by Susanna Hill
We’ve all been there.
Staring at that blank page, watching our precious writing time tick away, unable to come up with
. . . never mind a whole story!
Doesn’t the muse realize we’re on a schedule?
Our day jobs demand attention.
There is laundry and vacuuming to be done.
The kids will be home soon.
There will be ballet and scouts and flute lessons.
The guinea pig cage is due to be cleaned.
There will be homework and dinner and baths and bedtime.
If we’re going to write, this is our chance!
Think, darn it!
But somehow, the harder we try, the tighter our brains lock up until we’d be hard-pressed to write down a reasonable grocery list.
We all lead busy lives. Our writing time is precious and we can’t afford to waste it. So how do we get the words flowing when they seem determined to stay dammed up? Where do we go for inspiration?
Inspiration Station, of course!
Check out the destination board for story sparkers of all kinds!
Track 1: Departing for the Recollection Connection
Mine your memories:
- Think back on your own experiences. What are some of the amazing/fun/scary/thought-provoking/silly/disturbing etc. things that happened to you when you were little? Make a list. It will be there for you to refer to when you need a topic.
- What important people or relationships would your childhood not have been the same without?
- What sports/activities/interests/hobbies did you participate in? (Little League, ballet, piano lessons, archery, science camp, tae kwon do, etc…) Did you like them? Hate them? Learn anything valuable about yourself from them?
- What family events do you look back on? Camping trips? Family vacations to Europe or the beach or the Grand Canyon? Holiday happenings and the surrounding traditions? Weddings or family reunions? Moving to a new home?
Mine your children’s/grandchildren’s childhoods and experiences:
- What kinds of things have your kids or grandkids gone through? What have they triumphed at? Achieved? What have they struggled with? Coped with? Overcome?
- If you’re a teacher, pastor, doctor/nurse, or other professional who works with children, what kinds of experiences have your students, patients, clients, etc. had?
Track 2: Departing for Observation Station
All day, every day, you have the opportunity to keep your eyes and ears open.
- What do you see on your way to the grocery store? A robin’s nest? A road being paved? A child wobbling along on a two-wheeler for the first time? A stray cat? A street musician? A spooky old house? A leaf shaped like a star?
- What do you hear on your way to work? Two children arguing over a seat on the bus? A mother explaining to her toddler why he can’t eat candy for breakfast? A little girl talking to the pet hamster in a cage on her lap? The rich song of a saxophone from just inside the subway station?
- How would a child see the things you’re looking at? or interpret the things you hear? How could these little pieces of life become a picture book? What new, fresh angle could you look at them from? What could you combine them with?
Track 3: Departing for Communication Station with connections to Bookburg, TV Town, Movieville, Musicport, and News Street
Inspiration is all around us in the work of other creatives.
- The stories we read in books, or watch on TV and at the movies, are all potential sparks for our own ideas. What would we have done differently? How would the story have worked if this happened instead of that? What if the main character had been a trombone-playing giraffe instead of a rebellious teenager? What if the story had taken place on Mars instead of in New Jersey? Fairy tales and nursery rhymes are good sources here.
- Song lyrics and music can also inspire us through the associations they have and the moods they evoke.
- News articles in the paper, in magazines, and online are a steady source of potential inspiration, for example, the story of Owen And Mzee, the hippo and the tortoise who became inseparable friends after the Indonesian tsunami, or Jerrie Mock, the first woman to fly solo around the world.
Track 4: Departing for Location Station
Places we visit can inspire us.
- quaint New England fishing villages
- the Rocky Mountains
- the beach
- Central Park
- the San Diego Zoo
- the Mississippi River
- New Orleans
- the Swiss Alps
- the redwood forest
- Norwegian fjords
- a General Store that smells like licorice and orange soda
- the circus
- the Museum of Natural History
- a dusty used book shop
- Grandma’s homey kitchen, etc…
All of them have stories to tell, or could be the home for a story you have to tell.
Track 5: Departing for Population Station with a quick stop at Occupation Station
People we meet/see are full of inspiration!
- a boy in New York City wearing a Chicago Cubs baseball cap
- a girl with one red knee sock and one striped knee sock
- a dog riding on the front seat of a taxi cab
- a postmistress who gives out lollipops
- a school bus driver with purple hair and a tiny dragon tattoo behind his left ear
- a nurse with roller skate sneakers
- a girl who only speaks in rhyme, etc…
Different jobs people do can also give rise to ideas.
- How do people become sanitation workers, tugboat captains, crane operators, or window washers?
- How could someone with an unusual occupation fit into a story? Or BE a story?
Track 6: Departing for Imagination Station
One of the most powerful idea generators is our own imagination.
Play the “what if?” game.
- What if a shark and a train had a competition to see which one was better. Oh, wait. That’s been done 🙂
- What if a dinosaur came to dinner?
- What if it was upside down day?
- What if a bear got on the school bus?
- What if you found a magic penny?
- What if your mom was a spy?
- What if a kid became town mayor?
- What if the family dog could talk? (Uh… I guess that’s been done too )
- What if ponies grew on trees?
Whatever you can think up, there are lots of ideas here!
Track 7: Departing for Creation Station
Some days, none of the other stops on the line are going to work. Maybe your toddler was up all night teething, or you had a fight with your spouse over whose turn it was to make sure the garbage can lids were on tight enough to keep the raccoons out (no, of course that has never happened at our house ). On those days, try one of these tried and true methods for getting words flowing:
- Other people’s work – type out a picture book you love. The act of typing will get your synapses firing and before you know it, your own words will be flowing.
- Start writing anything – what you’ve done so far today – what you hope to do this summer – your opinion about a movie you saw or a book you read recently that you liked/didn’t like – what you would say to someone you’re currently mad at or worried about – a list of flower names or Crayola crayon colors or birds or animals – a recipe for vegetable soup – anything – just start writing. You’ll be surprised at what might suddenly start to take shape in your brain.
Need some actual writing prompts? Try one of these:
- What is the saddest thing that happened to you when you were a child? Did you lose a grandparent? A pet? Have to move away from a beloved neighborhood or school? Write about it for 10 minutes – everything you can think of. Details of the time and place, who was there and how you felt. Everything you can remember.
- What moment in your childhood made you steaming, hopping, gut-busting mad? Did your brother put a dent in your brand new bike? Did someone make fun of you when you couldn’t spell “environment” or solve a math equation? Did your best friend lie to you? Write about it for 10 minutes – everything you can think of. And remember that anger is usually a secondary emotion caused by hurt, insecurity, sadness, or fear. Think about what the underlying cause of your anger was.
- What is your fondest childhood memory? Something that made you deeply happy? Or a moment when you achieved something or triumphed over something? Or a moment you shared with someone special? Write about it for 10 minutes – everything you can think of.
- What is something you saw or heard today that made you wonder? If it made you wonder, chances are it would make a child wonder. How can you make it into a story? Write about it for 10 minutes.
- What news headline did you notice today that might make a good story? Write about it for 10 minutes, including what intrigues you, questions you might have to research a bit, and possible ways you could shape the story.
- Spend 10 minutes writing about a place that has meaning to you. Describe it in as much detail as you can. If your reader were there, what would she see? Hear? Smell? Feel? Taste? What activities might she do?
- Spend 10 minutes describing an interesting person (real or imaginary) in as much detail as you can. What does he look like? What are his personality traits? What does he do? Who does he love? Make your description so vivid that your reader would recognize this person if she saw him on the street.
- Ask yourself, “what if?” and think up the silliest, or the most outrageous, or the scariest, or the sweetest, or the most mysterious scenario you can.
Inspiration is all around us. You can find it – I promise!
Susanna is the award winning author of nearly a dozen books for children, including Punxsutawney Phyllis (A Book List Children’s Pick and Amelia Bloomer Project choice),No Sword Fighting In The House (a Junior Library Guild selection), Can’t Sleep Without Sheep (a Children’s Book of The Month), and Not Yet, Rose (a Gold Mom’s Choice Award Winner.) Her books have been translated into French, Dutch, German, and Japanese, with one hopefully forthcoming in Korean. Her newest book, Alphabedtime!, is forthcoming from Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Books, in Fall 2015. She teaches Making Picture Book Magic, an online writing course, and is available for picture book manuscript critiques. She lives in New York’s Mid-Hudson Valley with her husband, children, and two rescue dogs.
SUSANNA IS THE AUTHOR OF:
Making Picture Book Magic (online writing course)
Picture Book MS Critique Service
Susanna is giving away one of her pbs!
Enter THIS RAFFLECOPTER HERE if you have qualified by being PRE-REGISTERED, completing the CHALLENGE, and take the PLEDGE.
Missed a SUMMER SPARK? Don’t worry, you can find them here:
Day 1: In Celebration of Summer Magic by Kelly Milner Halls
Day 2: The Power of Doodling by Alison K. Hertz
Day 3: Cause & Effect by Alayne Kay Christian
Day 4: How to be a Marketing Ninja by Corey Rosen Schwartz
Day 5: A Visual Writing Prompt: Begin at the End by Julie Gribble
Day 6: The Final Word by Jodi Moore
Day 7: Inspiration Station by Susanna Hill
Day 8: Voice and Word Choice in Picture Books by Tara Lazar
Day 9: Platform Building Can You Build It? Yes, You Can! by Tracey M. Cox
Day 10: 5 Ways to Hook Your Reader with Your Very First Line by Kirsti Call
Day 11: Burning Down the House aka Revision by Donna Earnhardt
Day 12: Persistence by Donna M. McDine
Day 13: Writing Your Way to a Spark by Kris Dinnison
Day 14: Hope In Your Heart by Carol Gordon Ekster
BONUS: What Songs Rock Your World? by Claire Rudolf Murphy
THAT’S A WRAP!
Follow-up #1: TIPS
Follow-up #2: 9 Ways to Tighten Your Story
Prize Announcement: Winner! Winner! Chicken Dinner!