“Mrs. Waters – I don’t have anything to write about!”
That’s it. The number one complaint from my second graders during writing time. I’m supposed to fill their writing tool belts with the “helpful” information from the text: Write about what you know. Write about a time you were sad. Or happy. Or ready to pull your hair out because you didn’t have anything to flippin’ write about. (That last one I added.)
Let’s face it. Seven-year-olds do not yet have a limitless repertoire of personal experience from which to draw from when they sit down to write. What they do have, though, are unique experiences that most of us adults have forgotten about. For example, how many of us remember, in detail, how it felt to lose that first tooth? The way your tongue kept going to that empty spot in your mouth and the feeling of anxiety and anticipation – will the tooth fairy come? How many of us remember, in detail, how it felt to go to school on the first day of second grade? Meeting classmates for the first time and waiting to see if your teacher was going to be mean. These experiences are unique to second graders and I encourage them to find those small moments in their own lives that they can write about. Because, like it or not, we all have something to write about and only we can tell the story in our own unique way.
As I was thinking about this last night, I looked up as I got out of my car and was met with a beautiful rainbow. I snapped a picture of it and my gaze followed its arc as it plunged into the trees behind my friend’s house. “Hmmm,” I mused, “Wonder where it ends. You know, it would be a great story to have a girl follow a rainbow into a forest and get lost, but she’s found by the…”
And there it was. Inspiration.
So, I began to think about my sources of inspiration. I have three major ones that give me writing fodder. This isn’t to say that I use all of the ideas that flit across my mind on a given day, but I do write them all down and find myself going back to my list for character quirks, interesting situations, and on occasion, a premise upon which I can base an entire novel.
1) Rainbows Things happen in my life all the time. From the simple, like seeing a rainbow, to the more complicated, like almost losing a friend to cancer. All of these things come together to provide my own unique experience. And, I can draw upon these things for my inspiration. I keep my eyes, ears, and, at the risk of sounding cheesy, my heart open all the time because I believe that inspiration is all around me, from the country road disappearing over the hill (“Where does it go?”) to the conversation in the waiting room (“He said he’d be over on Thurs-dee.”) to the song that makes me cry because the lyrics mean something different to me on this particular day. I ask “what if?” questions all the time and get to enjoy little imagination excursions along the way! J
2) Dark Horses I am a dreamer. Almost every night. And, I have worked a long time to actually remember my dreams upon waking. For the past few months, I have even begun writing them down as soon as my eyes open. That being said, drawing inspiration from dreams can be a bit tricky. I mean, how am I going to write a novel about the purple alligator that spoke to me in Mandarin (at least I think it was) about the friendship he had with a man named Jeffrey that cried at a depth of twelve feet? But, from that strange dream, I found that I loved the line “Jeffrey cried at a depth of twelve feet.” It was just quirky enough that I want to add it in somewhere! Some dreams are easier. Last night, I had a very adventurous dream in which at one point I had no other choice but to jump on a wild dark horse to try to get away. The dream was very detailed and exciting and I woke up this morning and furiously scratched away in my notebook for fifteen minutes to get it all down. I can’t wait to write this story!
3) Stephen King I am an avid reader and get a lot of my own inspiration from the words of my idols. I love reading a good book and after it’s over, going back and examining why I liked a character so much or why I felt such anxiety in certain parts. Masters of writing are masters for a reason and I feel that I can’t become a good writer if I don’t take the time to read all types of good literature. I like to write young adult paranormal fiction, so I find my summer reading list heavy on young adult fiction – if it’s a Newbery winner, it’s in my library! J But, I also try to read other genres. Sometimes my greatest inspirations have come from books that weren’t in my typical favorites list.
So, when summer school starts on Monday and the students tell me that they don’t have anything to write about, I can tell them that I, too, sometimes have that problem, but they can use some tricks of inspiration-getting from which to write their own unique experiences!