“The more I think about the word “idea,” the less idea I have what it means. Writers do say things like “That gives me an idea” or “I got the idea for that story when I had food poisoning in a motel in New Jersey.” I think this is a kind of shorthand use of “idea” to stand for the complicated, obscure, un-understood process of the conception and formation of what is going to be a story when it gets written down. The process may not involve ideas in the sense of intelligible thoughts; it may well not even involve words. It may be a matter of mood, resonances, mental glimpses, voices, emotions, visions, dreams, anything. It is different in every writer, and in many of us it is different every time. It is extremely difficult to talk about, because we have very little terminology for such processes. –Ursula LeGuin
“Plenty of good scraps are as important in making a book as in the making of a quilt. I often think of my books as scrapbooks of my life, because I put in them all the neat things that I see and read and hear . I sometimes wonder what people who don’t write do with all their good stuff.
Here are some of the neat things I have put in my books:
- A blacksnake on my front porch.
- Ninety-year-old twins who were still dressing alike.
- A man who could smell snakes. (He said they had a musty , sweet smell like old brown bread.)
- A woman who made varmint stew from dead things she found on the road.
- A dog named Mud.
- A cat with a golden earring.
- An extra hippopotamus.
- An owl in the bathroom.
- Puce tennis shoes .
- A gift-wrapped dime.”
From: THE MOON AND I by Betsy Byars
Students might like to brainstorm a class list of where ideas for writing come from–like the list below. Post the list in the classroom where students can refer back to it, and add to the list from time-to-time. Students will also want to keep individual lists of the neat things they “see and hear and read” so that they can use their “good stuff” in their writing.
WHERE IDEAS COME FROM
- Real life experiences
- Books, TV, movies
- Pictures, photos, drawings
- The writing itself
- Research (including interviews)
- Idea lists, story starters, etc.
“Think small. The best things to write about are often the tiniest things–your brother’s junk drawer, something weird your dog once did…” –Ralph Fletcher
Writers also write best when they write about things they CARE about. We don’t all care about the same things, so one-size-fits-all topics are rare. Generally, I favor giving students as much latitude on topic choice as possible. That said, here are some broad topics that most students can relate to, but when they have chosen that broad topic, they’ll want to “write small.”
SOME GREAT TOPICS TO WRITE ABOUT:
EMOTIONS (i.e. “A time I was jealous”)
BROTHERS AND SISTERS
See also: prompts
From the Writing Curriculum Files of Children’s Author, Suzanne Williams www.suzanne-williams.com