We live in a world that is increasingly seeking to sort and organize children at younger and younger ages.  I’m always surprised to hear parents tell me that their child is “more of a math kid” or “more of a “reading” kid. They look at me a little suspiciously when I tell them that “math kids” make great writers or that “reading kids” are great at problem solving.  The biggest problem with this way of thinking is that it deprives kids of the opportunity to develop into well rounded thinkers. The future engineer is going to need to express himself or herself, and is also going to need the ability to come up with creative and innovative solutions.  The future artist is going to need to run a business, complete with Excel spreadsheets. Kids need to be exposed to activities that demand they use every part of their developing brains.

    In our complicated world, the most important skill might just be the ability of the left brain and the right brain to work together.  There are many benefits to creative writing, but the biggest one might be that it demands synchronicity between the left brain and the right brain.  It encourages children to use their imaginations, but it also demands that they use logic and reasoning.

Psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist describes the real differences between the left and right halves of the human brain. It’s not simply “emotion on the right, reason on the left,” but something far more complex and interesting. If you’re interested, here’s a link to his Ted Talk.   https://www.ted.com/talks/iain_mcgilchrist_the_divided_brain

    I’m not exactly sure how they determined that birds also have left and right hemispheres, but the illustrations are a great way to visualize the coordination that takes place even while doing relatively simple things like eating seeds.  This might make a fun anthropomorphism writing prompt!

    The writer, Daniel Pink, talks about the transformation from the  Information Age to the Conceptual Age. In A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future, Pink says, ““Engineers and programmers will have to master different aptitudes, relying more on creativity than competence, more on trait knowledge than technical manuals, and more on fashioning the big picture than sweating the details.”   

    We can teach a computer to write code, but we can’t teach it to decide what the code should do.  We can’t teach it what problems it needs to solve. That takes human involvement, creativity and ingenuity.  

When you craft a story, you use your imagination to dream up characters, setting and plot, but then you use your logic, or executive planning functions, to craft a storyline that makes sense.  Writing involves far more analytical thinking and logic than most people realize. It also involves empathy and expression, two skills that are absolutely imperative to function in the world.

    The word “playwright” perfectly blends the left brain and right brain.  We start with “play” which is really just having fun with our imaginations.  We end with the “wright,” not “write.” The word “wright” means craft. We have cartwrights, boatwrights, and yes, playwrights.  It’s actually just a coincidence that wright and write are homophones. (homophones are word that sound alike but have different meanings.

Creative writing is like crossfit for the brain.  It’s the perfect combination between craft and creativity, freedom and structure, instinct and logic.  Of course I’m biased, but I can’t think of a more empowering activity.

    The modern elementary school teacher never has enough time.  There is way too much too teach and way too little time in which to teach it.  Most of the elementary school teachers I know try to get in as much writing as possible, but it’s difficult. Some of them even set aside time for writer’s workshops, and if your child is in one of those classes, consider yourself lucky.

    The good news is that encouraging kids to write can be as simple as buying them a journal, with the only instruction being to have fun.  For a little more structure and instruction, there are many online creative writing classes. You can choose one that’s flexible or one that requires your child to be online at a specific time.  Click here to join my creative writing class on Outschool!





Comparing metaphors and similes isn’t quite like comparing apples and oranges.  It’s much closer to comparing Honey Crisps to Granny Smiths. In other words, there are more similarities than there are differences, but the differences are meaningful.  Metaphors and similes make our writing more persuasive, interesting, and vivid. Even if you don’t know exactly what they are, I’m willing to bet that you use them anyway.  Have you ever said something like, “this pie is heaven,” or “she swims like a fish”? I bet that if you tried to get through a day without using any similes or metaphors, you would have a very difficult time.  It would be as hard as catching your own shadow. Before we go further, let’s go over the definitions of metaphors and similes. I promise that it will be as easy as pie

Simile:  A comparison using the words “like” or “as.” Simile makes a direct comparison.  For example: As cool as a cucumber, or as cold as ice.

Metaphor: A comparison between two objects without using the words “like” or “as.” For example: My sister is a superhero, or life is a marathon.

Let’s start with the similarities.  The biggest one is that they are both used to compare things. Simile uses the words “like” or “as” while metaphor is a more direct comparison, but they both make comparisons.   Simile and metaphor are both elements of figurative language. That is, they are used to make a point in a non-literal way. Figurative language makes common declarative sentences much more interesting, like the salt and pepper of language. In addition to simile and metaphor, figurative language includes hyperbole, onomatopoeia, alliteration and more.

The biggest difference simile and metaphor is the “like” or “as.”  Similes are more obvious because of the use of “like” or “as.” It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure out that if either of these words is in the sentence, it’s a simile.  The use of “like” or “as” is a big clue that is like a flashing neon sign! If I say this box is as light as a feather, no one is going to think that the box is actually a feather. Instead, the reader (or listener) is able to visualize a box that is very easy to lift.  

The other major difference is that metaphor is much more forceful. Because it is a direct comparison, metaphor is used to make a strong point.  If I say, she IS a superhero, that’s much more forceful than saying, “she is LIKE as superhero.” The “like” implies that there are certain traits that she has that are similar to traits that a superhero has.  The “is” states that every part of her is actually a superhero. You can see how that would be a much more impactful statement.

There are many reasons to use both similes and metaphors.  These devices aren’t just for songwriters and poets. They can be useful in our everyday lives as well as when we write.  For instance, if you want permission to play one more video game, which sentence would work best?

1: I would want to play one more game.

2: This game is like a rocket ship to better hand eye coordination.

3: This game is the world to me.

How much do you know about figurative language?  Take the quiz to see if you’re a figurative language beast!


5 Easy Thing You Can Do To Get Your Kids To Love Writing (hint: you’ll be surprised how many of these don’t involve a pencil or a keyboard.)

5 Easy Thing You Can Do To Get Your Kids To Love Writing (hint: you’ll be surprised how many of these don’t involve a pencil or a keyboard.)

With a little bit of thought, we can encourage kids to enjoy writing and even have a few giggles along the way.

  1. Buy a journal: Journaling is so important because it gives kids (and adults) a safe place to express themselves.  They can experiment with language, or even just doodle, without anyone judging or grading.
  2. Let them see you write: When your kids see you journal, or even write a thank you note, it becomes a normal part of everyday life.  Give yourselves the same writing prompt and see what happens.
  3. Play with your words:  Make language a game. If you are out to dinner and something tastes particularly good (or bad) challenge each other to come up with similes to describe it.  I’m pretty sure you can all come up with something more creative than, “this pasta tastes like cr@&.
  4. Create a new ending:  The next time you go to the movies or watch a tv show together, ask your child to come up with a different ending.  This reinforces the notion that real people have written the movie, show or video game, and they can write their own stories, too.  This stuff doesn’t just magically appear.
  5. Take a spelling vacation:  Encourage your kids not to think about spelling or grammar while they write.  Obviously, spelling and grammar are very important, but the brain is not designed to write and edit simultaneously.  This advice goes for adults, too. If you stop to wonder about a comma placement or look up how a word is spelled, you are stopping your train of thought.  

A lot of what holds kids back from writing is that same as what holds their parents back.  Follow these steps along with your kids, and you might just find yourself enjoying writing, too.


Ew, Gross!  4 Fun Steps To Writing Truly Offensive Halloween Odors

Ew, Gross! 4 Fun Steps To Writing Truly Offensive Halloween Odors

 “The rankest compound of villainous smell that ever offended nostril.”  

Shakespeare, “The Merry Wives of Windsor”


     For some reason, I’ve been in the mood to focus on villains and describing disgusting things.  People think that writing teachers should be full of flower metaphors, but with Halloween approaching, I’m going to focus on the gross.  What better way to illustrate the power and joy of language.

    What’s the most disgusting odor you’ve ever stumbled across?  An mildewed orange forgotten in a backpack? A pair of socks? Pickled Herring?  Pick one and go with me, step by step, as we gross each other out.

  • Step 1:  Name the offending object.  I’m going to use some leftover tofu that I had placed in a plastic bag and forgotten about.
  • Step 2:  Come up with an adjective to describe the object.  For my tofu, I’m going to use “moldy.” Here are some suggestions: funky, foul, rancid, bitter, burnt, nauseating, rotten, sour, repulsive, disgusting, decaying.  There are many, many more, so don’t limit yourself to this list.
  • Step 3. Use a simile or a metaphor to describe your object.  (Quick refresher: A simile compares two objects using “like” or “as.”  A metaphor makes the comparison directly.) For example, a simile would be, “my tofu was like fungus covered vomit.”  A metaphor would be, “my tofu was fungus covered vomit.”
  • Step 4:  Here’s the best part.  To truly describe an offensive odor, you need an action verb.  If the stench is really all that bad, it will throw, kick, slam, hurl, etc..  Continuing with my tofu, “as I opened the bag, I was slammed to the ground.”

     You can mix and match.  Shakespeare used two adjectives and an action verb in the above quote.  Shakespeare was a master of everything, but nothing illustrates his genius more than his insults and witty descriptions of unpleasant things.  

     Go ahead and put your disgusting description in the comments.  Let’s see who wins the grossest odor award!



Looping: A Prewriting Strategy

Looping: A Prewriting Strategy

     What’s your favorite prewriting strategy?  At the Cal State Northridge Writing Project’s Summer Institute, we discussed a lot of teaching and writing strategies, but there was a clear winner. Chris Perigue, a 7th grade teacher at the Los Angeles Leadership Academy, did a presentation on looping. I loved it so much that I’m even using it to write this!

    Prewriting is like planning a trip, and different strategies work for different people.  The only constant is that everyone needs to prewrite. The famous basketball coach, John Wooden, used to say that “failing to plan is planning to fail.”  

    What is looping? It’s a strategy where you write for a few minutes, then look over what you have written.  Take the kernel, sentence or phrase that jumps out at you and use it to start your next few minutes of writing.  Chris calls this the “center of gravity” sentence. Look over what you have written and ask yourself these questions:

What is your best sentence?

What sentence is holding your free write together?

What is your most unique sentence?

What is your most compelling idea?

    Take that sentence and use it to start your second loop.  Do this one more time. What do you think? Is this a good prewriting strategy for you?  Maps, charts, and lists are some other strategies you can try. Personally, I think it’s good to mix it up depending on your mood.

    I chose the roller coaster image because it’s a great metaphor for looping.  Sometimes when you start, it’s like chugging uphill. It can be laborious and slow.  Then, you get to the top and really start to roll. Once you’re in that zone and the words are flowing, there’s no stopping.  Just throw your arms up in the air and enjoy the ride!


Jonathan Gold

Jonathan Gold

Jonathan Gold, the only restaurant critic to ever win a  Pulitzer Prize passed away this weekend. It’s a tremendous loss for the city of Los Angeles and the world.  He made a sprawling, compartmentalized city seem a little friendlier by exploring different cultures, all defined by their food.  As food writer Ruth Reichl said, “He was really writing about the people more than the food.” But, oh, how he wrote about food. Reading his reviews was like watching a concert pianist in action.  His use of sensory details, similes, and metaphors was something most of us can aspire to but will never match. I’ve picked out a small sample of his writing and posted it below.  I also added a link to his book, “Counter Intelligence.”  Happy reading and Happy eating.



Best Jonathan Gold lines:

“The thick prime rib steak sings with the flavors of blood, age and char; the tagliatelle with white truffles perfumes half the observable universe when its glass dome is whisked away.”  Spago

“If you’re into that sort of thing, the braised chicken feet in abalone sauce are as soft and juicy as a lover’s tenderest sighs, and the casserole of crab roe is suave.”  Shanghai No. 1 Seafood Village

“A chile relleno is served on a sloppy, juicy bed of ground-pork sauce that tastes a bit like Texas chili but also twists around toward an Italian ragu. The cultural oscillations put you off balance; you never know quite where you are with the dish.”  Baco Mercat

“A bowl of soontofu looks less like food than like a special effect, a heaving, bright-red mass in a superheated cauldron, which spurts geysers, spits like a lake of volcanic lava and broadcasts a fine red mist of chile and broth that tints anything within six inches of the bowl a pale, lustrous pink.”  Soontofu