Essay Guidelines and Your Red Mittens

vision can change the world

I promised to post some guidelines for those who are writing an essay to win a contest, especially the Inn in Maine.  Although I will be personally working with ten people on this contest I have had so many inquiries that I thought to help the best I could by including on my blog some thoughts for writing a 200 word essay.  There is wisdom included in the guidelines below from writers other than myself who have learned a few things about writing a short essay of this kind.

Feel free to post questions and please feel free to send me a bit about your story to share with my readers.  We can all use inspiration.

Dreaming big is what we should all be doing and without restraint.  I hope this helps to dream even bigger.

Essay Writing Information From Maya Christobel

Here are some tips on approaching writing your essay. Over the years I have gathered lots of great advice and experience, which I will jot down for you to help you launch your essay.

 

  • Short is all that much harder than long, but don’t worry. Write as much as you want and then you will slash a burn what is not essential.
  • Do not hurry. Allow the muse to whisper in your ear. If you hurry your mid will be in the driver seat and that will not make for a great essay.
  • Pay attention to what you might be afraid to say, what you were dreaming the night before you work on your essay, pay attention to your intuition and instinct and particularly pay attention to the visual images you have in your mind.
  • This is not a test. Write instinctively first, not like an English major taking a test. Thinking you need to do it “right” will never help you “write”.

 

Tell a story about you and about your dream: Be specific: The more personal the better. Think of your own experience, work, and family, and tell of the things you know that no one else does. Find the unique points of your dream and focus on them. Instead of saying something about loving your parents and wanting to help them run a B+B, say more than that: Say why you love them, what makes them so special and the perfect people to realize their dream. Your story need not be heart-warming or gut wrenching—it can even be funny—but it has to be real.

 

Be personal: Write in words and phrases that are comfortable for you to speak. I recommend you read your essay aloud to yourself several times, and each time edit it and simplify it until you find the words, tone, and story that truly echo your belief and the way you speak. In fact take your iPhone or a recorder and simply tell your story and then play it back many times. This will help you focus on what feels right, what stands out and what may not fit.  Tell your story first to a best friend and see what she or he is moved by.

 

Consult your Heart: When you are limited to 200 words, which is not quite one page you will be doing a lot of thinking about what you need or want to write. My advice is to please write from your heart first. Do not focus on grammar or spelling or word count. Make sure you are answering the following questions:

 

  • Why does owning this Inn inspire you?
  • How would it change your life AND others.
  • What particular experience do you have that helps you run an Inn.
  • Why are you the best candidate? What makes you Unique?

 

Then Lead Your Essay with a Good Hook, this is most important.

When it’s time to start writing your essay contest entry, remember that the first sentence is the most important of all. If you can start with a powerful, intriguing, moving, or hilarious first sentence, you’ll hook your readers’ interest and stick in their memory when it is time to pick winners. Remember you are competing against 7500 other dreamers so that first sentence needs to stand out.

Write Your First Draft Essay

Now is the time to get all of your thoughts down. At this stage, it’s not necessary for everything to be perfectly polished; you’re just setting down the bones of your final essay contest entry. Try to hit the points you most want to communicate. If your essay is running longer than the word count limit, don’t worry about it at this stage, I will help you trim the fat.

 red mittens

Keep an Eye Out for “Red Mittens”

This is something I learned along the way that has been indispensable. The “red mittens” idea has to do with making sure you have something so unique and visual in the essay that they will remember you out of the crowd. It is like planting an Easter egg in the bushes. Here is a great piece of information.

Excerpt from Sandra Grauschopf: Contests & Sweepstakes Expert

“In her fantastic book, The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio, Terry Ryan talked about how her mother used “Red Mittens” to help her be even more successful with contest entries. To quote from the book:

“The purpose of the Red Mitten was almost self-explanatory — it made an entry stand out from the rest. In a basket of mittens, a red one will be noticed.”

Among the Red Mitten tricks that Evelyn Ryan used were rhyme, alliteration, inner rhyme, puns, and coined words.

While Evelyn Ryan mostly entered jingle and ad-type contests, the Red Mitten theory can be used to make any essay contest entry stand out. Your Red Mitten might be a clever play on words, a dash of humor, or a heart-tugging poignancy that sticks in the judges’ minds.”

 

Then Revise Your Essay for Flow 

Once you have written the first draft of your essay contest entry, look it over to ensure that it flows smoothly. I will be helping you all along the way to make sure that you say what you need in compelling ways and that it flows. Is your point well made and clear? Does the essay flow smoothly from one point to another? Do the transitions make sense? Does it sound good when you read it aloud? Remember this is a final piece of writing and at the beginning you just need to get all your feelings and thoughts on paper even if it is five pages.

At this point you and I will cut out extraneous words and make sure that you’ve come in under the word count limit.

In Stephen King’s book which I believe is one of the best out there, On Writing, he talks about a rejection notice he once received that read: “Formula for success: 2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%.” In other words, the first draft can always use some trimming to make the best parts shine.

 

Now Put Your Writing Away

When you have a fairly polished first draft of your essay contest entry, put it aside and don’t look at it for a little while. If you have time before the contest ends, put your essay away for at least a week. Let your mind mull over the idea subconsciously for a little while and see what else bubbles up.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve sent in an entry and then thought of something that I should have added to make it perfect. Letting your entry simmer in your mind and heart gives you the time to come up with these great ideas before it’s too late.

 

Finally, Revise Your Essay Again and Again

Now is the time to put the final polish on your essay contest entry. Have you said everything you wanted to say? Have you made your point? Does the essay still sound good when you read it aloud? Can you tighten up the prose by making any additional cuts in the word count? And let people you know read it. They will have great ideas. You don’t have to use them but you may want to.

If possible, this is a good time to enlist the help of friends or family members. Read your essay aloud to them and check their reactions. Did they smile in the right parts? Did it make sense to them?

And ask a friend to double-check your spelling and grammar. Even your computer’s spell check programs make mistakes sometimes, so it’s helpful to have another person read it over. I will do that with you but you will want to have another person in the wings that is great at this sort of thing.

The Magic Bullet: The Power of Your Intention

What I encourage you to do is to not focus on winning but focus on learning more about yourself, your dream, more about listening to your “deep voice” and allowing yourself to be vulnerable and honest. You can do that with a tiny story, with humor or with a quote.

And I encourage you to do the envisioning that will make your intention to win the Inn a reality. Cut out a photo of the Inn, paste it above where you write. Do a daily visualization of you owning the Inn, people coming, joy happening, you feeling successful and happy. This is your most powerful writing tool

Happy writing!

I have a dream

The Stalker

Stalker

If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive.”

—Barry Lopez
(as Badger, in Crow and Weasel)

Since starting this blog this past week,  I have been inundated with emails. And, as you can imagine, people were sharing that there was a story to be told, a story that no one knew, a story that scared them, would unravel their family or the worst of all…a story that the writer was afraid would be….boring. How many of us tell ourselves every day that our story is not interesting enough, or that “no one would want to hear about MY life”?

Well, I’m here to say that fear to tell your story, since you are certain it will be a snoozer…is a cop out.  And the second thing I am here to tell you is …you are not telling the story for someone else. You are telling your story for you, your health, your liberation, to find the humor in the tragedy and to simply honor that it is in fact the story you were born to live. Telling our stories is a sign of respect and self-love. And in the end how you share it is up to you.

So, now that we are looking at the obstacles to recording, writing, filming, painting your stories we want to take a peek at why in the world you would want to tall a story that is a secret or is only garnishing the pages of your journals, filling the boxes of photos you have kept for the entire family for a lifetime or is a story that is just being ignored.

The answer is, because we were all born to tell the stories we have been given and entrusted with and because the story is an entity with life and breath and who needs to be released to a life outside your mind and body and heart. Why? So that we all can be challenged, changed and healed. Story is your medicine and your story is someone else’s medicine in this world as well.

And, I am going to bet that many of you feel like your story haunts you, chasing you in your dream life, nudging you awake, making you want to write down ideas while driving or washing the dishes. Right?  Your stories are relentless stalkers.

“Australian Aborigines say that the big stories—the stories worth telling and retelling, the ones in which you may find the meaning of your life—are forever stalking the right teller, sniffing and tracking like predators, hunting their prey in the bush.”

—Robert Moss, Dreamgates

Real quick, lets just strip away the thoughts that keep us from breathing life into our stories. Thoughts about fear are simply walls between the mind and our heart. We keep these walls of fear up so we don’t have to feel what is on the other side of the imagined fear.  Took me three decades as a psychologist to get that one.

stalking cartoon

Lets look at the top three fears and just exorcise them, like taking off a Band-aid: Fast and then put some ointment on it and go about living and writing or speaking your story. What are the top reasons you may not be telling your story? We will get the biggest one out-of-the-way first,

I am not a good writer”.  Answer.  No one is and they learn to be.

I will be embarrassed.”   Many people are embarrassed to tell their real story. Did anyone see the excruciating and amazing film version of the book, August: In Osage County, with Meryl Streep? This Pulitzer Prize winning story was semi-autobiographical and cut to the jugular of our culture. And you can bet the writing of it was no picnic for Tracy Letts. When you open up the windows to your soul and share your inner secret struggles and how you overcame the demons of fear, self-doubt, inadequacy, bad decisions, personal failures and weaknesses you gain the respect of everyone just like you…which is…. everyone.

“The truth will come out and offend people.”  Many people are afraid to tell the truth because they don’t want to offend others.  People wait until a family member passes away before they are willing to tell the true story of their childhood.  It might be an ex-spouse they are afraid will contradict their story or concern about a child, a college buddy or a colleague. We are afraid people will lose respect for us when we tell the truth, blow the whistle on family or friends, when actually the opposite is true.  The important thing is not to let fear stop you from telling your story.  The world needs to hear your story, and you are the only one who can tell it.

And, the heavy hitters as writers in our culture are never immune to doubt and fear. This is what a few of them have to say:

“For me, putting my work out there is a risk, and it can be scary.”

Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love.

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
Maya Angelou

“The scariest moment is always just before you start.”

Stephen King

“My post-memoir mental state is a mixture of euphoria, disbelief, accomplishment, confusion, titillation, exhaustion and shame.”  Tom Robbins

All good writers started somewhere and in most cases if their knees were not knocking then someone should have poked them with a “pen” to see if they were still alive. We all quake at the first leap into the unknown. And for those of us who now write as a way of life we can tell you two things are true: First, that with every leap, which is usually every day you sit down to write or paint or speak, you act as if you have never leapt before and panic. Second, half way down after you have jumped, some illusive parachute opens over head and breaks the fall, allowing you to run headlong into the unknown without too many bruises.

I think they call this…Grace.

jump off cliff