Wednesday, July 17, 2013
What I've Learned from Writing Contests
As promised, here is a guest post by Kim Van Sickler. Kim is one of my fellow judges with the Center for Writing Excellence. After she had won several contests, Janie Sullivan asked her to join our team of judges. I thought her successful experiences with contests would inspire my blog readership, so without further ado, here is Kim!
I started entering short story writing contests as a way to condense my storytelling. It was a few years after I'd gotten the "crazy" idea to try writing for children, and I knew my books were too long. I needed to make every word count.
My first efforts weren't very good. My stories were shorter than the manuscripts I was working on, but they weren't fully developed. Sometimes I entered blog contests where the prize was a pat on the back, and other times I entered prestigious contests where I was up against the cream of the crop and my stories didn't measure up. But I quickly learned to focus on the creative process and only enter contests that excited me, and let the chips fall where they may.
Still...it's nice to win a contest every now and then to let you know you're on the right track. I have to credit the Center for Writing Excellence for giving me the confidence boost I sorely needed. I came across their Fiction in Five writing prompts, where you have five days to write a story based on an e-mailed prompt and five random words. It's a powerful way to jump-start the creative process
Piecing together that first story, about a boy visiting a palm reader, was the most fun I'd ever had writing. It was a bonus to learn that it earned me second place. I'd come so close. Was a first place win possible? So the next time the contest was offered, I entered again. I was on vacation with my extended family, and bounced my ideas around, finding myself enjoying the creative process this time even more than before. And I won first place!
Garnering recognition for my work gave me the confidence to call myself a writer. I finally went on Facebook and Twitter, and started a blog I've entered and won more short story contests, published a short story, and even assisted with judging the Center for Writing Excellence's Fiction in Five contests. Hard as it was, I even set aside my first two manuscripts that weren't eliciting raves from agents, and created a promising new story that's out on submission, and started my fourth manuscript.
The Fiction in Five contests are responsible for me sticking with this crazy craft. They let me dig deep and discover how much I like to write. Today, I can't imagine a world where I'm not intimately involved in the writing process. Those contests opened doors I'm determined to keep ajar.
Kim Van Sickler is a former prosecuting attorney and marketing director. She currently lives and writes in Willoughby Hills, Ohio, where she runs the Girl Scout program in her community. She's at work on her fourth manuscript: a young adult novel set in the sex trade industry.