The Pros and Cons of Writing Contests

The title suggests I’m a veteran of writing contests. I’m not. I’ve only entered two and I’m in the middle of the second one. Both are Yeah Write Super Challenge contests with three rounds, each requiring an essay in response to a prompt. The better writers/essays move on to the next round with about ten writers being in the the third, final round.

I hesitate to say better writers move on because you can be a pretty good writer and bomb out of this writing competition. I say that as a one-time loser, properly chastised by the frank and searing criticism of my entry to the last round of the first Super Challenge.  I’d quote it but I ripped it into tiny pieces and swallowed it, bit by dry bitter bit. There’s the point of not having one’s name on an essay submitted to a contest, I guess. Your name can’t scream “I’m a nice old lady. You need to be nice to me!”

There you have the con of writing contests, well, two cons:  losing and getting honest feedback. I thought about the essay a long time before the third round of the Super Challenge. It had been forming up in my mind. This is unusual since 90% of what I write is totally in the moment and off the cuff. So, because I’d been mulling it, I figured it would be a great essay. But it was a mess.

The best analogy is a suitcase built for a weekend getaway packed with clothes for a year, bra straps and socks hanging out the side, a pair of mittens jammed in the outside pocket next to a swim suit, with ski goggles strapped on the handle. You get the visual here? That was my losing submission. And the judges had no trouble telling me the many, varied things wrong with it, the central one being trying to do too much in one essay. This is the lesson of the ages for an essay writer. I need a tattoo.

So what are the pros of writing contests? There are several. The writing pressure is one big plus. In the Super Challenge, the prompt is sent to the contestants on Friday night and the submission is due 48 hours later. So this is an intense writing experience and that makes it very challenging and fun. Writing to a prompt can be a bear but I think it’s also a plus for writers, especially if the prompt is a word you would never use or a question or situation that is either completely foreign or irrelevant. But you don’t get writing muscle by shuffling the same 10 cards, right?

And, of course, the feedback is one of the great benefits of a writing contest. The same dull knife that scraps the lining out of a writer’s soul is the one that points the way to doing better. I know this, have known it for a long time, but I remain a tender little flower, hiding from criticism like a dwarf pansy behind the garage. Clicking open the feedback email is a ‘cover my eyes’ event but I do it anyway. That’s good for me, like the test results telling me my cholesterol has gone through the roof. Not pleasant but good to know.

If you’re a writer, think about entering the next Yeah Write Super Challenge. At the very least, get engaged on the Yeah Write site. You will be exposed to some good writing and even better instruction and it’s all pretty painless. A small way to get better at what you do. No pros and cons. It’s all good.






Cold Reality

The man of letters looks out over Lake Michigan, steam fog rising into the subzero air. We are stopped at a light waiting to turn left. I roll down the window and snap a series of pictures with my phone. I want the perfect photo of the man of letters but first a passing car and then a small sign get in the way. Later I look at the photos and find one that will do. I crop it.

All last week and this week, we pick up our granddaughter at her father’s house and take her to school. In the afternoon, we pick her up from school and bring her to our house and then she is fetched back home. It’s put me back into a routine I’d long forgotten, the having the be someplace every day at a certain time or risk the horrible realization that I’d left a child somewhere. I did that once, took a child to summer day camp and forgot her. She stood in the school doorway for a long hour, maybe more. It left a mark on me. I don’t know about her. I should ask.

When we drop our granddaughter off, she gets out of our truck and plops into a snowbank. I see the snow going in her boots and remark to my husband that he should have let her out where the sidewalk is shoveled to the street. The snow is crusty and up to her knees and I worry that she will have wet socks all day. But it is out of my hands.

She wades through the snow and then runs toward the school door. We’re four minutes late because of the terrible roads and she wants to get in the door before the time when she’d need a parent with her. She runs with her backpack bouncing, her black flute case in one hand, her hands bare despite my having bought her mittens just last week. Where are they now?

Our truck spun out when we came up the freeway entrance to go pick her up. It unnerved me, thinking that our big truck didn’t make us safe in bad weather. Black ice is everywhere, I conclude, and I examine every stretch of freeway for disaster. On the way from her father’s house to her school, we take city streets. Still, there are spin-outs everywhere, cars smashed, people standing off to the side, waiting for police. Two big bridges are closed so we motor slowly east on a city street until we hit Lake Drive and go north to where the man of letters sits.

Later, I see on the news that a man was killed when he lost control of his car on the icy road and it flipped over the guard wall of a bridge over the Port of Milwaukee. His car landed upside down on the ground below and he died. At first, I thought his car catapulted into the water. I don’t know what is worse – the land or the water – but I’m sick for his family. He was just going to work on a winter day. Like us, only we were going to school.

I don’t know what to make of this or anything. Tonight, while my granddaughter finds rivers and swamps and cities on a map using longitude and latitude, my husband remarks about the day’s current events. I shake my head. My granddaughter, 10 years old, flips from the side of her homework with the map questions to the side with the map. “The kids at school are still upset about it.” It was matter of fact, like this is life now, this is what it will be like. There is black ice.


The ‘man of letters’ sculpture is titled Spillover II and was created by Jaume Plensa. It is located in Shorewood, Wisconsin.


Prayer might work. A poultice perhaps. Crushed flax seeds have helped some but I forget their names. A trip to the Grand Canyon to see the abyss in daylight is said to be good preparation. It’s up to you at this point.


Written in response to a Yeah Write micro-story prompt: What did the doctor say? But, alas, written too late in the wrong time zone so not linked up to Yeah Write. Oh well.

We Made It!


I could’ve quit but I didn’t.

It’s not like it was such a big deal. I didn’t paddle a kayak across the Atlantic Ocean or ride my bike from Jersey to L.A. I didn’t climb Mt. Everest or swim from Cuba to Key West.

All I did was blog every day in November. Nothing extraordinary. Words on a page. That’s all. I put words on a page every day in November.

I won’t even say it was hard. It wasn’t hard. But I will say that there were times when it was a wee bit difficult.

I had a huge project to finish in November.

I had cochlear implant surgery in November.

I had Thanksgiving in November.

I had the Green Bay Packers in November.

And anchoring it all, I had blogging every day.

November was a month that took a little grit. It’s November 30th and I’m all in one piece. I got everything done that I was supposed to get done. I was a trouper.

I finished my big project after much frustration and angst. I had my cochlear implant surgery, had my head bandaged like a WWI veteran and slept sitting up. I weaved my way around my house, making everyone nervous about whether I could make it down the stairs on my own. And then I drove my car to the bank.

We made Thanksgiving dinner and it was pretty decent. There was a full table – in more ways than one.

I sat for four hours in the rain and watched the Green Bay Packers lose to the hated Chicago Bears and got tears in my eyes when the beloved Bart Starr and Brett Favre, Green Bay’s legendary quarterbacks were honored at halftime. Never mind that I sat on the floor of the ladies room under the towel dispenser during the 2nd quarter wringing out my drenched gloves and bemoaning my fate.

It was a month of a lot of little nadirs. And a lot of trusting that everything would be okay. And it was. A lot of family members watching out for me, putting a strong arm under mine, spotting me when I started to waiver, being normal but not. So many good hands I was in. They helped me get well fast.

A couple of times this month, I heard my dad talking. “There’s no quit in that old gal,” he’d say. Usually, it would be about a car or maybe about his 80-year old mother rowing her boat out to the middle of the lake to fish for sunfish with a cane pole.

“There’s no quit in that old gal.” I’d like that to be said about me. Not about blogging. About me.