The rules are clear. You must complete all information blocks. You’ve had no trouble so far…name, address, email.

And then it appears.

That empty white square. They are requesting a writing sample with a word limit or file size.

You begin to swear…I mean sweat. Most likely both.

The deadline is tomorrow. Is there time to write something now? Will the page hit a ‘time out?’

You grab something…anything. Does it fit? You make it fit. And then you click on submit. It’s irretrievable now.

Later you read over the actual rules. The writing sample must be original and never before published. Or they want the rights to that piece which you no longer own. What do you do?

I recently entered a contest with such a scenario. I had a sample which I thought both met the scope of what they might be looking for and the word limit. But what has surprised me was the number of people complaining on their website about not knowing a sample would be necessary or that they sent a sample they no longer held the rights to or some other such issue.

Can they reenter? Can they send another sample? Can they enter and keep their rights?

One entry per person. It’s too late to do anything about it. Even if one of those people (complainers) win, they forfeit.

Although I’ll be the first to admit I often don’t read the rules and terms of agreement on everything I participate in, the writing sample represents the writer. And if we are being offered something in exchange for our work, then we shouldn’t be surprised if it comes with an attachment to the sample.

It’s important to have a few sample essays on hand. Hopefully ones not written under the duress of a swiftly passing deadline and whose content reflects us and our writing styles.

Then, when we get to that blank white square we’ll be prepared!!

Have you faced such a challenge? Were you ready? Or did you have to scramble at the last minute?

Renee Johnson is the author of Acquisition, and The Haunting of William Gray.  She is currently working on a Young Adult novel, while editing a suspense novel which has international flair–an homage to her love of travel and foreign food.  She lives on a farm in North Carolina with her husband, Tony Johnson, and one very spoiled German shepherd named Gretel.