Cressida Cowell’s Free Writing Friday

May 16, 2019

15 minutes to write and draw anything you want. Sounds fun, right? Author Cressida Cowell talks about the idea behind Free Writing Friday for primary school children in this blog post…

Free writing Friday text

I’ve been a children’s book author for over twenty years and during that time I’ve lost count of how many hundreds of people have asked me the best way to encourage creativity in kids.  My answer is always: have a notebook to write and draw in just for fun.

I started writing and drawing when I was very young, and I’ve kept notebooks ever since. Some of the story ideas I had about Vikings and dragons eventually became the ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ book and film series. I still keep notebooks now – for my most recent series, ‘The Wizards of Once’, I kept a big A3 scrapbook for five years, which I filled with poems, drawings and inspiration.

Last year, with the National Literacy Trust, I launched Free Writing Friday for primary school children. The idea was to find a space for children to be creative while at school. Each Friday they are allocated just fifteen minutes to draw or write in their books. No rules. No marking. Just fun!

Children are naturally creative and imaginative thinkers but can be put off writing by the dreaded red correction pen. In this one notebook, spelling, grammar and neatness should be completely irrelevant – what’s important should be the ideas.

You can write about or draw anything you want – stories, or any exciting facts that you’ve found, or drawings, or comic strips, or ideas for films or little pictures of characters. You can write about books you’ve read or films that you’ve watched. This is YOUR notebook, and you can put whatever you like in it.

We need creative kids – creativity is so important both to an individual’s achievement and to the UK economy. Britain’s creative industries make £101.5 billion a year and are growing twice as fast as the rest of the economy. We must encourage the next generation to continue this strength. Whatever path they choose in life, creative thinking is invaluable – problem-solving, innovative ideas, and dealing with new challenges are skills that children can begin learning at an early age with nothing more than a notebook and a pencil.

Here are some tips to help you keep writing, drawing, and creating.

Tip one: Writing is like telling a really big lie

The more detail you put into your writing, and the more you base it on a tiny grain of truth, the more it comes alive in your reader’s head.

The example I use for this tip is from ‘How to Train Your Dragon’. If I say to you, ‘Gobber has a big red beard’, you can see the image in your head a bit, but not very well. If I say that, ‘Gobber has a beard like exploding fireworks’, or, ‘Gobber has a beard like a hedgehog struck by lightning’, you can see the image much more clearly.  An extension to this is to think about your senses when you’re describing. If you use words that encourage your reader to smell, hear, taste, see or touch, then your story is more compelling.

Tip two: Research is a boring word for something REALLY exciting

If you’re stuck for where to start a story, then surprising facts about the real world can give you loads of ideas. For example, I read somewhere that Vikings trained cats for battle, because when you’re sword-fighting an opponent, it’s very difficult to sword fight when a cat is attacking your head.

This gave me an idea that I then put in one of my books (‘How to Fight a Dragon’s Fury). Many of my dragons in ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ are based on extraordinary fish: for example, the Monstrous Strangulator Dragon is transparent, like a Barrel-Eye fish. For ‘The Wizards of Once’, I did a huge amount of reading about Ancient Britain: the Iron Warrior Fort is the same shape as an Iron Age Hill Fort, and the ancient forest Kingley Vale in Sussex gave me the setting for the Wildwood. Both history and the natural world are full of unbelievable facts and questions that you can base stories on.

Tip three: Draw a map of your imaginary place 

A map is a very useful starting point for a story. Many great books begin with a map – ‘Treasure Island’, for example, or Peter Pan’. I use maps, too for every new world. Draw a map of your imaginary place. Give it boundaries, which can be either sea or land, and give it place names. How long would it take to get from place to place? Are there any obstacles? Maps encourage you to think about your characters too because as soon as your settings have names, you start to wonder who lives there.

TWICE MAGIC is book two in Cressida Cowell’s #1 bestselling WIZARDS OF ONCE series and publishes in paperback on 13th June (Hodder Children’s Books, £7.99).

Whether your child is a budding young author or has writer’s block, we have the perfect creative writing course to inspire their imagination.


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