Friday, August 12, 2011

Writing To A Theme in Contests

Many writing contests have a theme. It might be a quote, a phrase, or even one word which the entrant is  to consider in their entry. Sometimes, it's rather nice to have the path you're going to walk already selected for you, since we often find the beginning the most difficult steps. It also limits the writer but only in a small way.

Hope Clark runs an annual themed contest connected with her marketing newsletters. This year the theme is one word--diligence. The word allows you to go in myriad directions but which one will come up a winner? I've been mulling it over for weeks now and I haven't come up with an idea yet. There's still time left.

Our state authors group has an annual contest which offers several categories a writer can enter. There is an overall theme each year which is a category all its own. It offers the greatest amount of prize money. The theme generally has something to do with writing but occasionally it reflects our state heritage. Kansas has a rich history in the pioneer movement in the nineteenth century.

One year, the theme was"Pen Life As Art" and I thought and thought about it while I did household tasks, while I waited in line at the checkout counter and when TV was so boring I couldn't concentrate on it. I had a choice of entering either poetry or prose for this theme, or both, as they were separate categories.
I ended up entering a poem and was pleased when it won third place. The poem is below, so you can judge for yourself if I wrote to the theme.

Artists All

Painting with oils,
watercolors brushed across canvas,
clay molded by loving hands,
marble chiseled to exquisite form

Artists ply their trade,
by the golden light of day
and velvet depths of night,
with passion and verve.

One more artist joins the rank.
The writer brushes words over paper,
molds a story bit by glittering bit,
chisels a novel to survive the ages.

The writer gathers life’s stories
from country roads to city streets,
written from the depths of a heart
bursting with intensity and rapture.

Artists all, masters of creation,
be they painters, sculptors or writers,
leaving footprints on canvas, marble and paper--
heartfelt tributes embraced by mankind.

Encouraged by placing, I entered a lengthy poem about the wild west the following year. It was so contrived, so terrible that I should not have even entered it. It may have been written to the theme, but it was just plain awful. Keep the theme in mind, but also concentrate on good writing.

If you can't come up with something related to the theme, move on to another contest. Not every theme given is going to inspire us. Our state contest theme this year is "Kansas:  Freedom Frontier For 150 Years"  This is our state's 150th birthday so it was a good choice. I never came up with anything to write for it, however. Rather than entering something awful, I skipped on to the other categories.

Writing to a theme can be interesting. If you haven't tried it, give it a whirl. Google writing contest with theme and see if you can find one that appeals to you.


  1. Nancy, I agree, writing to a theme, either you are inspired or you aren't. The year that "Pen Life As Art" was the theme, I rode the train through Fort Madison in Iowa, and passed the closed Schaeffer Pen Company factory. Seemed so sad. However, it inspired me to write from the point of view of a Schaeffer Fountain Pen, which I titled "My Autobiography." Won first place in the prose category. I've been looking for another burst of inspiration ever since.

  2. A belated congratulations on your win for that year, 2008, I believe. Funny how inspiration comes--hits us when we least expect it--just as it did you on the train.