It’s PiBoIdMo Time!

Yay! Woo!

I do love PiBoIdMo (which, by the way, is pronounced Pie Bow Id Moe — I don’t care what anyone else says) and I recommend It to everyone!

Except for me, that is. This year I decided to (unofficially) give the NaNoWriMo thing a go. I gotta middle grade novel in me that’s just bustin’ to get out. I know Tara will be so disappointed. Or, more likely, she won’t notice or care; this is a busy month for her!

But to show my love — and to give myself  a little extra time to focus on said novel. I’m recycling the PiBoIdMo post I wrote for Tara last year. Recycling is good for the environment.




My mom has a habit of mixing bad news with the good.

“Happy anniversary!” she joyously sang into the phone. “Ten years! Congratulations!”

Before I could thank her, Mom followed up her salutation with words that were far less joyous:

“I think it’s high time you got your crap out of my house.”

Ugh. In an instant, my plan to use my parents’ home as a storage locker for the rest of my life was dashed to bits.

It was under these circumstances I found myself alone in my old room facing my childhood closet, mustering up the strength to take a reluctant trip down memory lane.

Inside were stacks of sketch pads filled with primitive drawings; old machines I, once upon a time, had a penchant for hoarding; and lousy souvenirs from equally lousy vacations. Then there were the toys – lots of them.

There was so much stuff to sift through, I was confident the job was gonna be a complete nightmare.

But it wasn’t. Quite the opposite, really.

I both smiled and winced at my homemade comic books. After reading a few, I decided that, with a little bit of tweaking (OK, maybe quite a lot to tweaking), the storylines weren’t a bad jumping off point for a new story.

I marveled at the bigger-than-a-bread-basket adding machine I got from my Great Uncle Bill. By force of habit, I removed the machine’s olive green Bakelite cover to reveal its steampunky guts. It was almost comical just how many moving parts it had. I punched a few numbers and watched the thing spring to life. In that moment, my mind filled with ideas about a kid inventor.

Then I spied my Erector set.

Shortly after this discovery, Mom strolled into the room to check on my progress. What she found was her 30-something-year-old son lying on the floor constructing a racecar of his own design.

She didn’t even blink.

“Good,” Mom said with a sharp nod. “You’re taking that home.”

Indeed I was. The Erector set, the other toys, the machines, and my primitive doodles. I was taking all of it. I had barely begun working on my closet and my brain was already swimming with new ideas.

Toys facilitate play. Play is an essential component of the creative process. There is a reason why social scientists say that The Creative Spirit flourishes in kindergarteners and begins to sputter once those same children head off to middle school. As we grow up, we voluntarily – eagerly – purge the fun stuff from our lives.

That was certainly the case with me. I still remember being a 12-year-old who desperately wanted to be an adult. I gave away most of the stuff that had once given me pleasure and shoved the rest into the far corner of my closet. I thought these actions would speed the growing up process; instead, they just made me a sullen teen with an un-fun room.

With age comes a sort of wisdom, however. Almost in tandem with the launch of my professional writing career, I began to rekindle my interest in toys. I soon noticed that my best ideas occurred when I was horsing around with a hand puppet or had a box of 64 Crayolas within arm’s reach.

I even had a Bert puppet! I was the cool kid.
I even had a Bert puppet when I was a kid! I was so cool.

Unrestrained, unselfconscious play moves my mind in new directions; moving my mind in new directions helps me to discover new ideas.

I am well aware that a lot of grownups don’t feel comfortable playing with an erector set without a grownup reason for doing so. Fortunately, many of us have children – or if we don’t, we can easily borrow some. Kids need Quality Time, and Quality Times gives us the justification we need to build with Legos, squish Play-Doh, and color Snoopy green.

You couldn’t ask for a better situation. You’re being a good parent and you’re mining for inspiration. You’re multitasking! Well done.

That kind of multitasking was exactly what I had in mind when I loaded up the trunk of my car outside of Mom’s house. I’ll bring this stuff home to my young son, I thought. We’ll play with it together. We’ll pretend together. And, in so doing, my little guy will become my unwitting picture book collaborator.

It doesn’t get more inspiring – or wonderful – than that.

Doodle Do


When I was nine I decided to have a heart-to-heart conversation with my mother.

“I want to know how to draw,” I told her.

“You can draw. You draw all the time,” she replied.

“No. I want to know how to really draw,” I said. And Mom understood.

What I had been doing up to this point was filling one sketchbook after another with silly doodles – and, well, I was sick of it. My age was almost in the double digits. It was time to move to the next level. So I wanted Mom’s help (and Mom’s money) to become a real artist and create real things that looked really real.

Mom was very supportive of such things. She signed me up for lessons and, for the next eight years, I created some nice stuff. By the time I was 18, I was skilled in charcoal, watercolor, colored pencil, and oil – and was contemplating a career as a graphic designer. I assembled a portfolio good enough to get accepted into a design program at an excellent college.

Shortly after I unpacked my stuff in the freshman dorm, however, I discovered that I was sick of art. I’m not sure why this epiphany happened right after I paid my tuition bill, but it did; my new passion for playwriting had smothered the visual arts part of my brain.

pet peeve

I am a “finish what you start” kinda guy. That is to say, I am the kinda guy who understands that virtually nobody can earn a living as a playwright. I needed a fallback career, so I continued to stumble down the design path. I sleepwalked through my classes, rushed my studio projects, and hoped the professors would be in a generous enough mood to give me a low B. OK, a C was fine, too. Whatever. As long as I had time to write.

After I graduated, I worked as a designer for four years and life was very much the way it was when I was in college: My interest in design was half-hearted and my interest in playwriting nearly obsessive.

I got fired a lot.

Eventually I left design behind for good and found ways to write full time. What a relief that was. No more visual art. Occasionally, a family member (Dad) would ask why I don’t paint anymore.

“You were so good!” he’d say. Then he’d lead me to a wall. “Come here. Look at this painting you did. Isn’t it great?”

“You’re asking me to brag about my own stuff?” I’d ask.

“You should brag. Look at it!”

“Art no longer interests me,” I explained.

That, I discovered, was only half true. No, I have not touched watercolor paper or a canvas since college, but ever since I started writing for children, my zeal for doodling has returned with a vengeance. Thank goodness for that; I found that doodling can be an important tool for the children’s book writer.

Doodling is great way to take a break from a story without really taking a break from a story. When I’m stuck or need a little motivation, I’ll often turn away from the computer and draw a character or a scene from the story I’m trying to tell. This helps me keep my mind on the task at hand. But since I’m exercising a different part of my brain, it’s refreshing, too. I’m working and taking a break at the same time. That’s multitasking!

I also recently noticed that doodling is a great way to generate new ideas – which turned out to be invaluable last November when I participated in my first Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo). Without giving too much thought to what I was doing, I filled up one sketchbook after another with weird characters and situations. Many of the drawings were just plain awful, but they suggested stories I never would’ve come up with had I relied solely on putting words on a page.

To put it another way, I found inspiration by becoming nine again.

Ta Daa!