Column by Vanessa Shields

I know there are many of us who are writers and parents. This is a wild duality to live. My intention with this column is to write about the challenges of being a parent and a writer. I aim to share stories that reflect both the difficult and the extraordinary experiences of striving to balance the creative and the caregiving mind, body and spirit. Find an archive of the Writing Parent columns here.

My son’s been doing this really cool thing with me lately. He’s gonna be twelve (ugh, I just threw up in my mouth a little) in May (I’m gonna be forty. Ooooof. More puke.), and he loves to read and write and research anything that has to do with film. The proverbial apple doesn’t fall far from the tree – his father is a filmmaker, and I’ve spent the last twenty years dabbling in producing. In any case, he loves storytelling. We don’t just watch films or shows, we assess them and judge them and discuss them. It’s really something I cherish about our relationship. His love for books is much the same. But he doesn’t just read books, he devours them, and often suggests books for me to read. Case in point, for Christmas, he got me the book ‘Ready Player One’ by Ernest Cline and insisted that I read it – stat. Which I did. I finished it in about four days, and every time he saw me with the book he’d ask where I was in the story and we’d talk about it.

My daughter, she’ll be ten this year (oooo, still more heat in my throat!), she also loves to read. But she loves to write too! She’s always making lists and charts, and her sense of humour melts into everything she does creatively. Give her a glue stick and some sparkles, a pen and some paper and she apt to create a masterpiece. We enjoy reading together.

I gifted the family a book this Christmas. Oliver Jeffers’ newest book Here We Are – Notes for Living on Planet Earth. We sat on the sofa together and I read it out loud. Well, I couldn’t get through it without crying, so my daughter finished it up for me. We love reading out loud to each other. Yes, I typically get emotional, especially with children’s literature. There are so many stunning books out there!


But, for the past few weeks, my son has been challenging me not as a film watcher or reader, but as a writer. He’s been finding writing prompts on Pinterest and sharing them with me. I’ll hear a yelp of excitement, and he’ll say, “Mom! Mom! You have to hear this prompt!”

So I asked him to give me three of his favourite writing prompts:

Found on Pinterest – username: Writing.prompt.s


A: You adopt four teenage girls. As time passes, you begin to realize each of them represents a horseman of the apocalypse, and all hell breaks loose when Famine steals War’s boyfriend. 


B: Every time someone’s heart breaks it shows a crack in the ground. It could be as large as valleys or as small as a crack in the pavement. Tell me the story of the Grand Canyon.


This one, though, he made up himself:


  1. Every time someone says ‘God save the Queen’, she gains an extra year of life. Too bad she doesn’t want to live that long.


I asked him if it was okay that I shared this interaction we’ve been having in a blog. He said sure, as long as I actually wrote a story from one of the writing prompts. The thought made me feel warm inside. I haven’t used writing prompts for stories or poetry in a long time, maybe in a workshop or class, but not for my own writing as an exercise. The thought makes me feel invigorated and loose – like, it’s nice to not have to come up with an idea myself.


It also opens up a whole new way of storytelling, a jaunt into playing on the different genre-fields of writing. I could write a short story or a poem. Perhaps a play or some flash fiction. How about for this exercise, I offer a flash fiction story. Let’s see how this works.


I choose story idea B.  Every time someone’s heart breaks it shows a crack in the ground. It could be as large as valleys or as small as cracks in the pavement. Tell me the story of the Grand Canyon.


In 200 words or less – GO.


I feel a hard nudge on my left shoulder. I don’t open my eyes. Too tired.

“Hey, Beckee, you’re up,” It’s HBF-125.

“Urrmmph,” I swat him away.

“Come on, this one’s a biggie. She’s calling in the best, and that’s you.” His footsteps trail away.

I sit up on my bed. Rub my eyes. She’s calling in the best. That’s you.


The best Heart Break Fixer there is. That’s me? Yes. It is me!

My phone begins to vibrate. I swipe to answer the call.

“HBF-001, report immediately to the loading dock,” A computerized voice says, then the line disconnects.

I stand up, stretch, hear my bones crack in early morning agony, and quickly change into my uniform. Classic HBF work wear: red coveralls, red hard hat, notebook, pen, gloves, red boots. Red’s the colour of love, so there’s lots of it around here.

I get to the loading dock a few minutes later.

The Boss stands with her hands on her wide hips.

“This one’s like nothing I’ve seen before,” she says, sensing me reach her side.

Above us on a massive screen is an image of two people in a bed entwined in each other’s arms. They are naked, but covered by a light sheet.

“Whoa,” The sight takes my breath away. That’s never happened to me before. I feel a sharp pain in the centre of my chest.

“You can feel it too?” The Boss asks, putting one hand over her chest centre.

“Yeah. What is that?”



Okay, that’s 251 words. So flash fiction isn’t my forte. Yowza, that was fun! Obviously I have more writing to do, and much more practice on working within this ‘flash fiction’ genre. You can see how using writing prompts and challenging yourself to write in a different genre than you usually write in can be fun! And – it’s something that you’ve shared with your child(ren)!


Maybe it’s a weekly parent-child tradition you can start. Creating and sharing writing prompts. Perhaps you can each write to the prompt then share what you’ve written. It’s fun, challenging and engaging – and a wonderful way to enhance the creativity in your family life! If illustrations are more your thing or perhaps research for non-fiction – why not create drawing prompts or cool fact prompts that you can share. The possibilities are endless – but all great, offering creative practice that you can do together.

Vanessa writes in the in-betweens of a busy life as a parent, producer, photographer and poet. (That’s a lot of Ps!) She lives in Windsor with her hubby and two kids, Jett and Miller. Her first book of poetry, I Am That Woman (Black Moss Press) was published in 2014. Her book Look at Her (Black Moss Press) was released in the fall of 2016. Shields created and hosts a storytelling series called Mouth Piece Storytelling. For all things Vanessa, visit her website