How to Win a Writing Contest

Secrets to Winning a Creative Writing Contest

by Deborah Owen, CEO of Creative Writing Institute

Contests are like cars. There are a lot of them and no two are the same, but this is an overview of how Creative Writing Institute judges their annual writing contest. This year, it runs from July 15 – September 1, 2015.

First, the judges do a quick sorting. They place stories that might have a chance to win in one pile and stories that have no chance of winning in another. Needless to say, those in the latter pile hit file 13. Your first question should be, on that first sorting, what are the judges looking for? Among other things:

a. Very poor grammar
b. Very poor punctuation
c. Long, drawn out discourses that make no point
d. DEAD and DULL FIRST PARAGRAPHS
e. NOT FOLLOWING the STATED RULES
f. Not using the theme line, word for word!

The judges’ first scanning is not an in-depth reading. It simply sorts the big pile into a smaller one. There will be at least four full readings of each story by each judge.

You will win or lose a judge’s interest in the first paragraph, so be sure that first paragraph begins in the middle of an ACTION scene. Don’t lead up to the action. You don’t have time for that in a short story. Jump in with both feet. Next, develop that action until it reaches the climax about 2/3 of the way through and use the last 1/3 to form a conclusion and tie up loose ends.

Do all judges look for the same things? No. Each judge is as different as a snowflake. They may look alike on the writerly surface, but their thoughts and interests are as different as night and day, and that is what makes a good judging panel.

Here’s a clue. Our judges are not into romance. Does that mean you can’t enter a tactful romance story? No. Does it mean a romance story can’t or won’t win? NO. It was just a hint.  :-)

Another clue: the head judge would like to see some mystery stories this year. Does that mean the winning entry will BE a mystery story? No, but clever writers will certainly think twice before submitting to another genre (For newbies, genre means division – such as drama, fantasy, crime, etc.). But then again, some judges would prefer fantasy! In the end, the best, most captivating story will win, no matter what the genre.

Creative Writing Institute likes to run “themed contests” where the story centers around a certain phrase. This year’s theme sentence is, “I got more than I bargained for!” (You may choose your own punctuation, but those exact words must be in the story, in that order.) This is a fun theme!

The number one reason for disqualification is NOT FOLLOWING the RULES. Last year we had a winning entry that used one swear word. The judges were so into the story that none of them caught it, but I did and the instructions clearly said, “no swear words.” We even published a brief list of what we considered swear words (much to my chagrin) AND the address of the head judge in case anyone had a question.

Why do we have a “list” of swear words? Because we are an international organization that is based in the USA and even Americans hold heated debates on which words are or are not considered swearing. Why don’t we include swear words from other nations? Because it would be impossible to make a list of every country’s swearing slang.

The next question might be, “Why don’t you allow swear words?” One reason is… swear words are a form of telling instead of showing. (Note to beginners: a technique called Show, Don’t Tell means you should always show an emotion with action instead of description. For example, instead of saying, “Jarod was angry at the little boy and pushed him into a bush,” you could show his anger by saying, “Jarod drop-kicked the little runt into the shrub.”)

Another reason we don’t want swearing is because our anthologies are suitable family material. Believe it or not, not everyone swears!

We have already mentioned following the rules, which you would think would be a no-brainer, but to be sure you have conformed to the guidelines, read every single rule one more time before you submit. If we call for a limit of 2,000 words and you send 2,005, guess what? No matter what the quality of the story, it will hit file 13.

The quickest way to win is to write an original story totally based around I got more than I bargained for. The quickest way to lose (and embarrass yourself) is to pull a pre-written story out of mothballs, insert the theme line where it fits best and submit it.

I speak from experience. I tried this little number on a writing teacher years ago when she told me to write a story and insert a certain theme line. It seemed like a silly exercise to me and I was pushed for time, so I pulled an old story out, dropped the line in and submitted it. (*blushes… in my defense, this was the only time I ever did anything deliberately dishonest.)  I thought I was so slick and so smart, until I got her comment which read, “It almost looks like you used an old story and just dropped that line in. Rewrite it and make it blend.” Well… *duh, our judges are smart enough to figure that out, too!

On rounds 2 and 3, our judges usually grade each story from 1-10 and then they total the points for each story. It takes a terrific story to make it to 8, 9, and 10. By the time the judges get to round 4, bloodshot eyes are crossing, every person answers to any name, none are sure which way is up and the coffee has long ago run out so sometimes the head judge changes the method of tallying to, “This time we will deduct points for ________.”

All entries will be judged on originality, creativity, style and technique.

Originality

Plain and simple – how original your ideas are. There are no new stories, but there are always new angles. Day dream a little bit to find something spicy. Keep asking yourself, “What if… ?” That will open dozens of unique ideas.

Creativity

Creativity is how you express yourself. You might use similes, metaphors, emotives, or all of the above plus a whole lot more.

Style

Your writing style will reveal who you are, how you think, how you express yourself and what voice you use. (Hint: stories written in past tense, third person [using he, she and it] sell the quickest… and win the most contests.)

Technique

Writing technique includes the point of view, visualization of scenes and people, style of dialogue, how you write flashbacks (or if you use them at all), red herrings, foreshadowing, etc. It can also refer to the more technical aspects of rhythm, harmony, assonance, alliteration, personification and the like. All of these things equal your technique and the voice that is peculiar to you.

Seldom do we have a clear winner. We have ties more often than rabbits nibble carrots and when that happens, we pass the smelling salts and deodorant around and see how it goes. Under the careful scrutiny of our head judge, Ms. Jo Popek, judges may politely “argue” why “their pick” should win. By the time they emerge with a list of winners, it’s a wonder they are still friends, and an even greater wonder that they will return to the judging panel again next year!

Once you get contesting in your blood, you will have to enter at least two a year. Writing for a contest is one of the greatest, quickest ways to learn from your own writing.

Above all, enjoy the writing experience… and support our nonprofit charity by purchasing our anthology in December.

May the best author win!

SEE CONTEST RULES AT http://www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com.

Creative Writing Institute’s Short Story Contest

Creative Writing Institute’s Annual Short Story Contest

No Entry Fee

First place: a FREE writing course with a personal tutor, valued at $260 USD.

Second place: $50 Amazon gift card or a credit of $150 USD toward a writing course with a personal tutor, valued at $260 USD.

Third place: $25 Amazon gift card or a credit of $100 USD toward a writing course with a personal tutor, valued at $260 USD.

*Plus, two honorable mentions and TEN additional Judge’s Choice stories will receive publication in our 2015 anthology and Ebook.

This is a themed contest and this exact sentence must appear in the story:

“I got more than I bargained for!”

We would like to encourage mystery stories, but the genre is open. (See http://www.cwinst.com/   for definitions and complete rules.)

  • Story must be 1000 – 2000 words.
  • No swearing, profanity, explicit sexual scenes, graphic violence, etc.
  • Entry must not have been published before.
  • ONE submission per person, please
  • Accepting submissions internationally from July 15, 2015 until August 15, 2015, midnight, USA Eastern Standard Time.
  • All entries must be in English

SEE MORE DETAILS at http://www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com

The Job that Made me… and Broke Me. My Personal Story of Success and Humiliation.

PERSISTENCE in WRITING

Win-Win Propositions

by Deborah Owen

Persistence in writing DOES pay off! Win-win propositions pay off, too. Editors love the phrase “win-win,” which means you have a deal whereby both ends have something to gain. I remember the first time I used that term.

The American Legion’s upcoming 75th Anniversary Edition was in preparation and their national office was in my back door. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that soon enough and when I called to ask about a job, the kind editor, Mr. Greenwald, said he had filled all positions.

Somewhere on the path of life, I had heard not to take no for an answer so I called again the next day and said, “This is Deborah Owen again. I called yesterday to ask about a position… “ and the not so kind editor cut me off mid-sentence with, “As I said yesterday, I have no positions available. Thank you for calling.” *click

I didn’t sleep much that night. Instead, I laid in bed and devised a plan whereby Mr. Greenwald would have to hire me. By morning, I was ready. With a dry mouth, I called him a third time and literally read from a written script, faking a voice of bravado and excitement:

“Hello, Mr. Greenwald. This is Deborah Owen again. I understand you don’t have any openings, but I have a win-win proposition you won’t want to pass up. I’d like to treat you to lunch one day this week to discuss it.”

He tried every way in the world to finagle the proposition out of me, but I knew it would be good-bye for the last time if I told him, so I said, “It’s too complicated to discuss on the phone. You choose the time and place and I’ll tell you in person.” He hesitated. [Never get in a hurry when waiting for an answer.] But, sensing he was about to say no, I added, “I promise to be brief.”

I was beginning to feel like I had leprosy when he finally agreed.

We met at his office Friday and walked two blocks to the diner. All the way there he wanted to know about my proposition but I played for time. “For now, let’s just get to know each other.”

I asked how long he had been editor at The American Legion, where he worked before and what his goals were in life. I kept him talking about himself – which is always a great strategy. At the end of the meal he asked about the great win-win proposition. I knew it was now or never, so I waded in and tried to look confident and enthusiastic (best done with a smile on one’s face).

“I’m a published freelance writer but I have yet to work inside a magazine. I understand the importance of a deadline and I’m never late. I’m meticulous in researching, and I was once a secretary for five men so I have good office skills. I’m a touch typist and a quick learner. Here’s my proposition: I’ll work for you free of charge. I’ll research, write, edit, or sweep floors if you’ll just let me work on the 75th Edition with you. Teach me. I want to learn. I’ll be the first to arrive in the morning and the last to leave at night. No matter what job you give me, you can count on it being done well. Now if that’s not a win-win proposition, I don’t know what is.”

With a smile, he answered, “Let me give you some advice, Mrs. Owen. Never offer your services for nothing. Someone may think they aren’t worth anything, and everyone is worth something. I’ll see you Monday morning at 8 am… and I will pay you a salary. I met you because I was curious, and I hired you because you were persistent. Persistence is a good quality. You’ll intern directly beneath me and you can have the desk right outside my office.”

I earned over $400 as I researched original WWI history and drafted 37 articles. No other job taught me so much in such a short amount of time. This is where the story should end on a high note, but there’s more.

One day Mr. Greenwald sent me to see a woman who was a higher up in the American Legion Auxiliary. In front of a third party, she lied to me to my face and I called her on it. I told Mr. Greenwald about it immediately (to build some insurance, in case he heard about it later). Three weeks came and went and I forgot about the incident, but the lying shrew didn’t. Mr. Greenwald called me in and said orders came down from way over his head. He had to fire me, as she was calling for my job and nothing less would please her.

“But I told you what happened,” I said. He lectured me on the urgency of good politics. So there I was. Out of the best job in the world.

The highs of digging through authentic files as direct intern beneath the American Legion’s National Headquarter’s editor was too high, and the low of losing that job was too low. I didn’t even know how much of my work went into the edition until it came out. ALL of it went in, and the “I Remember” section was completely my work, including the idea for it. Still, I couldn’t pull out of the depression, so I did the worst thing possible. I dropped completely out of writing for ten years. I let go of writing, but writing wouldn’t let go of me, so here’s the lesson:

When the doors don’t open easily, take a crowbar! Know what you are going to say. Practice saying it out loud (in front of a mirror), and then go for it! What do you have to lose? Groom yourself properly. Dress for success. Greet the editor with a strong handshake and take him out for lunch. And by the way, don’t leave your wallet at home (like I did) and… lastly… learn when to button your lip.

Editors want to hire writers who practice tactfulness, not brazen personnel that casts their magazine in a bad light. Writing persistence and “win-win propositions” will take you far but in the end, it depends on how much guts you have.

Mr. Greenwald was one of the main stepping stones in my writing life. If not for him, I wouldn’t have founded two writing schools later. The future is exciting!! If you could only see it. Every single day, you are affecting your future… so go after it, and swing by http://www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com on the way.

While you’re there, check the guidelines for the writing contest now in progress!

Continue reading The Job that Made me… and Broke Me. My Personal Story of Success and Humiliation.

Creative Writing Institute’s Annual Short Story Contest

 

No Entry Fee

It’s exciting! It’s titillating! Join the fun! See if you can place in the top ten in our International Short Story Contest. Winners will be published in our 2015 Anthology.

First place: a FREE writing course with a personal tutor, valued at $260 USD.

Second place: $50 Amazon gift card or a credit of $150 USD toward a writing course with a personal tutor, valued at $260 USD.

Third place: $25 Amazon gift card or a credit of $100 USD toward a writing course with a personal tutor, valued at $260 USD.

This is a themed contest and this exact sentence must appear in the story:

“I got more than I bargained for!”

We would like to encourage mystery stories, but the genre is open. (See http://www.CWinst.com/   for definitions and complete Rules.)

  1. Story must be 1000 – 2000 words.
  2. No swearing, profanity, explicit sexual scenes, graphic violence, etc.
  3. Entry must not have been published before.
  4. ONE submission per person, please
  5. Accepting submissions INTERNATIONALLY from July 15, 2015 until August 15, 2015, midnight, USA Eastern Standard Time. No early or late submissions will be accepted so check your calendars.
  6. Entries will only be accepted by posting entry at https://CreativeWritingInstitute.submittable.com/submit
  7. As you go through the submission process, there will be a space for you to copy and paste your document.  Do NOT send attachments or emailed entries as these will NOT be accepted.

Direct your questions to Ms. Jo Popek, head judge, at ms.jo@cwinst.com.

See the FULL set of directions at http://www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com.

I Haven’t Been Writing Because ________

You’re probably wondering what happened to my blog since we posted regularly for years and then suddenly vanished for months. I’s been one very sick puppy.  :-(    After four surgeries and two bouts with bronchitis, I’m rearing to go, so this blog is aimed at the procrastinator in all of us.

I Haven’t Been Writing Because ________

by Deborah Owen

CEO, Creative Writing Institute

Do you feel unfulfilled? Like you’re barely surviving life, and not really living it? Like things “are getting done,” but you aren’t enjoying the journey of life? When a writer doesn’t let the words out, life gets very sour.

Are you ready to face the truth? Seriously. Are you ready? No lie? I can’t tell which way your head is bobbing. You’re really sure? Okay. If you insist. You haven’t been writing because you don’t make writing a priority. You don’t look impressed.

If you want to state it in kick-butt style, you might say: “Writing was less important to me in the past _____ weeks than everything else.”  *ouch 

Life is too short to coast from one week’s heart attack to the next, to the next, to the… before long, your kids will be gone and you’ll be studying dandelion roots from the south end. For however long your body stays in the grave, you’ll stare at the tombstone that should have read, “Here lies the greatest wannabe writer ever born,” but your loved ones will be too kind to write that.

Writing is a learned skill. No one is born knowing how to write, but there are varying grades of writing aptitude. If you don’t commit to at least three writing courses to learn the basics, how will you know if you could have succeeded?

It’s time to quit playing games and get serious.

Where to Begin

  1. Organize your life. For instance, my list might look like this:

Worship, family, job, WRITING, clean underwear, food, sleep… see? Put the unnecessary things last.  :-)

  1. Establish the best time of day to write. Maybe you can only write 15 minutes on your lunch hour. Fine! Do what you can. At least you’re trying.

3. Commit to a writing education so you’ll know what you’re doing.

I Confess…

Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, yours truly had the attitude that she didn’t need writing courses so she wasted ten years writing a heart-wrenching novel. There I was with a finished manuscript in my hand, thinking, “Where do I sell it? How do I pitch it? Where do I even find an address to send it? Well, maybe I should take just one course.” [You would think these things would have crossed my mind earlier, but no one can teach a know-it-all anything.]

So I plunged into advanced marketing on my first course! No lie. And by the end of that course, I learned I didn’t know diddly-squat about marketing, writing or even how to break into the writing industry. Today I have a copy of that unprinted novel in every room of my house to remind me how a beginning writer thinks.

Are you ready to get serious about this craft? If not, I promise, you will regret every day you procrastinate.

Choosing the Right Course

Begin with nonfiction writing, even if you hate the very thought of it. Next, take Creative Writing 101, followed by Short Story. At Creative Writing Institute, real people will really care about you. Our courses are written by published professionals and you will have your own private tutor.

Sign up today and start tomorrow. Make your writing dreams come true at Creative Writing Institute, a nonprofit charity that sponsors cancer patients in writing courses.

Mad March Hares

COURSES ON SALE UNTIL MARCH 31, 2015

by Joe Massingham
Assistant Poetry Tutor at Creative Writing Institute

The expression ‘mad as a March hare’ comes from early European communities that, almost two thousand years ago, observed hares (and probably other animals) when they emerged from winter hibernation leaping and dancing about in the spring sunshine.

Their dancing had a more important role than enjoying the warmth and stretching of their legs. It was, in fact, the first stage of a courting ritual which had the production of offspring as its ultimate goal, thus ensuring their survival and strengthening of particular species. The hares may have seemed mad to a casual onlooker but like most actors in nature’s theater, they had a clear role to play. In many ways, our first steps into the writing world might be similar to the hares’ emergence. We get the urge to write; we twitch and hop, type and scrawl, and generally carry on as though some grand new world anxiously awaits our donation. A few tentative tries may bring the despair of non-success. Where to now in our quest to become a writer?

Well, like the hares, we have to learn. They observe their elders and betters in the hare world. If we do the same in our world, we’ll soon see that would-be authors learn from the more experienced.

Writing interaction may come in adult learning classes or online writing forums. In a world where time seems to be in shorter supply than ever, an online writing course may be a good choice. At Creative Writing Institute, you can work one-on-one with a private tutor. You will learn five times faster under private tutelage and the price will be less than what you would pay for instructor-driven classes where attention is divided among students because CWI is a nonprofit charity.

Personal feedback is a bit like the hares chewing fresh grass in the spring. Experiment with it. Take a few nibbles and see how you like it. It’s a safe and inexpensive way to learn the craft of writing. Choose your own field to dance in and increase your chances of writing success.

Register for your class today and start tonight at http://www.CreativeWritingInstitute.com. Payment plan available at no extra charge. No administrative or registration fee. Check it out!

Reuse those Articles!

Ways to Recycle Your Articles

by guest blogger, Hope Clark

1. Create an Ebook

Categorize, edit, marry the topics into sections, and voila! An ebook. Give it serious attention, though. Your posts WILL need editing, trust me. Time tends to show us how our writing has improved, and some topics get a tad stale in the interim as well. You must keep your material fresh!

2. Fluff them up for recycling

Take your posts and connect them to current events or more recent changes, mantras, fads or lessons. Your
old material takes on new life with the latest added to it.

And you thought your blog posts were just free writing that had no financial worth!

* C. Hope Clark is author of Lowcountry Bribe – A Carolina Slade Mystery, available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Bell Bridge Books (www.bellbridgebooks.com). See her author site at http://www.chopeclark.com . Hope is also editor and founder of FundsforWriters.com (www.fundsforwriters.com) – a writer’s resource recognized by Writer’s Digest Magazine for its 101 Best Websites for Writers for the past eleven years.
For more great writing tips, sign up for The Writer’s Choice Newsletter at the top of this page: http://www.creativewritinginstitute.com
Create a class
Whether a webinar, conference presentation, podcast or coaching, identify the subjects that address the same topic and see if there isn’t a thread of a theme there. If you have as many posts as I do, you might have multiple classes available.