This month, join Write the World and Pen America
for our "My December" competition. Write a piece of creative nonfiction about your December, and all that it signifies. The last month of the year is a chance to take stock of where you are, where you’ve been, and where you’re going. For many, these 31 days contain ritual and family, celebration and contemplation, cooking and eating, gift giving and gift receiving, traveling and staying put. There’s the longest day of the year for some of you and the shortest for others—and the ushering in of another rotation around the sun.
What is creative nonfiction, you might be wondering. Often defined as a personal essay or personal narrative, this genre braids together storytelling and reflection. We want to hear about an experience in your life, rich with characters and description and conflict and scene… but we also want to hear how you make sense of this experience, how it sits with you, and why it has surfaced as writing. You may not address each of these points explicitly, but the answers should be somewhere in the fabric of your writing.
And remember, details that seem mundane to you can be fascinating for a reader on the other side of the country, or world. Even the weather. “The smog becomes denser, trying to wrap the earth in a heavier, grayish blanket,” wrote Vanilla in her past submission about the December pollution in New Delhi. Reflecting on her experience waiting for a train delayed by smog, Vanilla expertly wove together the ordinary with the extraordinary. In last year’s winning submission, Vin wrote about how a purple bike signified a path out of crippling chronic illness. To get a sense of what this creative nonfiction genre is all about, we encourage you to read “December in Delhi
” and “Tomorrow
” in full, and other winning pieces from past competitions, which you can find in the resource “Creative Nonfiction Exemplars”.
KNOW THE HEART OF YOUR NARRATIVE. Oftentimes we don’t know the “main point” when we start writing, and are instead guided by instinct. Something is telling us that a particular experience is significant and worth investigating. It is the process of writing itself that reveals to us the purpose for telling our story. So, although you don’t need to articulate a hypothesis or point or purpose before you start writing, at some stage it’s useful to step back and identify the following elements of your piece:
1) What is powerful about the experience?
2) What has it taught you?
3) How has it changed you?
You may not answer these questions directly in your final piece, but thinking about these questions will infuse your writing with significance.
WRITE TO YOUR AUDIENCE. Your audience for this narrative is a large, vibrant, supportive community… of mostly strangers! And strangers from across the world, no less, who don’t know what smog in India looks like, or how it feels to have chronic pain, or what the view is out your bedroom window. Make sure to give your readers all the details they need to understand 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:
1) Appeal to your readers through emotion, allowing them to feel a particular experience.
2) Demonstrate how the subject you’re exploring also impacts others.
3) Demand the reader’s attention by expressing the urgency of an issue or problem.
4) Be particular. We naturally relate to a story when we can step inside the shoes of the main character or narrator. Report your story with attention to specific detail and nuance.
5) Show your foibles. Being honest about your weaknesses, insecurities, or mistakes cultivates empathy in readers.
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.
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 the reader 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
600 – 1,000 words
Best Entry: $100 (winning piece + author interview will be featured on Write the World’s
website and blog)
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 Monday, December 3rd and get feedback from our team of experts—authors, writing teachers, and educational professionals.
November 26: Competition Opens
December 3: Submit draft for Expert Review (Optional. We will review the first 100 drafts submitted.)
December 7: Reviews returned to Writers
December 11: Final Submissions Due
December 21: Winners Announced
Our Film Review Competition opens Monday, January 7th.
Stay tuned for more details!
About Pen America
We're excited to collaborate with Pen America
on our annual My December Competition. Founded in 1922, PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect free expression in the United States and worldwide. They champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world.