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When author Marcus Zusak was asked why he took excrutiating care, laboring for 13 years on his latest novel ‘Bridges of Clay’, he rued that he only had one idea, this one, and there was no other project to distract him.

When confronted with an empty page, or that feeling you don’t have a fresh idea to bolster a current story, or even if you want the distraction of a new project, it is useful to be prepared for this moment!

Below, I describe is my most favoured tool that I use in the classroom with children and in workshops for adults that may help start the writing process and is indispensable for the illustration process.

Collect images that resonate with you and are relevant to what you are writing as reference material. I drive kids nuts when I go on and on and on about reference material all the way through a Child Writes program because the children are the writer AND the illustrator. Not only do the images provide a prompt or a nudge if we get stuck when we are writing, it is useful in the illustration process as well. Not many of us can draw what is in our minds-eye, rather, we need to construct an image which conveys our thoughts and emotions and intent!  

The most amazing example of this was an exhibition I was lucky enough to see in Brisbane years and years ago… Graham Base’s original illustrations for The Waterhole.  He ‘builds’ his illustrations, using tracing paper, and once all the elements are just so, then, and only then, does he finalise the illustration by tracing off from the construction to a finished drawing.  It is layering at its best, using found images, his own photos, reference materials and of course, it all hinges on the page design which is truly his!  

The gold in setting up this resource, a folder of images, is if you want to write but you are bereft of an idea, open it, randomly select an image, stare at it, then close your eyes and see it, then open your eyes and put the first word that comes to mind on the empty piece of paper in front of you. 

Now write the next word...

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