Monday #6: The Scary, Blank Page

I have a quick task for you…

Grab a piece of paper and a pen or pencil.


You only have 5 seconds.

Five seconds isn’t very long.

Don’t cheat, OK?  Just 5 seconds.

I mean it.

Here goes….

Write down 3 of your favorite things.  Hurry, you only have 5 seconds.  Don’t think too much about it….

Here are my 3.  Today’s 3, of course.  Ask me another day, and, it’s possible, they might be different.

Birthday Cake, Dogs, Running

One of the most frequent questions I get as an author is, where do you get your ideas? My answer is always simple: I write about the things I like.  This is pretty much why you will never see me do a book about camping, football or sardines.  And, by the way, cake is always on my list which is why, I promise you, one day I will have a book called I Love Cake.

So, earlier this year I led a week-long summer camp with some local kids and I did this very same activity.  I told them my three favorites first (shouted them, actually, as I tend to get a bit theatrical and excited when speaking of favorite things) to show them how easy it was to come up with 3 favorite things.  They looked at me quizzically, to tell you the truth.  I pressed on, though, and pointed to each child, urging them to come up with his or her three, waiting in anticipation because I love hearing people’s three just about as much as coming up with my own.  But here’s what I got:  blank stares and silence.  It reminded me a little bit of the proverbial writer’s Scary, Blank Page.  And, anyone who has ever had to write a report at any age knows about the Scary, Blank Page.  Even when I coaxed them, these children had a tremendously difficult time coming up with anything but a near duplicate of my favorite 3.  What is going on here?

I do a lot of writing and art workshops with kids, so I know all too well the “i-don’t-know-what-to-write-about” response, A.K.A. the Scary, Blank Page syndrome.  The funny thing is that, if I start making lists of things we like with them, they actually have lots of things to say.  All of the sudden, we find out we have things in common, we have things to think about and talk about… to write about!  Teachers tell me that they are apprehensive about doing poetry writing with their classes, particularly in the K-3 age range.  I remind them what I tell kids…. writing is just talking on paper.  If you can talk it, you can write it.  And, if you have a room full of people who have all come up with 3 of their favorite things, you now have 75 things to think about, talk about and write about.  That’s 75 possible poems, at least. The thing is, you gotta ask someone what they like.  And then you gotta let them tell you.  It’s a lot like a conversation and kids are some of the very best people to have them with.

So, if you’re still with me, here’s a poem I wrote Friday night with some old and new friends.  I was with some educators talking about ways to get kids to write.  I told them we could write a great poem in about 2 minutes if they just gave me a topic, and I call this my “Word Association Poem” (Word Association Poem Lesson Plan here).  The original topic was “cookies,” something most of us can agree is a favorite thing, but it ended up being, well, about so much more…

Salty potato chips are my favorite,

and chocolate milk, with a straw!

Even dogs love to bite a biscuit

or eat M&Ms on Halloween.

Give me more yummy cookies, please!

(But only because the mice think the crumbs are delicious).

What does it all mean?  I think it means we should find out what people like, especially if we work with kids.  I think it means we should have more conversations with people about what we have in common.  I think it means that half-full glasses are always better than half-empty (although I do kind of enjoy the thought of writing I-don’t-like poems about camping and sardines… and, even football, too) because celebrating is way more fun than complaining.  But, mostly it means that I had trouble coming up with something for today and had my very own case of The Scary, Blank Page syndrome.  Good thing I know the cure… and I’m pretty sure it might even have something to do with cake.

TRY THIS WEEK: Ask three people what their 3 favorite things are.

The gorgeous cake in my Three Favorite Things was made by the fabulous Tricia Patterson.  You can find more of her amazing confectionery creations at Patty Cakes.

About Dar Hosta James

I am an artist living in New Jersey. I write and illustrate children's books, paint, draw, blog, coach, teach and speak about creativity.
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1 Response to Monday #6: The Scary, Blank Page

  1. Your style is very unique in comparison to other folks I’ve read stuff from. Thanks for posting when you’ve got
    the opportunity, Guess I will just bookmark this page.

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