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.

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.

NaNoWriMo 2014

It’s almost November! And you know what that means? NaNoWriMo 2014!

NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month is only a few days away and I’m itching to get started. I had two ideas in mind for this month’s project.

Project Ideas

1. “Sweetie” is a retelling of Hansel and Gretel set in Depression-Era Baltimore.

-or-

2. “Buyer Beware” tells the story of a self-centered middle school boy finds an old iPod at a flea market that gives him the ability to hear people’s thoughts.

I asked my kids and they voted unanimously for Story Idea #2. Which one would you like to read?

How will I prepare?

Once I’ve settled on my project idea, I’ll work off an outline. I’ve already laid out the basic 15 beats for Buyer Beware based on what I learned from the wonderful Save the Cat workshop presented by novelist Jessica Brody. So that pre-work is done. If I go with Sweetie, I’ll have to take the time in the next few days to lay out those 15 beats.

Preparation also includes clearing my calendar of all unnecessary lunch and coffee dates, setting times for workouts that don’t interrupt the whole day, and making sure that I note which days I have to go over the recommended daily word count. We will be traveling in November and I’m attending the WPA SCBWI conference this month, so there will be several days when it will be really hard to hit my word count goals.

What’s my plan?

I’d like to hit 2,000 words a day in the first two weeks. That means “BICFOK” or “butt in chair, fingers on keys” will be my mantra. I’ll shove that inner editor aside and work to tell the story. I’ll rely on dialogue a lot, because that tends to be my strong point. I’ll also see if I can add in some character-development scenes, setting description scenes, and work to include sensory information that I often leave out of first drafts. I’m not trying to do these things just for word count but also to strengthen my first drafts and think about including elements that make a good story right from the beginning.

Are you tackling NaNoWriMo this year? What’s your story idea? Good luck!

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

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

Creative science writing

creative science writing

Inspiration from nature

Creative science writing, not exactly science fiction but fiction based in fact, is one of my favorite kinds of writing. Recently I finished a fun story about a worm who saves a compost pile. Lots of creative science writing in that tale.

And earlier this year my middle son asked me to write a story about a certain type of bee he invented. I was delighted with his character but struggled to come up with a story. So this week I grabbed a large stack of non-fiction children’s books about bees from the library. I have learned so much amazing detail about the lives of bees. There is fodder there for at least three different kinds of stories and maybe two decent poems. I have big dreams for this creative science tale, like middle grade novel or maybe even graphic novel length. If only I could draw!

Following along science-and-nature inspired creative writing,  I have rediscovered the most amazing book that I bought for my boys but selfishly I am now claiming for my own. The Tree That Time Built: A Celebration of Nature, Science, and Imagination (A Poetry Speaks Experience). Seriously. Even if you claim you don’t like poetry, you must get this book.

What’s a book, story or poem that you love that is an example of creative science writing?

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

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

Tomboys or Sissies: Which do you want?

boys sculpture tomboys

My boys view Miro’s sculpture “The Caress of a Bird” described as a “totem of female sexuality.”

“I’m pretty sure my daughter will be a tomboy,” my friend, father of a nine-month old girl, proudly announced. I automatically smiled, because I think my friends would describe me as more tomboy than girly-girl. My sons are often surprised when I wear a dress. Because girly-girls wear dresses, right?

But then I started thinking about my three boys – and how the male equivalent of the word “tomboy” is not nearly as kind. If I said to another parent, “I’m pretty sure one of my boys will be a sissy!” I doubt they’d smile and congratulate me.

Books for Tomboys? Or Sporty Kids?

Recently I received an email from Kara Thom, the author of Hot (Sweaty) Mamas: Five Secrets to Life as a Fit Mom announcing her new book series Go! Go! Sports Girls! The series really interested and excited me, but it also made me wonder what comparable series would be written for boys.

To be fair, Thom does state the series is for children – not just girls. And my boys willingly read books about boys and girls, so they’d probably love the books about soccer, swimming and running, three sports they really love. Here’s what Go! Go! Sports Girls! is about, according to Thom:

The 32-page illustrated books explore social-emotional growth through sport in engaging stories that empower children to “Dream Big and Go For It!” The titles are:

Soccer Girl Cassie’s Story: Teamwork is the Goal
Swimmer Girl Suzi’s Story: Winning Strokes
Runner Girl Ella’s Story: Family Fun Run
Gymnastics Girl Maya’s Story: Becoming Brave
Dancer Girl M.C.’s Story: One Step at a Time
Cheerleader Girl Roxy’s Story: Leading the Way

This project has been a passion for me as I raise three young athletic daughters, but also because I’m part of a movement to give girls better choices. Girls need more than the stereotypical options packaged in pink, as well as options other than over-sexualized toys such as Bratz, Monster High, and their ilk.

Go! Go! Sports Girls are age-appropriate, proportioned to a real girl’s body, project a positive image, and deliver a healthy message. The Go! Go! Sports Girls better reflect our family’s lifestyle and values. Girls play sports and so should their dolls. My daughters McKenna, Kendall, and Jocelyn have grown up playing with Go! Go! Sports Girls, and still do. I might add that my son, Blake, who has no concept that his mom is the author, is a fan of the books as well.

To be clear, I completely agree with Thom’s goal of motivating and inspiring young girls in a different way than lots of popular media representations of girls. But what about my boys? How can I encourage them to follow their interests and passions if those interests aren’t typical “boy” activities? And how come we don’t have a cool word for boys who act like girls? It’s so unfair that girls can be cool tomboys but boys acting like girls is labeled an insult.

I’ve been trying to come up with examples of behaviors that are frequently seen as feminine that I’d want my boys to feel free to adopt in a world without gender stereotypes. Maybe being more empathetic? I wasn’t sure that what I thought was feminine was feminine, by social standards. I found this on Planned Parenthood:

WORDS COMMONLY USED TO DESCRIBE FEMININITY
dependent
emotional
passive
sensitive
quiet
graceful
innocent
weak
flirtatious
nurturing
self-critical
soft
sexually submissive
accepting

I wasn’t really thrilled when I read some of the items on the list. Because I’m certainly not graceful or quiet. But I would totally love it if my boys learned to be quiet sometimes! Maybe that would be one of the books in my series about boys exploring new behaviors: Little Tommy Learns Not to Scream Every Word! I could get behind a book for boys focusing on that. But I’m not really thrilled about a lot of those qualities on the list. And I think that’s why lots of parents are proud of having ‘tomboys.’ But they wouldn’t love it if their boys were described as weak or passive.

To be fair, Planned Parenthood didn’t make that list to say how women should behave. They follow the lists with this:

“Clearly, society’s categories for what is masculine and feminine are unrealistic. They may not capture how we truly feel, how we behave, or how we define ourselves. All men have some so-called feminine traits, and all women have some so-called masculine traits. And we may show different traits at different times. Our cultures teach women and men to be the opposite of each other in many ways. The truth is that we are more alike than different.”

What could we write?

But I’m really serious in my question here! I’m all for tomboys and girly-girls doing what they love most. And I love that these books for girls are about social-emotional growth through sports (traditionally and still a heavily male arena) because sports and physical strength are a key part of my happiness.

What series of books could we write about boys embracing traditionally female activities for social emotional growth?

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

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

Why Farm to Table is Great for Kids and Families

 

Farm to table Pittsburgh

March 21-22, 2014

This weekend is the 8th annual Farm to Table Conference in Pittsburgh! I am really excited to be involved in this year’s event again. The theme for this year is Food Sources and the conference again offers lots of excellent activities for children. The conference has always been family friendly, but a new feature of this year’s conference is the special Kids’ Track of programs! Both Friday and Saturday there will be programs and speakers just for kids and families. The Kids’ Track is a great way to introduce kids to the joys of eating healthy, local food. And if you’re not already convinced to bring your kids downtown, remember that kids under 12 are free!

We are so lucky to have this event in Pittsburgh. I recently spoke at the Parenting Expo here in Pittsburgh and discussed how helping children experience food with all of their senses increases their comfort level with foods and can help them learn to try new foods. Growing foods, shopping at farmer’s markets, attending events like Farm to Table and seeing gorgeous photos of fresh foods being grown, even meeting our local farmers, are all positive ways to help children develop a willingness to try new foods.

I’m so excited to be a part of the Kids’ Track on both days. On Friday, I’ll be hosting a special Tasting Party for kids, and on Saturday I’ll be hosting the Super Fun Local Food Challenge School Assembly! Both of these programs are available as school classroom workshops or assemblies and work with the Social Studies standards for Pennsylvania schools.

Of course in addition to these programs there’s the Local Food Tasting on Friday night and the Saturday Networking Breakfast. Both events are hugely popular. By the time I got to the Saturday breakfast last year all of the food was gone – it was so good no one left a crumb!

I’ll have an exhibitor table again and I’ll offer an encore to last year’s very popular Pizza on a Stick Tasting Party. My boys love coming to Farm to Table and roaming the tables, trying everything from local honey to local cheese, pickled vegetables, fresh milk, apples and more. This year I have decided to get one of those mushroom logs. I love mushrooms and Pennsylvania is the nation’s leading producer of these tasty fungi!

Looking forward to seeing you at the 2014 Farm to Table Conference. Bring the kids, stop by and say hello!

 

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

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

March Madness and the Healthy Food Challenge

It’s the perfect time of year for a healthy food challenge! March is National Nutrition Month and it’s also March Madness. So on a run, a time when I often get my best ideas, I decided it would be really cool to combine these two great activities into a Healthy Food Challenge!

healthy food

Healthy Food Challenge Bracket

Luckily our elementary school has a principal who supports healthy eating, I have a great working relationship with our PTO and the new Kids of STEEL club is a hit, and our new Food Services Director is setting a tone of cooperation with parents. So many factors came together just right for this activity.

Healthy Food Challenge:

I worked with food services to determine which eight fruits and vegetables would be available every day in the cafeteria. Then I created the match-ups, randomly setting up eight fruit opponents on one side and eight veggie opponents on the other.

vegetables for kids

The Veggie Conference

fruit for kids

The Fruit Conference

We sent the brackets home in advance so kids could fill them out and turn them in. I entered all the picks into a spreadsheet to track the winners. This took a lot of time! Over 200 kids turned in brackets, that’s about 1/3 of our school population.

The first round happened today. I walked around the cafeteria for each of our three lunch periods and asked kids what fruit or veggie they wanted to vote for. They could only vote for fruits or veggies they had tasted that day at lunch.

I must admit, I was surprised how many kids claimed they had not eaten any fruits or veggies for lunch that day. Some tried to claim fruit snacks were a fruit. Not a chance. One kid tried to tell me pistachios were a fruit. As much as I love pistachios and prefer them to fruit snacks, I still had to tell her no. But I told her to keep eating pistachios.

That’s why the title Healthy Food Challenge is perfect. We are challenging the kids to get more healthy foods into their daily diets.

Winners will be chosen from the most accurate brackets. We’re also pulling a few brackets from all the entries to give away some small random prizes.

My motivation to try some fun, healthy activities at school came from listening to a webinar hosted for parents by Action for Healthy Kids. I was really excited to learn tips and techniques for working with schools to increase nutritious foods and more physical activity in the school day, especially after some unfortunately negative experiences with a “wellness committee” that didn’t do much in our district when my oldest son was in kindergarten and first grade.

We have a great district and a great school. I think there’s a lot of potential here. And our principal really supports our Kids of STEEL running program. Unfortunately I’ve also received an automated call from him asking families to support a school fundraiser where teachers work behind the counter at a local McDonald’s. That activity drives me nuts.

I still have a lot to learn about increasing wellness at our school. Luckily there are more webinars from Action for Healthy Kids coming up. I have a dream of the school having a community garden before my youngest, who isn’t even in kindergarten yet, graduates sixth grade. I’m excited to learn more about why taking away recess time as punishment is bad for academic achievement.

 

 

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

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

How to Stop Procrastinating

Just change your perspective.

procrastination

See things differently.

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

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

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Writing Contests

I am a sucker for a writing contest. I have a writing friend who thinks they can be a real waste of time and money, and I acknowledge that she is very right most of the time. But after a recent meeting of my SCBWI critique group, and after the experience I gained from one contest, I have identified some intangible benefits.

But to be fair, I will outline some of the negative aspects of writing contests, too. This is hard because I’m not good at seeing the downside of things.

Cons of Writing Contests

  • There is usually a fee.
  • The word count may not lend itself to the best telling of your story.
  • Winning an award doesn’t always mean publication of your writing.
  • It could be a scam.

Pros of Writing Contests

  • The fees for some are very small.
  • Some offer prize money.
  • Word count limits can force you to revise.
  • Winning could mean publication.
  • It’s good practice to have to meet a deadline.
  • Some contests promise feedback that you don’t get on regular submissions.

I’ve been writing for a long time, all the way back to when I started my elementary school’s first literary journal. Yes, as editor several of my more painful pieces of poetry were chosen for the first issue. But since then my fiction success has been pretty low. In college and as an adult I wrote for several newspapers. But my short stories only earned rejections. It hurt but I kept writing.

Then last year, as I continued my habit of entering writing contests, something changed. I earned an honorable mention for a poem, a finalist position for a flash fiction piece, and an honorable mention for another flash fiction story.

These were my first writing awards, ever. And that last honorable mention includes publication in a respected sci-fi/fantasy magazine! My first fiction publication. Ever.

Of course I think it couldn’t be better. But to be fair I’ll list some cons:

  • There is no prize money.

I’m sorry, I can’t think of any more cons for entering this writing contest! I tried. But I’m just too much of an optimist. Here are some pros:

  • The editors asked me to revise my story slightly. That was good practice.
  • The editors asked me to review and sign a contract. I was excited to learn what was in the contract and research the meaning of the rights.
  • The editors asked me to review their copyedits. This was good learning, too.
  • I’m following the magazine on Facebook and learning about how they tagline the stories in each issue.
  • My ego is boosted.
  • This story was originally written before I had children, and I had pulled it out and re-worked it. I have lots more of those and feel like I am a better writer than I was then. I can make them, better, faster, stronger.

If you want to enter a writing contest, I would say go for it. But go for it in a smart way.

  • Do your research. I picked journals that printed things I loved to read. So find a literary magazine or journal that you respect. I have two favorites that have contests on right now and I saved up some of my best work for their contests!
  • Do not just enter any old contest. I often look for contests with unique angles like ‘Best Starts’ or with themes and prompts.
  • Pick the right writing. Chose stories or poems you have written that you think they would love.
  • Don’t enter contests with excessive fees. I consider anything above $20 excessive.
  • Think small. Lots of really big magazines like Writer’s Digest and Poets & Writers offer contests. But smaller journals and magazines host them, too. Sign up for alerts from places like WOW! Women on Writing, Writer Advice, FreelanceWriting and AllIndieWriters.

 

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

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

Great Ideas Waiting

Great Idea

(Click on the photo above for some great ideas.)

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

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

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