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Personal Essay Competition: Making Change

Narrative — Raise your voice.

“One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world,” wrote Malala Yousafzai, the youngest ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and author of I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Changed the World (Little, Brown, 2013). In 2012, the Pakistani teenager survived an assassination attempt on her life, a retaliation by the Taliban for Yousafzai’s ongoing fight to bring education to the girls of remote Pakistan. Yousafzai was only 15. She not only survived, but increased her efforts to spread education to the globe’s farthest-flung corners.
 
Yousafzai, in her rare wisdom, seems to understand that real change doesn’t just come about through sweeping gestures of the rich and famous—a new law decreed, on old law abolished—but instead happens incrementally, one child, one teacher, one book, one pen at a time.
 
We each have the power to bring about change.
 
In a personal narrative essay, tell us your own story of change—how you’re making it, experiencing it, or dreaming about it. Perhaps you’ll write about a time when you effected change in your community, or about a change you would like to bring about in the future. Or perhaps you will tell us how promoting change has shaped your sense of self, or altered your outlook on life.
 
“I raise my voice not so that I can shout,” Yousafzai wrote, “but so that those without a voice can be heard.” The platform is yours, dear writers. Raise your voice.
 
 
Guiding Ideas 
  
MAKE CHANGE THE HEART OF YOUR NARRATIVE. Throughout the writing process, revisit these questions:
  • What is the definition of “change” in my piece?
  • How has this experience of positive change (or desire for change) influenced my perspective on my life? My community? The world at large?
  • What have I learned from change? What could it teach me in the future? 
 You may not answer these questions directly in your final piece, but thinking about these questions will infuse your writing with significance.  

STEER CLEAR OF DIARY ENTRIES. Personal narrative essays are most powerful when they tell a story. Instead of treating this piece like a diary or confessional, focus on all best elements of narrative—character and conflict, action, reflection and resolution.
 
BALANCE SCENE AND SUMMARY. As you develop your narrative, consider your methods of delivery. Scenes will draw in your reader, build tension, and offer telling details. Usually a personal narrative will revolve around 1-3 key scenes. Summary and reflection are also important. Summary efficiently delivers information (and can set the stage for scenes), while reflection allows you to communicate significance to the readers, building their investment in your experience.    

FIND A UNIVERSAL THREAD. Although you are telling a story that is personal in nature, are there elements you can develop to make it resonate with a broader audience? Here are some options to consider:
  • Be particular. We naturally relate to a story when we can step inside the shoes of the main character or narrator. Report your experience of change with attention to specific detail and nuance.
  • Demonstrate how the change you experienced in your life also impacted others: “This is larger than one story/one life!”
  • Appeal to your readers through emotion, allowing them to feel a particular experience.
  • Show your foibles. Being honest about your weaknesses, insecurities, or mistakes cultivates empathy in readers. 
CONSIDER TIME AS FLUID. Do the events in your personal narrative unfold chronologically (the order in which they happened)? Or do they jump around in time, according to their connection to one another and their significance? Organizing your piece in a sequence that is not chronological can build suspense and a sense of purpose in our writing. For example, you might throw us into a dramatic scene in the opening paragraph, and then back up, filling in details to help ground the first scene in context. Jumping into the past is called “flashback” and into the future is called “flashforward”—two techniques to keep in your toolbox.  
 
Who is Eligible?  
Young writers ages 13-18  
   
Length  
500 – 1,000 words
 
Guest Judge
Joey Bartolomeo, Executive Editor, SEVENTEEN
   
Prizes 
Best Entry: $100 (winning piece + author interview will be featured on Write the World’s website and blog, and in Seventeen’s print magazine and/or website) 
Runner up: $50 
Best Peer Review: $50 (reviewer interview will be featured on Write the World’s website and blog)
   
What’s Different about Write the World Competitions? 
Prizes: The winning entrant(s) will receive $100, and the best peer-reviewer will receive $50.       
Professional Recognition: The winning entry, plus the runner-up and best peer review, will be featured on our blog, with commentary from our guest judge.       
Expert Review: Submit your draft by October 2 and get feedback from our team of experts—authors, writing teachers, and educational professionals.   

Key Dates 
September 18: Competition Opens  
October 2: Submit draft for Expert Review (Optional. We will review the first 100 drafts submitted.)      
October 9: Reviews returned to Writers  
October 30: Final Submissions Due
February 2019: Winners Announced  
 
Upcoming Competition
Our Speech Writing Competition opens Monday, October 1st.
Stay tuned for more details!  

Due Dates
  • Oct 2 - Drafts Due to Expert Reviewers

  • Oct 30 - Competition Deadline

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