Your turn…Game play as writing inspiration

gamepicMy sons got several games for Christmas and I bought another one at a recent after-Christmas sale. We love playing games at our house, and I realized during our gameplay this vacation that not only am I spending awesome quality time with them, but I can also consider it an important writing exercise. While strategy games like chess or Parcheesi may not be particularly inspiring linguistically, there are plenty of games which exercise the imagination.

Our newest game, “Pickles to Penguins” is an excellent example. This game is played with a huge deck of double-sided cards containing photos of everyday objects such as a kitchen sink, a lion, or a beach ball. Two cards are face up on the table and each player has a stack of their own cards. The object of the game is to get rid of all your cards by drawing connections between one of your cards and one of the cards on the table.

For example, in the photo shown, one of the “community” cards is a playground slide, and one of “my” cards is a banana. I could say “Sometimes people slide on a *banana peel* like they slide on a *slide.*”  You are not allowed to make the same connection twice (such as stacking animals on top of each other) or to connect things by simply their starting letter or background color. The remaining cards before me in the photo are “polar bear,” “ball,” “cello,” and “tiger.” Which of those can somehow connect to “banana” or “earrings”? The easy play is probably “ball”, the same round shape as the circles on the earrings…but you can see how making connections with words quickly leads to innovative thinking!

When I played with my 11 year old, we kept the pace relaxed and basically took turns, but the game could easily become frenetic with more equally matched competitors. (And if you try to make a connection which is too far-fetched, your opponents can penalize you!) Meanwhile, it was great mental gymnastics for me as I tried to force myself to make creative connections, and it was an equally useful learning experience for my son, who went from “they’re both animals,” to “they’re both mammals,” to “They’re both things you use on vacation.”

The title “Pickles to Penguins” might remind you of another classic party game which involves making creative connections:  “Apples to Apples.” Aside from being pretty hilarious, a few rounds of that game is bound to remind you of ways you can combine nouns with unexpected adjectives to make your writing more fresh and less cliché. Even a quick look at a finished Scrabble or Bananagrams board is a good way to brainstorm a new story or plot twist.

There are many other lesser-known games which can inspire writers, however. Some of my favorites are those with inherent story-telling characteristics. Three great examples to look into are “Rory’s Story Cubes,”  “Nanofictionary,” and “Once Upon a a Time.” In all of those games (which I highly recommend you check out), you create a story using elements on cards or dice either cooperatively or competitively. And of course, there’s also the world of Role-playing games (probably worthy of a separate post entirely), which are by their very nature, cooperative storytelling and a phenomenal way to work out a story. Dungeons & Dragons is one example, but there are many, many other systems out there to let you create just the kind of story world you would like to immerse yourself in.

So, don’t feel guilty about game night! Get out there and spend some quality time with friends and family– just think of it as another form of professional development!


It’s all for the Kids…

12991099_10208984902678164_7437406162389299255_nHere’s the thing: like most women I know, I work multiple jobs. I’m a mother, a full-time teacher, and a writer. There are probably folks who think I’m not truly serious as a writer since I have a “real job,” but since I’m not independently wealthy, and my husband isn’t a real estate mogul, I do have to pay the bills.  Besides, I became a teacher because I love teaching, so even if I wake up tomorrow and become J.K. Rowling, I’m not likely to stop.

The downside is, while I love all three of my jobs, it can leave me a little scattered. Take Twitter, for example. I started my account while I was at a teaching conference and intended to use it for connecting with other language teachers. Then I found out about “Twitter Pitch” contests and met scads of amazing writers online and now I follow a combination of teachers and writers. That’s ok for me, but it’s not so great for establishing a consistent platform. So, I now concentrate my writing tweets (and the occasional life observation) under @FrauDrK  and tweet about my German teaching at @YSDGerman (a new account I started for our district this fall).

The upside?  Synergy. While I have to be careful not to bore my teacher friends with talk of my writing, and vice versa, the triad of teaching, writing and parenting provide me with a constant feedback loop of inspiration. Take my kids, for example. Both have social and behavioral challenges which can be frustrating. But having studied behavioral analysis in graduate school and working daily with kids who have IEPs in the classroom, I am much better equipped to deal with them. On the flip side, when I am dealing with those students in the classroom, I have much more empathy for their situation and how I can help them to be successful because I know what works with my own kids. And both of those experiences feed into my writing.  I’m currently working on a picture book manuscript about a girl who refuses every invitation from her best friend– amusement parks, baseball games, sleepovers, you name it. She’s modeled on my younger son, whose first instinct to every new situation is “Not going.” I shared the story with one of my students at school — a girl who also struggles with anxiety– and she identified with my son’s struggle and gave me some insight I couldn’t get from a seven year old.

It’s been a long two weeks transitioning from the carefree summer, when I could spend much of my time focusing on writing, editing and feeding my creative soul with trips to the beach or the lake with my kids to the chaos of teaching high school full time.  I have been frustrated that I haven’t had time to send many queries to agents and publishers, and haven’t written a new manuscript or even a poem in two weeks. If you’re a writer with a full-time job, you’ve probably been where I am. But the kernel of hope in the chaos is that the busier life gets, the more material you are ultimately building for future use. I’m pretty sure I am going to get a killer idea pretty soon and then I will have to just make the time to get it written.

Speaking of killer ideas, I’m going to have to start getting inspired soon, because there are two major picture book writing events coming up! #PBPitch (another twitter pitch fest) is coming on October 27 ( for more info!) Then of course, November is NaNoWriMo for the novel writers in the world, but PB author Tara Lazar hosts “PiBoIdMo” (Picture Book Idea Month) which I participated in last year and hope to do again this year. I’ll be coming up with a book idea every day for a month! Inspiration, do your stuff!

Even before I got married and had children, I was a big fan of the animated kids video series “Veggie Tales.”  I can appreciate the values, and there’s some great music as well as some nerdy and quirky humor (If you are a Tolkein fan, you might just appreciate “Lord of the Beans.”) The creators have a photo of their children in the opening credits with the caption “Why we do what we do.” In the end, all three of my jobs are all about the kids.

How does your day job intersect with your hobbies and/or parenting? I’d love to hear in comments!