When I was a kid growing up in the north woods of Minnesota, a group of my neighborhood friends had a “Chipmunk Fort.” It was constructed out of a pile of old fencing materials in my friend Paul’s backyard; each kid had their own “house” in the fort. We spent some time collecting pretty rocks and oddly shaped sticks and soft clumps of moss to decorate our houses. But the primary work of the Chipmunk Fort was to support our large community of striped squirrel neighbors by peeling acorns for them.
I don’t know if chipmunks appreciate such eﬀorts or not, but the creatures are geniuses at stockpiling food for when times are scarce. In fact, if you look carefully at the photo, you’ll see that one of them has found his way into my dad’s container of birdseed; the critter spent the entire day stuffing his cheeks with the contents of the jug and carrying it home for winter provisions.
To me, stockpiling ideas has proven to be a great tactic. One of the most common questions young writers ask me is, “Where do your ideas come from?” The truth is, they come from everywhere, all around me. But they often show up when I can’t actually make use of them, and prove elusive when I’m sitting in front of my computer. I don’t keep a journal (a tactic that has worked well for many other writers); I’m too undisciplined to follow through on that regular practice. But I have learned to carry a writer’s notebook so I can stuff it full of the good bits when they spontaneously pop up. The notebook becomes an assortment of random musings, eavesdropped conversations, bizarre facts, and wonderful-to-say words. Then when I face one of my regular “writing winters,” those times when it seems impossible to come up with an interesting concept, I’ve got plenty of seeds stored away.
That notebook is a little like having an emergency car kit when you set oﬀ on a long winter’s drive. You may be blessed with good fortune and never need the emergency kit. But in case you do get stuck — whether in a snow bank or faced with a “writing emergency” — you’ll be awfully glad you’ve got it on hand. Why not encourage your young writers to take a similar precaution and keep a writer’s notebook of their own in their desk or backpack?