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.

Friday, April 14, 2017

How Not to Lose the Ending of a Story

A Guest Post by Lucy Adams


Excellent stories influence people months and even years after they are read. However, it sometimes happens that a story that seems perfect at first glance eventually does not meet the high expectations of both the author and the audience. Why does this happen?

Imagine you read a book with all the components (conflict, plot, characters, idea, symbols) in harmony, but after half a year passes you can’t recall even the name of the protagonist, let alone the details. What's the catch?

In most cases, the weakest point of the book is its ending. Weak endings have buried millions of potential bestsellers! Memorable stories always have a strong ending, and it seems that such stories live their own lives. Some of them become great and live for centuries, influencing the fates of readers.

Today our goal is to identify and analyze the main mistakes that authors make when working on the final of the book.

To begin with, let’s distinguish three main reasons that make an ending boring and unremarkable: 

1. Premature ending.
2. Artificial ending.
3. Fully completed ending.

#1 Premature Ending 

There are several reasons that an ending might seem premature:

• There is a too-fast change in the character traits of the protagonist. 
For the reader, the shift in the mindset and character traits is the most important event: the climax in the story. And if it happens too early, the development of the character ceases, and hence all subsequent events seem not so significant and not so interesting to the reader.

• Too-fast goal achievements. 
In every story, the protagonist (as well as the antagonist) has an ultimate goal that he strives for through thick and thin. For example, to get the woman of his dreams. When this happens, the reader gradually gets bored. Therefore, if you want to change the global desire, you should introduce some plot twists as well.

• Untypical actions. 
A coward suddenly becomes brave; an angry soldier engages in charity; a child solves Fermat's theorem, etc. Untypical actions are a sign that the events happen not for the objective reasons but the will of the author. And it’s quite disappointing for the reader!

#2 Artificial Ending

The artificial ending is the most common mistake among aspiring writers. In most cases, the reason for such an unremarkable ending is a thoughtless plot. Note that any narration should be a consistent system that contributes to the development of the protagonist and further change in his or her traits. Non-compliance with this rule results in a blurred ending. Although there’s often is a visible ending, the thoughtful reader will see that you did not know where you were going but simply wandered meaninglessly in the dark.


#3 Fully Completed Ending

The protagonist reached his goals, changed his traits, and finally achieved complete tranquility… nothing more bothers him, and that’s cool! All the secondary conflicts are solved, and there’s nothing more to talk about. These events suggest that the story is over. But in fact, it should not be so! The achieved calmness is temporary while the change in traits does not guarantee a peaceful life! An excellent story lives for a long time because its ending is always a start of something even more intriguing!

Let’s recall One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey. The story seems to be over. What to talk about? Suddenly the Chief escapes from the hospital to continue the work of McMurphy, thereby giving us a new meaning. The idea is still alive; it doesn’t die with the protagonist!

In Conclusion 

When working on the ending of the story, authors should make sure that:

• The ending is not premature and the plot develops naturally, preparing readers for the final stage.
• All the secondary storylines are completed.
• The protagonist has reached the goal or failed the mission.
• There are no questions left regarding the main characters.
• The ended story gives birth to a new one and leaves room for thought.

I wish you best of luck in your writing endeavors!

Bio: Lucy Adams is a blogger and essay helper from BuzzEssay. She covers a wide range of topics, from education to psychology. Lucy is a generalist ready to prepare a few guest posts exclusively for your blog. Feel free to suggest something interesting, and you will get a fast and grounded response!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Celebrating Success

For most of the year, my job as a writing teacher is a slow, gradual process with my students… helping them write more clearly and expansively, broaden and deepen their thinking, and discover more joy and freedom in the act of writing. Like training for a marathon, it is a “slow and steady” endeavor. I see their growth, but sometimes it is harder for them to see it.

Then, every so often, there are spectacularly exciting days. Days when I receive their giddy emails and phone calls and I get to celebrate with them. Days when their hard work and hours of time are rewarded.

Just in the past few weeks, I have learned that my students were honored in the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards with a whopping 7 Gold Keys, 11 Silver Keys, and 3 Honorable Mentions; Honorable Mention in the national Princeton University High School Poetry Contest; and National Finalist honors in the American High School Poets Just Poetry Competition.

Sometimes the successes are more personal, such as my student who proudly told me that he received a perfect score on an in-class English essay “for the first time ever!!” He said, “I didn’t think I could do that.” I knew he could.

Recently, I received an email from one of my adult students -- who is finally, bravely working on a book that has been bouncing around in her mind for years -- that simply said: "Thank you for helping me break through my inertia." After years of thinking she was not good enough to try her hand at writing, she is now getting her words and ideas down on paper.

I am so grateful for my students, who remind me daily the power of persistence and who fill my life with imagination and enthusiasm. I am so proud of them. It fills my heart to see them gain pride and confidence in themselves.

Would you like to work with me? 

I currently have a select number of spots available in my Guided Mentorship and Online Tutoring programs for young writers, as well as my Writing Coaching programs for adults. Contact me to learn more and book your free 20-minute consultation call with me. I'd love to help you, or your child, gain confidence in your ideas and tell the stories that matter most to you. Let's work together to reframe writing for what it truly is: a tool of connection and empowerment! 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

"The Great Sledding Hill" by young writer Benjamin Webb

Today I am proud to publish this wonderful story by young writer Benjamin Webb. If you are interested in reading more work by young writers, why not order a personalized copy of Dancing With The Pen II: a collection of today's youth writing here or on Amazon here.


The Great Sledding Hill 

by Benjamin Webb

The car thumped on the road surrounded in milky white snow. My dad and I were going to a school because behind it there was supposed to be a sledding hill.

Soon we arrived and my dad parked in a parking lot by what looked like a colorful playground. It was hard to see anything because of the snow falling. When I got out of the car I saw the school. It had three floors!

My dad got out my orange sled and we walked to a metal gate.

“How do we get past?” I asked. “It looks locked -- we won’t be able to go sledding!”

“Let’s try,” my dad said and pushed on the gate. Suddenly the gate swung open.

“That did the trick!” I shouted to be heard over the howling wind.

We walked for a minute and I started falling down a slope. My dad grabbed me and pulled me back up. “Be careful,” he warned.

Then I realized that it was not a small slope, it was the hill. It was bigger than our house! You could go skiing on this hill, I thought. Maybe it’s too big.

“Get in the sled,” my dad said.

I got in.

“Ready?” my dad asked.

“Ready” I said slowly. My heart was pounding as I took off down the hill. “Whoa!” I hollered, “This is better than a roller coaster!”

Uh oh, I thought. There was a bump in the hill. The sled flung over the bump and I landed in the soft snow.

“That was something,” I said finally. “I have gone sledding before, but this hill is amazing!” I got up and brushed the snow out of my mittens. Everything seemed okay.

The wind died down and it wasn’t as cold. “Wait -- how am I going to get back up?” I questioned. “Well, I think I have to climb.” I started running up the hill as my sled dragged behind me. “This isn’t too bad,” I said. “Climbing is easy.”

Then I tripped and fell down and noticed some gray concrete stairs. “That is probably easier than climbing.” I laughed and started going up the stairs.

When I got up to the top, my dad waved. I went down the hill over and over again.


Benjamin is 9 years old and loves math, cats, animals, and video games. He has a fish named Rainbow and a cat named Misha. He also likes swimming, hiking and loves drawing.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Interview with Young Author Caylen D. Smith

 A few months ago, I was super impressed to read about young author Caylen D. Smith in my hometown newspaper. Her self-published "Guardian" series of books is amazingly popular -- the second book in the series, Uneven Odds, even garnered a spot on the Apple iBooks Young Adult New Releases! I reached out to Caylen through her website and she was kind enough to give her time for an interview. I am thrilled to feature her on the blog today! Her story is inspirational and filled with practical writing advice. Read on for more about Caylen, in her own words!  

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

My author name is Caylen D. Smith (the D stands for dramatic), and my age is 21, soon to be 22! I’m a senior in college and my hometown is Agoura Hills, California. My hobbies—more likely known as addictions—are scrolling through Tumblr and working on my Tumblr blog. It’s a way to be creative. Also, that tweeting nonsense as well. I will never turn down the opportunity to read, mostly anything, but I lean more toward books that are fantasy, or contemporary novels. They are my weakness. If I am not reading or writing, I am definitely watching my favorite movies repeatedly. Mostly anything from the Marvel Universe or a Christopher Nolan film.

Describe your path to publication. How did you get your idea for the first book? Take us through your writing process. 

The idea of the first book, Ripples: Book One of the Guardian Series, was sparked by a dream. The difficult part about it was that I didn’t remember everything that happened. All I remember was there were rebels, a girl and her friends that lived in a huge house, and a lighthouse abandoned on the beach. Not writing down exactly everything in the dream when I first woke up was my fault, but I somehow managed. I thought it would be interesting to name these strangers, and create backgrounds for them as well. Surprisingly, Landon was the first, then came Alexandria, the main character. The rest just followed. I invented their storylines, daily lives and what made them important to the story itself.

I never really thought of putting my work out there to sell. I didn’t think it was quite possible because all I wanted was to write and see where these characters would go on this little adventure I placed them in. Actually, my mother was the one who pushed me to publish my stories. We sent out a few drafts to some companies that were interested, but no offers. So, we decided to self-publish instead. Every now and then we would purchase magazines about self-publishing, and found sites about authors who went that route. It seemed easy enough, but using an editor was something we didn’t think to find at first. Though once we realized how important it was, we found an editor with the help of a friend. We checked out artists on the internet who created book covers too. And soon we had a team that I have used for all three of the Guardian books.

Have you been writing for a long time? What do you like about writing?

Surprisingly, I didn’t start out like other authors. Many say in interviews that they have always aspired to be writers, or how they began to write when they were children. I became passionate with the writing world when I was a tenth grader in high school. That was less than six years ago that I aspired to be a writer. Since then, I have completed nine full manuscripts – three of which have been published. Writing is a complicated thing. I think creating worlds and characters is what keeps me interested. Having to make up backstories of characters and how they got to the point where the book started, and weave in their own unique stories throughout the novel is a challenge I like to make for myself. Like why is this character always angry? Or how can this character have this much joy in their heart? What they look like, smell, and what are their favorite foods—their hobbies and wants. It is what helps me make their world.

What has been the most surprising thing to you in your journey as an author?

The most surprising thing has to be that people actually enjoy reading my books. I know there is this sense that “you are your toughest critic” but all my life I didn’t think I was that great of a writer. That was why I placed myself so low on the food chain, but the funny thing is that each part of the food chain is important in its own way. Each one has a special gift in their own role in life.

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

Write what you want to write. I see all the time the contradictions on the internet. For example, one side wants less random death in stories, and the other side can’t get enough of emotional pain. I think, if done appropriately, character death is highly essential for the plot. People die in real life all the time, and having that in the story gives a sense of reality. In one way, listening to the readers is extremely important. Their voices do matter, don’t get me wrong -- but also be aware that not everyone is going to like one thing or the other in a story.

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

Well, author wise it would have to be Flannery O’Connor, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Colleen Hoover, and Meg Cabot. Each of these authors has a special place in my heart. If I ever need inspiration to help me as a writer, I look to these wonderful people. Especially O’Connor, since she is extremely quirky. My favorite books are The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Lord of the Flies by William Golding, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, and The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater.

What inspires you? 

Music inspires me. I cannot write without some type of song playing in the background. The way movies can capture true emotion for the audience is through lyrics and sound, and I use that to my advantage. Music tells its own story with words as well, and it helps me paint a scene in my head, or an emotion I am trying to convey for my characters.

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

With the Guardian Series finished, meaning the fourth book is done, just needs to be edited and cover reveal and all, I am working on this new project of a story retelling of Robyn Hoode. Yes, that is the spelling. I told myself if I were to do a retelling it would have to be on something that has not been constantly retold. So, this was the story that I saw less of on the shelves and wanted to give it a chance and see what I could create.

Anything else you'd like to add? 

I know the thought of self-publishing can be taboo in the writing world, but times are changing. It takes finding a wonderful team (editor, cover artist, and proof readers) that can help you along your path. It might be one of the best decisions you can make, if you are more focused on getting your story out there than receiving money right away. Those who start from the bottom sooner or later can reach the top. And that is an inspiring story to be told.