Ten writers for children. All with something to say.


From the Young

One of my main sources of inspiration is being with students. They tell me what they like, what they are interested in, and what things they would like to see in books. Being around students also grounds my characters in specific details and language.

On my new book, Top of the Order, I gave the manuscript to two classes of fifth graders and asked them to make suggestions. Over two hundred changes were made based on their input, and the book is a better book because of their recommendations.

Another place I look for inspiration is the library. Yes, sometimes inspiration comes from books I find there, but it also comes from books I do not find there. I think about what books I would have enjoyed as a boy and what is missing from the library. There is always a gap between the genuine interests of young readers and the books that they find. Narrowing that gap is one of my goals as an author, and spending time with youngsters continues to be a source of ongoing inspiration.


Everyday Inspiration

Everyday Inspiration

One day I was in line at the grocery store. There was a child and her mother in front of me. The little girl was a smidgen of a thing, her strawberry-blond locks bobbed with increasing buoyancy as she bounced across the candy rack. She wanted candy, specifically a battery powered lollipop that twirled at the push of a button. Her mother said no, gently and diplomatically. The little girl didn’t feel the diplomacy, and with all the drama of a whine and tantrum of temper, she blurted, “Arrrrgh, MEAN MISS SMACKBOTTOM!”
With great restraint, I subdued my smile until they left. But, I smiled all day, and the day after. I wrote down the name Miss Smackbottom. And I think, now, even the character of the mother somehow inscribed herself into me. She was a kind mom, composed, handling a strong-willed, tired little girl who was quite bright.
Inspiration is everywhere. I think it is the receiver that has to be available and open. Both of these things are necessary. This is my hypothesis and very humbly that, but availability and openness seem to be integral to art.


A Clean Studio

I started the week by cleaning my studio. An act I do every few months to clear my head as much as a pathway from painting wall to writing desk. I have read books on writing where the writer expounds on the ceremony of clearing a space for your writing and lighting a candle or placing a vase of flowers in front of you to prepare for the daily meeting of pen to paper. I do not clean my studio daily, though I do arrive there everyday. Piles of poetry books, books on writing, thesauri, dictionaries, memoirs, and artist monographs lean in piles against my drawing table, my palette, my writing chair, the bookshelf. Different notebooks for different stories lie buried beneath catalogues and letters of requests. Like peeling an onion, I lift each layer off to reveal buried inspirations. I sort notebooks and read the writing inside, reigniting the story. I replace books on shelves taking note of where to find them when I need to pull them out again, knowing it would be soon. I file the little hand-written notes in a file labelled "Story Ideas", reading them as they fall inside, once again stirring the story-pot. The unnecessary papers go into recycling and the more official sheets are placed in a pile to go upstairs to the "business files". Photos, postcards, and saved calendar images are piled with the other saved images for inspiration. My studio is clean and sorted. My brain is clean and sorted. I approach my painting wall newly invigorated while behind me lies inspiration waiting for a future time. Being on deadline for the illustrations of a picture book means sorting and filing inspiration for new stories into easy-to-find places; wishing I could go there now.


Quotes on Inspiration

10 quotations on "inspiration" and "imagination" to ponder:

"Solitude is as needful to the imagination as society is wholesome for the character."
---James Russel Lowell

"He who has imagination without learning, has wings and no feet."
---Joseph Joubert

"You cannot depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus."
---Mark Twain

"Inspiration may be a form of superconsciousness, or perhaps of subconsciousness - I wouldn't know. But I am sure it is the antithesis of self- consciousness."
---Aaron Copland

"We should be taught not to wait for inspiration to start a thing. Action always generates inspiration. Inspiration seldom generates action."
---Frank Tibolt

"You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club."
---Jack London

"Inspiration is wonderful when it happens, but the writer must develop an approach for the rest of the time... The wait is simply too long."
---Leonard Bernstein

"An idea is salvation by imagination."
---Frank Lloyd Wright

"Everyone is a genius at least once a year. The real geniuses simply have their bright ideas closer together. "
---Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

"Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen. "
---John Steinbeck


Alternative Inspirations

Inspiration is not always easy to put a finger on. It can come after reading a perfect piece of poetry, or after visiting an awe-inspiring art museum. Or it can arrive after a night of tossing and turning.

Last night was filled with nightmares about my mom's Alzheimer's, and with worries about my own future. I awakened needing relief from the darkness and intuitively I headed for the computer to a story I'd set aside a month ago. After half an hour of immersion, my mood lightened, the panic passed, and the day turned out rather well.

While I hope these "inspiration filled" nights are few and far between, I now know how to channel them into something positive that soothes my soul. (In the photo: my mom shares her cake with great grandson Connor.)