Priyanka Nambiar, author of Escape the War

Priyanka Nambiar

Priyanka Nambiar, author of Escape the War

I’m Priyanka Nambiar, runner-up in the Secret Kids contest and author of Escape the War, and I am so excited to be a part of this blog!

Creating Escape the War, my novel about a teenager trying to escape a video game, has taught me a lot of valuable things about writing—and being a runner-up in the contest opened up a whole new set of doors into the world of publishing. I remember the shock and excitement that came over me when I found out I was a finalist! Prior to entering the contest, I was clueless about the industry, but going through the editing process, visiting the Frankfurt Book Fair, and being introduced to the professional environment have changed the game for me. Throughout this journey I have picked up many writing tips and tricks, but here are a few that were essential. I would never have become a finalist without them! I hope that sharing my experience will inspire other writers and give them tools for their own writing processes.

Find a theme or plot you’re passionate about

The more invested you are in your writing, the more you’ll be motivated to work on it. My idea for Escape the War actually originated as a short story I wrote when I was six or seven years old, and when I recently rediscovered the story, I was bursting with ideas on how to revise it. In the past, I’ve tried to write stories on topics that I wasn’t really inspired by, but they never turned out as good as stories with plots that I was excited about, such as Escape the War. I believe that passion is key to staying inspired and motivated.


Don’t be afraid to discuss your writing with others

Talking about my story with friends and teachers gave me different perspectives and a lot of great advice. I was hesitant to talk about it at first, but I soon got enough courage and found it was a huge help! Several of my friends are also writers who could help me work through any parts I was struggling to write, especially since they often ran into similar problems. One time a friend was confused about a section in my story, so she asked a clarifying question. That conversation wound up giving me an idea for one of the biggest plot twists in my book!

Priyanka Nambiar, author of Escape the War

Take breaks!

Don’t force yourself to keep writing just to make a deadline; taking frequent breaks while writing will help keep you from overworking yourself. I would often write for a couple of hours and then take a short break doing an activity that didn’t take a lot of hard work (playing with my dog was a favorite break!). If I ever felt too tired or unmotivated to keep working, doing something to take my mind off of it for a little while almost always fixed the problem. This kept my motivation up throughout writing my book. That being said, be careful not to break for too long—that can also zap your motivation. I’m guilty of accidentally doing that every now and then!

I’m always on the lookout for tips for the writing process, and I hope these tips can help other writers as much as they’ve helped me!

— Priyanka Nambiar, author of Escape the War


Anya Costello, author of Dark Shadows

Anya Costello

Anya Costello, author of Dark Shadows

I started writing my book Dark Shadows three years ago when I was ten years old. The idea was sparked by a conversation with friends about how shadows shift shapes and how fascinating it would be if shadows could split from their owners and become separate beings. I decided to turn that idea into the story of a girl facing the crisis of the Shadow Hour—the time each day when shadows split from their humans—who must retrieve her shadow from a strange dimension.

I had a lot to learn—and, of course, I still do. I realized that there were many ways to strengthen my writing and manage my time most productively. I was so excited to find out about the Secret Kids writing contest, but I understood that entering meant I had to focus on editing and rewriting my manuscript. When I learned that I won the contest, I was even more excited for the opportunities that were coming and for the chance to revisit my story. I’m still editing, still learning, and still improving, but I’ve picked up some helpful writing habits.

Write when you’re in the right frame of mind…

It was most important for me to write when I had an idea that intrigued me or when I figured out a good way to connect to the next event in my story. If I tried to write when I was stressed, busy, or feeling stuck, the words weren’t as clear and scenes didn’t link together smoothly. When I first started writing my book, I didn’t have any deadlines to meet, so I wrote when I felt inspired.

…and end at a natural stopping point

As I was wrapping up a rewrite to submit to the contest, I found that sectioning the plot into individual scenes to work on instead of setting goals for a number of pages made my writing less patchy. If I was writing an action scene and I stopped halfway through, then picked up the next day, it didn’t flow as well.

“I am confident that this is just the first of a long line of successful books by you. I encourage you to keep writing and keep aiming high. Your hard work and creativity is inspiring.” —Joseph Kennedy III about Anya Costello, author of Dark Shadows

Take breaks from your story

Writing a long piece can sometimes feel intimidating. You might even be tired of writing the same characters or revising the plot—I know I felt that way sometimes! A good way to avoid that feeling is to write something else every now and then. Write some short stories with completely different plots and characters from your long manuscript. If you’re trying to finish a major section of the plot in one day, break up your writing with other activities so you don’t become bored. I play some instruments and also like art, so I might work on a few chapters and then spend some time practicing the guitar.

Focus on writing first; edit later

Another thing that helped me was to get the first draft down without worrying about making it the best manuscript possible (yet). The first version of my novel was written in three different notebooks with a lot of mistakes and plot holes! Just getting your concept and basic storyline down is a big step. It means that you have one coherent idea linking everything together.

Then you can go back through to add more artistic sections, pay attention to finer details, and polish your writing. Never be afraid to change large sections of your story, either—even if it’s a big plot point. In the first draft of my manuscript, the main character, Amber, had siblings and parents, but by my final version, Amber was living alone with her aunt. That’s just one of many huge changes my story went through until I finally found the plot I loved.

Be patient with your writing—and yourself

When you’re working on a long manuscript, the most important thing is patience. Keep in mind that it isn’t a fast process. It will take time and revising, even rewriting over and over. Writing can always be improved. I rewrote my story entirely three times before submitting it to the contest, and each time was almost eighty pages longer! If your story is something you really love and feel devoted to, you will find that you’re always striving to make it the best it can possibly be—no matter how long it takes.

— Anya Costello, author of Dark Shadows

Anya Costello, author of Dark Shadows