Today I (Annie) am excited to welcome guest blogger Nate Worrell, who’s here to discuss the exciting topic of writing contests!
A sea of challenge awaits you, dear writer. It will put to test your talent and your fortitude. I have ventured into this world. I have seen nightmarish beasts and ethereal beauty. I invite you to take the risk to enter a writing contest and see what sort of magic you might encounter. Before you embark on your journey, I want to share some basic tenants to prepare you for the trek ahead.
There are as Many Contests as There are Mythical Monsters
Just as Medusa is different from Cyclops, each writing contest has is its own quirks. Knowing what type of contest you want to enter is a crucial first step.
There are four ways to identify a contest:
1. By Forma
t (Fiction/Nonfiction/Poetry/Essay) then Genre
(Sci-Fi/Romance/Children’s/Etc.). Many contests span the spectrum and can potentially offer several ways to participate. (For Example: The Bridport Prize
) Sticking with your comfort zone isn’t a bad strategy. However, sometimes stepping out of your comfort zone can strengthen your writing
. (See my interview with Michael Grabell
2. By Contest Sponsor. Each type of sponsor provides a different feel.
ALERT: Dark creatures and vandals are looming. Be sure to research the validity of any contest sponsor.
· Pay attention to how long they have been around
· Do they post past winners?
· Do they explain what they do with your writing once you submit it?
Retreat quickly if you note anything suspicious.
3. “Open” vs. “Themed”.
Open contests will take writing on any subject and with any style. Most contests allow you to write anything you want (Gemini Fictions contest
). Many will have a few restrictions like no erotica or children’s fiction. ALWAYS READ CONTESTS GUIDELINES.
Themed contest provide some sort of prompt and participants all have to relate their writing to that prompt. (Fanstory [http://www.fanstory.com/
], On The Premises [http://www.onthepremises.com/
]). While both contest types require high quality writing and great stories, the themed contests add the extra criteria of how well you can incorporate the prompt.
4. By eligible participants. Contests can discriminate as much as they want. At the most open end of the spectrum, you have international contests, open to anybody. As an example of a more restrictive example, you might find a contest that is only open to women living in a small town in Maine, above a certain age. The more restrictive end of the spectrum is the hidden gem of the writing contest world. The writing contests that get the most attention will be the ones that get the most participants. By virtue of math, the more people you have in a competition the odds that you win go down. However, if you can find a niche competition, you might only be competing against a few dozen or so, and it can be a relatively easy way to get some resume boosters.
Your Writing Contest Oracles:
With all the assortment of writing contest, where do you begin to look? Thankfully, there are several great sites out there, and I detail each one in my blog.
Finally, Funds for Writers
features helpful advice and warm editorials by C. Hope Clark.
· Add to this list your local library, and you will have a wealth of resources to guide you.
Expect to be Torched by Dragons and Wowed by Wizards
There are hazards in the writing competition world. Your work might be torn to shreds. It might not win, or worse, not even make the short list. You might get critiques that make you want to reconsider writing altogether. Do not fear. Do not lose heart. Use these opportunities as a metallurgist uses his furnace to forge a mighty weapon. Allow the heat to sharpen your edges. After all, these hairy beasties do not lurk only in writing contests; they prowl throughout the entire writing land.
Then scrutinize the victors. What ingredients did they put in their potion that made them so effective? Sometimes fate interferes (for example- if both the writer and judge enjoy chocolate covered bacon, and that’s the subject of the writer’s poem). More often, it is a risk that the writer took, or a voice, or a twist in the narrative that separates winners from the pack. Writing warriors are everywhere, and you can either let them push you aside, or push you forward.
Paying the Ferryman
If you are like me, you treasure your gold coins. Paying a fee seems like a good way to waste $25. I want to comfort you, and put your payment in some context.
First, if you ever see a contest that offers feedback on your writing, that can
make a fee worth it. Most editors start at $25 an hour.
· Second, paying a fee is something you feel, so it adds that much more incentive to write better.
· Third, if you wanted to attend a class at a university to learn to write, you would have to pay a lot more.
· Finally, prize money has to come from somewhere. Consider it good karma to make your contribution to the writing contest world.
If you want to know more about contests, judging, meet some winners, or anything else contest related, please contact me [[email protected]
]. I wish you all the best in your quest. May you reign supreme.
Nate Worrell is the creator of The Competitive Writer, a blog about writing contests. He’s been published in The Binnacle, Marco Polo Literary Journal and From the Depths. If he were a character from the Lord of the Rings, he would be an Ent.
Image Credit: By Boxiness (Painting using tablet PC.) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Did you know that November is National Novel Writing Month? There’s a website (www.nanowrimo.org) that organizes a huge event every year for hundreds of thousands of professional and amateur writers across the world. Basically, writers compete against themselves to see if they can write a complete novel of at least 50,000 words entirely in the month of November. There are forums where you can link up with other participants for support and encouragement, writing resources to help you along with your story, and prizes for the winners. I also found out that they have a program for kids: http://ywp.nanowrimo.org/ Some of my students are eager to try it! (There are some useful teacher resources on the site, too.)
I’m going to be participating in NaNoWriMo for the first time this year, and I’m really excited! Stay tuned; I plan to post brief weekly updates here on my blog about how my writing’s going. My goal is to write for at least two hours a day each weekday or until I come up with 1400 words, and four hours on each weekend day, or until I get to 2800 words. That will give me a bit of a buffer in case I fall behind.
Of course, nobody expects anyone to complete a GOOD novel in just one month. The idea isn’t that it will be complete and publishable by December 1st. Most people will probably only finish the rough draft in November, but the next eleven months (or however long it takes!) are for the revising, editing, and polishing. I certainly don’t plan to show anybody my November’s work until I’ve had a few more months to turn it into something I can be proud of.
What will my novel be about? Well, that’s a good question! I’m currently tossing around three main possibilities. My first choice would be to write another book in my Annals of Alasia series, but while I have lots of ideas for my characters’ futures, I don’t actually have a complete plot in mind yet. And I can’t start writing a book without a plot! (Yes, I know, some writers do it that way. It may work for them, but it doesn’t work for me!)
Another possibility would be to take a light-hearted short story I once wrote about the misadventures of a group of commandos and turn it into a book of related short stories. That might be the most fun option, as the writing style I use there is both silly and a little weird. It’s not my usual genre, but it’s fun to do something different once in a while, right?
But the choice I’m leaning toward most right now would be a piece of speculative fiction in a completely new series. It’s hard to classify its genre, since it would take place in a setting very similar to our own in almost every way. The characters are all human, and they have cars, phones, fast food, and workouts at the gym. The main difference would be that it’s set in a city that’s part of a large empire, and in this empire, slavery is not only legal but widely practiced. (It’s not based on race; people can be sold as slaves for breaking the law, being unable to pay off debt, getting involved in rebellion against the government, etc.) One of the two main characters would be a slave and the other his owner.
At this point I have the most ideas for the third option, so I have a feeling that’s what I’ll probably go with. I’ve already outlined the story, and I’m starting to plan out the characters’ personalities. Here are two very useful resources that I bought awhile ago and plan to bring out again to use now. Click here to go to my post that tells more about these books and why I think they’re so great. If you’re a writer, I strongly recommend them!
Are you thinking of participating in NaNoWriMo this year? I’d love to hear about your plans! In the comments, feel free to tell us what you’re thinking of writing about, and please share any helpful resources you’ve found to make the process go more smoothly!
Update: Click here to read my second blog post about NaNoWriMo, which includes a link to read an excerpt from my novel in process!
Several days ago I downloaded a little eBook that was free at the time: The Busy Writer’s Guide to Plot
by Marg McAlister
. It’s a quick and easy read; I ended up finishing it in two sittings, and I think I must have highlighted about a quarter of the book. I couldn’t believe how much useful information there was packed into such a short volume!
The author suggests a unique approach to planning out a book’s plot: set aside one hour, broken into several segments, and in each segment of time, jot down ideas about a specific aspect of the plot. Her method is designed for people trying to come up with ideas for a story they’re about to write. However, it would work just as well for someone who already has a plot in mind and wants to strengthen it, or even someone who’s already in the middle of a writing project. Whether you’re a published professional or a ten-year-old writing stories for fun, I recommend this resource!
I sat down to outline the plot of the book I’m currently writing, Prince of Malorn
(in the same series as Prince of Alasia
and In the Enemy’s Service
, which you can read more about by clicking on the book covers in the sidebar to the right). Even though I’m over halfway through and already know where I want the plot to go, McAlister’s book helped me see several ways in which I could improve it and add tension. I actually got interrupted a total of eight (EIGHT!) separate times while I was going through the suggested hour-long planning time, so it ended up taking more like three or four hours. But in the end I was quite satisfied with the results!
Here’s the review I wrote for The Busy Writer’ One-Hour Plot on Amazon:
This is one of the most useful writing resources I’ve ever seen! I already have two published books and am working on two more, and when I first started reading, I thought, “Next time I start a new book, I’ll definitely have to try this method.” But by the time I got half way through, I had decided I needed to put my current writing projects on hold until I’ve outlined the plots using the One Hour method, even though I already have them planned out in my mind. I can see that using the techniques in The Busy Writer’s One Hour Plot will make them much better. I heartily recommend this resource for anyone interested in writing fiction, whether professionally or as a hobby. Now I’m going to buy the One-Hour Character
book by the same author.
Sure enough, I did buy The Busy Writer’s One-Hour Character
the day after I finished the Plot book. I read it in one sitting and immediately sat down to type up what I’d learned. Korram, Thel, Ernth, and the other characters in Prince of Malorn
will grow more through the course of the story and have clearer relationships with each other now!
The author recommends using paper note cards, but for the activities in both books, I decided to make my own digital note cards; I just prefer to keep things on the computer. Actually, I made blank templates as well so I can easily fill them in another time when I’m working on a new book. If you’ve read one or both of McAlister’s books and would be interested in creating your character/plot note cards digitally too, I would be glad to share the templates I typed up. Just email me at valiera (at) yahoo (dot) com and I’ll send them over!
Here’s the review I wrote for The Busy Writer’s One-Hour Character on Amazon:
I read one of Marg McAlister’s other books, The Busy Writer’s One Hour Plot
, and immediately knew I had to get this one too. I seldom pay for eBooks anymore, with so many available for free all the time, but this would have been worth twice the price. I’m over half way through the book I’m writing at the moment, and even though I thought I already “knew” my characters pretty well, I now have lots of great ideas for how to develop them further and make them more vivid. I recommend this useful resource to any fiction writer!
I’m always looking for good writing resources. If you have others you recommend, please feel free to mention them in the comments. Thanks!
Also, I emailed Marg McAlister and she was kind enough to email back (very promptly!) with the links to two of her websites which writers might find useful:
http://www.writing4success.com/ (hundreds of articles on writing, ecourses to sign up for, and all sorts of other resources for writers)
http://writing4success.com/blog/ (her blog, also featuring writing-related articles: some her own, others by guest bloggers)