By Eric Heyl
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
In retrospect, the email’s timing could have been better.
I don’t recall much about the day except a random check of my inbox that proved startling. It was a communique from Sheila Stroup, a columnist from the Times-Picayune in New Orleans, whom I didn’t know at all.
Stroup, who was chairing the NSNC’s annual column contest, informed me that I was a winner.
I stared at the email, dumbfounded. How could that be?
I had been a columnist at my paper for barely a year. I had just joined the NSNC, and wouldn’t even have thought to enter the contest if my editor hadn’t suggested it. I had sent in my entry and then promptly forgot about it, realizing that someone of my relative inexperience had no chance of winning.
So how did I win?
I pondered the question for a moment, then glanced at the calendar. The answer suddenly was crystal clear.
It was April Fool’s Day.
Irate that someone I didn’t even know had been persuaded to prank me, I emailed Stroup and asked: “Are you pranking me?”
She responded a short time later, insisting she was on the level. Being a professional skeptic, I had my doubts until I actually received the award a few months later at my first NSNC conference in San Francisco.
(I could note that my highly bemused brethren columnists often referred to me that weekend as “the guy who thought he was being pranked.” But I’ll refrain from doing so. Too embarrassing.)
I relate this story because it’s NSNC contest season again, and perhaps you haven’t submitted your entry yet and are on the fence about doing so.
Perhaps you’re a veteran scribe experiencing a crisis of confidence that your work no longer can compete with that of the nation’s top columnists. Or maybe you’re like I was in 2001, a relative novice under the mistaken impression that inexperience probably is an automatic disqualifier.
Whatever your reasons, I would urge you to enter the contest. I can’t guarantee you’ll win, but you have just as good a shot at a prestigious national award as anyone else.
So go through your 2012 pieces, choose your best work and complete that contest entry as soon as possible, for the deadline is rapidly approaching.
It’s April 1. No fooling.