Ways into creative writing with poet Miriam Nash

If you’re struggling to start your entry to this year’s Orwell Youth Prize, but are keen to write something creative, poet Miriam Nash has some imaginative ways to get you started. Use Miriam’s prompts, which play with our theme ‘A New Direction: Starting Small’, to get you thinking about places you know, objects all around you and ideas you might like to see realised in new ways!


1.  How to start a story or poem by thinking about names

Warm Up: Many Names

  1. Choose a person who is important to you.
  2. Write down all the names that person gets called, from official names to nicknames, in any language. You can also invent names for them.

Start with a map

  1. Choose a place – Think about a place you know well.
  2. Draw a map – Take 5 minutes and draw a map of a place from memory. A very rough map. Only you need to understand it.
  3.  Add your own place names. Instead of using official names, make names up. Name each place on your map for someone or something you think should be remembered here.

Begin your poem or story 

Here are some ways you could begin:

  1. Write a ‘list poem’ that is a tribute to a person you care about, including many of their names. Tell us why their names are important.
  2. Write a poem beginning with a line like, ‘I would name this street/hill/bench after…’
  3. Write a story set in the place on your map in which the names you invented are the actual names of streets, trees, buildings. How do the names affect the place and its people?
  4. Whose names should be remembered from 2020-2021? Write a poem or story in which a name you want to be remembered is repeated. It might be a name that not many people know.


2. How to write about something big by starting small 

Start Small

  1. Write down an issue or subject that is important to you.
  2. Write a list of things that come to mind when you think of that issue. The rule is: none of them can be human. They all have to be thinks you can see or touch. So they might be objects, plants, buildings…


  1. Write a letter to the thing you’ve chosen.


  1. Now write a reply. Imagine the thing is writing back to you.

These letters are the material you can use as a starting point to write a poem or story to write about a big topic.


Before you begin, read or listen to some poems:

Jaguar by Francisco X. Alarcón (text)

Sugar Cane by Grace Nichols (text and audio)

Here, Bullet by Brian Turner (text and video)

3. Start with a change

Choose your change

Imagine one of these changes took place in the UK:

  • What if everyone in a company was paid the same, from the cleaner to the CEO?
  • What if people were no longer allowed to fly to other countries?
  • What if there were no exams?
  • What if this country welcomed all refugees?

You can choose one of these, or think of your own.

Create some characters

  1. Create two characters who live in a similar place to you. They know each other. The change has affected them in different ways.
  2. For each character, write down:
    • Their age
    • What they mostly do in their life
    • Something they love
    • Something they are afraid of
    • How they know each other
    • How their daily lives have changed

Write a scene 

Write a scene where the two characters are talking about something in their life that has been affected by the change. It may be easier to write if:

  • One of them is doing an activity while they talk
  • One of them wants something from the other