The day that Marisa and Noelle Chow welcomed creative writing into their lives they knew they would learn skills that would last a lifetime.

When they were in middle school, the sisters attended a writing workshop taught by local authors Elizabeth Koehler-Pentacoff and Sarah Wilson, and even went back to assist in other workshops the authors offer for students throughout Contra Costa County.

Participants spend time in Koehler-Pentacoff's workshop getting to know each other and writing from various suggestions, said Marisa, now 17.

"I always enjoyed the variety of prompts that (the authors) provided," she said. "These often inspired me to draw inspiration for stories from ordinary objects in my own life, like particular phrases I liked or magazine clippings."

Koehler-Pentacoff and Wilson will be offering a free Humor, Mystery and Suspense Writing Workshop for middle school students March 2, at the Walnut Creek Library, as a prelude to the writing contest sponsored by the Mt. Diablo branch of the California Writers Club.

This is a chance for the authors and students to learn from each other and exchange ideas, Koehler-Pentacoff said.

"Kids just get so into this mystery genre. They're just bubbling with excitement," said Koehler-Pentacoff. "They can inform us about what teens are reading. We can show them how to build suspense in a story and what makes a story a mystery."

The workshop includes interactive games and writing exercises and a chance to learn how to enter the writing contest this spring.

In addition to discussing mystery and suspense, the authors will be sharing tips on writing humor.

"People love to read humor," Koehler-Pentacoff said. "Everybody thinks it's easy to write but it's difficult to find humor stories that are written well."

She said humor is an important element in writing stories about daily life and relationships.

"How can we get through the day without a sense of humor?" asked Koehler-Pentacoff.

She's glad that the Chow sisters have embraced creative writing in their lives and wishes that more creative writing were taught in local elementary and middle schools.

"Both Liz (Koehler-Pentacoff) and I agree that once students begin high school, the focus in school is writing the essay, and creative writing usually takes a back seat -- which is understandable given the nature of high school academics," said Julie Chow, Marisa and Noelle's mother.

"That's why it's nice that Liz's workshops target middle school students, for now, while they still have free time before the rigors of high school."

Nevertheless, students yearn for a creative outlet, whether in writing, music, or art. Creative writing develops one's imagination, Chow said.

"For my daughters, creative writing encourages them to observe life and to rewrite life as they see it or would like to -- or not like to -- see it. It's quite gratifying for them."

Marisa said that in the authors' workshops, participants also have the chance to talk with each other -- an aspect she appreciated since it can be difficult to find other serious young writers.

"As a result of my experiences in her workshops, I've become more interested in the creative writing scene and have even started my own writing groups," said Marisa.

Younger sister Noelle said she aspires to be a full-time novelist but would like to pursue psychology as well.

"Even if my career goals change, creative writing would help me in whatever I decided to go into," said Noelle, a ninth-grader. "Creative writing trains people to look outside the box and see what's possible."

Noelle said what she got out of the workshop was ways to be inspired.

"I found new inspiration from interacting with writers who are my age and Liz also gave us numerous ways to find inspiration for future stories," she said.

Many kids start writing stories when they're young, but aren't sure how to proceed, Marisa said.

"Liz's workshop provides a fun, no-pressure way to start writing more," she said. "After seeing other creative writers, I was inspired to write more and enter writing contests. Liz also encouraged me to apply for the Iowa Young Writers' Studio, where I fell in love even more with creative writing. Liz's workshop helped me write seriously."

if you go
WHO: Local authors Elizabeth Koehler-Pentacoff and Sarah Wilson
WHAT: Humor, Mystery and Suspense Writing Workshop for middle school students
WHEN: 9 a.m.-noon, March 2
WHERE: Walnut Creek Library, 1644 N. Broadway
INFORMATION: Free. Visit http://cwcmtdiablowriters.wordpress.com/