The Creativity Tool Belt: A Writer's Secret Weapon 

A warm welcome to our friend, Suzanne Santillan! She was born and raised in Los Angeles and always dreamed of writing a children’s book. She currently works as a freelance graphic artist and has illustrated charts and graphs for over 100 library reference books. Grandma’s Pear Tree is her first picture book, and a realization of her childhood dream. It was a recent recipient of the Golden Moonbeam Award for picture books ages 4-8. Suzanne enjoys cooking, sewing, doing crafts, and reading. She is a member of the SCBWI. When not writing, reading, or working on her blog Writing on the Sidewalk, you’ll find Suzanne walking the beaches and canyons of San Diego with her husband Ken, two sons and writing partner/sidekick, Buddy. We're sure you'll find some inspiration in Sue's creativity blog below. -Ellen and Anne 

The Creativity Tool Belt: A Writer’s Secret Weapon

by Suzanne Santillan 

 One of my favorite superheroes is Batman. He doesn’t have the super strength of Superman or the swinging and climbing skills of Spiderman. Batman has no special powers, only a tool belt. With the help of his faithful sidekick, and armed with his belt and a really nifty car, he does a great job keeping Gotham City safe. 

While I may not be a superhero and drive a nifty car, I do have a sidekick and a secret weapon - The Creativity Tool Belt. Each tool is highly specialized to help me when my creativity starts to wane. 

 Here are the items in my tool belt:

 -Bubble Bath

 If your life is like mine, you are constantly coming and going. Taking the time to soak in a tub filled with bubbles helps you find your inner child and is a great way to relax. I like to use my niece’s bubble bath, because it’s hard to take life seriously when you are sitting in a tub of watermelon-scented bubbles. 

 Here’s another handy tip- make sure that you have a note pad by the side of the tub to write down any ideas (you’ll thank me for this). 

-My iPod

Music can get your blood pumping and your brain thinking. I find listening to country music a great creativity stimulator. Listening to songs about trains, dogs and love gone wrong really helps generate new ideas. Classical music is great for working out those tricky plot problems and good old fashioned pop is great for jump starting my ideas and perking me up if the country music starts to get me down. 

-A Bottle of Glue

 Getting lost in a repetitive craft often helps to spark creativity. I choose to do mosaics. The process of gluing several small pieces of tile in a pattern is just the type of repetitive project that allows my mind to wander. It is during that wandering that the ideas ping pong back and forth and usually lead to some great insights. Not into mosaics? You can try knitting, scrap booking, basketball or rowing, or anything repetitive.  

A Garden Trowel

Digging in the soil and working with nature is a great way to spark creativity. I like to look the at the flowers: how are they made? How do they smell? Taste a strawberry. Listen to the wind or birds. I try to open my mind and use all of my senses. This usually sparks a memory, which can sometimes lead to a whole story.

-A Dog Leash

I like to joke that my favorite writing partner/sidekick is my dog Buddy. More supportive than a writer’s group, he doesn’t criticize my writing, sits at my feet while I work and most importantly is always willing to go for a walk. 

 For me, walking is the best way to unleash creativity. When I am stuck for a plot idea or working on a tough section of dialog, I grab the leash and my writing partner/sidekick and I are off. That’s better than anything Robin could ever do for Batman. Maybe Batman should get a dog. It’s just a thought. 


That’s my creativity tool belt. What’s in yours? Is there something that helps you when your creativity begins to ebb?



Announcing: all-new Spilling Ink Writer's Club Page!

Dear Spilling Ink readers and writers: We've been inspired by YOU to create an all new Spilling Ink Writer's Club page. We're hoping it will be a resource for those of you who want to start their own writing clubs. Please let us know what else you might like to see on our page. And let us know what you think!

Love, Anne and Ellen



Here's a letter we recently received from a fifth grade teacher in Texas who started her own Spilling Ink Writer's Club. It has a lot of helpful hints for starting your own club.

Irene Kistler, teacher: After I read Spilling Ink, I just knew I needed to start a writer's club for our students…. (We) welcome anyone who's interested in getting feedback and learning to write better….The kids tell me the "I Dare You" challenges they really want to try and we incorporate them into the meetings.  On their own, several kids found the writer's contracts at the end of the book and found Spilling Ink writing partners in their grade or neighborhood.  (I was making partnerships a goal for next year, but they took the initiative...I was so excited!)

At the meetings, I share opportunities for kids to get published.  In October, there was a Halloween poetry contest sponsored by a web site and a Spilling Ink member won the contest. … Kidsville News (has) published book reviews by several (club) members.  In December, a local auto group sponsored a contest on "What You Are Thankful For" and a Spilling Ink member won a four-pack season pass bundle to Fiesta Texas, a theme park in San Antonio. 

 At our last meeting, I shared the writing contest posted on your site and the kids had an amazing brainstorming session for writing ideas...I'm continually amazed at their imagination and talent.  When we return from break, our priority is finishing our drafts and then sharing them in critique circles for revision.  

 I share my writing process with them… so they realize that it's a journey and even adults follow the same process.  It's been such a wonderful collaboration for the kids and I've learned so much, too. 

I'm hoping to initiate more clubs at other schools. I would (also) love to have other club sponsors to visit with and share ideas.

--Irene Kistler


 We also received a letter from Kinsey, a sixth grader, telling us that she had started her own writing club for grades 4-6. We asked her to share about it:

Kinsey: Hi. My name is Kinsey, and I was asked to share about how I started a writing club, and a little about me. So, here goes.

 I love to write. I’ve been writing since a very young age, when I would write little stories about witches and bugs and stuff like that. I think my parents had a lot to do with my love of reading and writing. They would sit and read to me book after book when I was a little girl, and I think that’s why I love reading so much. One thing that I really like to read and write about is magic and fantasy. In fantasy, anything can happen. That’s probably why I like it so much.

The idea for the writing club started in June, 2010, when I was attending a writing camp at NC State University, in Raleigh, North Carolina. I had a really good time, and at the end, everyone who wanted to, shared what they had written. One of the exercises that one fiction class did was to take a funky photo and write whatever came to mind with that photo. That got me thinking: it would be really cool to do that with a group and see what different stories we came up with. It was then that I started reading Spilling Ink, and looking at the "I Dare You's" made the idea take shape even more.

 I e-mailed a couple of my friends from the aforementioned writing camp, and some other friends who I knew loved to write, to find out if they'd be interested in attending a writing club, and everyone wrote back with an enthusiastic "YES!"

 It was originally going to be where everyone would meet at the library for an hour, and we'd write, but getting around everyone's schedules was tricky, so now it's an online club. Although the group is very small currently, I’m hoping that it will grow and blossom into a community of creative and thoughtful writers.



And finally, a wonderful poem by ten-year-old Georgia VanDerwater, who is a student at the Aurora Waldorf School, to inspire all writers, young and old . . .


Who Would Write?

Who would write

Instead of read?

The writers have written for you.

They've got all the ideas.

They've got all the plots.

They have all the stuff

that I haven't got.


But why would I read?

Why couldn't I write

my own?

They don't have to write for me.

I've got ideas too.

I also have plots.

So why write?

Why not?







 1. I will not Google high school classmates when I have writer's block.

 2. I will regularly "soak my beans." (This advice came from a very wise writer friend who told me that I needed to take a day off from writing each week. She said that creating good stories is like making tender beans--you have to give them time to soak without fussing over them.)

 3. I will not call Anne Mazer every time I get stuck on a scene, think of something kind of funny, am worried about a sinus infection, need a pep talk, think of another funny thing, etc. (okay, this may be my most unrealistic resolution).



 1.   After listening to multiple raves by Ellen and by my daughter Mollie, I hereby resolve to read the Harry Potter series this year. Finally.

2.  All seven books.  However many thousands of pages. Every single word.        

3.    I also resolve to remember to eat, sleep, comb my hair, and communicate with my family while reading said series.

4. I resolve to spill ink without spilling blood. (My own, that is.)

5. To collaborate with Ellen Potter again! We don't have an idea yet. Any suggestions?


A huge thank you to all the amazing artists and writers who wrote Creativity Blogs in 2010. You've enriched our lives. And love to someone who shall not be named – you know who you are!!

Have a writing resolution of your own? We'd love to hear it. Post it in the comments below. 



Short Story Challenge: Invent something you would love to use (for example, a peppermill that dispenses candy, contact lenses that can read people’s minds, or a stuffed animal that springs to life to defend you from bullies). Then write a story about how that invention goes horribly wrong. Or write about how it transforms someone’s life.

Word limit: 1,000 words or less

For ages 9 to 12

First Prize: A Skype visit to your class & a signed copy of Spilling Ink. Ellen Potter will chat with you and your class via Skype for a half hour and answer your writing questions.

Second prize: A signed copy of Spilling Ink

Third prize: A signed copy of Spilling Ink

All three winning stories will be posted on the Spilling Ink Creativity Blog.

Deadline: Monday, January 17, 2011

U.S. residents only


Type or cut-and-paste your story into the Spilling Ink Contact Form. Remember to include your name, age, and correct email address.


The Land of Our Imagination



A warm welcome to Riley Carney! She is seventeen years old and has written eight novels, including a five-book fantasy adventure series for grades 4-8 and an urban fantasy trilogy for ages 12 and up. The first book of the five-book Reign of the Elements series, The Fire Stone, was released in January 2010, and the second book, The Water Stone, was released in July 2010. Riley is also passionate about promoting global literacy for children through her nonprofit corporation, Breaking the Chain, which she founded three years ago because she believes that the key to breaking the cycle of poverty is by increasing literacy. We're so happy to host Riley as our guest Creativity Blogger this week. Here she talks about that "most crucial element of storytelling" - imagination.


The Land of Our Imagination

by Riley Carney


 "The woman stared, her face frozen in shock, as a man wearing a black and white striped shirt ran by the window of the café where she was sipping tea from a yellow mug. Police cars screeched to a halt, sirens blaring. The police officers leapt from their cars and raced after the escaped prisoner, tackling him to the ground so hard that his plastic skull cap popped off. Cars, trying to avoid the police cars blocking the street, skidded into the wall and exploded into a shower of white and black bricks."

 The conclusion to this story might have come later that day or a week later, after my brother and I had spent hours on the floor, clutching the mini-figures of our sprawling LEGO town; mimicking the voices of our characters as they went about their lives and spewing spittle as we made the sound effects of racing cars and trucks colliding into plastic walls. A world of adventure and discovery was opened to us as we created and ruled the city of bricks.


 Years later, I realize how important those imaginary adventures with LEGOs, or stuffed animals, or dress-up clothes and blankets have been in my creative development and growth. As a writer, there is much I can learn from my younger self. During those hours playing with LEGOs and stuffed animals, I discovered something that is now vital to my writing: unfiltered imagination. As we grow older, pure, uncensored imagination slowly abandons us. The magic of childhood games loses its appeal and gullible wonderment is replaced with a resigned acceptance of reality.

 Yet, imagination is the most crucial element of storytelling. 

 No matter the genre, the ability to tell stories comes from the ability to create, and then transport the reader to, a world other than our own. It is true that stories come in all shapes and sizes; magical lands, family struggles, or the terrors of middle school. Some stories are firmly rooted in reality, others are not. But the act of writing is always about imagining and sharing someone else’s story, be it inside or outside the confines of reality. Perhaps there are some slight differences between the imaginary adventures of childhood and the process of creating a story, but at its essence, the idea is the same: to explore, to push our boundaries, to reach for new heights.

 Only by staying connected to our inner child can we create a story that is as fully explored and constructed as it can be. With the exception of a biography or an autobiography, every book begins in our imaginations. Every genre, from children’s fantasy to realistic fiction dealing with difficult personal or social issues, depends on imagination to create plot, characters, and settings. Only through effective imagination and then vivid translation to the page can a story be told compellingly. A reader can instinctively sense when the imaginary world in the story does not feel real to the author, and the only way a story can feel real to the author is if they have fully tapped into their imagination.

Children love to imagine and pretend, no matter how outlandish or improbable their story. It is with that same love of creativity and thrill of adventure that we as authors must approach our writing. We cannot restrict ourselves because we are afraid that we will lack sophistication, or because we are too trapped in reality or in the rules of writing. The technicalities can be addressed later in the writing process. At the beginning, we must put that all aside. In a way, when we write, we must become small children again, reveling in the pretend world our words create and gleefully inventing the lives of our characters.

Writing is about stretching our imaginative capacity to the limit. Writers need to be intrepid adventures, just as my brother and I were years ago when we engineered events and shaped our characters’ lives in our LEGO town. The world of words is an unknown land for us to explore. Sometimes we need to pull on our kid shoes, leave the real world behind, and allow creativity to flourish as we enter the land of our imagination.