Ohio’s Original Interscholastic Creative Writing Program for Middle Schools

Power of the Pen Spotlight

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  • Thursday, October 06, 2022 9:53 AM | Anonymous

    Lindsay Puckett started writing short stories at the age of 10, when her voracious reading habit fueled a desire to reach others. “I just wanted to make someone else feel the shock and tension and excitement I felt when I sunk into a great story,” she says.

    She joined the West Carrollton Power of the Pen team in 7th grade, learning lessons that have stayed with her throughout her journey as a writer: “The importance of finishing projects (you can never publish if you never get to “The End!”), working under a deadline, how to handle feedback on my writing, dealing with rejections (my writing was rejected 104 times before I found a literary agent), and always striving to keep learning and improving my craft, to name just a few!” Lindsay says.

    Writing for Her 12-Year-Old Self

    Lindsay’s debut middle grade novel, The Glass Witch, is being released by Scholastic on October 18, 2022. The Glass Witch is a spooky fantasy in which the main character reluctantly joins a Halloween-themed pageant to rid the town of a vicious witch hunter.

    “When I was a kid, girls who looked like me didn’t get to be main characters in stories,” she says. “Chubby girls didn’t go on adventures or slay the dragon, and they most certainly didn’t wear pageant tiaras. In fact, the only fat girls I saw in media were the “mean girls” or the comic relief. I cannot convey the harm that did to me and millions of girls like me.”

    Lindsay says she wrote The Glass Witch for her 12-year-old self: “A girl who was complicated. Brooding. Self-conscious. Angry about how the world treated her. But was also loyal and brave and driven and passionate,” she says. “A girl who could be morally complex, who had space to mess up again and again and grow and learn from her mistakes.”

    Her goal is to help kids see themselves and others in a different light. “If reading this book can make a difference in at least one child’s life – whether that is seeing their body types positively represented, learning how to treat those different from them, or even just an escape from reality for a small while – then I have done my job,” Lindsay says.

    Developing a Writing Career

    Lindsay advises Power of the Pen writers to consume as many stories as possible. “Read from genres you love. Read from genres you’ve never tried before,” she says. “Read poetry. Read – gasp! – nonfiction. Read from a background and experience that isn’t your own.”

    Look for stories beyond books, as well. “Watch your favorite movies or TV show and focus on how the plot and characters unfold,” Lindsay says. “I promise you will learn something from all of these categories that will teach you something about your own authorial voice.”


    Lindsay kept her Power of the Pen tournament materials from 8th grade. Her 8th grade tournament folder, a story from the competition, and her regional qualifier ribbon are pictured here with The Glass Witch.

  • Monday, September 19, 2022 1:43 PM | Anonymous

    As the grandson of Power of the Pen founders Frank and Lorraine Merrill, Noah Dixon grew up surrounded by creativity. And when he reached 7th grade, it was natural that he would participate on the team at Roosevelt Middle School in Springfield.

    His experiences with the group fostered a love of storytelling. “I have many fond memories traveling to tournaments and meeting creative writers from other schools around Ohio,” he says. “Power of the Pen gave me the opportunity to use my imagination in a way that I had never done before. It allowed me to create new worlds and characters.”

    A Passion for Moviemaking

    Image by Zane Oser

    After high school, Noah intended to study music at Denison University in Granville, envisioning a future as a composer of film scores. But after taking a few film classes at Denison, Noah discovered that his true love is moviemaking. “I am passionate about film because it is a medium which allows me to combine many forms of art – screenwriting, music, photography, and more,” he says.

    Noah and several of his Denison classmates formed a production company, Loose Films, after graduating from college. Their film POSER, created by Noah Dixon and Ori Segev, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2021. A thriller set in the Columbus indie music scene, POSER is “Absolutely brimming with style, atmosphere and a healthy dose of dry, laugh out loud humor,” according to Liza Domnitz of the Tribeca Film Festival.

    Noah drew on his own interests in writing the script. “I created a narrative based on a world that I knew,” he says. “It was both fun and challenging to create a plot and characters based on real people and locations in Columbus.”

    A World Premier

    The team hadn’t expected to be accepted into Tribeca when they submitted POSER for consideration. “It was very surreal traveling to New York and watching it with a full audience for the first time,” Noah says.

    Being immersed in a creative environment is one aspect of moviemaking that Noah enjoys the most. “The best part about working on the film was collaborating with so many other talented artists and musicians,” he says. “There is something very special about dozens of talented people pouring their hearts into a film, and I am so happy that we have been able to share POSER around the world.”

    Image of Ori Segev (left) and Noah Dixon by Anthony Codispotti

  • Monday, July 18, 2022 9:34 AM | Anonymous

    Canton Repository reporter Paige Bennett credits Power of the Pen tournaments’ 40-minute writing rounds with teaching her to craft stories under pressure - an essential aspect of her profession.

    “Part of my job as a journalist is being able to write on a deadline,” she says. “Power of the Pen was one of my first experiences writing under time constraints. It taught me the importance of outlining, pacing, and story structure. I use these skills in my career almost every day.”

    An Early Start

    Paige, who participated as a middle school student with St. Mary of the Falls in Olmsted Falls, has been writing since her earliest days in grade school. But until she joined Power of the Pen, she was afraid for others to read her writing.

    “I started writing stories when I was eight or nine years old, but I was a shy kid, so I didn’t share them with anyone,” she says. “Power of the Pen gave me the confidence to show my writing to other people.”

    In 8th grade, Paige qualified for the Power of the Pen state tournament. “It was one of the most exciting moments for me as a middle schooler,” she says. “I had a wonderful time writing and meeting other kids who had a passion for storytelling.”

    Limitless Possibilities

    Power of the Pen district and regional tournaments each feature three rounds of writing. Students are given the prompt at the beginning of the round. Most contestants respond with a narrative, but students are welcome to write in any form.

    Prompts are open-ended to allow middle school writers to draw on their own experiences and interests in crafting a response. A particularly successful prompt in 2022, for example, was “They said it was impossible. Show them how wrong they were.”

    For Paige, hearing classmates’ writing in Power of the Pen meetings was a revelation. Power of the Pen “helped me realize the limitless possibilities of writing,” she says. “It was amazing to see so many students take different directions with the same prompt.”

    Paige also learned that developing writing skills is a lifelong endeavor. In Power of the Pen, she could see her growth as a writer. “It was fun to look back at previous stories and realize how much my writing had changed over time,” she says.

    Paige has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Kent State University. She covers Alliance and western Mahoning County for the Repository.

  • Wednesday, April 20, 2022 9:32 AM | Anonymous

    The Dayton Kiwanis recently honored 8th grade Power of the Pen writer Liliane (Lili) Kiewitz of the Montessori School of Dayton with the Randy Kramer Award for Writing Excellence.

    Given in memory of Randy Kramer, a longtime Dayton Kiwanis member and fervent supporter of Power of the Pen, the award is presented annually to the top 8th grade writer at the district tournament serving Montgomery County.

    The club welcomed Lili, her mother Sarah Kiewitz, and Power of the Pen Executive Director Barb Tschantz to its April 19 meeting. Lili read her tournament piece "I'm Fine," written in response to the prompt "Goosebumps suddenly appeared on your arms. Why?" The group was impressed with the piece's vivid first-person portrayal of a panic attack.

    The Dayton Kiwanis also recognized Brittasha Thompson and Bridget Hughes of Tippecanoe Middle School as outstanding teachers for 2022, though these coaches could not be present at the meeting. At the meeting, the Dayton Kiwanis presented executive director Barb Tschantz with a generous donation to support these awards, the district tournament serving Montgomery County, and the program in general.

  • Wednesday, April 13, 2022 8:33 PM | Anonymous

    More than two decades after joining Power of the Pen as middle school students, alumni from the late 1990s team at Findlay Central Middle School look back at Power of the Pen as a key step on their career paths. Members of the team, who have stayed in touch, hold various leadership positions in organizations across the country. 

    Ashley Barger owns Do Some Good Marketing, LLC, a content management marketing company. Brittany Schell is director of newsroom projects with Hearst Newspapers in San Francisco, and Sarah Sisser serves as executive director of the Hancock Historical Museum in Findlay.

    Igniting the Spark

    Ashley, Brittany, and Sarah wrote under the guidance of coach Barb Matheny. All agree that Barb was a remarkably inspiring teacher. 

    “Through Power of the Pen, I learned that there was good and bad writing, that it was a skill you could sharpen and improve, and that it was something people did as a profession,” Brittany says. “After that, when people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said ‘a journalist.’ "

    For Barb, coaching the team became a core passion in her career because of its effect on the writers. 

    “I still get comments from former students telling me how much they learned about writing and the positive impact it has had on their writing skills,” Barb says. “Power of the Pen also gave them confidence and humility when they didn't win - and a sense of being driven to take the suggestions of the judges and improve for the next time.”

    Finding Their Way

    For these writers, Power of the Pen inspired confidence in their unique abilities.

    “The disciplines in creative writing that Power of the Pen taught me propelled me into crafting a skill I didn’t even know I had,” Ashley says. “I learned how to creatively present information in a compelling way.”

    For Brittany, who didn’t feel as if she could find a place in athletics, Power of the Pen provided a place to belong. “Power of the Pen gave me confidence and taught me to be comfortable with who I am. The physical didn’t matter when I put pen to paper,” she says. “It was my mind and imagination that mattered while writing. I remember how it felt to win first place for one of my stories at a competition when I was in 8th grade, how my heart swelled with pride as I clutched the precious black notebook that was the prize.”

    Sarah had a similar experience. “It was a tremendous feeling to be able to match my talents against others throughout the state and to be recognized for my accomplishments in the same way I had seen fellow students acknowledged for athletics,” she says. “It really helped to build my self-esteem as a young teen.”

    Writing in Careers

    The skills that these writers developed as middle school students have carried through their careers.

    Brittany achieved her dream of becoming a journalist. “I’ve worked at the San Francisco Chronicle, Agence France-Presse and other media organizations, and writing skills have always been fundamental to my career in journalism,” she says. “It’s not only writing news stories. Whether I’m writing a memo to my boss, posting a story on social media or writing a presentation for the team, knowing how to use words to tell a story is important in so many ways for my job.”

    Ashley runs her own business that relies on creativity. “Power of the Pen can give you a starting point for finding your voice, systemizing your writing style, and help you work on a skill that is necessary in almost any job you take on,” Ashley says. 

    Sarah has a BFA in Historic Preservation and Architectural History from the Savannah College of Art & Design in Savannah, Georgia, and a master’s degree in Community Planning from Auburn University. She returned to Findlay in 2013 to take the helm of the Hancock Historical Museum.

    “My job is one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever been given. It plays to my strengths and my interests, and it affords me so much creativity,” Sarah says. “In my career, I am always leaning on my ability to clearly express myself through my writing, even with something as simple as an email to a colleague or professional acquaintance. To be able to tell a story or paint a picture with your words is an incredibly valuable skill.”

  • Monday, November 08, 2021 6:20 AM | Anonymous

    Coldwater Middle School Coach Erica Oh knows that young authors thrive when readers appreciate their work. Erica has made it her mission to give thoughtful attention to every writer’s efforts, whether it’s a student on her own team or a contestant from another school at a Power of the Pen tournament.

    As a 10-year Power of the Pen coach, Erica serves as a judge at Power of the Pen competitions in the Northwest Region. Erica has learned from her own students that they crave specific guidance on their writing at tournaments. While judges do not evaluate the work of their own students in competition, Erica takes her responsibilities to young writers from other schools seriously, knowing how much the judges’ comments mean to them.

    “I make it my goal to give encouraging, quality, helpful feedback to each student,” Erica says. “I try to point out to the writers the specific skills they demonstrated well and specific areas that need more work … I want them to go away with a clear plan for improvement in future writings.”

    Emotional Connections

    Erica applies the same careful attention to her own writers as they meet to support and encourage one another in developing their creative writing talents. As a Power of the Pen alum herself, Erica understands the importance of making connections with readers.

    “I'll never forget once making my coach cry in practice with one of my stories,” Erica says. “It's something special being able to evoke emotion within your reader; coaching allows me to encourage a new generation in that art.”

    Erica strives to make practices a supportive environment where writers can take creative risks while talking over new ways of thinking about writing. “I love seeing my students' excitement about their stories and their creativity in coming up with unique approaches to the prompts,” she says. “We have lively conversations surrounding their ideas and writings.”

    The Thrill of Competition

    Tournaments provide an extra incentive for students to keep exploring techniques to polish their writing. “I loved to write stories as a kid and loved having an authentic outlet to do so through Power of the Pen,” Erica says. “I still remember the excitement of awaiting the results at competitions and the sense of accomplishment coming home with stories for my family to read.”

    In everything she does as a coach, Erica inspires a new generation to share their own unique stories with readers.

  • Monday, September 20, 2021 1:37 PM | Anonymous

    Complete the Volunteer form if you’d like to help out with Power of the Pen!

    When Kelly Hurt participated in her middle school Power of the Pen team in 1998, she won a Best of Round award as an 8th grader at the district level.

    “It was the first time I was acknowledged as an above-average writer by someone I didn't think was ‘supposed to’ tell me I was good at writing,” Kelly says. “It wouldn't be until years later I would actually believe I was a good writer, but it planted a seed for me.”

    Understanding Stories, Understanding Each Other

    Kelly’s mother is Western Region Director Paula McWilliams. Kelly helps Paula read practice pieces written by 7th and 8th graders on the St. Matthew, Gahanna, team. “The impact of Power of the Pen on my life has been really focusing on what makes a great story,” Kelly says. “This has given me a critical eye when consuming media or just relating things to others in my day-to-day life. How a story is told really is half of the magic of the tale.”

    The ability to tell a good story has helped Kelly with customers in the hardship department of the financial services firm where she works. “I spend my days listening to people explaining the issues they are facing … this can be a matter of sharing humanity through storytelling,” she says. “The most important thing Power of the Pen taught me in this regard is that our struggles make us stronger, and overcoming hardships makes us the heroes of our own stories.”

    Giving Back to Power of the Pen

    Kelly serves as the computer scorer for the Western Region, which means she is responsible for accurately entering judges’ ballot scores into Power of the Pen’s scoring system at district and regional tournaments to determine individual student and team rankings. 

    I enjoy the energy and excitement of a tournament day, and even when it's remote, there are a lot of people working together for the love of storytelling,” Kelly says. “That’s something I really love being a part of.”

    Kelly spends several weekends each season assisting in this critical role because she wants today’s middle school students to have the same opportunity she had to experience the power of storytelling.

    “I would encourage alumni to be involved in Power of the Pen as a way of ‘paying forward’ the things they gained from their experience,” Kelly says. “There aren't many venues that encourage writers, so it is important to support the ones that exist. Volunteering for Power of the Pen is a unique way to nurture the love of stories in the youth of our communities.”

  • Tuesday, September 07, 2021 12:11 PM | Anonymous

    Being on the Mentor Memorial Middle School Power of the Pen team is just one way that Ayesha Faruki uses her talents to create content for others to enjoy. Ayesha has combined her interests in coding, reading, writing, science, and math into creative endeavors that extend from a website to game apps to a self-published book.

    Visitors to her website, https://www.afaruki.com/, will find a number of games to try, plus a preview of her self-published novel, Whisper. Ayesha, who finished third in the 7th grade at the 2021 Power of the Pen state tournament, has been writing for as long as she can remember.

    “My mom always used to read books to me, and it wasn’t long before I started creating my own stories,” she says. “I would dictate them word for word for my parents to write – and I would illustrate them myself.”

    Ayesha wrote Whisper when she was 11 years old. A blend of adventure and fantasy, Whisper follows six girls who discover a new world while on a field trip. As the Chosen, they must navigate both the new reality and the world from which they came, all while working to fix flaws that inhabitants of the new world have become oblivious to.

    Ayesha has been coding since she was 6 years old. She develops games on an MIT platform called Scratch. The games are released within the Scratch community for 8- to 16-year-olds, as well as on her website. Ayesha published her website to inspire other kids to publish their own works. “I remember that amazed feeling when I was younger and saw stories about kids and teens who did something great – especially those young authors who developed their bestselling novels as teens,” she says. “I hope to start a blog of my own soon to write about my own interests.”

    Whether writing, coding games, adding to her website, or drawing illustrations to accompany her writing, Ayesha loves the freedom in pursuing creative endeavors. “All of these give me the power to be able to create something by myself, and something that I’m proud of,” Ayesha says. “I also enjoy sketching and drawing, and both this and writing help me visualize different worlds and people. I illustrated and designed my front cover of Whisper, and also drew all of the pictures in the book.”

    Ayesha is involved in many activities at Memorial Middle School, including Science Olympiad, Math Club, Junior Model United Nations, the National Junior Honor Society, the school newspaper club, book club, and Student Council. Game On was her favorite event in Science Olympiad, as it involves the knowledge of both coding and science.

    Winning third place in her grade level at the Power of the Pen State Tournament and being published in the 2021 Book of Winners inspired Ayesha to self-publish Whisper, the first in a planned series called The Cities of the Lost. Power of the Pen also helped Ayesha focus her stories. “I think the best thing about Power of the Pen for me as a writer were the time constraints,” she says. “They allowed me not to put too many unnecessary scenes in my writing.”

    Ayesha recently finished writing another novel, The Legends of Atruviia, and plans to publish it, as well.

  • Tuesday, June 15, 2021 7:59 AM | Anonymous

    As Melissa Stickney watched her daughter’s love for reading and writing blossom during the pandemic, she had an idea: Why not ask the school if she, as a parent, could form and coach its first-ever Power of the Pen team? The school’s answer was a resounding “Yes.”

    Though not a teacher at Rocky River, Melissa worked with the district to secure the technology to connect online with writers and recruit interested students for the team. Meetings began in fall 2020.

    A Place to Connect

    Melissa’s first online meeting with the team started with an object lesson. Everyone picked an object and wrote for fifteen minutes. Writers described the object in detail using all five senses and explained its significance.

    “One wrote about a rock. Another, a pen. Another, her cell phone,” Melissa says. “And yet all these pieces had something in common. They were all about connection. Pandemic isolation highlighted that storytelling was essential.”

    Team members bonded over their love of writing, encouraging and inspiring one another. “On their own, the writers formed a texting group for support and laughter,” Melissa says.

    Dedicated Time to Develop Writing Skills

    Melissa used the resources provided by Power of the Pen to plan learning activities for meetings. These included the Book of Winners, which provides models of exemplary 7th and 8th grade writing, and the coaches’ materials on the website. She also pulled ideas from creative writing books and online resources.

    Weekly meetings settled into a pattern. Melissa opened each week with a minilesson on a specific aspect of writing, supported with examples from student writing and popular YA books. Students then practiced a 40-minute response to a Power of the Pen prompt, and a few writers read their piece aloud.

    “It was heart-warming to read the positive feedback being typed into the sidebar,” Melissa says. “I provided written feedback to all writers each week and used the subsequent lessons to critique indirectly.” The final 15 minutes of each meeting was social time, with lively conversations about favorite books or writing topics.

    The Rocky River Middle School team was highly successful, placing second in the 8th grade in the Columbia Middle School District Tournament and third overall in the Baldwin Wallace Regional Tournament. Five Rocky River writers qualified for the state tournament. At the end of the season, students voted on individual recognition, with each writer receiving a unique award reflecting their own area of storytelling strength.

    Remarkable Growth

    Melissa cherished the opportunity to be a part of the students’ growth as writers. The topics they wrote about evolved as they became more confident in their own voices. “I was privileged to witness the remarkable growth in each writer’s narrative voice first-hand,” she says. “Some of my writers started with fan fiction and fantasy stories, moved to fiction about teens vaguely similar to themselves and ended the season writing vulnerable, authentic personal narratives.”

    In addition, Melissa discovered that she delighted in unleashing middle school students’ creativity. “As a parent coach, I rejoiced in spending time with a bunch of compassionate, funny, and smart human beings,” Melissa says. “If you step up to coach a team, prepare to be wowed, transformed and inspired.”

    Power of the Pen is returning to in-person tournaments in 2022-2023. Parents are encouraged to work with schools to form Power of the Pen teams, following all school rules and guidelines to ensure student safety. If you are interested, Power of the Pen can connect you with current coaches to learn more about what’s involved in coaching a team. Contact us at info@powerofthepen.org.

  • Thursday, April 22, 2021 9:12 AM | Anonymous

    Eighth grader Rylee Boyer of Miami Valley School in Dayton recently received the Randy Kramer Award for Writing Excellence from the Kiwanis Club of Dayton. Presented in memory of longtime Dayton Kiwanis member and Power of the Pen supporter Randy Kramer, the award recognizes Rylee’s outstanding performance at the 2021 West Carrollton District Tournament.

    Riley was invited to the April 20 meeting of the Kiwanis Club of Dayton, held via Zoom, to read “I Won,” a story she wrote in response to the prompt Betrayed. The piece describes a battle of wills between a violinist and a pianist during a performance. Though Rylee is not a pianist, her writing was so convincing that one of the judges was sure Rylee’s story reflected personal experiences with performing on piano.

    According to Rylee’s coach, Debbie Voetberg, realistic detail and the ability to evoke emotions are strengths of Rylee’s writing. “I coach the writers to think about what they know and how they can use it in their writing,” she said. “They do not have to write an entire story about an experience, but they can use a piece of it, including enough details that it is realistic to the reader.”

    Rylee says that the lessons she has learned in Power of the Pen have improved her writing in academic settings, as well.

    Outstanding Teacher Award

    The Kiwanis Club of Dayton also presented the Outstanding Teacher Award to Carol Brown of Ankeney Middle School in Beavercreek. Ankeney won third place in the 7th grade and second place in the 8th grade at the West Carrollton tournament.

    At the April Kiwanis Club of Dayton meeting, Carol shared how much Power of the Pen means to students. “Power of the Pen practices are a safe and calming place for them,” she said. “Power of the Pen provides them with a creative outlet, a chance to express themselves in a way that they cannot always do through class assignments.” As a result, Carol says, students’ confidence in their writing ability blossoms.

    Carol also shared students’ comments about Power of the Pen with the Kiwanis Club of Dayton. In addition to the excitement and inspiration generated by the writing tournaments, students appreciate the one-on-one feedback they receive from judges. Students understand the time and careful thought that judges put into the comments on their writing, and they apply the judges’ advice as they hone their skills.

    “Thank you for the impact you have on students and teachers,” Carol told the Kiwanis members at the close of the meeting. “Without you, Power of the Pen wouldn’t be here for our students.”

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