Tag Archives: contests

Tighten Your Writing

wrench-899403-mI love contests. Besides reading and feedback from critique partners, contests may be the best means by which my writing has improve.

For one thing, most contests give feedback, either through judges’ scoring sheets or through comments from other participants. Then too, contests provide opportunities to experiment—to try out a new premise or dance a little with a new point of view.

However, the most important thing contests have taught me is how to write tight. You see, most contests have some kind of word or page limit. In other words, you have to tell your story in 5000 words, or 1500, or 100.

One contest I entered, held by agent Janet Reid, was to write a 100-word story which included five words she specified. It’s quite the challenge, I can tell you.

My first version was nearly twice as long as the limit. Next came the editing process. What words were unnecessary? What phrase could I replace with a single word? What parts of the story were needed? All this to meet a stringent word count.

It dawned on me, however, that those questions are ones I should ask about my writing whether or not I’m constrained by contest rules.

Eliminating unnecessary words keeps a story or an article moving. Some unnecessaries are fillers that an author falls back on, often without realizing it—words such as just or even. I even told my writing partners contests were helpful, so I just decided I should enter, too.

Other unnecessaries are built-in redundancies. He stretched, raising up both arms. (Is it possible to raise arms down?) The unopened can slipped from her fingers and fell down on her foot. (Could the can fall up on her foot?)

The next phase of tightening writing is somewhat harder. What phrases can be replaced by single words? Prepositional phrases are good suspects. He touched the screen of his iPad can become He touched his iPad screen.

Hardest of all might be determining what parts of a story or article are or are not necessary. Everything needs to be fair game. Is a particular character adding anything new or is he merely taking up space? Is a particular plot point moving the story forward or is it veering away from the desired end? Is an article example shedding further light on the subject or is it duplicating the point of a previous illustration?

Writing tight takes work, and clearly readers won’t know how hard an author struggled to hone a story or article. What they will know, however, is that they remained interested from start to finish and their minds never wandered—something fiction and nonfiction writers alike should strive for.

– – – – –

This article, with some editorial changes, is a reprint of one that appeared here in October 2010.

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Filed under Nonfiction, Writing Process, Writing Rules

Critique Groups, Conferences, Contests

EvaluationIn many respects, writing a book is only a beginning. The next big question is, will anyone read it? The only way to be sure is to get feedback–not from those who dearly love you like your husband or your mother.

In fact, you need readers who not only can tell you if they liked the story or connected with the character or had to resist the temptation to skim a few pages, you need to receive feedback from someone who understands writing well enough to tell you why. Why did your story succeeded or fail, why are readers connecting or are not with your character, or why are there boring stretches in the middle.

There are a number of ways to receive good feedback. One of the best is to join a critique group. Some writing organizations facilitate online groups, putting together those who work in the same genre.

In many cities there are established in-person writing groups that provide the opportunity for critiques. Organizations such as the Romance Writers of America (RWA) or the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) have chapters throughout the country. Some areas have independent writing clubs, and of course there’s always the option of starting your own group. If you’d like helpful advice about how to start a group, I suggest The Complete Guide To Writers Groups That Work by B. J. Taylor.

The advantage of a critique group is that you have unbiased people who have some knowledge of writing who read your work and give you their reaction. Of course some critiquers may be more helpful than others, based on experience both as a writer and as an evaluator.

Least helpful is the person who wants to rewrite your work as they would have written it. A close second is the person who only says how much they love your work. Neither of those help you to sharpen your skills.

Critique groups may lead you to a critique partner, who may become your most valuable asset. This is the person who “gets” what you’re trying to do, who has a level of proficiency that will help you to improve, and who communicates clearly.

Writing conferences provide another way for you to improve your craft. First there are workshops that provide instruction. Some have critique classes. Many provide a critique service, either paid by an additional fee or covered by the conference tuition. These critiques give you feedback from a professional in the writing industry and are invaluable. True, this is only one person’s opinion, but it is unbiased and the view of someone who sees many other manuscripts, good and bad, so they a knowledgeable point of reference with which to compare your work.

There are hundreds of writing conferences. Wikipedia has compiled a partial list, but a Google search will uncover a many more. The key is to refine the search based on genre and location. Some of the more well known conferences include the Writer’s Digest (East and West), SCBWI (LA and New York, as well as smaller local gatherings), and RWA. Christian writers’ conferences include Mount Hermon, Colorado Christian Writers, Writing for the Soul, Oregon Christian Writers, American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), and Blue Ridge.

Many writing organizations and some online sites conduct writing contests, and that’s another great way to get feedback on your writing, whether over the first 250 words, the first 15 pages, or the entire manuscript. Some contests come with monetary prizes, others with the promise that your work will receive feedback from a writing professional.

Online contests may be public, allowing other writers to give their feedback as well. One such contest is held by Miss Snark’s First Victim.

Some fiction contests, such as the various Writer’s Digest contests, are for shorter works while others are for novel beginnings. Some have non-fiction categories. Entry fees for these vary.

I suggest you do an online search for contests in your genre, then compare entry fees, list of judges, and awards to help determine with is most suited to your needs. Having an agent or editor read your work is a great reward in itself, but contests also allow you to measure your progress against other writers. And of course if you receive judges sheets from professionals, you have specific areas you know you can work on.

Feedback. It’s invaluable to a writer. When unbiased readers, especially those who understand the ins and outs of writing, give us their reaction to our work in progress, we can only get better as we listen and learn.

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Filed under Resources, Writing Process

Write Tight

I love contests. Besides reading and critique partners, contests may be the best means by which my writing has improve.

For one thing, most contests give feedback, either through judges’ scoring sheets or through comments from other participants. Then too, contests provide opportunities to experiment—to try out a new premise or dance a little with a new point of view.

However, the most important thing contests have taught me is how to write tight. You see, most contests have some kind of word or page limit. In other words, you have to tell your story in 5000 words, or 1500, or 100.

The latest contest I entered, one at agent Janet Reid’s site, was to write a 100-word story using five specified words. It’s quite the challenge, I can tell you.

My first version was nearly twice as long as the limit. Next came the editing process. What words were unnecessary? What phrase could I replace with a single word? What parts of the story were needed? All this to meet a stringent word count.

It dawned on me, however, that those questions are ones I should ask about my writing whether or not I’m constrained by contest rules.

Eliminating unnecessary words keeps a story or an article moving. Some unnecessaries are fillers that an author falls back on, often without realizing it—words such as just or even. I even decided I would just try it.

Other unnecessaries are built-in redundancies. He stretched, raising up both arms. (Is it possible to raise arms down?) The unopened can slipped from her fingers and fell down on her foot. (Could the can fall up on her foot?)

The next phase of tightening writing is somewhat harder. What phrases can be replaced by single words? Prepositional phrases are good suspects. He touched the screen of his iPad can become He touched his iPad screen.

Hardest of all might be determining the necessary parts of a story or article. Everything needs to be fair game. Is a particular character adding anything new or is he merely taking up space? Is a particular plot point moving the story forward or is it veering away from the desired end? Is an example in an article shedding further light on the subject or is it duplicating the point of a previous illustration?

Writing tight takes work, and clearly readers won’t know how hard an author struggled to hone a story or article. What they will know, however, is that they remained interested from start to finish and their minds never wandered—something I think worth striving for.

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Filed under Word Use, Writing Rules