First Draft

This one is for the young writers out there! Would you like some constructive feedback on your work? May we humbly suggest First Draft, our library’s writing resource for authors-to-be? Simply submit your creative writing and short fiction stories via e-mail, and we’ll offer comments and suggestions.

Recommended for ages 9 – 17

We accept creative writing and short fiction stories…not academic works, non-fiction, school assignments, or college essays. Also, this is a resource for kids and teens (sorry, all ya’ll adult writers!).

For full submission details, please visit our website.


As a precautionary measure, Princeton University closed the gallery of the Cotsen Children’s Library until further notice, and our children’s programming as been suspended during this closure. Until our library reopens, the blog will post once a week. So every Tuesday, please check in to see what we’re up to…from story time projects to awesome interviews!

THE MYSTERY CLOSET

This April Fool’s day, I decided to transform a tiny, unremarkable closet in my house into what my kids and I have dubbed THE MYSTERY CLOSET. The challenge was to create it for under $20. My friends, the grand total was $19.30. Details below!

The ultimate goal for THE MYSTERY CLOSET was that it be a place for writing. While we each have a desk in our bedroom, and while there is an art project table in the kitchen, I felt there also needed to be a dedicated space for our household typewriter. It had been sitting on a buffet table in the dining room, but the height and location of the buffet meant you had to stand to type. The results were just a few sentences here and there. I theorized that if I lowered the height of the typewriter, and allowed space for a chair to be pulled up, it would result in longer stories. I was way right.

There were 2 major limitations to this project: size and budget. The closet is very tiny. A mere 12″ deep and 43″ across. Luckily, I had an old table in the attic that fit. There’s just enough space on the table for the typewriter and a metal basket with blank paper underneath. Scoot a chair over from the dining table, and you have yourself a desk!

Budget was the other concern. I solved it by using items already in the house – xmas ornaments, halloween decorations, hats from the costume bin, a red tassel I found in my nightstand, a rediscovered world map, a…uh…green glow-in-the-dark pig that oinks when you squeeze it, etc.

I papered the upper shelf with the world map, but the London Underground map you see on the back wall is actually wrapping paper from a local bookstore! I also bought a dozen postcards. The final purchase was a Magic 8 Ball mug, deeply discounted, from Target.

And for you eagle eyes who spotted Bill Cipher, the question mark Post-it note, and the 8 Ball…yes, we are huge Gravity Falls fans. Fun fact: the first sentence I left the kids on THE MYSTERY CLOSET typewriter was “Stan is not what he seems.” #teamwaddles

And speaking of ciphers, the new installation did include a coded message. I dropped 2 copies of the pigpen cipher in the metal basket, and left a Post-it message to the kids nearby:

The grand finale? This closet is wired with overhead LIGHTS! There’s no electrical outlet, so I used battery-operated LED string light stars from IKEA (a leftover xmas stocking stuffer). The battery box is taped to the interior door frame, within easy reach.

The London Underground wrapping paper cost $4.50, The Magic 8 Ball mug was $2.80, and the postcards cost $12. Project total: $19.30. Reaction from my kids? Priceless.

That morning, I didn’t say anything about the closet. I just waited until my daughter asked “Hey, where’s the typewriter?” A cryptic reply, a house-wide search, and the closet was soon discovered! They were soooo excited. Especially my 10 year-old son. I’m happy to report THE MYSTERY CLOSET has been in steady use by both kids ever since. The typewriter goes at all hours, which is truly music to this mom’s ears. Success!

Princeton Writes

From left to right: Princeton Writes Director John Wereen, Carla Zimowsk, Dana Sheridan, Dianne Spatafore, and Melissa Moss

Every year, for the past three years, Princeton University’s Princeton Writes program has sponsored a staff writing contest. Well, folks, uh…this year I won the contest! So please forgive a bit of horn tooting. I put blood, sweat, and more then a few tears into my entry, and I’m a proud essay mom.

The Princeton Writes program focuses on non-academic writing and clearness of communication. They offer classes, tutorials, writing retreats, and an annual essay contest in collaboration with the Office of Alumni Affairs and the Humanities Council. This year’s contest topic was to “describe an encounter or relationship that has given you a new perspective.” The results were truly moving.

All of us gathered at a reception earlier this month, and I was invited to read my essay out loud. Which was terrifying.

But the whole gang showed up to get me through. Full disclosure: they served wine and mini cannoli at the reception.

The links to the essays are below. We also recorded us reading them in a studio (very cool!). So if you scroll to the bottom of each page, you’ll find a sound file as well. If you’d like to read more about the authors, please see this article by Adrianne Daponte.

Princeton Writes Prize:

Dana Sheridan – She Still Hasn’t Told Me Her Name

Honorable Mentions:

Melissa B. Moss – Two Autumns
Dianne D. Spatafore – Untitled
Carla M. Zimowsk – Arkadas

I often feel like I’m writing in a void. Therefore, it’s incredibly encouraging and validating when someone likes and honors your work. I’d like to sincerely thank – from the bottom of my heart to the tips of my typing fingers – the Princeton Writes program for allowing writers a chance to channel and share their thoughts. Thank you so much.


Photos by David Kelly Crow