Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Contest Tips

So You Wanna Win a Contest?

©Cheryl Wright 2004 – All rights reserved

In the period May 2003 til December 2003 I entered seven writing contests. I short listed in five and placed second in two of those five.

It was all a major shock to me. I always thought my writing was fairly mediocre; nothing special, and certainly nothing spectacular.

It all began when my writing group ran a workshop called “Taking Risks with your Writing” about three years ago.

Like most writers, I love to read. I still recall hiding under the covers with a torch (flashlight) most nights, and being roused out around midnight by my parents to get to sleep. But I usually read the same sort of books over and over. Nancy Drew was my favourite in those early years, then as I grew into my teenage years, Agatha Christie took over. These days, my absolute favourite author is Australian writer, Peter Corris.

Are you beginning to see a pattern here? All these books are mysteries of one sort or another.

So what, I hear you say.

The point is, I mainly read one type of book.

At the workshop we were encouraged to read genres we wouldn’t normally read, and to write material we wouldn’t normally write, or hadn’t read that much. So that’s exactly what I did.

I read fantasy, comedy, sci-fi, suspense, crime, romantic suspense, romance. I even read some heavy ‘literature’. And you know what? I liked them. In fact, I liked them so much that I decided to start writing across genres, to ‘give myself permission’ to write in a whole new way; to evoke a totally new voice, and to write what I liked to write, rather than what was expected.

The next step I took was to analyse other successful writers’ work. What was it they did that I didn’t?

Janet Evanovich’s successful Stephanie Plum books were high on my hit list. So I read them, and read them, and read them. They were funny, they were pacy, and they were addictive.

Finally, I had that long awaited ‘ah-ha!’ moment. It had to happen eventually; at long last, the little light bulb lit up.

Janet Evanovich wrote what people didn’t expect.


I began a new journey. I turned my methods around; I began to spatter humour into my writing, to create larger than life characters, and I began to ‘think outside the square’. When I wrote something ordinary, mundane, or expected, I would sit down and brainstorm better outcomes. I refused to write to formula and I always endeavoured to surprise the reader.

I now have a very unique voice, one that differs with everything I write. While I’m writing, as my plots unfold, one part of my brain is screaming ‘be different, be unique!’ as I type. And it works.

Prior to that evocative workshop, it was intimated that I needed to have one voice, one style, and write in one genre.

Well, too bad – I don’t, and I won’t!

As a new writer, other people placed many restrictions on me:

“Romance is written to formula.”
“You can’t combine romance with comedy.”
“Comedy and mystery just don’t mix.”
“First person writing isn’t acceptable these days.”

What a load of old rubbish!

As a much more experienced writer, I put a hex on all this restrictive nonsense. It’s a little like having steak and three veg for dinner every night; you quickly get sick of the same meal night after night. Well dear writers, your readers tire of the same ol’ same ol’ in every book they pick up.

So what am I suggesting? Don’t write to formula; don’t write the same as the last writer, and the next writer, and the next...

Use stunning first sentences, exploit strange and weird endings - dare to be different; get your work published, win that contest, and earn that book contract.

About the author: Cheryl Wright is an Australian author and freelance journalist. In addition to an array of other projects, she writes a monthly travel column for a magazine in the US and is the author of "Think Outside the Square: Writing Publishable (Short) Stories" -- Available from:

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