How to initiate children and young people in creative writing

By encouraging creative writing from an early age, language learning is developed and boosted, from aspects like lexical richness, to knowledge of structure and forms that constitute a particular language. It also promotes a passion for reading and also for authors and literary genres.

Apart from the cognitive enhancement it triggers, creative writing also improves attention, memory, comprehension, creativity, concentration, imagination, team work and so on.

Organizing a creative writing workshop for children and teenagers is a rewarding optional school subject. Whether it takes place in school or outside it (at the library, cultural center, youth center, in a book shop…), what you need first and foremost is a room with a table and chairs, and stationery.

The recommended time for starting this activity is around age 8 or 9, when students can already express themselves correctly in writing. When forming workshop groups depending on age, a good option is to put together boys and girls between 8 and 12 years of age, and form another group for children who are 13 or more. As for the number of students for each group, between 4 and 8 students would be ideal, to take full advantage of each class. Note that once writing exercises have been done, each student needs to show his work to the others, and also to share commentaries and constructive criticism that will help everyone improve their work. The frequency of the workshop meetings is another aspect to take into account: it is best to gather once a week, or, as often happens, once every fortnight, in order to prevent the young from losing interest and commitment.

Of course that the workshop coordinator is the one who will decide upon these aspects, and who will also choose the subjects and exercises, always keeping in mind the kind of students that will accompany him/her in the creative adventure, and, later on, their preferences and tastes. If a certain group is more attracted to a particular genre, such as horror, mystery or fantasy, it would be great to take advantage of their enthusiasm.

Ideas for the start

There are various elements that prove essential when it comes to literary creation, and all of them have to find their place throughout the workshop: plot, characters, narrative voice, setting, dialogue, etc.

However, a good way to break the ice and initiate the young writers consists in making suggestions that will arouse their imagination and their desire to express themselves.

  • Suggest a sentence that could start a story, something as simple as “In a summer morning, …”, or “The light went out and…”, “During my last holiday, …”, “The car came around the corner”.
  • Suggest certain words (rain, red, dog, sock, etc.) that must be included in a text of a given number of lines.
  • Choose an ordinary subject and describe it: how they get to school, what their room looks like, what they do during recess, how they spend their afternoons, how is their pet, if they have a favorite place, etc.
  • Take a story that everybody knows, a popular anecdote, a comic strip or a saying, for instance, and write a version of it. The coordinator can also select a short text that would be read aloud, and then ask the students to continue the story.
  • Read a poem aloud, and ask the students to describe what it evokes to them and what they understand from it.
  • Create a self-portrait in words.
  • Show them photos or drawings representing landscapes, animals, people. From this, there can result an interesting source of inspiration that creates connections between what they see, what they feel and what they imagine, before putting all these on paper.
  • Take them on an outing in the park, on the beach, in a library or museum. Each child will jot down in a notebook what they see, as well as other thoughts. Later, they will use their notes to write a personal description of the visit.

Examples of activities

Further, we will describe other literary creation exercises and games to use as the workshop advances.

  • The circuit: Each child will write a sentence on a piece of paper, then he/she will hand the paper to his colleague on the right. They will have one minute each to write a sequel sentence, until the paper gets back to the first student. Then, each student will have five minutes to correct the resulting story and give it an appropriate ending.
  • Titles. A paper containing 25 possible story titles is shared among students. Each boy or girl will choose a title, and, starting from it, they will have to describe the characters that appear in the story and the place where the action happens. Then, they will write a short, one-page story containing those details.
  • Acrostics. Choose a sentence that will act as the acrostic, then use each letter as the beginning of a new line to obtain a meaningful story.
  • Dialogues. Describe the conversation between two persons who are seeing each other again by chance, after many years (choose different locations for each student). Another variant would be to write the dialogue that would occur between two persons who have just met for the first time.
  • Bad words. Each student will say three words that they don’t like, and the coordinator will write them down. After doing this, all students will write a collective story (each one will come up with a sentence) in which the mentioned words will have positive meaning.
  • Dictionary. After opening a dictionary at a random page, each member of the group will choose two rare words , or two words he/she doesn’t know. The student will write the chosen words, as well as their definitions. Then, they will create a short story that will contain at least six of the targeted words, which must appear in a comprehensible context.
  • Magic box. The group coordinator prepares a closed box with all kinds of words (numerals, verbs, adjectives, etc.) written on paper and put inside the box. Each child will stick their hand in and take four words, which they will use to write two sentences. In the end, everybody will gather their sentences together, trying to create a meaningful micro story.
  • Collage. Using newspapers or magazines, each student will cut out 25 words that they will then use to write a meaningful paragraph.
  • Another ending. The participants will choose a classical or popular story that they like, and they will have to write another ending, different from the one that everybody knows.
  • Time travel. The coordinator will ask each member in what age they would have liked to live, and who they would have liked to be. Starting from this, each student will write a short essay from this perspective.

The eternal student

Academic skills, those acquired through study, have a limited scope. I’m not saying that it can’t be very broad, but it is undeniable that some aspects are not covered in it.

If you want to learn how to swim it will be positive (at least it will not hurt) to receive basic explanations from a teacher, even read something about it to get used to it and to know what it is. But in order to be able to swim there is no substitute for entering the pool (river, sea, lake …) In fact, jumping into the water without explanation is one of the most used methods. And it is the fastest.

But … will I panic and begin to shake uncontrollably, making things worse? Maybe, but once the early stages are overcome, if your intention is to learn, you begin to understand the basics to stay afloat. The style and grace will come with practice.

With writing (and almost with anything) preparation only takes us to the edge of the pool with vague notions about what to do next. The rest can only be learned inside the water.

The feeling that you will be much better if you delay the time of actually “doing things” and stay in the studying stage, reading what the experts say, analyzing various points of view and collecting data, often has more to do with fear than a well-planned strategy.

Ultimately, it is useless to think about what might happen instead of doing it.

This doesn’t mean that prior preparation is meaningless, but perhaps practice is much more beneficial than theory. The point is that knowledge is useful when applied, but it doesn’t make much sense as pure knowledge. The optimum is to combine theory and practice.

A full understanding of most of the things that will help you in your growth as a writer can only be accessed through personal experience. We must find it out for ourselves. That doesn’t mean that other people’s experiences can’t be enlightening but, by their nature, the ideas of others never give us the complete picture.

It is very easy to make something seem essential only by providing some evidence to support the theory. A lot of books on the art of writing do that, although perhaps not always intentionally.

If I say that I have studied last year’s bestselling books and found that they all share X ingredient and that you must include this X ingredient if you want your novel to succeed, it will seem a reasonable suggestion, especially if I can support what I say with several texts taken out of Best Sellers.

To give an example, let’s say I have discovered that all these successful books have an introduction, middle and end (not a very revolutionary affirmation).

Well, is there any book that does not follow this structure? Yes, a couple. Some will always achieve the objective by breaking the rules. But the vast majority comply with these rules and yours should too.

Okay, you might think, maybe it makes sense.

But there are other questions you should ask: How many books follow this structure and haven’t succeed? Are there any really bad books that have the X ingredient?

I think we all know the answer, but don’t think about it so much. Success is more visible than failure, which is lost in the dark (if they are published).

Thus, while it is interesting to note that the five most successful novels have a trigger event on page 25, you should be aware that many other novels have a trigger event on page 25 and have failed to reach the bookstores.

Which leads us to think: How useful is it to know this? Discovering things in common does not guarantee to find that differentiator element that will make my novel better than the others.

It doesn’t mean that it is not worth knowing it. A doctor should know which side of the syringe to point at the patient, but they won’t know how to inject something with no pain by only knowing the theory. You should stick several needles in order to acquire that skill. And it will hurt at first and patients will scream. This is how you will improve your technique.

So, is all the academic knowledge beyond the basics not worth it?

The truth is the opposite. It helps a lot to learn every possible thing about the art of writing. It’s not like it is a shortcut to suddenly become a kung Fu master like Neo in The Matrix, this doesn’t work that way (unfortunately). Part of that knowledge does not even make sense to you until you start applying it.

But among all this information that’s out there, there will be a quote, an idea which will produce the “click” in your head, evolving the way you think. This “revelation” will be different for each person and nobody knows exactly what they should hear in order to trigger that kind of mental growth, so you should get all the information, all the knowledge and dive in it to find your own revelation.

I have read many (many) books on the art of writing. Most of them were obvious and didn’t cause a big impression. But every now and then a teaching makes its way up to my head. For me, discovering that the scenes could show instead of just tell, and thus reveal the nature of the character, changed my way of writing. This little tip (given so many times in so many workshops) made me look for ways to show things in my scenes to see if it worked.

How Adjectives can help you

Adjectives are rich words that paint a beautiful images of just about any surrounding. Search for an adjective list that starts with a and see how it can help you describe everything in a more color and rich way.


Learning how to properly use adjectives without boring your audience is a skill that requires years of practices and a large and forgetful audience, but it is extremely rewarding. I encourage you to start today by writing about your every day life, Yes! writing about anything and start sharpening your skills and improving the quality of your work with a heavy dose of adjectives.

After you have completed a couple of months with this exercise, try to continue by using adjectives in your daily conversations. This conversation can take place during anytime, place, setting or weather. Do not be afraid to approach a stranger if you have to, just as long as you start this conversation with somebody that you will have the time to listen to you.

The Secret Garden: The author


Frances Hodgson Burnett was born in Manchester, Great Britain, on 24 November 1849, and died in New York, USA, on 29 October 1924. She was an American writer of British origin.

The death of her father brought the family into ruin, so they had to emigrate to the United States in 1865. Here, Frances earned a living by writing poems and short stories. At the age of 23, she married doctor P. Burnett, with whom she had two children. In 1877 she published her first story, That Lass o’ Lowries, but she only gained a reputation after publishing Little Lord Fauntleroy (1885) and consolidated her popularity with A Little Princess (1905) and The Secret Garden (1910), which completed her trilogy of children’s books.

In 1901 she divorced doctor Swan M. Burnett and she married again, this time with Stephen Townsend, whom she also divorced. Having divorced twice and also having lost her eldest son, she settled to Bermuda and then in Long Island, where she embraced gardening, theosophy and spiritualism, until her death in 1924.

The Secret Garden becomes an important environmental message, in which the garden changes metaphorically into a place that teaches us to be ourselves. The garden is loaded with symbols about life, death, sickness and health, and brings a unique vision that the young can advance toward among their confusion. From this point of view, The Secret Garden is a small step that accompanies us throughout our youth and helps us see the Earth as a rich universe, full of lessons abut how to be more human.

All her works retain the theme of the different social classes and changes of luck.

The Secret Garden Story is well known

Mary Lennox, a homely but bossy girl, lives in India with her parents who work for the British government; her mother parades her beauty from party to party. As a nine-year-old, Mary is only busy making life miserable for the servants responsible for her upbringing; however, one night something happens that will change everything: a terrible cholera outbreak kills her parents. The little girl is sent to northern England to live with her uncle, Archibald Craven, who is said to be a grumpy hunchback with such a bad mood, that he doesn’t allow anybody to approach him. The girl travels all this way to find herself alone in a mansion that has over a hundred doors (most of them locked and bolted), and on whose halls a mysterious cry can be heard (that of Colin Craven). Later, she finds a walled garden that has not been opened in ten years, befriends a robin redbreast, a boy who has a soft way with animals (Dickon), an old sulky gardener and she also finds a hidden key. Page after page, the secrets and mysteries come one after another in this beautiful and immortal book, fascinating and able to touch the readers through the magical power of literature.

Book Review: The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett

The Secret Garden becomes an important environmental message, in which the garden changes metaphorically into a place that teaches us to be ourselves. The garden is loaded with symbols about life, death, sickness and health, and brings a unique vision that the young can advance toward. From this point of view, The Secret Garden is a small step that accompanies us throughout our youth and helps us see the Earth as a rich universe, full of lessons abut how to be more human.

Ana Belén Ramos, editor and translator of the book, writes in the Introduction:

“Lost principles, extremely poor children that inherit a great fortune, rich and noble people who possess everything, but who need to discover friendship, love and the beauty of life, orphans who meet their family among strangers; dangerous and selfish love relationships, and also love so pure and bright that lasts beyond death; loyalty vows that are upheld in spite of all hardships, secret rebellions against bloodthirsty governments, battles, mysterious secret meetings, intrigue, phantasm, adventure. This is the writing of Frances Hodgson Burnett, the literature that makes us dream.”

The edition presented here is a translation of the first edition of The Secret Garden, published in New York by Frederick A. Stokes Company, in 1911. We can see that the style of the author is clear and simple, always fit for the story, and I would like to highlight the beauty, humor and ability of evocation that the narration displays.

This is one of the secrets behind the success of this edition, and Ana Belén Ramos has managed to keep in her translation the emotion and personality of the original book which has captivated readers generation after generation, due to its plot, theme and eloquence.