A winner’s guide to entering creative writing prizes

Sometimes getting your story polished for a prize can feel daunting.

Calvin Fung won top-placed Monash University entrant in last year’s Monash Prize. His short story The Beggar and the Glimpse impressed judges, “addressing the moral tug-of-war between political action and traditional family values, taking recent political history as the subject matter”.

So, who better than Calvin to provide a how-to for creative writing prizes? He teaches us how to follow that winning feeling.

Get someone else to read your work.
It can be a friend, a tutor or lecturer or maybe even an editor who’s been in the publishing industry for decades – anyone will have their own take on your piece. They can help point out little issues or even just spelling errors you overlooked, and getting those checked out and rectified will make your entry more likely to succeed and look a lot more professional.

Before you submit, read other fiction (or a poem or two).
It might be from your genre or something completely unrelated, but you might find something in others’ writing – a little stylistic ornament or just a cool word that would be perfect in your own piece. (Right now, Angela Carter, Katherine Mansfield and Kate Chopin are my authors of choice when I’m writing.)

Take some time off before returning to your story.
After you’ve completed the first draft, don’t immediately go back to it. Take some time off before editing it. You’ll return with a fresh perspective, which is crucial when judging your own work, and with new ideas you can use to refine your piece.

But when you do return to your story, remember that writing is about editing.
Wasn’t it Blaise Pascal who said something like “I have written this longer because I did not have time to make it shorter”? When going back to your writing be on the look out for stuff that could be cut out. Say more with less! I also find myself occasionally and inadvertently typing out lyrics in my stories because I listen to music while writing, and it’s always a good idea for me make sure that that’s gone before I submit.

Have a day where you are your protagonist.
Go about your day reacting to or imagining your reaction to things as your main character would. Probably not the best thing to actually act it out if your character is someone like Humbert Humbert, but it does give you insight into your character’s mind and could help you rework parts of your story to create an even more realistic personality (not to mention it could be quite fun!).

Good luck and get writing! Entries for the 2017 Monash Prize close April 12.

Calvin is currently a PhD student in creative writing at Monash University. He completed honours last year and has just come back from the Undergraduate Awards summit in Dublin, batteries recharged, and is ready to take on writing another thesis. He does research on Gothic literature, critical theories and narratology and always enjoys a good mocha.