Creative Writing Ideas

Some people have difficulty accepting input on their creative works, especially creative writing. I think they worry that if they incorporate someone else’s idea, the work isn’t their own. But I really love getting creative writing ideas from people, especially children, mine or anyone else’s kids.

People new to writing often say, “I shared this story with my kids and they loved it!” Unfortunately that phrase smacks of amateurism. It’s great that your kids love it, but your kids also love you and kids can’t often separate their feelings for a person from something the person creates. Most adults can’t even do that! So while it’s great to ask kids for their opinions and creative writing ideas, it takes time to learn when their advice is valuable.

Brainstorming and Creative Writing Ideas

So while I refrain from mentioning if my kids like something I’ve written, I’m pretty shameless about working with my kids for brainstorming and inspiration. They have some great creative writing ideas. But I don’t stop there. I use other people’s kids, too. Just yesterday I called a friend’s third grade son and he really solved an obstacle I had in my app idea.

Recently my middle son had a friend over and they kept shouting “Ho, Ho, Ho, oh no!” That phrase sparked a story in my brain about either a clumsy Santa Claus, or a not-so-helpful assistant to Santa. Over dinner I shared my ideas with the boys and we decided to write a story about Santa’s new puppy who gets into all sorts of trouble.

I like Snowball and Blizzard. creative writing ideas

I like Snowball and Blizzard.

 

 

My kids really got into the story development process. My fourth grader brainstormed character names for the puppy. He did this on his own, without me asking. I love that he knows I will listen to his ideas and that he cares enough about my writing to contribute and make it stronger. I also love how he knows not all of these ideas will work. That’s a big concept for a young kid.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good titles are hard for me. creative writing ideas

Good titles are hard for me.

 

Not only did my middle son and his off hand comment turn into a creative writing prompt, he suggested alternative titles. I was calling the story “Santa’s Best Friend” but I really like “One More Helper.” Titles are so hard for me but titles and cover images sell books and stories. I love how he suggested more than one alternative title.

 

 

The boys also suggested topics for other stories. They are little generators of creative writing ideas. The middle one wanted to read about an apple seed, so that became “Root Camp.” And again, the middle one wanted something about salt and pepper, so I am in the process of writing a kid’s mystery about which seasoning pushed pepper out of the spice cabinet.

The older son gives me great critique on my middle grade work. He tells me if he understands the dialogue and if it sounds real or not. He also tells me what doesn’t make sense to him when I describe action. He’s doing a lot of text analysis in class right now and his critique skills have definitely improved.

I don’t ever mention to editors or agents how my children feel about my work, but that doesn’t mean I’m not asking them. I value their input and their ideas. But I also involve them in the creative process and share my struggles and confusion with them. I let them know when I’m stumped and if they help me figure out a missing piece of the story, or fix that line that doesn’t rhyme in my story about dinosaurs rocking out I give them full credit.

It can take awhile for a child to learn that not all of their ideas will be used. And it can also take awhile for people to accept input on their creative works. But it can be so effective to get outside input. In this Publishers Weekly podcast, author Holly Black described how she develops some of her works by sharing rough drafts and general ideas with her critique group. Her process sounded really familiar to me and really validated my ideas that getting input can make a better final product.

Are there certain people you trust when it comes to contributing creative writing ideas?

Are there certain people that you never listen to?

 

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Sexism in Kids’ Books

I read a lot of children’s books but lately I’ve been really angry to discover so much sexism in them. My second grader is now reading chapter books but he still wants me or my husband to read with him, so I get to check out of a lot of books I’ve never read before. One of our favorite series is Junie B. Jones. We found the Ready Freddy books to be enjoyable but a little too repetitive. But recently I’ve had two very unpleasant discoveries of sexism in some popular chapter book series.

Disgusting

Here’s one example that angered me:

flat stanley sexism

From The Original Adventures of Flat Stanley

IMG_0831

From The Original Adventures of Flat Stanley

I stopped reading here and had a conversation with my son about it. I asked him what he thought about it, and he said Stanley should just wear the costume to trick people. I explained gently that it hurt my feelings for someone to think it was disgusting to dress like a girl. In this case, I hoped to build the notion that all politics is local in my son, so he could realize sexist statements like this have implications for people he loves.

It really bothers me that my son read about a character, the hero specifically, who thinks it’s disgusting to dress like a girl. The Flat Stanley books feature a little boy who becomes flat and uses his flatness to help people. And his parents are unfailingly polite. But this is a pretty rude sentiment to indicate it’s disgusting for a boy to dress like a girl. It’s pretty culturally insensitive, too. While it may the reality that boys find it disgusting in our culture to dress like girls, what that does is reveal the underlying belief that girls represent something boys should not admire or want to look like. That being a girl, looking like a girl, is undesirable. But it’s ok for girls to wear pants like boys, wear sports uniforms like boys, and be called tomboys because it’s ok for girls to emulate someone with more power in our social system. But according to this passage you’d have to be an idiot to want to dress down the social power ladder.

This message is subtle but persistent. Kids are reading it and believing it. A similar sentiment is repeated in one of the newer chapter book versions of the Amelia Bedelia stories.

Even Worse

amelia bedelia sexism

Amelia Bedelia: Unleashed

When I read this passage to my son, I stopped reading and fumed. It made me so mad. I made myself calm down and asked my son about it. He said he didn’t know what to think. I asked him if he would let a girl help him at school if he was in trouble. He said “you’re a girl, Mom. You help me.”

I know the power dynamics are different when the kid is seven and he’s thinking about his mom. But reading this sentence indicates that boys should not let girls help them at school, because that’s proving he’s so weak, so incapable of protecting himself from bullies (who were mocking his purebred prize-winning poodle), he’s reaching up to girls for help. This statement from the author is based on the assumption that girls are weak and less powerful, and implies that getting a girl’s help means this character even weaker than girls.

It made me sick. I’m getting rid of both books.

I’m all for freedom of speech and I’m super against censoring and banning books. But that doesn’t mean I have to allow my children to read these books. It also means I’m ready to have this conversation with my kids whenever they encounter any kind of racist or sexist or discriminatory language in books.

Sexism is Scary

I supported the We Need Diverse Books movement and I really do believe books should reflect more about the reality of the world we live in. But even though institutionalized sexism is a reality, I don’t think it has a place in children’s books. I work hard to challenge ideas from our society that pink and purple are girls’ colors or that boys are better in sports. I let my boys wear nail polish whenever they want and I would even let them wear skirts or dresses if they asked. (They haven’t.)

It’s scary to think of our kids as objects of ridicule if they attempt to challenge sexism. But it’s scarier to me to think of my boys adopting sexist beliefs and then acting on them as adults.

I urge you to look for ways that books perpetuate sexism and have the conversations we need to have with our kids to change this inaccurate power dynamic. And I urge you to challenge your own thinking and look for ways you could be continuing these stereotypes. Talk to your children about sexism (and racism, and all kinds of discrimination) and be part of the change.

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Notes for NaNoWriMo (Write)

Started these notes on Nov. 7, one week into NaNoWrIMo.

– Write.

– Use those 15 beats. Write out several versions of the story you think you want to tell.

– Work on those character descriptions early in October. Know those characters before hand and your story will flow.

– Read great books all month.

– Definitely block that time off on your calendar. That is working great!

– In October, start minimizing meetings that you accept in November. Get work done in advance whenever possible.

– Still schedule in your running and exercise.

– Journal the month before.

It’s now Nov 30, and I finished NaNoWriMo on Wed, Nov. 26.

– Don’t worry too much about exercising but a good walk helps.

– Don’t try to avoid caffeine by drinking that herbal tea called “Easy Now.” You may be allergic to the flowers in it. It gave you vertigo, possibly.

– Absolutely respect the time you have blocked off to write. That worked perfectly.

– Write scenes even if you decide not to use them later and even if they don’t make sense with previously written scenes but you think they may fit with the story after you revise it.

– You’re going to feel bad about your story at some points. Keep writing anyway. You can revise it!

– You love parts of your story. You’re going to feel so good you sat down and wrote this. You can revise it!

– Telling people, out loud, that you’re going to win, helps.

– Write with a friend. Write by yourself. Write in the morning or the evening, or both. Write a lot. Write!

Winner-2014-Web-Banner write

(I hope I remember to come back and read this in late September 2015!)

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

The Goldfinch and other books

Writers need to read books. Here are some I’ve read because they won awards.

“…It’s a joke, the Fabritius. It has a joke at its heart. And that’s what all the very greatest masters do. Rembrandt. Velázquez. Late Titian. They make jokes. They amuse themselves. They build up the illusion, the trick—but, step closer? it falls apart into brushstrokes. Abstract, unearthly. A different and much deeper sort of beauty altogether. The thing and yet not the thing.”


I just finished reading The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. It seems to be either a love it or hate it kind of book, based on the Goodreads reviews I’ve seen. I’m glad I read it, because for awhile I was lost in the beauty of the writing. At other points I was pulled out and really interested in the cause-and-effect scenarios Tartt constructed. I rushed to finish the book, which to me took too long, but in the end I was impressed by her skillful development of a wide variety of characters and worlds.

I do try to pick up award-winning adult fiction books now and then, though most take a long time to read. But earlier this year I did enjoy McBride’s The Good Lord Bird. It’s historical fiction and covers the events leading up to the John Brown raid, an event in time rife with what-ifs and could-have-beens. Also, I love going to Harper’s Ferry and am still terrified by the wax museum. I think a lot of people were terrified by John Brown, so it it’s only natural his wax figure scared me so badly.

I guess if I want to write something that will get noticed, I should put a bird in the title? Unfortunately the middle grade novel I’m sending to agents and the one I just finished for NaNoWriMo have nothing to do with birds. Hmmm. Maybe I should think about this.

I can’t end this post about books that win awards without mentioning the first National Book Award winner that I read because it was a National Book Award winner. I still struggle to describe this book, but I can say the characters and the world have lingered with me many years after I finished turning the last page.

Did you read any of these books? Thoughts?

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

More tips for picky eaters!

Boy eating whole wheat bread

Boy cannot live on bread alone.

Looking for more tips for picky eaters? If you have a picky eater in your family, you are probably familiar with the feeling that you’re in the middle of a food fight. You’ve prepared food but your picky eater won’t try a bite. Let the battle of wills begin! But I found that getting into a food fight with my picky eater left us both feeling defeated and angry. I want my children to have a healthy, curious attitude about food. And I don’t like arguing at every meal. So I looked into ways to work with my picky eater.

One important change was the creation of My Food Notebook. Not only did it help my child remember what foods he had tried and liked, it helped me remember if he liked foods prepared a certain way or with a certain condiment, which we call a “Flavor Buddy.” I also did a lot of research on techniques to that make it easier for kids to try new foods. Some of those tips are available here. But if you need additional ideas, here are five more tips to help create a win-win situation at your dinner table, too.

 

More Tips for Picky Eaters

1. Family Style – Instead of giving each person the same size serving and preparing plates in the kitchen, bring your food to the dinner table in family style bowls or platters and let your dining companions, young and old, choose the size of their serving. You may be surprised how many vegetables your children consume when they are allowed to serve themselves. And for those picky eaters, starting with a smaller portion is a lot less intimidating that facing a huge mound of spinach.

2. Choices – Whenever possible, I offer two or more vegetable choices at our family style dinners. I remind my children that a healthy meal includes some protein, some carbohydrates and a large serving of produce, then I let them choose. I highlight the nutritional benefits of each vegetable in language my kids can understand. We talk about Vitamin A in carrots and how it helps your eyes and Vitamin C in sweet potatoes and how it helps you fight off germs. But giving them a choice usually means they will eat more of their chosen food than if I have forced them to eat a certain vegetable.

3. Sticks – Putting food on sticks is like waving a magic wand for many picky eaters. Foods on sticks, whether it’s a kebob stick, a toothpick, or a really cute bento box mini-fork seems to make trying that food so much more fun.

4. Faces and fun – Since kids eat with their eyes and many children prefer to touch their food before putting it in their mouths, I often let them create faces and have a little fun with certain foods. Especially if we’re building a salad, creating a little monster face or cartoon character out of the salad ingredients can take the pressure off of trying new foods.

5. Be consistent –  There will be times when your picky eater is completely resistant to all tactics. Maybe they just aren’t hungry or aren’t in the mood to have fun. That happens here, too. But we don’t let our kids off the hook, they are required to have one bite of a vegetable – any vegetable they choose – at dinner. We call it our hop-down bite. You can’t hop-down from the table until you’ve taken the bite. And we never waver on this rule. Stick to it and the arguments and testing will fade. Do not give in. Not even once.

My Food Notebook helps picky eaters

My Food Notebook helps picky eaters

Once you’ve started using these tips to work with your picky eater, don’t forget to keep track of the foods they’ve tried in your very own copy of My Food Notebook. And let us know what foods become favorites – or not.

Check out MORE tips for picky eaters here!

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Pinterest Helps Writers

I have often wondered if Pinterest helps authors.  As a self-published author, I do use Pinterest to promote my three books. But is it more of a distraction or an inspiration?

I wrote an article for the Children’s Writer newsletter called “Turn Procrastination to Productivity” that explores this idea. After some careful thought, I think it can be helpful for all kinds of writers.

And I’m not alone! I asked other writers on the NaNoWriMo forums and heard back from many writers.

Response 1

“I started using Pinterest for April Camp NaNoWriMo, collecting images and quotes and things that reminded me of the story that I was writing at the time. Then I created a board called “Writer’s Must Write” for writing tips and things about the writer life, and I now have 100+ followers!

For this year’s official NaNoWriMo I am doing the same thing, and it’s been a great help in terms of getting the looks of my characters and setting down. Once you start using Pinterest for writing, it opens up a whole world of writing boards that make me incredibly happy :D”

Response 2

“I am using Pinterest to show places that I write about. I live in Istanbul, so there is a lot to show. I also have a board for my NaNo text for this year, with ideas (so I use it for planning). I have a board with writing stuff. http://www.kathrynizgi.com”

Response 3

“I love Pinterest for writing! I just used it today actually. I use it to do visual research. I’m setting my novel in a castle, and I did a search for castles and now have a diverse group from which I can pick and choose different aspects. It’s especially good for things like seeing different parts of the world that I will never be able to go to. And there are plenty of great writing quotes that give me the kick I need to get writing.”

Pinterest writing ideas

Productivity not Procrastination

I have three boards dedicated to writing: Writer’s Resources, Magazines (To Read and Write For) and Worth Reading. Here I add pins that give me tips on writing, quotes from great writers, children’s books that push me to write my own stories and images that strike a chord with my imagination.

I will continue to promote my books via Pinterest, but one important thing to note is that prices are no longer displayed as a small ribbon across the top left corner of the pin image. Prices will now appear as a small bubble in the upper right of “pins with more information” or “rich pins.” Creating product pins from your website now requires adding tags to your website. You can get more info on rich pins here.

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

NaNoWriMo 2014

I'm all in!

I’m all in!

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Five tips for picky eaters

tips for picky eaters

Won’t take a bite

Dealing with picky eaters is one of the most frustrating experiences for parents or any caregiver. So whenever I present My Food Notebook at parenting conferences or schools, I make sure I let the audience know my hidden secret: I have a picky eater, too. Sometimes, all three of my children are picky eaters!

But instead of just arguing with my children all the time I decided to change my approach. (This isn’t the first time I’ve had to make some parenting adjustments.) Part of my adjustment included creating My Food Notebook but it also included changing how food is served our house.

In order to work with my picky eater (and I always use the phrase “work with” because it is work that you have to do together), I have done a lot of reading and talked to a lot of other parents. From all that reading and talking I’ve put together a simple list of tips that help parents work with their picky eaters.

 

Five tips for picky eaters

1. Senses –  Remember your picky eater child doesn’t just shovel food into their mouth. They smell the food, see the food, often touch the food. And don’t forget how some food sounds when it squishes, splats or hits the plate with a thud. I try to pay attention to how food triggers my picky eater’s senses. I know he prefers things that are cubed or in distinct pieces and can’t handle anything too mushy.

 

2. Shopping – For some of us, grocery store time is the only time we get alone. But make sure you take your picky eater grocery shopping so your child can see the food you are selecting. Not too many people really like mystery food that just appears on their plate.

IMG_6545

Cooking together helps

3. Cooking – It’s not possible in my house to have my kids help me with every dinner, but I try to get my children (all of them, because each of them is picky about one thing or another) involved in cooking. This is important for breakfast and lunch, too, not just dinner. But seeing how the food looks at the store, bringing it home and preparing it, watching it transform on the stovetop or in the oven, helps my children and many children, take that first bite at the table. Not only are they more familiar with the food but they are also proud of their creation.

 

 

 

4. Gardening – Just like grocery shopping, being there when the food is acquired can help many children try something new. Imagine how they might feel about a new food that they have grown and cared for from a tiny seed, watched it blossom and then produce its fruit – it’s like magic! That is how I encouraged my pickiest eater to try his first eggplant. Even a small home has space for some small fruit and vegetable plants.

5. Role model – You have to eat it yourself, too. It’s as simple as that. You can’t ask them to eat it if you’re not eating it, too.

My Food Notebook helps picky eaters

My Food Notebook helps picky eaters

Once you’ve started using these tips to work with your picky eater, don’t forget to keep track of the foods they’ve tried in your very own copy of My Food Notebook. And let us know what foods become favorites – or not.

Check out MORE tips for picky eaters here!

 

 

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

New articles published

I am excited to announce a few new articles are now published and ready to be read!

In August, my article “Make Your Open House a Hit” went live on PTOToday.com.

In September, my article “Ways to Help Your Child Succeed in School” went live on SchoolFamily.com.

And in October, my article “What to Do With Poo” came out in the November 2014 issue of Odyssey Magazine.

Odyssey magazine

Attention grabber!

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

The Mom Con in Pittsburgh

the mom con Pittsburgh

Nov. 15 – Don’t miss this!

There’s buzz, no doubt about it, surrounding The Mom Con happening in Pittsburgh on Nov. 15, 2014! It’s going to be a great event this year and although I’m not able to attend as a vendor for family reasons, I have to say I’m excited to still be involved and learning from the organizers.

The theme for this year’s event is “Inspiring, Connecting and Empowering” and frankly I’ve felt all of those things even before going to the event! I’ve been learning about the businesses and vendors that will be there and I’ve been inspired by the founding moms. I’ve connected with other moms at pre-Mom Con events. And I’ve felt empowered to reach out and try some new events outside of my comfort zone.

Check out this list of speakers  and the schedule. There are still tickets available and if you haven’t gotten yours, I suggest you get them soon!

 

 

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.