Friday, May 19, 2017

The Writer’s Toolbox by Jacquie Sewell

When is a treasure chest not a treasure chest? When it’s a toolbox - a writer’s toolbox, filled with ideas from my fellow Michkidders to help inspire young writers in their writing journey. During March is Reading Month I was asked to speak to the students at Steele Elementary School in Mason, Michigan. Because I’m a fledgling author, whose book is still at the publisher, (look for MIGHTY MAC, THE BRIDGE THAT MICHIGAN BUILT this fall!) I chose to focus on the Joy of Story for my presentation. Together the children and I celebrated the joy and power of story through participatory storytelling.

The older students also got a glimpse into my treasure chest (a.k.a. the writer’s toolbox). It was filled with items representing some of the tools writers and illustrators use to discover, create, and refine their stories. Many thanks to my colleagues (who shall be named at the close of this article) for sharing their great ideas. It gave me so much more street ‘cred to be able to say “Several of my writer friends . . .”

In a blind draw, students chose an item from the chest and shared their idea of what tool it represented. That led to interesting discussions on each of the tools in the chest. For those who are curious, here’s a peek into my Writer’s Toolbox:

  • The colorful cards with words represent the brainstorming tool of “What If”. I had the children call out 4 nouns and 4 verbs which I wrote on cards. Then we randomly paired nouns and verbs to jumpstart ideas for stories. What if a Dragon played tag with an author?
  • The squishy brain represents our imagination. Need I say more?
  • The eyeball represents being observant: watching people; studying nature; reading books. Observing people helps make our writing more realistic, our dialog more natural. Ideas come from all around us, sometimes from another author who mentions, in passing, a cat who rescued a firefighter. . .  A good writer is always on the lookout.
  • The heart-shaped tin filled with words represents. . .  Words! Have fun with words! Learn a new word each week. Find a fun-to-say word and use it as often as you can. Would you like a pamplemouse with your breakfast, mon petite pamplemousse? Play with words.
  • The pen and notepad sparked a lot of ideas from the kids. Writers could use them to write their story; to record their research. . .  And, as several of my writer friends said, “To capture those elusive ideas that strike when you least expect them (while jogging, drifting off to sleep, waiting in traffic).”
  • The crumpled piece of paper represents revision - Not that you should ever throw away your early versions. You never know what nuggets you might mine from them later. But, (as I explained to the kids) do you think The Sorcerer’s Stone you’re reading is the same as the first version J.K. Rowling wrote? Good authors seek input on their work and then they work to make it even better. Revise, revise and then revise again.
  • Magnetic Man represents movement. Several of my writer/illustrator friends told me they get their best ideas when they are jogging or using the treadmill or biking. Physical activity gets blood flowing to the brain which brings oxygen to the brain. Brains on oxygen think deeper thoughts. Brains on oxygen think more creative thoughts. So oxygenate your brain!
  • I also had a thesaurus in my toolbox and most of the kids knew what is was and how to use it!
I was nervous about speaking to such a large group of children but they were great and it was fun! I think they enjoyed it and hopefully came away encouraged to use their writer’s tools and find joy in creating their own stories.

And now my heartfelt thanks to Ann Finkelstein, Ruth McNally Barshaw, Nancy Frederixon, Nick Adkins, Lori McElrath Eslick, Sandy Carlson, Mary Zychowicz, Kevin Kammeraad, Isabel O’Hagin, Kristin Lenz, Elizabeth McBride, Elizabeth Westra, and Shirley Neitzel for sharing their favorite tools with me.

Keep your tools sharp and write on!

Jacquie Sewell's passion is connecting kids with the amazing world we live in. As a children's librarian she was privileged to do this by introducing children to good books. Her goal as an author is to create books that kids will love to read and that will get them excited to learn more about nature, science, and the arts. Her debut picture book, MIGHTY MAC, THE BRIDGE THAT MICHIGAN BUILT, is coming out this fall.

Coming up on the Mitten blog: take-aways from the SCBWI-MI Marketing Boot Camp, behind the scenes with our Co-Regional Advisors, creating teaching guides, crafting voice, and more MI kidlit advocates.

Happy creating!
Kristin Lenz


  1. What an inspiring and practical post! Those are some lucky students, who got a glimpse into a generous creative writer's world. Nice job, Jacquie!

  2. It sounds like a great school visit, Jacquie. What a fun idea.

  3. Love this idea for school visits, Jacquie! You are off and running! Looking forward to your book release.

  4. This is such a treasure-trove of goodness Jacquie!!! Thanks for sharing!!

  5. Thanks Jacquie!! Your idea of using objects to jumpstart a lively discussion is one worth borrowing! I can't wait to see your book this fall!!

  6. What a wonderful school presentation! I'm sure the students were really engaged in this! Nice work. Thank you for sharing.

  7. Love your toolbox idea. Thanks for sharing it with the rest of us.

  8. Thank you for your supportive comments! I had been nervous about doing a program for such a large group but it was actually fun. I really appreciated all the great ideas shared by my colleagues.

  9. Love this and love the activity you did with the chest! Great idea and I'm sure fun for any age. Good idea for a break out session at a upcoming conference too!

  10. Great ideas, Jacquie! It is always great to get the children involved in some way.

    Best wishes for the spring!


    Janet Ruth Heller
    Author of the award-winning book for children about bullying, How the Moon Regained Her Shape (Arbordale, 2006; 4th edn. 2014), and the middle-grade book for kids The Passover Surprise (Fictive Press, 2015).

    My website is