idea list

On Friday, my newly-minted second-grader came home with a homework assignment: come up with 10 story ideas from your personal experience.

In the instructions, the teacher made it clear that parent(s)/guardian(s) should help with the brainstorming, but the child should actually write out the list. As such, we decided to keep the story ideas short–but with enough information to trigger the actual story in E’s mind.

The teacher also asked her students to keep the ideas very specific: instead of writing about a whole vacation, write about the moment you found a jellyfish on the beach. Instead of the whole watermelon, write about a seed.

As we started to brainstorm, I had the passing thought that it might be hard to come up with 10 interesting stories, especially given the limitations of the past 1.5 years.

Nope. E’s list looked like this:

  1. sturgeon
  2. kindergarten table
  3. sting ray
  4. vulture
  5. spider door
  6. spider bed
  7. goal
  8. turtle
  9. aunt nose
  10. monarchs

This exercise taught me a lot. Here are 10 things I got from it:

  1. I consider myself an experienced writer–yet I can still learn a lot from a simple second-grade exercise.
  2. Animals factor into most of E’s story ideas–animal stories are the most fascinating and meaningful to him at this stage of life. I’m excited for him that he’s so excited about them.
  3. Even if you’ve only been alive for 7 years and have spent the past 1.5 years largely at home in a pandemic, you have interesting stories. Everyone has interesting stories!
  4. There was one story on the list that I had never heard before: “kindergarten table.” When E was in kindergarten working on a math problem (“a problem that would be so easy now”), he got really frustrated with it, banged the table with his hand, and broke the table! Wow! The janitor had to be called! This news took almost two years to reach me. Interesting stories are happening to our children all the time and we don’t even hear about some of them. He told me he must have gotten busy and forgotten to tell me about that one.
  5. It took us less than 10 minutes to come up with 10 story ideas. I was surprised by how effortlessly the ideas popped into both of our heads. And now, when E has to write a story at school, he doesn’t have to waste time on wondering what to write about. Deciding what to write ahead of time is an awesome idea. (I usually don’t do this.)
  6. E has memories back to age 2. The sting ray story took place in San Francisco and we moved to Chicago when he was 2.5. (Then again, the story is about how the sting ray “attacked” him, so…)
  7. Sometimes it’s all in the title. You would read a story called, “That Time I Accidentally Broke my Aunt’s Nose at the Playground,” wouldn’t you?
  8. This exercise inspired me to write this post after a months-long hiatus. I also recently stumbled across this amazingly inspiring quote of Martha Graham (speaking to Agnes de Mille): “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.” Stop doubting yourself and write, self (I need to hear this as much as anyone). Or paint or dance or sing or teach or organize or whatever it is you’re called to do. Even if you’re only 7!
  9. I’ll do this brainstorm with C too, since I now realize she’s going to have an amazing list.
  10. I love lists.

See you soon, lovebugs xo