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Over the years, I’ve interviewed writing contest winners, including creative nonfiction essay writers. When asked to share a favorite writing tip or piece of advice, they came through with some inspirational ideas. Here’s what some of the WOW contest winners had had to say:

  • “Another friend of mine, who is training as a coach (and who is also brilliant), nudged me out of my writing slump last winter by helping me remember my own rhythms (i.e., working first thing in the morning, even just doing a quick prompt) and pushing me to set up the routines that supported those rhythms. She gave the example of a ballet dancer she had heard on a podcast who said, essentially, I didn't make a habit of going to the gym to train at 6am, I made a habit of hailing a cab at 6am. So, we started small: laying out my notebooks, pens, the accoutrements for tea the night before. So that the next morning, when I am easily impressionable, I am directed optimally. It reduces the likelihood of an Internet rabbit hole and that sense of a "lost day" considerably. I think this applies regardless of the rhythm/routine: create the conditions that support it--set the running shoes by the door, the notebook and pen on a table cleared of all the other life clutter. Go.” - Hilary Fair, runner up

  • Several years ago, I was in a writing class in a neighboring town. A woman read an essay about her family that was more like a historical document (lots of names, dates and geographic information) than a story. When she got done reading, she paused and began to tell us this very funny incident that had happened to one of her family members. We all laughed and shouted "THAT'S the story you should tell.   I am always trying to get to THAT story!” - Kristi Scorcio, runner up

  • “I was just talking to a writer friend this week about the importance of keeping the joy! Publication is great, competitions are wonderful, but ultimately the joy in the process of writing is the most valuable thing we all have as writers. My piece of advice would be to hold on to the fun parts with both hands and squeeze for all they're worth!” - Ellen Brickley, runner up

  • My favorite writing tip is to read your essay or story aloud when you complete each draft. I always hear things I didn't see when reading, such as clunky phrases, plain old typos and, on a positive note, poetic language. My new version of Word has a Read Aloud function. I use that occasionally but find that my own voice reveals things that the robotic voice doesn't.” - Marcy Dilworth, runner up 

  • Everybody says this but it is so true, and I didn’t start doing it religiously until recently. Carry a notebook wherever you go, whether the dentist, hardware store, even the flea market (especially the flea market!), and use it to jot down descriptions, observations, overheard conversations, etc, that you can mine for details in your writing later on. It is so important to record these moments as soon as they happen because those delicious little tidbits of life can so easily get swallowed up by the business of life. And for me, it’s almost impossible to conjure them up again unless I stop what I’m doing and make a note at the moment. The other day, I saw a woman at a gas station in a Subaru with one of those car wraps advertising a zombie hunting business! That’s going to end up somewhere one day, I promise you.” - Ashley Memory, first place winner

Did you find something you could use? Do you have a favorite writing tip or piece of advice to share? Comment below!

--Marcia Peterson

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