Every month, I share the stats of my productivity on Twitter. At the end of the year, I total everything together. In 2020, I jotted down 223 story ideas and drafted 32 stories. Wow! People have said how inspiring those numbers are and asked how I was able to accomplish such a feat. This post attempts to answer that question.
Generating More Story Ideas
First of all, let’s start with the story ideas. I participated in Tara Lazar’s Storystorm in January. It was a great inspiration for generating story ideas. You can win prizes if you particpate, but even if you don’t, the archives of the inspirational posts are invaluable! They are available at any time of the year when you are in need of inspiration. I highly recommend checking out her site.
Once the pump was primed, I kept my mind open to story ideas the whole year long. And here’s the trick. Write down EVERYTHING. No matter how small, no matter how impractical, write it down. Don’t try to edit yourself now. Say yes to everything! Some of my “ideas” were as simple as a funny word or an animal that I thought could be a good character. Some were as complex as a whole pitch. They aren’t all fully formed story ideas, but when I go back through the list, sometimes one of those tiny story sparks will flame into a fully fledged draft.
Here’s the other must-do: Write down your ideas immediately! I will stop my hubby mid-conversation to whip out my phone to jot a note to myself. Otherwise, I’ve been known to forget an idea once anything else pops into my head. And you absolutely won’t remember something the next morning if the idea comes to you as you’re trying to fall asleep at night! If you often get ideas in the shower, get a waterproof note pad. Another method would be to talk to your smart home device.
Drafting More Stories
Drafting stories is a bit trickier. Inspiration doesn’t often strike like lightning. There have been many dry spells where I didn’t feel like writing anything new. Sometimes, you have to force yourself to write. As a member of Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 Picture Book Writing Challenge, I strive to draft at least one story a month so I can earn my little badge. If it gets close to the end of the month and I haven’t written a story yet, I force myself to write SOMETHING. I go through my idea list, find the most promising idea, and start writing. If I only wrote when I felt truly inspired, my production would be far less.
Hot tip: ALLOW YOUR DRAFTS TO BE BAD. It’s easier to edit a bad draft than a blank page. Sometimes, you just have to write something that you know is not any good so your brain can work through other options later. No one has to see your first drafts. Of my 32 drafts in 2020, at least half were horrible. However, I just recently revised/finished one of those stories after letting it sit and marinate for six months! When I first drafted it, I knew there was something good in the heart of the story, but I didn’t know how to execute it quite right. But a book group discussion sparked some inspiration, and I knew what I needed to do to turn that horrible draft into something I was proud to share with my critique partners.
Finding the Time
Some people have asked how I manage to write so much. “How do you have the time?” Well, first of all, picture books are short. I’m a notorious under-writer, so my stories average probably in the 200-300 word count range. If I can draft 50,000 words of a YA novel during NaNoWriMo, then 200 words once a month is NOTHING in comparison. Of course, writing a picture book is harder than just throwing down 200 words on the page. And if you add in all the revising I do, webinars I attend, social media I participate in, I really do spend a LOT of time with my writing.
One friend asked how I find the time for all I do and here’s the answer I gave: “Ignore the kids, forgo most TV, sacrifice sleep, avoid household chores. Lack of socializing with friends helps too.” She wasn’t sure if I was joking or not. I wasn’t. Writing is my passion. It’s not my day job, so it’s something that I crave when I have free time. The problem is, I also have three small kids at home so “free time” is basically non-existent.
So what am I to do? I make writing a priority, and let other things slide. I don’t ignore my kids ALL the time, but there are times that I let them zone-out to the TV so I can write. I don’t forgo ALL TV or sacrifice sleep ALL the time or avoid ALL the chores. But I make sacrifices so that I can fit in my writing. I sneak in writing time whenever I can, even during my breaks at work. If you’re wishing you had more time to write, what’s something that you can sacrifice some of the time? You don’t have to give up everything all the time. Maybe once a week, you can find an extra fifteen minutes. Maybe you can multitask somewhere, or outsource.
But . . .
You might be thinking, “But there’s no way I’ll be able to write that much.” That’s okay. Everyone’s process is different. There are many writers who’ve written less stories than me, but have become agented and published anyway (neither of which have happened to me yet). However, if you’re reading this post, maybe you strive to write more. So maybe take a baby step in that direction.
I’ll leave you with one final thought. The great Kate Messner wrote this post about Picture Book Math. Basically, a very small percentage of those story sparks will eventually become a published book. Increase your productivity and you increase your chances of one of them becoming publishable. Not to mention that practice makes . . . well, better. The more you write, the better you’ll get, and again, your chances of getting published become greater.