Friday, June 29, 2012

Writing Competitions To Address Social Issues

Writing competitions can exist for a variety of reasons:
  • Raising funds/awareness for a literary publication
  • Recognizing writers' accomplishments
  • Memorials for writing pioneers
  • Just plain fun
  • Because writers need more ways to be rejected
But, today, the type of competition I want to address is the one that deals with social issues.  These types of competitions either raise awareness for something that isn't talked about or looks for new contributions to an already ongoing dialogue.

I strongly believe in using one's talents for giving back to the greater good.  A competition that focus on an issue that is close to your heart is a great way to do that.  Most of these contests are nonfiction contests, almost looking for journalism types of essays.  However, some look for personal stories.  These can be incredibly moving.  The one's I personally appreciate are the calls for fiction writing that takes on powerful themes. I've seen calls for fiction/poetry that deal with war, poverty, sexual identity, women's rights and environmental concerns.  A person who can write a great story, and at the same time challenge someone's beliefs, or inspire someone to action, definitely deserves an award.

A couple pieces of advice before you jump into the writing contest that deals with social issues.
  1. Be thought provoking, but do it carefully. Don't grind an axe.  People go to church for sermons.  Introduce your point of view in a way that won't set people on edge (in a bad way) right away.
  2. Tell a story.  Just listing facts or obviously laboring a point makes a piece of writing dry and unpalatable.
  3. Try to find a new path.  What about your story is unlike anything else that is out there?  Challenge yourself to color your piece with a flavor that is your own. A story about an interracial couple dealing with the problems of mixed families has been done before. How do you make this different? Raise the stakes. Maybe the husband's brother shoots the wife's brother in a drive-by. Alter expectations.  Did you automatically think black/white when I said interracial?  Why not a Mexican/Asian mix or Native American/Indian? Take a different point of view. This story would most likely be told from the husband/wife's point of view.  Try it as the child (young or adult) or the parent, or even the minister performing the ceremony.
Words are powerful.  They can make a difference.  Is there any piece of writing that made you think differently about the world? One of my favorites comes from To Write Love on Her Arms.

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