Writing Mini-Lessons: Drawing and Talking to Find Topics


“An idea is nothing more nor less than a new combination of old elements.”
~James Webb Young

“The best antidote to writer’s block is … to write.”
~Henriette Anne Klauser

As a writer, having ideas is a critical element of the writing craft. Often, however, student writers find choosing a topic amongst the most challenging parts of the whole process. Drawing and talking to find topics is a technique designed to help you, the writer, unearth memories connected with objects or events from a special place or time and to bring those memories to light.

With your writing partner or group, read Patricia MacLachlan’s story, All the Places to Love or When I Was Young in the Mountains. After you have finished reading, discuss the places celebrated in the story.  Talk about what places are special to you and what makes them that way.

Patricia MacLachlan told about her good memories of her places to love, using place to ground her writing ideas.  As a writer, you, too can use a familiar setting to help evoke memories that can provide the basis for a writing topic.

Begin by creating a list of favorite or familiar places such as your backyard, the playground, a shady spot under a tree, a vacation spot, etc.  Share your list with a partner or small group, adding to and revising your list.  Once your list is complete, star one place to sketch and write about.

You will be making a sketch on a piece of drawing paper, but first, fold back one-third of the strip of drawing paper.  Your sketch will be created on the two-thirds portion of the paper.

To focus your sketching, close your eyes and think about the place and the experiences you have had there.  Think about the objects in this place.  Sketch this place on the long part of your strip.  Remember that this is only a sketch so do not spend too long on your drawing.

Now that you have your sketch, turn to your partner or small group and talk about the different things in your sketch.  Tell the stories you remember when you think about or talk about each part of your sketch.

Now choose one object that evokes a special memory or story.  Sketch this again on the small folded part of the paper strip, this time elaborating and adding as many details as you can.  You can list words or short phrases that come to mind as you sketch.

Using the memory from your sketch, write a first draft or a short entry about it in your writing binder.  This entry could be a topic to be developed further at another time or it could become the seed for your personal narrative, memoir, or fictional narrative.