Author Coleen Paratore has shown us that being BIG is more than a matter of size. Now she’s back to tell us that creativity is spark that can be captured by anyone. Read on to learn more about Fireflies, her new (and inspiring) writer’s journal, and about catching those firefly ideas.
1. “Fireflies” is an apt image for ideas. Is this a mental picture you’ve always had, or is it a recent development?
The notion of ideas sparking inside us like fireflies has been with me for nearly a decade now. After my first book was published in 2004, I was preparing for a school visit and wanted a visual way to demonstrate “catching inspiration.” I bought a plastic jar with a bright yellow top and then found little gummy rings that blink-blink-blink when pressed to use as props. At the opening assembly I asked the students how many had ever caught a firefly in an empty jar on a summer night. Many had. “It’s just that way with ideas,” I said. “You never know when they will spark. Now, if I’m a writer and I get a great firefly idea, what should I do fast as I can before it flies away?” A few students shouted out, “Write it down!” I nodded, “Yes! Say that again … now three times to remember.”
“Write it down, write it down, write it down.”
Throughout the afternoon as I did grade-level breakout sessions, several students came running up to tell me how they’d already “caught a firefly idea!” A third grade boy was particularly excited about the concept and wrote me a note saying “you should write about the fireflies.”
For the past ten years, I have taken that yellow-topped jar and the blinky ring to every school I visit. When I run into teachers and librarians at conferences, they tell me students always remember “catching the firefly ideas.” When Fireflies, my eighteenth book, pubs this summer (my tenth birthday as a published author), in the acknowledgements there is a thank-you to the boy who told me to “write about the fireflies.” It would be so cool if he’s still as excited about writing as he was that day in third grade.
2. Fireflies is full of, shall we say, creative tinder; lots of prompts and helpful tips. Do you see these tips as geared for a specific age group, or is this a journal that anyone can use and enjoy?
Fireflies is a writer’s notebook for all ages. The “invitations to write” that I have sprinkled throughout Fireflies are the same prompts I use in the classes and workshops I teach for adults. The key to powerful writing is to travel inside to the firefly fields of our own minds and hearts. Naming the things we love, what we know about, feelings, memories, wounds and wishes; writing these down, catching them on paper, and then reading them over to see which are sparking brightest for us … which we have the most passion, the most excitement for writing about.
3. It’s not uncommon for people to convince themselves that they’re not creative or artistic. Can Fireflies help show them otherwise?
Everyone has creative ideas. Unfortunately some of the most artistic writers begin to question their talent when they are graded against formulaic rubrics in school. With all the “rules” of writing young people must learn, my hope is that Fireflies will be the “write your heart out … have fun and explore” companion piece that will keep writing exciting and meaningful … a place where they can discover who they are and very much like who they see.
4. What’s the most inspirational piece of advice you’ve received, and how would you pass it on to others?
The most comforting and inspirational bit of advice I have written and taped above my computer screen: “The work knows more than I do.” I’m not sure who said it (I’d like to think it was a firefly idea of my own), but what it means to me is that we have to trust that if we show up on the page to write, the work will take us where we need to go.
To learn more about Coleen and her own collection of “fireflies,” visit her website. Tell her Team Pickle sent ya!