4 Places to Look for Ideas

Pixabay Puffin

“Where do you get your ideas?”

For me, the better question is where don’t I go? I once told someone that I’d have to walk aroud with a bucket on my head not to get ideas. Wouldn’t you know, what was the quote she decided to use?

But it is true. The world is a constant source of ideas. That said, I know that statement is so broad that it is useless. Here are four very specific places that you can go for ideas.

The National Day Calendar

One of my favorites is the National Day Calendar. You can find it here. Between June 24 and June 25, you have:

  • National Take Your Dog to Work Day
  • National Leon Day – which marks the point 6 months from Christmas (Noel – Leon, get it?)
  • National Strawberry Parfait Day

Each of these could easily become a nonfiction piece, a picturte book, or an element within a novel. There are so many interesting observances!


Pixabay Macaw

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Pixabay, this site makes photos available for public use. I’ll leave it up to you to read up on how to credit the photos because we are talking about something else entirely.

Sometimes I just go to the home page and look at new photos. As I am writing this, photos on the home page include a puffin (left above) and a macaw (right). Click on one photo and you can quickly access additional photos with the same tag.

If you are visual, this is something of a rabbit hole. There are people, animals, places and even fantasy paintings.

Library of Congress

Another great place to get lost is the Library of Congress site. You can look up things that interest you or, one of my favorites, is to scroll down the front page to trending items.

As I write this, these selections include information on the National Book Festival, the reopening of the Jefferson Building, upcoming in person and online exhibitions and more.

Scroll further down the home pages and you get items that are “Free to Use and Reuse.” At the moment, these are “Historic Sites.” My favorite? Drawings from a survey of the Taos Pueblo.

Nonfiction Ninjas

None of this grabs your attention? Not to worry. Stephanie Bearce wrote a great post on the Nonfiction Ninjas blog. The post is a list of great places to find ideas. It includes Accidental Science (yes!), Forgotten History, Inventors and much more.

If you have internet access, a story idea is never more than a few mouse-clicks away!


Free to Use and Reuse at the LOC

From the Library of Congress
From the Library of Congress

Check out these awesome posters. They are from the Library of Congress and free to use. The library makes a number of images available. You can find them here on the Free to Use and Reuse Sets page.

These posters are both part of the “Libraries” collection and were printed by the WPA during World War II. I have to admit that the yellow poster first caught my eye because of the color. But then I noted what it was advertising. Our local libraries have had curbside pick up for quite some time because of COVID. I for one thought this was new. I should have known that if it was a good idea now it would have been a good idea at some point in the past.

Other images in this particular collection include both historic libraries and modern libraries.

Carnegie Library, Sheldon, Iowa. 1909. Library of Congress

Other collections include Maps of Discovery and Exploration, Posters of World War I, Veterans, Baseball Cards, Cats and Dogs.  Most of these digital offerings are photographs, postcards, posters, maps, and letter. But there is also a section of movies – Public Domain Films from the National Film Registry.

Maybe you are already working on something that might benefit from something that you would find in one of these sets. Or you might be noodling over what to write next. Inspiration could easily be found here.

The Route 9 Library and Innovation Center in New Castle Delaware. 2018. Library of Congress.

For my part, I’m contemplating what I could do that would involve Carnegie Libraries. I visited one with my writing friend Ann when we were in Eureka Springs, Arkansas about two years ago. Excuse me while I go noodle the possibilities.


Celebrate Thanksgiving with Joy Harjo: Poet Laureate

Good news! Joy Harjo, the US poet laureate, has been given a third year to serve in this position. This was just announced by the librarian of congress. The hope is that at some point next year she will be able to once again hold readings at various points throughout the US. Her main duty is to champion poetry.

The project through which she’s chosen to do this is “Living Nations, Living Words,” in which indigenous poets and their work create a map of the US. Says Harjo about this project, “I want this map to counter damaging false assumptions—that indigenous peoples of our country are often invisible or are not seen as human. You will not find us fairly represented, if at all, in the cultural storytelling of America, and nearly nonexistent in the American book of poetry.”

Click through here to see the map. Select a highlighted location and click through to hear the poet from that area read and discuss their work. My favorite? Laura Tohe reading “Within Dinétah the People’s Spirit Remains Strong.” I have to admit that part of what I love about it is that it isn’t written exclusively in English. When we traveled through New Mexico, I loved flipping through the radio stations and catching stations broadcasting in, in addition to English, Spanish, Dine, and other indigenous languages. It was a powerful reminder of our national reality.

I also really liked Layli Long Soldier reading “Resolution 2.” With this piece, it was the cadence that drew me in. It is completely different from Tohe’s piece which is appropriate. The similarities come in that each poem in the collection tells about the realities of indigenous life. The poems come together to form a tapestry of indigenous US peoples.

Take some time to explore.


Free Maps: Maps of Exploration from the Library of Congress

I can’t tell you why.  All I know is that I have a thing for maps.  Historic, modern, with or without political boundaries.  It doesn’t really matter.  If I see a map, I’m going to take a look.

So it really isn’t very surprising that when I saw this blog post from the Library of Congress, I did a happy dance.  The title of the post? Free to Use and Reuse: Maps of Discovery and Exploration.

For those of you who don’t already know about this page, the library has made various items from their digital collection available for people to download and use for free.  My favorite Map of Discovery and Exploration?  California as an island.  Apparently fake news isn’t a new thing!

Other categories on this page include Posters of World War I, Veterans, Baseball Cards, Cats and Dogs.  For the most part, these digital offerings consist of visuals – photographs, postcards, posters, maps, letters, etc.  But there is one section of movies – Public Domain Films from the National Film Registry.

What are you going to find?  First I spotted a black and white image of two children.  Little did I know that I was clicking on “Duck and Cover,” a piece of Civil Defense . . . media?  Frankly, my first inclination is to call it propaganda.  There’ s also a western with Roy Rogers, an ethnographic film shot in Bali in 1951, and a Popeye cartoon from 1936.

Writing something set in the past?  Whether you are working on fact or fiction, it would be worthwhile to check out the holdings at the Library of Congress.  After all, primary sources can be a window onto past events. You might even be able to find something in this section that you could use to publicize your work.



5 Minutes a Day: Explore the Library of Congress

If you aren’t familiar with the Library of Congress, spend some time whenever you have a few minutes and poke around.  There are so many resources available including a wide variety of research materials.

Two of the newest offerings are:

The Theodore Roosevelt Papers.  approximately 276,000 documents, this is the largest collection of Roosevelt documents in the world. The collection includes diary entries, letters and illustrations.

Betty Herndon Maury Maury Papers. Maury kept this two volume diary from June 3, 1861, to February 18, 1863.  It details her experiences during the Civil War and includes information on the part played by women as well as the impact on Confederate soldiers.

Other digital collections include:

Benjamin Franklin Papers. Approximately 8,000 pieces from the 1770s and 1780s. The collection includes both his work in politics and his work in science and although not all of it is online, this is a start.

Alexander Bell Family Papers: The online collection contains about 51,500 images of correspondence, scientific notebooks,  blueprints, and more.

After the Day of Infamy: These man-on-the-street interviews were recorded following the attack on Pearl Harbor.  The collection consists of 12 hours total although I’m not sure how much has been digitized.

Ansel Adam’s Photographs of Japanese-American Internment at Manzanar : I just recently learned about these photos so I was excited to see that they can be found at the Library of Congress.

In addition to the digital collections, you will find the following available online:

Library of Congress Magazine (LCM) which is available online.

Science Research Guides which are themed research guides with lists of resources.

Journeys and Crossings which are webcasts on various topics.

You aren’t going to get through everything that interests you in five minutes, but pop over to the Library of Congress (LOC) when you have tine and you will find a wealth of resources, story ideas, and more.


Library of Congress: Benjamin Franklin collection now online

If you write either historical fiction or nonfiction, you need to become familiar with the Library of Congress.  Their holdings are vast and they are making an effort to make more available online.  Their digital collections can be found here and encompass social history, music and invention.

The newest collection to make its way into the digital universe are the Benjamin Franklin Papers. Click through and you can view approximately 8,000 most of which are from the 1770s and 1780s. The collection includes both his work in politics and his work in science and although not all of it is online, this is a start.

Additional collections include:

Alexander Bell Family Papers: The online collection contains about 51,500 images of correspondence, scientific notebooks,  blueprints, and more.

After the Day of Infamy: These man-on-the-street interviews were recorded following the attack on Pearl Harbor.  The collection consists of 12 hours total although I’m not sure how much has been digitized.

Ansel Adam’s Photographs of Japanese-American Internment at Manzanar : I just recently learned about these photos so I was excited to see that they can be found at the Library of Congress.

Explore the various collections and you will find sheet music, film, and more.  Keep in mind that just because the material is available does not mean there is no copyright.  But often the Library does not own the copyright so if you want to use an image in your work you may have to go through the effort of contacting the copy right holder.

Personally, that isn’t a problem for me because I tend to use the material here as inspiration.  What would it be like to be a professional woman, a Red Cross instructor, interred at Manzanar?  How natural were Curtis’ Native American portraits and how staged?  Why would they have been staged?  If they were, are they still valuable.

The next time you are stuck for something to write about, spend some time in the collections of the Library of Congress.


Free to Use and Reuse: Library of Congress Material in the Public Domain

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Library of Congress, it is a true treasure hoard.  The Library is the largest world library.  The largest!   It contains millions of books, newspapers, manuscripts, photos, maps, recordings and more. More and more of the Library’s holdings are digitized and placed online every year.  These materials are all free for researchers to read, view and otherwise use.

But many of the Library’s resources are copyrighted.  Most of you know what copyright means but for those who don’t, it means that someone owns the right to this work.  You may be able to use it as research but you cannot commercially reproduce it and use it in your own book, article or other media.  Not without paying a licensing fee.

That said, the library does have a large number of materials that you can use for free in any way that you wish.  You can find many of these materials every day on the Library’s home page.  The top section features an exhibit as well as material that is trending — what are people looking into right now?  The middle section is all about the library.  This is the section that you can use to plan your visit or discover what you need to know about using a research center.

But the bottom part of the page?  The section with the grey background? That’s the section we are interested in – Free to Use and Reuse.  The works featured in this section have no known copyright restrictions.  They may have been under copy right at one time, but that copyright has since expired.

And right now “Free to Use and Reuse” is all about Classic Children’s Books.  Go here and find looks to electronic reproductions of Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Barrie’s Peter and Wendy, as well as retellings of Snow White, the Three Little Pigs and Aesop’s fables.

What can a writer do with these things?  If you are writing a historic story, perhaps these are the books your own characters would have read?  Or you can use them to make collage art for your website.  Or mine them for your very own story ideas.  Whatever you want to do.

You’ll have to excuse me.  Right now, I’m picking through Jack and the Beanstalk and Other Stories published by A.L. Burt.




In-search-of-ideas: Mining Everyday Mysteries at the Library of Congress

I get a wide variety of updates sent to my in-box and that variety includes the Library of Congress.  Not too long ago, I saw that the library had a series called “Everyday Mysteries.”

Take minute to check this out.  Although it is described as “Fun Science Facts from the Library of Congress,” there is a bit of history as well.  Not that it is divided into science and history.  Instead it is divided, more or less, by discipline.

Agriculture includes:

Biology includes:

The list goes on and on and includes Botany, Chemistry, Geography, Home Economics, Physics and more.  Follow the links, read the material and you could be set for ideas for well over a year.

Working my way back from the “Everyday Mysteries,” I quickly found Science Reference Services.  The home page of this division included a link to the new reference guide, “ENTOMOPHAGY: Human Consumption of Insects for Food.”  As with other LOC reference guides, this one includes an overview as well as lists of general resources and specialty resources on the topic.  Not interested in Entomophagy?  You can find a complete list of the guides here.

I also found a link to the science division blog, Inside Adams.  How is it that I’ve been reading the general blog for years as well as the Folklife blog but knew nothing about the science blog?  Sometimes I embarrass myself.

Any time you are in need of a science based idea to spur your writing forward, take some time to explore the Library of Congress.  In addition to digitizing historic materials, they are also constantly adding new offerings to help students, teachers, and writers find interesting material.

For more on the Library of Congress, check out this post on their teacher’s guides and other materials organized and made easily available for teachers.


The Library of Congress: Research and Idea Generation

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.


Writing Science

Library of CongressOne of the trickiest parts of writing science is finding your facts.  Where do you go to find the latest and greatest information on a topic?

One good place to start is the Library of Congress.  They have a wide variety of Reference Guides available to download.  One of the most recent is The Science of Taste, compiled in January of this year.  It includes references on the physiology of taste, flavor ingredients, the neurobiology and genetic variations.

Additional science reference guides include information  on various scientists, gardening, obesity and much more.  You can find the entire list at the Science Reference Guide page.

You can also find material in the form of video by checking out the listing of events sponsored by the Library of Congress.  If anything these topics are even more varied than the reference guides.  With just a quick glance, I spotted Mapping Water Use from Space with Martha Anderson, PhD.; Man Food Fire: The Evolution of Barbecue with Steven Raichlen, a winner of the several James Beard Awards; and My Winter in Greenland and Summer in Antarctica with Lora Koenig, PhD. about her study of the ice sheets.

Why not take advantage of the many wonderful resources the Library of Congress has to offer.  You may find yourself adding primary sources to your bibliography.