Thanks to Tara Lazar and her Picture Book Idea Month, I’m trying to generate a nonfiction topic each day for 30 days.
In past years, I easily came up with 30+ fiction ideas—after all, you just make them up. But this year, nonfiction ideas are what I’m collecting.
And you can’t make them up. You have to find them. But that's even better--it’s like a scavenger hunt.
Nonfiction ideas are everywhere, often hiding in plain sight. When you are attuned to finding ideas, they will ping like text messages arriving on your mental radar.
Here are five ways to find them:
1. Watch TV. The major networks show documentaries, but your best bet are channels devoted to them, like A&E, Animal Planet, Discovery, The History Channel, and National Geographic. On Pacific Warriors, men and women were out fishing in the Pacific in kayaks, catching fish as big as their boats. The narrator mentioned that the swordfish is the fastest in the ocean, and that the ono is the most vicious fish pound per pound. Ping!
CBS Sunday Morning yields several pings each episode. In the most recent, I was curious to learn more about Nick Benson, the slowest writer in the world. Nick is a third generation stone carver whose family has engraved many of the monuments and markers at famous tombs and memorials. Their shop was built in 1705—they are the second owners. You can view episodes online--be sure to have paper or keyboard ready.
2. Peruse magazines. One I like is The Smithsonian. They have an online version. How can you resist an article about “how thousands of dead bugs became a mesmerizing work of extraordinary beauty.” In September, there was a short article about another fish that intrigued me. It's warm-blooded! The October issue has an article about Armstrong Custer—not as hero but as horse thief. Ping!
3. Read newspapers. Read with an eye for the unusual, the surprising, the one that makes you think, "Say what?" In one of my local papers, an article mentioned there was a German POW camp right here in my small Texas town. That fact demands follow-up investigation. Who knew?!
4. Travel. You can travel abroad, travel our country, or simply take in a local museum. I found the subject of my current project in an area museum that's smaller than my house. A recent trip to New Orleans yielded ideas garnered from a sugar plantation, a cemetery, a paddle wheeler, and a church.
5. Wonder. Catch yourself every time you wonder--write it down. That might lead to interesting investigations and discoveries. Waiting at a traffic light, I wondered how the mechanism worked that allowed longer green lights during peak traffic, and skipped the turn light when no car was in the lane. Yesterday I wondered how mosquitoes could find me even on a sunny day with a breeze in a wide open space. They bit me through my clothes! Anytime you find yourselve wondering, "Why..." you might have the kernel of a publication that will interest other curious readers. BONUS: If you are around children, their questions can be inspirations.
Once you get yourself attuned, the pings will become so frequent you might feel like a xylophone. You will need a big notebook—or a number of small ones stashed in your car, your purse or briefcase, and anywhere else handy for when discovery strikes. Your idea stash could lead to an essay, an article, a book. Or possibly, a blogpost!
Ah, books. I never outgrew my love of children's books. My passion became a career--I was an elementary school librarian. And now I write books for kids!