Guest Post by Susan May Warren
Susan May Warren is the RITA, Christy and Carol award-winning, best-selling author of over forty novels. A popular writing teacher at conferences around the nation, she’s also the founder of MyBookTherapy.com, a craft and coaching community for novelists. I, Steve, have had the privilege of working with her for a long time covering about 25 new projects. She is a delightful person and quite the visionary/entrepreneur.
Visit her at: www.susanmaywarren.com.
Far East Russia in the middle of January has all the charm of a mausoleum. Our missionary family lived in a three-room flat on the ninth floor of a cookie-cutter apartment building that, to the untrained eye, resembled a recently shelled building in Chechnya. We had no running water during the day, no telephone line and the Siberian wind froze the windows shut, sheeting them with curlicues of frost.
Four children terrorized our 900 square foot flat, drag racing their tricycles down the hall, scattering their land-mine Legos and scribbling their names upon the walls like gulag prisoners. My husband too eagerly escaped to plant a church an hour from our city while I stayed to patrol the borders. Honestly, I felt like one of the captives.
At night, the wind howled against the panes and, locked in the now quiet house with the slumbering rabble-rousers…I wrote. I penned story after story of romance, adventure and suspense. My first was an epic tale of survival against a backdrop of war in 1940s Russia. The second, a story of a missionary fleeing a serial killer. Again, set in Russia.
I may have been channeling some inner angst.
The third story I set in idyllic northern Minnesota, in a town I vacationed in as a child. I dreamed up a tale of second chances about a bookstore owner meeting the author of her dreams.
So, more channeling, perhaps but this is where the light speared through the darkness. One night, while surfing my spotty internet, I found a contest for unpublished authors, the grand prize being a one-line mention in a magazine.
I entered…and won. Suddenly, everything changed.
No, the children didn’t stop their pursuit of destruction; the water didn’t gush forth from the rock (faucet), the wind didn’t cease its incessant howling….But, I began to believe that maybe I wasn’t just writing to whittle away the dark nights.
- Winning a Contest gave me VISION. I realized that if I worked hard, I could possibly, someday, get published…
- Entering a Contest gave me SKILLS. With my contest entry came feedback. I analyzed it over and over and began to apply the suggestions. It made me a better writer.
- Entering the Contest required me to take my writing SERIOUSLY. No longer a hobby, I suddenly wanted to play this game, to win. I carved out time, invested in writing books and set my mind toward the goal.
I rewrote that story and, a year later, sold it to Tyndale. You know it (hopefully!) as Happily Ever After, my first novel. Amazingly, I’ve sold 40 more novels since then. (That still takes my breath away.)
Those dark nights, wrapped in a blanket, tapping on my keyboard in the darkness fueled a desire in me to help other writers who feel trapped – maybe by discouragement or perhaps confusion as to how to improve their craft. That’s why I started My Book Therapy – first as a blog, then as a community, then as a writing coaching service. We launched or Frasier Contest for unpublished writers 5 years ago.
My vision for the Frasier zeroed in on craft more than genre. Writers must have solid writing skills for their stories to stand out in a cluttered world, so we threw out the categories, creating a contest geared at the skills of delivering a great story.
More than that, however, we focused on the need to capture a reader in the first few sentences, even the first scene. To, in short, hook them with amazing prose.
And, because writers need that shot of vision, our contest does not require a finished manuscript to enter. Sometimes you just need to know if you have it, if your story works and the direction to know where to go from here.
Vision, Skills, a Serious Focus – these are the benefits of entering a writing contest like the Frasier, and so many others out there, from the ACFW First Impressions and the Genesis, to RWA/FHL’s Touched by Love and so many more.
Are you an aspiring novelist? Add “entering contests” into your game plan for 2014.
Who knows, it just might set you free.
Question: What writing contests will you be entering in 2014?