As I think about the school visits I hope to do after Reeni's Turn
(my MG novel in verse) arrives in the world, I anticipate a child asking a question so many writers hear: Where do you get your ideas?
As writers, we know for sure that working hard to find
ideas may not the most productive way of discovering
It's a seemingly simple, but actually complex question, because it involves our brains. And we don't really mean 'ideas', which by definition are thoughts or opinions. We mean thoughts or opinions that are unique, new, or completely different. They turn us suddenly onto a new path with a delightful shock, or slowly with awe and wonder. We can feel
I found myself thinking about the where-ideas-come-from question during a recent walk in the Mary McDonald Woods at the Chicago Botanic Gardens. It's a place in which I feel my brain clear out and open up as soon as I enter.
That day, my husband and I strolled along the winding trails, quiet, taking in the soft feel of the path, the almost-bare trees, the clean smells. After awhile, I stopped to take photos here, there, up into a tree.
I'd click, then tuck my phone away and pull out a small notebook and pen and scribble in a word or phrase. It wasn't something I planned. But it was something I was prepared for.
My mind popped with ideas for poetry inspired by a leaf,
Frozen in Time
young trees growing in a group,
and two trees in 'conversation'.
My Nest's Bigger Than Your Nest
I believe it happened because my brain was open to two important aspects of discovering and receiving creative ideas: 1) noticing
and 2) surprise.
Who forgot to sweep the floor?
I Promise, It's Up There!!
May I Lean On You?
The outdoors offers many opportunities to notice, and according to research, to allow our brains to "open". And I do believe that time outdoors impacts the brain. But I also believe we can experience an open brain, receptive to noticing and to surprises, anywhere.
One of my indoor places that's loaded with opportunities to notice events, comments, and interactions is my favorite early childhood center.
Words spoken by the two, three, and four year-olds light my brain up and whisper, Surprise!
And suddenly there's a new idea for a poem, a short story, or a picture book.
Creative ideas can happen in relaxed moments, or in response to a sensory, internal, or external experience so compelling that it pushes the brain into a state of attention, reminding it to find delight and poetry in a thing, an event, or an interaction.
Or they may occur during the routine chores of everyday life—folding laundry, cutting up veggies, mopping the kitchen floor. It's not hard to love these times, the small, routine activities of daily life, when they become opportunities for receiving surprising ideas that float or pop in.
It's as if the absence of looking for creative ideas—or even needing them—allows them to arrive in our brains, as long as those brains are open to the world around us—anything, everything, and anyone in it.
Any moment we're alive in the world and open to noticing
, our brains may also open to the surprise
of a creative idea. Those wonderful new ways of experiencing anything in the world happen anywhere we are.
And then all we have to do is grab the nearest piece of paper and write them down.
Which means keeping paper everywhere...and especially, Anywhere.
Where or how do you find your Anywhere?
(Part Two: coming in February)