Picture Book Riff: When You Have No Idea

I’ve always been into the idea of improvising.  I am frugal, so I cobble together things that would normally cost a lot more money from household objects lying around:  duffle bags are stuffed with heavy items to become tools for exercise, in high school and college I pieced together gifts out of magazines, bits of ribbon and my old graduation gown.  And sometimes I take the same approach to writing.  After all, improvisation is what leads to some of the most interesting and alive art. And it’s the most fun to make, because it’s more about play than work.

So do you build a picture book out of this? Begin with whatever word is in your head. Pig. I know, it doesn’t seem interesting on its face. But you can bet there are musicians who play notes they aren’t that crazy about. They just bury them in something better. The good news is, you can take out the boring stuff later. What you don’t want is for that word to lead you to something predictable. Don’t have a whole story arc in mind.  Let the word be your guide. Pick something that rhymes with it or a word that’s alliterative or has the same first and last consonant or builds on it somehow. Pig pag Peggy. Peggy poked a pig. Pig poked Peggy. Poor Peggy.  You don’t even have to use real words the whole time. You may come up with some fun and quirky name; maybe it will be your pen name!  You might end up reaching some point where the riff starts to organize itself around some pattern or idea. That’s kind of the way our mind works. It likes order. But to start with, you should avoid the obvious patterns–the ones that lead you where someone else has gone.

Good luck. Let me know how you enjoyed this exercise in the comments.


  1. Posted November 10, 2011 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

    Thank you. I had an idea while in a meeting with a parent this morning (Mmm maybe I wasn’t listening so hard) and didn’t write it down. Your musings have reminded me!

  2. Posted November 10, 2011 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    Glad to help, Joanna! It was the word “pig” wasn’t it?

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