It’s that time of year again–time to put the final polish on your essays and poetry for our annual writing contest. In past years when posting about our contest, I have asked if anyone has questions. And… no one ever does. I don’t know if that’s because it’s pretty straightforward, or if people are intimidated about asking. I’ve decided to make up my own questions this time around. However, if anyone wants to know something about our contest that I don’t answer, please post a comment and ask away!
Q: It’s December and my life is too crazy to write just now!
A: We totally get that. This is why we run a new contest every year.
Q: What should I write about?
A: Anything you want. While we do have themed issues, we leave our writing contests open to whatever you’d like to write about.
Q: How are the entries judged?
A: The staff of Segullah meets on an internet forum. Editors post the entries on our forum, without names, and then we read through all the entries, narrow them down to our favorites, and vote. We don’t have an official rubric, but after thorough discussion we come to a consensus on our favorites.
IMPORTANT NOTE: in past years, we have published the winning essays as-is, with only copyediting. After much discussion, we’ve decided that this year’s essay contest will be a little different. We will select our favorite finalists, give each writer an opportunity to revise with one of our editors, and then choose the final winner after that revision process has taken place.
Q: Who should enter this contest? Can I enter if I’ve never published anything?
A: Yes! Please enter! A little of my background: While I wrote a lot in college, I had never published anything before I started writing for Segullah. I wrote an essay about my experience with feeling lost as a mother and wondering when to have another child. It won an honorable mention.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that this changed my life. I felt validated and encouraged to pursue the balancing act of writing and mothering. If you haven’t done much writing lately, but you have always wanted to, this is a great contest for you.
Q: Wait a second. I’m a published writer, and I would like to enter. Is your contest just for writers who have not been published previously?
A: No. We love published writers, too. Please enter!
Q: I have a great blog post. It got a lot of positive comments. Can I submit that?
A:Yes, but. First, please read Angela Hallstrom’s excellent post on the difference between a blog post and an essay. We at Segullah’s journal love a good blog post. But, for the most part, a blog post requires significant revision before it can be an effective essay. Blog posts are a good starting point, though.
Q: I just sat down and wrote this essay/poem. It really came from my heart and I don’t want to change anything about it, because that would ruin it. Should I send it in?
A: Ah, I will be honest. You can send it in, but I think it will not win unless you revise it first. It’s close to your heart, it’s something you created that expresses you, and that’s wonderful. But your best bet is going to be to put it away for a while, and then take it out and look at it with fresh eyes, when you can stand to change something about it. There’s nothing like the incredible rush of a first draft. But it’s the slow process of polishing that really makes writing shine.
Q: How many drafts of an essay should I do before I submit it?
A: Short answer: A lot. Longer answer: For our regular submissions we do at least three: a concept/story/structure revision, which works on major structural or story issues; a revision where we focus on tweaking sentences and paragraphs (but the basic essay concept is sound); and a near-final edit where we focus on each word. It’s important to realize that each of our submissions has presumably already gone through several versions before we accept it. While we are choosing finalists this year, and taking each finalist through our revision process, those finalists who have already done the most work are more likely to do well.
Q: Can you give me tips about what kinds of poetry you prefer?
Sure. I hope that all poets read Sharlee Glenn’s blog post on Segullah poetry. I also recommend you look through our archives and read what we have published in the past.
Q: What about essays?
A: I will refer you to the “writing tips” category of our blog. “Happy literary” and “faithful probing” are phrases that describe the style of essay we are looking for. Again, I also recommend you spend some time in our archives. Links to each of our past issues can be found on the left sidebar of our blog.
Q: Where can I read the winning essays and poems from previous years, to get a better feel for what you would like to see?
A: Check out this blog post, which highlights our 2007 winners. Our 2008 winners are not yet available online. But I will whet your appetite for them by letting you read Lara Neidermeyer’s amazing first place winning poem, “Expectancy,” now appearing in our Fall 2008 issue, which is one of my favorite things we’ve ever published. Read it, and weep. And then go write.
By Lara Neidermeyer
Opinions vary as we wait to hear if her
health is billed clean as spic-n-span,
and in my bumbling fearful heartbreak I
find myself as useless in consolation as
I imagine; no more no less . . . I loathe this
Standing bald and ashen, still she teaches
not just Sunday school, but ten-fold—
the lines of faith and searing hope
cross her smile like grieving roads on an
oft-read palm, and we want to breathe her in
and shy away.
She asks us how we feel about Job,
that man, misunderstood and sanctified,
a man of biblical proportions if there ever
was one, and we hesitate to answer:
you are his echo, but instead we nod and
doubt our compassion.
We spend a lot of time on the old man’s
lackluster friends, emphatic in their
concerted desertion, easy in their big-house,
holy-held disdain and discuss the
wreckage of our own kind courtesy;
oh—how we lack.
Today my tongue trips awkwardly as I
search for that thing which will shred the
fence between the afflicted
and the fit-though-clumsy
would-be mourner, wishing you could see
the love beyond the casserole I offer.
Trying not to die is pretty personal, and yet
we’ve been invited to your battleground
so I am trying not to flinch because I do
believe in a god of miracles, do believe no
suffering is useless, do believe that you should
live through this.
There is no peace in hiding behind fury, but
anguish sometimes clouds that straightforward
trust between creator and beloved child, and we
are witness to your graceful growth, and wish that
we could take our sacred paths to cleverness
with half your solace.
And I try to lose my fear of losing your gentle
Wisdom—a matter-of-fact reality that,
like a candle, you refuse to hide beneath a
bushel or a malady; for in your eyes is shining
fire and your words—soft-spoken and wildly alive,
are fighting words.