In late December, I completed work on a nonfiction project and found myself feeling a bit drained. Maybe from my creative efforts, maybe from the swirling stresses and emotions caused by a very difficult 2020.
After a few days, still without inspiration and itching to write, I gazed with a fresh eye at the contents of my dusty, dog-eared IDEAS file. This folder is stuffed with scribbled notes, partial manuscripts, and interesting articles. Here’s a sample of what I found:
Let’s Hear a Honk!
One of my daughter’s childhood friends inspired this picture book idea. She seemed physiologically unable to blow her constantly running nose. While playing at our house she would sniffle nonstop and wipe her nose on her sleeve. I’d give her a tissue and say, Blow! The noise (and no snot) that came out was a very small pffft!
I even wrote a few lines for this story:
She could button and unbutton her sweater.
She could zip and unzip her jacket.
She could even close her big-tab sneakers.
But she couldn’t blow her nose!
I likely scribbled this idea and rough start after a particularly long play date during the cold season! As I crumpled this page and threw it away, I paused to grab a tissue and give a big honk of good riddance to that story!
The Trojan Pumpkin
Hmmm. This one has possibilities! The only other words written are Trojan tigers vs mice. Wonder what I was thinking? This one will stay in the file for now, since I can already envision more than one fun direction to take this.
Mouse and Mouse
A friendship story between an adventurous house mouse and a sedentary computer mouse (the device). Notes: Brown Mouse lived in a house. He moved all day long. Scurrying. Hopping. Sniffing. Munching. There was another mouse in the house. Gray Mouse didn’t blink. She was curved and smooth. She didn’t move—unless someone wrapped a hand over her and jiggled…
I imagined these two meeting when Brown Mouse nibbles crumbs and turns on the computer by mistake. They would travel online each night to share adventures in far off places.
Sadly, this idea’s time has come and gone. These days, a child uses a touch pad or finger swipe more often than an old-fashioned wired or remote mouse.
Meet a Meter
A nonfiction book about the many instruments that measure various things. Scribbles on this idea page consist of a list of instruments (and what they measure): odometer, pedometer, tachometer, thermometer, speedometer, spectrometer, hydrometer, barometer, hygrometer, spirometer, cyclometer, altimeter…you get the idea.
I’m not keeping this one (any reader who wants to take this idea, go for it!). I’ve decided I am not up to the dual challenge of explaining in kid-friendly fashion the various scientific phenomena to be measured as well as how the measuring instruments work.
A handwritten note from my big sister lists five ideas from our childhood. My favorite is # 3: Stories told from the point of view of the younger sister being pushed around by the older sister—eating mud pies, getting your hair cut off, stepping in the ice fishing hole.
I remember all these moments, and I may still write these stories! This note is very special because my sister wrote it, and it will always remain in my IDEA file.
So what came of this review? I threw out 3 project ideas. My IDEAS file is a wee bit thinner.
But with this last pass I realize that there probably aren’t any bad ideas—they all support a writer’s process somehow. An idea revisited may help you realize you’re just not that interested in something, or that the best story premises should be timeless. Scribbled ideas may also spark creative offshoots that take you in a whole new story direction, or provide fond memories of days long gone by, or, last but not least, remind you that story ideas are all around us.
Of one thing I am sure. Keeping an IDEA file is a good idea. After all, it jumpstarted me to write this blog entry!
Janet Lawler is an award-winning author of more than twenty-five fiction and nonfiction picture books for children. Watch for WALRUS SONG (Candlewick, November 2021).