Reach for a Memory
by Nan Marino

When it comes to writing, there are good and bad days. On a good day, you’ve got tons of ideas. Words flow. The sun shines. Everything is easy. But there are times when idea spigot gets a little clogged. Don’t worry. It happens to everyone.

On days when I’m looking for the mental equivalent of bottle of liquid Drano, I reach back to my childhood memories. First I think of a particular moment and try to recall the feelings surrounding it. Then I write. When I’m done, I move things around, alter it a little (or a lot), and turn it into fiction.

My debut middle grade novel, Neil Armstrong is My Uncle and Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me, is filled with altered memories. When I was about ten, a boy who lived on my street challenged the entire block to a game of kickball. All of us against one kid! In real life after about five minutes, we got bored watching him chase after the ball, and we moved onto something else. In my book, that game stretches out for an entire week.


Childhood memories make great writing prompts. Below are more memories I incorporated into my book. Feel free to write about any of them to get your creative juices flowing:

The Ice Cream Truck: When 4th or 5th graders send me drawings of scenes from my book, someone always draws the ice cream truck scene. Everyone connects with Mr. Softee. It’s an iconic symbol of summer. Remember waiting for the ice cream truck to come around? Did you have a favorite flavor ice cream?

Kickball, baseball, handball: Did you play? Were you one of those kids who took it seriously or did you sit on the sidelines?

Barbeques: I like barbeques because they happen over and over again. We eat the same kind of food and gather together with the same group of family or friends. It creates that feeling of endless summer days. What happened at your barbeques? Did you have an uncle who made great cherry pies? Was there a neighbor who sang a special song?

Dandelions: Nothing separates adults and children more than their feelings about dandelions. It’s the first flower you probably picked, and the first one you gave to someone you loved. I dare you to find one person under the age of ten who thinks it makes perfectly good sense to spend your precious weekend hours trying to eradicate them from your front lawn.

Songs and Dances: Madonna or Nirvana? Springsteen or Sinatra? A single song can take you back to that day when you were seven… Need more inspiration? Download it and dance!

Historical events: What happened when you were young? Do you remember the first time a man walked on the moon, the bicentennial, the assassination of John Lennon, the Berlin Wall coming down, the first Gulf War, the Y2K scare? From a child’s eyes, these events are seen differently.

Your secret place: Was it up in a tree? Behind the couch? Or up on the garage roof?

Remembering ordinary moments from your childhood is a great way to begin writing. Next time you need some inspiration for your fiction, reach for a memory.

neilarmstrongNan Marino spent her childhood climbing trees and hanging out on garage roofs in the town of Massapequa Park, New York. Since then, she’s ventured a hundred miles south to the Jersey shore where she works as a librarian and lives with her husband and their dog. Neil Armstrong Is My Uncle and Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me, published by Roaring Brook Press (May 2009), is her first novel.