"But what do I write about?!"
That was the whiny lament I often heard from my fourth grade students. And sometimes it’s what I hear in my own head as I stare at my blank computer screen.
Unlike writing fiction, where you must create everything in your own head, nonfiction ideas are everywhere. You simply have to be tune your mental radar to find them.
Here are five places that NF ideas pinged my mental radar.
1. Television. Your best bet are channels devoted to documentaries 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. 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, 2015 issue has an article about Armstrong Custer—not as hero but as horse thief. Ping!
3. Read newspapers. Read with an eye for something that makes you think, "Say what?" For example, in one of my local papers, an article mentioned there had been a German POW camp right here in my small Texas town. Ping!
4. Travel. I found the subject of a current project in a Texas 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. Your radar will be busy if you are aware and focused!
5. Wonder. Catch yourself every time you wonder--write it down. 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. Hmmmm... 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! 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 to use the note function on your phone, or keep a number of small notebooks stashed in your car, near the shower, in your purse or briefcase, and in the kitchen. Your pile of pings could lead to an essay, an article, a book. Or possibly, a blog post!
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