One question I frequently get asked by young and old is, “where do you get your inspiration”? For me, my inspiration comes from following my interests. For me, the creative process is like a funnel. Curiosity leads to inspiration which leads to stories.
When I first started writing twelve years ago, the hardest thing was coming up with ideas. My brain wasn’t wired for it … yet. Tara Lazar’s Storystorm (previously PiBoIdMo) challenge to come up with 30 ideas in 30 days helped me learn the value of keeping a journal and jotting down ideas that caught my curiosity such as the pigeons that sat on the traffic poles or the different types of tail wags by our dog (wiper-blade, helicopter, and spiral). I also have various resources or activities that help me fill my creative well such as The Atlas Obscura Podcast, watching a documentary, going for a hike, watching old movies of my girls when they were toddlers, or skimming through portfolios of my favorite illustrators. The key thing is to notice when your interest is piqued and to follow it.
I have many, many journals with ideas but only a handful get my gears turning and eventually become first drafts. Out of that even fewer get revised and make it all the way to the end a polished story. Hence the reason for the funnel analogy, and why it’s best to be constantly curious. Below were three seeds that made it all the way to publication.
The seed for my debut picture book, HOW TO WEAR A SARI illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff, started in Fall 2016. I was planning my Indian outfits for the upcoming Navratri and Diwali seasons. I love the elegance of saris, but I was bemoaning how I never got the hang of wearing one. I began wondering what it would be like if a young Indian girl wanted to play dress-up with her mom’s sari. My curiosity was ignited and the questions started pouring in. What type of sari would she pick? Which steps would be easy, which would be hard? What mistakes might she make along the way? And most importantly would she succeed? Before I knew it, I had the plotline for a story.
For my newest book, I’M AN AMERICAN illustrated by Laura Freeman, the seed came when I was watching a YouTube video in Summer of 2017. In the video, a White man conversing with an Asian man about being American. The White man peppered the Asian man with a variety of questions. Even though the Asian man answered every question with an answer that was similar if not the same as the White man’s answers, it didn’t matter. The White man would not “see” the 4th generation U.S. born ethnically Chinese man as an American. I was flabbergasted. When is one considered an American? In my book, a group of diverse children discuss the American values they share even though they come from different backgrounds.
For my upcoming picture book, BUILDING A DREAM: HOW THE BOYS OF KOH PANYEE BECAME CHAMPIONS illustrated by Dow Phumiruk, I was watching a humanitarian commercial on YouTube in 2013. It was about a group of boys who loved soccer but had no place to play. I watched the video over and over. I was so inspired by how the boys faced their environmental and societal challenges with perseverance, hope, and ingenuity. I wanted kids everywhere to know their story.
Here is a way to help children engage in this creative process. Have them start a journal. Each day have them write down five things they noticed. Perhaps it’s a line of ants going in a zig-zag pattern across the sidewalk, a poster for a found puppy, two squirrels playing chase, a pesky pigeon that loves a particular windowsill, or a million other possibilities. Out of the day’s list have them put a star next to the item that is their favorite — the one that inspires them to dwell further. Ask them to then write a few sentences for the topic. They can do some research. They can type their question into Google to get started, find some non-fiction books on the topic, or maybe just daydream and see what surprising ideas pop up. At the end of the week, they should have a list of five things that inspired them. Have them pick their favorite one and ask them to keep digging. Have them ponder the questions – Who, Where, When, What, Why, and What If. Before they know it, a story will begin to germinate.
The world is an amazing place with stories hidden in children’s laughs, sidewalk chalk drawings, family hugs, and magical cloud formations. Let’s encourage kids to look up, down, and all around and discover the gems that are everywhere. Children have wonderful stories to tell. I can’t wait to hear them.
Darshana Khiani is an author, engineer, and advocate for South Asian children’s literature. She is infinitely curious about the world and enjoys sharing her findings with young readers. If she can make a child laugh even better. Her debut picture book, How to Wear a Sari (Versify), was an Amazon Editors’ Pick. Learn more about her at www.darshanakhiani.com or on Twitter or Instagram @darshanakhiani.
- This giveaway is for a copy of I’M AN AMERICAN by Darshana Khiani. Many thanks to Penguin Random House for donating a copy of the book to one of our commenters.
- For a chance to win this copy of I’M AN AMERICAN, please leave a comment about this post by Saturday, April 29 at 6:00 p.m. EDT. Stacey Shubitz will use a random number generator to pick the winner, whose name she will announce at the bottom of this post, by Thursday, May 4. You must have a U.S. mailing address to enter the giveaway.
- Please leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so she can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win.
- If you are the book winner, Stacey will email you the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – KHIANI. Please respond to Stacey’s e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. A new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.
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Congratulations to Mickie who will win a copy of Darshana’s book.
11 thoughts on “Power of Curiosity”
I think the idea of writing down five things you notice will help me with coming up with ideas as well as the students. It’s great to be introduced to you and your books.
I love this idea for helping students generate ideas. This sounds like a routine I want to add to my classroom, starting now! And I’m excited to read your books–they weren’t ones I have come across, but now I know I need to search them out! Thank you!
Thank you for sharing about your writing. I love “the funnel analogy, and why it’s best to be constantly curious.” So true! Your book “I’m An American” sounds like a must-read…so important to be read in our classrooms right now. I absolutely love the idea of having kids (myself, included! still at kid at 63, ha!) keep a journal where they write five things they notice each day – wow, yes, this is food for stories.
I bought blank journals with fun covers for my students not too long ago, but didn’t know what to really do with them. NOW. I. KNOW. I love the idea of writing down 5 things you notice during a day. Thank you for the ideas!
Thank you for this delicious post! I am putting it into practice today!
I love to hear author’s’ perspectives and this advice is practical and inspiring. I just discovered How to Wear a Sari. Wonderful books for children and adults!
I love your process and am inspired to keep a curiosity journal. As I read your book excerpts, I thought, “I Am an American,” might be a great book to keep in my substitute bag to share with the classes.
I love the curiosity to stories visual. Can’t wait to share it with students!
As an educator it is easy to get caught up in the standards and skills that one must teach. This leads to frustration on our part and wondering where and how to get our students to write freely and focus less on the amount. Your gentle reminder about how important the cultivation of a child’s curiosity is just what I needed, even as this school year comes to an end.
The ideas presented here are inspiring. I have had my students keep a writing journal of ideas but I especially like the suggestion of making lists of observations, questions, and curiosities. Thank you for sharing these tips.
I love the curiosity funnel analogy – creativity leads to inspiration which leads to stories. Keeping a journal is such a critical part of writing and this post brings out that importance.
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