One of the several part-time jobs I do to support my writerly lifestyle is creating math curriculum. It’s a pretty sweet sitch. I work from home, get paid well, and am able to do as much or as little as I want each month. It’s one reason why I recommend to all you wannabe creative writers out there: become a math teacher first. (Ha ha. But no, seriously.)
I work for a company that sells Common Core correlated lesson plans and worksheets to middle schools around the country. The main emphasis for us creators is to come up with exciting ways to link math to real life so that the kids will be interested and invested.
For example, I did a lesson where kids watch this Beyonce video and describe her moves in math terms: 90 degree rotation, moving two steps along the x-axis, etc. Then they make up their own dance and plot it on the coordinate plane. Fun, right?
At first, it was pretty easy for me to think of creative ideas — I used some of the things I’d done (or wanted to do) with my own students back when I was a math teacher. I wrote lessons about crop circles, ant farms, shipwrecks, and hair extensions. I was especially proud of my lesson about a chicken drop. (If you don’t know what a chicken drop is, see here.)
When those ideas ran dry, I started creating math curriculum about whatever was going on in my life. I wrote lessons about circus school, a cross-country trip, planning a wedding, traveling to Mexico. I even wrote a lesson about Otzi the Iceman after hearing a Radiolab episode about him.
But now I’ve been working for this company for over three years. I’ve started to worry that all my creative ideas have been used up. After all, there are only so many ways you can get kids excited about decimal division… right?
Thank god I found this: 500+ Things Kids Like. The list was composed by Tara Lazar, a children’s book author: “I hope this list gives a spark to your writing for children,” she says.
I don’t know if this is what she had in mind, but it’s been a treasure trove for my math curriculum! Now, whenever I’m starting on a new project, I scan the list until I see something that might have a math connection… (Just about everything does, you know.)
For example, the other day, I scanned the list and saw “babies” on there as one of the 500+ things kids like. Oh, yeah, I thought, babies get weighed and measured. That’s math. Plus, they grow inside the womb, doubling and tripling in size over time. That’s math. So I created a math lesson called Maternity Ward.
Just the other day I was watching one of the new episodes of Park and Recreation. The character Craig, when feeling stressed, lists great things about being alive, like “watermelon martinis, exposed brick, Keri Russell’s hair.”
That’s when it occurred to me that a) I should make a similar list to look at whenever I’m feeling sad, and b) I should be using lists not only for math curriculum but also for my own writing!
There are all kinds of lists I could make that might be helpful:
- A list of characters – both real and imagined – who interest me.
- A list of books I admire.
- A list of interesting places, or jobs, or objects.
- A list of random things I like to read and write about.
- A list of every story premise I’ve ever thought of
- And so on.
And even if the list does nothing for me now, I can always return to it when I’m feeling especially stumped and out of creative juices. Maybe an item on the list will spark an idea and get me writing.
I often fear that I’ve run out of creativity and have no more ideas left for my fiction writing. Yet, in the past three years, I have written over 150 math lessons on all sorts of topics. I continue to amaze myself (and my bosses) with my seemingly never-ending fount of creative ideas. If I can do that for math curriculum (which is something I do for money) I can certainly do it for creative writing (which is something I do out of passion). And if I can do it, then you can, too.
Now let’s get listing!
Craig’s List of Great Things About Being Alive
- watermelon martinis
- exposed brick
- Keri Russell’s hair
- Martha Stewart’s apron line
- my tomato plants
- sweet potato pie
- unlikely animal friend pairings
- Jennifer Love Hewitt
- Victor Garber
- James Garner
- Jennifer Garner