A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.

What Gets Me Writing! By Mo O’Hara

There are so many writing prompts available now. The internet is filled with idea generators, story sparks and writer’s block breakers that can kick start your imagination and your story. I have found though that the best ‘sparks’ for me are not on the net. They are in real life.

I’ve found that how I learn best is how I write best. You’ve all probably heard of learning styles- visual, audio and kinaesthetic learners. I’ve done these assessments many times and I come out as overwhelmingly a kinaesthetic learner. I learn by doing. I guess it should be no surprise then that the writing prompts that work best for me are real people, places and things. If I’m experiencing with all my senses and soaking up the ‘feel’ of something, then I can write it so much better.


I can write to audio stimulus. I write to music sometimes but it more sets a mood than generates ideas. Photos and illustrations can work for me too. In fact I regularly write poems in response to illustrations. When I write about an object though or a room I’m in or a space I’m moving through, then I can write what I’m experiencing and it just feels more three dimensional to me.

My best personal kinaesthetic writing prompt was to literally climb a tree and write while sitting on a branch. I was immediately back, age 9, scrambling up branches, testing them to see if they would take my weight, scraping my hands on the bark and blowing across them to cool the burn. I was catching loose shoelaces on twigs, feeling that slightly sick but excited feeling of being a bit too high up in the tree and then springing onto the leaf dense earth as I jumped down onto the ground. Half an hour or so up that tree prompted some of the most visceral writing I had done in ages. It gave me several scenes in a book actually. And when I read those scenes back, even now, I’m taken back to that tree in those woods on that day.

Now, when I do creative writing in schools I always try to include stimuli for audio, visual and kinaesthetic learners like me. I bring in objects that that kids can handle and get the ‘feel’ of before they start to write. I know there are kids in that group that will smell that cinnamon stick and be taken back to their grandmother’s kitchen or rustle the slightly dried leaves and be walking on an autumn day or clutch at that single leather glove and wonder if it belonged to a catburgler or a queen. Whatever story they write, they will ‘feel’ it first before a letter hits the page, just as I did when I was writing in my tree.



So my best advice for a new writing prompt is a bit of a cliché I guess. Go climb a tree.


186Mo O’Hara
Originally from America, Mo now lives in London with her husband, kids and two mischievous cats. Mo now has six books out in ‘My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish’ series for 7+, published by Macmillan in the UK and Feiwel and Friends in the US. The latest in the series is ‘Jurassic Carp’ which came out in July 2015. Her new picture book with Macmillan comes out in August 2016! It’s a funny, warm take on melded families called ‘More People To Love Me.’ She also wrote six books in the Ladybird series “Puddle the Naughtiest Puppy.” Mo worked as an actress and as a storyteller, touring theatres and schools all across the UK and Ireland. As well as her stories for children Mo has also written for radio and theatre and has performed her own comedy material in London and Edinburgh.


One comment on “What Gets Me Writing! By Mo O’Hara

  1. Katie Marie
    October 22, 2016

    I love hearing about what makes other people write, it’s always so interesting to hear what makes other people tick and see if we have things in common or if there are things I haven’t tried.

    At the moment I’m trying to put into words what made me want to be a writer and what makes me continue so I really enjoyed reading this. I to find music helps, although I find music give me so many ideas as well as sets a mood. I’ve never tried writing in a tree though, I’ll have to give it a go if I’m still able to climb a tree that is!

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This entry was posted on October 20, 2016 by .

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