Daniel Scott Tysdal upon winning the Thomas Morton Memorial Prize
The good folks at The Puritan have invited me to say a few words about winning the fiction category of the Third Annual Thomas Morton Memorial Prize in Literary Excellence. I am a big fan of literary contests and have been submitting to them since the days rejection letters were actually letters. Over the years, I have had many friends, and, in recent years, many students, express their skepticism about the value of entering contests. They call the odds low and the price high. I want to take this opportunity, then, to share my thoughts on the value and importance of entering literary contests:
- Investment in Community: The contest entry fee supports the contest’s generous prize and gives crucial resources to crucial publications, nourishing journals run by the hardest working people in the lit biz.
- Investment in Your Work (I): The contest entry fee often comes with a subscription (or, in the case of The Puritan, allows you to help sustain a journal that provides so much excellent literary and critical work for free). These subscriptions give you full access to what is happening and what is next in literature, filling your shelves with a wide range of new work from emerging writers and old favourites.
- Investment in Your Work (II): Most of us—writers and non-writers alike—work better under pressure, and the literary contest’s deadline supplies this. Take the contest as an opportunity to give another round of polish to that drawer-bound work or to write the poem or story you have been putting off.
- New Terrain: The contest is also a great way to enter new publishing terrain as a writer. For example, I have published poems in journals and trade collections, but have published only a handful of stories and no story collections. The Thomas Morton Prize was an ideal way for me to get this new work out there and signal this fresh direction. For an emerging writer, the literary contest is the best way to enter the world of publishing, marking your writing as work to watch out for.
- Idiosyncratic Eye: Journals often have editorial boards or collectives so the force of compromise can dull the striking edge of the individual reader’s eclectic interests. Not only are contests judged by accomplished, award-winning writers (I have a word limit so I cannot list all the achievements of this year’s Thomas Morton Prize judges, Ian Williams and Miriam Toews), but these writers are given free rein to bring their particular tastes to bear, often opening the door for unexpected, boundary-pushing work.
- The Prize: The prizes are always generous, and give writers exactly what they need: publication and money. Beyond this, though, many literary contests also add their own one-of-a-kind twist, a unique award that ends up having more lasting value. The Thomas Morton Prize, for example, came with a shelf of incredible books that will keep me busy and inspired for years. Other contests sweeten the pot with a ring and a trip to a pop music festival in Montreal.
- The Rush of Winning: Winning feels really good! The .gif pretty much sums it up.
- The Thrill of Losing: Losing also isn’t so bad. For one, most of us writer types expect to lose, so the news leaves us with the comforting sense that the world is functioning as it should. There is also the thrill of discovering new work and celebrating the successes of friends. One of my best contest memories was finding out two Saskatchewan friends, Cassidy McFadzean and Nathan Mader, had both been shortlisted for The Walrus Poetry Prize. Just as importantly, losing can spur you to get ready for next year and instill in you the thrill of writing something new.
In light of all of these benefits, I hope you feel inspired to enter the Fourth Annual Thomas Morton Memorial Prize in Literary Excellence. If you completely disagree with me, then you should definitely enter the contest so you can win and refute all of my points in your guest blog post next year.
Daniel Scott Tysdal is the author of three books of poetry, Fauxccasional Poems (forthcoming from icehouse 2015), The Mourner’s Book of Albums (Tightrope 2010), and Predicting the Next Big Advertising Breakthrough Using a Potentially Dangerous Method (Coteau 2006). Predicting received the ReLit Award for Poetry (2007) and the Anne Szumigalski Poetry Award (2006). Oxford University Press recently published his poetry textbook, The Writing Moment: A Practical Guide to Creating Poems. He is an Associate Professor, Teaching Stream, in the Department of English at the University of Toronto Scarborough.