Wednesday, December 18, 2019

ANYWHERE: The Place Ideas Live — Part One by Carol Coven Grannick

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 ideas.

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 the difference!

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,

Family Portrait

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)


  1. Carol, such an uplifting post for December. There's so much that we can learn by noticing and surprise. Can't wait for part two.

    1. Thanks, Kathy! It's lovely to be part of this wonderful group!

  2. Ideas everywhere - all we have to do is look! Thanks, Carol, for reminding us to pay attention to where we are.

    1. Thank you, Sue! And I love your website, which calls for attention to all the magnificent details in the world!

  3. Carol I love that you shared about your time with early learners. Love it! This post is wonderful. Love HOW you shared this process. It's as if we're being invited, better yet, challenged to see things as it it's brand new. That truly is how children process info. It is all brand new to them. I see a 2020 challenge in this for sure , , , taking an everyday/ordinary and seeing it through new, never before seen eyes. Hmmm . . . canNOT wait for February's post.

  4. Thanks, Pam! I love my time with my very young friends...They always remind me that the world is full of discoveries, and they keep me full of wonder and questions!

  5. Carol, great post! I'm with you; I find I'm most open to ideas when I'm out in nature. Having a dog that requires a daily walk and a pond nearby my house force me to practice my nature noticing skills regularly!

  6. Hi, Michelle—Yes, the neuroscience research on the impact (and importance of) being out in natural settings is awfully convincing. And oh yes, I miss those days of doggy walks...: )

  7. Ideas are what keep a writer moving forward.

    When out & about for a walk or in the garden, ideas begin to percolate in my mind, as I tune into my five senses.

    Using my iPhone app is an excellent tool to jot down my thoughts and keep track of ideas in an organized fashion when I don’t have access to a journal.

    Thank you, Carol, for the reminder to keep an open mind.

    Suzy Leopold

  8. Thanks for sharing your own experience, Garden Girl! You're absolutely right about new ideas as one of the ways to keep moving forward!

  9. This is a lovely post, Carol, written with such expression and feeling. I love the reminder that ideas come anywhere and everywhere we go. So important to capture them, as they are fleeting. Thank you!

    1. Thank you, Julie!'s frightening how quickly they seem to disappear when we think for sure we'll remember it!

  10. I love the phrase "open brain", Carol. I find that describes what happens when I go for long walks. That is the time that my brain seems most open to ideas and rhythm. I look forward to part 2 of your post!

    1. Hi, Patty! Thanks—for the comments AND for bringing me into the wonderful GROG! Yes, there's something about the natural world that's so relaxing, and leaves us feeling, I think, more "connected" somehow.

  11. Carol, love your photos and your captions. Such a thought-provoking post. You inspire us.

  12. Sherri Jones Rivers Thanks, Sherri! I'm so glad it was helpful!

  13. I love your photos and comments. It gave me ideas. Thank you.