In the Beginning . . . The Emerging Writer Contest

Well over a decade ago (let’s not discuss just how “well over”), I saw an advertisement for a writing contest, and pretty much on a whim, I entered it. That contest was the West Virginia Writers, Inc. Spring Competition, and I entered the Emerging Poets category with a poem that I wrote about my friend Diana “Hootie” Kirby, who’d recently passed from breast cancer. Hootie must have been whispering in the contest judge’s ear, because I won that year, receiving a nice-looking certificate, a blue ribbon, and a healthy check. More than those material things, however, the prize I cherish most from that contest was the boost to my self-esteem as a bourgeoning writer.

You can imagine my happiness now that I have been asked to judge the Emerging Prose Writer category in the 2015 West Virginia Writers, Inc. Spring Competition. It’s a surreal, full-circle sort of feeling to know that the packet of manuscripts I soon will receive will contain stories written by beginning writers—people at the same starting place and similar skill level at which I entered those many years ago. I will have the amazing privilege of encouraging a soon-to-be-author, just like so many encouraged me in my first creative years as a new writer. It will be a privilege to serve as contest judge, just as it was a privilege to win the prize that year.

Now, let me be clear: after winning, I did not receive calls from New York publishers who were dying to see my work, nor was I swamped with fans asking for my autograph. I wasn’t able to retire from my day job on my prize winnings, and in fact, it was a few more years before I won another contest and had my first story—in retrospect, a pretty bad one—published. Still, winning that first-place award set me on a path that has been nothing short of joyous. I went back to college to study English and literature. I earned an MFA in Creative Writing. I work as a ghostwriter and editor, and my work is now published in literary magazines I long thought of as inaccessible to and unattainable by me.

Yes, I have received plenty of rejections (I got another one just yesterday), and yes, I still work hard to improve at my craft. I humbly recognize that I have so much more to learn, and I look forward every day to acquiring new writing skills. But I will forever be grateful to West Virginia Writers, Inc. for holding their annual contest, and to the judge who blindly selected my poem as the winner. I can hardly wait to return the favor.

I encourage you to submit your stories and poems to the 2015 West Virginia Writers, Inc. Spring Competition. You don’t have to live in or hail from West Virginia to enter and win (see FAQ #37). All submissions are judged blindly (no identifying names or addresses on the work), so all work is reviewed fairly. Click here for more information and a contest form, and click here to check out the judges’ bios—including mine! Yay!

First Place Prize $250        Second Place Prize $125         Third Place Prize $75

I WISH YOU GOOD LUCK!

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Ladies and Gentlemen, Start Your Pencils

. . . Or pens, or laptops. Someone probably once told you that writing has benefits. I’m talking about benefits that go far beyond getting published and making a fortune as a bestselling author. (Thank God, because that rarely happens!) Did you their advice seriously? Did it really sink in that writing has actual health benefits? It’s true that writing can heal you and help you in myriad ways, some of which you’ve likely never considered.

Writing helps you gain control of your emotional state. Sure, it would feel great to verbally tear into that co-worker who always takes credit for your work or offers backhanded compliments, but you’ll be the one left looking petty. If you put those feelings on paper (and maybe burn them, depending on what you wrote!), you’ll experience relief similar to what you’d have felt if you told him off in person.

Journaling can help you land a job faster. Laid-off engineers who kept a daily journal had more successful interviews—they were hired—four times faster than their peers who didn’t write.

Writing improves your sense of self and self-trust. Seeing your private thoughts and emotions on a page is validating. It provides self-recognition of your feelings, and this acknowledgment allows you to better appreciate yourself and accept yourself—positive and negative attributes alike—for who you really are.

Keeping a gratitude journal makes you happier. Regularly writing down the things for which you are thankful has been proven in psychological studies to heighten your sense of well-being and actually alleviate the physical pain associated with neuromuscular diseases.

Addressing a problem on paper helps remove fear. Discussing a problem with yourself on paper requires you to organize your thought processes and create clarity. Drawing out your inner wisdom by focusing your thoughts into strings of written words eases difficult decision-making and creates resolve for solving problems.

Journaling inspires you to make better choices. Knowing you will write down your actions later in the day may prevent you from making poor choices. (Would I really want to write that in my journal? Wouldn’t I rather brag about this, instead?)

Writing with pen or pencil improves memory recall. While I’m all about MS Word, I’ve personally experienced the fact that, if I take notes by hand, I do a better job of remembering what I wrote than if I typed those same notes. Now there’s scientific proof that handwriting lists, notes, addresses, incidents, events, and so on better helps you remember them.

Writing reveals limiting beliefs. Re-reading what you wrote weeks, or months, or even years ago helps you see patterns you didn’t know existed. You’ll clearly see answers that were once cloudy. In retrospect, you’ll be able to make better sense of the past, and seeing positive growth through your journaling is an excellent boost to your ego and self-esteem.

Journaling is an ACTion. It is a physical accomplishment that subconsciously directs the mind. It’s a form of written meditation, like downloading your mind. This release of thoughts and feelings is healing—emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and physically.

Do you journal now? If so, what benefits have you found from this “daily dump” of your thoughts and thought processes? If you have never tried journaling, why not start today?

I challenge you (call it a triple-dog dare, if it’ll motivate you) to start and keep a journal for ten days. When that time is up, go back and re-read what you’ve written. What did you discover about yourself during those ten days? Did you sleep better after getting those swirling thoughts out of your head? Do you feel more motivated to work toward a goal? Will you continue to keep a journal? Share with me below how this ten-day experiment worked for you.

triple dog dare

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