Finding the Story You Need to Write

Weird Up Your Characters

Stories are all around us, everywhere. We just need to look.

That’s the message John Calderazzo shared during his nonfiction workshop “Finding the Story You Need to Write” at Old Town Library on Saturday, Oct. 21 as part of the second annual Fort Collins Book Festival.

The Colorado State University professor is the author of various books, short stories, and essays about nature, Asia, Buddhism, and the interrelationships of science and culture including Rising Fire: Volcanoes and Our Inner Lives.

He started by reciting common truths about writing (“Writing can drive you crazy; not writing can drive you crazy”), which prompted laughter and head nods from the 40 or so workshop participants. Then he described a memory that backs up his theory about stories:

It was a hot day many years ago, and he suddenly spotted what he thought were big snowflakes falling from the sky. But they weren’t snowflakes. They were pieces of fluff from cottonwood trees, long strands of spider webs, and birds’ feathers.

“Stories float around everywhere,” Calderazzo said, “waiting for us to pick them up.”

He then led the group through a series of exercises starting with mementos, which are objects with shape and weight that connect us to a specific moment in life. They’re time machines, he said.


  • Write about a memento in your pocket or in your purse. What is it? Why do you keep it?
  • Write about a memento somebody has from you.
  • Write down the name of somebody who cares about you all the time. Write about the moment you realized that was the case. What’s the body connection in that moment (a hand on your shoulder, the sound of their voice, etc.)? What sounds and smells are associated with that moment?

Tips and Words of Encouragement

  • If you have an idea for an essay, don’t delay writing. Start writing a scene even if you think you should do research first. You’ll figure out what you do and don’t need to research.
  • Start writing in the middle. No need to outline first.
  • Write whatever scene you’re curious about. The author Scott Russell Sanders writes scenes in random order, then numbers them.
  • Write as though you’re writing to a good friend.
  • Write to find the story. Start with “This is a story about…” Write just one sentence on what your story is about on a small piece of paper.
  • Write a haiku about your story. Haiku is a form of poetry that consists of three lines of 5 syllables, 7 syllables, and 5 syllables.
  • Make up an advertisement that calls for the story you want to write.
  • Write a story about how you chose your profession.

Calderazzo shared anecdotes about former students who overcame challenges before finding success. One award-winning young adult author realized she had no more excuses to not write once her child began first grade. Another author’s story was rejected by 27 magazines before it was accepted and later anthologized in The Best American Short Stories. (He said, “My strongest talent is sticking with it.”)

The workshop concluded with this final encouragement: “Good luck with your work and just do it.”

Katherine Valdez has made significant progress eliminating all excuses to not write. Good timing, because NaNoWriMo is just around the corner.

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