Creative writing is the makerspace of the mind. A truly open assignment where students are free to follow whatever crazy directions their stories takes them? This is a priceless avenue for invention.
Right now, we’re nearing the end of Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month). This is a 30-day period when writers around the world write like the wind. The goal is to produce a 50,000-word novel during the month. This writer has personally started and failed the challenge three times. But luckily, I never consider the undertaking truly a failure. After all, even if you don’t hit a certain number of words, there are always things to be gained from writing stories. Writing builds confidence, encourages creativity and self-expression, boosts the imagination and problem-solving skills, and helps you learn to clarify your thoughts.
I want to share some tools to get your students writing down their craziest, most outlandish, off-the-wall stories. Here are some ideas to get started.
Writer’s block. Sometimes the most difficult task is overcoming the blank page. Here are some tools to help your students answer the question: What should I write about?
Thanks to the collective hive mind of the internet, there’s no shortage of writing prompt generators. These provide free plots ideas to start a narrative. This site lets you choose your genre and what type of ending the story will have. And this one from Scholastic lets you choose your grade level for age-appropriate writing projects. This Google Doc option doesn’t create full plots but instead offers imaginative phrases to get those wheels turning.
For your more visual writers, check out this Emoji Writing Prompt Generator. A few randomly-selected icons might spur your students to write the next great American novel.
Finally, if you don’t want a whole plot mapped out for you, there’s this fun generator that creates the first line of a story for you. This could be a fun classtime writing activity if you assign all students to write using the same first line and discover all the different directions their stories can go!
Once they have their idea, the next challenge is putting pen to paper. Or, times being what they are, fingers to keyboard. Typing out a story has some distinct advantages. You can easily share it with others for collaboration. It’s often faster than writing by hand. And you don’t have to worry about your only copy blowing away or getting thrown in the fireplace or some other very literary scenario. Here are a few places students can start their next writing project:
Of course, it would be impossible not to include Google Docs. This tool makes word processing in the cloud simple. Changes are automatically saved and your students can also easily share their work with you or other students for comments.
Draft is another free tool designed for online word processing. It has some unique features that make it great for young writers. It provides a word count at the bottom of the screen and lets them know how many words they are writing per day. It also allows them to make “to do” notes in their stories so they can easily come back to things they want to elaborate on more.
Of course, there are also some downsides to writing on a computer instead of in a notebook. Namely: distractions. Calmly is a writing tool that tries to keep the writing process distraction-free. When you start typing, all of the distracting menu options disappear, so you have a blank canvas to work on.
Refine the Work
One of the fun things about creative writing is you can let all the ideas flow freely and not worry about editing. Those NaNoWriMo winners who get to 50,000 words certainly don’t end up with a completely polished, ready-to-publish piece in 30 days. While the goal of encouraging creative writing might not require polishing, you can still provide some tools if your students are happy with their story and want to take it to the editing phase.
Grammarly is a free proofreading extension you can add to your web browser. It will correct typos and grammatical errors in everything from your emails and social media posts to your creative stories and poems.
Hemingway App is a way for writers to improve the readability of their work. It highlights sentences that are hard to read and offers suggestions for fixing them. Depending on their personal style, your budding writers may or may not find this useful. If they enjoy figurative flourishes and are more of a William Faulker than an Ernest Hemmingway, this might not be the tool for them.
Go Forth and Create
In the same way that students can find value in makerspaces by creating things without strict parameters, so too is there great value in free writing. Allowing students to use their imaginations to whip up whole worlds from thin air is powerful. Do you have any favorite writing tools? Please share them in the comments below!