Monday, August 27, 2012

"Write what you know"

(Originally posted October 20, 2008)

"Children want to write. They want to write the first day they attend school. This is no accident. Before they went to school they marked up walls, pavements, newspapers with crayons, chalk, pens or pencils... anything that makes a mark. The child's marks say, 'I am.'"
- from Writing: Teachers and Children at Work by Donald H. Graves

You may have heard people say that you should only "write what you know." What does that mean exactly? A lot of young writers get intimidated by this idea and believe that they don't know enough to write about whatever it is that interests them. That is simply not true. While it is important to know something about what you are writing, you will ultimately need to use your creativity and imagination to create the world in which the character lives and breathes. So, don't be afraid to write about that issue, that event, or that feeling that you are itching to get out. Writing is a way for you to tell the world what you're thinking and how you feel.

Strong writing is inspired by things that you are passionate about. Once you have identified an idea that you feel strongly about, draw from your experience and imagination to create a character and a world for that character to inhabit. Send them on a journey to accomplish something and see what happens. You can always go back later to do research about any experiences, time periods, or other facts that you are unsure about. These will be included in your revisions. But for now, to help you get started in generating story ideas, take a look at the following "Self-Questionnaire." This was adapted from a worksheet created by Dominique Cieri-Moore, a teaching artist with Playwrights Theatre.

Answer each of the questions about you. Be sure to include as much detail as possible.
  1. What is your full name?
  2. What are some nicknames you have? Who calls you these names?
  3. Where were you born?
  4. Is there a story about your birthday?
  5. Mother’s full name (including her Maiden name, if you know it)
  6. Father’s full name
  7. One grandparent’s full name
  8. Do you call anyone by a nickname? Who are these people? What do you call them? Why?
  9. Who do people tell you that you look like? (family member, someone famous?)
  10. What is important to you? What would you stand up and fight for?
  11. What gets you really angry?
  12. What is your biggest dream?
  13. What is unique about you?
  14. What or who do you admire? Why?
  15. Everyone has a life question. This is something that you’re dying to know. Someone is going to walk through the door in 20 seconds and answer this question. Quick! Don’t think about it, just write down the first question that comes to mind.
Hopefully there is an answer to one of these questions that has sparked an idea to jump start your writing. These are the same questions that you might ask your characters to get a deeper understanding of each of them. See where your answers take you and if you can create a character for your story, ask these same questions of that character.

Have fun writing!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Oldies, but goodies

The blog has been around for a while now, but it wasn't until I was doing some maintenance to the site this week that I noticed just how long it has been: four years! Wow, that time really flew!

There were some good and useful posts that haven't been seen in a while, so I am going to re-post a few in the coming weeks. I think you will find them helpful as you write and I look forward to hearing your thoughts about the ideas and suggestions that these posts contain.

The first will go up on Monday morning. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

2013 Script submission deadlines announced

The script submission deadlines for the 2013 New Jersey Young Playwrights Festivals have been announced!

January 14 - plays for the High School division (grades 10-12)
January 15 - plays for the Junior HS (grades 7-9) and Elementary (grades 4-6) divisions

The preferred method of submission is by email. Please see the website for information about how to submit your script -

We look forward to receiving your play in January!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Advice to Young Playwrights, part 1 - Arthur Wilson

A few weeks ago, I asked some of the actors, directors, playwrights, readers, and teaching artists who have been associated with the NJ Young Playwrights Festival for their advice for young playwrights like you. Specifically, I asked the following questions:

• What makes a strong play?
• What types of characters do you like to portray/write?
• What do you look for when choosing a play to work on?
• Please describe the best experience that you had working on a play.
• Please describe the worst experience that you had working on a play.
• What advice would you give to a young playwright currently working on a new play?

From now until the winter I will be posting some of these responses for your consideration as you work on your play for this year. We begin today with a response from Arthur Wilson, one of our master teaching artists, who was not only involved with the NJ Young Playwrights Festival during its earliest stages, but also with the first years of the national playwriting competition run by Young Playwrights, Inc out of New York City. Here is Arthur's response below... enjoy!


A strong play is based on something you the playwright has burning inside you
and you want to share it
(Catharsis, Dream, Imagination Sat On its' Head, Experience from something learned)
Characters that are not one dimensional and transform so the audience
experiences human growth, development, or stagnation
Poetic language moves a play beyond common language
but be careful -- the poetic language must communicate and not simply be a frill
The best experience I had working on a play
Having a team of Historians from Princeton University work collaboratively with the research
Rehearsing with a small cast capable of honesty for cuts, bridges, and clarity
Rewriting without having a need to hold onto every word or phrase
simply because I wrote it -- FLEXIBILITY
The worst experience I had working on a play was not having enough time to rehearse
Often budgets require miracles
Young Playwrights working on a play RIGHT NOW


Thursday, August 9, 2012

Follow the NJYPF on Facebook

Did you know that you can follow all of the action of the New Jersey Young Playwrights Festival on Facebook? Visit us at and click to like the page. You can get the blog posts there as well as additional information as the contest and festival unfold throughout the year.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Life's mysteries

History is full of stories written to explore and explain some of life's mysteries. How was the world created? Why do birds fly? If a tree falls in the woods, does it make a sound? These questions, and others like these, lie at the heart of our cultures, religion, and philosophy, and have inspired experiments in art and science.

Some of the most compelling plays that we've received at the NJ Young Playwrights Festival have explored mysterious questions like these - sometimes on a grand, global scale; sometimes in more familiar surroundings. In fact, some of my favorite submissions have explored the questions: What would happen if I could stop time? What exists in the water under Niagara Falls? What happens behind the faculty room door?

Questions like these give a great starting point for you to begin a story, but can also be useful to move a story forward. What mysteries are you curious about? Maybe there's a story in your answer!

Happy writing!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Challenge yourself

Wow! Where did the last two weeks go? I can't believe it has been so long since the last post. We're busy, busy, bust creating new plays every day with the students at the Summer Theatre Camp at Playwrights Theatre. I had planned to write every 7-10 days, but must've gotten wrapped up in the fun. It can be easy to loose track of time like that, which is why it is helpful to put aside some time each day to spend on your writing. Even a few minutes can make a difference, which is why I'd like to share a writing challenge begun today by young adult lit author, Laurie Halse Anderson. I thought this might be a great way to stay inspired to write your play through these last few weeks of summer and even into the school year!

Ms. Anderson is the author of books for teens like Speak, Fever 1793, and Wintergirls, among others. On her website this morning, she launched her 5th annual Write 15 Minutes a Day Challenge. You can find more information here - As she says on the site, there will be a new post each day meant to inspire writing. You can follow along with her posts, or you can simply make the commitment to write for 15 minutes (or more... or less...) a day!

Please feel free to share your progress in the comments section for the blog posts here at NJ Young Playwrights. If you've already begun, it would be great to hear what you have been working on so far.

Happy writing!