Make Your “Fertile 50” List


It’s springtime in Texas, when the bluebonnets are in bloom and women from around the country come together for a conference in Austin to learn more about lifewriting. It’s the “Stories from the Heart” conference of the national organization Story Circle Network, “for women with stories to tell,” April 15 – 17.

I’ll be at the conference, teaching a workshop called “The Treasure of Your Coming of Age Stories.” We’ll explore the meaning of coming of age and uncover the wealth of writing topics in this fertile subject. We’ll create a fertile list of 50 topics, a fabulous brainstorming method you can use, too.

Make Your “Fertile 50” Writing Topics List

Fifty topics?! That’s right. Make this list and you’ll have a treasure chest of topics to draw from on this or any other time period in your life.

Here’s how you do it.

1. Sit down with a pad of lined paper and a pen. At the top of the paper write this sentence: What happened when I was a teenager?

2. As fast as you can, write down 50 thoughts that come to your mind. These can be incidents small and big, everyday and exceptional. You can list music you liked, clothes you wore, friends you had, interests you had, places you lived. First times can be on your list—you know what they are! Number each thought on its own line, stopping only when you get to 50.

3. Write quickly. To prompt the next thought, ask the question, “What else happened when I was a teenager?” More will come.  Repeat the question over and over, urging yourself to find the next memory if you come to a slowdown.

4. When you have 50, read the list over and choose one of the items on it to write about first. You can always incorporate other items from the list into this story.

5. To get the most out of this list-making, write the story as soon as you finish your list and read through it. Ride the momentum to get your juicy first draft, filled with the energy you’ve generated.

And don’t stop there! Consider submitting your story to my next book, 100 Years in the Life of a Teenage Girl, the next book in the 100 Years in the Life series. Go to for submission details.

The first book in the 100 Years in the Life series, 100 Years in the Life of an American Girl, showcases life for girls under age 13 in every decade from 1910 to 2010. The 56 stories come from girls and women (about their girlhoods) in every region of the country, with fascinating details that only the well-told personal story can deliver. You’ll read about everything from chasing horse-drawn fire engines in New York City to attending an Islamic private school in Michigan on 9/11.

Have a great time with your Fertile 50 list, and if you come to the weekend conference in Austin this April, I look forward to meeting you.

About Suzanne

Suzanne Sherman is a veteran publishing professional, with thirty-five years in the field and a specialization in memoir and other nonfiction. Her clients have published with Wiley & Sons, Chronicle Books, Ten Speed Press, and a number of smaller publishers. She has also helped many authors successfully self-publish. Some of Suzanne’s memoir students and coaching clients prefer to write for personal pleasure or to create books for family, and they call her an invaluable guide.


Start Writing Right!

These 7 easy-to-follow essentials can get you started right or help you fine-tune your writing in progress. It’s a short, info-packed resource to help you improve on a good idea and give you the tools to build your exceptional story.