases from my #newin19 debut picture book author friends!)
Wendy Greenley's eclectic interests led her to be a dried flower artist, ice cream scooper, microbiologist, attorney, Cub Scout leader, Art Goes to School Volunteer and president of the local Friends of the Library. Now she writes full-time for children. She lived in NJ, DE, PA, England and TX before circling back to the Keystone State. She is represented by Stephanie Fretwell-Hill of Red Fox Literary. You can find Wendy at wendygreenley.com or on Twitter @wendygreenley.
Her debut picture book, LOLA SHAPES THE SKY, illustrated by Paolo Domeniconi, encourages children to find the joy of being themselves.