The Muse / by Jefna M. Cohen

Originally published November, 2015

It’s a rush when the muse visits, so hopeful and divine. She has been sitting on my shoulder a lot lately. Fortunately, the muse is not that heavy. That’s because she’s made out of rainbow sparkles and kitty whiskers! Usually I am out and about when she drops by, and often when I’m with my kids, so I quickly dictate the idea into my phone and then email it to myself. And that way I get personal correspondence! 

This week I was at the computer when it happened. Not surprisingly, the Muse came when I tried something new. I registered for a November writing challenge called Picture Book Idea Month, or PiBoIdMo. Rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? (Registration is closed, but you can check it out here.) It was started by author Tara Lazar as a companion to National Novel Writing Month, or Nanowrimo. During the 30 days, picture book writers push themselves to generate one book idea per day. Blog posts by other authors are put on the PiBoIdMo website to motivate participants to think and stretch in new ways.

The funny thing about taking part in it is that picture book writers are not supposed to put their ideas online. Rather, we are to keep track ourselves, using the honor system. At the end of November, writers sign a pledge stating that we did indeed do it, if we want the brownie points. All ideas are proprietary and must be protected, which is why there is no sharing. It reminds me of playing the game Password. I can tell you what my ideas are about but not verbalize them precisely. (Actually I can tell you. But then I would have to kill you*.)

I admit that the secrecy seems to run contrary to the “we’re in this together” aspect of the PiBoIdMo challenge. It reminds me of the parallel play of toddlers. I suppose that’s the writer’s life, in a nutshell. Writers are all alone doing their thing at the same time. Once in awhile we lift our heads up to make eye contact with one another to mutually acknowledge our shared activity, before looking down again. But, I can’t complain too much since I have a lovely writer’s group to talk to, and they are great at keeping secrets.

This is my first PiBoIdMo and I discovered inspiration very quickly during some of the great “pre-posts” prior to the official kick-off. I discovered Tara Lazar’s list of interesting words, which got me playing with humorous pairings and phrases, amusing sounds, and rhythm. I’ve never written that way before, and it was so much fun. Ideas were running around in my head and I was suddenly inspired to write an alphabet book.

When I was in graduate school studying to become a teacher, I attended a class on children’s books. The instructor said that many picture book authors attempt to write an alphabet book during their careers. I imagined that I’d like to try it out one day, but I never felt inspired. ABC books are an old concept, perhaps representing the most well worn path of all in children’s publishing. It is easy to think that all alphabet book ideas have been done before, because so many have.

However, I was surprised this month when it seemed to happen sort of magically. But it was not out of the blue, though, since I read something that inspired me. Trying something different often leads to something, well, different! Imagine that. (Note to self: Keep this in mind when confronted with writer’s block in the future.)

There is nothing quite like a good writing day. Sometimes I just laugh out loud and the hours spin by. Each new idea shows me that I am growing and developing my voice, and that there is always more to say. It is wonderful doing something I love so much. And, the only way to improve is to do more of it. Thanks, PiBoIdMo!

*Joke: not an actual threat.