Bringing the Writing Workshop to You: Creativity Exercises for the Stuck-At-Home Writer

Last summer, two other authors and I held a Lil’ Haints Creative Writing Workshop at the bookstore tailored to young authors from nine to fourteen. It was absolutely amazing to see the kids’ eyes light up as they told us about the stories they were working on. The students inspired us just as much as we inspired them, I think.

As I was casting around for ideas on how I could use my talents in this uncertain, coronavirus time to help others, I wondered, could putting my Lil’ Haints workshopping lessons online help encourage and entertain young authors at home?

What follows is the workshop I gave on “Brainstorms & Origin Stories” redesigned for this format:

Today’s workshop is about how to be a creative person—whether you write, draw, or underwater basket weave as my middle school teacher used to say. Being creative is about keeping yourself open to possibilities. It’s about observing the world around you and putting things together in weird, varied, unusual ways and making it work. Allowing other people to see the world the way you do. Or seeing the world the way you wish it would be. Sharing your experiences in ways that makes someone else sit up and say “hey! I feel the same way”. Or “I think the same way too”.

Being creative is all about connecting.

So first off, we’ll talk about origin stories, then how we can brainstorm our own—whether we want to create a poem, flash fan fiction, or a sketch.

Who all is into superheroes? We know their origin stories, right? How they came to be—climbing walls like a spider or flying faster than a speeding bullet. Books have origin stories too—how they start with a tiny spark of imagination, then grow into something amazing like a book that has its own life. I have three to talk about today: Marcie Colleen’s PENGUINAUT! that started with a Facebook post; Heather Montgomery’s SOMETHING ROTTEN that began as a question; and my picture book that’s coming out later this year, SASSAFRAS AND HER TEENY TINY TAIL, which grew from an observation.

An interview with author Marcie Colleen on how she came up with the idea for her picture book, PENGUINAUT! (I used picture books as some of the examples even though these workshops are geared for middle grade because I’m able to read the entire text in one workshop, and because I believe no one is too old for a picture book )

Nonfiction Alabama author Heather Montgomery was a keynote speaker at Metro-Mobile Literacy Council’s Young Authors Conference and told us her story about finding a dead rattlesnake on the side of the road. She was curious as to how the fangs retracted and that fascination took her all over the US and even the other side of the world to study roadkill. For interviews, visit her site.

And here’s the link to my book’s origin story.

1.To get the creativity flowing we passed around story cubes, which you can also do at home—make it a fun family activity! As a group, we chose a genre (horror!) and made connections to get the imagination jump-started. Other genres to choose from can be fantasy, science fiction, mystery/thriller, or romance.

You can make your own with a cereal box and magazines. Divide the cereal box into six squares, cut out and tape to make a cube. Select various pictures from the magazine, cut and tape to the outside of your cube. Voila!

2. We talked about how creativity allows you to share the way you see the world. In the next exercise, you’ll pick an item at home and give it a voice.

In the workshop, I picked Mardi Gras beads because they’re everywhere in my house. I imagined them hanging from a live oak along a parade route. Around a kid’s neck. Then, a fate I’m sure beads would rather avoid if they could think or had feelings—abandoned in a dirty puddle of mud and trash. And those three images helped me brainstorm an excerpt from a middle grade story I wrote. [I read it during the workshop but as the manuscript is now on submission, I can’t copy it here. Sorry!]

Choose an item around your house. Brainstorm diverse and unusual ways to associate with your item and write those down. How can you make connections and weave a story around it? What story does the item want or need to tell?

In whatever you do, even stuck at home, be a person open to creativity and inspiration. Observe the natural world around you—maybe a squirrel with a sad short tail becomes a book on how our differences make us heroes. Take note of the weird and awesome things your family does. Write down how the coronavirus pandemic has changed your world—you’re a part of history now.

The Writer’s Room at the mezzanine level of the Haunted Bookshop has a whole shelf dedicated to young authors. Angela is offering No Contact curbside pickup, select neighborhood porch drop-offs, and free, local shipping if your writer needs more ideas on creativity or to add to their how-to library while they’re out of school and at home.

Stay home. Read a book. Be creative. And wash those hands.

Laughter is the Best Vaccine: Funny Books to Get You Through These Coronavirus Times

Stop me if you’ve heard this one. A ghost walks into a bookshop. The owner asks, “How can I help you?” Ghost says, “I’m here for the BOOOOks.”

Yeah, that was more groan-worthy than a haunted staircase. But in these weird times of uncertainty and distancing ourselves from friends and family, having a sense of humor, and feeding it, is one of the healthiest things we can do for ourselves.

A good guffaw can help soothe tension and physical symptoms of stress by stimulating circulation and relaxing muscles. Positive thoughts (which go hand in hand with laughing) releases neuropeptides that help battle stress and potentially more serious illnesses. Thus boosting your immune system.

A shared joke can help you deal with difficult situations and bond you with a person more fully, even if you can’t be within six feet of them.

Laughter can also be as helpful as a workout (I for one would much rather laugh than sweat) by boosting your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulating your heart and muscles and increasing the endorphins released by your brain. Endorphins elicit a positive feeling in the body and improves your mood, which helps decrease depression and anxiety.

So, like our ghost mentioned earlier, you’re here for the BOOks. What does The Haunted Bookshop staff recommend to increase laughter and keep the effects of COVID-19 at bay?
In picture books, I NEED A NEW BUTT and the sequel, I BROKE MY BUTT by Dawn McMillan, because potty humor will never grow old no matter how much we evolve. And seriously, there’s a crack in it.

In middle grade (for ages 8-12) The Last Kids on Earth series by Max Brallier. Okay, this one may not be totally appropriate because it’s about a zombie and monster apocalypse, (one of the fun things about laughter is that it’s not always appropriate) but it’s written in a hilarious way. The main character, Jack Sullivan, has some jokes. And it may motivate your kids to clean up their cobwebby old treehouse and fortify it with anti-zombie (or anti-coronavirus) catapults.

If your child is an animal lover, or even a super hero/evil villain fan, the Wedgie & Gizmo trilogy by Suzanne Selfors, about an overexcited corgi and conniving guinea pig, will tickle the funny bone. It’s a definite reread in my household.

Interested in a YA that’ll make you LOL? Mackenzi Lee’s THE GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO VICE AND VIRTUE is as if The Pirates of the Caribbean yo-ho’d into Simon VS The Homo Sapiens Agenda. Funny stuff. And Alabama author, Chad Alan Gibbs, rocks voice and humor in his YA debut, TWO LIKE ME AND YOU.

For adult books, fantasy author Terry Pratchett is hilarious in his absurdity. His book written with Neil Gaiman, THE GOOD OMENS, is hilarious in an apocalyptic way, so may be just what you need to read right now.

Christopher Moore is another author that tickles the funny bone with his interesting insights and turns of phrases. LUST LIZARDS OF MELANCHOLY COVE and FOOL are two of his books that Alex recommends for humor.

Eoin Colfer’s fantasy, HIGHFIRE, about a vodka-swilling, flashdance-loving dragon hiding out in the bayous of Louisiana is an all-around staff favorite. We couldn’t get enough of Vern.
If you’re looking for romance, (in books, not real life—six foot distance, remember?) Lyssa Kay Adams’ THE BROMANCE BOOK CLUB is hilarious in its metaness. The book asks the question: what if romance novels are really instruction manuals for how women think? So a group of guys fighting for their ladies turn to romance novels for help.

And of course, definitely check out our owner Angela’s romantic comedies. Laugh-out-loud, smart, and sexy, her latest release is the time-traveling SOME LIKE IT PLAID.

On our local humor shelf we have political cartoonist J.D. Crowe’s HALF-THUNK THOUGHTS AND HALF-FAST DRAWINGS to make you chortle.

Do you have any funny book recommendations? We’d love to hear from you. And if any of these grab your attention, we’re offering curbside pickup and free local delivery.
So stay safe. Read a book. Wash your hands. And don’t forget to laugh.

For more fun facts on the advantages of laughter, visit