Tag Archives: creativity

Encouraging the young wordsmith

Dear Mr Peg, 11 year-old A is forever filling up notebooks with stories she has written. Are there any tools or apps we can use to encourage tweens to keep on writing? Thanks, Risky Business.

Dear Risky Business,

Thanks for your question. It’s excellent that Miss A is shaping as a spinner of yarns. As you know well, storytelling is a skill for life. I can’t think of any job where the ability to connect with people and communicate clearly isn’t a massive advantage. From where I’m sitting, (oddly enough, in a parked car, in a narrow, one-way street near a hockey ground, where someone just called me a strange man… OK, maybe a tale for another day…) these are vital skills to encourage.

Like Miss A, I was an early bloomer as a writer. I have exercise books filled with primary school tales of superheroes, explorers and magic. Then there are the excruciating, angst-ridden adolescent-era diaries, and the gnarled notebooks containing tertiary level crimes against poetry. Decades later, the ideas are captured in electronic notes and, hopefully, the maturity is honed, but the ideas still flow freely.

So what can you do to keep Miss A writing?

#1 Read, read, read
I know you’re already onto this but aim to read with/to Miss A daily. Every book is a lesson in writing and an invitation to imitate and improve. I’m grateful to my parents for giving me this advantage.

When Miss A finishes a piece of writing, encourage her to read it aloud. This is one of the best ways for her to learn about punctuation, language and dialogue. We want to train her ears to hear what works and what needs work. Even if you don’t like everything she’s written, pick something you did enjoy (an image, a character, a sentence…) and praise it.

#2 Train the storytelling muscles
Just as you might throw random times tables questions at the kids to improve their multiplication skills, toss questions at Miss A to feed her imagination. ‘What are those people doing over here? Why? What might they do next?’

Use art works or stories in the news to get started. Why do you think a 12 year-old-boy wanted to drive across Australia?

Take a line from a song and ask Miss A to build a story around it. For example, there’s a Paul Kelly song that says, “I’ve done all the dumb things’. What dumb things did the person do and why?

If you can’t keep up with Miss A’s appetite for ideas, search the Apple AppStore for ‘prompts’. There are plenty of options, including some tailored for young writers. You could also try this website with child-friendly jump-starts.

#3 Go for gold
Google writing competitions for Miss A’s age bracket. They’re not easy to find but they’re out there and they offer cash prizes, opportunities to be published (sometimes) and, best of all, a chance to build confidence and writing fitness. Try libraries, local councils, schools and writing groups. Even supermarket competitions that call for an answer in 25 words or less can be exercises in disciplined creativity.

If she wants to develop endurance and spend a month on one story, there’s a youth edition of National Novel Writing Month (or Nanowrimo).

#4 Find her tribe
As Miss A gets older, there are writing communities to explore. Apps like Wattpad and Tablo are for people who write and want to link with willing readers who consume and comment on their material. I’ve been researching these options since I received your question and I wouldn’t want my 11-year-old hanging out here yet. Not unless she’s into erotic fan fiction about boy band members…

But if she’s willing to travel south for a school holiday workshop, I would highly recommend the 100 Story Building.

And when she’s a little older, you could check out these options:

About Us

http://www.teenink.com/fiction/

http://www.voiceworksmag.com.au/

#5 Be boring parents
It’s easier said than done in a busy household but try to create opportunities for Miss A to find time and space to listen to her imagination. Actively seek silence or give her a nook to retreat to. Boredom can be beneficial. It gives an active mind a reason to go solo and find its own adventures.

Help her to be resilient, too. I’m sure you’re already on to this but she’s going to need this quality to survive as a creative soul. Because writing is a matter of taste and tastebuds differ from reader to reader. Everyone is a potential critic and the WWW and social media are overpopulated with cowardly trolls.

Even away from these toxic influences, confidence dips, soars and disappears for long stints. She’ll need lots of love to help her find her way back to trusting her storytelling instincts. But when she gets back there, it will feel sensational.

Sorry I took so long to answer. And good luck.

Mural photo by Tim Pegler
Keep your eyes open for inspiration

Taking it to the streets

Anyone that follows me via Instagram (tpegler) will know I’ve been posting a lot of photos of street art. Partly this is a reflection of the city I live in. Melbourne is blessed with great artists and a culture that is evolving – becoming better at recognising differences between random acts of public art and mindless vandalism.

There were other factors that drew me to the street artists, too. When I made the difficult decision to walk away from a regular income to concentrate on creativity, family and health, I was drawn to others who have made similar choices. I wanted to surround myself with ideas, courage and creativity.

The main reason I began photographing street art is I became acutely aware of transience. What’s here today isn’t necessarily still with us tomorrow. An artist can spend days on a magnificent piece, only to have idiot taggers deface it the following night or a council whitewash it after a week or two. To my mind, this makes sharing images of guerilla art important. As an author, I write a book but my work doesn’t really exist unless people read it. Art needs to be seen so I wanted the street art to live and be enjoyed beyond the back lanes and alleys around town.

After talking to a couple of street artists, I learned that there are different perspectives on the impermanence of their work. Some see the damage wrought by weather, wildlife and taggers as organic, unpredictable enhancements of their work. The art takes on a life of its own and grows into its setting.

At other public places, such as Hosier Lane in the CBD, artists take turns at showing their wares. A doorway off Flinders Street that featured a powerful portrait of Heath Ledger as the Joker, by OD, was recently repainted with an intricate stencil of an elderly woman’s lined face, by ELK. For all I know the door might have a new identity now. The artists understand their work has a limited time in the sun.

That said, there’s anger, too. When a significant piece of work is attacked by someone who clearly only aims to deface or destroy something they couldn’t do themselves, the art community understandably bristles. Sadly, no matter how savvy the town becomes, there will always be morons and vandals.

Anyway, just as I feel honoured to hang out with other authors and illustrators, I get a great deal of pleasure wandering around the city and recognising the work of local artists. I now have a small piece by Baby Guerilla on the wall in my office (purchased from a gallery) and hope to collect other artists’ works. Why? Because each piece is a reminder of the power of art – to make us think, feel and understand other people’s stories.

I’ll share some favourite images here and in posts to come. Maybe the inspiration will flow through to you, too.

Detail from Once bitten, twice shy by Rone and Everfresh in Hosier Lane
Detail from Once bitten, twice shy by Rone and Everfresh in Hosier Lane
Baby Guerilla wheat paste in Brunswick
Baby Guerilla wheat paste in Brunswick
Beautiful work by Hush in Blender Lane, CBD
Beautiful work by Hush in the CBD

All photos are my own. For further insight into street art, check out Dean Sunshine’s Land of Sunshine or, for a YA spin, Cath Crowley’s fantastic Graffiti Moon.

Quentin Blake on creating characters

Quentin Blake is one of my favourite children’s book illustrators. In this video courtesy of The Guardian online he says he doesn’t know the relationship between his characters when he starts drawing them. Rather, his knowledge of them grows as he spends time creating them.

My experience as a writer is similar. I generally have a rough idea what part a character will play in a story universe. But, as I spend more time with them, they still have the capacity to surprise me. I like NOT knowing everything they could do as a plot develops. Planning everything out in advance could stamp out the goshness of a story as I build it, just as I prefer to read a book in full before I watch its adaptation for television or cinema.

Anyway, I’m glad a man of Mr Blake’s experience is still revelling in the newness of creativity. That’s inspirational.

Build your own universe

One of the questions I’m often asked when visiting schools is ‘why I like writing so much’. Well, writing gives me a chance to inhabit my imagination. What’s so good about that? Think of a world where you get to make all the rules. Everything that happens does because you make it so. Need an example?

About a year ago the Little Monkey, now 5, decided she wanted a baby sister or brother. When it became clear her parents weren’t going to fold on this particular demand, she created her own junior sibling. A baby doll became Annabelle, her infant sister.

Annabelle was treated as a normal baby insofar as eating, sleeping, dressing, car travel and other activities went. Just what I needed – a 4 yo telling me her baby sister wasn’t properly restrained in the car seat. Anyway, I played along… until I was informed I had to take Annabelle to creche.

Toys were not supposed to go to creche but that wasn’t a problem as far as the Little Monkey was concerned. In Daughter #1’s eyes, Daughter #2 (Annabelle) wasn’t a toy but a human. Indeed, Daughter #1 had already packed a backpack for Annabelle with spare nappies, clothes, bottle and so on. As far as she was concerned, Annabelle would be treated just the same as she was.

I needed to find an out clause.

I entered the imaginary world, placed my wrist to Annabelle’s forehead and said, “Oh, no Annabelle has a temperature! She’s not allowed to go to creche with a temperature in case all the other babies get sick.”

Pregnant pause.

Then Daughter #1 volleyed with, “She’s only a little bit sick. She’s OK to go to childcare.”

So I persisted with the illness angle, saying it would be better if Annabelle came to the office with me. Daughter #1 insisted that they had medicine at creche and Annabelle would be fine.

It was time to assert myself. End the debate.

“Sorry, Annabelle is way too sick to go to creche. She’ll have to come to the office with me.”

To which Daughter #1 stomped her foot, burst into tears and said: “But Daddy, you’re just pretending she’s sick!”

That’s the magic of imagination. You can choose what to believe and what to overlook. The universe is yours to manipulate.

When you write, you take a snapshot of that universe and describe it so others can share the vision.