By Elizabeth Gilbert Bedia
One of the most common questions authors are asked is where the inspiration for their stories comes from. Depending on the story – the answer may be simple, or it may be complex. Finding inspiration can be as simple as observing the world from your front window or it may be as complex as digging deep into your subconscious. My latest picture book, Arthur Wants a Balloon, was inspired from memories I had of my own children and their ability to express empathy and hope during tough times. Are you seeking inspiration for your own children’s book? First, brava! That is fantastic and I am rooting for you. Second, what are you waiting for – inspiration is everywhere!
Here are a few tips to finding inspiration for your children’s book:
1. Read - Great writers read. Plain and simple. Why? Reading and writing go hand in hand. I write for children, so I read lots and lots of children’s books. However, I also continue to read fiction and nonfiction for adults. Inspiration for your children’s book can be drawn from anything you might read. And the bonus - reading inherently makes for better writing. So, grab a book and get reading.
2. Remember – Do you ever see a photo of a particular place or pick up an object, and the memories start to flood into your brain? Memories can serve as wonderful forms of inspiration for stories. Many authors, including me, look to their own childhood memories for inspiration for their stories.
3. Look – I’m an observer. Are you? I love to watch people, animals, nature, anything really. Amazing things happen all around us every single day. They can be or small, and they could be just the perfect inspiration for your story.
4. Listen – Are you a good listener? When having a conversation with a friend over dinner or even with a complete stranger in the grocery store - do you actively join in the conversation? Do you ask questions and take the time to truly listen? People, especially children, are fascinating. Everyone has a story.
5. Breathe and Believe – Take time out and believe in yourself. Give yourself permission to breathe and seek out inspiration. We run so fast through life – we often miss those quiet moments of inspiration. They are all around us, we just have to slow down and allow them in.
As I mentioned, many authors find their inspiration for their stories from their own experiences or memories. However, not all memories are happy and joyous ones, even for children. Some memories are filled with serious moments and these can serve as inspiration by reflecting on the human condition and the emotional intelligence within the moment. This is true with my picture book, Arthur Wants a Balloon. Mind you, when I wrote the first few drafts of Arthur it was a simple text with a very basic and normal “want” of a child as the title indicates. But as I continued to draft and flesh out the story – Arthur’s simple want took on more and more meaning. It evolved into a want filled with empathy and hope as the realities of
Arthur’s world unfolds around him and his papa’s depression is realized. The inspiration for Arthur came directly from two memories I had of my own children providing empathy and hope as I struggled with my own bouts of depression. What I remember from the moments were not how deeply sad I was or how out of control I felt, it was my children’s genuine compassion toward me and my emotions. In one memory, it was my very young son asking if I was okay and offering to help as I struggled with my newborn daughter’s inconsolable crying. That small, simple gesture let me know I wasn’t alone and that someone cared. The other memory occurred after learning my husband had stage 3 colon cancer. We, as a family, reeled from diagnosis, but it was my daughter’s steadfast resolve that she would be strong for everyone, especially for her dad, that remained in my memory and inspired us all.
Inspiration is everywhere. It is the scene from a good book where two foes fight to save their neighborhood together. It is watching the caring nature of a giant tree providing shade on a hot summer day. It is a stranger’s act of genuine kindness. It is a rhythmic hum of the cicadas singing their last summer serenade. It is the vivid memories of empathy and hope from the ones you love. Slow down, breathe, believe in yourself… and you will find the inspiration for your children’s book. Best wishes and happy writing!
Elizabeth Gilbert Bedia is author of Arthur Wants a Balloon, illustrated by Erika Meza, out 22 October 2020, priced £6.99, published by Upside Down Books.