Welcome to the Kite Tales Writing Prompt: #KTWriteOn. Each writing challenge is crafted by a kid-lit publishing professional to help spark ideas, creative energy, and get your work moving out into the world. If you don’t have the time or headspace right now for sustained or long-form writing, don’t worry or feel guilty! Instead, try these fun, QUICK exercises to lift your creative spirits and keep those writing muscles strong.
This #KTWriteOn was created by Deborah Underwood, author of numerous picture books, including the upcoming Outside In (illustrated by Cindy Derby), Ducks! (illustrated by T.L. McBeth), and the New York Times bestsellers The Quiet Book (illustrated by Renata Liwska) and Here Comes the Easter Cat (illustrated by Claudia Rueda). She lives in the Bay Area with her feline muse, Bella, and today we’re all talking about using limits to heighten your creativity. For real. No April fools here! Read on for Deborah’s excellent exercises!
Message from the author: I wrote the following post before Our Current Situation developed. As I sit here now, sheltered in place in San Francisco, a blog post about limits seems a little too on-the-nose—we’re limited in where we can go, what we can do, who we can see. Writing limits too?
But. Children’s authors and illustrators do tremendously important work, as you know. And I do hope that the exercise below, in some small way, will help you do that work.
So let’s plunge ahead. Know that I am sending my very best to you and yours during this strange and unnerving time. I’m hoping that these limitations on the way we live will help us find new and unexpected ways to connect with each other. Be well. – Deborah Underwood
Imagine a blank page sitting in front of you. Waiting. There’s a world in there just waiting for you to create it. Endless possibilities! Blue sky! No limits!
But what if I asked you to write about an encounter in a grocery store? Or to draw a bird with one strange physical feature? I suspect you’d stop sweating, start thinking, and get to work.
It’s an odd thing: limits foster creativity. You’ve probably heard that Dr. Seuss wrote Green Eggs and Ham because his editor bet him he couldn’t write a story using only 50 unique words. That worked out pretty well for him.
I’ve seen this at play in my own creative life. I’m currently struggling to write a chapter book. Too many possibilities! But years ago, when a publisher gave me a setting, some one-line character descriptions, and a contract, I somehow managed to crank out six of them
And my most recent picture book, Ducks! (illustrated by T.L. McBeth; Godwin Books 2020), has a grand total of two discrete words, excluding sound effects and signs.
This is why writing classes often begin with assigned prompts. The teacher doesn’t just stand in front of the room and say, “Hey, write something. NOW.” It’s so much easier to write about your elementary school lunch, or your first crush, or the last time you were embarrassed.
Limits can take all sorts of shapes: Word count. Word restriction (like Dr. Seuss, above). Materials. Time. Genre. Content.
So today I’m serving up a buffet of limits. Try one. Try them all. Play! Try the zine one if you don’t think you can draw. Try the six-word memoir if you’re a novelist who writers lavish descriptions. Try the dialogue one if you write poetic picture books. You never know what you might discover.
THE LIMIT BUFFET:
- Write a six-word memoir. Afterwards, take a look online to see what others have come up with. One of my favorites: Margaret Atwood’s “Longed for him. Got him. @#$%.” (You can guess what the last word actually is.) Look how much that communicates!
- Make a mini zine. Malaka Gharib has a ton of them on her Instagram (@malakagharib). Hers inspired me to make one about my cat’s dental surgery. Stick figures and scribbles are fine!
- Write a scene using only dialogue.
- Set a timer and write a one-minute poem. I just road-tested this myself and came up with this: “Sky blushes/as its solar suitor/arrives again.” It won’t win a Pulitzer, but the idea of the sun as a lover has interesting possibilities and shook my morning cobwebs loose.
- Write a picture book using only verbs.
- Write a 140-character horror story. (My silly contribution: “Night. Storm. A writer, home alone. The power zaps out as lightning flashes. She tiptoes into the kitchen and finds the cookie jar…EMPTY!” I mean, really—what’s more frightening than that?)
Got a limit that works for you? We’d love to hear it! And if you want to share your work, progress, or ideas based on this writing prompt, or if you just want to connect with others who are tackling this challenge, comment on this blog post or Tweet us @SCBWISOCALLA with the hashtag #KTWriteOn and be sure to include Deborah (@underwoodwriter) too!
Need more inspiration? Check out all the past #KTWriteOn prompts.
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Stock image by Dustin Lee on Unsplash. Author photo by Lisa V. Leach. Green Eggs and Ham courtesy of Random House Books for Young Readers. Ducks! courtesy of Henry Holt and Co. Zine photos by Deborah Underwood. Stock image courtesy of nappy.co.