“What inspired you?” It’s a question we’re often asked as writers, and, if we’re being honest, we can never fully articulate the answer.
Was it that story you read? Or that thing someone said? Or that bare tree, glistening in the dampness of early spring, standing tall on a sidewalk stained with fallen blossoms? Maybe.
People often ask me how I got the idea to write BLUE: A HISTORY OF THE COLOR AS KEEP AS THE SEA AND AS WIDE AS THE SKY. I tell them the truth: “I was reading a description of the furnishings in King Solomon’s temple in the Bible, and it noted that a curtain was blue. I wondered why that detail mattered so I started investigating.” But one third grader recently asked what I think is a better question. She probed, “But what made you wonder?”
I could try to stumble through an answer here, as I did when the student asked, but I believe, ultimately, only God knows. What I will say is, sit with that question.
What makes you wonder? What are you wondering about right now?
Pay attention to the question that keeps coming up for you, the one that’s been insistently splashing around your brain, and, instead of judging it as silly, insignificant or too scary to plumb, let it get you wet. Dive into it and allow it to lead you to sources expected and unexpected to find the answer. With your question brazenly framing your perspective, you’ll start noticing—or stop ignoring—answers all around you.
Gather every fragment of an answer you find, then dump them on the page. (Drafts are allowed to be a mess.) Examine what you have, and begin to isolate and assemble the treasures—the facts, the anecdotes, the new questions—into a work that isn’t so much the answer, but a construction that reflects the work you did to find your answer.
When you’re staring at what you created, and someone asks, “What was your inspiration?” once again, you’ll probably stumble trying to explain, but I believe what you will have is a fresh sense of wonder that you wondered at all.
Meet the Author:
Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond is the author of the children's picture book BLUE: A HISTORY OF THE COLOR AS DEEP AS THE SEA AND WIDE AS THE SKY, illustrated by Caldecott Honor Artist Daniel Minter, and the young adult novel POWDER NECKLACE, which Publishers Weekly called “a winning debut.” Her short fiction for adult readers is included in the anthologies Accra Noir edited by Nana-Ama Danquah, Africa39 edited by Ellah Wakatama Allfrey, New Daughters of Africa edited by Margaret Busby, CBE, Hon. FIRSL, Everyday People edited by Jennifer Baker, and Woman's Work edited by Michelle Sewell, among others. Her writing has also appeared in Now2, African Writing, Los Angeles Review of Books, and Sunday Salon.
I love this post and I love your book, Nana!ReplyDelete
Oh, wow! This is a great insight. Thank you so much for sharing!ReplyDelete
Excellent way of framing it. My 5th graders and I adore BLUE - you inspired them to really think deeply.ReplyDelete
Interesting and insightful post. Thank youReplyDelete
Thank you, Nan, for expanding on this often asked question about inspiration. I look forward to reading BLUE: A HISTORY OF THE COLOR AS DEEP AS THE SEA AND AS WIDE AS THE SKY.ReplyDelete
Apologies for the misspelling of your name, Nana.Delete
Why do I wonder - I think I seek the connectedness of all things and people. The intersection or near misses that occurred before but frame our now. Thanks for the jump start!ReplyDelete
Reading this just gave me an idea for a piece I'm working on- so thank you! Great post!ReplyDelete
Such a beautiful book and great advice. Get wet and messy with that nagging idea!ReplyDelete
I've always wondered what people are REALLY wanting to know when they ask about ideas. Thanks for this.ReplyDelete
I so love this! It's so interesting how different people wonder about different things...I will continue to wonder, and maybe eventually write about something that intrigues me.ReplyDelete
"Examine what you have, and begin to isolate and assemble the treasures—the facts, the anecdotes, the new questions—into a work that isn’t so much the answer, but a construction that reflects the work you did to find your answer." Thank you for reminding me that not only is it permissible, but it's required to be messy on the page en route to writing the story your mind and heart want to tell. And by the way, I absolutely LOVE "Blue." I never imagined that a color could have such a rich history and significant impact on culture, science, and language.ReplyDelete
What wonderful advice, Nana. Thank you. I read this post twice and I'm sure I will come back to it again. Just put BLUE on hold at my library.ReplyDelete
Wow! Just - Wow! Thank you. Nana. I am printing this post and pinning it up. There is so much here to return to again and again. Thank you.ReplyDelete
Lovely. If you take wonder and add the need to process what we know or think we know, you get story.ReplyDelete
NANA: I LOVE how a child helped you WONDER about WONDER, and how you've INSPIRED us to WONDER too! THANK YOU for the guidance to "sit with it . . . let it get you wet. Dive into it and allow it to lead you." To lead you---just like a child, to that sense and source of WONDER. BEAUTIFUL!!!ReplyDelete
You've inspired me to allow myself to question and then seek answers, even if the questions feel "silly"--love the metaphor of allowing myself to fully dive in and get soaked in my inspiration.ReplyDelete
Start noticing... or stop ignoring. Beautifully said! Thanks!ReplyDelete
I LOVE your book Blue! I recommended it to a friend who's a paleoethnobotanist (hope I got that mouthful right) and she was equally impressed. I hope you never lose your sense of wonder.ReplyDelete
I love this. It is only through the writing process itself that we can work out our answers to our wonderings!ReplyDelete
mmmmm...never thought about taking my wondering on their own journeys. Thank you for the probe!ReplyDelete
I was just thinking about explaining ideas to young children and today one of the topics is ideas. Very interesting.ReplyDelete
And there are so many things to wonder about :). Thanks Nana. I'm reserving your book now.ReplyDelete
Thought provoking post - thank you. Your book looks amazing - will reserve it. And congratulations for your creationsReplyDelete
I love that writing helps us gather facts and anecdotes, and always leads to new questions (at least it does for me). I've been doing some reading on a topic that I'd like to write about, and jotting down facts, but looking at my notes I see a whole list of questions on one of the pages. I wonder, indeed!ReplyDelete
Thanks for sharing your thoughts on how ideas come to us.ReplyDelete
Messy reminds me of all the rewrites to find a nugget worth keeping. Thank you for sharing your story.ReplyDelete
I enjoyed your observations about inspiration .I am looking forward to reading Blue.ReplyDelete
"Gather every fragment of an answer you find, then dump them on the page." Nana, this is so visual not only to my eyes, but also to my heart. Thank you for sharing your approach to answering those frequent, unexpected questions.ReplyDelete
Thanks for this thoughtful post!ReplyDelete
I love idea reframing the inspiration question to consider WHY you wonder. I'm going to look at my current projects and ideas through that lens. Thanks!ReplyDelete
Love this reminder to listen to whispers that are often brushed away as insignificant. Thank you.ReplyDelete
I love this post and the question "What makes you wonder?" Wonder is my word of the year. I love this quote: "Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder." -C.S. LewisReplyDelete
Love the switch from start noticing to stop ignoring! Thank you 🙏ReplyDelete
Love this... What made you wonder? - out of the mouths of babes, right? I suppose a precursor to wonder is time... thank you!ReplyDelete
I loved this book and learned so much on every page!ReplyDelete
Inspiring and thought provoking quote! Thank you Nana.ReplyDelete
Yet another great post. Thanks much!ReplyDelete
Very thought provoking post. Thanks!ReplyDelete
Very thought provoking. What an astute 3rd grader. Thanks for a great post.ReplyDelete
A great reminder to wonder freely and listen to the persistent voice in your head telling you to question, investigate and explore. Thanks for sharing.ReplyDelete
I love the inspiration for your book. How lovely! Catching a small detail and being curious might just lead us all to an idea. Thank you for sharing.ReplyDelete
Wow! After reading your inspiring post, I can't wait to wander with my wonderings! Congratulations on BLUE!ReplyDelete
Such a beautiful post. Thank you.ReplyDelete
“But what made you wonder?” This is why we should be writing children's books!ReplyDelete
Thank you Nana for such a beautifully expressed description of our intuitive side, our spirit that communes with God’s leading to bring us into His depth and magnificence. So inspiring. May we be alert, attentive to every wonder.ReplyDelete
Forgot to put my name, it’s PattiReplyDelete
Love the question, "But what made you wonder?" Made me appreciate how wonderful wondering really is.ReplyDelete
Your book is gorgeous and this post is spot on!ReplyDelete
Like many who read your post, “But what made you wonder?” will stick with me for a long time. Thanks for sharing!ReplyDelete
As a retired teacher, I now write NF PB, for ages 4-8. Thank you for clearing up my "stumble" on inspiration. My ideas come from watching children laughing, at play, going to school, and coming home. I watch silently, in awe, and with gratitude. Appreciate all you do!ReplyDelete
I love your book! Thank you for an amazing post. It is a good reminder of what we wonder about and think about everyday perhaps while journaling.ReplyDelete
"But what makes you wonder?" I think I might tape this up in my workspace! Thank you.ReplyDelete
I LOVE the backstory of your book, Blue! And thanks for the permission to let our minds wander and wonder ... and just maybe, a book will come out of those journeys of the mind and heart!ReplyDelete