No Fee Contest/Cash Prize: Is this for real?

No Fee Contest/Cash Prize: Is this for real?

Two phrases together often catch a writer’s attention.  No Fee and Cash Prize!  That’s exactly what you’ll find at HRW’s 8th Annual Writers Conference. Attendees have the opportunity to submit in three categories: poetry; fiction; and nonfiction. Each category pays cash prizes. And did I mention there is no fee to submit?

Here’s what you’ll receive in each of the three categories when you win:

First Place — $500

Second Place  — $250

Third Place — $100

Honorable Mention — $75 tuition break at HRW’s 2017 Writers Conference

While HRW has created an affordable, information-rich conference that appeals to all levels of writing experience, the no fee, cash prize writing contests reflect HRW’s desire to encourage emerging writers. Attendees are encouraged to submit to all three categories, but in an effort to encourage emerging writers, first place winners of any of HRW’s previous contests are ineligible to enter work into the contest category for which they previously were awarded first prize.

When it comes to submitting here are a couple of suggestions to make the most of your submission:

1) Look at the submission guidelines. Not only do they tell you the format and word count but also the submission deadline. Every competition has guidelines and without exception you must submit accordingly or your submission will be immediately disqualified from the running.

2) Once you have selected your categories, research the particular judges for each section. They have been selected because of their skilled ability to evaluate their category submissions. It is worth your time to see what they write, where their work has been published, and what subjects they’re passionate about.  I’m not sharing this to sway your topic.  However, you will benefit and possibly increase your chances of winning contests anytime you can adapt, remove barriers, and make it as easy as possible for the judges to evaluate your work.

Even if you don’t win any of the cash prizes or the conference credit for an Honorable Mention, each judge is requested to share their observations about your piece. You’ll get valuable feedback from a professional about where and how you can strengthen the writing, something that under normal conditions would require payment.

For more tips on writing competitions visit


Sherrie Pilkington, a co-founder of Hampton Roads Writers, serves on its advisory board. She’s a daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandmother, and writer of nonfiction.


An Economy of Words, a Bounty of Emotion

kid picture
Naomi Nye’s poem “The Mother Writes to the Murderer: A Letter” begins with a quote from the Dallas Morning News: “Alicia didn’t like sadness.” The poem is about the murder of a child on her way to the store a block away from her house. The poem is powerful and haunting, vivid in its description of this child. Her death becomes painful to us, the reader, because we know her, and we can never forget her again.

And yet, Nye’s poem uses very ordinary words, nothing more difficult than a fourth-grader could understand. The word choice may not be lavish, but the emotions evoked through the simple language are raw and convincing.

In her letter to her daughter’s murderer, the narrator writes,

“You don’t have her drawings taped to your refrigerator
blue circuses, red farms
You don’t know she cried once in a field of cows
saying they were too beautiful to eat.”

Another line, which gets to me every time I read it, is,

“You don’t know where she hid her buttons.”

Whenever I struggle to come up with words that drip with emotion, I remember this poem and realize that lush language can sometimes get in the way of having my readers see what I want them to see and feel what I want them to feel. Sometimes, the simpler, the better.


Susan Okaty moved to Virginia Beach from San Antonio, Texas, where she was an academic dean for the North East Independent School District. She is co-secretary for HRW’s board of directors.

Read her blog.

Editsaurus: Another Hemingway Editor?

Editsaurus: Another Hemingway Editor?

Editsaurus is a new writing tool that claims to highlight potential problems in your writing and encourage good writing habits. However, its usefulness is limited and ultimately, unless you are a beginning writer, its capabilities will not be that helpful to you.

This website functions much like the Hemingway Editor. You input your text or write directly into the box. Then it highlights potential problem areas. Which sounds useful. But when you examine the readout, it becomes less and less meaningful.

The tool highlights all uses of adverbs. Which, granted, too many is problem, but you can follow every rule of grammar and good writing and still use an occasional adverb.

It’s also rather worrisome how adverbs are being vilified by both this program and the Hemingway Editor. Not all adverbs are the enemy. Conversely, you can have writing completely free of adverbs and it can be still terrible. Avoiding every adverb in existence is not some magic formula for good writing. But when editors like this highlight every use, what message is it sending to writers?

The tool also highlights all uses of easily-confused words. Every use of the word “to” or “then” is highlighted because these words are often confused with “too” and “two” as well as “than”, respectively.

If a beginning writer struggles with the correct usage of these words, the highlight will be helpful. But someone who has a solid background in grammar will raise an eyebrow over how their piece has been marked up when their usage is correct.

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the emotional reaction to this program. After years of spelling and grammar check from every piece of software that has it equipped, we are used to seeing anything highlighted as a problem that needs to be fixed. Seeing your writing come back so marked up can be anxiety inducing.

But when you examine why the marks are there, most of them aren’t problems that need correction. It’s just the inability of a computer to detect what is correct grammar and what is a mistake.

With the Hemingway Editor already in existence and the limitations of this tool, its ultimate practicality is questionable.

The Pros and Cons of the Hemingway Editor

The Pros and Cons of the Hemingway Editor

The Hemingway Editor is an application which evaluates writing. You can input text or write directly on the website or the downloadable desktop version. The editor will mark any sentences it deems too complicated and will suggest changing words that can be simplified. The idea behind the Hemingway Editor is excellent. However, there are some drawbacks.

But let’s talk about the good news first. The editor has a finely-tuned passive voice detector. Several times I found myself writing in passive voice without even realizing it. If you struggle with this grammar no-no, this application can definitely  help.

For those among us who find themselves to be wordy writers, the Hemingway Editor will not let you off the hook until your sentences are as concise as possible. It can cure you of comma splices and run-on sentences with its yellow and red highlighting.

After using the editor for several projects, I found myself aware of just how long some of my sentences were. It also helped me to stop hedging so much and say what I wanted to say. It will definitely make you think about your writing on a different level. However, that’s not always a good thing.

The Hemingway Editor is still a computer application. It can’t tell good writing from bad. Plug in any academic writing and the editor will score the PhD who wrote it very poorly. When using the editor for an entire story, you might find that your writing has been boiled down to a series of incredibly short sentences.

The application also hates adverbs. It marks each one as a problem and recommends removing them. Although using too many adverbs can be an issue, using none can make your writing sound mechanical and dull.

My overall opinion is that the editor can be helpful and there is something to be gained from looking at it. However, I would not recommend writing to the editor or taking its advice every single time. Good writing is concise and free from excessively long sentences. But there should always be room for some adverbs.