Column Contest Calling Your Name, or Could Be

This column originally was published in the February 2014 edition of The Columnist, the members’ newsletter of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

By Bill Ervolino
Contest Chair
National Society of Newspaper Columnists

Bill Ervolino

Bill Ervolino

Alas, it’s too late to enter most of those other competitions. The Grammys and Golden Globes are over and done with, and your chances of winning an Oscar this year probably aren’t any better than they were last year. But if you’re starring in a Broadway show, or happen to be a newspaper columnist or blogger, you’re in luck.

I’m not sure what the Tony award rules are. But, the deadline to enter the annual writing contest held by the National Society of Newspaper Columnists is looming. So, as we say in my home state of New Jersey, whaddya gonna do about it?

Think about it for a while? Put it off indefinitely? Not enter at all because … oh, you know … competitions make you feel weird? Nervous? Uncomfortable?

"Toast of the Town" columnist Ed Sullivan working on his you-know-what at the Jersey Shore, 1936.

“Toast of the Town” columnist Ed Sullivan working on his you-know-what at the Jersey Shore, 1936.

OK, first of all: We all know that you aren’t in this business for the awards any more than you’re in it for mountains of cash that are routinely direct-deposited into your long-suffering bank account every week or so.

You do what you do for a living because you’re a dyed-in-the-wool journalist! A real-live writer! A clever, resourceful, hard-hitting, opinionated so-and-so, who takes your profession seriously — even when what you’re writing is Dr. Seuss-silly.

Then, of course, there are all the nifty perks: Every so often, your editor pats you on the head. Sometimes the owner of your newspaper even acknowledges your existence. And then there are all those wonderful letters you receive from readers  — or comments to your blog — who think you’re the best thing to happen to the English language since the adjectival participle.

Your work is its own reward — he said, nobly — but that doesn’t mean you can’t drizzle a little chocolate sauce on top.

I’ve been lucky enough in my 37 years in this business to win quite a few of these things, from medals, plaques and trophies to framed certificates and lovely Lucite whatchamacallits. I’d give you an accurate count of them if I could, but as soon as I receive these handsome accolades, they’re shipped off to my sainted mother, who continues to decorate her house with them.

Decor-wise, they’re a cheap alternative to oil paintings and imported hand-carved marble things. And they give her a perfect excuse to one-up her visiting cousins: “Oh, did you see Billy’s latest award? Isn’t the frame lovely?”

In addition to winning some contests, I’ve also experienced that peculiar mix of pleasure and misery that comes from judging other organizations’ contests and the joy of telling friends and loved ones, ìI can’t do anything for the next two weeks because I have 80 pounds of hard-hitting prose waiting for me in that big UPS box out on the porch.

Being a judge is a chore, but it’s also great fun rummaging through the entries and narrowing down your favorites, then, having second thoughts, throwing everything up in the air and starting all over again.

Fortunately, I love to read almost as much as I love to write. And, I take the responsibility seriously. I smile at some newbie who is struggling with the same writing dilemmas I had 35 years ago. And I gasp at the entries of a handful of old pros — a few of whom are even older than this old pro — who make me whisper to myself, I wish I’d written that.

Like my participation in the NSNC contests, judging all these other ones makes me feel wonderfully connected to the business I’ve devoted most of my life too. And, when I’m able to make it our group’s annual conferences, I feel that same terrific connection, from the time I make it into town to the night of the big awards dinner. The NSNC’s members are a great bunch of folks who are fun, supportive and terrific to shoot the breeze with. After all, who knows more about columnists than other columnists?

If I’ve persuaded you to the take the plunge — and I do hope I have — now’s the time to go through your last year’s work, pick out some gems and compete! Deadline is March 15, 2014. Update: Deadline extended to April 1, 2014. Do it for the excitement. The fun. The camaraderie.

And, above all else, do it for Mom!

• • •

Bill Ervolino is humor columnist for The Record of northern New Jersey.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email