Should You Enter Writing Contests?

writing contests, writing, how to, life hack

When I first began writing, I was eager to enter my work in contests. I wanted quality feedback on my writing, and a chance to get my work in front of editors and agents. It was an eye-opening experience.

What I discovered after entering and losing a few contests is that contests are very subjective. I had books that didn't even final in contests get picked off the slush pile for publication. After this happened more than once, I decided that contests weren't for me.

Fast forward to a few years later. I had a number of book published by Harlequin and other publishers and I decided, on a whim, to enter a couple of contest. Low and behold, I came in first. At this point in my career, placing in a contest was an ego boost. This can be a tough business and you have to get your kicks where you can. Receiving a couple of trophies and being able to say "award winning author" were important to me.

Whatever your reason for entering contests, here are some important questions to ask before you send in your money and your writing.

1. What do you hope to get out of the contest? Are you looking for good feedback from a professional? Are you searching for validation of your work and a shinny trophy to display in your office (there's nothing wrong with that). Ask yourself why you want to spend your money on the contest. If your reason is simply because it's there and you happen to have written something, then the contest may not be for you.

2. Who is judging the contest? Who is judging the contest is an important thing to take into consideration. If you are searching for feedback on your work, then search for a contest that will be judged by professionals in your field or genre. If you are searching for a morale boost (there's nothing wrong with that), then look for contests judged by readers. What you don't want to do is enter a contest judged by amateurs if you're searching for a professional critique of your work. You won't get what you need, and it will be a waste of your time, money and resources.

3. What are the rewards for winning? Will your work get in front of an editor or agent? Will you get useful feedback? Is there a cash prize or a chance at quality advertisement? Your answers to these questions will tell you whether or not a contest is right for you.

4. Can I handle feedback? Judges comments can be helpful, and they can be brutal so if you aren't ready to see them, then don't enter a contest. On the other hand, taking criticism is a skill to learn and a contest can help you learn it.

5. What happens if I enter a lot of contests and I don't win? This might be a good indication that your work isn't really ready. Take the feedback offered by the judges, revise your work or start a new project, and give it some time. Develop your craft and then try again in a few months or even years. The timing, or the types of contest you are entering, may not be right for you.

I hope these tips helps you decide whether entering contest is right for you. Check out my books because some of them are award winning.

Small Details Can Make the Character

character, writing, novel, books, how to

When you're in an art gallery and gazing at old portraits, it’s easy to forget that all of the faces staring back at you were once real people with thoughts, hopes, dreams, love and ambition. Pondering these people and the "what ifs" of their lives can often inspire stories. Viewing the paintings can also help you when it comes to expressing your character through small details.

National Portrait Gallery, Gallery, portrait
When I explored the British National Portrait Gallery the last time I was in London, the portrait that really caught my attention was Don Justino de Neve by Bartolome Esteban Murillo. Neither the sitter nor the artist are famous enough to draw crowds, but the fat little dog with the red bow in the corner looking up adoringly at her master really rabbed me.

In a room full of the trappings of wealth, power and fame, this little dog helped remind me that Senor de Neve was once a real person. After all, only a real person with a genuine affection for his canine companion, or perhaps with a great sense of humor and the ability to poke fun at himself, would think to include a cute little dog in a red bow in such a formal portrait. Also, for a man dressed in dark clothes and with a serious expression, the red bow was a fun contrasting detail. It made me wonder if he was less stern than his image suggested.

By including a contrasting and unexpected element in your character's description or life, you can not only capture your reader's attention but reveal more about the character. Like the artist did with Senor de Neve, you can hint at a softer side, with something as simple as a little detail like a dog and a bow. 

The dog in the portrait not only suggests another aspect of Senor de Neve’s character, but it provides a connection to the gentleman. Looking around that one gallery, I couldn’t help but notice the number of companion dogs painted alongside their owners. I am very attached to my little dog, and to see so many people over the ages attached to theirs helped remind us that despite the years between me and the people in the portraits, we are not so different. Through details that are both unique, and at the same time universal, you can help your readers connect to your characters.

If you enjoy stories with dogs in them then check out my romance novels because many of my stories have dogs in them.

Your Novel Won't Write Itself - Guest Post by Author Dawn Witzke

Your Novel Won’t Write Itself

“I don’t have time to write.” We’ve all said that, right? It’s a convenient and useful excuse for why our latest novel, short story or blog post isn’t done yet.

We all have lives, distractions, obligations; things that absolutely must be done.

For me, that’s a day job that keeps me with a roof over my head and food in my stomach. On top of that, I also help manage a nonprofit that can be anywhere from 2 hours a week to 40 hours a week. Plus, an hour or two of religious activities a day, including an hour a week of teaching religion class to 20 wild 4th graders. Throw into that hot mess writing and/or editing 6 or so newsletters a month for various groups, writing and maintaining three blogs, marketing, socializing, admining Facebook Groups, helping friends, designing book covers and other graphics and caring for 2 dogs. So saying I don’t have time to write is very much an understatement.

I do it anyway.

I’m sure many of you have similar stories.

One of the best pieces of advice that I’ve heard is instead of saying “I don’t have time” say “It’s not a priority”. See how much different that sounds? Maybe for you at this very moment, writing isn’t a priority. There are days when other things take precedent over everything else. If you want to be a writer, though, you have to make it a priority, even if it’s only a priority a few minutes a day.

There is a ton of advice out there about how you should get up an hour early or schedule it in somewhere.

Yeah, right. Who’s got an extra hour laying around unused? And I don’t know about any of you, but I certainly can’t afford to short myself an hour of sleep when some nights I don’t get home until midnight and collapse exhausted into bed.

So, how can you fit writing in your schedule when you have one of those crazy full schedules?

Here’s a few tricks I’ve found that work for me.

1.     Do mental prep work. Writing involves more than just putting words on paper. It requires a plot, character development, etc. These can be done anywhere - driving, changing diapers, making dinner, etc.

2.     Keep a notebook and pen with you. Write by hand. I once read of a mother who finished several novels while she was cooking meals for her large family. She kept the notebook in the kitchen. I keep it in my purse. I usually use it to write down scraps of ideas or things I don’t want to forget when I’m actually writing.

3.     Learn to dictate. Cell phones now have apps that do talk to text. There is also Dragon Speak Naturally and other software out there as well. If you think you can’t do it, I know 2 different people who are quadriplegics (Jessica Kennedy and  who use dictation software (and an assistant) to become successful in their respective areas.

4.     Set a reasonable daily goal. If it’s only a few sentences, it’s only a few sentences. Like pennies, they add up. When I was writing Path of Angels, I would spend five or ten minutes a night working on it before I collapsed exhausted into bed. Some nights it was a sentence or two. Other nights I was up a bit more. It took 6 months or so to finish the rough draft, but it got finished.

5.     Editing was a bit harder. I do a scene at a time. My scenes tend to be short so I can get them finished fairly quickly. Paragraph by paragraph or line by line is also an option. Just make sure to keep going. The end will sneak up on you faster than you think.

If your book takes you a year or two or ten, keep plugging away at it. From first word to publication, Path of Angels took me four and a half years. The key is to keep going and don’t give up.

Now, go write.

Dawn Witzke is a freelance writer, graphic artist and master level procrastinator. She can be found over at her blog, Books & Art, where she randomly posts artwork, book reviews and writing. 

Tea and Notes Gift Basket

Tea and Notes Gift Basket, gift basket, tea, note cards, romance novel

I don't know about you, but I seem to write a lot of notes to teachers, friends, relatives and various other people. My need for note paper led me to create this gift basket for a silent auction. Included in the basket is a blank card with envelope, a silver box of note cards, a memo pad, and a set of fancy pencils. For a little relaxation after writing notes, I included a journal, chocolate, a scented candle, tea, a tea towel, lip balm, and one of my romance novels. After all, once the hard work of getting through a to do list is done, a person should reward themselves.

Tea and Notes Gift Basket, gift basket, tea, note cards, romance novel

For more gift basket ideas, please check out this postthis postthis post and this post.

I hope this basket inspires you to crate one of your own. Please check out my novels because you deserve a little break too.

For more gift basket ideas click here, here and here.

Feminine Office Supplies Gift Basket

Feminine Office Supplies Gift Basket, mom office, home office, woman's office,

In December, I took advantage of the Target after Christmas clearance sale to stock up my gift basket closet. I hit the sales when things were both 50% and then 90% off, and I made sure to choose items that did not have any whiff of Christmas about them. It seemed gold was in this past Christmas, especially at Target, so a lot of the items that I purchased were pretty gold-themed office supplies.

At first, I was going to sprinkle the supplies through different baskets, but then I decided to put a lot of them together to create this feminine office supplies gift basket. This is a great gift for any mom looking to establish or spruce up her home office or the cute little desk space in the kitchen.

The items in the basket include a set of file folder dividers, a silver box of note cards, fancy pencils, a gold themed paperclip and pushpin set, a blank card with envelope, and a magnetic memo pad. I also threw in a bag of M&Ms for the winner to enjoy on those days when life is hectic, and one of my books to read when the pace slows down. A scented candle, some tea, and Burt's Bees lip balm and hand cream round out the offering. Everything is in a chrome wire basket that can be reused in the kitchen or office to hold decorative items.

Feminine Office Supplies Gift Basket, mom office, home office, woman's office,

I hope this basket inspires you to make one of your own. When you're done with your basket, check out my romance novels because you deserve a chance to relax too.

For more gift basket ideas, please check out this postthis postthis post and this post.

The Secret to Being A Successful Writer of Mompreneur

The Secret to Being A Successful Writer or Mompreneur, Robert wagner, pieces of my heart, Austin Powers

It can be hard to be a writer, small business owner or a parent, but the secret to success comes down to one pretty simple idea. It's simple, not easy, and it involves...

Showing up and doing the work!

Constant effort is what will lead to your success. Give up and the game is over. Fail to do the work and you're guaranteed to fail. If you keep at it, then one day you will succeed. Everyone defines success differently, so what your success looks like is up to you, but if you don't keep striving for it then it will never happen.

The Secret to Being A Successful Writer or Mompreneur, Robert wagner, pieces of my heart, Austin PowersThe Secret to Being A Successful Writer or Mompreneur, Robert wagner, pieces of my heart, Austin PowersI recently read Robert Wager's autobiography Pieces of My Heart: A Life . You probably know Robert Wagner as Number 2 in Austin Powers, but he's an actor who's
been working for over sixty years in a very competitive and constantly changing business. Near the end of his book, he offers an observation that really spoke to me.
Here's what he said:

"I've been very fortunate, and I think largely because I was determined to be a working actor, emphasis on working. I just kept going to the plate and swinging. It didn't matter whether the reviews were great or terrible, whether the films and shows were successful or unsuccessful. 
I kept showing up."

I may not have hit a bestseller list (yet!), and I'm not making J.K. Rowling kind of money (yet!) but I keep writing. I work towards fulfilling my contract by finishing my novel, all the while thinking about the next one, and the next. I may not be an actor like Robert Wager, but I'm determined to be a working writer, and I am. I keep showing up and because of it I have over ten published books and novellas to my name with more and better things to come.

What kind of success will you achieve if you keep showing up and doing the work?

Romantic Historical Films for Valentine's Day

Pride and Prejudice, A Room with a View, The Last of the Mohicans, Shakespeare in Love, Dr. Thorne

For me, Valentine's Day involves more cuddling with hubby and a movie at home than a candlelight dinner out. I love period piece films (I write historical romance, after all), so those are my go to choices for a night in at the movies. If you love costumes and accents, and are searching for a new favorite romantic film, then check out my quick list of romantic historical films for Valentine's Day, or any time of the year.

Keira Knightly, Matthew MacFadyen,Pride and Prejudice (2005). Nothing gets historical romance writers into a vigorous debate like discussing whether or not this version of Pride and Prejudice or the Colin Firth one is better. For this list, I chose this one because I love it, and because it's a much shorter film to watch with a husband who doesn't usually watch Jane Austen films.

Joseph Fiennes, Gweneth PaltrowShakespeare in Love. Humor, romance and a wonderful weaving of real life with fictional events, this movie is a must see for historical film romantics. The costumes are lush, the story moving, and Joseph Fiennes quite the hunk as the greatest writer in the English language.

Helena Bohnam Carter, Julian Sands

A Room with a View. Helena Bonham Carter really shines in this film as Lucy Honeychurch who is, much to her chagrin, swept off her feet by a silent and alluring Julian Sands. Beautiful scenes in Florence and the English countryside enhance the romance and the historical feel of the film.

Daniel Day-Lewis, Madeline StoweThe Last of the Mohicans - Love and war collide in this tale set during the French and Indian War. Daniel Day-Lewis fights to save the woman he loves, all the while looking very hot.

Downton Abbey, Julian Fellows
Dr. Thorne. Written and produced by Julian Fellows of Downton Abbey fame, this movie is a short one packed with melodrama with a capital M. However, it's fun and light so if you're looking for something that isn't too deep, then this one is for you.

I hope this lest leads you to a new favorite romantic film. If you are looking for a romantic novel then please check out mine because there is a lot of romance in them.