I've been thinking a lot lately about the way an idea develops and evolves. Sometimes I get an idea for a book and it comes to me as a complete package. All the essentials are there...the characters, the story, and the format. Other times, there's only one piece of it that comes to me and it takes a lot time to figure out what to do with it.
My chapter book series CatKid was like that. CatKid took a long road to becoming a book. The character came first. She was a character I started drawing, bored out of my mind in any number of endless meetings when I still part of corporate America.
Coffee was the fuel that kept the fires burning back then. One of the perks of giant companies is free coffee everywhere. I was on a 10 cup a day habit when CatKid first appeared. The office used plain white paper coffee cups, which I favored as a canvas. As people droned on about things I barely cared about, I would scribble scenes on these curved cups. A half-girl, half-cat figure quickly became one of my favorites. I would draw her doing all kinds of things like shopping for candy, riding ponies, playing baseball, etc. etc.
I would finish off these drawings by having CatKid say rude or funny things. "You stink!" was a favorite. Then I would leave these cups on the desk of a coworker as a little present (sometimes even complete with a last sip of rank old coffee). My own office was littered with them, most of which I eventually had to throw away...though I still have 2 originals in my office now, complete with stains of six year old coffee.
There were no stories in the beginning, just random bits of comedy. But over time, her personality developed. I became aware of certain things that CatKid liked and didn't like. In fact, anyone who worked at Scholastic Book Clubs during the first half of this decade became aware of things that CatKid liked and disliked. She became ever present in the office.
CatKid became part of official office documents, she showed up at every meeting, and I even had t-shirts with CatKid on them that I wore frequently (still do actually). I knew it was a book project eventually, but the stories eluded me for a good two years. In that time though, other characters had evolved around her...a best friend and a boy she absolutely, positively did NOT like.
During this time, I attempted stories in a variety of different ways. I wrote a few chapter length stories in third person. I tried writing a few stories as easy readers. None of them felt right though. It wasn't until I wrote the first story completely in CatKid's voice that it came together. The CatKid books were born. Once I started writing the books, it was actually pretty simple. CatKid had been speaking to me for years, writing them became almost an act of taking dictation.
The most important lesson I learned from the path CatKid took was to never just focus on one idea at a time. I like to keep a few things going at all time, but keeping them all in various stages. I prefer to only be writing one thing at time (though sometimes deadlines make that impossible), but I like to keep things stirring because there's no predicting the course any given project needs to take.