Tag Archives: essays

Contests: Entering or Judging – which is harder?

As we wrap up this week of Father’s Day essays,  I thought I’d reflect on my experience as a judge vs. a contest entrant.

I have submitted entries to scads of writing competitions: short fiction, genre fiction, essays, first chapter of a novel, 3 sentence contests, 100 Words or Fewer* contest and even a contest to win a free on-line writing course (Which I won. On my second try…)

However, the essay writing contest I judged here was my first opportunity at wearing the hat of a “judge.”  Both experiences are challenging and rewarding.

When entering a submission to a contest, I’ve learned a few things to help gain some control over how my piece will place.

First, I note the deadline. If I won’t have enough time to do my research on the contest and the writing and revision of an entry, I will most likely pass on the contest.

Second, I notice the entry fee. Free is always acceptable! : ) But, I’m not opposed to paying an entry fee under these circumstances: if the prize(s) justify the fee (fee is 10% or less of the first place prize); if  I will receive a critique of my entry or a subscription to a writing newsletter or magazine at no additional cost.

Third, I reviewthe site, blog or publication hosting the contest. Is it reputable? Would I be proud to have my work published there? Would it fit my writer platform? In other words, I wouldn’t want my work to appear in a magazine or site that doesn’t produce the best (spell-checked and grammar-checked) writing.

Also, while reviewing the site, I read and study the previous winning entries. If the judge gave comments, I take those to heart, as well. Compare the winning entry with the guidelines and see how closely they were followed: the word count, the genre or topic, the pacing and flow of language and the overall take-away effect on the reader.

Last, but certainly not least, I will study the judge’s profile(their background, their blog and/or website) AND the contest guidelines. If the word count is 1,000 max, I stay under 1,000 words. If the instructions say No Attachments, I don’t send attachments, even as a back-up to the entry I typed in the body of an email.  When the judge sees that electronic paperclip, they might not even open my email!

Which brings me to my role as contest judge.  The basics of judging were easy. One entry I received was over 700 words, it was immediately disqualified.  One entry was submitted as song lyrics. As original and fun as that was, it was not an essay, therefore, also disqualified.

Some entries were submitted with poor grammar or spelling. I’m sorry, but Microsoft Word can correct that with one click of a button.  If English is your second language, be sure to have your piece reviewed by someone who speaks perfect English to point out any small errors in sentence structure or word choice.

The entries that made it past the basic review, were well written, but some missed the mark on the take-away feeling I was looking for.  I wanted to know how your dad shaped the person you are today. Some pieces were beautiful and showed a great portrait of Dad, but didn’t tie back to a central theme, they just kind of petered off.

I admit it was difficult judging, knowing what writers put into their work and the pins and needles feeling while waiting for that announcement.  You don’t know, as a judge, how your decision has affected those writers. It could have been their final straw at writing.

Though, I hope, those entering writing contests learn from their losses, gain confidence and endurance to trek a little longer on this path of creativity.  And submit their work (and their hearts) again and again.

*P.S. Come back tomorrow for the link to the official announcement of the winners of the 100 Words or Fewer Writing Contest. I won First Place! : )

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Filed under Advice, Believe, contests, emotion, Fiction, Get Published, Inspiration, Perseverance, Platform/Marketing, Voice, writing inspiration

My Tribute to my Dad

As promised, here is my essay, written for my dad, Don Stepps.  Love you Dad, Dad-daddy-o!

Death Missions

At my grade school Halloween costume party, my dad was the guy weaving through the crowd of Catholic school kids and nuns shouting, “Adrienne!” Not only was he dressed as Rocky in his gray zipper hoodie, boxing gloves and fake shiner under his left eye – he was Rocky Balboa.  Dad always played the part, from his silly or scary folktales to the pranks he pulled with costumes or props. 

 

I adopted Dad’s sense of adventure and often joined in on the fun: in Tomahawk, WI where we vacationed with aunts, uncles and cousins, Dad and I finished up a day of fishing with a little “surprise.” I knocked on my Uncle’s cottage door and when they opened, Dad threw a very wet, very alive fresh-caught fish onto their kitchen floor then slammed the door closed. Off we ran leaving a wake of shrieks and screams as that poor fish flip-flopped on their floor!

 

 

Flash forward 20 years and here I am, Little Miss Big Eyes (as Dad calls me), mom of two boys who adore their Grandpa. Even at age 61, Dad still plays pranks, in the form of “death missions” with my boys.  Sneaking into the kitchen to “steal” more candy for their movie night or sending my boys to smuggle the toaster and waffles out to the pop-up camper for a midnight snack, all without getting busted by Grandma, is the essence of a death mission.

 

Adventurous, risk-taker, spontaneous and creative are all great traits for a dad or grandpa of young kids. But Dad’s knack for fun has also been my inspiration as an adult. As I take risks in my writing, be creative in my teaching and find the adventure in Mommyhood.  I only hope that the stories I tell are as memorable as Dad’s.

 

Words: 299

 

BIO: Mary Jo Campbell, married mom of two, is an award-winning published freelance author who has been inspiring young writers to reach their potential through writing workshops, classes and speaking engagements. She teaches for FRoG (Friends of the Gifted & Talented) through their Super Saturday Programs, hosts on-going monthly young writers’ workshops and was the key note speaker for the Chick Chat event sponsored by HGNA (Helping Girls Navigate Adolescence).   Mary Jo is also an Executive Board Member and the Secretary for Capitol City Young Writers.

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Filed under Creative Essays, emotion, Inspiration, Non Fiction, Perseverance, Voice, writing inspiration, Writing prompts

“Sometimes when you think you are done, it is just the edge of beginning…”

“…Probably that’s why we decide we’re done. It’s getting too scary. We are touching down onto something real. It is beyond the point when you think you are done that often something strong
comes out.~ Natalie Goldberg

I think the first writing book I ever bought was Natalie Goldberg‘s Writing Down the Bones. A friend and co-worker named Kat let me borrow her copy. She was this hip graphic designer working in the same small ad agency as me and she believed in my writing, we were artistic kindred spirits.

We’ve since moved on, but the book remains a close companion. Don’t most books?

I especially love this quote (actually have it pinned to my cork board above my desk.) When I think I am finished with a piece, when I can’t bear to reread the same paragraph once more, I look to Natalie’s words and try to dig a little deeper. What am I not saying? What am I hiding? What am I afraid of? Find that fire in the belly and let her roar!

In non-fiction articles, I don’t have this problem. But I’m broaching the arena of creative essays and let me tell ya, I’ve got some issues. Plenty of issues to deal with and write about.

Tell me I’m not alone in this! (Please?)

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Filed under Advice, Believe, Creative Essays, emotion, Inspiration, writing inspiration