Category: amwriting

Poetry is my first love. Whenever I get stuck writing, I stop and find a poem and read it aloud. This helps me hear the rhythms of the language. It helps me jump start my own work. 

Today’s Writing Prompt: Go to and find a poem (it’s free!) and read it aloud. Then take a line from the poem as your prompt and make it your first or last line. Write for 10 minutes, then title the poem ‘How to Crack an Egg.’

Devi S. Laskar is a native of Chapel Hill, N.C., and holds an MFA from Columbia University. The Atlas of Reds and Blues—winner of the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature and the Crook’s Corner Book Prize—is her first novel. It was selected by The Georgia Center for the Book as a book “All Georgians Should Read” and named by The Washington Post as one of the best books of 2019. A former newspaper reporter, Laskar is now a poet, photographer and novelist.

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The setting or environment in which our stories take place can have a huge effect on how our readers view characters or scenes. Young Writers Program participant Asher M. is here with us today to share how to make the most out of this often overlooked aspect of storytelling:

Something I’ve seen many writers struggle with is unique plots. It seems like every story has already been written. As a writer, you may see a three-act novel with the same subsections every single book seems to follow. As a reader, do you see it the same way? I doubt it. 

For this explanation, we’ll be using a simple example plot:

Act 1: Ellie is a normal kid in middle school. One day, her principal (who’s secretly a wizard) tells her she has to go defeat the evil wizard Wright Erz Blok. After some deliberation, Ellie goes with her two closest friends on an adventure to fight Wright Erz Blok.

Act 2: The group set off on their trip with the help of a magical map. They gain tools from various mentors as they leave, and gain skills by defeating lesser villains as they get closer to Wright Erz Blok.

Act 3: The heroes almost fail, but manage to defeat Wright Erz Blok for good. They come back to school and receive a hero’s welcome.

So, how would your environment influence this story? I’ll break it down. Your environment has three main influences on your writing: character, pacing, and story.

1. Character

Character encompasses the personality, mannerisms, and speaking style of each character. In our example, we have four important characters: Ellie, her two friends, and Wright Erz Blok. Your social environment influences character the most. A social person might find themselves pulling qualities from their friends for their characters, while an introvert may pull more qualities from themselves. Someone with positive social influences may give Ellie’s friends more individual characteristics and story arcs, while someone with negative social influences might diminish them into being supportive characters.

Pay attention to how you interact with others. It shows up on the page.

2. Pacing

Pacing is the speed at which different plot points happen. In our example, we have our three acts, each with three components. Your physical environment influences pacing the most. If you’re in middle school or were in middle school recently, you know a lot about middle school. You’d be pretty good at stretching out Act 1 by adding details about daily middle school life. If you’re writing in a busy space, like a coffee shop, you might find yourself stretching out descriptions of people or environments as you observe the environment’s intricacies. Notice how your physical environment inspires your writing, and switch it up if things are feeling stagnant.

3. Story

Story is anything and everything happening outside of the plot’s skeleton. Your life experience influences the story the most. Writers draw from their own life experiences to develop their stories. Ellie’s relationship with any siblings she has would influence whether they’re part of her motivation to fight evil. Wright Erz Blok’s motivation for committing evil deeds shapes the audience’s idea of whether they’re empathetic. If Ellie and co. are journeying through a forest, the types of people they encounter will be very different than if they’re traveling across an ocean. Every single aspect of motivations, setting, and relationship change based on the author’s own experiences.

When writing, consciously make the choice to allow your environment to influence how you write. If you have the option to, change physical environments regularly and think from someone else’s point of view to give yourself a chance to write with fresh senses. And don’t be afraid to recycle plots. Your experience and your environment make every story unique.

Don’t hold back, my friend. You have endless stories inside you.


Asher M. is an avid fan of classical authors, despite not writing anything in their style. He’s currently working on his first novel, focused on betrayal and growth, in a series about magic, politics, and adventure. When he’s not writing novels or op-eds, you can find him doodling in his many sketchbooks or painting on his bedroom walls. He hopes to double major in English and Psychology, with plans to become a neuroscientist who writes on the side.

Top photo by Luis Del Río Camacho on Unsplash.


Character creation and development is a lot of writers favorite part of writing, so why not make a game out of it? Today NaNoWriMo participant Alice Radwell brings us a fun exercise to help us learn how our characters think and react in different situations:

Roleplaying is an exciting hobby enjoyed by enthusiasts around the world. Taking on campaigns, players seek to vanquish monsters and find treasure together, leveling-up characters through a stat-based points system. However, there’s more to it than just fun. Roleplaying can be useful in strengthening writing and creativity, and the two can connect together effectively to create powerful emotive characters and interesting plots within fiction. 

The benefits of roleplaying as a storyteller are numerous. In the well-known and well-enjoyed game ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ and its counterparts, which span a plethora of genres and styles, players create a character with certain traits and characteristics and work within this mind-set to complete challenges imposed upon them by the game master. Without being aware of what will come next, players must navigate their character’s thinking patterns and limitations to work within a team to face down foes and problems. As a writer, this is a useful exercise in character development. 

Sitting as a separate entity before a page, a writer must endeavor to accurately portray the thoughts, feelings, and motivations of their protagonist, but when roleplaying as said protagonist, the writer must react with those thoughts, feelings, and motivations in real-time, experiencing them first hand as situations unfold —and as such, they must experience the consequences first hand, be they positive or negative. It’s a very strange form of method acting, where during a quest the player is forced to place themselves in the head of their character and ask ‘How would I respond? What are my motivations?’ using personal pronouns in reference to their character rather than themselves. 

“Having to work creatively like this breeds a spontaneous, quick thinking mindset perfect for beating writer’s block and keeping first drafts flowing.”

So, let’s say, a roleplayer has entered the mindset of a young rogue. The game-master then announces a conundrum. A key is hidden in the pocket of an innocent man, and in order to retrieve it, the rogue is going to have to kill him. If you don’t kill him three captured peasants, also all innocent will be wrongfully executed. What would that rogue do? In a situation where a writer is sitting in front of a page, there is no great urgency to have the character act. A writer might ponder for days as to the moral threads of the character’s thinking, but in roleplaying, particularly with other players waiting on your move, time to contemplate isn’t a luxury you have. From the head of your character, you must react as they would in real-time. Having to work creatively like this breeds a spontaneous, quick thinking mindset perfect for beating writer’s block and keeping first drafts flowing.

There’s also another interesting roleplaying trick to help create story events. This can be done alone and doesn’t require any specialist equipment that multi-player experiences might. Start by writing a few lists of places, objects, types of people, or conflicts. Another good idea is to get friends and family to write them, this way they will be a surprise for you. If using your own list, however, assign numbers and use a random number generator to pick one item from each list. Once you have a place, an object, a person and a conflict (or whatever works for you) start roleplaying your character in the middle of the situation. The idea is to think like them in that situation. Try not to think too long or too much, just react to what is happening as you write it. By forcing yourself to think like the protagonist in a scenario that is completely foreign to them, you are not only solidifying their motivations, actions, and feelings in your mind, you are also trailing scenes that you can contextualize to suit your story and advance your plot.

There are many ways to experiment with roleplaying which can help a writer develop creatively, both within a team and alone. It’s up to us as individuals to explore the possibilities, step into the minds of characters and create stories which we ourselves can enjoy as well as future readers. 


Alice Radwell is a Creative Writing graduate living in Scotland. She spent her twenties working as an non-fiction Ghost Writer, but has loved writing from early childhood. She is currently working on a fantasy novel while raising a small human. She loves all things fantasy, chocolate, books and tea, and writes a personal blog at

Top photo by Clint Bustrillos on Unsplash.

Camp NaNoWriMo is your online writers’ retreat, designed to help you set and reach your personal writing goals. Join us for your next writing adventure!

For those of you who have participated before, Camp NaNoWriMo looks a little different this year, as we’re hosting it on the new site. But the gist of it remains the same: set your own writing goals, join an online writing group, and give yourself a creative retreat this spring!

How can I participate in Camp NaNoWriMo?

  1. To participate in Camp NaNoWriMo, just announce a project, then make sure to check “Associate with a NaNoWriMo event”, and select the current Camp NaNoWriMo event.
  2. Once you’ve done that, you should be ready to start tracking your project! You’ll be able to start tracking your writing at 12:01 AM on April 1 in your time zone!
  3. Once you’ve reached your writing goal, the site will automatically confirm your win, and you’ll receive a certificate celebrating your achievement, along with a bunch of other winner goodies!

What’s happening at Camp?

🎬 Join our next Virtual Write-In TODAY Wednesday, April 1, 1 PM PST (Your Time Zone) for real-time writing prompts and sprints with the NaNo community from around the world.

💬 Join our #CampNaNoAdvice tweet chat on Friday, April 3, 1 PM PST (Your Time Zone)! Ask our Camp Counselors and published authors An Na, Dallas Woodburn, Devi S. Laskar, and Jennifer Ziegler your questions. They’ll also be delivering daily advice to your NaNoMessages here throughout April!

👋 Become part of a writing group! You can now join or create a 20-person writing group to post messages and chat with your fellow writers. (Looking for cabin mates? Find them on our forums!)

📚Check out our #StayHomeWriMo resources, prompts, and events to help you navigate writing, community, and self-care during social distancing.

#StayHomeWriMo: An initiative to support and encourage you to stay well and find comfort in creativity in these trying times.

Image description:

A yellow and teal graphic titled “#StayHomeWriMo: Day 2 Self-Care Checklist”

1. Mental Well-Being: Treat yourself to some reading time! Use your library’s e-book list, or if you can, buy it from

2. Creative Well-Being: Writing prompt: Interview one of your own characters about what their social distancing experience would look like. 

3. Social Well-Being: Offer to video chat with a toddler or child. Sing songs, play a game, let them give you a tour of their toys.

4. Physical Well-Being: Set a bedtime for yourself tonight. Give your body the gift of a little structure for a day.

#StayHomeWriMo: An initiative to support and encourage you to stay well and find comfort in creativity in these trying times.

Image description:

A yellow and teal graphic titled “#StayHomeWriMo: Day 2 Self-Care Checklist”

1. Mental Well-Being: Spend half an hour learning a different language. Try an online platform like Duolingo!

2. Creative Well-Being: Sign up for Camp NaNoWriMo at! Set your own goal to whatever feels doable to you in April.

3. Social Well-Being: Check in on someone you know who’s isolated alone, and see if you can help in any way.

4. Physical Well-Being: Spa day! Take a long hot shower or bath. Do a face mask. Aaaah.

Last month, we challenged our Young Writers to submit a 400 word excerpt from their NaNoWriMo novels. From over 500 fabulous entries, we chose two Grand Prize Winners and four Runners-Up. We hope you enjoy reading them as much as we did!

“Of Silver and Swans” by Dana B.

Maman crooked her finger, beckoning her daughter forward.

“Why so afraid, my little cygnet?” she asked, holding out her hands so that the pooled moonlight glistened alluringly. She tilted her head, an unspoken challenge. “Don’t you want to reap the moon’s blessing?”

Lynette darted a glance at the moon, seeking a sign. Any sign that would let her get out of this, just once. But the moon’s lips were sealed. Read the rest!

“Swimming Upstream” by Rivka J.

I lean against a willow tree, heart racing, breathing hard. The cool summer breeze gently calms me. The Queen’s Guard fills the park, each woman drawing her sword and swinging it around threateningly. I finger the secret dagger hidden beneath my stolen belt and hope I won’t have to use it. Boys aren’t allowed to have weapons. I’ve seen younger boys been killed by guards just for wearing a belt. Read the rest!

“The Dragon Queen” by Leila M.

“Queen Gold, I challenge you for the throne of the Gold kingdom!” my daughter Winter hisses.

Dang it.

When female dragons like me lay eggs, they lay more than one at a time. They hatch at different times, when they’re ready-30 minutes to 3 years after they do. I laid all four eggs at the same time, but Spring hatched first, nine months after she was laid. However, dragon eggs require special care. Winter’s egg was turned upside down in the nest, even though I watched over the eggs. The turned egg gave her evil. Read the rest!

"The Frig” by Kyler

The Food Variety Show was finally over. That night, all the food in the refrigerator chatted excitedly.

“I don’t care!” said Mushroom. He had received the lowest score in the show. “I don’t care about popularity!”

“Of course, you don’t care,” muttered Cheese, “If you cared, then you wouldn’t be playing in the mulch and dirt all day.” Read the rest!

#StayHomeWriMo: An initiative to support and encourage you to stay well and find comfort in creativity in these trying times.

Image description:

A yellow and teal graphic titled “#StayHomeWriMo: Day 2 Self-Care Checklist”

1. Mental Well-Being: Get some fresh air! Open a window or go on a solo walk around a quiet neighborhood. 

2. Creative Well-Being: Go outside (if you safely can). Put on your writer hat (or mittens). Try to notice 5 things to write about!

3. Social Well-Being: Join our #StayHomeWriMo Happy Hour!

4. Physical Well-Being: Choose one of your favorite songs, turn it up, and have a three-minute dance party!

Last month, we challenged our Young Writers to submit a 400 word excerpt from their NaNoWriMo novels. From over 500 fabulous entries, we chose two Grand Prize Winners and four Runners-Up. We hope you enjoy reading them as much as we did!

“Phantom Mare” by Miriam G. — Grand Prize Winner (13 and Under Age Group)

Had she gone deaf?

Desperate for sound, Sharon dashed from the room. Her feet pounded but she couldn’t hear them. The door of the kitchen banged but she couldn’t hear it. She smashed into the table but she couldn’t hear it.

The world was silent.

Gasping and terrified, she dashed into the front hall. Her fingers scrabbled at the lock, clumsy with fear. She managed to turn it and yanked open the door.

Fog, unnaturally thick and white, filled the doorway, pushing to come in. Sharon shrieked, unable to hear it, and slammed the door on the fog. She locked it and waited, trembling, before forcing herself to move back to the kitchen.

The kettle lay forgotten on the burner. The burner, which she had turned on—but was now cold.

She had closed the window. Even with her mind fractured by terror, she remembered closing it. But now it was open, the fog blown in, the curtains rustling in the breeze.

Sharon stumbled toward it, grabbed it, tried to shove it closed. But it wouldn’t budge.

The fog wrapped cold, misty fingers around her, and she sprang back, tripping over a chair. She fell to the ground without a noise. The chair landed on her hand, causing a jolt of pain, but she ignored it and scrambled up.

She backed away from the fog as it slithered through the window, curling about her. She looked for the stairs, to run up them and take shelter from the terrifying fog, but the mist was already swirling up the steps.

Instead she fled down the hall, to the back door. She grabbed the knob and shoved at it before her fractured mind remembered. That door was jammed, and always had been. She couldn’t flee there.

That left only one spot for her to take refuge in. The living room. Sharon took a deep, shuddering breath, then dodged through the fog and into the room. She slammed the door behind her and waiting in the silent dark.

Nothing moved.

No fog curled under the door. Was she safe? She looked slowly around the room, her gaze landing unexpectedly on the forest picture. The horse inside looked out with black eyes.


There never had been a horse in the forest scene.

The horse turned its head to look at her, and peeled back its lips to reveal sharp white teeth.

Sharon screamed.

Special guest judge Kat Zhang had this to say about “Phantom Mare”: “I love how tense this scene is! The build-up to the reveal is heart-pounding, and there’s a great rhythm to the sentences.”

Miriam G. is an aspiring novelist who enjoys writing about dragons and horses. She would spend all day at the barn around horses and all evening writing. Eventually, she hopes to publish her books. She wants to become a good enough artist that she can illustrate her books. Admittedly, she’s fond of self-inflicted pain through an accelerated math course to catch up with her older brother. She lives with her two brothers, her parents, and the sweetest, most patient cat in the world.

#StayHomeWriMo: An initiative to support and encourage you to stay well and find comfort in creativity in these trying times.

Image description:

A yellow and teal graphic titled “#StayHomeWriMo: Day 2 Self-Care Checklist”

1. Mental Well-Being: Make two quick lists: things you’re grateful for now, and things you’ll be grateful to get back to in the future.

2. Creative Well-Being: Writing Prompt: Write about a secret you or a character have been keeping.

3. Social Well-Being: Get together with some friends for a virtual movie night! (You can use an app like Netflix Party.)

4. Physical Well-Being: Try an online exercise or stretching class, any level.