Posts Tagged creativity

Writing Prompts for a Pandemic

When I first sat down to write this post, I said to myself, “How about writing something NOT about the pandemic?”

And then I laughed and laughed.

Because of course, every inch of our existences is about the pandemic–whether our state is opening or not, whether we’re wearing masks or not, whether we’re working from home or not. It’s also whether we feel safe, or been sick–or not. Maybe we’re worried about getting sick or taking care of loved ones who are sick or we’ve lost someone who was sick from Covid-19 or something completely different. It’s also about the fact that the politicization of a national emergency has introduced an additional stress beyond anything we’d ever imagined.

Books Help Us Process

And so, instead of trying to be clever and find something to say that doesn’t have the tang of pandemic to it in some way (there isn’t anything) what I will do is this: add to the body of thinking that explores ways for creators and book lovers to process this time. We are all writers, teachers, parents, librarians, and readers. We think and feel through our fingers when we write, we feel connected and supported when we read or when we share books with other people.  You don’t have to be a writer to find catharsis in the act of writing, though, just jotting down your thoughts in a journal can be a truly helpful, healthy expression.

((Have you thought about keeping a journal? Read here for some ideas about journaling in the time of Coronavirus ))

Writing as Catharsis

But maybe you’d rather not write about yourself. Maybe you’d rather find your healthy expression in the act of creating story. And many of you probably already are pecking away at your work-in-progress, or starting new ones. Some of you have discovered a superpower–the ability to focus deeply as a way of protecting yourself against too much pandemic thinking.

Others of us walk into the kitchen from our home offices and stand there for long minutes wondering why we are there. (Okay, yes, that happened before the pandemic too, but now it’s truly epic.) So, the act of organizing an actual book is perhaps not feeling like a mood-booster.

Writing Prompts for a Pandemic

Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum, writing prompts can be a soothing craft-building or venting exercise. Think of them as a mandala coloring book, only for writing. You can use them to explore your craft or just free write to release tension.

mandala writing prompts

I’ve provided a few prompts below; choose one that suits your fancy and let your fingers take over. It doesn’t have to be a book (but it may turn into one,) it doesn’t have to be anything more or less than what you want it to be: a character sketch, a short story, a one-act play, a scene, poetry, a letter, or a journal entry.

  1. You (or your main character) are taking a long, solitary drive to get a change of scenery. Most states are still recommending quarantine, so you are surprised to find a huge party happening in a secluded beach town, where they tell you they’ve managed to beat the coronavirus. DO you believe them? Do you stay?
  2. It’s one year from now: May 2021. Your main character overhears a conversation between two middle-school teenagers; they’re talking about quarantine. What are they saying? Where are they? What’s their backstory? What is the effect of their conversation on your main character?
  3. Write a letter to a teacher who has been part of your/your child’s distance learning during quarantine.
  4. You’re writing middle-grade historical fiction about a previous pandemic. Read this: and then write the backstory for one of the protestors in the article.
  5. Write a poem naming and exploring an emotion you’ve felt during the quarantine.
  6. Use the voice of your antagonist in your work-in-progress to describe a Zoom conference call or distance learning classroom.


Inexpensive Bookish Holiday Gifts Middle-Graders Can Make

I have vivid memories of making things at my grandmother’s big dining room table, especially around the holidays. Usually under the urging of my Aunt Connie, we paper mached, decoupaged (there’s a word I haven’t used in thirty years) and macramed (make that two words).  I remember a year we made large paper globes out of old Christmas cards.  My grandmother, my Aunt Connie, and that old dining room table are gone now, but the desire to make something remains, and I appreciate having adults in my life who encouraged creativity.

I’ve selected (and even tried) some holiday crafts that are easy enough for nine-year-old hands and yield  a lasting treasure worthy of gifting.

Super Cute and East Button Bookmarks – A little hot glue and Grandma’s box of old buttons and this one is as good as done.  Click here for the details, or not. If you’re like me, you’re already thinking “How hard can it be?”

Book ornaments – This one is probably my favorite holiday gift craft ever.  I made these a couple of years ago and they were a hit. Talk about easy and no mess! Start with empty glass ornament balls, which are easy to find most anywhere. For younger crafters, plastic ones are available, but for middle-grade hands, glass is fine and classier and the clarity makes a difference when reading tiny words.  I had many old paperbacks that were either well worn or duplicates, and I chose books that fit recipients – The Hobbit for the Tolkien fan, Little Women for my favorite Jo March friend, etc. I cut narrow strips of text and rolled each strip around a pencil. It’s surprising how well the paper curls. I found that if I left it around the pencil, and then inserted the pencil into the opening of the ornament, then let it fall off, it was easier than taking the strip off the pencil before trying to insert it. I chose lines with proper nouns – character names, places – in order to make the book easily identifiable. Play around with length of strip and how many to use. You’ll know what looks good. And the book lover in your life with adore you!

Scrabble Coasters – Okay, guys. I made these for my critique partners this year, and if I can do it, so can you. Our holiday gathering is the same day this post goes live, so I’m hoping they don’t read it before they open their gifts.  I ordered 500 letter tiles and found them to be fairly consistent in size. There were a few oddballs, but aren’t there always?  And I used these adhesive cork squares, which were a bit too large and had to be cut on one side. That made me nervous because I can’t cut in a straight line to save my life, but I used a paper cutter with grid lines and, surprisingly, I did all right!  I had planned not to trust the adhesive and bought wood glue, but discovered that the adhesive side of the cork was VERY sticky, so I ended up not using the glue. Hooray! The last step was to coat the finished coasters with an acrylic spray. After all, they are meant to hold sweaty glasses or hot cups. Voila! I have to thank my daughter Maggie who, upon hearing me lament “I don’t know. It sounds complicated,” said “Mom, just do it.”


Ribbon Bookmarks – This one is, admittedly, a bit more complicated and took some planning and tools I didn’t previously own. But, wow, what a response I got when I gifted these to my book friends a couple years ago! The good news is that in one trip to a large craft store, I got the ribbon, the metal ends, the little O rings, and a nice set of jewelry-making tools that I’ve used over and over again since. The most challenging part for some might be collecting the little items to attach. You can buy small charms, I’m sure, but I’m a repurposer and collector of tiny things, so I had a drawer of old watch faces, luggage locks and keys, broken earrings, tiny charms, and baubles and bangles of all sorts. I mean, doesn’t everyone? (Don’t answer that.)  If nothing else, you can start collecting for next year!

Book Trees – These are so cute and not hard to do at all. I found this great video that demonstrates just how simple they are to make. You can leave them “au natural” or bling them out with paint, glitter, and glam.


There’s still time, and none of these are too messy or difficult. You’ll make more than a gift. You’ll make a memory or two, I’m sure.


Overcoming Writer’s Block

Does this door beg you to open it? Are you curious what’s behind it? When I came across this door in a hidden corner of the library in a Scottish castle, I was intrigued. I turned the handle, but… Alas, it was locked.

Sigh… So I didn’t get to see inside. My imagination conjured up a secret stone staircase that led down, down, down to the dungeon deep underground (and yes, I did get to see the dungeon). Who knows? Maybe my invented spiral staircase was more exciting than what really lies behind that door. It could be a dusty, old broom closet. Or a safe to hide treasures from prying eyes.

I consider each doorway I see as a gateway for my imagination. You never know where that door will lead. Like all authors of middle grade novels, I need those doorways to jumpstart my creativity and imagination, and to invent stories.

What happens, though, when you struggle to come up with ideas or get stuck partway through a book you’re writing? I’ve found these methods helpful in beckoning the muse to return:

1. ) Do something mindless. Many writers say taking a shower, washing dishes, or taking a walk can help. I’ve found sewing on buttons, scrubbing the sliding door track with a toothbrush, or pulling out the toilet bowl brush (just the act of picking it up; no need to actually use it) all make me long to get back to writing.

Seven Stories, England

2. ) Sit in a new place. Changing your point of view can free the creative side of the brain. Would sitting in this chair do the trick? You can alter your setting by moving to a different place in your home or office. Or get out of your rut and go someplace unusual. Try a bookstore, library, coffee shop, park, or bus station. Eavesdrop, people watch, and take notes.

3. ) Use your other creative abilities. Even if you feel don’t have special talents, experiment with painting pictures, playing an instrument, dancing, etc. Any creative activity can stimulate the flow of ideas and help your writing.


4. ) Play. Have fun. Try acting out scenes, putting on costumes, using props. Have a sword fight. Be a princess, a knight, a dragon. Save the world. Escape from prison. Fly on a magic carpet. When you return to your writing, you’ll have some magical experiences to record.

5. )  Write something else. It should be a totally different project, a new genre, a journal entry, a letter. Or opt to skip the section or chapter you’re supposed to be writing. Go to the middle or the end of the book and write a scene. Choose whatever spot makes you feel energetic and excited. Writing a random scene or section will not only increase your word count, but often it will provide an incentive for finishing the earlier parts.

6. ) Take advantage of brain fog. Often the most creative time of day is when you first awaken, while you’re still in a hazy state. Writing from that state often makes you more productive. If it’s too late in the day for that, take a nap. Even a short cat nap will help.

7. ) Switch point of view. Tell the story or the chapter through a secondary character’s eyes. You can choose to keep it, insert it later in the story, or discard it. You might discover the new narrator is a better choice and rewrite. Another trick is to switch from third person to first, or vice versa.

8. ) Use a dictionary or random book. Pick up a book or a dictionary, and with your eyes closed, open it and point. Use the word or phrase you’re pointing to began writing randomly, then find a way to insert it into your work-in-progress.

All of these can help you come up with some fresh ideas or start a new project, but what about the dreaded writer’s block? The kind that totally makes you freeze. What can you do if you’re partway through a project and get stuck and none of the simple methods above work?

One of the main reasons for writer’s block is FEAR. It may be a voice in the back of your head whispering, “You’re not good enough,” or “No one will want to read this.” These warnings come from feelings of inadequacy. A related problem is perfectionism. You worry about making mistakes or doing things wrong. And although many writing books encourage you to write horrible first drafts, it’s not easy for those of us who are perfectionists to lower our standards enough to put anything less than our best on paper. And then we worry our best isn’t good enough.

All of these fears pale in comparison to the BIG, HIDDEN FEAR, the one that causes long-term writer’s block. The FEAR OF EXPOSURE. Often when you’re blocked, it’s because your facing a part of the story you don’t want to write because it’s too scary, too private, too gut-wrenching to deal with.

This is actually the best block of all because it means what you write is going to be real, raw, personal. You’re exposing yourself on the page, you’re digging into deep emotions. This is a painful process, so your mind tries to avoid it by blocking your writing. If you can move past this block, you’ll do some of your most powerful writing.

A few exercises that work best for overcoming this block are:

9. ) Try visual journaling. Open an unlined journal or sketchbook, or take two blank pieces of paper. Also get some markers, crayons, or oil pastels in a variety of colors. Close your eyes and ask yourself where in your body you’re feeling that fear. Once you’ve gotten in touch with it, open your eyes, and draw whatever comes to mind. It doesn’t have to be a picture; it can be random scribbles. As soon as you’ve finished, pick up a pen and freewrite whatever comes to mind, whatever the drawing brought up. You can do it a few more times if needed, but usually once will unblock the deepest fears.

10. ) Write about a childhood smell. Close your eyes and remember a smell from when you were young. Try to flesh out the picture in your mind. What memories does it bring up? When you open your eyes, write about the experience without taking the pen from the paper. Keep going until you’ve explored all the thoughts, connections, and memories. Then ask how this experience connects with your book, and do another freewriting exercise.

11. ) Write a letter to your character or vice versa. Ask your book characters to explain why they’re refusing to act in your story. Or have your character ask you to explain why you won’t let him or her finish the story. Stream-of-consciousness writing can be a great help to unblocking you when you’re stuck.

These are only a few of the many techniques that can help to get your writing unstuck. We’d love to know what you do to come up with creative ideas or get past writer’s block. Please share them in the comments below.