Wednesday, January 31, 2018

TeenPit: mentoring, editing, support, and being taken seriously as a writer

Guest Post by Lyric Shard 

You know that feeling of having butterflies in your stomach? The first one flapped its wings when I saw my manuscript title by a mentor’s name, the second when I met my fellow mentees, the third when I received an email from my mentor where she said she loved my pages. Then it was continuous flapping, hundreds of butterflies all at once. I still can’t count how many are left flapping their wings in my stomach, because my TeenPit experience did not only last for the one month promised--it’s stretched until today and hopefully will remain forever.

TeenPit is a writing contest designed for high school writers, where the participants submit their first 250 words and a short pitch for a chance to be paired with a mentor. You can go here to read about all the details for TeenPit 2018. And hurry up, the very brief submission window opens on March 17th.

I first noticed a tweet from K. Hopkins, a PitchWars mentor, in early April about a contest for teens. It’s always hard to be taken seriously when you’re sixteen trying to find your way into the publishing industry. TeenPit sounded like the perfect chance where I could hear something more than "your writing is good for your age." I could get feedback about my writing as a writer, not as a kid, and go from there to improve.

I immediately checked it out, drafted my submission email (almost a month before the submission window opened since only first 200 entries were accepted). Then one month passed fast, and the submission day came.

Thanks to living on the west coast, the window opened at five in the morning, and more thanks to the flat tire in the middle of the road the night before, I’d just come home, meaning my brain was perfectly functioning. I was able to send the email… well, with one very embarrassing mistake which ate me up the entire time I waited for the results. I wasn’t going to be picked. I couldn’t be. I sent an email in Comic Sans. They would delete it before they read it. 

The mentor teasers started a few hours before the results were posted. My impostor syndrome, for those few hours, seemed weaker than my high hopes. However, my hopes were right. My manuscript title was there, in the list of those that made it to the mentor round.

A few rounds of screaming contest (to relieve the excitement) with my chickens later, I sat down to relax and take time to believe my eyes. Only then was I able to open the email from my mentor, Kristen Lepionka, author of the Roxane Weary mystery series. It was greetings, introductions, "I love your voice" and gifs. That was all that was needed, to know that the first two chapters of my manuscript and I were in good hands. The next thing I needed was to listen, understand, and be open to making changes in my manuscript.

That’s what I did. In between school, senior activities and tons of essays, I knew to give my manuscript some time to edit it. I read her notes and edited. And edited. Scenes, characters, lines—everything. It was sending those twenty pages back and forth, more polished each time until we both looked at it and thought, "That looks about perfect."

The final edits were sent in, and now it was time to wait again. The top picks were announced, they were going to go straight to PitchWars, where they’d work with mentors for two months before their entries went up for agent showcase.

I wasn’t one of them.

That was okay.

In that one month, and all the months afterwards, I’ve become friends with the mentees from TeenPit Class of '17, a group of talented teen writers who are still there for each other. In between edits and gifs, I realized Kristen was more than a mentor. Can I call her my fairy godmother? She’s there to help get me through--from her amazing feedback and edits, to fighting impostor syndrome, or whatever is in the way.

TeenPit is so much more than the contest itself. It is a community, filled with love and support that doesn’t go away when the contest is over.

Note from Dallas: I hope you enter TeenPit 2018! Here are all the details.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Interview with Young Author E.K. Baer

Today I am thrilled to introduce you to my dear friend and fabulous poet E.K. Baer, who has recently released her first collection of poetry! It was one of my favorite books of 2017 and one that I think will delight and inspire all readers, young and old. E.K. was kind enough to stop by the blog today to answer a few questions about her writing process, how she finds inspiration, and the steps she took to get published. Enjoy!

What would you like readers to know about you as an introduction? 

My name is E.K, I am 10-years old and I am from Atlanta, Georgia. My best friend is my cuddly dog Coco who inspires me to do silly stuff. I has been writing poems ever since I can remember. Besides writing, I love to sing, play the violin and the piano. Music gives me the tempo and inspiration for my poems and helps transport me to the places that I write about.

Take us through your writing process when you were creating A Collection of Poems

A Collection of Poems started as just a bunch of random poems that came to mind. Writing has always helped me with whatever problems I encountered in my life. When I was writing these poems, it was not with the intent to publish a book. The idea of making it a book formed over the course of several months. It wasn’t until I met Ms. Dallas Woodburn that the possibility of making my poems into a book became a reality. Ms. Woodburn has been such a wonderful mentor! She assisted me in editing all my poems and formatting the book. This collection took me a couple of years to write, edit and publish. I am now thrilled to share it and I hope you enjoy my poems.

What do you like most about writing? 

What I like most about writing is how it is a way to organize your thoughts, to put your life and dreams into a legible form, to spread your creations with the world. Writing is a freeing experience – the satisfaction after your mind races around with inspiration is tranquilizing.

What surprised you the most about the publishing process? 

What I found quite surprising was the amount of work and time that went into publishing just when I thought I was done. ☺ I learned a lot through the whole process. It takes a lot of thought and consideration to figure out the right order of poems, an interesting cover and – hopefully – a good title!

Do you have any advice for other writers, or for other young people going after their dreams? 

Wow, this is difficult because I myself could use some good advice! I feel like some of my best work comes from the times when I do not worry about what other people think or do and when I simply focus on what I am currently writing. I find that it helps me when I can let go of the outside world. I would like to hope that I write some of my best poems when I am ready to describe all my feelings and experiences with pure honesty. I hope that it makes my poems into stories that other people can relate to. I once received a helpful advice about entering my work into contests. The suggestion was to try and put it out of my mind as soon as I click “submit” and try to forget about it. That way I can go on and focus on new work. It is not easy, though, because we are putting ourselves out there every time we share our work. I am still working on it myself.

Can you share a few of your favorite books or authors? 

Some of my favorite authors and books by them are:
3 a.m., There’s a Huge Pimple on my Nose – Dallas Woodburn
Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
Jane Eyre – Charlotte Brontë
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court – Mark Twain
The Giver – Lois Lowry
The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers – Alexander Dumas
Blue Horses, A Thousand Mornings – Mary Oliver
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

What inspires you? 

I am inspired by my favorite authors, as listed above, by the sounds and movement of nature, by my Mom, things people say in the booth next to us at dinner, my dog, Coco, the song of the birds, the whistle of the wind, and a cloud of thoughts. Inspiration never stops rushing to mind. Sometimes it seems as if inspiration is everywhere, floating around in little bubbles, ready to be used for stories or poems, but first you must catch it. ☺

What are you working on now? What’s next for you? 

Currently, I am working on poems for my next book, which I hope to publish very soon! I also continue to submit my poems and short stories to various competitions.

Anything else you’d like to add? 

Thank you for your interest in my new book. I wish everyone the best of luck. Always follow your dreams and never give up!


Friday, November 17, 2017

Interview with Young Author Marina Baker

I am so excited to feature an interview today with young author Marina Baker, who I have been honored to know for a few years now. She has participated in Write On's Summer & Winter Writing Camps and she is also a featured author in Dancing With The Pen II

Marina is a prolific and talented writer and has already published a collection of poetry titled Sock Drawer. Now, she is celebrating the publication of her novel Escape Reality, which is available on Amazon here

Read on for Marina's insights about the writing process, finding inspiration, going after your goals, and publishing your work!

Marina and her brother, Miles, in Colorado.
What would you like readers to know about you as an introduction?

My name is Marina Baker. I am in ninth grade and I live in Ventura, California. Some of my other hobbies, besides writing, are swimming and reading.

How did you get your idea for Escape Reality? Take us through your writing process. 

I got the idea for Escape Reality when my mom said that I had a little inner monster inside me after I got really mad when doing yard work. I thought that this would be really cool if I actually turned into a monster, which happens to the main character of Escape Reality, Lily.

What do you like most about writing? 

What I love most about writing is the fact that I can create a whole new world that can be my own. I also love that I can possibly inspire other people, just like how I was inspired by some of my favorite authors.

Marina, you are quite amazing because at your young age, this is already your second published book! (Your first, Sock Drawer, was a wonderful collection of poems!) How was writing and publishing Escape Reality different from the writing and publishing experience of Sock Drawer

I think that when I self-published Sock Drawer I was new to the world of publishing. One big difference was that my parents and I really had to set up the font size and page breaks, everything like that. When publishing Escape Reality I didn't have to worry about that as much, because the book was published as a Kindle eBook. I think that both experiences were very important and memorable. 

Do you have any advice for other writers, or for other young people going after their dreams? 

For other authors, I would say to keep working for your goals. If I had scrapped all of Escape Reality because of the first page, I wouldn't be where I am now. For other young people, I would say the same. Go with your gut and keep pushing because you are going to achieve great things. 

Can you share a few of your favorite books or authors? 

One of my favorite books is the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling. I really look up to JK Rowling and think that she is an amazing author. Another one of my favorites is the Selection series by Kiera Cass. I would definitely recommend both of them.

What inspires you? 

I am really inspired by other writers as well as my cat, Chanel. I also really like to write about magic and far off places.

What are you working on now? What’s next? 

Right now I am working on a story about an escaped prisoner. I don't really know how it is going to pan out, but I really like it so far, and I hope that I can stick with the story.

Anything else you’d like to add? 

Some other things about me: I am addicted to Harry Potter books. I just love the story so much!!!


Thursday, November 9, 2017

Guest Post: Boost Your Mood and Creativity with Travel

Boost Your Mood & Creativity With Travel

by Henry Moore

Your job performance requires you to think creatively, but lately, you’ve been finding that harder and harder. It’s not that you cannot do your job, but the stress is sapping your creativity and making things more difficult.

Rather than start searching for a new job, consider planning some travel. Heading out for even just a few days can recharge your spirit, boost your creativity, and improve your mental health. It can even help you stay healthy. Read on to learn why vacations can be so helpful.

(Image Source: Pixabay)

Mental Health Benefits Of Travel

Home is comfortable, and while that’s a great thing, it can also leave you feeling bored uninspired. That’s why people’s mood and creativity can decrease when you haven’t traveled in a long time.

The Chopra Center lists six reasons why travel is good for you:
1.     You tend to get exercise while traveling, and that’s great for your physical health. And when your body is healthy, your mood is better.
2.     Stimulation from traveling somewhere improves memory and concentration.
3.     Engaging new people and cultures boosts your creativity.
4.     A relaxing trip reduces your stress and decreases depression.
5.     Traveling broadens your perspectives, allowing you to find solutions you never thought about before.
6.     You can build relationships with the people that travel with you.

Another reason why taking a trip improves your mood and creativity is that you test your comfort zone. It’s easy to stick with repetitive routines at home. That’s fine, but in the long-run, you get stuck in a rut. Breaking that up by traveling pushes you into new territory (literally and figuratively)

Keeping Your Trip Relaxing

However, not all travel is equally beneficial. You’ve probably been on one that ended up stressful and taxing rather than relaxing and fun. That’s why you need to follow these tips for a good vacation:
      Instead of saving your vacation days for one big trip, space them out through the year so you have more to look forward to.
      Don’t create a complex plan. Explore your options, but be sure to schedule some downtime in your itinerary.
      If you’re traveling with family or friends, talk beforehand about guidelines and expectations so no one gets upset because they expected something different.
      Pick an underrated destination. Crowds and tourist traps can make your trip stressful, so pick a destination that doesn’t get the attention it deserves.

If you are in addiction recovery, you also need to worry about temptation and relapses when traveling. That said, you can definitely find a relaxing trip. Focus on places not known for alcohol or drugs (avoid spring break towns, for example) and go where there are fun but sober activities to explore.

Improve Your Creativity

A relaxing trip will definitely improve your mental health, but you also need to recharge your creativity on this trip. That’s part of why you’re heading out somewhere new. has a great page explaining how you can beat a creative block by traveling, such as:
      Bring along a few games, as playing can improve your memory and problem-solving abilities.
      Explore options to create something, even if it’s just sketching some cool place you find on your trip.
      Talk to people at your destination. You can boost your creativity by learning new perspectives.
      In those scheduled downtimes, take a moment to just daydream. Creativity can improve when you let your mind wander on its own.

Recharge With A Fun Trip

Traveling can do wonders for both your mood and your creativity. If you feel stuck in a rut, take a few days and travel somewhere new. After meeting new places, activities, and people, you’ll be surprised how you’ll be happier and able to think more creatively.

Henry is the co-creator of FitWellTraveler. The site blends two of his favorite subjects (travel and wellness) to provide readers with information about how to get the most out of both. He believes travel can change you, and good health preserves you.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Winners of the Write On! Fiction & Poetry Prizes!

I am so proud to announce the winners of our Write On! Fiction and Poetry Prizes! This was a highly competitive submissions period and we received so many excellent pieces from young writers all around the world. It was a tough decision for our judges! Congratulations to all of our winners and many thanks to everyone who entered. It was a pleasure to read your work!

You can read a selection of the winning entries published on Word Smorgasbord literary journal.

More exciting news: the Write On! Youth Drama Prizes for short plays are currently underway! Learn more and submit your work here!

And now, without further ado...

Write On! Fiction Prize

Ages 12 & under

Gold: Suntali Donahue, “The Dream Portal”
Silver: Alex Zhong, “Hawk and Willow”
Bronze: Ada Sheeran, “Survivors”

Honorable Mention:

Ages 13-18

Gold: Victoria Saltz, “Escape”
Silver: Anjali Zyla, “The Merry-Go-Round
Bronze: Andrew Huang, “The Crash”

Honorable Mention:
  • Sydney Anderson, “The Little Blue Dragon” 
  • Aidan Chisholm, “Steps” 
  • Vichar Lochan, “You” 
  • Kanchan Naik, “To Mourn a Flower” 
  • Daisy Wang, “Five Years Later: Bitter Is The Night”

Write On! Poetry Prize

Ages 12 & under

Gold: Macy Li, “One in a Million”
Silver: Elisabeth Baer, “Purple Moon
Bronze: Samitha Nemirajaiah, “Whisper, Trees

Honorable Mention:
  • Rosalie Chiang, “Dear Mom” 
  • Anika Johnson, “Take Care, Take Care” 
  • Luca Pasquini, “I am from…” 

Ages 13-18

Gold: Cameron Moore, “Teach Your Kids to Swim
Silver: Kanchan Naik, “Summer Angel
Bronze: Cara Levicoff, “An Exposé on Time

Honorable Mention:

Congratulations again to all of our winners -- it is my extreme pleasure and delight to share your work with the world! And thank you again to everyone who entered our contest and opened your minds, hearts and imaginations to our judges. We hope you go forth and create more marvelous writing to share with the world!

"Write with passion. Write with love." -Ray Bradbury

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Write On! Youth Fiction and Poetry Prizes

Ten years ago, I held the first Write On! Summer Writing Camp for young writers. In the years since: 

Many of my students have gone on to publish their work and win writing contests; many have become editors for their high school newspapers and literary magazines; some have even gone on to study Creative Writing and Journalism in college! I am so proud of every single one of the young writers I have had the privilege to meet and teach in the past decade. All these years, one thing has remained the same: my belief in the magic of unleashing your creativity through writing.

Exciting news! In celebration of the 10th Annual Summer Writing Camp—held this year in Ventura, California, on August 15, 16, 19, and 20—I am holding the first ever Write On! Youth Fiction and Poetry Prizes for young writers ages 18 and under!

You can win prize money, books, a free coaching call with me… and you might even become a published writer! Read below for the rules and submission procedures. I can’t wait to read your work!

Prizes in all categories are: 
  • First place: $50, a free 30-minute coaching call with me, a signed copy of my book of short stories 3 a.m., and publication of your work on Word Smorgasbord online literary magazine
  • Second place: $25, a signed copy of 3 a.m., and publication of your work 
  • Third place: a signed copy of 3 a.m. and publication of your work 
  • Finalists: publication of your work 

Contest Rules: 
  1. This contest is judged BLIND, which means no identifying information should be on your entry. You will submit your name, age and contact information through the submission form. If your name is included on your entry, it will be disqualified. 
  2. Word limit: fiction should be 1,000 words or less. Poetry should be 2 pages or less. 
  3. There is a $10 entry fee for each piece, or you can submit 3 entries for $25. This helps fund the prizes and the administration costs of Submittable. You also have the option to purchase a copy of Dancing With The Pen II: a collection of today’s best youth writing at the special discounted price of $15, rather than its cover price of $25. 
  4. You may submit as many entries as you would like, as long as you pay the entry fee for each piece you submit. 
  5. The contest deadline is midnight Pacific Standard Time on Sunday, August 20, 2017 (the final day of this year’s Summer Writing Camp). 

 –> Click here to submit your work now! <–

I can't wait to read your wonderful, beautiful, amazing, brilliant, scary, funny, thrilling, heart-wrenching, goosebump-inducing, magical, lovely stories and poems! :)

Friday, May 19, 2017

How Far Will Your Ripples Go?

Last week, I went with my friend Marjie to UC Berkeley to see the Scottish Ballet's stunning performance of Tennessee Williams' famous play "A Streetcar Named Desire." It was my first time going to a professional ballet performance---my only previous ballet experience was attending community performances of "The Nutcracker." I always enjoyed "The Nutcracker" and was always impressed by the talent of the ballerinas. Still, I was not expecting to feel so emotionally moved and enraptured as I watched the performance last night.

The dancers conveyed so much with their bodies and expressions; I forgot they were not speaking in words. Because they were speaking in movement. Even without dialogue, they were able to capture the aching hope and despair of Williams' play, and bring his story to life in a new way. What's more, this performance imagined and fleshed out a vivid backstory for Blanche's character, inspired by the original title Tennessee Williams considered for the play: "The Moth." The ballet closed with a vulnerable portrayal of Blanche as a moth, struggling to get close to the light. Illuminated in a spotlight centerstage, one of her hands fluttered skyward like a moth's delicate wings. A hush descended over the audience and some people even gasped, viscerally moved by the image, and then the curtain fell to thunderous applause.

I wish Tennessee Williams could have been there to see this interpretation of his play as a ballet. I think he would have been pleased to see his story brought to life in this new way, filled with the tension and drama of music and dance.


I have felt a connection to Tennessee Williams ever since last Thanksgiving, when my family and I traveled to New Orleans and tracked down the apartment that he had lived in during his New Orleans days at the end of his life. Serendipitously, while we were outside, taking photos and reading the small plaque affixed to the front wall, a man who lived there just happened to be returning home. He introduced himself as Brobson and invited us inside for a drink; he had lived there for many years and had known Tennessee Williams. He kindly welcomed us inside and shared many stories, even taking us around to the backyard to see the pool where Tennessee used to relax in the afternoons. (My dad wrote a terrific two-part column about our visit with Brobson, which you can read here on his website.)

Before that day, Tennessee Williams had been larger-than-life to me; a name in a list of Great Writers I Admire; a photo on a Wikipedia page. But seeing where he had lived and meeting someone who had known him turned him into a real person. There were surely days he struggled to write, as I sometimes do. Days when he doubted himself. Days when he wanted to give up. "A Streetcar Named Desire" was once merely a glimmer of an idea on the edge of his consciousness.

Thankfully, he wrote the idea down, and he kept writing until the play was finished. Even when it was hard. Even when there were a million other things he could have been doing, or would have rather been doing. Even when he wondered if the words he was painstakingly stacking up, one after the next after the next, would amount to anything at all.

Tennessee Williams had no way of knowing how much his plays would impact people and how far the ripples of his creativity would extend. He had no way of knowing that on a Thursday evening in Berkeley thirty-seven years after his death, hundreds of people would be moved to tears from a new portrayal of the characters he had dreamed up.

None of us know how far our own ripples will go. The gifts we create. The lives we touch. The kind words we share. All of these are stones dropped into water. What was once still is now in motion. 

You have no idea how your daily actions might inspire others. What you do and make today might affect someone tomorrow, or next week, or ten years from now. Others in the future might learn from you and build upon what you have done, creating something of their own that is entirely new and wonderful, something else that will launch more ripples out into the world.


Back when I was in elementary school, I wrote and self-published a small book of stories and poems. Nearly two decades later, I received an email from a composer named Alex Marthaler at Carnegie Mellon University. He was creating a song-cycle around the theme of childhood and adulthood, and he had somehow discovered my little book. Would it be okay if he used some of my poems as lyrics for the songs he wanted to compose?

Yes! I quickly responded. Yes, that would be amazing! 

Would I be willing to write a few companion poems, responding to the themes of the poems I had written as a child, now from an adult perspective? 

Yes, yes! What a fun project! 

And it was an extremely fun project, unlike anything else I had done before or since. I looked at the poems my child-self had written with fresh eyes and new appreciation, and I wrote new poems that were in conversation with them. It was like talking to the girl I had once been, and listening to her replies. She helped me remember why I first fell in love with writing to begin with. The magic of setting your thoughts down onto paper, and then releasing those words into the universe. Like launching hundreds of miniature paper airplanes into the sky. 

I sent him the new poems, and a few months later, Alex sent me the recordings of the songs. Listening to them, I was blown away with wonder. Who would have imagined that a few little poems I wrote in pencil on lined notebook paper at my kitchen table when I was nine years old, would one day be turned into beautiful songs performed at Carnegie Mellon?

{Me in fifth grade with copies of my first little self-published book}

I love this quote from Brene Brown: "Creativity is the way I share my soul with the world." 

How will you share your soul with the world? What ripples will come from what you share? One thing I do know is that our world will be so much richer for it.

P.S. You can listen to Alex's song rendition of my fifth-grade poem "Peanut Butter Surprise" on my website, and if you'd like a copy of my first little book, it's available here. And here is a free download of my childhood poems with their adult counterparts, in case you'd like to read them.