Category: young writers program

Brave the Page, our brand new NaNoWriMo handbook for young writers, is available to order! Partly a how-to guide on the nitty-gritty of writing, partly a collection of inspiration to set (and meet) ambitious goals, this is our go-to resource for middle-grade writers. Check out this Brave the Page excerpt on taking a character field trip:

Character Field Trip

To make your characters more believable, grab an invisibility cloak and a notebook and take a little field trip to study people in their natural habitats. You could sit in a crowded restaurant, walk around a shopping mall, or go for a ride on a bus. Wherever you end up, make sure you’re inconspicuous (that is, don’t be obvious; be sly like a spy). If you’re not able to get out of the house, turn the TV on and find a show where people are talking to each other. A reality show or talk show would work well.

In your notebook, jot down descriptions of the people around you. What do you see? What do you hear? Is someone slurping their soup or walking with a little skip in their step or scowling at the people around them? Do you see someone who’s broad-shouldered and tall like a football player, or someone who’s flowy and petite like a reed dancing in the wind? Take note of mannerisms (teenage girl nibbles on her nails as she reads her book), style choices (older man with a green spiky Mohawk is wearing a dark-blue business suit), and anything else unique or interesting that catches your eye. 

Observing people and the way they interact with the world around them will help you develop believable characters across all genres. Even if your characters are 100-foot-tall cats or pint-sized purple dragons, you’ll want to incorporate human qualities into them or you’ll end up with a very confusing story. 

Here are a few fun exercises from authors you can do to help develop your characters: 

Watch the news, eavesdrop on the people at Trader Joe’s, go to all the parties. Your characters are out there, waiting to be discovered. 

—Stacey Lee, award-winning author of Outrun the Moon

Write a long list of all your characters. Then, start drawing random lines connecting random characters to each other. Don’t think—just connect. Afterward, look down at your page. Try to figure out a connection between each of the two random characters you just linked—something scandalous, maybe, or something sweet. Something three-dimensional and unexpected. Some explosive scene that throws the two together. 

—Marie Lu, New York Times bestselling author of the Legend trilogy

Our new book, Brave the Page, is now available to order! Here’s a suggested writing exercise from author Marissa Meyer’s pep talk:

“Write down the things that you already love about your story. Are you enamored with the unique fantasy setting? The devious villain? The star-crossed romance? What is it about this story that makes your fingers itch to get to the keyboard?”

—Marissa Meyer, Brave the Page pep talk author

Order your copy of Brave the Page.

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Sometimes, it just feels like the words won’t flow. But it’s important to remember that writer’s block is something that will pass. Today, we have a few tips from Young Writers Program participant Cassidy Pry on how to make writer’s block pass more quickly:

It’s important to keep working on your project even after a hectic event like NaNoWriMo or Camp NaNoWriMo ends. You wouldn’t want a full month of hard work to end up in your “abandoned writing” folder! However, we know the real antagonist in your project all too well—that’s right. Writer’s block! Here are some tips on defeating writer’s block once and for all.

1. Relax.

Some days are just better than others when it comes to writing. You might not always be overflowing with ideas to put in your project. Instead of beating yourself up for not knowing what to write, take a break and give yourself a high-five for everything you’ve already written! Pretty soon, an excellent idea will spark and you’ll be back to writing like there’s no tomorrow!

2. Try a word sprint.

Did you know that NaNoWriMo has a “word sprint” feature? Yup. Also known as a “word war,” this feature allows you to set a word count goal and time yourself to see if you can beat the clock and meet your goal! You could write 100 words in 5 minutes to give yourself a boost and take it from there, or go for 600 words in a half-hour and call it a day. Even if whatever you write makes no sense at all, you’d be surprised by the ideas that might come from what you end up with. You can also follow @NaNoWordSprints on Twitter for round-the-clock word sprinting with other Wrimos during event months.

3. Look for writing prompts.

There are many places all over the internet where you can find writing prompts to help you get around writer’s block. In fact, you can tune into NaNoWriMo’s live Virtual Write-Ins that include writing prompts to help you out! So if you haven’t seen those yet, you can go to NaNoWriMo’s YouTube channel and watch them.

4. Think about real life.

What’s on your mind right now? What are some things that have happened to you or someone you know recently? Real life is an amazing source of inspiration for what to write in your stories. Reflect what’s going on in your own life in your stories and maybe you’ll come up with something awesome!

5. Read.

Has anyone ever told you that the more you read the better you write? It’s true. Reading helps you become a better writer and it can also give you inspiration for your own writing. If you’ve hit writer’s block, maybe reading something of the same genre or topic that you’re writing about will help you find ideas of what to put in your writing. 

6. Ask the Dare Machine.

Of all NaNoWriMo’s cool features, this one is probably my favorite. Did you know that this exclusive Young Writers Program feature will give you tons of ideas on what to write? Maybe your character finds something unexpected in between the couch cushions or a chapter in your book is told through the perspective of an animal. Your writing is your laboratory, experiment with ideas until the results are just right!

7. Have Fun!

Don’t act like writing is a dreaded chore. Having fun is part of what writing is all about! Of course, there will be struggles and obstacles and days when you feel like quitting. However, if you stick to it and let your creative juices flow, you will more than likely end up with something wonderful that you will love and cherish forever!


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Cassidy Pry is a tech-savvy 13-year-old who loves writing and is also a professional actress. Her favorite things to write are poems and novels but she likes writing short stories as well. Aside from writing and acting, Cassidy enjoys arts and crafts, reading, magic, playing violin and piano, dancing, singing, taking photographs, learning languages,  traveling, watching YouTube, and hanging out with her friends.

Top photo licensed under Creative Commons by Shannon Kokoska on Flickr.

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Sometimes, the editing process can be more intimidating than writing a novel! It’s hard to shoulder the pressure of making your writing better. Today, Young Writers Program participant Ashton Kay shares a few tips for making editing a little bit easier:

You’ve created some quirky characters to keep the story flowing, constructed a world that your characters dwell in, and you’re finally done with torturing the protagonists through a countless number of hardships and conflicts. Guess what? You’ve finished writing the rough draft! 

If you’re internally (or perhaps, externally) screaming, ‘Aaah! Editing!’ it could mean two things; you’re either eager and excited to start editing, or you’re simply dreading to go back to your draft. 

Good for you if you’re getting urges to make the rough draft better! But fear not if you’re the in the latter situation. Even if it seems like your first draft is already perfect and ready for publishing, that’s almost always never the case. There’s some room for improvement at all times. Now, stop procrastinating, and get your hands onto the keyboard. I’ve got some tricks up my sleeve that you might happen to find helpful. 

1. Take a break.

I told you to ‘get your hands onto the keyboard’—I guess I lied. Sorry about that. Get your hands off the keyboard. Now’s the time to pat yourself on the back and take a break. Free yourself from the stress of writing, and feel proud that you’ve finished the first draft. The important fact, though, is that taking a break is essential for you to obtain an objective view of your writing. A week or two is a reasonable length of time, but it’s up to you to decide how long you want your break session to last. 

2. Get a big picture of your story.

Once you’re ready to start typing again, read through your story and get a generic, big picture of it. Search for any plot holes that you might have missed, and review your story arc. Think about how the protagonist and antagonist’s motives clash, and make sure that their actions are led by the motives. 

3. Add in some foreshadowing.

Foreshadowing’s actually pretty fun to add in, now that you have a detailed and certain idea of how your characters are going to end up. It’s important for you to have enough foreshadowing so that the ending doesn’t seem too sudden and abrupt. Glue your readers’ eyes on the pages with some hints of what’s going to happen later on in the story! 

4. Adjust your story pacing.

It’s time for you to adjust the pace of the scenes and actions. Make the dramatic scenes slower-paced, and get rid of any events that contribute very little to the story, or that are unimportant. It can be painful to delete a large chunk of writing that you’ve written, but if that’s what makes your writing better as a whole, it’s probably something that’s worth gnashing your teeth through.

5. Get other people’s advice.

Ask your friends, teachers, relatives, or a friendly neighbor to read through your draft and give constructive criticism about it. They don’t necessarily have to be someone who enjoys writing, as long as they’re willing to give some advice to you. Readers are normal people, and it doesn’t take a writing expert to find out if a book’s compelling or not. Don’t get discouraged even if you get negative feedback. You still have a lot of time to go back and edit! 

Editing is part of the writing journey that you’re on, and the journey cannot be complete without the process of editing. If you’ve enjoyed the thrill of writing the first draft, I’m sure you’ll find some fun in editing as well. Get a cup of hot chocolate with a marshmallow, and keep the writing vibes going!


Ashton Kay is an aspiring writer in her teens with a boundless passion for literature. She is usually buried under mountains of math worksheets, yet she magically manages to find some time to write. When she’s writing, she enjoys traveling through time and space, making risky deals with a villain, and fighting away mutant monsters with her characters. She is a possessor of a mind that buzzes with intriguing thoughts and ideas twenty-four-seven. 

Top photo by Jason Briscoe on Unsplash.

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Sometimes, you just need a little reminder that you are a writer, what you’re creating is worthy, and that you should keep going! Today, Young Writers Program participant Dawnia Nosrek is here to give you that reminder:

If you asked a normal human being what they’re afraid of, chances are their response would be something other than “a blank page”. But it’s different for us writers. We are not normal human beings. We are extraordinary people, capable of snapping realities and plots and characters into existence by merely placing pen to paper. 

Of course, if you’re anything like me, you’re terrified of the piece of paper in front of you. Of the wordless, empty blank page staring you down, scoffing at the very thought that you could produce anything worthwhile, credible, or even entertaining for any common reader.

But here’s the thing: just because you have a blank page doesn’t mean you’re fresh out of novel-worthy ideas. An idea is an idea even if it sounds dumb to you at first. 

Don’t be encumbered by those destructive thoughts that plague the battlefield of your mind. That blank page is imposing. I know. But you have a world brimming with new ideas just waiting to come alive. Who cares if it sounds stupid? Who cares if it doesn’t exactly fit in the story line? 

Right now, it’s yours. It’s your very own beautiful creation. Take pride in it. Own it. The point of writing is to write. Revising and making sure your sentences actually make sense will come later.

For now, close your eyes. Envision where you want your creation to go. Don’t worry about coherent sentences or shallow characters or plot holes or perfect punctuation or grammar or any of the fear that’s holding you back. Take charge and take off! Just go and write! 

I believe in you.

You are a writer.

Own it.


Dawnia Nosrek is a homeschooled senior whose entire life consists of writing, whether it be books, flash fiction, plays, poems, songs, soundtracks, or short stories. She loves to geek out about books and movies, and can be frequently found composing music on the piano, ukulele, or dulcimer. Her go-to snack food is Sour Patch Kids, and she consumes way too much Mountain Dew during NaNoWriMo. Her favorite series of all time is The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

Top photo by Cata on Unsplash.

Just one week until our new book, Brave the Page, comes out! Here’s a snippet from author Jason Reynolds’ introduction.

“See, I know a little (just a little) about writing novels, and what I can tell you is that the process is just like moving from one home to the next. Your character are your boxes… Your job is to take them from a familiar place, a place where they feel they belong, and get them to the truck.”

—Jason Reynolds,
Brave the Page Pep Talk author 

Preorder your copy of Brave the Page.

5 Writing Dares (featuring the Traveling Shovel of Death)

Start writing NOW with these five dares, whether you’re in the middle of your project or looking for a way to begin. All dares provided by the Dare Machine on NaNoWriMo’s Young Writers Program website. 

1. Your character discovers an inanimate object that laughs. 

2. Create a human character based on your pet. 

3. Make a character climb a tree. 

4. Give one of your characters amnesia. 

5. Have a character find an unlucky penny. 

Plus one extra non-writing dare for us to watch out for! 

Darer: Communications Manager Katharine Gripp

Balancer: YWP Director Marya Brennan

Brave the Page, our brand new NaNoWriMo handbook for young writers, is available for pre-order! Partly a how-to guide on the nitty-gritty of writing, partly a collection of inspiration to set (and meet) ambitious goals, this is our go-to resource for middle-grade writers. Check out this Brave the Page excerpt on generating novel ideas:

Idea-Catching Mechanism #1: Mine Your Life 

“You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored,” author Neil Gaiman wrote. “The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we’re doing it.”

When you mine your life, you look back through your past to extract sparkling sapphires as well as pieces of combustible coal. You dig deep to uncover experiences and emotions and memories and dreams, and then you gather them in a pile and watch as they ignite and spark story ideas. 

The nuggets you mine from your past don’t need to be epic or amazing or tragic (though they can be). They can be simple moments or heated conversations or the smell of your favorite holiday. It can be tat time when you were three years old and used your mom’s lipstick as a crayon on the freshly painted wall. Or that feeling you got when you aced (or failed) your math test. Or the color of the sky after you saw your grandfather for the last time.

Your memories might lead to wild new ideas. Or they might serve as a foundation upon which you build your story, as with author Joyce Hansen’s book The Gift-Giver, which came out of her past experiences. “I recalled my own childhood as I created the story, so that underneath what seems to be a contemporary middle-grade novel is actually a nostalgic memory of my years growing up in a Bronx neighborhood in the late 1940s and early fifties.” 

To get started on mining your life, take 10 minutes to write down (or draw) as many memories, experiences, and dreams as you can. Include a lot of details or a single word-whatever works for you. Do this every day for a week. 

Here are a few prompts to guide you if mining memories from your whole life feels too big:

  • Holidays or special gatherings
  • A time you tried something new
  • School events or field trips
  • A time that was particularly funny, happy, or sad
  • Family members or pets
  • A time you were scared or embarrassed
  • Your earliest memories

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Sometimes, it’s easy to get caught up in the pure rush of creating something new. Later on, when you come back for a second glance, the writing doesn’t have that same sparkle. You may not want to hear this, but editing is your friend—and it doesn’t have to be a painful process. Today, NaNoWriMo participant Rebekah reminds us that editing is writing:

Editing the rough draft of a story is a dreaded part of writing.

It takes just as much, if not more time, than actually writing a draft. But never fear! I’ve created my own method of tackling the first draft that I’d like to share with all of you as you work on your stories.

I find tips easier to follow if I’m given steps, so here is a step-by-step of the process I have been following with the rough draft of my very first book.

1. Let the draft sit for at least a month. 

This means don’t touch it at all. Don’t read it, don’t do tiny edits. If it helps, pretend it doesn’t exist. Taking a break from the draft helps me distance myself from what I wrote. It makes the text almost seem like it was written by someone else, which can make it easier to critique and fix.

2. Read the draft after the break period and don’t edit it at all. 

Read it like you would a new book and document all issues you find. This will make it easier to write the next draft. 

3. Find a format for your story that will be the easiest for you to edit. 

For me, it meant printing out the whole story, which then led me to realize something to work on in draft two (more on that in step 4). Writing in red ink all over a hard copy of my first draft has helped me, and more importantly, I’m comfortable with it. If you aren’t comfortable with editing in your story’s current format, then find another format that works. 

4. Find at least one thing to look at throughout your editing process. 

This is by far a harder step, but once you do it, the editing process becomes a whole lot easier. I realized my chapters were too short, so I decided to find ways I could build more plot into my chapters. Other common fixes could involve decreasing adverbs and using more emotions. This gives you a goal while editing, which can be helpful to writers like me who are very goal-oriented. 

5. Make a “chapter wrap-up”.

This is a completely optional step, and may only work for some writers, but it has helped me immensely. I call it a chapter wrap-up, and write it out after I finish editing a chapter. It includes four sections: Characters, Plot Points, Items to Adjust, and Connections/Extra Analysis

Under Characters, I list the characters present in the chapter and the new ways they’ve developed. Under the Plot Point section, I mention all major plot points for reference in future drafts. My Items to Adjust section includes my major flaws in the chapter as wells as smaller issues to adjust. The Connections/Extra Analysis section includes any other information I find important to include after editing a chapter.

This list has worked the best for me, but every writer is different. Improvise on this list, or find your own way! Tackle that first draft and start editing!


Rebekah lives in the United States. When she isn’t writing, you will likely find her reading comics or books, playing on her tenor or alto saxophone, listening to soundtracks, knitting, or taking nature walks. She hopes to publish her current book by the end of high school. You can find her on Instagram.

Top photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash.

Happy National Book Lovers Day, Wrimos!

Take some time today to read or share one of your favorite books. (Maybe it’s your own!) To celebrate, we’d like to share the very first stories written by a few NaNoWriMo participants. Do you remember yours?

Question: Do you remember your first story?

IMG 1: A science fiction epic about myself, in which I stumbled on a mad scientist’s serum that made your thumbs grow to gigantic proportions.

IMG 2: A girl and her best friend swam to the moon and raced back on foot, they tamed tigers as pets and flew around the world with kites and balloons.

IMG 3: My first story was about four kids left behind after a camping trip on an island in Florida.

IMG 4: My first story followed four girls that lived at a boarding school. Strange things began to happen and they set out to find the cause.

IMG 5: My first story turned out to be an imitation of every author I loved. It will never be published because of all the lawsuits!