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Where Do Writing Ideas Come From?

One of the questions I get asked most frequently is what inspires me. (And this is a question I answer in my nonfiction programs for children, writers, and educators...because it's important.) The answer's rather simple.

Quite honestly, I'm constantly amazed by this world. Personal stories of people and history and the wonders of nature excite me. Oh, and I'm curious.

Though many people say, "Write what you know," I suspect readers would get bored hearing about my family and my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe.

During my author visits and even writing presentations, I often share this graphic:

I keep an eye out for cool things that I want to learn more about.

Inspired by Nature

Nature is incredible, but it's not always obvious. Often, one piece of information leads to another.

For example, I've known about bioluminescence for years. A couple years ago I wanted to know more. So I learned about my favorite insect, the firefly. Did you know all living creatures (including you and me) have a chemical substance called ATP in them? Apparently ATP levels remain constant in healthy organisms. The two chemicals in fireflies' lantern light up in the presence of ATP. Scientists use these chemicals (and their synthetic counterparts) to detect diseased cells and to study diseases. Fireflies help doctors! This is fun to research AND write about.

How Does That Work?

It's not just nature. My family loves to go to Hershey Park. Some of us love roller coasters. (Sorry, they make me sick these days.) But my 11-year-old loves to build roller coasters. He wanted to learn how to build better ones. So he researched more about the science of roller coasters. And yes, he even did a roller coaster project for school.

Inspired by Curiosity

When I get to choose my writing topic, I can consider a lot of things. The image above gives you a bit of an idea of how I might get writing ideas. As a professional writer, I don't want to get bored. I think students are the same way. When I share this with students I always encourage them to write what they are curious about (not what they already know). I can talk about this in any of my programs for students, but it , and it's what I share with kids during Nonfiction: Facts Are Fun and other programs.

Students don't always get to choose their topic. For my first five books, I didn't choose the topic, either. They were assignments. BUT I got to choose how to research and write. I looked for the wow---facts that made me say oh, cool, or how sad. I learned (and hope my readers do too) that soil is actually quite interesting! Who knew?!

When you don't get to choose your writing topic, consider how you can include your own interests in your research and writing. Is the assigned topic the Civil War? Maybe you're more interested in the weaponry or the uniforms. Or maybe you want to learn more about the doctors or nurses-or even the children-who contributed to their side's efforts. Or let's say you need to write a biography but presidents bore you and you're not a sports fan. Maybe you like to read. Write about a favorite author. Or maybe you like magic tricks. Maybe Harry Houdini will be your subject.

My advice: Don't write what you know. Write what you wonder!

Curious about other aspects of writing? Check out the sidebar where you can visit more links for writers, teachers, or students. Or my FAQ. Or consider subscribing to my monthly author newsletter.

So...what inspires you?