Views on Writing Contests

A Way to Build Name Recognition

By Monica McCabe Cardoza

 
ColumnistEntering a contest says a lot about your devotion to your craft. It proves that you take column writing seriously enough to want to be recognized for it.

But before you say, “Oh, I never win those things,” consider this: Winning a top prize is not as important as you would think.  Even a secondary prize can be an excuse to send out a press release or add an impressive note to your background sheet (a one-page summary of your writing career and achievements).  Try sending such a press release to the publications you have targeted as likely prospects for your column.

There are scores of writing contests and competitions held annually. To locate competitions, check out Literary Market Place, which has information on competitions and contests, as do the annual editions of Writer’s Market.

In addition, Editor & Publisher magazine inserts an annual directory of journalism awards in its last issue of the year.  The directory lists information on hundreds of awards, contests and scholarships available to journalists in all media, both national and international. It also lists contests suitable for columnists, including contests sponsored by the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, and the American Society of Business Press Editors.

Also, see if any associations or other organizations representing the field in which you write hold writing contests.  Kansas City-based syndicated columnist David Chartrand wrote a column dealing with teen suicide that earned him the 1998 Media Award from the Mental Association of the Heartland, which represents mental health professionals from the Kansas City metropolitan area.

(Monica McCabe Cardoza is the author of “You Can Write a Column” Writer’s Digest Books 2000)

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Writing to Win?

 By Tony Norman, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Honestly, so much of what we do as columnists is based on self-aggrandizement and the pursuit of ephemeral, vainglorious piffle.  Far from being contemptuous of our editors while grousing in the commissary, we secretly covet their praise and adulation.  We columnists are a pitiful, egocentric lot cursed with a transparent shallowness we can never overcome in a thousand lifetimes.  That’s what makes us columnists, for goodness sakes.

In idle moments between missed deadlines and the disorganized horror of our home life, we daydream the perfect Pulitzer acceptance speech.  In the haze of our fevered imagination, our friends and rivals bow before us in the newsroom the moment the most coveted prize in journalism is announced.  We’d gladly give up ten years of sex for a Pulitzer.  We’d do without sex for five years just to be on that almighty short-list leaked to Editor & Publisher by committee insiders.  Oh, if only we were in a position to complain to Dave Astor in an “unguarded moment” about how Maureen Dowd or Leonard Pitts robbed us, again.  What sweet humiliation that would be.

OK, the Pulitzer is a long shot.  Most of us will have to content ourselves with a series of lower level, but not necessarily less prestigious national, state and local journalism awards.  OK, they’re less prestigious, but not less important.  OK, they’re less important, but still worth sticking on our mantle, wall or our favorite box in the closet if we’re lucky enough to ever win one, two or twenty.

The operative word in the last sentence is “luck.”  The dirty little secret of most journalism contests is that prizes aren’t necessarily awarded to the best column or news story submitted for high-minded consideration that year.  Intellectually we know that.  We have a hard time connecting to it emotionally, though.

I’ve had the mixed blessing of winning contests that, objectively speaking, maybe I shouldn’t have.  In those situations when I’ve been able to peep at the columnists who’ve placed second and third, I’m amazed to have squeaked by on the judges’ scorecards.  This is not false modesty, mind you.  I’m being brutally honest at my expense, because I believe the experience of unworthiness at those moments is universal. These journalism contests are total crap shoots.  I’ve been a runner-up enough times to know that on those occasions when I don’t prevail, I was robbed.  I figure it’s all part of the Karmic dance of journalism.  We’re sometimes thrust into awkward situations to learn humility.

When I won the National Society of Newspaper Columnists award in the general columns category in 1999, it was the biggest and most prestigious award I’d won in my then decade-long career as a journalist.  Three years into my gig as a columnist, the NSNC saw fit to reward me with an unexpected honor I will always be grateful for.

That year, I swept most of the local and state contests in Pennsylvania, too.  I used the same lucky entries in all of them, so it didn’t surprise me. There are some years when you’re Tiger Woods breaking records and other years when you’re Tiger Woods in a slump.

Of course, those frequent trips to the winners’ circle ruined me and made me insufferable for a minute (Imagine that, eh?).  Awards puff up.  When you win them on a regular basis like I did a few years ago, you’re tempted to take your eye off the ball, which takes you out of the game.  Instead of showing up the next day to pour your heart into that next column, you begin to think strategically.  You begin wondering: “How do I keep the winning streak going?”  You start to repeat whatever it was that “brung you to the dance” in the first place.  You begin mentally rehearsing your Pulitzer acceptance speech…

You lose touch with the organic genius of the column because you’re preoccupied with pursuing what you believe to be a winning formula.  The debasement doesn’t set in immediately, but a slow rot builds up until a much needed attitude adjustment kicks in if you’re lucky.

This adjustment usually comes from the inevitable cycle of losing imposed on you by what is both the cruelest and kindest of fates.  Eventually, your time passes as colleagues, assorted acquaintances and rivals ascend to the winners’ circle you so recently vacated, albeit involuntarily.

While it’s true that contests as capricious as hell, they are more often than not honest indicators of talent as well.

(Excerpted from an article printed in the May-June 2005 issue of The Columnist.)

 
11/13/07
 

 

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