Reflection and projection. That’s what the last month of the calendar year means to a writer—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, giving and receiving, traveling and staying put. December is also the month of the solstice—the longest day of the year or the shortest—and ushers in another rotation around the sun. This December, write a piece of creative nonfiction inspired by the last month of the year, and all that it signifies.
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, rife 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 may utterly captivate a reader on the other side of the country, or world. Even the weather! “The smog becomes denser,” wrote Vanilla in her submission last year. She described the December pollution in New Delhi as “trying to wrap the earth in a heavier, grayish blanket.” Reflecting on her experience waiting for a train delayed by smog, Vanilla expertly wove together the ordinary with the extraordinary. To get a sense of what this creative nonfiction genre is all about, we encourage you to read "December in Delhi
" in full, the winning pieces
from last years competition, and the resources Creative Nonfiction Exemplars
and My December Beginnings
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 to 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 the view is out your bedroom window, or the cadence of your father’s voice, or the way your best friend shuffles when he walks. 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
Melissa De Silva
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 4th and get feedback from our team of experts—authors, writing teachers, and educational professionals.
November 27: Competition Opens
December 4: Submit draft for Expert Review (Optional. We will review the first 100 drafts submitted.)
December 8: Reviews returned to Writers
December 12: Final Submissions Due
December 22: Winners Announced
Our Album Review Competition opens Monday, January 1st.
Stay tuned for more details!