One of my favorite things to do with my daughters (8 and 11) is to go on a creative writing date. It’s the very best kind of one-on-one special time, even better than going to the swimming pool, mini-golf or the movies. We’ve had some of our most peaceful times writing together, and also some of our most hilarious. It’s truly beautiful to see one of my girls with a pen in hand, writing furiously opposite me, head tilted to the side, giggling at her words.
The key elements of this date are that it has to be outside of the home, we need to write at the same time, we share what we write and nobody looks at the phone. Most importantly, this is not a teaching moment- it’s an experience that you share, an experience that they don’t often get in school. Sometimes when you read their work, it’s tempting to ask questions or fix grammar or mention that one little mistake, but don’t do it! I say this from experience. Just have fun.
- People Vignettes: Go to a coffee shop or a park bench, a subway or bus, and write fast descriptions or stories about the people you see. It’s the writer’s version of sketching strangers. I think it’s especially fun on a subway or bus because people get on and off. This means the writing has to be complete in two or three stops, no editing, just letting the pen fly. After you write-sketch a person, you let each other read. It can be very funny because often you’ll write on the same person, usually the strangest-looking person on the bus. If you’re on the subway/bus for the purpose of writing, you can also get off at a new random spot, and then, you can do the next experiment . . .
- Bugs and Garbage Writing: Sit on the sidewalk or the grass and look at the bugs/the litter/whatever is on the ground. Write an imaginary story about these objects, as characters. Write for five to ten minutes and then share.
- Music Writing: One of you picks an instrumental or foreign language song and you both listen to it (with headphones if you’re in a coffee shop) and you write. If you share headphones, it can be even more fun because you’re writing closer together. This is free-flow writing and works well for poetry or prose writing. Some fun choices are African drumming, Sikh temple singers or Bach. Spotify is great for finding this music. Again, the rule is you write continuously, without letting the pen stop.
- Paint Writing: Head to the paint aisle of the hardware store. Each of you picks a color sample (those little papers by the paint). Then, you go to the coffee shop with your little color sample papers and you write on each color. At the bottom of the paper, you’ll see a name on each color, and it’s often a bit odd, like tangerine daydream. So, you can write on the name, and what it inspires, or you can ignore the name and write only on the color. Maybe it’s yellow and it makes you think of the time your best friend dared you to eat a lemon, so you write about that, and your daughter thinks about the time the cat peed on her great aunt’s fur jacket. Then, you share and you move to the other color. The key part about this experiment is that you both write on the same color at the same time.
- Gross Writing: This is a big winner. It’s not rocket science: you both try to write the grossest imaginary story you can. Before you start, you each write five words on little pieces of paper and then you fold them up and give the other person your pile. Start off by picking one of the words that your kid gave you. This will be in the first sentence (or two) of your story. Then, you pick your next word. This will be in your next couple sentences. Then, the next word and so on, until you have used all of their words. While you are doing this, your kid is picking words from his/her pile. Then you complete your stories and share. I guarantee that you will both laugh your heads off. If your kid wants to keep doing this again and again, which is very possible, you can also both write a true story about the very grossest thing that ever happened to you. Just try not to laugh so hard that your coffee comes out of your nose. Good luck.