Writing about writing with Nana Elikem … Writing competitions, anyone?

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Last month, Samira Bawumia (the second lady of the Republic of Ghana) launched a literature prize named after her to champion the cause of developing and supporting homebred writing talent, through publishing opportunities, cash prizes, as well as publicity across print, radio and digital channels. The Samira Bawumia Literature Prize is set up to be an annual literary prize for the best short fiction, poetry and non-fiction prose by young Ghanaians living in Ghana.

With at most GHS5000 and a laptop up for grabs, a number of eligible writers in my circle decided to give it a shot. I am privileged to have provided direct support to three of these writers mainly by reading their entries and offering constructive criticism on how they could improve them. Hopefully, they make the shortlist. That will make me proud. LOL

I recall the number of times I have had to submit entries for prizes and anthologies and how people were there to provide the same support I provided for these three friends of mine. When I reminisced on it, it reinforced a point I have made several times about how mentorship (how writers who are ahead and accomplished must provide support for the younger ones) is important for the space. I have been fortunate to have received such support from so many people and I’m happy to be in the position to do the same favour for others.

Additionally, and maybe more importantly, I am happy that these three youngies and the many others who turned in entries for the Samira Bawumia Literature Prize made the decision and followed through with it. I consider it is an important milestone in their writing journey because literary competitions are though to enter. Making the time and having a clear head to write on the theme for the competition, taking criticisms and suggestions for improvement and working to ensure that you beat the deadline are all key skills every writer must push themselves to acquire. And apart from the fact that they have gained these skills, I’m happy that they are also positioning themselves to be mentors in the near future to anyone who might want to enter another literary competition – just like I did for my friends.

Even without the announcement of the shortlist, these guys are winners already in many ways. If you have any friend or relative who submitted an entry for the Samira Bawumia Literary Prize or any other literary competition, call them and congratulate them again. They have accomplished so much already. They have done something not so many writers are able to bring themselves to doing. Then pray and hope with them that their stories are good enough to make the cut to have a perfect icing on the cake.

Generally, literature prizes are launchpads for aspiring writers to share their art with the world. When a writer challenges himself to enter any literary competition, they set themselves worlds ahead of their contemporaries who do not attempt at all.

While we celebrate writers for entering competitions, it is also very important to also prepare their minds for some of the by-products of such a venture. Key among them is the possibility that their entries may not be selected. It is important to understand that literary competitions are going to reward only one or a few people. Therefore, not all thousands of people with submissions get the final prize. So, the chances are 50-50. Everyone has a fair and strong chance.

It is important to understand that the fact that one’s story does not become the eventual winner does not mean that the person is not a good writer. Mostly, these things are reflections on the piece written and not the writer themselves. It is difficult for writers to insulate themselves from their works hence most of them take judgements or critics on their writings to be critics on their person. That’s not true.

So, in the worst case when you submit a piece for any award or prize and you do not get selected, understand that it is not the end of the world or your writing journey. Rejections are part of the road to success. What I have done in the past is to go back and look for winning entries and read them to learn a thing or two on how to improve my work. Some award schemes are nice enough to send editorial notes on your rejected submission. Take them, read them and learn from them, knowing that you can only get better and it can only get better.

In all thy doings, do not ever stop sending entries for publications, for awards or for prizes. I had a writing homework when I was in Primary 1 and the text I was made to write was a page full only for the purpose of improving my handwriting has remained ingrained in my mind. The text was: If you don’t succeed, try again.

Keep writing, keep submitting, keep learning and it will all pay-off very soon. Go out there, do a search on the internet and find competitions to make submissions to. Make it a goal to send entries for at least five competitions before the year ends. You can do it. Push yourself to accomplish more. I have already said this in the article, but it does not hurt to repeat it. It can only get better. We can only get better. All the best.

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