As you know well, dear writers, the teenage years are an in-between time. They make up a stage linking childhood and adulthood, but also—often!—they are a transition time: starting at high school or university, gaining more freedom, finding a part time job… Perhaps most importantly, they are a time of internal transitions, as we find out more about who we are, and who we want to be in the world.
It is no surprise, then, that so many of our favorite books capture this stage of life—with all its reflection and anticipation, journeys and crossroads, endings and beginnings. To name a few: A Long Way Gone
by Ishmael Beah, Catcher in the Rye
by J.D. Salinger, and Esperanza Rising
by Pam Muñoz Ryan. This month, use the tools of creative nonfiction to write about your own experience of this passage into adulthood.
Creative Nonfiction Guiding Ideas
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. As you draft your your essay about this passage into adulthood, keep the following genre guidelines in mind:
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 your city 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.
STEER CLEAR OF DIARY ENTRIES. Creative nonfiction is most powerful when it tells a story. Instead of treating this piece like a diary or confessional, focus on all the best elements of narrative—character and conflict, action, reflection and resolution.
Who is Eligible?
Young writers ages 13-18
Guest Judge -
Beverly Beckham's articles and essays have appeared in newspapers and magazines around the world. Beckham wrote columns and editorials for the Boston Herald for 20 years and currently writes a Sunday column for the Boston Globe. She is the author of A Gift of Time
, a collection of personal essays; Back Then, a Memoir of Childhood,
and The Best of Beverly Beckham,
a Boston Globe e-book. Many of her columns have appeared in the Chicken Soup for the Soul
book series including A Second Chicken Soup for the Woman’s Soul
, A 6th Bowl of Chicken Soup for the Soul, Chicken Soup for the Mother’s Soul 2, Chicken Soup for the Soul - Children with Special Needs, Chicken Soup for the Soul, New Moms.
Beckham is also a frequent guest on radio and TV as well as a keynote speaker for organizations nationwide.
What’s Different about Write the World Competitions?
- Best Entry: $100 (Our guest judge’s commentary on the winning piece, and an interview with the author will be featured on Write the World’s blog)
- Runner up: $50 (Our guest judge’s commentary on the piece will be featured on Write the World’s blog)
- Best Peer Review: $50 (Our guest judge’s commentary on the best peer review and an interview with the reviewer will be featured on Write the World’s blog)
- Prizes: The winning entrant will receive $100, and the runner-up and 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, November 29, and get feedback from our team of experts—authors, writing teachers, and educational professionals.
- November 22: Competition Opens
- November 29: Submit draft for Expert Review (Optional. We will review the first 100 drafts submitted.)
- December 3: Reviews returned to Writers
- December 7: Final Submissions Due
- December 17: Winners Announced
Looking to take your writing skills to the next level while learning from professional authors, poets, and educators? Check out Write the World's Global Writing Workshops program here
Our Song Writing Competition opens Monday, January 3rd.
Stay tuned for more details!
Is previously published work eligible?
Our monthly competitions are designed to get you writing across a range of genres throughout the year, so we encourage you to write a new work for each competition, but we will also accept work that has been previously shared with a small, local audience (for instance, a piece that was published in a school journal).
How to Enter
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- Hit the “Start Writing” button above!
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- When you are ready to submit your entry, hit the "Submit as Final" button (You can revise, re-publish, and mark any version as your "final submission" until the deadline.)
- Only one entry per person, please.
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