When I was a freshman in high school, my English teacher, Mrs. Rossell, would give us interesting assignments in order to cultivate our imaginations when writing. Two writing assignments stand out most in my mind.
First, she assigned us the project of writing a short story with illustrations. For the illustrations, we were to take pictures from an old catalog or magazine, and we were instructed to glue the pictures onto paper all throughout the story.
1. Inspiration from Odd Places
I specifically remember writing a short story about a nasty girl with a nasty attitude, and I chose pictures of Nellie Oleson (from the Little House on the Prairie television series) for my illustrations. I found several pictures of her while flipping through a teen magazine that I used to subscribe to. The photos were perfect.
In all of them she was either sticking out her tongue or had the most miserable, pinched up face ever plastered on anything with a soul. As I stared at the photos, inspiration took me into its arms, whispered this and that into my ears, and away I went. Off came the pen cap, out came the paper, and I began to scribble away with a mischievous gleam in my eye. (I received an “A” for the story, by the way).
Another time, Mrs. Rossell stood before the class in her long denim skirt and “I Love Books!” sweatshirt, and told us that she wanted us to write a short mystery story.
To make it more challenging, however, she then said the following: “Someone robbed the antique vase which Mr. Smith always kept in his study. The only clues left behind were a bag of jalapeno peppers, an orange earplug, a refrigerator magnet that says ‘Real men cry,’ and a container of hand wipes.” Using these clues, we were then instructed to build a story around them. It was a lot of fun, especially when we all had to take turns reading our short stories in front of the class. It was interesting to see how each student incorporated the different clues into his or her story.
If your household is anything like mine, I’m sure that you have one or two children who simply do not enjoy writing or who panic at the thought of picking up a pencil and bringing it into contact with a piece of paper.
Many years ago, when I assigned a book report to my firstborn daughter, she read the book, took out a piece of paper, and wrote the following:
This is a story about a girl who
wore orange flip flops to school
and liked to lick lemon lollipops.
Having received “book reports” like this in the past, I know what it is to have children who struggle when it comes to writing, not just creatively, but anything at all.
I now use many of Mrs. Rossell’s ideas for creative writing when teaching some of my own children. I simply open up a magazine, pick a picture that I know will interest my children, and instruct them to write a few sentences about the picture in front of them. I just start out assigning them a few sentences – a simple writing assignment which they won’t find “overwhelming.”
Once I see that they are able to write three interesting sentences about a selected picture, we then move on to “meatier” assignments. I instruct them to write a paragraph about a picture before them. Then, two paragraphs. Eventually, I assign them a very short story.
Sometimes I’ll put on a children’s DVD, find an interesting picture, freeze it on the television screen, and have them write a very short story using the scene before them.
2. Let’s Make Comments!
Another fun assignment that we all enjoy is what I call “Let’s make comments!” We look at a picture of someone in a book, catalog, magazine, or newspaper, and then write down something that the person is “saying.” Sometimes, if there is a picture of several people in a crowd, we actually write out conversations that they may be having. We really have a lot of fun with this particular assignment.
One of the more memorable “Let’s make comments!” games that I recall was a picture in a magazine of a mother standing in the kitchen with a startled look on her face as a little boy was standing before her. We stared at the picture for a few minutes, and then one of my children wrote, “Mom! The science project just got loose in the living room!” Trust me, this is a really fun assignment – one that your children will enjoy.
Sometimes we’ll listen to a song, paying close attention to the lyrics, and then write a story about the song. This doesn’t have to be anything deep, folks. We even did this assignment to Oscar the Grouch’s song, “I love trash!”
Sometimes I’ll have my children write letters to Jesus, telling Him everything that is on their hearts and minds. If you give this assignment, make sure you have a box of Kleenex tissues with you when reading the letters.
3. Some of My Favorite Things
At other times, I’ll open up my recipe book, show my children a recipe for, say, raspberry jam cakes, and have them write a two-paragraph story that has to mention raspberry jam cakes in it. We’ll then make the recipe together. Later, as we’re eating the raspberry jam cakes, we’ll read our stories to each other.
At other times, we’ll sit at the table with a piece of paper, close our eyes, and think of whatever it is that makes us happy. Then, we’ll write down the words on the paper. We don’t have to write down sentences that are complete – just words that stir our hearts to happiness and peace, and make us glad to be alive.
I assign this wonderful project to show my children the incredible power that words possess to provoke strong emotions, paint pictures in our minds, and transport us to other worlds. I do this all of the time when I’m feeling down. I’ll go into my study and just start writing down words that make me feel happy. I might write a list that looks something like this:
- Crowded café in Paris with Edith Piaf playing in the background
- Tea and scones with friends
- Snowflakes falling
- Walking on a cold winter night, smell of firewood burning in the air
- Bookstore with lovely hardwood floors, brick walls, and the wonderful aroma of coffee and books all around me
- Jazz concert in the park on a crisp October afternoon
- Cold and gusty winds outside, the aroma of simmering chicken soup inside
- A beagle puppy nestled beneath my neck, with puppy smells wafting to my nostrils
I don’t know what you call this; I only know that it works. It’s therapeutic; it’s like meditating with paper and pen. I just think of a bunch of things that make me happy, scribble them down on a list, and before I know it, my glum mood dissipates because I’ve just taken a magic and most wonderful carpet ride from one happy thought to the next. This is something that I try to teach my children to do when they find themselves “out of sorts.”
Oh, the power of words! There are so many fun, creative, and imaginative ways in which we can inspire our children (and perhaps ourselves) to write.
The Power of Reading
Before “signing off” on the topic of writing, I also want to mention the importance of reading. Whether we want to accept this truth or not, reading and writing go hand in hand. The more you read, the more your vocabulary will expand.
Reading gets the creative juices flowing like nothing else will. Whenever I find myself going through dry times as a writer, I take a few weeks off and just read books. Reading books gives me the jump start that I need, and I’m able to start writing again. Truth be told, if I didn’t read, I’d dry up as a writer.
So, there it is, dear reader – a few simple and creative tidbits to help our children see writing for the joy that it truly is.
Writing need not be tedious and laborious. It can be a lot of fun, and it can usher our children into glorious realms which they never knew existed. A piece of paper, a pencil or pen, a simple idea…
…and away they’ll go!