Saturday, May 26, 2018
Finding Home for Your Work Through Contests
For many, many years I was afraid to write fiction. I considered myself a journalist, had never taken a creative writing class in college, and thought that was a dream better left unexplored. I enjoyed flexing creative muscles working on different types of magazines, and it was a magazine article on alternative treatments for autism that won me my first award with Writer’s Digest in 2009 with their Annual Writing Competition.
So I had my first award. I was proud. I entered a few different essay contests, but never gained much traction. I dabbled in creative writing by using prompts to help me outline a few short stories. Around 2011, (before I started working with WOW!), I entered a story from one of those prompts in WOW’s Quarterly Flash Fiction Contest. I was thrilled when the story made it through first round of judging, but didn’t end up placing. Flash fiction was a good place to start—you have to develop and tighten up a story in 750 words or less. I worked on another story inspired by a missing persons case in the city I live in and submitted it to another one of WOW’s contest. It also made it through first round judging, but didn’t place. For that story, I felt a nagging sense that the story had merit, although I hadn’t found exactly the right voice. I polished it some more and entered it once again. In the Depths placed as a runner up and remains one of my favorite stories to date.
With that encouragement I completed a few fiction manuscripts (including a few NaNoWriMos) all while still working as a freelance writer. True crime stories have drawn me in again and again, though. After telling myself for several years that I was going to enter the Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction Awards, I sat down last fall and wrote two specifically for the contest—one for the Suspense/Thriller genre and another for the Young Adult category. I almost fell out of my chair at work when I received the e-mail that I had won first place in the Suspense/Thriller category for "The Polaroid." It boosted my confidence and motivated me to dig back into my latest young adult manuscript, which features a teenage female protagonist with sensory processing disorder.
But I had been bitten by the contest bug. I wrote another short story specifically for the Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Contest (1,500 words or less) and submitted it. It didn’t place but I kept going. In early March, I noticed on Facebook that the Women’s National Book Association was holding their annual writing contest, which has four categories: fiction, memoir, poetry and new this year, young adult. I entered the 1,500-word story and the contemporary young adult story from the Popular Fiction Awards that hadn’t placed. A few weeks ago, while preparing for a run, I checked my e-mail to learn that yet another story had found a home. “The Name You’re Not Supposed to Call Women” received Honorable Mention (fourth place) in this year’s Women’s National Book Association Annual Writing Contest in the Young Adult category. I was elated.
Writing short stories has helped breathed new life into my writing. I’m more inspired than I’ve been in years and motivated. I no longer feel embarrassed that two different low-residency MFA programs in creative writing rejected me a few years ago. My advice to any writer would be to not give up. It’s that simple. If you have a feeling about a piece or manuscript, work on it, submit it, keep revising, and look for the right place to find it a home. You never know—you’d be surprised at the outcome (and contest prizes aren’t too bad, either).