Monday, June 13, 2022

Writing Contests - Worth the Effort

Have you ever entered a writing contest? How did you do? If not, why not?

Writing contests can be a great source of inspiration, feedback, and creative exercise. Here, the authors of the First Love IWSG Anthology expound on the pros and cons (mostly pros) of entering a writing contest.

From Kim Elliot...
I’ve entered a few brand-sponsored contests on I was thrilled to win Hilroy’s #startwriting contest and Tim Hortons’ #timscoldbrewstories contest. Each of those earned me a nice cash prize which I’m using to finance my novels. Contests are a great way to spark creativity and compare your style to other writers. I plan to enter many more!

From Linda Budzinski...
For me, contests provide a great source of inspiration. I love having a prompt, a specified word count, and a deadline. A blank page can be daunting, but the parameters inherent in contests make the creative process more manageable. "The End" is in sight before you've even set pen to paper! And while the result--potentially winning and/or having my story published for others to read--is exciting, I try to allow the joy of writing and creating to be an end in itself.

From Denise Covey...
I don't enter writing contests as a rule. The IWSG Anthology was different as I'd wanted to see a romance genre contest ever since it started. So when the romance contest was announced, I felt duty bound to write a story seeing I'm a romance author. It was great to win a place and I'm really excited to see the Anthology published. 

From S.E. White...
I enter writing contests because apparently I really enjoy pain. Sorry, bit of sarcasm sneaking in. Really, I enter writing contests for the honest editorial feedback from unbiased readers (i.e. not my friends and obligated to sugarcoat anything). I firmly believe that editors and beta readers are my best friends, catching my plot holes, boring moments, and downright embarrassing mistakes. Sometimes I don't have a trusty, brutally honest beta reader to turn to. Editors can get quite pricy, and occasionally they aren't in my budget. But a writing contest is usually pretty cost-effective (ranging from free to 20 or 30 dollars to enter) and gives me at least three different judges feedback. Well worth the occasional sting, in my recommendation.

From Michael DiGesu...
I enter writing contests mainly to sharpen my skills and to hopefully have a strong enough entry to be published. This was the first time one of my stories has been chosen, and I am thrilled. Contests force you to write, polish, and submit. They are a wonderful way to have your stories read by professionals, and that can lead to bigger and better things. I generally submit to at least five contests a year. Several have been through Writer’s Digest and others through mainstream magazines like the New Yorker or GQ. My advice on them is to be select. Submitting to smaller publications or through writing blogs may be best to way to start. Contests like the ones through Writer’s Digest can get costly and they are extremely competitive. 

None of my stories have ever made it into even the top 50. They must get thousands of entries and they take months to read through them all, and once they finally do select the winners, it can be a huge let down. Anthologies are also a great way to submit because several stories are chosen and you have a much better chance. Contests are good training for querying your works to publishers and agents. Most of us know how tedious this can be, but if you are selected, it makes it worth your time and effort.

From L. Diane Wolfe, Dancing Lemur Press, L.L.C. ...
The best advice for entering writing contests: be sure to follow the guidelines. Submit the correct genre and proper word count. If there is a theme, adhere to it. Send exactly what the contest requests and be sure to include all of your contact information. Failing to follow the guidelines just means your story will be rejected. After all that hard work, you don’t want to blow your chances.

From Katie Klein...
I think contests are a great way to gain exposure and build credibility. Anyone can host a contest, though, so my advice to writers would be to make sure to do your homework. A little research will go a long way in determining if the contest is reputable and the winners deserving. Also, entry fees can be high, so be sure to prioritize.  

From Sylvia Ney...
I only rarely enter writing contests. I refuse to pay for entry into a contest so I only enter free ones - either because I support those putting the contest together, I support what they are trying to accomplish, or they are offering FREE feedback by credible sources. I really value IWSG so I have submitted to a couple of their anthology contests. This is the second time I've had a story chosen for the group anthology. I also have a piece called "WIN" in the first anthology: Parallels. I have also had work chosen for publication in multiple other contests including; "Forgotten Memories" which appears in It's in the Gulf - a disaster relief fundraiser, "Homegrown Love" which appears in The Searcher: Spring 2014 - a publication that focuses on raising awareness of the importance of genealogoy, history, and libraries, and "An Interview of Tim O'Brien" which appears in Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors Volume 2 which is an annual anthology contest put on by Southeast Missouri State University Press and the Warriors Arts Alliance.

I've entered my share of contests and had some published, some not. Whether you're in a slump, need to take a break from your WIP, or just in the mood to try something new -- Look for a writing contest! You can always give the prompt a go and whip up a short story, then decide later if you want to submit it or not. The writing is the important part. The more you write, the better you get!

Happy Writing!

Monday, April 11, 2022

Help! I need somebody!

Not just anybody...

Writers shouldn't work alone. The IWSG Anthology #7 Authors share their thoughts on how they don't suffer through the process alone.

Writing is a collaborative process. Few of us do it alone. A bit like it takes a village to raise a child, often it takes a team to write a book. Sure, the author comes up with the premise, the beats, the first draft, but depending on the author's process, then the collaboration begins. Some authors may call for help/input earlier, but I usually discuss my story idea with my critique partners, then don't show them any more until I'm happy with my draft. Then the fun begins. We meet face to face, sometimes we Skype, and often I just share chapters via email (especially those all-important opening chapters) to gauge reactions. Yes, I use beta readers and editors, but my critique partners are the most crucial element for me in writing a book.
-- Denise Covey, "Marmalade Sunset"

A handful of trusted author friends serve as my critique partners. We exchange manuscripts with each other and provide the first layer of critique. I also have a group I call on for beta reading, which is the next step in the process. This group is a mixture of authors, avid readers, and members of my street team. They have the advantage of reading my books for free in exchange for giving me their opinions about the story and--though it's not a requirement--hopefully leaving a review. 

After that, the book goes to my mom. She has her own editing business, and I hire her to do a proofread. I freelance as an editor, but I still get a professional copy edit. It's impossible for authors to edit their own work. Our eyes gloss right over the mistakes, because we know what the story is supposed to say. The final layer after those corrections are made is having the book files formatted (Kindle, Nook, Paperback). Once that's done, I read through them on their respective devices, to make sure the formatting looks as it should and to make one last pass to catch any missed errors. (I'm sick of my book by now. LOL) Lastly, the files get uploaded to the retailers, and I click publish. -- Melissa Maygrove, "My Heart Approves"

While I have been a member of some great critique groups in the past, I have not had that pleasure for quite some time. However, I recently returned to school to work on a Master's degree. A few fellow classmates as well as my professors have been providing some great feedback and inspiration. I highly recommend all writers attempt to connect with at least a few others that you can share and learn alongside. Writing can be such a solitary and frustrating experience. The craft can be much more enjoyable if you have someone to share your pains, losses, and accomplishments with you. -- Sylvia Ney, "Paper Faces"

After I finish a draft of a story, I print it up, then take it to the woods. There I perform an arcane ritual involving burning sage, twenty-two candles and a half-dead goat to summon Kilogard, the Proof-Reading Demon. It’s complicated, dangerous and every time I do it, it costs me one year of my life. But it’s still easier than getting my friends and relatives to give me feedback. -- Templeton Moss, "My First Love(s)"

A friend from college and a former coworker read my work and offer suggestions. The two of them have very different literary tastes, and their input gives me a lot to think about! My writing has improved so much thanks to them. After several rounds of edits based on their feedback, my mom proofreads my final draft. Sometimes my husband agrees to look over my manuscript, but romance isn’t really his genre. His contribution is keeping the kids out of my hair. -- Kim Elliott, "Clyde and Coalesce"

I had to redo the whole thing, but I think we have it fixed!

I hope these bits of wit and wisdom were helpful and/or entertaining!

Keep writing.

Monday, March 14, 2022

Feeling Lucky?

Where do writers get their inspiration?

That's what we asked our IWSG #7 FIRST LOVE authors this month, and here's what they said...

"I find inspiration and ideas in so many places: while dreaming, exercising, reading a great book, watching a good movie, listening to music, traveling – anything that gets me away from work and relaxed. I try to read and write every day. I read a variety of fiction genres, books on the craft, and blogs of other authors. I have a variety of interests and hobbies. I love learning about the history of other cultures, and studying people. There is so much inspiration in the world. The human race is an astounding species and we've been capable of some of the most amazing and horrific acts. Those universal traits can inspire so many tales - both fiction and nonfiction." -- Sylvia Ney, Paper Faces

"Inspiration for stories can come from anywhere. All it takes is something to make me imagine a scene, and my writer's brain runs with it. If I feel it's worthy enough to turn into a book, I jot the idea in a folder of story ideas and save it.

The inspiration for my debut novel, Come Back, came from a nonfiction book I was reading with my daughter. It was about a teen girl traveling on the Oregon Trail. It mentioned the many possessions -even furniture- that westward travelers threw out along the side of the trail to lighten the weight of the wagons. I thought, "Hm... If I can find a way to get the heroine left behind, she could use that stuff to survive until the hero found her." I felt so clever, until I remembered I had to come up with the rest of the plot." -- Melissa Maygrove, My Heart Approves

"Once a year, I mount an expedition to the Caves of Samalando, wherein is located the Lake of Krambastallah, home to the Great Spirit Fish, Ted. I speak to Ted the ancient, sacred words (“Murfreesboro, Tennessee”) and in return, he gifts me with a Stone of Inspiration, providing me with all the creative ideas I need for the next twelve months. It’s a dangerous and complex process, but the upside is I can claim the whole thing as a business expense and write it off my taxes. Ted is a dependent." -- Templeton Moss, My First Love(s)

"I’m inspired by books, movies, TV, real life…pretty much everything. Usually it starts with finding a character or scene that I can’t get out of my mind. If I’m still thinking about it days later, I start asking “What if?” What if that character were evil instead of good? What if the story happened in a different time period? Before long, I’ve gone down so many rabbit holes that I’m left with something brand new and exciting!" -- Kim Elliot, Clyde and Coalesce

"Old Europe has always been my favorite destination and became the inspiration for my stories, from flash fiction to full-length novels. From my six months of living in France, and countless visits to Paris, I have so many story ideas filling my head and my notebooks. I've published my first Paris novel, a womens' fiction/romance, Paris Dreams, which combines my love of fashion and art. I am working on the next which highlights traditional French cooking. My vampire romance series is set in Renaissance Italy, which combines my love of history with my deep love for Italy. Writing stories inspired by my travels means I can vicariously visit any time I wish." -- Denise Covey, Marmalade Sunset

"I’m not entirely sure, but I’ve come to believe that writers co-create with the universe—that it offers us bits and pieces of information/inspiration because it wants us to do something with them. It’s happened when listening to music, while watching movies, when a character’s name fell right into my lap…. It’s never just 'thinking' about something; it always feels like more, somehow. So I take these bits and pieces and ruminate on them, adding and subtracting in the best interest of the story, and draw on whatever additional insights the universe is willing to toss my way with gratitude as I work toward 'The End.'" -- Katie Klein, How to Save a Princess

Inspiration comes from anywhere and everywhere. Writers have a special ability to find a story from the smallest whisper to the most powerful bang, from past reality to future fantasy. Let your imagination run wild!