Writing Prompts for June 2014

IMG_4436Wow, it’s been a busy two weeks. I had a wonderful time preparing for and presenting a workshop on journaling and creative writing at the College Association for Language and Literacy conference at Humber College this past Thursday. I found the research for the workshop very informative, and learned a lot more about the benefits of keeping a journal. I have no excuse now to not include journaling as part of my writing process, though I am going to be easy on myself if I don’t write in it every day.

I managed to complete the first edits of the writing fiction book for pre-teens and the fantasy novel for middle readers, too. I have LOTS to do yet, but I’m feeling good about what’s been done so far.

Here are some writing prompts to keep you creating in June.

1. Use one, some or all of these words in a poem or story:

  • jewel, creature, sky, hope, river, crackle
  • statue, storm, wall, hole, keep, shudder
  • tower, hum, grass, footprints, cache, throw

2. Here are some opening sentences for you to try:

  • “Sit here!”
  • Some trees were just meant for climbing.
  • The hallway echoed with our footsteps.
  • The planks were worn and cracked.
  • There was a reason why no one ever told me to trust my instincts.
  • I thought I’d faced my worst day ever, but I was wrong.

3. See if any of these titles inspire a story or poem:  Wind Haven, Shelter, The Open Door, Marnie’s Magic, Tempest House, Dragon Boy, Danger Pay, Restless Winter

4. What scene can you imagine happening around these dialogue excerpts?

  • Can we stop here?
  • No, we need to keep going
  • Why?
  • It’s dangerous.
  • I don’t see anything.
  • It’s in the air.


  • Shouldn’t we report this?
  • I don’t think so.
  • But …. Oh, I see what you mean.


  • That’s the last time I’ll tell you.
  • Yeah. Right.
  • No. Honestly. It is the last time

5. When you were a child, did you make wishes on stars, or birthday candles, or Thanksgiving turkey wish bones? Do you remember what you wished for? Were any of your wishes granted? What do you wish for today? Answer these questions for yourself and then answer them for your character. Consider turning one of today’s wishes into a goal and make a list of what steps you need to follow to have that wish come true. Start working on the first item on that list soon.

6. Here’s a list of some fun events that are celebrated during June. Can you think of a story that you could write around one of them? National Donut Day, Richard Scarry’s birthday, Ballpoint Pen Day, Fly a Kite Day, National Fudge Day, Garfield’s Birthday, Soap Opera Day, Johannes Gutenberg’s Birthday, Chocolate Pudding Day, Meteor Day, Superman’s Birthday. Actually Meteor Day and Superman’s Birthday are on the same day, June 30th. No surprise, I guess. 🙂

Hope you have a creative week ahead!

I’m currently editing, Writing Fiction: A Hands-On Guide for Pre-Teens. If you would like to know when the book comes out, please fill out the following form. I promise that you will not be bombarded with spam emails, just the odd thing that I come across that you might find useful, a couple of sample chapters as I work through the project, and my newest writing prompts.


And Now the Fun/Work Begins!

New JournalThe first draft of Writing Fiction: A Guide for Pre-Teens is finished. Whew! It’s printed and covered in a bright red folder–and it’s going to stay there for the next couple of weeks. I’d love to start editing right away, but the material is too fresh for me to be remotely objective or clear-sighted about it. So a break is in order.

So what’s on the agenda in the meantime? I’m finally revising the sequel to The Dragon’s Pearl, The Dragon’s Revenge, that I wrote last summer. I’m three chapters in and, thankfully, enjoying the process. As much as I love the writing process, I’m never so in love with what I write that I can’t change it, or cut it, or find something missing that needs to be added.

Actually, I enjoy editing. I like finding all those pieces of clunky writing, and I don’t feel remotely ashamed of having written the awful things in the first place. That’s what first drafts are for. What makes me feel good is figuring out how to make something better or cutting the bits that are beyond saving. I hit Delete and think, “This one’s for you, reader!” Yeah. I like editing a lot.

I’m also working on a conference workshop presentation for fellow college teachers called “Finding Quiet Space with Pen and Paper – Tips and Tools for Journaling and Creative Writing.” What do you think about journaling? I find it a great way to get my day organized so that I can actually picture some creative time in the rest of it. Journaling also helps me deal with negative thoughts, worries and just mental clutter. If I write in my journal first thing in the morning, my writing goes much better later on. The messy thoughts are dealt with for the day, so creativity comes easier. I sometimes write before I go to bed, instead. The writing calms my thoughts, and, if the day hasn’t been particularly creative, it makes me feel as if I have honoured the writer in me for at least a small part of the day.

If you’ve got some tips for helping develop the journaling habit or some thoughts on the benefits of keeping a journal, I’d love to hear from you. In the meantime, I hope you have a creative week ahead!

P.S. Word likes “journaling” spelled with one “l”. WordPress likes it with 2. The word doesn’t exist in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary. I realize that turning a noun into a verb isn’t everyone’s cup of tea in the first place, but if you’re not totally against the word altogether, how do you think it should be spelled?




Slowly But Surely

My daily writing challenge for April continues, and, so far, I’ve written every day or worked on my editing. I’m definitely not flying through the work a great speed, but each time I go back to it, I feel like I’m seeing the project a bit more clearly and finding the right voice for it.

Finding the right voice is always a big part of of my first draft struggles. With fiction, I try first person, third person limited, omniscient–sometimes all in the same chapter! For non-fiction, it’s a matter of settling the level of vocabulary and finding the write tone to use to talk to my reader. All this playing as I write means that a lot of words will be rewritten or thrown out the next time through. I can’t wait for that day, because it means the first draft will be finished and some of the tough decisions will have been made. I like the editing part a lot.

Spring is finally starting to become a reality here. Although I still see lots of snow from my window, grass, very brown and soggy, is claiming its space in my landscape. Birds are singing and the basement has managed to get only slightly damp. Warm days are in the forecast, and I’m looking forward to taking my writing outside. Last Thursday, I took a trip to Starbucks and made a lot of progress on planning the book. I find that a change of scene can really boost my creativity. Do you like to work outdoors or in places other than at your desk or usual writing spot? Where do you like to write?

Wishing you a creative week ahead no matter where you choose to write!

Hoping to see these in my garden soon.
Hoping to see these in my garden soon.

New Year – New Edition

Writing Fiction: A Hands-On Guide for Teens Second EditionI’ve been in serious editing mode for a while now, and am finally nearing the launch of the second edition of Writing Fiction: A Hands-On Guide for Teens. I’ve added a few things, updated a few things, and included 50+ writing prompts.

What I’ve really enjoyed is doing all the work myself, rather than going through a vanity press, which is what I did last time. I’ve learned a lot more about the publishing industry since then, and hope to put some of those lessons to good use with the book’s sales, promotion, and distribution. To begin, this book will be priced lower than the original! I had fun creating the interior look of the book, too, using templates from Joel Friedlander. You can take a peek at what he offers here.

So, now I just have to wait until my review copy arrives, then one last batch of edits (mostly, I hope, for the inevitable typos that I never catch when I’m proofreading on the screen) and out it will go into the world.

The next project is already underway–more editing! I finished writing a sequel to The Dragon’s Pearl last year, so I’m now in editing and formatting mode for that one. Oh, and I have a cover story for a local magazine to work on and a series of short stories to edit, too. And, there’s still teaching on the agenda. A busy January 2014 is in progress.

Hope your new year is off to a great start, too!

October 2013 Writing Prompts

London-20130928-00384Today is rainy, damp and dreary–and a perfect day for me to hunker down with the laptop and get some writing and editing done. Hope you are having a writerly day, and if you need some inspiration, here are your writing prompts for October.

1. Start a story with
• a character eating slowly
• a character cheering
• a character pushing something

2. Try one of these opening sentences:

• Yellow leaves crackled underfoot.
• Ben pulled the brim of his hat further down over his eyes.
• The cave was dark, but at least it was dry.
• The last thing Helen needed now was a crying little brother.
• “Storm’s coming.”

3. See if these snatches of dialogue spark a scene or story.

“We need to find shelter.”
“Yes, I’d figured that out.”

“I can’t take another step.”
“I know. I’m tired, too.”
“You don’t understand. I really can’t take another step.”

“Whose car is that?”
“Hal’s, I think. Why?”
“I’ve seen it before.”
“Oh. Where?”
“I’m not sure you want to know.”

4. Think of a story that might go with one of these story titles:

Rider Wrong, In the Mirror, Homecoming, Tow Away Zone, Drive By, The Last Train.

5. Use one, some or all of these words to inspire a story or poem:

  • car, leaf, blue, and, glass, chain
  • plate, stick, chair, day, ring, wall

7 Editing Questions – Reprise

First Draft
First Draft

I revisited this blog post from 2010 as I was thinking about the next phase of my current writing project. I still have a few thousand words to go and a major plot point to figure out, but I’m eagerly awaiting typing “The End” and finally getting to the fun stuff. I love revising and editing my work. It means the tough part is over, and now I get to create the story I had in mind when I started. My first hurl of words onto the page is always a struggle. I feel set free once the words are finally down, and I get to play. Below are some self-editing questions that I will ask myself as I go through my work. Maybe some of them will help you, too.

1. Where does the story really begin?

Reread the first two to three pages of your story very carefully. When does the action really start? A major fault with many first drafts (mine, included!) is too much background material at the beginning before the conflict is introduced and the characters finally take over the story. In my case, I can almost bet that my story doesn’t really begin until about half-way down page three, so out go the first two pages. If the material I have cut is essential for the reader to know, I find ways later, through dialogue or thoughts of my characters, to get the information to the reader. My later insertions are never as long as those original two and a half pages and the pace of the story gains needed speed.

2. Is this adverb necessary?

Chances are, if you are using a lot of adverbs, you are telling and not showing. Think about the character that has just won the lottery. Rather than have her yell hurray ‘joyfully’, why not have her jump up and down screaming so loudly that her cat runs under the bed in terror and it takes her twenty minutes to get it out. Maybe she runs to her closet and throws all of her old clothes in the garbage while “If I Had a Million Dollars” blasts in her iPod. Both of those pictures show how the character reacts instead of telling and are certainly livelier than the word ‘joyfully’.

3. Is this adjective doing its job?

Look for those empty adjectives and replace them. ‘Amazing’, ‘interesting’, ‘exciting’, ‘awful’, ‘ugly’, ‘beautiful’, ‘nice’, ‘scary’, and other adjectives like them need to be replaced with sensory details that bring to life what you are describing. Find places to get the readers’ senses working; it means you are making the story real for them.

4. Whose problem is it?

Your main character has the problem; the main character needs to solve it. Make sure that your protagonist remains the chief actor in the story and doesn’t become solely the reactor to another character’s influence. Sometimes in longer pieces, characters other than your lead can start to steal your attention and your imagination; this can be especially true of villains and ‘comic sidekicks’. Be careful that these characters don’t become so charming that they threaten to steal the book from your hero or heroine. (I speak from some experience here. I created a villain in an historical romance that I liked so much, he eventually got his own book!)

5. Are the grammar and spelling perfect?

Yes, I mean perfect. The most that an editor needs to read of a short story in order to make a decision is approximately three paragraphs; a novel might get three pages. If that’s the only chance you have, don’t blow it by showing your lack of ability in spelling and grammar. Of course, publishers have people whose job it is to make sure that the copy they publish is correct in every way, but there’s no way they’re going to waste that person’s time on writers who haven’t bothered to do their best the first time. If you are self-publishing, correct grammar and spelling are key to your work being thought of as professional and being recommended by readers.

6. Have I read my story out loud?

One of your best proofreading tools is the sound of your own voice. Reading your story aloud is a great way to find awkward or incomplete sentences, clumsy phrasing, and inconsistencies in verb tenses and pronoun agreement. If you hesitate when you are reading or if you have to reread a sentence or phrase, then that’s a section of your story that needs a rewrite.

7. Have I applied the Stephen King rule?

Stephen King concludes his autobiography, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, with an editing exercise. He shows you the first draft of a story he has written and then shows it again full of his cross-outs, inserts and editing marks. He explains his edits and why he makes the choices he does. King’s revision rule is: “2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%.” We have a tendency, as writers, to believe that every word we write is precious and are very reluctant to cut our material–after all, we remember how hard it as to get it down on paper the first time. However, editing is about making our prose lean, and exciting, and compelling the reader to turn the page. See what you can do with ten per cent fewer words.

Consider revision a reward. Remember that if you are revising, you have finished a project–and how neat is that? Try these seven questions to kick-start your editing and begin your pursuit of a great final product. I can’t wait to start!

Goodbye Words!

I love editing. I’ve just deleted 2625 words from a current project and couldn’t be happier. I didn’t follow Stephen King’s rule in his book On Writing: “2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%”, mostly because this isn’t my first draft. I’m happy with losing the 4% that I did cut.

This is a manuscript that I haven’t looked at in a while. It’s amazing how time gave me a different perspective on the words I left behind on earlier edits because I was a little too fond of my own cleverness. Over the last few days, I’ve been much more ruthless. This time I followed the advice of Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch: “Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it – whole-heartedly – and delete it before sending your manuscripts to press. Murder your darlings.”

I was hardly responsible for “exceptionally fine writing” but I certainly was responsible for a mess of poetic but highly dumpable similes and images that were very pretty but cried out for deletion. They didn’t move the story along or develop my characters; they were just my fancy wordplay interrupting the story.

So,  2625 “darling” words are gone. I’ve learned that, just because writing is hard work, the effort of writing alone doesn’t mean that the words get to claim their territory forever. Is the book better for my edits? I think so. Will it sell? Who knows, but it’s out for a viewing on Monday, and the rest is out of my hands.

Do you think a lot about your manuscript after it’s sent and check your email hourly, or do you move on to the next project? My choice is to move on. The decision will be made by one person on one day and my writing life is about more than that. If I’m lucky enough to get some feedback, I’ll be thrilled. If it’s a “thanks, but no thanks.” I’ve already moved on and am, I hope, enjoying the company of new characters in a new story and once again writing my doomed “darlings.”

Do you have your own “darlings” that you know you will be cutting even as you write them?

What do you do after you’ve sent a manuscript to a publisher?

Welcome to a Work-in-Progress

IMG_4429Nothing stays the same, and over the past few years the purpose of this site has grown and evolved. I decided that it’s about time that the design caught up with the ways in which this site is used by my visitors and with the ways I need to use it now and in the future.

The first thing I’ve done is simplify the tabs. I’ve grouped the material by the needs of my audience. So click on the tab that applies to you and explore. I haven’t deleted any of your favourite links, but if you have a problem finding something, please let me know.

I’ve also turned this first page into a blog where I plan to share great links for teachers and young writers and chat about my own writing, as well.

I’ll appreciate your patience as I work through the challenges of making some necessary changes to the site. As always I wish you all the best with your writing and teaching endeavours.

The photo above shows my collection of writing journals. A couple are still unused, but most of them have bits and pieces of stories, and some a lot more. Do  you write in journals or are you strictly a keyboard writer?

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