Whenever I visit schools, students ask me where I get my ideas. I tell them that ideas are everywhere and that I get them from my everyday life. Things that happen at school or at home. Conversations that I overhear. Books that I’ve read and trips that I’ve taken.
But the truth is, getting an idea is only part of the story. Here is the real answer and how it translates into instruction in your writing workshop?
Step 1: Story ideas are everywhere, but it takes practice being able to recognize them
Take my book, Last Day Blues. I was teaching middle school. It was late in the school year. Arianna, one of my students, had stopped by my classroom on her way out of the building. As we visited and talked about her plans for the upcoming summer, she looked at me with great sympathy and said, “Teachers must be really sad at the end of the school year.”
This was an everyday conversation, but it made me laugh and it gave me insight into a student’s thinking. Hmmm, I thought, this might be an idea for a picture book.
Step 2: You need a place to save your ideas.
I didn’t immediately begin writing the story, it wasn’t the right time. Plus, I didn’t know if I would even be able to use it as a story starter, but I knew it had possibilities. So, I stored Arianna’s comments away in my writing journal.
Step 3: When it is time to start a new story, you revisit the many ideas you have collected.
Months later, when I was actively looking for a new story idea for the Jitters series, instead of trying to create one on the spot, I read through my journal. After considering several possibilities, Arianna’s comment was the story seed I decided to try and cultivate.
Step 4: I took the story seed and spent time writing in my journal, trying to develop it and help it grow.
Once again, I wrote in my writing journal. I brainstormed, asked myself questions, thought about possible conflicts, wrote out possible endings until, finally, I had enough to start writing the first draft.
So, when I tell young writers that ideas are everywhere that is only the beginning of the story. Ideas are everywhere only if you have developed the eyes to see them, come up with a system to save them, and then know how to take an idea and develop it into a story. But the good news is, the more you look, the more you find!