I’m pretty sure that if you canvassed a group of authors this would be the number one question that each and every one of them is asked. And it’s probably one of the most difficult to answer.
As part of the preparation I’m doing for a series of author talks in schools, I’ve been putting together a writing workshop for kids on ‘Getting Started’, because I know that, for some kids, writing is torture. They’re given a blank sheet of paper and told to write a story on it. Most of the time, because teachers are awesome and clever people, there’s some kind of writing ‘prompt’ involved … but even that’s not enough in some cases.
So where do you start when, really, you’d rather not start at all?
When I talk to kids about this, I talk about how ideas are all around us. I discuss the fact that authors are not like super-magnets, attracting ideas out of the air like magic. Rather they are just people who’ve taught themselves to see the ideas that are there. I am always reminded of this quote by Orson Scott Card.
“Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.”
Of course, I don’t mention Orson to the kids. But we discuss how you can get inspiration for a story from what’s around you, from conversations you’ve had, from things you’ve seen, from places you’ve been. I talk about how they should use the things that they know in their stories – if they take ballet classes, ride dirt bikes, surf on the weekends, play soccer, that all of these things can be used in their stories.
And then, I say, you need to ask yourself the single most important question a writer can ask: “What if?”
Today I did a talk at a local primary school for grades 3-5. They asked me a million questions and had a thousand ideas between them when it came to thinking about character and setting and ‘problems’ (aka plot).
It was inspirational.
I’ve also got an online creative writing course just for kids aged 9-14. Find out more about it here.