It can be so easy to forget the writing process. It can seem like there are no ideas left in the whole wide world. It is easy to become impatient with writing, no matter the season.
I have spent 20 years teaching students of all ages to write, but that does not guarantee that my own writing improves. I remember their complaining, their impatience with themselves, their insistence that they have absolutely nothing to write about. Whenever I feel stuck and out of writing ideas, I always go back to what I teach my students.
This is a process, I coach them. Even Harry Potter wasn’t ready to be published right away. It takes time. But you do have it in you. You have 10 (or 8 or 13 or 44…) years of experiences to draw on. You have a treasure chest waiting to be opened. Now open your writing journal to a fresh page and be ready to enjoy the process. Right now, we will be creating lists. These lists are your seeds. Whenever you need to plant a new idea, come back to these seeds. Whenever you think of a new idea to add to your lists, write them down. You will never run out of ideas.
You are in my class. You may hate writing. You may have the deepest, darkest, most dramatic 5th grader eye-roll, but you open to that fresh page, and you begin.
Try out some of these seed ideas I love to use with my students:
- Make a list of all of your favorite words. You may love words like kaleidoscope and calliope because of the sound they make when said out loud or the way the words drip from your tongue and lips. You may love the way your handwriting looks when you write words like lavender or cobbler. You may love the meaning of the words or you may love knowing the meanings to words like serendipity, cacophony, and euphoria. Time this process. Limit it to 3–5 minutes. Now you have a list of words — unlimited writing potential!
- Try writing about writing with your non-dominant hand. Use your non-dominant hand.
- Put a Hershey’s Kiss in your mouth. Do NOT bite it. Let it melt in your mouth all the way to the last bit. Write in your journal while it is in your mouth. Stream of consciousness stuff — do not plan.
- Make a list of all the places that matter to you. Then after about 5 minutes, list memory seeds associated with each place. For example: My grandma’s house in Madison — the place that matters or mattered. Memory associations: laundry chute, haunted uncle’s room, aunt’s trinket box, listening to recordings of The Three Little Pigs, the marble machine, barley soup, graffiti on the stair wall to the basement, the egg collection, and on… So many story ideas to write!
- Make a list of first times (the first time you did anything). For example: First kiss, first time jumping off a cliff into a swimming hole, first time getting disqualified at a swim meet, first job out of college, etc. HOLY MEMOIR IDEAS
- Make a list of last times (the last time you did anything). For example: The last time I saw my dad, last time I spoke to a friend, the last time I wrote an article on Medium, the last cookie I ate, the last hurricane we survived, and on and on.
- Make a list of all the things you like to do. Later you can write as an expert on those topics. For example: I like to get a brand new set of art pens. I love to cook with my child. I love to kayak. I love to teach writing. I love to encourage others.
I hope some of these ideas will spark some seeds for you! Let me know in the comments if you tried out any of these writing prompts and where they led. Be patient with the process!
I have to credit all of the writing mentors who have influenced my own writing practice and my classrooms over the years. It would be difficult to tell you all about my writing teachers and all the amazing authors I have read. But for teaching writing, most of my ideas come from Nancy Atwell, Jack Gantos, Stephen King, Anne Lamott, and most notably for teaching lately — Lucy Calkins of the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project.
If I am going to be the teacher my students deserve, I have to remember to be gentle with myself and to take it one seed at a time.
Thank you Natalie Frank, Ph.D. for the prompt.