The write stuff: Dartmouth High senior wins big at Scholastic Writing Awards

Feb 20, 2022

Dartmouth High Senior Sophia Waite is still months away from graduation but she is already writing at a near-professional level having authored three novels in the last 18 months, in addition to a wide variety of shorter-form writing.

Just recently, the young author set a school-record at this year’s Scholastic Writing contest, winning three gold keys, one silver key and six honorable mentions from her submissions.

Waite won gold keys in the Short Story, Flash Fiction, and Writing Portfolio categories — the latter of which required her to submit a selection of six works to be judged together — with a silver key for poetry, and honorable mentions for three sci-fi pieces, two poems, and a short story.

In total, Waite submitted 15 pieces to the competition, most of which she said she wrote over the summer and came back to edit shortly before the contest deadline in December.

“I wanted to give them some time,” she said. “It was good for them to have a break — I came back to them with fresh eyes.”

Waite’s submissions that won gold keys at the state level will automatically be submitted to the national competition, the winners of which will be announced in mid-March.

Dartmouth High lead English teacher Will Higgins, who taught Waite’s AP English research class last year and is the advisor for the school paper, in which Waite also participates, said he’s never had a student like her.

“She seems to be able to write in almost any genre,” he said. “She’s able to juggle it all.”

Waite said she is especially excited that her portfolio earned a gold key because it puts her in the running for scholarships if her work is well-received at the national competition.

According to the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards website, Portfolio Scholarships of $10,000 are offered to the top 16 portfolios, with the next 30 best earning $1,000 scholarships.

In the meantime, though, Waite has plenty to keep her busy.

When she is not preparing for a contest, Waite is a novelist, using her spare time to write fantasy books whenever she can.

“I’m happiest writing long stories where I can really dig into the characters,” she said.

But the fact that the stories are long does not mean that Waite takes a long time to write them.

In fact, the young author’s schedule sounds more like something you’d expect from Stephen King than a high school senior.

Waite said she usually likes to write about 10 pages a night on school days and 15 pages a day on weekends and holidays. At her peak productivity, she said she’s done as much as 20 pages a day.

“It’s amazing, it just seems to pour out of her,” said Higgins. “She really likes to write in the fantasy genre where she can be imaginative and creative.”

In the fall of 2020, Waite got the idea for a story that would become a three-book trilogy — entitled “The Heroes’ Guild” — about magical school children.

“It sounds like Harry Potter, but it’s not,” she noted.

The initial idea came to her in the middle of the night, she said, and ended up becoming the final scene of the series.

From there, Waite said she worked backward to “build the world around it.”

When it came to writing the books, Waite said the work went quickly because she had prepared detailed outlines that helped her structure her writing.

The first book took about three months to finish and totaled about 95,000 words — the equivalent of about 350 pages in a standard paperback — but she only accelerated her pace from there.

The second book, she said, was done in just two months, with the word count increasing to 110,000 — or about 400 pages.

By the time she wrote the third and final installment, Waite was so in the zone that she knocked it out in just five weeks, despite it being the longest of the three at 130,000 words — or about 475 pages.

“The actual writing goes pretty fast but the rest of it takes a long time,” said Waite, explaining that she wrote all three books before starting the editing process. “I wanted to get them all laid out before going back to edit the first one.”

Waite has been editing the first book since submitting her Scholastic entries in December and said she was doing the “last deep edit” during an early-February interview.

When she’s done, Waite said she has an idea for another book that she wants to write between March and May.

“I just want to get the ideas out there,” she said.

In addition to her national results, Waite is also looking forward to getting responses to her college applications this spring.

As with most things in life, Waite left little to chance when it came to picking a school, applying to 17 different colleges including “a lot of New England and NESCAC Conference schools.”

“I have no idea where I’m going to end up,” she said.

Once she chooses a school though, Waite said she wants to pursue an English major with a concentration in creative writing, but will also follow a pre-med track.

Waite even got some medical experience last summer while shadowing doctors in a maternity ward in the Dominican Republic with a program called Global Pre-Meds.

Despite all that she has accomplished already, those who have worked with Waite say she is the picture of modesty.

“She is very humble — she gets a little embarrassed when people find out she’s won these awards and things,” said Higgins. “I don’t think she’s doing it for anyone but herself.”

A poem written by Waite is attached to this article.