How to Write Winning Story for Competition

 It used to be very hard to find an audience for your writing and I think that was probably a good thing. It is very easy to draft draft and press publish quickly. We find students within hours (or minutes!) And look forward to applause. Sure, it's incredibly fun and rewarding but do we snatch it? Would we be able to improve our writing skills if it were a little harder to read?

When you are forced to do your best, sometimes you do better

When I first started working hard on my writing (about 20 years ago) the main thing I was focusing on was short story competitions and posting my work in magazines. If I wanted to take a picture when it was published, what I posted should have been the best.

I spent a lot of time reading the winners of previous competitions. I also spent a lot of time reading old books and literature by best-selling authors. These writers were incredible! Everything was so much above my level and at first I had absolutely no clue as to what made the winning story. I felt like I was writing in the dark - the words that were shooting on the page and I hoped they would magically fall in some way of good, good order.

The short story competitions forced me to do my best writing -

I have edited my draft many times.

I have given it to other people to plan too.

Completing my words, completing my dialogue, I read everything aloud over and over again.

Each piece was the best I could produce at the time and, as a bonus, many judges gave feedback on each case.

Some I have found a good answer and some a harsh answer. The worst part (I don’t think I’ll ever forget) was just one line view on a story that I thought was too deep and moving.

Do you expect me to hear something here? Oops.

Although it was difficult to hear difficult comments, good and bad forced my writing and helped me refine my process. I finally won a few competitions (with decent cash prizes!) And I also had a great answer that would let me know what works and what doesn’t.

Learning from masters

I wanted to reach another level in my writing. I had dreams of learning more, like John Steinbeck or Barbara Kingsolver. It didn’t seem enough to be a chic lit writer and I hadn’t really gotten my voice yet. This is where experiments began with the best titles and the most unusual titles.

I wrote figurative symbols with colors. I wrote from the tomato family (What ??). Some of them worked but many were just bad. Then I decided to do some unusual research.

Do you know which color-coded kits you can get? Craftsmen who learned the trade used to learn their art by doing exactly what the masters did. Young Michelangelo, like other students at the time, was encouraged to imitate the popular activities in his hometown. Copied Giotto's paintings to Florence's Santa Croce church in Florence. It was a great idea for paint-numbers.

I was reading Toni Morrison's Lovers and began to wonder if there was a way to paint numbers with a book. I chose the page I liked and looked at the first sentence.

You can paint numbers: can you write-numbers again?

Eleven words. Location. An explanation of what happened there. I can do that! So, without copying one word from the beginning, I wrote my own sentence with eleven words, place and meaning.

Autumn happened so slowly that it was unnoticed at first.

It was completely different from the original (so it wasn't fake) but it had taken me out of my comfort zone, out of my normal printing and opened up new opportunities.

The next line was a long, 30-word gambling description - much longer than I was writing but I pushed myself to match it.

One day the trees around the farmhouse glowed green with life, compact, strong, and then, as cruel as cancer, death swept the earth until everything was brown and red and dry.

I wrote the whole page this way. Slowly and carefully mimic the tone and word count exactly - to match my sentences with Toni Morrison line by line.

What emerged was something completely different from anything I had ever written, it was written in numbers but it is still completely real - it is still my voice, I am still standing. I worked on my draft until it was as flawless and perfect as possible: choosing the best words, removing the unnecessary ones.

I entered a national literacy competition and won.

We need to remember the importance of learning from masters. As writers our main training ground is the written word. For budding writers the most important task you have to explore good writing: read, study, read and perhaps, there is the value of copying.

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