I struck up an interesting conversation with a woman named Robbie at the Hollywood Book Festival the other day. She writes -and exclusively reads - nonfiction, mostly essays. Like many unpublished authors, she has been writing for a long time, in between the more pressing responsibilities of life. Like many writers, she has procrastinated about getting her work into shape for publishing.
Recently, after all this time, Ronnie actually finished writing her book. In a sprint-toward-the-deadline-like burst of frenzied writing, she completed the book at the end of August. What motivated her to finally get it done? She was submitting the book to the Graywolf Press. Each year they hold a contest for new authors and award their Nonfiction Prize to the winner. Their website promises "A $12,000 advance and publication by Graywolf will be awarded to the most promising and innovative literary nonfiction project by a writer not yet established in the genre."
Wait! Don't run away just yet; you've already missed the deadline. But Ronnie didn't, and she now has a shot at winning. Good luck to you, Ronnie. We will be waiting for the announcement.
For some people, this type of external motivator is just the thing to make them face that blank page. A contest gets the competitive juices flowing. And if you are really inspired by fear, you can imagine an audience of hypercritical contest judges rejecting your work. That may be just the thing to cause you to choose your words even more carefully.
Naturally, the odds are long. But contest winners do get attention, and the resulting publicity can help an author’s career. Interested? New contests abound online. You’ll find them discussed around the virtual water cooler over at Absolute Write. (If you haven’t come across the site yet, it’s a good resource for writers.) http://absolutewrite.com/forums/
Before you jump in, be sure to check the terms of a writer’s contest. There are some that are scams, meant to profit the organization, not authors, with steep submission fees. Some hapless authors pay these fees agin and again in hopes of being discovered, and that’s not a route I can recommend.
Here is a link to learn more about the Graywolf. Prize. http://www.graywolfpress.org/Company_Info/Submission_Guidelines/Graywolf_Press_Nonfiction_Prize/127/
If you are writing in another genre, type it (example: mystery) and “contest” into your search engine and explore!