Yesterday I mentioned how inspirational I found the Library of Congress Magazine. Apparently I’m not the only one who finds inspiration in this library’s amazing collection. Check out this post from Jann Alexander in which she discusses the inspiration she finds in the library’s print and photography collections.
If you’ve never spent any time poking around in the library’s online offerings, do yourself a favor. But not if you have a deadline fast approaching. Go write and then come give it a good look. You will find photos and engineering records of historic buildings, Abraham Lincoln’s papers, and even an Afghanistan web archive. This isn’t just about the archives themselves. Some collections also include a tab of articles or essays about the materials contained therein.
But this isn’t all that Alexander talks about in her post. She also discusses an archive of oral histories collected by Story Corps.org. Interviews range in topic from how someone found their calling to parenting, including a discussion between Chris and Gabe Lopez on being transgender and hoping his mother would still accept him. Gabe is now 9 years-old so this is a real eye opener about how young children dealing with being trans. The Story Corps recordings are technically podcasts with a new offering put up each week. Consider listening and see where other people’s stories take you in your own work.
Last but not least, Alexander recommends that writers find inspiration among the obituaries. I know that I’ve considered writing several bios after reading someone’s obit and discovering that they were a pioneering chemist, a code talker or more. In addition to straight up obits, Alexander also recommends Find A Grave. This is a national web site that includes obits and photographs. Sometimes the photo is only the grave marker but others include early photos, midlife photos and more. If you don’t have a name to look up, you can also look at popular searches, new listings and new photos, and famous graves.
Next time you find yourself waffling around without inspiration, check out one of these sites and, when inspiration strikes, be sure to say thank you to Jann Alexander for sharing her sources of inspiration.
I’ve just become aware of two amazing resources at the Library of Congress. Or at least I’ve become newly acquainted. The first is a series of primary source sets and the second a especially helpful publication for idea generation, or at least that’s how it works for me.
As many of you probably know, finding primary sources online can be tricky. It isn’t that nothing is available. There is actually quite a bit out there. But finding it when you need it can be another matter altogether. But authors aren’t the only ones looking for primary sources. Teachers realize how primarcy sources can entrance young readers. To help teachers access sources available at the Library, the staff has put together primary source sets ranging from topics as diverse as “found poetry” to “children’s lives at the turn of the twentieth century.”
The first is not a grouping of found poems but resouces that students might use increating their own. The set includes a teacher’s guide as well as a variety of documents such as copies of print documents and photographs. The latter set includes historic photos of children at play, a children’s parade and even a children’s book from the time.
The Library of Congress Magazine is published by-monthly with each issue focusing on a theme such as World War I, Presidential Elections, Photography or Food Collections. The magazine is approximately 32 pages long and a PDF of each issue is available.
Take a look at several issues of this magazine and see if you don’t come away with some new ideas. I paged through the issue on Food Collections and quickly jotted down three book ideas — a cookbook, a food history/cookbook and a biography.
The Library of Congress is both a national treasure and an amazing resource. Take the time to look through some of the educational guides and the magazines. You won’t regret it.
Throughout the month of January, I’m taking part in Storystorm. The goal is to generate 30 ideas in 30 days. I’m writing this on Thursday the 12th and I currently have 22 ideas.
Early on, because I hadn’t been doing much idea generation, I was going good to come up with one a day. Yes, I was managing it but it wasn’t pretty. I’m so far ahead because the other day I came up with 9. And I have a second one to write down for today.
How do I come up with so many ideas?
One thing is to look for ideas all around you. I’ve been reading the Storystorm blog posts. They’re all informative and some have nudged me towards an idea. Sometimes it isn’t even an idea based on the post itself. Sometimes I look at the images and one will remind me of something I found researching the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (1904 St. Louis World’s Fair). The next thing I know, I’m noodling over an idea based on that research.
When you write nonfiction, one idea can also lead to another. That’s what happened when I started thinking about the World’s Fair. An idea about Ota Benga (someone brought in as part of an exhibit) led to an idea about using people as exhibits and more.
My daily foreign language study led to an idea about words. Reading the National Science Association newsletter led to an idea about nanomaterials. I’ve come up with ideas based on recent headline news, things I’ve seen posted on social media and more.
While one idea may not lead directly to another, generating ideas on a regular basis seems to have freed up the flow. This is definitely a habit that I hope to continue after the month and the challenge are over.
That said, if I’m going to generate 300+ ideas in one year, I’m going to have to come up with some way to organize them.
I’m thinking . . . I’m thinking . . .
Needless to say, everyone is a little wound up about 2017. I mean a little worse than the usual year-end angst. I’d like to invite all you writers to step into the New Year with Storystorm.
Back in November you might have missed PiBoIdMo or Picture Book Idea Month sponsored by Tara Lazar. Unfortunately, as I remember correctly, Tara has been having some health problems and needed to postpone this annual event. She also took the opportunity to expand it to a greater variety of participants.
Obviously, Picture Book Idea Month was also about generating picture book story ideas. Storystorm expands this to include any writing genre. I guess I should admit that as far as I’m concerned, an idea is an idea. I may think it is a picture book idea but it turns into middle grade nonfiction. So I’m pretty jazzed about this change.
The goal if for participants to end the month of January with 30 fresh, new story ideas. What a great way to start the year!
Registration begins the day of Christmas, December 26th. You can register through the first week of January. You don’t have to register, but participants who do are eligible to win agent consultations, books, critiques, and more. The link above will take you to Tara’s blog for more information.
So if you’re looking forward to an excellent writing year in 2017, why not start it with Storystorm?
Recently I saw an interesting TED talk with organizaitonal psychologist Adam Grant. In the video, he discussed the work habits of original thinkers. Some of what he had to say really surprised me.
Original thinkers are not the first ones done with a project. Grant admitted that he is one of those people who starts working on a project the second it is handed to him. He mulls it over, the makes a list of goals and he gets it done long before it is due. People in this group tend not to be original because they get to work very quickly.
Original thinkers are not the last ones done. People who put off working on things too long end up rushing through things. The don’t have the time to weight the pros and cons of various approaches. They are late and they need to get it done now.
Original thinkers procrastinate at least a little. Why? Because before they get to work they are talking. They are thinking. They are doing a bit of research. They are gathering information, weighing pros and cons, bouncing ideas off people and playing with ideas. They aren’t going with the obvious but they aren’t in a mad rush either.
When I thought about this, it really made sense. When I brainstorm ideas for something, my first ideas are never my best. They are warm up ideas, the ones that I come up with while I’m trying to get my brain moving. If my goal is to come up with ten ideas, my last several ideas seldom contain any gems. “Good grief. I’ve got 7 ideas. Five are really good. But I can’t stop until I get three more . . . one . . . two . . . done!” At that point, I’m tossing things down just to fill out that list. My best ideas are somewhere in the middle.
Think about this the next time you start to work on a new project. The idea you come up with first may be adequate but you can probably do better. Why not give it a shot?
PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) ended on Monday. Going with the stated goals (30 ideas in 30 days), I have achieved success. I came up with 33 picture book ideas and 3 middle grade/ya ideas. What can I say? I don’t always brainstorm with a G-rating. All in all I have:
20 fiction ideas. Yeah, I’m surprised too. Me — Ms. Nonficiton author has 20 fiction ideas and NO straight-up nonfiction. Why do I say straight-up nonfiction? Because I have . . .
4 ideas that could go either way. As nonfiction they would have a faction feel. One would easily work as fiction. The others? I’m not as sure, but I really like 3 of them so will have to play with how to make them work best.
2 based on Bible stories
7 fractured fairy tales.
Out of those ideas, how many will I draft? You probably understand that I can’t give a definite answer because some ideas seem great until you try to write them and then . . . fizzle. That disclaimer aside there are thirteen that I definitely want to write including two zombie stories, a survival guide, a Columbus Day story that will be a cummulative tale, a stone soup type story, the fractured fairy tales and one involving food science. Those are the ones I’m most enthusiastic about but that could change. After all, I never intentionlly wrote down a bad idea.
There are also the seven ideas that might work. I don’t dislike them but I’m not sure. Sometimes if I let something like that percolate a solid idea will come together.
At the moment I’m working on Women in Sports. I should be done with that two weeks from today. During that time I’ll blog and work on the book and not much else although I might find time to outline a picture book. How will I choose which one to do first? None of them are more timely than the others so I’ll skim the list and see which one catches my attention.
I hope that your PiBoIdMo brainstorming yielded some results that you can turn into picture books!
As you know, I’ve been participating in Picture Book Idea Month. The goal is that during the month of November you will come up with 30 picture book ideas. So far, so good. On November 16, I have 17 ideas.
Now, I’m not going to tell you that I come up with an idea a day because that’s just not how I work. On the days that I come up with ideas, I come up with at least 2 but as many as 5.
Part of the reason that I have no ideas on some days is that I need a certain amount of “in-put” as my father called it. I’ve been researching to outline a book on sports so I wasn’t surprised when I came up with several sports ideas.
The problem was that after I came up with a few ideas . . . they just tapered . . . off.
Then I found some time to read blog posts. In addition to blogs on writing, I read several on books and a whole bunch on science and history. My husband thinks its funny but on my blog reader science and history are filed under “news.” Whatever. As I read these partcular posts, I come up with ideas.
And the interesting thing about that is that although I’m supposed to be coming up with picture book ideas, I’m coming up with novel ideas too. There’s nothing too well formed but I get a general idea about the plot — think elevator pitch plus.
The more in-put that I have, the more ideas I come up with. The more ideas I generate, the more I get. I don’t know if this is how it works for everyone but it is something you might want to consider the next time you need to come up with a new story idea.
What else can I do with my Ancient Maya research?
Last week I read a great post on idea generation by my fellow Muffin blogger, Luann Schindler. Each week Luann picks a topic such as an upcoming holiday or a seasonal happening and then brainstorms ideas based on the following list — woman’s issue, man’s issue, kid’s/teen issue, a twist, outlandish idea, and an evergreen idea.
Adapting this list slightly since I primarilly write for kids/teens, I came up with:
- girl interest (teen)
- boy interest (teen)
- younger reader (early elementary)
- twist to surprise the reader
- something way out there
- evergreen topic
The question for me is how can I use this to get more Mayan sales? What? Didn’t I just write a book on the Maya? Yes, I did. But I can get more bang for my research buck if I come up with more pieces about the Maya that I can sell to a variety of markets. Using the idea generation list above, I came up with:
Girl interest (teen):
- How to print a t-shirt with a design that looks like a huipil (woman’s blouse)
- Working woman’s survival show, Maya style — jobs held by women
Boy interest (teen)
- Who would win the fight, a Maya warrior or a Roman centurian? (Got this eavesdropping on a certain group of boys.)
- The Mayan ball game as a blood sport.
Younger reader (early elementary)
- Mayan math. They didn’t use base 10.
- Craft: Pectoral (large pendant like object of jade)
Twist to surprise the reader
- Not all Mayan sacrifices were fatal.
- There are still Maya living in Central America today.
Something way out there
- What Would the Maya Pin
- Mayan Halloween Costumes
- What would have happened if the Pilgrims had landed in the Yucatan (I wouldn’t say these are good, but I can do wacky)
- Mayan environmentalism (green topics)
- Mayan school (first day of school)
I’m not going to say that these are all brilliant but I hope you can see the possibilities. The next time you finish a major project, spend some time brainstorming what else you can do on that subject. Get the most bang for your research buck. Check out my piece on brainstorming ideas to compliment my Maya book and increase my income tomorrow at the Muffin.
Recently, I read an interview with illustrator Troy Cummings. One of his recent projects is a fractured fairy tale picture book, Little Red Gliding Hood (October 2015). There’s a lot of great information in the interview, but immediately my brain went to something else. Gliding Hood. Riding hood. Maybe brainstorming rhyming words be a good way to generate ideas for fractured fairy tales.
Riding Hood could become Gliding Hood (taken), Sliding Hood, Colliding Hood, and Flying Hood. Okay that last one isn’t rhyme but the same vowel sound. As long as I’m going that route I can add Minding Hood, Twining Hood, and Vining Hood. I’m not sure any of these are brilliant but I can imagine possibilities for Sliding Hood (baseball), Colliding Hood (demolition derby) and Vining Hood (plants/vines).
Homonyms are trickier because there are only so many words that sound alike but what if you tried turning something like this into a fractured fairy tail? That could easily yield or version with animal characters — not my forte but a possibility nonetheless.
Why not give it a shot the next time you don’t know what to write? Start with a fairy tale or legend and spin-off rhymes and homonym. Or start with a failed idea out of your files. Maybe you can take it someplace new and hilarious.
Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo) is well underway. As I write this, it is actually the 9th which means that we are almost 1/3 of the way through the month. In PiBoIdMo, participants are challenged to come up with an idea a day for 30 days. Yes, you can come up with 2 or 3 on one day but technically that isn’t supposed to get you off the hook for the days you don’t do it. Why? Because the idea is to recommit yourself to being a picture book writer each and every day.
So far I have exactly 9 ideas. I actually came up with two of them Friday night at some undetermined time between going to bed and getting up. So, yes, I’m counting that as Friday and Saturday.
How do you brainstorm ideas? I know that it I can find the time to do this for 15 or 20 minutes, I’ll get more and better ideas. Why? Because very often my first several ideas are not necessarily cliche but they aren’t terrifically original either. If I can work at it until I come up with 10 or so ideas, numbers 3-7 or so will be the best.
Where do I get my ideas? I read a lot of science and history blogs. Those are always good for a host of ideas. Pinterest is also good once I get into historic and nature photos. I also tend to get ideas from my reading. Most often they come about because of a fact or idea that I wish the author had explored further. Or, I will pick a book up because of the title and then discover that it isn’t what I expected/wanted.
How do you come up with ideas?