The idea of finding ideas

Hi everyone,

In 2005 I gave a workshop at Chautauqua on how to find ideas to get started with one’s writing. For one of my handouts I went through my files and started a list of subjects I’d published over the years to that point. It filled two pages. I keep thinking I’ll update the list because a lot has happened in the last thirteen years, but so far I haven’t gotten past good intentions. Anyway, here’s the list, offered as a reminder that ideas are everywhere. The writer’s job is to grab one and make it so compelling that readers find your subject fascinating too.

Boy playing drum, looking for the sun, getting dog bitten, watching men skin a mountain lion, getting stuck on a cactus, seeing where a man died, scared by a bear, cold in bed, new in school, having a crush on a girl, poor at basketball, interested in girls, drifting away from a friend, getting hit by the school bully, doing embarrassing things, going to a first formal dance, missing a friend who has moved away, chased by a bull, first job, getting a baby sister, having kids, falling in love, pitching poorly, pitching well, becoming a writer, camping with my son, catching first fish, playing with my grandsons, sleeping beside my wife, riding the school bus, writing letters in class, dog in school, escaped mouse in school, boy named Sidney, girl named Jessica, mystery lunches, flies and frogs in science class, lining up in the hall, swinging at a ball, learning to use proper English, bad grades, field trip, teacher with eyes in the back of her head, last day of school, running late for school, missing the bus, snake that swallows a boy,

Making up an excuse for not having homework, smartest kid in class, having to go to the bathroom, cafeteria food, not being ready for a test, doing well on a test, chewing gum in class, spring fever, first book read without help, Johnny Appleseed, feeling good in spring, thrown off a horse, wondering about a hole in the ground, gossiping about an old man, going on a manhunt, getting bitten by a snake, dead rabbit, chip of flint, winking at a girl, getting in a fight, climbing into a barn loft, watching crows, losing a pet, feeling good, looking for squirrel in a tree, finding old turtle shell, cow patties, catching a snake, getting chased by a bull, stepping on a cow patty, saying a bad word, owl’s tree, pitching baseball, cows on the way to market, fossil footprints, different kinds of darkness, writing in a journal, discovering a bone fragment in a riverbed, stinging insects, accidentally killing a songbird, raising vegetables, horses, fishing, birds swirling in the fall,

Sitting quietly beside a river, children’s imaginary places, talking to plants, house with no roof, meeting a monster, hen who swallows a fox, girl who licks a light socket, boy who spends a lifetime counting stars, boy who grows a foot out of his head, small people who live in the grass, bear who takes a hare’s hair, man who diets until he disappears, boy who swallows his plate, race between snail and horse, man who grows blue ribbon weeds, boy who wants to be various animals, rude dinosaur, argument between slug and snail, how to treat an elephant, inflating baby with a garden hose, bedtime reading, cows who do silly things behind our backs, boy who frightens away giants, boy who outsmarts giants, boy who befriends giant, caves, rivers, oceans, earthquakes, volcanoes, mountains, glaciers, chicken egg kidnapped by a crow, bighorn rams, mountain flower, young eagle, mountainside in August, vapor trails in the sky, sheep on a mountainside, storm over the mountain, high country, elk in a valley, wild river, wolf in a field, walking in tall grass, raven on a tree, bear with her cubs, above the tree line, musk-oxen, camping under stars, mossy forest, crossing deer tracks in the woods, catching glimpse of something in the woods, walking in bear country, Getting bitten by flies, finding a pond scooped out by a glacier, dragonflies, butterflies, tree frogs, moose, salmon, bug on limb, caribou, low tide, seagulls, sandpipers, bald eagles, sea lion, puffin, seal, starfish, sea otter, humpback whale, too many cousins, snitching the last cookie, difference between moms and dads, dodging chores, practicing music, daddy’s snore, afraid of something in the closet, losing underwear, sister who turns into a frog, boy who won’t eat his vegetables, driving brother crazy, family who lives in a bird nest, loving grandpa, melting big sister with water, little brother with long name, wearing hand-me-down clothes, an aunt who thinks she’s a duck, going fishing with grandpa, having a baby uncle, raking leaves, tracing family tree, mouse in the pantry, house noises at night, cricket under the bed, clock that ticks all night, dust, bed, socks with no partners, fighting over where to set the thermostat, old shoes,

Swatting a fly, running out of toilet paper, ugly family heirlooms, chair, barking dog, reading a book, family photograph scrapbook, sleeping cat, death of a wasp, messy closet, crawling under the bed, watching baby spider, getting ready for company, too much baby stuff, getting rid of horrible gifts, things going bad in the refrigerator, feeding the dog under the table, the last glass in a set, chores, antique chili bowl, yard sale, the perfect home, horses, dinosaurs, back yard, baby bird, witches, machines, cars, trucks, bumblebee, toad, girl rescuing boys from cave, dog in the garden, dog in the forest, sloths, sun, math, human body, baby in hospital, mice, lightning bug, circus, girl playing flute, boy in the forest, truck in love with a cow, train, runaway pig, boy afraid of the dark, Marilyn Monroe, waiting in an airport, people on cell phones, crows arguing, children around the world, Woodsy Owl, Pink Panther, Smokey Bear, Herbie the Love Bug, Land of the Lost, Lassie, Bugs Bunny, Clifford the Big Red Dog, Amazon River, rooster on roof, buzzing bees, cemetery, ant, termite, wasp, skunk,

Hippopotamus, monkey, piranha, caiman, stars above the Amazon, fleeing butterfly, couple in dugout canoe, butterflies drinking, trees at night, Indian families in rain forest, myth of ants turning into vines, jungle birds, jungle rain, treetop frog nurseries, fallen tree, dark passage through the jungle, river dolphin, old woman, night sounds, rhythms in the rain forest, gnat, tick, mosquito, fly, spider, flea, mite, goose, turtle, chigger, baboon, friendless man, bowling ball salesman, caterpillar, rooster, missing frog, wizard, sneezing, opossum, mud pies, man on the moon, cursive writing, having to go to the bathroom, fish in frozen pong, bugs under a rug, Harold the Hog, singing pig, mud, pet shop owner, smelly socks, drawing a horse, eating too many tacos, first day of school, getting kissed by girls, thinking about the future, worm, lizard, rat, meter in poetry, memory-based poems, how to revise, how to write stories, the last ice age, substitute teacher, ghost towns, prospector, writing poems.