Winners on Winning: Jacob Newberry

For the ninth installment of our Winners on Winning series, we spoke with Jacob Newberry, who won the Ploughshares Emerging Writer's Contest in nonfiction for his essay What You Will Do. The prize, given annually in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, includes $1,000 and publication in Ploughshares. Newberry is originally from the Mississippi coast, and is a PhD student in creative writing, with an emphasis in poetry, at Florida State University.

Has winning this award, or previous awards, changed the way you approach your work?
The awards I've won, and this one in particular, have given me a very tangible validation for my writing. I think we can all understand how nice this might feel when it's never happened, but it's more than a nice feeling: It's an important form of motivation. There were many times when I was just starting to write when I'd convince myself that I wasn't any good at it at all. In the first workshop I ever took, which was when I was working on an MA (not in creative writing), most of the people in the class were workshop pros and were actually quite hostile toward me. They took a lot of opportunities not just to tear down the work (which needed tearing down) but to really tear down my ambition altogether. At the time, I was new enough to writing that it was pretty damaging. The effect was that I stopped believing in my skills as a writer for a while, though I never stopped writing.

Once I started winning awards and seeing things in print, though, I stopped doubting and fearing my ambition. And if that self-doubt ever creeps up on me again, I can remember that I had the same feeling of worry and panic and confusion when I was writing the pieces that won these awards, and so I should spend the energy on the writing and not on unfounded panic. 

The bottom line is that winning hasn't changed the way I write. If it had, I suspect it would be only for the worse. As I said, it's really been a way of mitigating the self-doubt that all writers experience when we're not writing. So when I step away from the page, that's when the self-sabotage might begin. The difference now is that I just don't let it begin at all. 

Have you ever entered a contest that you didn't win?
I've entered plenty of contests that I didn't win. Not winning those contests actually gave me a better sense of perspective once I did start winning. All awards are about quality writing to a large extent, of course, but there's also a really unknowable percentage of it that's just chance. Who are the first readers of your submission, and what if their taste is simply different from yours (or the final judge's)? What effect does submitting late or early or right in the middle have on the time and attention given to your piece? What if the editor tells you she absolutely loves your poem about Jerusalem, but she just published some Jerusalem poems last issue, and now it's too soon to revisit that topic? (The last one happened to me.) 

What advice would you offer to writers thinking of submitting to writing contests?
Save your very best work and submit it only to contests that you'd be proud to win or place in. If winning that contest would be an important enough achievement for you and the contest requires a fee, then pay it. Otherwise, never pay for a contest that doesn't give you a subscription in return. 

For more Winners on Winning, read the current issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, and check back next Wednesday for a new installment.

Cynics

It's easy to slip into a bad attitude, and even easier once you're there to stew in all that negativity. For most it's a passing phase, but for some it can color their whole outlook on life. Would you describe yourself as a cynic? If not, do you know someone who fits the bill? Today, write down what happens to you using a cynical perspective. If you keep a journal, compare today's entry with those of previous—perhaps more positive—days and note the similarities and differences in style, tone, and word usage.

Deadline Approaches for Thurber House Residency Award

Submissions are currently open for the Thurber House’s John E. Nance Writer-in-Residence award. The four-week residency is offered from September to October 2014 to a fiction writer or nonfiction writer who has had a book published within the past three years. The resident will be provided with a $4,000 stipend and a two-bedroom apartment in the former home of fiction writer and cartoonist James Thurber in Columbus, Ohio. Travel and food are not included. The resident is also asked to participate in three community outreach activities offered by the Thurber House, such as giving readings or teaching writing classes.

To apply, submit two copies of a book published in the past three years, along with three short stories, essays, or chapters of a novel or book of nonfiction with an optional table of contents totaling no more than 50 pages by June 2. There is no entry fee. Self-published books are not eligible. Submissions should be mailed with the required entry form to Thurber House, 77 Jefferson Avenue, Columbus, OH 43215. The resident will be chosen by July 7.

Born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, James Thurber (1894-1961) was a prolific humorist, short story writer, and cartoonist. Though he spent most of his career in New York City, Thurber attended college in Ohio and worked at the Columbus Dispatch as a reporter from 1920 to 1924. He is buried in Columbus’s Greenlawn Cemetery.

Established in 2012 by Sally Crane, the annual John E. Nance Writer-in-Residence award is named after John Nance, a photojournalist who was the Thurber House writer-in-residence in 1995 and 1998. Previous residents include fiction writer Katrina Kittle and creative nonfiction writer Liza Monroy.

Top Five Albums

5.22.14

In Nick Hornby's novel High Fidelity, the main character, music enthusiast Rob Fleming, is fond of making top-five lists. This week, think about your five favorite albums. Whether it includes a record your mother used to put on when you were young, or the soundtrack to your daily commute, think of the music that shaped you, bolstered your spirit, and comforted you in trying times. Make a top-five list of your own and write about why each album is important to you. If you are having difficulty picking entire albums, try choosing individual songs instead.

Rivals

5.15.14

Whether it's with a sibling, best friend, or colleague, there comes a time in most of our lives when we find ourselves engaged in a bitter rivalry with another person. This week, write about someone you've had to go head-to-head with in order to achieve a personal goal. What were you two competing over? What were the driving motives behind the conflict? Were you and your rival pitted against each other by a third party? If this occurred a while ago, try and access the emotions you felt when it was all happening to strengthen the scene.

Winners on Winning: Tami Mohamed Brown

For the fifth installment of our ongoing Winners on Winning series, we spoke with Tami Mohamed Brown, the winner of a 2013 Loft Literary Center Minnesota Emerging Writers' Grant in creative nonfiction, an award that includes $10,000 and professional development for a writing project. She also received a 2011-2012 Mentor Series Award in creative nonfiction from the Loft Literary Center. Brown is a regular contributor to Minnesota Women’s Press, and her work has been published or is forthcoming in Literary Mama, Mizna, Sweet, and in the anthology Open to Interpretation: Intimate Landscape. She lives in Bloomington, Minnesota, with her husband and daughter.

What kind of impact has winning this prize had on your career?
Like many working parents, I’ve never known a writing life or schedule that is separate or distinct from full-time employment and motherhood, my writing time a constant negotiation of balance to create pockets of time—however minimal—in early mornings, on the bus, squeezed in over lunch hours. Receiving the Emerging Writers' Grant has allowed me funded writing time on a regular schedule to work toward a final rewriting and shaping of my memoir: one day a week away from my full-time job, for a full calendar year. I’m still kind of blown away by that! 

Has winning this award, or previous awards, changed the way you approach your work?
Receiving this award for funded time on a very specific project has definitely made me take my work more seriously. There was the sense that my work had been validated, which fed into an awareness of the importance of my scheduled writing days—I’ve made a huge effort to protect that time, which otherwise would have been hard fought. These longer, weekly, concentrated blocks of time have provided a sense of expansiveness—time to think actively about and experiment with structure and time to simply get as much as I can down on the page.   

Have you ever entered a contest that you didn't win?
I submitted a version of the same proposal to the Minnesota Emerging Writers' Grant in 2012 and didn’t win. When the grant notice was posted for 2013, I revisited what I had written the previous year and tightened things up. The second time around, I asked readers I trusted for feedback on the grant narrative, and I used the resources the Loft provided—an open information session, a scheduled chance to ask questions. In short, I took more time and care with the process and with my work—it was good to be reminded that this can make a difference. 

What advice would you offer to writers thinking of submitting to writing contests?
Do your homework and seek out the opportunities that are a good fit for your work. Follow submission guidelines. Submit your best work. After that understand that timing and luck are part of the process, and persevere.  

For more Winners on Winning, read the current issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, and check back here every Wednesday for a new installment.

 

Tell It Strange Essay & Story Contest Deadline Approaches

Submissions are currently open for the Tell it Strange Essay & Story Contest, sponsored by the Gotham Writers’ Workshop and the Writer. The winner will receive $1,000, publication in the Writer, and tuition valued at $445 to take a class through the Gotham Writers’ Workshop in New York City or online.

A $500 second-place prize and a $250 third-place prize will also be given; both awards include publication on the Writer website and tuition for a workshop. All three winners will also receive a subscription to the Writer.

Using the online submission system, submit a story or essay of up to 1,000 words with a $15 entry fee by May 31. The piece should respond to one of the following two quotes by fiction writer Annie Proulx: “We’re all strange inside. We learn how to disguise our differences as we grow up (The Shipping News);” or “There’s something wrong with everybody, and it’s up to you to know what you can handle (Close Range).” The winner will be announced by July 1.

Annie Proulx is the author of four short story collections, four novels, and most recently Bird Cloud: A Memoir of Place (Simon & Schuster, 2011). Her novel The Shipping News (Simon & Schuster, 1993), about a family living in Newfoundland, won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Close Range (Simon & Schuster, 1999) is a collection of short stories about Wyoming, including “Brokeback Mountain.”

Established in 1993, the Gotham Writers’ Workshop offers creative writing workshops in New York City and online for poets, fiction writers, and nonfiction writers. The mission of Gotham Writers’ Workshop is “to demystify the writing process through expert instruction and proven methods in a safe, creative learning environment.”


Proulx: Eamonn McCabe/the Guardian

Flowers

You know what April showers bring. This week think about flowers. More particularly, think about your flower. Is there a certain flower that you personally identify with or fills your heart with joy? If not, is there a flower that reminds you of a special person in your life or brings up a fond memory? Write about this flower and why it's important to you, taking care to illustrate its beauty.

Weird Food

No matter how adventurous an eater you are, there's bound to be some foods that immediately turn you off. It could be the smell, the texture, or just the way it looks that makes it unpalatable. This week, write about a time when you were faced with something that is supposedly edible but that you found absolutely unappealing. It could be a food from a different culture, an odd combination of flavors, or a culinary experiment a friend or relative cooked up that didn't turn out as planned. Did you eat it anyway? Or did you leave it for someone else to enjoy?

Deadline Approaches for Paris Review Writer-in-Residence

Submissions are currently open for the Paris Review's Writer-in-Residence program. Cosponsored by the Standard’s East Village hotel in New York City, the three-week residency, valued at $7,500, is given to a poet, a fiction writer, or a creative nonfiction writer with a book under contract. The resident will receive a room free of charge at the Standard’s East Village hotel for the first three weeks in July, as well as breakfasts, unlimited coffee, and a small reception at the end of the residency.

To apply, submit a description and sample of the work-in-progress totaling no more than 50 pages, a letter from the publisher confirming that the work is under contract, a brief letter of intent, and an optional sample of previous work totaling no more than 50 pages by May 1. All materials must be submitted electronically to residency@theparisreview.org. The editors of the Paris Review and Standard Culture will judge.

The residency program was launched in the fall of 2013. The inaugural resident, fiction writer Lysley Tenorio of San Francisco, spent three weeks in January at the Standard’s East Village hotel working on his novel.

The winner will be announced on June 7, 2014.

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