What’s It Like To Be Shortlisted In A Writing Contest? Writing competitions are a block every writer comes across in their journey. While some see it as a way to build their craft, others have a dislike for it.
For instance, a writer once mentioned that he didn’t like contests because of bias. Another said contests placed ‘’unneccessary pressure’’ on her. She often found herself trying to live up to ‘’unrealistic expectations’’ which wasn’t good for her mental health. However, the opinion of one of our interviewees on Today’s Time Out With TLM , is quite different. According to him, contests made writers like Chimamanda, Akwaeke Emezi, Innocent Chizaram seen so they are a way to get popular.
Our interviewees today are Faith Oni and Achi Godspower Emmanuel. Faith Oni is a final year student of zoology at the University of Lagos while Achi Godspower is a graduate of Genetics and Biotechnology at the University of Calabar. Both have been shortlisted in competitions and have a story each.
HOW THEY STARTED COMPETING
In 2019, Faith’s friend, Cynthia Nnadi, uploaded a post in a writing group where Faith was a member. The post was about Quramo Annual Writing competition and when Faith saw it, her interest was piqued. ‘’I texted her and we got talking. She encouraged me though I had already made up my mind, ’’ she said. Cynthia Nnadi would also contest and make the top fifteen shortlist.
Emmanuel’s story, on the other hand, was quite different. With an imposter syndrome, he had developed a habit of applying for contests like one would for jobs. ‘’Whenever i hear of competitions, I just send my work. Most times, I even forget I sent them. I think this particular competition, which I was shortlisted in, was my first intentional one,’’ he said.
THE EXPERIENCE OF GETTING SHORTLISTED
For Emmanuel, who sees himself as an amateur writer , getting shortlisted was a big deal. He had forgotten about submitting his work for Collins Elisero Literary Prize Contest until a friend sent him a screenshot of a longlist few months later.
‘’I wasn’t only surprised, i was happy,’’ he said, a lilt of joy in his voice as though he was reminiscing the moment. ‘’From then, I had the inclination I’d make the shortlist and I did. I mean, come on, that work was precious, it was about the questioning of existentialism; a logical interpretation of my unvoiced ramblings and deep connection to the universe.’’
Although Emmanuel submitted that work in a haste- merely copied from facebook in its raw form- he yearned to show it to people who shared the same thoughts as he. Accordng to him, every serious writer ‘’ seeks validity from their readers. The validity that assures you that you’re doing well and you only need to improve and trust your unique voice.’’
In spite of the fact that he didn’t win, making the top five shortlist earned him a publication in their magazine that had over 5,000 readers globally.
NEAR-WIN EXPERIENCE: A BITTERSWEET MOMENT
Spirituality was Faith’s pillar for the contest. As maintained by her, she found hope in what God could do during the contests. Excited would be an understatement for how she felt when she made the top five shortlist in 2019. She had also forgotten she submitted on Quramo until her pictures were requested for. No sooner had she sent it (her pictures to Quramo) than Cynthia joyously called that she had also made the longlist. It was a joyous day for both of them.
‘’ I called my family and friends and everyone was excited for me. I was grateful to God because it was a privilege to make that list among about thousands of contesters,’’ she said. ‘’ Soon, five people were pulled out and my name was in the list. I felt nervous as i had never done it before. When I eventually made to he top five and was called to come for the final award ceremony at Eko Hotel, my heart raced.‘’
She continued, ‘’ Honestly, i was happy and grateful. I was going to meet Cynthia for the first time too. Even though she hadn’t made the final list, she had promised she’d be there. When I mounted the stage, I felt numb. My parents , family and friends were also there.
‘’On one hand, it was a privilege to take pictures with the judges: Igoni Barrett, Molara Wood and Toni Kan and I was delighted I made that list. On the other hand, I was nervous and when the winner was announced, I felt a bit sad. I mean, i was so close to winning and getting my book published. Actually I was both happy and sad, the happiness weighed a bit more.‘’
The thrill led Faith to submit again in 2020. However, her second attempt, though a bit stressful because of the lockdown and writer’s block, ended in a top fifteen. It was a huge blow to Faith who had been expecting better due to her former experience.
‘’I was hurt,’’ she began to say, her voice carrying in it a weight of sadness . ‘’The story I wrote the second time was a better one. It was in a little girl’s point of view. It took me time to find the flow for it. I even abandoned it for months and focused on my side hustle; graphic design.
“ But I later reached out to my pastor who then asked me to play Spirit Lead me by Hillsong Worship. That song motivated me to continue writing the book . Of course, I had the help of METeditors, a company set up by a friend of mine during the lockdown, and Agbalumoeditors as well. And on the deadline of submission, I completed it.’’
IMPACT OF THE CONTESTS
For Faith, working with friends and finding spiritual connection with God were a huge deal. ‘’I got to have a relationship that i’ve never had, with God during the lockdown.” Her voice depicted a candour of someone who, through the contests, was exposed to a friendship that may last a lifetime.
She added also that the contest made her see how much of a good writer she was. “Although I’ve always felt it- I just never thought… The contest unlocked a certain kind of confidence in me.”
Emmanuel on the other hand, believed the contest impacted him positively and negatively. ‘’I think in a negative way, one would keep comparing works to that of others. Positively, it makes one aware of one’s craft and prods one to get serious as well.’’
WILL THEY CONTEST AGAIN?
While Emmanuel is quite hopeful for the future and ready to jump on new writing contests, Faith is however waiting for instruction from God before she does anything.
“For now, he wants me to wait, I have to wait, ‘’ she said.
Take it to God, Faith said. ‘’Join writing communities but put God first , he makes it easier. Also, put in the work, shut out noise from friends who want to help because it can get confusing when they all have different interpretations for how they want your work to be. It’s your story, sift their advice. You don’t have to follow all.’’
She also added that checking previously published works by the publication/magazine can be helpful. But, ‘’do you. Don’t lose your uniqueness/style because you want to measure up to their standards. If they don’t pick you, someone else will. I mean, I submitted to Farafina and it was rejected, yet, Quramo accepted.’’
‘’Read a lot better-told stories so you can write better,’’ Emmanuel advised. ‘’Be yourself. It would hurt if you weren’t published, but keep writing, and hoping and trying. The process would refine you . Also, learn to love my Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, it would do you good in your writing career.’’