Carteret Writers Meeting: Five Ways to Keep Your Manuscript Out of the Slush Pile

Today I attended the Carteret Writers’ monthly meeting.

I ran across the Carteret Writers in the fall of 2013. I had known vaguely for some time that there was a writing group in the area, but had never tracked them down or tried to connect with them.

That fall, I was listening to the news on the local public radio station when the Community Calendar announcements came on. Among other events, the Carteret Writers meeting would be held the following Tuesday at a local restaurant.

Well, okay. I figured if they announced it on the radio, it must be okay for the public to show up. In the aftermath of Bob the Brain Tumor’s eviction, my creative juices were flowing and I had begun writing, and I certainly had some free time on my hands. So I asked our son to take me to the meeting.

My first visit went well, except for the part where I knocked over a full glass of water, nearly drenching the guest speaker. She was very gracious about the incident.

Over the past two years, I’ve met a lot of great people and gotten a lot out of the group. In particular, the group’s Vice-President, Janet Hartman, has really reached out to make me feel welcome and to make sure activities such as this year’s workshop were accessible to me.

Today’s Presentation

The meeting took place in our usual room at the local Golden Corral. I had two wonderful tablemates, both there for the first time, and we had a great conversation about the kinds of writing we did and wanted to do.

At noon, the room quieted down for a few announcements from our president and the main presentation.

Today’s presentation, “Five Ways to Keep Your Manuscript Out of the Slush Pile,” was by Krisan Murphy, a local author and teacher. Krisan led the workshop I attended this spring, “The Dual Muse of Writing,” and she’s a very dynamic speaker with a lot to say.

In her presentation, Krisan talked about writing contests and five things writers should do to keep their manuscripts from being pushed to the bottom of the pack, each beginning with the letter “C”:

Cook Winning manuscripts are clever, original, and relate to the theme of the contest. Krisan suggests putting your “ingredients” – the theme, length, ideas, and so on – into a mental slow cooker and letting them stew for a while before you begin writing.

This gives everything a chance to blend and break down into a delicious (and hopefully contest-winning) medley.

Commit It’s not enough to want to write or win a contest, Krisan said. Unless you sit down in front of the computer and actually write, you have dreams, not goals. Writing for fun is fine, but a deadline can be a powerful motivator!

Critique It’s not always easy to spot flaws in your own work, particularly after you’ve been staring at it for a while. Krisan highly recommends joining a critique group in order to get other eyes on your work. Other writers can spot flaws or weak points in your piece and suggest alternatives to improve them.

She cautions, however, that unless they’re also writers, family and friends don’t make good critiquers. They’re likely to love everything you write and not be interested in or know how to break it down and suggest improvements.

Clean Contest judges often have to read a lot of manuscripts, Krisan says, and anything that distracts from your writing gives them an excuse to set yours aside. Grammatical and spelling errors can tank your submission, no matter how good the writing is. So make sure your work is clean and error-free.

Later in the presentation, Krisan made some specific suggestions for contest manuscripts. Use 12-point Times New Roman font for everything, including the title. Double space between lines. Don’t add special formatting, and do pay attention to any contest requirements.

And the final “C” is… Well, this is embarrassing. I’ve forgotten the last element on the list. I thought it was in the handout, but the handout only has spaces to fill the five Cs in. According to my son, it has eleven letters…

If anyone can jog my memory in the comments, you’ll have my undying thanks!

Common Beliefs About Writing Contests

After the five Cs, Krisan offered us twenty statements about writing contests to agree or disagree with. I’m not going to attempt to post all twenty here, but here are some of the highlights:

Contest judges are biased, because they’re human. We all have our preferences. If you know who the judges are and their particular likes and dislikes, great. If not, you take what you get.

As a corollary, a story that doesn’t do well in one contest might win a different contest, or even the same contest in a different year. If your story doesn’t win, polish it up and submit it again.

Adverbs may not be absolutely evil, despite what Stephen King believes, but they should be used sparingly and chosen for best effect. (Stephen King: The road to Hell is paved with adverbs.)

The same applies to adjectives.

“Said” is generally the best dialogue tag. Keep things simple and avoid distracting the reader with overly descriptive tags. [I don’t necessarily agree with this one. I don’t mind “said,” but too much “He said…she said…he said” gets old fast when it’s read aloud. In a lot of cases, I prefer action beats, like “He paused to light a cigarette.” over tags.]

Some contests are free to enter, but most charge a fee. If you choose a contest with a smaller pool of entries, you stand a better chance of winning.

Navigation Fail

I came out of the meeting feeling energized and enthusiastic.

I really need to learn to ask for help sometimes, though. I jostled a couple of people on my way out of the room. When I tried to follow some of my fellow writers who were moving toward the exit, I couldn’t keep up. On my own, I turned too early and ended up in another section rather than on the path to the door. Oops!

Fortunately, an employee saw my misstep and verbally guided me to the proper turn. Thank you, helpful Golden Corral employee!

Next time I’ll either wait for MrH or ask someone for help. I just hate not doing things on my own!

Have you ever entered a writing contest? Ever won anything? Inquiring minds want to know!


5 thoughts on “Carteret Writers Meeting: Five Ways to Keep Your Manuscript Out of the Slush Pile

  1. Journalism contests, yep. The Alaska Press Club and the Society of Professional Journalists (Pacific Northwest chapter) when I wrote for the Anchorage paper. I also won awards for newspaper articles from the Women’s Sports Foundation and the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
    Additionally, my travel guidebook won a third place in the Society of American Travel Writers.

    But a writing contest as in sending fiction or nonfiction to a panel of judges? Never even entered one before.


  2. Wow, Donna! That’s awesome! Isn’t there a Plutus Award in there, too?

    About a decade ago, I won $25 for receiving an Honorable Mention in a flash fiction contest. I’m thinking of entering a few now as a side hustle of sorts. (Or maybe, since I’m trying to work as a writer, it would be part of the main hustle?) It probably wouldn’t be enough to support me, but a few bucks here and there would be a nice supplement to the Emergency Fund.


  3. I entered some in high school or was it junior high? I know that I got an honorable mention in the local paper’s contest. And in high school, I won one of 6 guest columnist spots in a contest. (I entered under a pseudonym so that my parents working there wouldn’t affect things.) You did one a month for 6 months. But they asked me to stay on. So I guess I had some chops. Of course, back then I had my mom editing me. That helped.


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