Monday, August 22, 2011

Listing You Way to New Ideas

Week of August 21—Strategies for Finding Ideas for Writing
Monday, August 22—Listing Your Way to New Ideas

I teach creative writing in an elementary school. One of the things I hear most often from student writers is, “I don’t know what to write about,” OR “I don’t have any ideas.” Interesting, that’s what picture book writers say, too! One strategy I use with students is to collect as many ideas as possible. We often do this through lists (and we do it several times during the year). So today, I’m going to list many ideas for lists you can make to find ideas to inspire our writing. Get it? Got it? Good!

Lists about Yourself
Jamie Morris of Woodstream Writers ( uses lots of prompts to get writers thinking and working. One kind of prompt she uses is list making. When you make lists about yourself, you list everything that comes to mind. Don’t judge yourself, don’t sensor, or screen yourself. Don’t worry about “How could this ever be a picture book?” One idea often grows out of another. Just list. Here are some thought starters to inspire you.

Things I love most                                        Things that scare me
Happiest memories                                      Saddest memories
Biggest worries                                             Biggest hopes
Biggest dreams                                             Most influential people in my life

Lists about Kids
Leonard Marcus told us at SCBIW, LA, that many concept books are actually lists. So let’s explore some topics that could inspire lists about childhood. Your lists (or one idea from a list) may serve as the next idea for a manuscript.

Favorite places                                 Best vacation destinations
Fears                                                  Joys
Sports                                                Hobbies
Free-time activities                         Favorite school subject
Least favorite school subject         Heroes
Favorite time of year                       Favorite holidays
Favorite TV shows                           Favorite foods
Least favorite foods                         Best pets
Worst pets                                         Favorite books
Favorite book characters                Favorite TV and movie characters
Things that embarrass                     Chores
Careers/jobs                                      Biggest nemesis at school
Biggest nemesis in neighborhood  Shopping list
Favorite jokes                                   Funniest words
What makes a great birthday          What makes an terrible birthday
Places kids would like to visit       Indoor games
Outdoor games                                 Clubs and groups kids belong to
Gross things                                      Creepy things
Slimy things                                      Field trip locations
School events/activities                  What makes kids feel better when sad

Finish the Sentence
I’m happiest when . . .
I’m angriest when . . .
I’m saddest when . . .
I’m excited when . . .
I’m bored when . . .
I’m afraid when . . .
I’m embarrassed when . . .
I laugh the most when . . .
Sometimes I wish . . .
My biggest secret is . . .
Top 10 or 10 Minutes
Now I’m guessing as you look at all the idea-generating lists you’re thinking: He wants me to complete all those lists? No, he doesn’t! Choose one topic from above and make your list. But stretch yourself. Make yourself list your Top 10 answers, or set a timer for 10 minutes and keep listing until the timer rings. Many good ideas are buried deep. We have to work to get them.

When you have a list completed, add it to your writer’s notebook. Then work on another list. Eventually something will jump off of one of your lists and scream, “Pick me! Pick me! Write about me! Write about me!” And you will.

It’s Your Turn!
1. Start making those lists and get ready to find your next great story idea!


Rebecca Gomez said...

Yay! I love lists and now I have a (not too) dorky reason to write some.

Rob Sanders said...

Go for it, Rebecca! LIST! LIST! LIST!