The Rewards of Writing…

by Memoir Mentor on August 8, 2010

Writing is a difficult, lonely occupation, one that resurrects all kinds of insecurities. Is our writing any good, or are we just laboring under some self-delusion? Do we have anything interesting to say? Does the world need one more book? Surely our time be better spent doing something else…anything else. I have these thoughts, and I know my students struggle with with similar issues.

Even professional writers who have every reason to feel confident wrestle with niggling doubts. I read an interview of award-winning novelist Ivan Doig in today’s Salt Lake Tribune. (I’m in Utah this month presenting some seminars.)  Doig has recently published his latest book, Work Song. After Doig explains that he hits the keyboard by 6:30 each morning and tries to write a “couple of hundred words a day,” the interviewer says, “[Y]ou’ve been publishing books for more than 30 years. Does it get any easier?” Doig answers simply, “No. I wish.” Hmmmm.

I write all this as background for sharing the recent accomplishments of some of my students who have garnered accolades in writing competitions. I encourage them to submit their stories to contests because it motivates them to polish their pieces and gives them something to shoot for. Most of my students are of retirement age. Entering a contest is therapeutic, a good way to show the world (and themselves) that they still have something to contribute. Besides all the psychological benefits, entering contests is just plain fun.

Marta Sarkissian, a talented writer who attends my classes, explained her participation in contests this way:  I think these two prizes have given me validation as a writer and helped me to believe I am a writer. When I think I am, then it become ok to spend more time at it. I have stopped worrying about taking time from my writing for contests, for I realize that the added scrutiny and effort make a better piece of writing….it is an exercise. I have been surprised and delighted by the warm reception I have received.

I take pride in the fact that my students have done well in past competitions. A year or so ago, several students took nearly all the top prizes in the Southern California Genealogy Society writing competition, a prestigious contest that draws submissions from all over the world. I’ve been informed of more awards recently and couldn’t be happier for these students. I know what this recognition means to them and to their confidence as writers, and I’m certain that this recognition will spur them on to further achievement. I tip my hat to the following students for accomplishments of various kinds:

  • Marta Sarkissian, who won second place for her story ”Love Demands” in the Soul Making Literary Competition sponsored by Washington, D.C.’s National League of American Pen Women this spring, AND third prize in Sheila Bender’s Writing It Real contest for her story ”Searching for Mother in the Cochise Stronghold.” You can read her award-winning “Searching”story HERE.  Marta had this to say about her participation in writing contests:  “I think these two prizes have given me validation as a writer and helped me to believe I am a writer. When I think I am, then it becomes ok to spend more time at it. I have stopped worrying about taking time from my writing for contests, for I realize that the added scrutiny and effort make a better piece of writing….it is an exercise. I have been surprised and delighted by the warm reception I have received.”
  • Carol Enos, who garnered TWO prizes in the 2009 Southern California Genealogy Society Writing Competition: third place for her story, “The Hessians,” and honorable mention for her story, “The Cursed War.” I posted Carol’s “The Hessians”on my blog earlier HERE.
  • Mary (Betty) Nelson, who received an honorable mention award by the Southern California Genealogy Society for her story, “Acceptance,” published earlier on my blog HERE.
  • Diana Kightlinger, who received an honorable mention award for her story “My Dad, Sam,” in the Sheila Bender “Righting it Real” essay competition.
  • Jean Lechner, who had her story “Spring Cleaning” published in the quarterly journal of the Story Circle Network.
  • Linda Missouri, who was selected “member of the month” in June by the National Association of Memoir Writers. Read her insightful NAMW interview HERE.
  • Students, if I missed anyone, please let me know.

FYI, I have several workshop scheduled in the next few months. I will be giving a four-day seminar at Brigham Young University from August 16 to 20. You can find more information about this seminar HERE.

On Saturday, September 18 I’ll be presenting at the Chino Valley Family History and Genealogy Seminar in Chino Hills, California. For more information about this worthwhile, all-day event, go HERE.

Those who live in the Salt Lake City area should be aware of the fine all-day conference sponsored by the Utah chapter of the Association of Personal Historians, held at Westminster College on Friday, October 15. The conference is titled “Saving Lives, One Story at a Time.” I will teach two classes that day, joining many other instructors who will cover various aspects of writing, interviewing, publishing, creating family history videos, and more. You’ll find more information about this conference HERE.

Finally, the National Association of Memoir Writers honored me as “Member of the Month” for July. Check out my interview HERE.

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