A monthly column by Anthony D. Fredericks
Getting new and exciting ideas for writing children’s books—particularly nonfiction—is a constant challenge. In both the August and September columns we looked at some common sources for ideas and how those ideas could be reconceptualized to help us generate some incredible new writing possibilities. This month, we’ll look at additional possibilities that will get your fingers dancing across your computer keyboard like never before.
Consider these options:
I often discover many “nuggets” in the junk mail that arrives every day. A postcard about why I need a new set of kitchen windows might evolve into a story about how the Romans were the first to use glass for windows in 100 AD. An envelope with an offer for life insurance may stimulate an idea about how to relate to a relative with Parkinson’s disease. An ad about a sale at a local furniture store might generate an idea about unusual forms of furniture from around the world. Or, a flyer about the discounts available at the grocery store may create a story about how various foods make it from the garden or field to one’s dinner table. What you discover in your mailbox can be a daily reminder of some incredible writing opportunities.
Talking with kids
A very simple way of getting new ideas is to talk with kids. Your kids, kids in the neighborhood, kids in your child’s class, or kids you see at the local playground are all potential sources of information for book topics. If it’s a nice Saturday, I’ll take a book and visit a local park. I’ll find a bench near a playground set and settle in to read for an hour or two. But, I’ll listen carefully whenever any children swing on the swings, slide down the slides, or climb over the monkey bars. What do they share with each other? What do they say, and how do they say it? What topics command their interest? Here is a good place to collect terms, phrases, and sentences that might drive a nonfiction story.
Exploring online communities
Finding inspiration and support can also be accomplished via several online communities. For example, LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com) offers a host of writing groups, support organizations, and instructional forums directed specifically at both novice and experienced writers. I’ve found that a few minutes perusing one of those groups can help me work through a “mental block” or a writing challenge with a new sense of creativity and originality. I’ve also discovered a few new ideas to add to my notebook.
The TV can be a constant source of inspiration and creativity. What shows are “hot” right now? What are some of the most popular shows watched by your children or the friends of your children? What are the topics or subjects you are drawn to? What gets you excited, enthralled, or enchanted? Did you learn something new in a particular TV special that might be a topic for a future nonfiction book? Don’t forget the videos you watch on YouTube or Netflix. What strikes your fancy? What keeps you “glued” to the screen? My latest children’s book was the result of a documentary about redwoods (and a subsequent trip to the redwood forests of Northern California).
I’ve learned that ideas can pop up at any time—in the doctor’s office, in line at the grocery store, at a concert, while walking through the neighborhood park, or while at a movie. My job is to be ready for those ideas whenever they may appear. In essence, I don’t just write when I’m at my desk in the morning, I’m prepared to write at almost any time of the day or night. Writers live, breathe, and exist to write. Ideas may surface at any time … any place. It takes discipline to be ready and waiting for them.
Tony is an award-winning author of more than fifty children’s books, including the 2018 Outstanding Science Trade Book Tall Tall Tree (https://amzn.to/2KDjDyg). This blog post was excerpted and modified from Chapter 9 in Tony’s latest writing book: Writing Children’s Books: Everything You Need to Know from Story Creation to Getting Published (https://amzn.to/2tREKCa).