How to Encourage Young Writers

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALately I’ve been receiving a lot of messages from parents and teachers who have kids or know kids who love to write.

Other enquiries I get are from people who know kids who have great ideas for stories, but don’t know how to get them down on paper.

Here are some things that have worked for me:

1.  Read with the young writer and pick a character, a scene or a setting from what you are reading – something they would like to write about – and get them to write it.

2.  Look at this blog post by Susan Stephenson, which has various ideas on how to get a story started

3.   Brainstorm with your young writer. I used to do this with my kids. We’d pick a word for instance, chocolate, and I’d make up a story about chocolate and they’d either continue with my story or they’d think up an idea of your own. To encourage them I’d ask questions like “What if… this happened?” and “What happens next?” and “How did that happen? Why did that happen? Who did that happen to?”

4.  If the idea of a whole story is overwhelming, take it in stages:

– Decide who the character is

– Decide what the character’s story problem is

– Decide how the character plans to solve it

– Decide what obstacles will get in the way.

5.  Encourage the writer to create a story based on a favourite character from a book, movie or tv program – encourage him or her to try to imagine what it would be like to be that character.

6.  Don’t put limitations on the length of the story. If the child wants to write a 30 word story, that’s okay. If they want to write 300 or 3,000 words, that’s okay The only word count limitations they should have to follow are if they are submitting for a competition or publication and a word limit is specified in the guidelines.

IMG_12007. Always use encouraging language and don’t push the writer to do more than they are comfortable with.  If you have constructive suggestions on how they can improve their story, always focus on the good things about it first, and be encouraging with your suggestions. Always use positive language.

8.  Don’t take over. If the story isn’t the way you would have written it, don’t interfere. The child needs to follow their own creative direction. You will stifle their creativity, dampen their enthusiasm and wreck their confidence if you try to take over their story.

9. If the writer isn’t great at spelling, don’t let this be a deterrent. They can still be a good writer, they just need an editor to help them. Getting the child to dictate the story to you or to type it themselves, will encourage their storytelling and develop their confidence and stop them from worrying so much about the spelling. This is definitely an area you want to help them improve, but try and keep it separate from their story writing. Jackie French is the Australia National Children’s Laureate for 2014 and 2015. She’s the author of over 100 wonderful books, and she also has dyslexia. She is living proof that one of the most important qualities you need to be a writer is to be a storyteller.

10.  Endings are hard and many young writers don’t complete their stories before moving on to the next one – this is perfectly normal. Have realistic expectations. Writing endings is one of the hardest parts of creating a story. It’s something that writers often find difficult into their teens and even adulthood.  Particularly when writers are young, they are exploring where the story is going rather than planning it so it might not have an ending – and it doesn’t matter. I started writing novels when I was about nine.  There were boxes full of my half finished stories at my parents’ house. They were experiments – me learning to be a writer.  Allow your young writer to explore their creativity without pressure. There is no right or wrong way to be a writer.

If you have keen writers in your house or at your school, look for ways to help them get published – through school blogs or newsletters, or holding a writing competition at school. Find out more about hosting a writing competition here.  If your school wants to run a writing competition, I’m happy to donate prizes.

I also run online writing classes for kids who love to write. Lesson plans that you can use in your classroom are available here.

I hope you found these tips helpful. If you have any additional tips, please feel free to share them in the comments section of this post.

Happy writing:)



Peas in A Pod – Picture Book Collaboration

Peas in a Pod is the latest quirky offering from talented writer/illustrator team, Tania McCartney and Tina Snerling.

Tania and Tina have created a harmony of colour and words, and they’re visiting today with their great tips on Picture Book Collaboration.


Pippa, Pia, Poppy, Polly and Peg are very cute little quintuplets who do everything the same … eat, sleep, cry and sit … everything.  But one day the girls decide that they don’t like being the same.

FINAL COVERPeas in a Pod is a beautiful story that incorporates the closeness of siblings with the need to be an individual within that relationship.

It’s about finding your place in the world, and even though well meaning people (parents in this case) might encourage you to conform in order to fit in, it’s okay to be different. People are not the same, even when they look quite similar as in the case of Pippa, Pia, Poppy, Polly and Peg.

We are generally encouraged to conform because it suits someone else, but it’s not always the best thing for us as individuals, and that’s one of the reasons why I can see adults really loving Peas in a Pod too.

I love the gentle humour in the text and the way the vibrant illustrations lead young readers through the story, encouraging them make a stand, to be who they are, to be who they want to be.

I like the way the text doesn’t talk down to the reader, and the author uses some more complex words that add interest and inspire the reader to explore vocabulary. The illustrator’s use of colour and action tell a story that wonderfully complements the text.

Peas in a Pod is for readers aged 3-7. It is published by EK Books, and Teachers Notes are available.

Tania McCartney’s Five Tips on Collaborating with an Illustrator 

Authors and illustrators don’t always have the opportunity to work in close collaboration, so I feel really fortunate to be able to work with Tina directly on our books. I think it brings a seamlessness, a cohesion and that extra special something to the work we produce. If you’re going to have the privilege of working closely with an illustrator, lucky you! Here are my tips on how to make the collaboration shine.

  1. Tania headshot IBe willing to give your illustrator creative licence. Don’t be too precious about your text or how things should look. I’ve many times changed my text to suit the creative ideas of an illustrator—and the book has been all the better for it. I’ve also been more than delighted with illustrator interpretation—which is almost always even better than what I had in my head.
  2. Ensure open communication. While creative licence is good, illustrations also need to reflect story meaning and nuance. Most of the time, an illustrator will reflect text really well but occasionally something might be missed or misinterpreted. Or, as in my point above, it might even be improved upon! So communicate openly and well—and don’t be afraid to speak up if something needs tweaking.
  3. Tweaking, especially if illustrations are hand-rendered, is no mean feat. It can take hours or even days to redo something, so this is why keeping on top of communications is key and why you should only insist on changes if they’re absolutely central to the story. You could also ask your illustrator to show you images as they go along, to save on the possibility of any changes down the track. Once illos are complete, changing things at whim or for personal preference is just not on—it’s too much to ask of any illustrator.
  4. If you haven’t worked with this illustrator before, consider asking them for drafts so you can agree on a certain characterisation or scene. As you work with them more and as the book unfolds, you’ll more than likely find no need for any type of draft. Things become sort of organic.
  5. Give feedback and encouragement. It’s difficult for an illustrator to know they’re on track or that you’re liking their work if you say nothing. All illustrators want their authors to love their work! so giving feedback is a great way to open the dialogue and encourage a wonderful collaborative experience.

Tina Snerling’s Five Tips on Collaborating with an Author

Tina Snerling 360px1. Communication, communication, communication. This is key to a smooth and enjoyable collaboration. I understand many other illustrators communicate directly with their Editor/Publisher, but my daily communication is with the Author until our Editor becomes involved once drafts are completed. Tania and I can email up to 50 times a day discussing illustrations for a page!
2. Be open to feedback. This is a given for any Illustrator, but also an important point to remember when working with an Author as they may not always agree with your interpretation.
3. Understand your Authors own style. Having worked with Tania on numerous collaborations, I understand her style, and what my illustrations can do to enhance her words. If you are embarking on a new Author/Illustrator relationship, research the Author and understand their style to ensure your illustrations represent the Authors work in a way you both love.
4. Get a comprehensive understanding of the Authors intentions. As an Illustrator, it is my responsibility to portray the unwritten word, by discussing the manuscript in detail first with the Author, you can gain a deeper understanding of their words – this in turn ensures you represent the book cohesively.
5. Don’t be afraid to add your own flair. I love to take Tania’s words and add my own personal touches. Sometimes I can interpret the Author’s words in a way the Author may not have imagined, but they love it all the same – that is the magic of working in a collaboration!




Run A Writing Competition For Kids at Your School and I’ll Donate Prizes

Writing competitions are a great way to encourage kids who love to write.

If you hold a writing competition at your school, I’d be happy to donate a free e-book on writing for up to 10 prize winners.


Running a writing competition is easy.  Just follow the simple steps below:

1. Decide on age categories, story length and theme – (it could be something to fit with the current curriculum).

2. Decide when you will run it – term breaks and school holidays could be a good time.

3.  Ask your local newsagent, book store or stationers if they are willing to donate prizes.

4.  Advertise your competition around the school, at the library and in classrooms. You can use the flier below if you like – just fill in the gaps for your competition.

Writing Competition Flier

5.  If you don’t have time to read the stories yourself, ask for willing parent or other community helpers.

6.  Get the readers to shortlist the entries and decide on the winners.

7.  Present winner’s certificates and prizes at assembly.

8.  Publish winning stories to your school blog or in your newsletter if you have one.

If you have any questions on how to run your competition, include them in the comments section of this post.  Good luck with your writing competition:)




Applying for A Grant

Rachel Bradbury has asked me to post about applying for a grant.

Being funded to write a project is every writer’s dream, but unfortunately, arts grants are few and far between so competition is fierce.

Here are my tips on how to apply for arts funding.


  1. Show your passion for your project.
  2. Demonstrate strong reasons why you chose this project and why you are the person to write it – what’s your connection to the subject matter?
  3. Provide strong reasons for why you are doing this project, why now?
  4. Speak with enthusiasm.
  5. Outline where you are in your career and how this project will help your professional development as a writer.
  6. Talk about stylistic devices you are using and why.
  7. Show how your project will benefit others. What impact will this project have on the literary landscape – if it’s groundbreaking – say so. Why this form and not another?
  8. Clearly explain what you are trying to achieve?
  9. Have a clear rationale, clear goals and a clear plan for your project.
  10. Identify what challenges this project will present, and how will you overcome them?
  11. If at first you don’t succeed, keep applying. Some people don’t receive funding until their second and third attempt.
  12. Always read and follow submission guidelines carefully.

Writing Outside Your Comfort Zone – And ‘On Track’ With Kathryn Apel

Kathryn ApelMy dear writing friend, Kathryn Apel’s second verse novel for children, On Track has just been released by UQP.

On Track is the story of two brothers trying to find their place in the world and within their own family.

Toby struggles at school, has a stumbly, fumbly, bumbly body and thinks that Sports Day is the worst day of the year. No matter how hard he tries, he’s not good at anything … except running away from his ‘big, better brother’.

Shaun is top of his class in every subject and he can’t wait for Sports Day so he can beat the record in discus. But when his ‘joke of a brother’ is around, nobody notices the things Shaun can do.

Kathryn says it was important for her to write this book because kids are all different. She has found from her experiences in the classroom, as a mum, and in her own life, that kids are often misunderstood, that people don’t always ‘get’ that every kid has a backstory, they are the way they are for reasons that are often beyond their control.

Why a verse novel?

Although she says that writing verse novels makes her feel vulnerable, Kathryn says that they allow her to really step into characters, step into their shoes and be them.

The journey to publication

bullycoverI started my ‘verse novel about training’ (as it was called for many years!) 6yrs ago, but it was only 140 words when I put it aside the first time… and then had my epiphany with Bully on the Bus…

In April 2010 On Track grew to 650words… so of course I got a bit intimidated and had to walk away again. By September 2011 it was 5639words. And so you get the picture. (I write slowly…)

The way I write is to mull things over and polish, polish, polish as I go.

The shape of a story in verse lends itself to this, although I know many would say that you should write… and then edit… separately. (I’m curious to try this one day – if I can put my perfectionism aside.)

The finished book is more than 17,000words – with about 5000 of those words written in three months during the editorial process, as a result of restructure, and subsequent character development.

final-on-track-cover-smallWhat was the hardest thing about writing On Track?

The whole plot structure. There were things I knew I needed to put in there, but I didn’t always know where or how best to sequence them. My editor helped with restructure and that’s when the extra 5,000 words came in. It felt like they were big shifts at the time, but they weren’t really. Though they definitely improved the story.

The hardest thing was that point when it was all in pieces – when I knew my manuscript could never go back to the way it was, but I wondered if I would ever be able to pull it all together again!

What was the most rewarding thing about your writing journey with On Track?

When my editor read the final manuscript and was sobbing at the end. Even though she had worked on the manuscript for so long and knew it so well, she was still swept along, and moved by the ending.

When you start to hear the feedback and people have ‘got’ the story and are more into it than you thought they could be, that’s pretty amazing.

Initially a picture book writer, Kathryn says that at first, writing novels was extremely daunting.

She shares her experiences and tips for getting writers out of their comfort zone.


  1. Read a lot in the genre you plan to write. I immersed myself in verse novels. I loved reading them. It was such a rich experience. Reading verse novels really made me want to try writing one.
  2. Have a go. Pick up the pen and put something on paper.
  3. Actually play with the words.  Takes some risks with words and placement. Make them say more than what the word actually represents.
  4. It’s okay to freak out. Panic and walking away is okay. You still have those words to come back to. Sometimes when you pull it out again you surprise yourself with what you have done and you know it for what it is, not what you thought it was when you panicked.
  5. Share things. I tweet a lot when I’m writing. I find it helps a lot to share my word count, and how and when I have pushed through barriers and things are finally falling into place.

Monthly Manuscript Makeover – The Lost Girl

Thanks to Rachel Bradbury who has submitted the prologue of her mystery thriller, The Lost Girl for the Monthly Manuscript Makeover.

She has asked for advice about making the start of her novel sizzle – and Rachel also wants to know if she has used the correct tense.

The Lost Girl is a Mystery thriller.

Here’s Rachel’s excerpt:

Amber rubs the tiny bump at the base of her skull.  A sharp pain immobilises her and strange images flash through her mind. She stops to rest for a bit, leaning her head against the cool tiles.  In the dim-lit hallway, she runs her hands across the walls, feeling her way along, not knowing where she is going.  All the walls are the same; white.  There are no decorations or pictures to give her any clues as to which section of the building she is in.  She hates this place, but she cannot leave.  Not yet.  Not until she finds her baby.  Amber wipes a tear away from her eye and continues down the hallway.

She is barefoot and the tiles beneath her feet are freezing.  There are no windows or doors, yet she feels a cold draught seeping in from somewhere.   Shivering, Amber wraps her arms around her body, the flimsy white gown doing nothing to protect her from the cold.

She stops momentarily and looks further down the hallway.  The never-ending tunnel of darkness, symbolises her life.  A life of shuffling from room to room in a trance, unaware of time; her days and nights combined into one big hole of nothingness.


Rachel, I think the tense you have used is fine. There are already some great hooks in the start of this piece. My comments mainly relate to clarifying things for the reader and tightening the text.

You also give us a good sense of your character, by being specific with some of the details, you will give us even more insights into her world. You raise a lot of questions that will intrigue the reader and make them want to keep reading.

Something else you might want to think about – does this really need to be a prologue or is it actually part of the story? Particularly as you mentioned to me that there will be flashbacks in this novel, you might not need a prologue.

A prologue shows a distinct situation in time, place or character that the reader won’t experience anywhere else in the novel. It has to have a really strong reason for being there. Ask yourself, would this work just as well as a chapter?

A prologue is necessary where it’s not possible to incorporate the information in the main body of the story.

When writing the start of a novel, you also need to consider its place in the story. Does the start give the reader enough of a feeling for the tone, the character, the story problem and possible themes?


Amber rubs the tiny bump at the base of her skull.  A sharp pain immobilises her and strange images flash through her mind.

Rachel, I’d really like to know what these images are – they would give me more clues to her circumstances and her character.

She stops to rest for a bit (Don’t think you need ‘for a bit’), leaning her head against the cool tiles.

In the dim-lit hallway, she runs her hands across the walls, feeling her way along, not knowing where she is going.   (If it’s so dim, can she see what colour the walls are? Having her feel her way along makes it seem as if she can’t see well enough to know what colour they are. Also, the fact that she is feeling her way tells the reader that she doesn’t really know where she is going.)

All the walls are the same; white.  There are no decorations or pictures to give her any clues as to which section of the building she is in.  She hates this place, but she cannot leave.  Not yet.  Not until she finds her baby.  Amber wipes a tear away from her eye (Do you need this action? It takes away some of the impact from your very powerful line, “Not until she finds her baby.”) and continues down the hallway. (Can you think of a stronger verb here? ‘continues’ doesn’t have a sense of urgency, yet if she is looking for her baby, she might be more frantic.

She is barefoot and the tiles beneath her feet are freezing.  (Could tighten this up with, “She is barefoot and the floor tiles are freezing.)

There are no windows or doors, yet she feels (Not sure you need to say, ‘she feels’. This piece is written from your character’s point of view so the reader knows that she is the one feeling it.) a cold draught seeping in from somewhere.   Shivering, Amber wraps her arms around her body, the flimsy white gown doing nothing to protect her from the cold.

She stops momentarily and looks (Can you think of a stronger verb here, perhaps “peers”?) further down the hallway.

The never-ending tunnel of darkness, ( I think I know what you are trying to say here, and I like the analogy, but if the tunnel is dark, I’m not sure she’d be able to see that the walls are white – and also, you said earlier that it was ‘dimly lit’, which isn’t quite the same thing.) symbolises her life.  A life of shuffling from room to room in a trance, unaware of time; her days and nights combined into one big hole of nothingness.  (This could be more powerful if you were more specific – perhaps talk about the grief she feels at the loss of this child she is looking for. You could use some really strong imagery here.)

Rachel, thanks for sharing your story with my blog readers. I hope you found my suggestions helpful and I look forward to hearing how you progress.

If you have suggestions or feedback for Rachel, please feel free to leave them in the comments section of this post.

Happy writing:)



If you’d like to get some feedback on an excerpt of your manuscript, Here’s what you have to do.

  1. Send me 200 words of the manuscript with your question or outline of what you need help with OR
  1. Alternatively, you can just send me the writing question itself. For example, “My main character isn’t very likeable, what can I do about it?”

Email your 200 word writing piece or your question or both, together with a paragraph about yourself and a paragraph about your work in progress.

Also, if you’d like to see a blog post about a particular topic, please feel free to make suggestions.

Email to dee*at*deescribe*dot*com*dot*au

On 9th June I’ll be responding to a request from Rachel, doing a blog post on Applying for Funding.



Clear the Decks to Inspire Creativity

IMAG8601Some people might see tidying up as procrastination to delay starting that new project, but I find that if I’m embarking on a new work I need to clean my workspace, and file away old ideas, old manuscripts.

As Jeff Goins says on his Writer’s blog.

“The mess is not inevitable. It is not cute or idiosyncratic. It is a foe, and it is killing your art.”

I am not a tidy person by nature, so cleaning up is a conscious decision by me to focus on a new work. It’s a symbol of my intent, but it’s also a way of narrowing my field of view – eliminating distractions.

I’m often tempted to leap into a new project, can’t wait to get started, but I find a life planning day is just as important as planning what will happen in my story.

And the two are often interconnected. While I’m decluttering the physical environment around me, I often find it helps to declutter my brain. I’m not a big fan of housework – it’s a necessary evil.

But sometimes the lapping of soapy dishwater around my hands can bring on a wave of new ideas for my new story, can transport me to a different world.



Here are my tips for freeing up your creative space and mind so you can launch whole-heartedly into that new project.

1, Tidy up your creative space and put away the things that aren’t relevant to your new project.

2.  Clear a wall space for your plot planner, or any pictures you might want to display that are relevant to your story..

'Game On' Plot Planner

‘Game On’ Plot Planner

3.  Clear the desktop on your computer – and make a new folder so that everything relating to your new project can be clearly filed away and easily found later. Put a footer on your manuscript that’s the same as the file name – and date it – e.g. ‘May 2015′ and this will help you find it later. It mightn’t seem important now, but if you don’t do this, ten drafts into the story, you could be tearing your hair out.

4. Tidy your house surrounds so you can’t use ‘cleaning up’ as an excuse for procrastination.

5. Take a long walk and clear your mind in readiness to embark on that new project.

6. Eliminate electronic distractions.

7. Eliminate social media distractions.

8. If you find it difficult to work on the computer and not be distracted, then write your first draft long hand. I have started doing this anyway as I find it really helps me to immerse myself in my story.

9. Use ‘Do not disturb’ signs or whatever it takes to let other members of your household know that you are seriously writing :). (It might take them a while to get into the habit of taking this seriously, but it’s worth persevering.)

10. Do not answer the phone  (unless you’re expecting an urgent call) – that’s what we have answering machines for. And people can always ring back. In the days before mobile phones, people had to ‘wait’ for you to respond. You don’t have to respond to everything straight away.

If your current work in progress has stalled or you have writer’s block, you might find that decluttering your work environment can help declutter your mind and get you going again.

I’d love to hear your comments on how you ‘clear the decks’ in preparation for a new project.

Happy writing:)