Find The Flow – Free Writing

I love writing. It is one of my favourite ways to spend my time, whether I be writing a blog post, a poem, adding to my novel, writing a short story, or working on a piece of freelance work. I love the feeling of creating something new, something that didn’t exist before. Writing is mostly a hobby for me – although I am slowly dipping my toe into the freelance world as well and do hope to one day publish a book – but a big part of my day job is teaching my students to write. To write analysis. To write creatively. To write persuasively. In reality, it’s all actually teaching them to write for an exam. There is not a huge amount of freedom in it. It can be a struggle to walk the line between encouraging them to be creative whilst also doing what the exam requires of them. Some of my colleagues and I joke about the creative writing section of the exam actually being ‘non-creative writing’. It’s not a terribly funny joke when we all really wish that it was true creative writing. But we persevere and try, as much as possible, to instil some passion for the craft.

One of the things that often seems to be a huge barrier for my students is actually coming up with the ideas to write about in the first place. So this is where I try to let creativity run a little bit wild. One of my favourite things to do is to get them free-writing. This can be a little daunting at first, as they are so used to having to meet certain criteria and expectations. I like to use The Writer’s Toolbox to help them overcome that fear and encourage them to just write – even if it’s nonsense – because that’s where we’ll then find those little gems of ideas that they can grow and craft into something usable.

I also write alongside my students. There’s a partnership and community in that which is encouraging, and when they see me make mistakes, cross things out, change my mind, or hear me read something completely ridiculous and imperfect of my own, it seems to give them permission to be ridiculous and imperfect too.

I did this exercise with one of my classes a little while ago and it was good fun to do so I though I would share it with you.

The idea is that you use the given opening and closing lines and you have to incorporate the items/sensory details/people also listed below. You write for a fixed amount of time (30-ish minutes) and you’re not supposed to stop writing or think about it too much, just write and see what happens.

  • Opening line: I had this system for getting exactly what I wanted out of people.
  • Include: the smell of fresh mint, the sound of Marcie’s pacing
  • A line to include part way through: On the following Friday, we’d packed our bags and planned out escape.
  • Includeorange spray paint, a crooked umbrella, a ripe apple
  • A line to include part way through: Every time she gets on television.
  • Includea half eaten box of fig newtons
  • Closing line: the lemon sherbet that melted all over the counter.

(NB: When I did it with myself students they didn’t get all of them at once, they were given the opening and had to write for 10 minutes before I gave them the next thing to include, then they wrote for five minutes before the next etc, etc until they were given the closing line which they had five minutes to write towards.)

Why not have a go and see what you come up with? If you share what you’ve written, leave your link in the comments below – I’d love to see where the exercise takes you. You can read my free writing in response to these prompts below.

Free Writing Response:

I had this system for getting exactly what I wanted out of people. No one ever suspected they were being manipulated. Not by the blonde-haired, blue-eyed, butter-wouldn’t-melt-faced innocent they saw when they looked at me. But that was the game. It’s dog-eat-dog out there, even for children. You have to be ruthless to survive but you don’t have to wear that ruthlessness on your sleeve. I learnt to use everything to my advantage, including my baby-faced charm.

I carried my innocence with me like the smell of fresh mint and I watched as everyone I met relaxed in my presence. Fools. So much that is beautiful hides viciousness. And nothing in this world in pure. Not anymore. The lives that look so perfect on the outside are like mouldy oranges at the bottom of the fruit bowl. You don’t see the rot until you turn them over. When you do, your stomach turns and the smell lingers in your nostrils for days.

Sitting in the stairwell at the back of the old hospice, I waited. The sound of Marcie’s feet fading in and out as she paced the corridor beyond the fire door behind me. Not much longer now. The trap would be sprung soon. I thought back to that time, just a few weeks ago, when we discovered his betrayal. We had been together, the three of us, for so long. A well oiled, three-cog machine. It took a few days for the truth to sink in. To realise that one of our cogs was not only rusty but had dropped out altogether, leaving a gaping hole in our systems. In our hearts.

On the following Friday, we’d packed out bags and planned out escape. It was all in the timing. It had to be perfect or we were done for. If they caught us…it didn’t bear thinking about. We’d all heard the screams. We just didn’t talk about it.

I rolled the nearly empty can of orange spray paint back and forth in my palms. Every corner of the stairwell behind me bled the sunset colour. It had been easy really. All I had to do was reach round the corners with my rag-tag, crooked umbrella to nudge the lenses of the security cameras out of focus (old tech was a boon for once) before reaching up from behind to spray until they were blind.

The sudden, quick rapping on the fire door jolted me out of my reverie. Shoving the can deep into the inside pocket of my parka, I straightened up and opened the door, just wide enough for me to squeeze through. Marcie passed me as I emerged. She didn’t look at me but I felt her press something firm and smooth into my hand. A ripe apple. The teacher was in.

I held back a curse. The teacher was more astute than most of the mindless drones in this place. Every time she gets on television to rattle off the party spiel, I swear I can feel her gaze burning through the glass. It’s like she knows.

I hurried down the corridor towards her office, steeling myself for the performance of a lifetime. If I couldn’t convince her, if she wouldn’t leave, it would all be over.

I knocked on the worn oak door, paint chips flaking at the tap of my knuckle. This place could do with some TLC.

No answer.

I frowned and knocked again.

No answer.

I tried to ignore the twisting feeling of foreboding that unfurled in my stomach. With rising trepidation, I pushed open the door. The first thing I noticed was the half-eaten box of fig newtons on the desk. A silly detail to remember, I know, but it was so incongruous with the machine I was coming to face. Such a human thing. It almost distracted me from the blood pooled on the carpet. And the body of the teacher sprawled behind the desk.

He raised the gun as I turned to flee – not fast enough. As I fell, I noticed another tiny detail: the bowl of sweets shattered on the sideboard, and the lemon sherbet that melted all over the counter.

Wild & Improbable Tales – A Ghost Of Warmth

At first, it looks like a room full of people.

With a languorous certainty, they circulate, moving like the inexorable grace of a glacier, the entrancing dance of the fire. And then you notice something strange: there are no heads, no hands, no legs. They are a sea of jumpers and sweaters, moving as though filled by invisible figures. They float, pause, embrace in unfathomable patterns and currents. The space seems to glow. As you watch, you notice that each and every one of them is old, threadbare and carries something undefinable, which, as they pass, leaves an impression of memory: they glide before you like old film.

Being carefully knitted from a skein of scarlet wool; unwrapped with excitement on Christmas morning and immediately pulled on over pyjamas; thoughtfully selected from amongst racks of others; nervously presented to a loved one; lent from mother to daughter, father to son, lover to lover; frantically searched for on the first frosty morning of the year; lovingly wrapped around a small child who drowns in its folds; bemoaned when the stitching begins to fray; held onto until all that holds them together is love and fading memories; and, eventually, reluctantly, parting ways: passed on to another, bundled up with the charity shop donations, occasionally lost in a forgetful moment on the seat of a bus or under a restaurant table, or folded carefully and placed – with regret – on the rubbish pile.

But the things that are so woven with our lives can never truly be lost or forgotten or even given up. And so they come here. Our knitted echoes, animated by a ghost of warmth.


“You’re a storyteller. Dream up something wild and improbable,” she pleaded. “Something beautiful and full of monsters.”

Strange The Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Inspired by Erin Morgenstern’s Flax-Golden Tales, I have decided to embark on my own creative writing blog series, “Wild & Improbable Tales”, as a way to write more freely and more frequently. At least once a week, I will choose a card at random from The School Of Life‘s ‘Small Pleasures’ box and use the image and/or writing on the back to inspire a short piece of creative writing. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

NaNoWriMo Check In – Days 3 & 4

Day 3 of #NaNoWriMo and #wrimohero’s prompt was #calltoadventure – how do you generate ideas? I get a lot of my ideas from the environment around me. Places, found objects, the weather – my imagination spots the most random and insignificant things as I’m going about my day and runs riot with them! I collect these scraps of ideas, along with words, quotes, and anything else that takes my fancy, in my commonplace book. When the ideas are ready to become part of my story, they worm their way back out of the pages and into my writing.

Day 4 of NaNoWriMo is behind us and the prompt for #wrimohero was NaNoCheckIn – 6,668 words? The answer is yes! And more! I’ve had the best start to my first ever NaNo and have managed to bash out over 11,000 words so far! I’m glad to be getting ahead of the word count goal because, by all accounts, things get tough in weeks 2 and 3! So far, though, I am truly enjoying getting this story out onto the page. I was worried that I didn’t know where it was going to go but really, the story is writing itself, I’m just tapping the keys. I’m super excited to see where it goes.

Fellow NaNo-ers, how’s it going?

#NaNoWriMo Check In – Day 2

Day 2 of NaNoWriMo is here and the prompt for #wrimohero is ‘Ordinary World: What’s your setting like?’ This is the beautiful building that inspired the first seed of my story: it’s the incredible John Rylands Library in Manchester. A key part of my setting is a stunning gothic library. I’m also going to be sneaking in a few of my other favourite Manchester places and Peak District haunts, all alongside and mysterious other-world where ideas manifest and thrive with none of the restrictions of our human world.

NaNo Word Count: 5,448

Hello Jack Frost

Hello, Jack Frost

How have you been?

Back again

To make the world gleam

With glittering starlight

Brought to ground

I love it when

Your time comes round.

When what was breath

To clouds does turn

And icy fractals

Plate autumn’s burn.

The world goes quiet,

The earth stands still

And arms wrap selves

In hugs until

It’s time to retreat

Back to our beds

With glittering starlight

In our heads

And winter’s song

Upon our tongue,

We bear the chill

Of your belonging

Because, Jack Frost,

You playful rogue,

Though you might freeze

Our hand and nose,

We have a secret love

You see

For how you tame

The world, nightly:

Not with lies

And not with war

Not with thunder’s

Mighty roar

But with a scattering of stars

Brought from the heavens

To light our hearts

So hello, Jack Frost

How have you been?

It’s nice to have you

Back again

Ignore our grumbles

It’s just fine

To paint the world with

Your icy rime

And take our breath

For clouds instead

And let us walk

Your starry bed.

Wild & Improbable Tales – Hope in Invisible Prisons

Suspended inside iridescence, she watches the world pass by. It is beautiful. But she cannot reach it.

Rainbows ripple across the surface of her invisible prison, distorting the view: the hopeful land morphing into looming, shadowed threats; the lilting sound of laughter and music ringing hollow in her ears. She knows those terrors are lies but still her heart races in fear. She knows there is wonder and joy to be felt, but her head echoes with emptiness.

Some shadows loom larger and nearer than others and occasionally their undulating forms resolve into something familiar. Comforting. Her heart contracts with hope and love blooms somewhere deep in the pit of her twisting stomach, as a hand reaches out and penetrates the walls she has bloodied her fists trying to break.

They do not shatter, even now, but still the hand is there, holding hers.


“You’re a storyteller. Dream up something wild and improbable,” she pleaded. “Something beautiful and full of monsters.”

Strange The Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Inspired by Erin Morgenstern’s Flax-Golden Tales, I have decided to embark on my own creative writing blog series, “Wild & Improbable Tales”, as a way to write more freely and more frequently. At least once a week, I will choose a card at random from The School Of Life‘s ‘Small Pleasures’ box and use the image and/or writing on the back to inspire a short piece of creative writing. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Wild & Improbable Tales – She Came From The Water

The tap had dripped for as long as they could remember. They had heard the insistent plip, plip, plip the night they had moved in, as they lay down to sleep. It was the strangest thing, though: they could hear the drips, could see them gather and fall from the tap into the bath, but no water gathered underneath and no water fell into their hands cupped beneath the faucet, though the steady beat continued.

A stream of plumbers couldn’t fix it. No amount of twiddling the taps made it stop. They felt sure that replacing the whole bathroom would do it but as soon as the water was back on, the infernal dripping resumed.

After a time, they grew accustomed to the quiet, regular rhythm and it faded into the background of their lives.

It was with some surprise, then, that in the early hours of a November morning, many years after they had first come to live in the house, they found themselves woken by the dripping noise. They lay awake in the darkest hour of the night listening as the dripping became louder and, somehow, closer.

Shrinking together in fear, they watched, frozen, as the bedroom door opened, to reveal a young girl illuminated in the ghostly, pre-dawn light; grey skinned, blue lipped, her sodden nightgown clinging to her slight frame, she watched them, a steady drip, drip, drip falling from the water-heavy tangles of her raven hair.


“You’re a storyteller. Dream up something wild and improbable,” she pleaded. “Something beautiful and full of monsters.”

Strange The Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Inspired by Erin Morgenstern’s Flax-Golden Tales, I have decided to embark on my own creative writing blog series, “Wild & Improbable Tales”, as a way to write more freely and more frequently. At least once a week, I will choose a card at random from The School Of Life‘s ‘Small Pleasures’ box and use the image and/or writing on the back to inspire a short piece of creative writing. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Wild & Improbable Tales – Bone Weary

Bone weary, she watched as the rain painted the window with its tears. The city blurred in and out of focus. Her head felt heavy and she leant her cheek upon the cool glass.

Blinking blearily, she tried to focus on the world outside. Clouds drifted in slow motion over the tired town, their eraser strokes wiping out the blue of the sky. An errant thought stumbled into her mind: she wished the rain would wash the world away – the clouds rub out the whole of the heavens.

She blinked again.

Sighing, she turned away from the melancholy view and headed back to her desk.

Unseen, the steady rainfall began to wash away more than just the dust and grime of the city streets; first the tower blocks, then the houses, then the pavements ran away in rivulets of grey. Slowly, the city dissolved.


“You’re a storyteller. Dream up something wild and improbable,” she pleaded. “Something beautiful and full of monsters.”

Strange The Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Inspired by Erin Morgenstern’s Flax-Golden Tales, I have decided to embark on my own creative writing blog series, “Wild & Improbable Tales”, as a way to write more freely and more frequently. At least once a week, I will choose a card at random from The School Of Life‘s ‘Small Pleasures’ box and use the image and/or writing on the back to inspire a short piece of creative writing. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Wild & Improbable Tales – To The Edge Of The World

In quiet solitude they rowed for days. The world was drowned in an ocean of grey: a sea of shadow and light. Inky trees stretched up from the land around them towards the glowering slate sky; the steely surface of the water was disturbed only by their passing; the grey days faded into black night and back again, hazy white sun replaced by the crisp silver disk of the moon and her pinprick sister stars.

They saw not another soul.

Some would have filled the endless hours with chatter, but they spoke not a single word.

Most would have gone to shore every now and then, to rest their arms or sleep until the sun brought the singing dawn, but they continued on, never pausing.

Time became meaningless but it passed all the same. A quiet turning of the world and seconds filled with tiny infinities.

They paddled on, right to the edge of the world. And when the water dropped away below them and the land disappeared, they paddled still, beating steadily on into the eternal night, leaving their greyscale world behind and heading for the stars.


“You’re a storyteller. Dream up something wild and improbable,” she pleaded. “Something beautiful and full of monsters.”

Strange The Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Inspired by Erin Morgenstern’s Flax-Golden Tales, I have decided to embark on my own creative writing blog series, “Wild & Improbable Tales”, as a way to write more freely and more frequently. At least once a week, I will choose a card at random from The School Of Life‘s ‘Small Pleasures’ box and use the image and/or writing on the back to inspire a short piece of creative writing. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Coffee Shop Writer

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There is something endlessly appealing about sitting and writing in a coffee shop. Sinking into the words as the gentle percolation of humanity bubbles around you. A low hubbub accompanied by the smell of coffee and pastries. It’s not something I often get the chance to do so when the opportunity arises it feels like a real treat and privilege.

It’s the atmosphere I love most (although the rich, coffee shop coffee certainly adds to the experience) but I also love the opportunity to people watch. The grey haired gentleman sat by the window, reading a paper and sipping his americano. The two friends catching up in the corner, two tea pots and two empty hot chocolate glasses cluttering their table – a testament to their long conversation which has no sign of breaking up any time soon. The mum with her children peering at the pastries on the counter, noses pressed near to the glass which holds all the cake, wide eyed in anticipation of the coming sugar! The one or two scattered individuals, including myself, who sit tapping away on keyboards – I wonder what they are writing. Catching up on emails, maybe. Writing an article or a blog post or even the next great novel.

In this little corner of this little town, people are creating and loving and living. So am I. And isn’t that the most wonderful thing?

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