Mount St. Joseph University

Contest Nudges Writers to Come Out from Undercover

Dateline: student newspaper

Writers are everywhere.

But don’t be nervous, they just use anything—it could be you, perhaps characteristics they adore or despise—in their environment to create a unique reality. They can be from any background and age. I always wonder how many fantastic writers are living amongst us undercover.

Once a year, the School of Arts and Humanities at the Mount hosts an Annual High School Writing Contest. This contest gives sophomores from high schools in the Greater Cincinnati area an opportunity to submit a piece for cash prizes in one of three categories: fiction, personal essay, or poetry. From 20 different high schools, 126 writers emerged for this contest.

I was asked to be a judge for the fiction submissions in this year’s contest, along with two fellow English majors, Megan Simmermeyer and Mike Mullin. The three of us were assigned the task to choose the winner and two honorable mentions of fiction. When we received the stack of submissions, our first thoughts were, this is massive. Which wasn’t a negative fact in the slightest. I found comfort knowing writing is clearly continuing to thrive.

At the awards ceremony, each of the judges were asked to speak about one of the winning pieces, honorable mentions included.

Verbally speak. In a microphone.

I was never inclined to public speaking--writing is my forte--but all 126 students made themselves vulnerable by submitting their own stories, so I told myself I could be vulnerable too. When I went up to the podium to speak about the honorable mention I particularly enjoyed, “Create” by Justin Bourne, I questioned where Justin was in the crowd. In those nervous few steps to the microphone, I had decided that instead of addressing the whole collective, I wanted to speak my words directly to him. I still have much to learn, but I only started to believe in my writing talent after being told it was good during my freshman year at the Mount. It took just a few words to spark in me the desire to become the greatest writer I can be, so I hope Justin found encouragement in my words.

Perhaps for these high school students, it was being told they should submit their work in this contest that they started to believe in themselves. Maybe some of the winners will decide to pursue a writing career. Through having contests such as this one, we keep telling youth they shouldn’t be afraid to have others read their writings.

Yes, some fiction submissions were written better than others, but what matters the most was their choice to put pen to paper. Writing is work, and the more you write the better your craft becomes; it is only after writing mediocre stories that fantastic ones emerge. I always take comfort from the quote attributed to Ernest Hemingway, “The first draft of anything is shit.”

I believe it is especially important to have contests such as this open to the youth in high school, because those four years are such a monumental turning point—I’m sure some believe they must sacrifice artistic pastimes because they are growing up. We can’t have wonderful writers quell their talent. We need to keep giving them opportunities to take the initiative to write and submit, and believe their work is good enough to win.

I always have to keep in mind that yes, many writers are undercover, but it is up to others like me and events like this writing contest to give them a little nudge to come out of their hiding places once in a while.