by Megan Litwin

Whenever I think about writing, or how to teach writing, or how to give advice to people looking to start writing, I think of some favorite lines from Mary Oliver. In her poem Sometimes, Mary Oliver gives the very best instructions—meant for living, but equally inspiring for writing.

Pretty good advice, isn’t it?

Direct. Succinct. True.

If you’re looking for something to write about…pay attention. In your own tiny corner of the universe, what beautiful, curious, astonishing things are happening? No doubt there are many. Another thing about reading Mary Oliver is that she reminds you of the countless fascinating things happening right under your nose.

So, pay attention!

Be astonished!

And tell your idea notebook all about it.

I try to live these words. Like Mary Oliver, I pay attention to this wonderful world we live in—finding inspiration on trails and beaches and in magical moments of outdoor solitude. But I also pay attention during the everyday moments of life, too. In the car. Listening to music. Watching my kids play. Cleaning out closets. What surprises me? What delights me? What sticks with me?

I love starting off January with Storystorm because it is a concrete reminder to pay attention, or as Tara so aptly puts it, a time to “heighten your idea-generating senses.” I create little thought bubbles in my notebook at the start of each Storystorm year, filling them in with all kinds of things I notice. Words, phrases, sights, sounds. And when those bubbles are all filled, I make some more.

I don’t worry about what I’m going to do with these thoughts right away. It is the habit of noticing that is important. And sometimes, the act of noticing even weaves itself into a story.

My first picture book, TWINKLE, TWINKLE, WINTER NIGHT (illustrated by Nneka Myers), was inspired by a car ride where my young son was captivated by the many kinds of bright light filling the December darkness. As I worked and reworked drafts, trying to capture the magic and wonder we both were feeling at that moment, I wanted to also capture the importance of his noticing to begin with. Here we were, on a simple car ride, but to him it was as if we had front row seats to a magic show. He was mesmerized by the world. “Look up, look down, look all around” is a line in the final text that was there pretty much from the start. Yes, this is a book that celebrates winter as a bright and beautiful time of year, but it is also a book celebrating the idea that there are astonishing and amazing things all around…if you take the time to look for them.

This February and June, I have two early readers coming out that feature a pair of best buds who love to catch bugs. DIRT & BUGSY: BUG CATCHERS and DIRT & BUGSY: BEETLE MANIA (both illustrated by Shauna Lynn Panczyszyn) are directly inspired by happenings in my own corner of the universe—my two boys and their friends and endless hours spent investigating insects. Children, as it turns out, are inherently good at noticing things. The adventures Dirt and Bugsy have in each book are both simple and complex. They don’t go very far. They don’t use high-tech tools or toys. They just dig into what is right in front of them. And that is enough! If you pay attention, a backyard is a fascinating place to be.

And so, fellow Storystormers, let’s take inspiration from Mary Oliver and Tara Lazar and children everywhere…

As we begin a fresh new year and open fresh new notebooks, let’s all get in the habit of paying attention. Let’s aim to slow down, to look up and down and all around, to check our own backyards, and to dig into the here and now and wonderful. You just might be astonished at how many things you want to tell that notebook.


Megan Litwin is the author of the picture book TWINKLE, TWINKLE, WINTER NIGHT (Clarion/HarperCollins, 2022) and the forthcoming early reader series DIRT & BUGSY (Penguin Workshop, 2023). Megan holds a Master of Arts in Children’s Literature from Simmons University, and is a former classroom teacher who loves visiting schools to work with young readers and writers. She lives in Massachusetts with her family. Visit her at or connect with her on Twitter at @Meg_Litwin or Instagram at @meganlitwinbooks.

Megan is giving away a signed copy of TWINKLE, TWINKLE, WINTER NIGHT or a half-hour virtual visit for a K-3 classroom—whichever the winner prefers!

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm 2023 participant and you have commented only once on today’s blog post. ↓

Prizes will be distributed at the conclusion of Storystorm.