Entering Contests

In 2005, I won a local writing contest; as a result, I’ve frequently been asked to judge it. (image: www.pixabay.com)

In 2005, I won a local writing contest; as a result, I’ve frequently been asked to judge it. (image: http://www.pixabay.com)

Like many writers, I’ve submitted short stories to contests, hoping that my work would win and fearing that my entry would be far outclassed. But I’ve not entered many contests, mostly because I figured if I had to pay someone to read my work, I’d do better investing in an editorial reader to give me meaningful feedback.

I have submitted work to contests with no entry fee – and I’ve won prizes: both money and recognition, but neither fortune nor fame. In 2005, I won a local writing contest; since then, I’ve frequently been asked to judge it. This has given me a new perspective on contests and how winners are picked.

At first, I was one of five judges. We all read all the entries, then met to decide the winners. Some years, the winning entrance was obvious – not always because it was so good, but because the competition was weak. Other years were more contentious. Several stories were prize-worthy, and we each argued for the one we liked best. The final result was a compromise amongst the judges, and not necessarily about the work.

Write Action sponsors an annual writing contest. www.writeaction.org

Write Action sponsors an annual writing contest.
www.writeaction.org

This year, I’m judging the prose entries myself. The responsibility is large, and I’m taking my time. Happily, this year’s entries are the best I’ve ever read and a big change from the last time I served, when the writing was poor and the presentation worse. Manuscript Matters. Submitting a story to a contest or agent or editor is like sending it on a job interview, and it should go out looking its best. This year’s submissions all arrived as clean copy in black ink on white paper in twelve-point type. They’re easy to read, and I’ve been able to get lost in the stories without having to fight my way through fancy fonts, blue and/or bold ink, and other typographical devices that detract from the words.

The words are good, the stories touching, entertaining, imaginative, and varied. I’ve enjoyed reading them, and I’ve read them all twice. I’ve read my favorites several times more.

These submissions are so good, that picking a winner is hard. So I reread them, arrange them in my order of preference and let them rest. I’ve been doing this every few days for over two weeks, and the winners are starting to emerge. I keep placing the same story on top of the stack; that’s the one I’ll call First. Another week of reading and rearranging has helped me settle which stories will come in Second and Third. Of the other four, I’ll recommend one for Honorable Mention.

I’m taking my time because judging a contest is entirely subjective, especially with stories that are both well-told and well-written. Rereading has allowed me to attend to the finer elements of craft: voice, point-of-view, use of language, development of suspense, narrative arc, metaphor, and meaning.

But that’s me. Another judge might choose differently.

Based on my experience judging, here’s my advice for entering contests:

  • A writer can control craft, so submitting absolutely excellent work is key – but still no guarantee. How your work fares depends both on the quality of the other entries and on the subjectivity of the judge. Neither are elements a writer can control.
  • Follow the contest guidelines precisely; this is an element a writer can control. A smart writer does this with all submissions, not just contests. Everything else is a crapshoot.
  • Consider submitting to journals during their open reading periods instead. Most contests cost money, and most open-reading periods accept submissions for free.
  • It bears repeating: send only your best work.

Good luck!

photo: M. Shafer

photo: M. Shafer

The 2005 prize-winning story Marlboro Music became a chapter in Deborah Lee Luskin’s award-winning novel, Into The Wilderness. Learn more at www.deborahleeluskin.com

What Do You Want from a Writer’s Retreat?

I’d like to talk with you about retreats for writers. The immediate answer to any of these questions can easily be ‘well, it depends’, but overall, I’m curious to learn what type of writing retreat you’d benefit from most within the next 12 months.

View from kitchen table of Maine cabin for retreat - many seating options!

View from kitchen table of Maine cabin for retreat – many seating options!

When you hear “writer’s retreat” what time frame leaps to mind? A few hours, an overnight somewhere, two or three nights, a week or more…

  • If your answer is ‘a few hours’, there are “write ins” popping up now where space is reserved for up to half a day, and you can show up for as much of that time as you like — it’s more for camaraderie in being with other writers at the same time than anything else — I like doing these during November (National Novel Writing Month)

How do you feel when you think about a writer’s retreat? Calm, happy, anxious, dread, excited, bummed, inspired, scared…

  • my feelings can run the gamut depending on what type of project leaps to mind — most generally, though, thinking about being around other writers makes me smile and outweighs any anxiety — if I had to pick 1 word, it would be ‘bliss’

Where do you search for information on writer’s retreats? Social media, ShawGuides, writing groups/organizations you belong to, libraries, book stores, general Internet searches…

  • sometimes too many choices result in choosing to not even look around at options — my favorite type of writing retreat is one combined with an adventure vacation (like rafting down the Colorado River [did it], or spending a week at a Wyoming dude ranch [did it], or learning to cook in Italy [on my bucket list], or camping in New Zealand [not sure if that one exists yet!]

What is important to you in a retreat? time alone to write, a group setting, critiques/feedback, sharing your work, instruction, mentorship, everyone working in same or multiple genres…

  •  All of the above, please! When working on fiction, a mix of genres works well for me. But when I’m focused on non-fiction I prefer everyone to be the same — there’s something different for me when crafting imaginative stories than truth-based stories/articles/essays/manuscripts.
Water view seating for same Maine cabin getaway. Variety is good!

Water view seating for same Maine cabin getaway. Variety is good!

If you’re new to writing, is it a feature to have experienced writers in the group, or a deterrent? And likewise, if you’re multipublished, does a retreat with newbie writers attract you?

  • As long as expectations for the group are stated and agreed to up front, a mix of experience levels can benefit all attendees.

I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts on writer’s retreats.

LisaJJackson_2014Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.

When Opportunity Knocks . . .

Open the DoorWhen opportunity knocks – open the door!

As a direct result of Speaking in Public, I’ve been offered the opportunity to teach a graduate-level writing course at Marlboro College Graduate School. While open to any graduate student, the course is aimed at educators from across the curriculum who want to improve their own writing as a step toward inspiring and instructing their students to improve theirs.

Expository Writing for the 21st Century will teach the elements of good writing in all fields: science, social studies, history and literature. We will study methods of discourse, rhetorical strategies and argumentative logic while attending to diction, syntax and structure. We will also cover rules of evidence and citation, using the style sheet for each discipline for the writing of research papers. We will explore how to chose and control voice and point-of-view; we will learn how to address different audiences in different formats, from broadsides to journals to editorials and blogs. We will write our hearts out, and we will have fun.

The class will meet in-person four times, when we will model workshop methods that increase confidence, skills and understanding of what makes writing good and what makes a writing class spectacular. All other work will take place on-line, so we’ll also be learning effective uses of technology in education.

You can tell I’m excited. I love teaching, I love writing, and I’ve spent a lifetime caring for the caregiver. In this case, that’s you, the teachers who work so hard educating others; this class is an opportunity for you to be renewed, refreshed, challenged and inspired – as well as a chance to learn about language and craft.

I’ve taught writing for thirty years. I’ve taught writing in the Ivy League and in Vermont’s prisons – and just about every population in between. And I’m a professional writer, practicing and honing my craft daily. I use language to tell stories, convey information and change opinions. Language is how we think; the better we learn to control language, the clearer we can think.

I have to confess there’s a catch: We need ten students to open the door to this class. So here are the details:

  • Four in-person meetings at the Marlboro College Graduate Center in Brattleboro, Vermont to be held on either Saturday or Sunday September 19 or 20; October 10 or 11; November 14 or 15; and December 12 or 13;
  • 3 graduate credits;
  • A chance to read, write and talk about writing;
  • A chance to develop a personal writing practice;
  • A chance to complete a personal writing project of your own design;
  • An opportunity to develop a personal pedagogy that will translate into enthusiasm for writing and writing skills for your students.

What you can do to help open this door:

  • Let me know if you’re interested by saying so in the comments below
  • Or contact me through my website
  • Spread the word about this class! Tell all your friends who want to bring their writing to the next level and/or learn new techniques for teaching great writing.

This isn’t just my great opportunity; it’s also yours.

I’m ready. Are you?

Deborah Lee LuskinDeborah Lee Luskin is an award-winning novelist, a Vermont Public Radio commentator, an editorial columnist & blogger, a pen-for-hire, and an experienced and enthusiastic educator.

Need Help with Social Media or WordPress? Meet Barb Drozdowich

If you’re in need of help getting started with promotion through social media, and/or help in setting up a WordPress author page, I’d like you to meet Barb Drozdowich, a social media and WordPress consultant who *loves* working with and helping writers at whatever stage they are at in creating their writer’s platform.

You can meet her at a free online event this Sunday night.

Barb has taught at colleges and universities, trained technical personnel in the banking industry and, most recently, used her expertise to help authors develop the social media platform needed to succeed in today’s fast evolving publishing world.

Barb owns Bakerview Consulting and manages the popular romance book blog, Sugarbeat’s Books.

Her Building Blocks to Author Success series, currently containing 6 books, was born out of her work with authors once she realized there weren’t a lot of non-technical how-to books slanted towards the needs of authors.

AuthorsGuidetoWorkingwithBookBloggers BookBlogTours FacebookForAuthors GoodReadsGuideforAuthors WhatsYourAuthorPlatform

 

 

 

 

 

BookBloggerPlatform

She also has several free WordPress and blogger-related tutorials on her Website you can check out.

 

You are quite welcome to stop in for the live chat and conversation with Barb this Sunday night, April 26, from 7-9pm EST at The Writer’s Chatroom: http://writerschatroom.com/Enter.htm. No password or registration is needed. I’ll be moderating. We’ll even have virtual drinks of all kinds, chocolate, and other goodies.

–>During the chat, Barb will be raffling off a free 1-hour consultation on any of the topics covered by her books or her blogs.

If you have questions for Barb in advance of the chat, feel free to send them to me at lisa@writerschatroom.com, and I’ll make sure they get asked and answered!

LisaJJackson_2014Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.

New Hampshire Writer’s Week

NHWP writers week - logo 2Hard on the Heals of NaNoWriMo comes New Hampshire Writer’s Week, an initiative spearheaded by the New Hampshire Writer’s Project (NHWP). NWHP is a non-profit organization that supports the development of individual writers and encourages an audience for literature in New Hampshire. On November 12th, Governor Maggie Hassan made it official declaring November 30th to December 6th 2014 New Hampshire Writer’s week.

According to the NHWP web site the goal of Writer’s Week 2014 is to

“celebrate our rich literary heritage while also putting a spotlight on the diverse writers living and working in our state.”

Events are scheduled statewide in bookstores, libraries, and cafes. There will also be special announcements scheduled for that week, such as the opening of nominations for the upcoming NH Literary Hall of Fame and the release of a list of NH authors available to appear at book clubs in 2015. A detailed listing of all the events associated with Writer’s Week can be found on the NHWP web site.  One of the events will be a special Writer’s Night Out on Monday December 1st. Writer’s Night Out is a casual networking event for writers. To find a WNO event near you visit the event list.

Are you an author living in New Hampshire? It’s not too late to participate in the festivities, but you have to act fast. Visit the Writer’s Week page at NHWP for details on how to participate.
Not a published author, but still interested in supporting the New Hampshire writing community?  You can help!

Are you going to participate in New Hampshire Writer’s week activities?

 

Lee Laughlin is a writer, wife, and mom, frequently all of those things at once. She blogs at Livefearlesslee.com. She is currently a member of the Concord Monitor Board of Contributors. Her words have also appeared in a broad range of publications from community newspapers to the Boston Globe.

It’s #CrimeBake Time!

L-R, Liz Mugavero, Kate Flora, me, Edith Maxwell, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Barbara Ross, Sherry Harris, Maureen Walsh. Some of my Sisters in Crime at Malice Domestic this year.

L-R, Liz Mugavero, Kate Flora, me, Edith Maxwell, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Barbara Ross, Sherry Harris, Maureen Walsh. Some of my Sisters in Crime at Malice Domestic this year.

In the fall of 2002 I took a mystery writing seminar, taught by Abigail Padgett. It was my first step toward finding my own tribe, people who wrote in the same genre. Now, at that point I had an idea for a novel, nothing more. But I wanted to try. The class was a great mixture of wonderful participants and a good teacher. Abbie had three great pieces of advice for all of us.

First, keep working on your craft. Never stop trying to be a better writer.

Second, write what resonates with you. Sure romance sells, but if you have disdain for the genre, don’t try and write it. You can stretch, and you can grow, but you need to like what you are writing.

And finally, start networking now. She mentioned conferences, and specifically mentioned Malice Domestic to three of us. “You both will fit right in there. They like what you want to write.” So two of us decided to go to Malice. It was overwhelming, but being there together made it doable. While my friend was in the postage line (to send back a box of books), she started chatting with the woman in front of her. The woman was Dana Cameron, then Vice-President of Sisters in Crime New England.

When my friend and I met again, she announced that we had to join Sisters in Crime. So we both did. In 2003 we both went to the New England Crime Bake, which was the second time it was being held. I will always remember committee member Kate Flora handing out toilet paper to the lines of women, since the bathrooms had run out. Kate Flora. I’d read her Thea Kozak series, and was a fan. And she was handing me toilet paper. I had, in fact, found my people. But little did I know that path that would set me on.

Writers are typically introverts. But going to a conference, and learning how to network, is good for you. Not just because you can move ahead professionally. You also meet people who understand what you are trying to do. They offer support. And some of them become your friend.

I am honored to be the co-chair of this year’s New England Crime Bake. I look forward to seeing Lisa and Diane there (we will take a picture), and to seeing all of my Wicked Cozy Authors.

I also look forward to meeting the next me, someone moving out of her comfort zone, and going to a writer’s conference. And to welcome her to the fold.

*************

J.A. Hennrikus writes short stories, Julianne Holmes writes the Clock Shop Mystery Series, which debuts in 2015.

Go, NaNoWriMo Participants!

It’s almost November 1st—a thrilling time of year! I love the idea of National Novel Writing Month and I love that the only criteria for winning is to “have written” 50,000 words by November 30th.

Quantity over quality for one month gives you a lot of material to work with for the next eleven months.

I know this and that’s why I’m excited about NaNo—even though I haven’t signed up.

When I look at my life realistically, I know I’m not going to be able to write 50,000 words this November, so I’m not even going to try.

What I am going to do is host a couple of write-ins for those brave souls in my area who make that amazing commitment. While I’m with them, I’ll put aside my regular life and write with them as if I was on my way to 50,000 words.

20,000 words in the month of November would be a win for me. So would 10,000 words.

I’m using the energy and excitement of NaNo to fuel my writing. Just being in the month of November prompts me to do word sprints, to shut off my computer screen so I can’t edit as I write, and to turn off the Internet so I can get some words on the page.

Are you doing NaNo? If yes, congratulations! I’m cheering you on. If no, what are you doing this November with your writing? And I’m still cheering you on!

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: is a writer, blogger, life coach, physician, mother, and stepmother. I love contributing to this blog because it helps me keep my writing a priority when I know so many others are out there getting the words down on the page! Happy Halloween!