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2015-16 Short Story Contest Winners Announced

Winners CollageWe are very excited to announce the winners of the 2015-16 Alpha Textbooks Short Story Contest.

The art of writing fiction is a challenge that takes years to master, and everyone who submitted is on their way there. The team at Alpha Textbooks offers BIG congratulations to all the young writers who rose to the challenge and submitted their work. It takes a lot of courage and craftiness to write fiction. You all did a great job.

There was some stiff competition! We received story submissions from 200 students in nine school boards and 14 private schools. Entries came in from as far north as Thunder Bay, right through the province and down into southwestern Ontario, in Hamilton and the Niagara regions.

First place winner in the middle school category is Nathan Nambiar, a grade seven student in Mississauga, for his touching story about a boy who remembers his deceased father through images found on an old smart phone. Nambiar was closely followed by Katrina Lefebvre, “Futuristic Jeopardy,” and Anika Tan, “Red Button.”

First place winner in the high school category was Laura Collie, for her story, “The Wall” – a telling narrative about the complicated and fraught relationship between a mother and daughter in the face of cancer. Collie was followed closely by Kay Wu, “Innocence: A Story,” and Abby Traina, “The City’s Secret Glass.”

Visit the contest website for winner photos and bios.

First place winners will be re-working their stories for publication in the Claremont Review, they also receive four passes to the AGO or Medieval Times (depending on their category), and two ROM passes. Second place winners receive two passes to the ROM, plus two movie passes; third place winners are also going to the ROM.

We want to thank the contest’s generous sponsors including the Claremont Review, the Art Gallery of Ontario, Medieval Times, the Royal Ontario Museum, Pizza Pizza, and a private donor (who wishes to remain anonymous) for the Cineplex passes.

These great sponsors helped make the contest a success. They helped enrich the lives of young people across the province.

We want to offer another big applause to all the schools from where students submitted and/or teachers participated. You are obviously doing a great job.

Congratulations goes out to Bishop Strachan School, Blyth Academy, Brantford Collegiate Institute, Great Lakes Christian High School, Greenwood College, Hagersville Elementary, Hillfield Strathallan College, Hudson College, Lasalle Secondary School, MacLachlan College, Maitland River Elementary School, Marymount Academy, Newton’s Grove School, North Toronto Christian School, Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Mercy School, Pretty River Academy, St. Charles Garnier, St. Edmund Campion, St. Elizabeth Seton School, St. Gerard Catholic Separate School, St. Gertrude, St. Joan of Arc Catholic Secondary School, St. Luke Catholic School, St. Mark, St. Mildred’s Lightbourn School, St. Patrick High School, Statford Northwestern Secondary School, Sterling Hall, The Country Day School, University of Toronto Schools, and Westmount Secondary School.

A raffle for four more AGO passes will be held next week, that will include the shortlisted students and the second runners-up.


the Claremont Review’s Annual Writing & Art Contest is on

Last fall, we teamed up with the Claremont Review (tCR) an international magazine for young writers based out of Victoria, BC. tCR generously helped out the 2015-16 Alpha Textbooks Short Story Contest, by offering a space for our winners to be published in the journal. Judging for our contest is in the final stages, but tCR has a great contest of its own.tCR 2016 poster

tCRs Annual Writing & Art Contest is open to teens (13-19) anywhere in the world. Not only are winners published, but they are awarded a handy sum of cash too. Jody Carrow, tCR editor-in-chief, told Alpha Textbooks “just this year [they] doubled the prize money, which makes the amounts very significant[,] $1000 for first” place, and a new $500 prize for visual arts. Second and third place young writers get $600 and $400 respectively. Winners are selected in both poetry and fiction categories.

Carrow mentions that the magazine receives entries from all over the world. Winners have come from Canada and the United States up until now, but she “expects that to change as [they] get more entries from youth around the world (Korea, Vietnam, India, the UK, Columbia, etc.).” The stories are kept anonymous throughout the judging process to keep the contest results free of bias.

When it comes to the volume of contest entries, Carrow says that she finds herself “in awe of how many young people still want to write”:

I am continuously amazed by the range of unique perspectives on age-old topics such as love, loss, identity, what makes a meaningful existence, relationships, the future…

To read so many heartfelt explorations of the human condition gives me hope for our collective future (even when, actually, ESPECIALLY when the writing is dark) because the act of writing means one hasn’t given up; it means that people still care to grapple with this great, messy, glorious event called Life.

What sets tCR apart from other magazines is that it offers feedback or mentorship to all youth who submit to the magazine. Unfortunately, because of the sheer volume of contest entries, the magazine editors cannot offer feedback on contest submissions. However, young writers are invited to rework their stories or poems and resubmit for general publication, or they can try submitting a totally different piece. Even if the works-in-progress aren’t published, the feedback process helps youths become better writers, bringing them one step closer to their goal.

Mentorship and feedback is essential to the longevity and quality of a young writer’s experience not only because when they take the time to read and consider it they become better writers, but the exchange creates a relationship that is always available to them. Our editors are committed to remaining mentors for young writers long after the initial exchange of feedback. Anyone who sends us work will get feedback from us and the writers/artists know they can write to us anytime with questions or concerns they have.

The contest deadline is March 15, 2016. Visit the Claremont Review‘s contest page for more details.

Read Alpha’s full interview with Jody Carrow.


the Claremont Review, along with the generous support of the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Royal Ontario Museum, Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament, and Pizza Pizza, made the Alpha Textbooks 2015-16 Short Story Contest possible. Thank you.

Heartfelt explorations of the human condition… Jody Carrow speaks about youth writing

Claremont cover“… the act of writing means one hasn’t given up; it means that people still care to grapple with this great, messy, glorious event called Life. The fact that so many youth are choosing this method of making sense of the world means that they care deeply about the world they inhabit and want to share their perspectives on it.” ~ Jody Carrow

Nearly a quarter of a century old, the Claremont Review (tCR) is a journal that has come-of-age while publishing writers who are coming-of-age. As an international journal, the Canadian magazine publishes youth writing (ages 13-19) in English from five continents.

What separates the tCR from other journals is that it offers a rare, if not coveted, submission experience – the editors offer feedback: “All submissions accompanied by an email address receive a written comment on their work,” says the magazine’s website.

tCR also runs an annual contest. Not only are winners published in the magazine, but winners are offered generous monetary prizes. The 2016 first place winner is awarded $1000 CAD, second place receives $600, and third receives $400. Winners are selected in both poetry and fiction categories. There’s also one visual art prize of $500.

We spoke to Jody Carrow, Canadian writer and the editor-in-chief of tCR. Carrow offers an insightful understanding of youth writing, and the importance of nurturing and celebrating it.

jody carrowJody Carrow’s work has appeared in several Canadian literary magazines, including Grain and The Malahat Review (under her spy name: Jody Lesiuk). She has been a featured reader at many poetry events in Victoria, B.C., and is a graduate of the Creative Writing Program at the University of Victoria. As editor-in-chief at tCR, she is thrilled to work with skilled young writers and artists from all over the world.

This is what she had to say about youth writing and the contest:


Q: How long have you been volunteering at the Claremont Review as editor-in-chief and overall?

A: I have been with tCR for almost 4 years. I began as editor-in-chief and remain in that role. I am supported by an incredible team – Shannon Horlor, Leah Baade, Erin Renwick and Emily Henderson.


What inspired you to join the tCR?

Susan Stenson, a Victoria poet and co-founder of tCR, asked me if I would consider taking over the magazine as she, along with the other co-founders Terence Young and Bill Stenson, were looking to retire. They had been with the magazine for over 20 years and were looking to move on. I was very interested in the project because I love editing and the chance to be involved with a publication was a challenge I was keen to take on. My mind was virtually made up before I had even read any previous issues, but then when I actually read some back issues, I got really excited about what the pages held. I could not believe the quality of the writing – it far exceeded my expectations for youth literature (I am now humbled to admit). The writers became the inspiration for me.


How long as the Annual Writing Contest been running?

I believe there has always been a contest but just this year we doubled the prize money, which makes the amounts very significant ($1000.00 for 1st!) and added a first prize ($500.00) for visual arts.


What’s the contest vetting process like?

The process is a lengthy one as we get so many submissions and each one has to be read and considered. In the past I have done the shortlisting, but this year some of the editors will assist with that process. There is always a pile of obvious considerations, then a pile of maybes, and a pile of ones that don’t make the cut. The “maybe” pile is always the biggest and I return to it several times before making the final decision on what work goes to the judges. The shortlisting is a blind process, the cover letters are separated from the work before I even take a look at it to ensure no bias affects my decision making. Once there is a collection of work finalised in each category, we then send the work to the judges. We always have 2 judges in each category and have always managed to secure esteemed and successful writers to decide the winners. In the past we have had Melanie Siebert, Garth Martens, Ali Blythe, Jay Ruzesky, Hal Walling, Aaron Shephard, Susan Gee, Beth Copeland…this year’s judges are just being confirmed.


What’s your favourite part of the process (contest)?

My favourite part is the initial read through. Every year I find myself in awe of how many young people still want to write and take the time and effort to send us their work. I am continuously amazed by the range of unique perspectives on age-old topics such as love, loss, identity, what makes a meaningful existence, relationships, the future…

To read so many heartfelt explorations of the human condition gives me hope for our collective future (even when, actually, ESPECIALLY when the writing is dark) because the act of writing means one hasn’t given up; it means that people still care to grapple with this great, messy, glorious event called Life. The fact that so many youth are choosing this method of making sense of the world means that they care deeply about the world they inhabit and want to share their perspectives on it. This subverts the stereotype that youth don’t care about anything, that all that matters to them is the shallow surface of their lives. tCR proves how wrong anyone who assumes this is. The magazine (and others like it) gives us a glimpse into the future by showing us what matters to our youth. Anyone who doesn’t take the time to “check in” with this demographic by valuing and paying attention to their art has no idea what is going on or where the future is headed. Critics should be paying attention, social scientists should be reading us, political and spiritual leaders ought to know what is in our pages. The Canada Council for the Arts has been a huge proponent of what we do because they see the value in investing in a publication that showcases the talent of young writers and artists from Canada and around the world.


Are the winners generally from Canada, or have you had any international winners?

Both. We have winners from Canada in every contest and have had several from America. No one outside North America has won a prize yet, but I expect that to change as we get more and more entries from youth around the world (Korea, Vietnam, India, the UK, Colombia, etc.)


How do you think mentorship and feedback changes a young writer’s experience?

Mentorship and feedback is essential to the longevity and quality of a young writer’s experience not only because when they take the time to read and consider it they become better writers, but the exchange creates a relationship that is always available to them. Our editors are committed to remaining mentors for young writers long after the initial exchange of feedback. Anyone who sends us work will get feedback from us and the writers/artists know they can write to us anytime with questions or concerns they have.

It is very hard to have your work rejected. Adults struggle with it and I think it is especially difficult for young writers because they are that much more vulnerable to public opinion. This is why we give detailed feedback to every submitter (except for the contest entries) – we want them to know what is really great about their writing (and there is always something) and where it needs some work. This is done in the gentlest way possible while still giving them a taste of what the world of trying to publish looks like. We often hear back from youth who have given a piece another go and want us to take another look at it, or who have just even taken the time to write back and thank us for the feedback. We have a lot of repeat submitters, not all of whom have been published, so that gives us assurance that our feedback is useful and respectful. Something that builds writers up rather than tears them down.


In which countries is tCR distributed?

Magazines Canada distributes tCR in Canada and I believe the US. We get subscriptions from all around the world and handle those ourselves.


Have there been any future success stories of writers who were former contest winners or who got their career started at tCR?

Many, many writers who have published in tCR have gone on to become successful writers, filmmakers, poets, editors, etc.


Do you offer any special programs that writers, teachers or schools should know about?

In or around Victoria, BC where we are based, we offer free writing workshops and lectures to any class at the middle and high school level. We will travel to any school outside our region who would be willing to have us at their expense.


Is there anything else you would like to add?

Yes, thank you. I would like to ask parents, teachers, relatives and elders to encourage creative expression in the youth they are privileged to know. Don’t be afraid of what they want to say or show you with their art – see it for what it is: a statement or comment on life from someone who cares deeply about it and an opportunity for you to connect with them in a real way about what may be going on in their lives. Don’t worry about them necessarily because their topic is dark or disturbing. It may be hard to read a poem about rape or a story about mental illness or suicide, or look at a painting depicting a dystopian violent world created by your son/daughter/student. Read it anyway. Look at it no matter what and find some way of celebrating the courage it took them to not only create it, but share it with you. Find a way to talk to them about their work in a way that is supportive. You will lose them if you don’t. The time to worry is when they stop creating, stop opening up, stop wanting to grapple with life, not when they’re messy with it and reaching out!



Get Celestial Writing Advice: 2014 Short Story Contest Winner Celestial Santiago Shares a Story on Writing a Short Story

It’s the middle of the first month back at school. The 2015 Alpha Textbooks Short Story Contest is well underway. Many students are thinking about how to write a compelling story with the hope of getting published. For young writers, developing a creative, but structured short story that has engaging characters and zero spelling or grammar errors might be easier said than done. That’s why we’re here to help. We spoke to Celestial Santiago, winner of the 2014 Short Story Contest high school category and would like to share her experience with you.

Celestial, 2014 Short Story Contest high school category winner

Celestial Santiago entered the contest in grade 12 through her Writer’s Craft teacher. The contest was intended as a minor assignment that exercised students’ creativity in writing, but it also helped Santiago hone her skills as a writer.

Every writer experiences the dreaded writer’s block, and as a young writer Santiago is no stranger to it. She faced that challenge almost immediately, during the story planning stage. Her mind was preoccupied with many different things, so it was hard to create something out of thin-air. Santiago recalls staring at a blank document for hours with little success. She then relied on her teacher’s advice for conquering writer’s block: write about your experience or something else you know.

“At the time, I was in my own jungle of thoughts and emotions about university applications and portfolios,” says Santiago. “So I decided the easiest story to write was something I knew the most about, and that was the feeling of growing up.”

Once Santiago overcame what she describes as the hectic brainstorm, the writing process was less challenging than she anticipated.

Celestial’s story “It Takes One to Know One” takes readers on a journey with a first year university student on her first day. Santiago – in high school at the time of writing the story –draws upon her own experiences of feelings of uncertainty, nervousness, excitement being overwhelmed and that all-too-common experience of not knowing where you are supposed to go on your first day of university, as her narrator makes the transition from high school.

“Everything in the story is related to my personal emotions and concerns about my first day of university,” says Santiago talking about character development. “From trying to fit in a new environment to reminiscing about the old one, [the] character based off [me].”

But writing the story wasn’t a solo ride for Santiago. She found inspiration outside of herself too, with the help of friends and peers. In the original draft, Celestial’s character is unable to belong. She is left alienated and alone. During the revision process, Celestial’s peer pointed out the inaccuracy of the story’s ending in relation to what can happen at university. Inspired by the suggestion, Santiago produced a more hopeful ending – despite the character’s wildest fears and perception of reality, the first day of school turned out not to be so bleak after all.

Echoing a sentiment shared in a previous post, an interview with Canadian author Alex Leslie, Santiago advises that especially during the initial stage of story writing – in a writer’s early years – it’s important for young writers to remember their voice matters, and that it can be a part of the conversation of other and even great works of literature.

To jog her inspiration, Santiago would look at other literature. She recalls her own feelings of doubt and intimidation after reading great pieces. “Prior to an assignment of any sort,” she said, “I always find myself online looking at how other writers write. I would spend hours reading amazing articles or short stories, and then begin to doubt my own abilities and creativity. As a result, I started to alter my own writing to fit another person’s voice.”

Realizing that you can still be original while allowing yourself to be influenced or inspired by other writers was a great learning experience. Santiago encourages students to find inspiration from external resources, but reminds them not to be intimidated when stumbling upon great work. Most importantly she says, “Take the opportunity to show the reader who you are.”

Like Edgar Rice Burro said, “If you write one story, it may be bad; if you write a hundred, you have the odds in your favour.”

Tell us about your experience writing your first short story!

7 Steps for Effective Short Story Writing

Startup Stock Photos

School is back in full swing. Forget Snapchat. There’s no better time to break-out the keyboard and write a story. Our Short Story Contest is officially open to all middle school and high school students in Ontario.

Writing fiction can be tough for both established and aspiring writers. Here are seven short story writing steps to help you write your first masterpiece.

  1. Start with Brainstorming

It’s always important to brainstorm before bringing a creative writing piece to life. Brainstorming helps you think through different story ideas and narrative threads. It allows you to think about many possible storylines and alternative outcomes. Brainstorming is also a good time to take notes on other story components, such as characters, themes, tropes and symbolism, title, etc.

  1. Pick a Good Title

Just as important as the first paragraph of your story, titles can “make or break” a reader’s interest. If you know what you want your story to be titled at the beginning, that’s great! But don’t be afraid to change it after the story is written. Many great stories had different working titles than what they were finally named.

You can take different approaches to deciding on a title. Titles can be symbolic and related to a theme; for example, Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises is a story about Americans in Spain, their complicated relationships and the running of the bulls. Literal and/or ironic titles might sound something like Flannery O’Connor’s short story “Good Country People.” You can also create a descriptive title, such as The Hunger Games.

Decide what kind of title is good for your story once it’s written. If you can’t think of one early on, avoid getting stumped by just moving ahead with writing the story.

  1. Think about Structure

Before you begin, think about the structure of your story. Decide if your story will be a first or third person narration. The “first person” tells a story that is happening to him or her. This is when you use the “I” pronoun. The “third person” narrates a story about other people. This is when you refer to all characters by their name or use a “he” or “she” pronoun, even for the main character.

Structure your story with a beginning, middle and end. Here’s what to include in the structure:

  • The beginning: introduce your character(s), and introduce the protagonist’s struggle or conflict. Try to evoke emotion from readers – make them laugh, smile or feel sad for your characters. Write the beginning with your story’s end in mind. Start to build a crisis.
  • The middle: develop the plot and action. This is where the crisis becomes clear. A crisis can be personal or private, it can also affect a group of people or be public. It can be multiple things. Be selective with what you include in your story; show what’s important, you don’t need to show it all. And always create some form of suspense.
  • The end: end the narrative with triumph or tragedy. Does the protagonist rise or fall? Are desires satisfied or is all lost? This is when readers find out the outcome of the main character’s challenge. Delivering a resolution makes the story satisfying for the readers.
  1. Write the First Paragraph

Just like other types of writing, you want to hook the readers early. You can do that in short story writing by creating a clear scene (i.e. story setting). What is your story’s setting? Determine a time and place for your story, incorporate that into the narrative in the first paragraph.

Introduce your characters early. Try not to overwhelm your 500-750 word story with too many characters (keep it down to 1-3 characters); after all it is a short story not a novel. Also, keep your story simple, cut to the chase and make sure that one of your characters is a protagonist.

  1. Write Characters

The protagonist is your main character. Prior to writing your story, know your character(s) well. Answer questions about your characters, even if you don’t include the answers in the story. Are they shy or extroverted? What do they love? What do they fear? Think about all the things that make up a person’s personality and keep those things in mind when your character says things and makes decisions.

Your characters can be “good” or “bad,” whatever they are, your reader will want want to root for them. Give readers a clear idea of the protagonist’s burning desire; what does he or she want? Every character should have a desire for something. Those desires could be similar, but they are probably different. Every character should also speak differently, at least a little differently. You want each of your characters to have their own voice. So think about the vocabulary and tone of each character.

  1. Establish a Narrative Tone

You want to establish your story’s tone early on, too. Is it dark or light? Humorous or serious? Use language that feels right for your story, and avoid using clichés. Instead look for interesting and new ways of saying something.

  1. Edit

Edit, edit and edit some more. Every great piece of literature undergoes revisions. Once you are done writing your story, take a break from it for a couple of days. Visit it again with fresh eyes.

When editing, pay attention to sentence structure, word choice (is it using the right words, or are there better ones?) and review all the story elements. Checking spelling goes without saying.

Ask a friend or family member to read the story. Be open to their comments or suggestions. You can always decide not to take their suggestions, but they might have an eye for something you didn’t see.


Like any art, skill, or even sport, great writing comes with practice – and editing. The best thing to do is to try. It’s that easy. Get it out. Find your voice. Don’t dwell on perfection in the early stages. You can always go back and change things once your ideas are on paper or the screen.

When writing characters, tone or narrative-arc, or even in your editing, one rule of thumb is show, don’t tell. How do you plan that?

Now the only thing left to do is sit down and write! We wish you the best of luck in the contest. Happy writing!

Have you read all this, but you can’t seem to get the ideas out? Check out our post about how to tackle writer’s block.

Canadian author Alex Leslie talks about what’s important in writing


The 2015 Alpha Textbooks Short Story Contest officially launches today. It’s an opportunity for Ontario teens to share their work with peers, but also to get published in the Claremont Review, an international journal for young writers.

We love youth fiction at Alpha Textbooks, and we’re stoked about receiving all the great entries. If you plan on submitting, we hope to equip you with guidance and encouragement.

AlexLeslieWe asked Canadian author Alex Leslie about her experience as a young writer. Leslie shared valuable insight and great writing tips that we think will aid and inspire students as they write their stories for the contest. Take a look at her responses below.

Alex Leslie lives in Vancouver, British Columbia. Her first collection of short stories, People Who Disappear (2012, Freehand Books), was a finalist for the 2013 ReLit Award for Short Stories and the Lambda Literary Award for LGBT debut fiction. She is also the author of Things I Heard About You (2014, Nightwood Editions), a poetry collection, shortlisted for the 2014 Robert Kroetsch award for innovative poetry and microfiction chapbook Twenty Objects For The New World. In 2015, she received the Dayne Ogilvie Award from the Writers’ Trust of Canada. A writer of all genres, Leslie is also an editor, a writing workshop facilitator and she previously taught writing fiction at Langara University.


Alpha: When did you first know you wanted to be a writer? When did you start writing?

Leslie: I was a little kid when I first wanted to be a writer. I read a lot as a kid. I started writing in elementary school. At first I wrote shorter stories, stuff like writing about my neighbours and writing about a coin that talked. I wrote a lot in high school too and got into poetry, which I then stopped writing until my mid 20’s. I wrote a lot of journalism in undergrad. I was the features editor of my campus newspaper. I actually recommend doing this if you’re in undergrad because you will be forced to write a lot with short deadlines. In terms of “professional” creative writing, I placed my first short story in a literary journal when I was 22. That journal was Descant. All my stuff had been rejected by journals for a couple years. That first published story was totally random. It was based on an anecdote from a social acquaintance about a family member of hers. Then I continued publishing here and there in journals. When I was 26, I sold my collection of short stories to Freehand Books. That’s how I got started in a nutshell. You need to be persistent and just keep working on your stuff and sending it out.


Do you ever experience writer’s block? If so, what are some tips you would suggest for writer’s block?

Be honest with yourself. You will feel blocked when there is not a clear connection between you and the piece of work. What is the blockage? Are you trying to “sound right”? Is there something else you could be writing right now that would come out easier, faster? What do you actually want to write? You can write anything! Do you actually want to be writing Facebook statuses about how much you dislike your neighbour and speculate about the sources of their horrible personality? Do it! You could take an article from the newspaper and scratch out words and then write a poem with the words that are left over. You could write a short story in the form of an open letter to your ex. I think writer’s block is almost always that we are not writing what is actually real and right beside you in your life. What is closest to you? Also, never worry about structure while you are writing. Write from the ending, or the middle, of the story. John Cage said, “Start anywhere.” Just get it on the page. Record yourself with your iPhone talking to your mom or dad or sibling or friend and transcribe the conversation and see what happens! The more you try things and follow your nose, the more you will learn how to listen to your own instincts and intuition — this is what it’s all about. When something makes you feel good, you should do more of that.


Where did you gather inspiration to write your very first collection of short stories People Who Disappear?

From my life, from the lives of people around me, from the newspaper, from my imagination. Your material can come from anywhere. It comes from being open.


In your bio you mention that you are a cross-genre writer. What is your favourite genre to write in? And why?

I started saying I am a cross-genre writer because I publish poetry and fiction and sometimes I publish experimental work that is somewhere in between. I don’t have a favourite genre. I think some stories need to be poems. I like this flexibility in my writing. If something isn’t working, it’s always OK to stop.


What advice would you give to a young aspiring writer looking to write a short story?

Is there something that you understand in a different way than other people? That other people just don’t get the way you do? Explain it. Is there a story someone has told you that you think would be terrible if it was lost? Write it down. You don’t need something capital-I Important to write about. If you write about something in close detail and make it beautiful with words, that makes it important.


Faced with Writer’s Block? 6 Tips to Overcome Every Writer’s Worst Nightmare

Every writer encounters writer’s block at one point or another. Even experienced writers wrestle with inspiration, or just figuring out where to start on an existing idea.

With Alpha’s Short Story Contest launch just around the corner – September 1 – we thought we could offer some helpful suggestions on how to get over writer’s block.


1. Brainstorm and Take Notes

Sometimes you feel inspired, so all you need to do is sit at your computer and write a story. But more often than not, you’ll find that you need to create your inspiration.

Brainstorming will guide you down the road to a great narrative. It helps to be “old skool” in this step. That means take a pen or pencil, use a notebook or even scrap paper. Write down all your ideas; even if you think you won’t use them write them down. Make diagrams, draw lines, whatever you need to do get your thoughts on paper.

You can brainstorm all story elements, from scenes to characters, plot, themes, conflict, and resolutions. Or you can start with a few things until you hit inspiration. Do what’s right for you. Write.


2. Write What You Know

Take a topic that is familiar to you and write about it. Write about something you care about, something that motivates you, or that you think about often. Take a story that you may have experienced in real life and change things – setting, characters and outcome – to create a work of fiction. Ask, “What if?” Think about the interesting characteristics, the quirks and great skills of different people you know and mix them up to create new characters.

Writing what you know will help you get over writer’s block, and it will help you write a story that feels real and engages the reader.


3. Write by Hand

Studies have shown that writing by hand helps you generate and process ideas more so than typing on a keyboard. This doesn’t mean that great writing can’t be done using a computer keyboard, but it means if you are stuck, writing by hand can give you an extra boost.

In this article, Sarah Baughman, a writer and teacher, says that she “use[s] the computer to actually write and edit, but if [she] need[s] to think first, [she goes] for the pen and paper.” Baughman goes on to cite many studies that link handwriting to thinking, and she refers to the Wall Street Journal, which notes “the hand has a unique relationship with the brain” when it comes to “composing thoughts and ideas.”


4. Move Around

Sometimes working in the same spot you always work in might make you feel stuck. Do you typically do your math at the kitchen table? We can associate certain places with specific feelings, and those feelings might leave you uninspired.

Try sitting on the couch, or work in your school library. Maybe a relative has a nice quiet room, where you will find a different atmosphere that inspires you. Maybe you often work everywhere except your study desk, so try sitting there!

Everybody is different. Some people work better staying in the same place all the time. But if you’ve tried everything else, a change of scenery might be the medicine you need to see beyond writer’s block.


5. Read a Book

At first it sounds counter-intuitive. Why should you be reading if you are supposed to be writing? Reading other literature you like not only gets your creative juices flowing, but it can also help you write in the tone you want for your story.

Many authors recommend reading the writers you want to sound like. In the end, you’ll always sound like you, because your voice is unique. People may detect influence in your work, and that’s okay.


6. Write All the Thoughts That Come to You

If you have an idea, put it down. You may not use everything at the end, but you have to work through those thoughts to create your masterpiece. One thought can lead to another. Days after you decided you didn’t want to use something, you may feel inspired to integrate it into your narrative in an important way.

The main point: just write.



There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to overcoming writer’s block. You may have to try different methods before you find what works, or even a combination of our suggestions. The tips we offer in this post are tried and tested by many writers, but don’t feel frustrated if none of them work for you. There are many different ways to get over writer’s block, so keep trying them out until you find something that works.

Do you have a different method on overcoming writer’s block? Share it in the comments!


GetPublishedAlpha_BigTitle_Rounded-cornersClick here to learn more about the 2015 Alpha Textbooks Short Story Contest. Alpha extends a big thank you to the contest’s generous sponsors, including the Claremont Review, AGO, ROM, Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament, and Pizza Pizza.