Hello everyone! We have the pleasure of another guest today, the lovely Ann McCallum. Ann has some thoughts on inspiration she’d like to share with us.
Great Ideas DO fall from Trees
GREAT IDEAS don’t fall from trees—or do they? Actually, my best ideas don’t come to me when I’m sitting at my desk with a skyscraper-sized computer screen in front of me. They don’t come to me when I’ve got an open notebook and I’m staring at the walls of my office. Nor do GREAT IDEAS suddenly appear when I have a self-imposed deadline. By XX date, I will have a new book draft completed. Sure, there is something to be said for regular, scheduled time in a chair with screen/notebook open in front of me. I’m not arguing that the habit of sitting to write on a routine, if not daily, basis is futile. Far from it. However, for me, that initial seed of a knock-your-socks-off idea comes before that. It comes when I am out under the trees, doing something outside my house, or at least experiencing real life.
Nature is a fantastic place for inspiration. A walk or run around my neighborhood often sparks GREAT IDEAS or helps to solve murky issues in already completed rough drafts. The warmth of the sun, the smell of cut grass or rain, the rustle of leaves and small creatures—these somehow fire up new brainwaves in a way that stale, inside air cannot. Even background traffic noises, right there and not muted by the walls of my house, work to stimulate my thinking.
GREAT IDEAS aren’t born strictly in nature. It’s all about a fresh set of sensory input. Something as mundane as a trip to the mall or grocery store provides much fodder for interesting characters, setting, and conflict. For instance, I was walking past the ‘Lids’ store in the mall the other day—imagine, a whole store devoted to baseball caps! I started thinking about hats. My mind raced in different directions: hats for different purposes, hats throughout history, celebrity hats, special occasion hats, every day hats, a character who loves hats . . . I got excited. Imagine how fun this could be to write about! Maybe this idea will go somewhere and maybe it won’t. I’ll tuck the seed away for now, let it grow a little more before I start to poke at it for possibilities.
GREAT IDEAS can come to us at the workplace, too. One time a GREAT IDEA came to me while I was teaching fifth grade math. A classroom of young people is jam-packed with story inklings. It was right before Winter Break and I’d given my students an assignment: Create a gingerbread house from graham crackers. Make it mathematical. I was blown away. Really blown away. My clever, clever students came up with things like measuring the perimeter of the roof and the path from the front door. They created geometric shapes for doors and windows and calculated areas of walls and the whole house. They added, subtracted, multiplied, and divided candy. It was incredible—using food to get kids excited about learning was a GREAT IDEA.
And don’t even let me get started on museums, art galleries, hardware stores, ice-rinks, and baseball parks. GREAT IDEAS practically DO fall from trees in those locations.
I love to sit at my desk and write, either on screen or in a notebook. I love my house; it’s cozy, comfortable and home. But if I stay inside too long, my brain turns dull and eventually shuts down. I know that if I truly want to write, I need to take time to get out into the world. Or, in this case, walk under some trees so that all those GREAT IDEAS won’t miss me as they tumble down. Let me know if you want to go for a walk—I’d love to join you.
Ann McCallum is the author of several award-winning books for children, including Eat Your Math Homework and Eat Your U.S. History Homework: Recipes for Revolutionary Minds, which will be released this fall. She lives in Maryland where she is also a teacher and mom. Please visit her website.