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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Writers Reading

It’s a question writers often ask their friends: what are you reading? Often the answer will be a novel from the bestseller list; less often, classic literature or a short story collection; even less often (sadly), a book of poetry. When writers ask other writers the same question, common responses might be reversed, and answers likely include books on the craft of writing.

Writers aren’t snobs to bestselling genre fiction—some of us love nothing more than a lighthearted beach read or eerie horror story now and again. After all, it’s a writer who wrote that bestseller. Still, the books and novels you’ll find on an author’s bookshelf may differ from those on Great Aunt Martha’s shelf, or your cousin’s shelf, or even your best friend’s shelf.

Why is that?

Mostly it’s because, as writers, we understand the importance of reading the best stories, and by best, we don’t necessarily mean bestseller. We mean stories with characters we can’t forget, with plots that we’ll be thinking about a year from now, and with a narrative voice that rings in our ears forever. Writers also understand how crucial it is to study in perpetuity the craft of writing. We are students until the end of our days. While we’re always looking for the next, greatest writing book, we still return to ones we’ve read before, knowing we’ll learn something new—something we missed the first (or second) time around, when our writing skill was at a different level.

craft boooks

A large shelf in my office is filled with books on writing craft, and there are still more stacks of texts about writing in other areas of my home. Rarely does a week go by that I don’t read a chapter—or several—from one of these sources of inspiration, style, and skill.

Below are titles of a few texts I’ve found extremely helpful as a fiction writer and to which I often return. I hope you’ll share in the comments some of the books on craft that have helped you grow as a writer. Because, as you well relate, I’m always looking for the next great book on writing.

The Lie that Tells a Truth by John Dufresne

The Art and Craft of the Short Story by Rick DeMarinis

Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose

Burning Down the House by Charles Baxter

From Where You Dream by Robert Olin Butler

Making Shapely Fiction by Jerome Stern

On Writing by Stephen King

On Writing by Eudora Welty

Writing Fiction by Gotham Writer’s Workshop Faculty

Building Fiction by Jesse Lee Kercheval

Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft by Janet Burroway

Now share your favorites below!

 

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