5 Stories You Can Write Today. For real.

Ready to write but not sure what you want to write about? There's no need to sit with your pen hovering above the page, waiting for inspiration to strike. 

-4Try this instead: Brainstorm a list of 5 life experiences that changed you. Maybe you took a trip to Costa Rica, where you hiked to the top of a volcano the first time. Maybe you were a first responder at a car accident. Maybe you finally had that heart to heart with your mom.

Don't think too hard. Just jot down five experiences that caused you to see, feel, think or live life differently.

Now pick one to explore. Don't worry about whether it would make a good story or whether it's okay to write about it. Just freewrite in response to the following prompts:

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I never imagined that...  

(Set the scene. Describe the experience that changed you.)

When it first happened I couldn't believe that...

(How did this experience surprise you? Scare you? Push you into new territory?)

I worried that...

(What about this experience scared you, made you nervous, challenged you in a new way?)

At first, I....

(How did you respond to this new experience?)

But then I...

(If your first response didn't work or wasn't enough, what did you do next?)

I learned that...

(What insights did you gain? What knowledge or shift in perspective took place?)

Now I know that...

(What wisdom or knowledge do you now have as a result of that experience?)

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Notice that there's an overall flow to your answers---an arc, if you will---where events happened, you responded, and you were changed as a result.

I teach my students that those are the bones of every story. An event happens. A character feels a certain way about those events and responds accordingly. The transformation of that character (how they were or weren't changed by their actions) provides the meaning. You can also think of them as the layers of a story.

Each of your experiences will have these layers, meaning that each of your experiences is a potential story. You can prove it by using the prompts to explore each topic, or you can use the exploration you just did to write a first draft. Either way, you'll have put that pen to the page and done some writing. Today. And isn't that the point?

Pen to Paper: Uncovering Story Ideas

  In keeping with the idea that we can ignore The Shoulds, I believe that turning off the hyper-critical mind is a great way to uncover story ideas---whether you want to write feature articles or novels.

I've given the following assignment to college seniors in their capstone journalism class, only to have the ideas spark four-part series on hitch hiking, college basketball, and the meaning of happiness. In other words, deeply interesting topics arose that couldn't be limited to a single piece. Pretty impressive results from something that seems deceptively simple:

Take out a sheet of paper and pen or pencil (I suppose you could do this on the computer, I'm just a big proponent of writing by hand as a way to bypass the delete key and any judgment we put on ourselves and our ideas).

Freewrite about your day: where you've gone, what you've done, who you've encountered along the way. Don't erase, and don't worry about good grammar or punctuation. Write with the purpose of getting an idea down in it's most whole and unpolished form.

Include details, and (this is the important part) write down any questions you had while you were going about your day or questions that arise now that you're reflecting on it. Note anything that didn't make sense or that you'd like to know more about.

Write for ten minutes, and no more. Set the paper aside, and go walk your dog or make lunch or go out to happy hour. Return to the paper later, when you're clear headed and fresh. Underline anything that feels like a story idea.

From there, making the magic happen is up to you. But I suspect you'll find at least one nugget of gold---something that has depth and promise for your writing.