Wednesday, May 18, 2022
Over the years, I’ve interviewed writing contest winners, including creative nonfiction essay writers. When asked to share a favorite writing tip or piece of advice, they came through with some inspirational ideas. Here’s what some of the WOW contest winners had had to say:

  • “Another friend of mine, who is training as a coach (and who is also brilliant), nudged me out of my writing slump last winter by helping me remember my own rhythms (i.e., working first thing in the morning, even just doing a quick prompt) and pushing me to set up the routines that supported those rhythms. She gave the example of a ballet dancer she had heard on a podcast who said, essentially, I didn't make a habit of going to the gym to train at 6am, I made a habit of hailing a cab at 6am. So, we started small: laying out my notebooks, pens, the accoutrements for tea the night before. So that the next morning, when I am easily impressionable, I am directed optimally. It reduces the likelihood of an Internet rabbit hole and that sense of a "lost day" considerably. I think this applies regardless of the rhythm/routine: create the conditions that support it--set the running shoes by the door, the notebook and pen on a table cleared of all the other life clutter. Go.” - Hilary Fair, runner up

  • Several years ago, I was in a writing class in a neighboring town. A woman read an essay about her family that was more like a historical document (lots of names, dates and geographic information) than a story. When she got done reading, she paused and began to tell us this very funny incident that had happened to one of her family members. We all laughed and shouted "THAT'S the story you should tell.   I am always trying to get to THAT story!” - Kristi Scorcio, runner up

  • “I was just talking to a writer friend this week about the importance of keeping the joy! Publication is great, competitions are wonderful, but ultimately the joy in the process of writing is the most valuable thing we all have as writers. My piece of advice would be to hold on to the fun parts with both hands and squeeze for all they're worth!” - Ellen Brickley, runner up

  • My favorite writing tip is to read your essay or story aloud when you complete each draft. I always hear things I didn't see when reading, such as clunky phrases, plain old typos and, on a positive note, poetic language. My new version of Word has a Read Aloud function. I use that occasionally but find that my own voice reveals things that the robotic voice doesn't.” - Marcy Dilworth, runner up 

  • Everybody says this but it is so true, and I didn’t start doing it religiously until recently. Carry a notebook wherever you go, whether the dentist, hardware store, even the flea market (especially the flea market!), and use it to jot down descriptions, observations, overheard conversations, etc, that you can mine for details in your writing later on. It is so important to record these moments as soon as they happen because those delicious little tidbits of life can so easily get swallowed up by the business of life. And for me, it’s almost impossible to conjure them up again unless I stop what I’m doing and make a note at the moment. The other day, I saw a woman at a gas station in a Subaru with one of those car wraps advertising a zombie hunting business! That’s going to end up somewhere one day, I promise you.” - Ashley Memory, first place winner

Did you find something you could use? Do you have a favorite writing tip or piece of advice to share? Comment below!

--Marcia Peterson


Angela Mackintosh said...

I love all these tips and agree with Ellen's comment. I'm especially focused on finding joy in writing right now because the publication process is nerve wracking. Even when you get something published, it often feels like it publishes to crickets; but the writing process is fun, especially if you're workshopping the piece in a class. Then it feels like a group effort.

I recently picked up a notebook for the first time in years to record things while being my father's caregiver. Ashley is so right! I can look back on something from a month ago and completely forget that it happened, so keeping notes is important.

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

One of my writing mentors told that I would need to invest in myself. So many of my students want to write, they plan to write, but they don't make the time to write. We have to prioritize our writing. For some of us this means investing time. For others, investing money by taking a class or a webinar.

Patricia Gable said...

If you’re lucky enough to have friends who are writers, set a regular time to met. It’s a good time to discuss issues you are having, questions, successes, and books or websites that can be helpful. I am blessed to meet with my group on zoom every two weeks. Three of us : Ohio, Arizona and England. I always feel motivated after we talk and often use their advice.

Andrea said...

These tips are so spot on, especially the joy one. But I realized halfway through that I was reading it aloud! Ha.

My only other tip for creative NF writers is to let yourself be open. Allow all those thoughts, memories, ideas to come out. You can always edit them later but you'll find keeping most of it will make your essay so much better. The truer it is the more your readers will appreciate the story.

Cathy C. Hall said...

Great tips and I'm all for all of 'em! My favorite tip is don't compare yourself to others--therein lies madness. Be yourself and hold on to your joy.

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