Writing Sample at the Ready

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.   

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  1. YES!!!!!!!!!.
    I just entered the Lake Superior Writer’s Poetry Contest.
    It Fit! And I actually read all of the rules.
    The theme was APART/Together.
    I was like: “YES! This is perfect for my life without my sister. I had LOTS & Lots of material.
    Loved this relevant post, Renee. xxxx KISS.

  2. Hi Renee, I don’t like to read the small print, but it is a necessary evil. I keep a few samples, just in case. Thus far, no one is knocking on my door. Oh, well! I’ll keep ringing door bells, with my samples at the ready. Blessings.

  3. Hi Renee,

    First, I love the azaleas! So beautiful, so pink!

    I haven’t entered any writing contest, but I’ve had similar sweaty moments when signing up for one of the sites that matches writers with work. As really all of my “work” writing is for organizations that I work for / with, I don’t feel the freedom to use things I written as part of a “portfolio.” Which leaves me with nothing but an empty white box to stare at. How do I gather samples of work that I’ve done, when really all of it belongs to the organizations I’ve worked for?! Oh, those blank spaces! And yes, the fine print is frustrating! But important to read. Thanks for the reminder! ~ Sheila

    1. I know how you feel. That moment of ‘yikes, I’m going to need a sample.’ And if you’re like me, the sweaty palm realization of which will match best or what are they looking for? It’s always a challenge.

      I’m glad you like the ‘pinker’ atmosphere over here. It’s been a bit dark and wintry. Maybe spring has sprung!

  4. It has never even occurred to me to enter a writing contest so I never really thought about a writing sample before this. I do know that I seldom read any of the rules until after the fact. Especially when there is a time out factor involved, I would always be concerned with finishing first and then reading the rules.

  5. Oh dear, sounds like a quite a pickle to be in. I’ve only entered one writing contest. I’m not very competitive or I’m a bit of a control-freak and there’s a trust issue too. Those fine print rules are a problem too. Almost need a lawyer to cypher sometimes. lol
    I wish you the best with your entries. You sound like a winning writer to me.
    Hope you have a great weekend. 🙂

    1. Yes, you must avoid stress wherever possible. Some of us like contests and some don’t. But having a sample ready could be wise for a number of things, least among them contests. I’m sure you have one, as professional as you are.

  6. Can’t blame you for swearing and sweating. Last minute requirement and deadline submissions are high stressors. Yep, being prepared is the answer. Just like you I don’t read rules. First, they are too long. Second, they are still too long. Wishing you and your family a blessed Easter.

  7. That horrid blank square. I think you are right, maybe have a couple of passages/samples on the shelf – then no excuses to not enter. (Any suggestions for samples from what has been requested in the past?) Rules. Oh, those things that are actually the first elimination round. Reading is good!
    Thanks for the little prod.

    1. Samples are never bad things to have at the ready. Even if it isn’t for a contest but for application to programs geared toward writers, etc. Thanks for weighing in Karen.

  8. This is great advice, Renee! I’m still laughing at Elyse’s comment. Like you, I’m not always the best about reading all of the guidelines…I’m the same when it comes to instructions that come with something that is “easy” to assemble. I always figure it it’s “easy” why do I need to read instructions. I always end up with extra bolts and screws. 🙂
    I’m glad you commented on my blog today. I need to re-follow your blog. For whatever reason, I’ve lost several blogs in my reader, yours was one.
    Have a wonderful weekend, Renee!

    1. I thought I was the only one losing my ‘blogs’ in reader. It can be confusing. I think it’s just been a while since a post, and then bam…I’ve missed several. Glad you’re back with me anyway.

  9. Oh no! I had that happen in a college English class….totally blindsided. When we came in and sat down, the professor told us all to take out our pens and start writing about….our writing style? We had about 45 to 50 minutes to finish and turn the finished paper in. I was horrified. My mind threw its hands up and threatened to go on strike. It was going to take me more than 45 minutes just to figure out what my writing style was! Blank page, don’t know what to write, and the clock is ticking STRESS!! Already 5 minutes wasted and nothing. I had to write something. Anything. Auugh!
    I mentioned that experience in a post called: http://storieswithnobooks.com/2013/05/14/voice-of-thought-writing/

    1. Great comment Mary! I could feel your stress, the pressure of the timed writing assignment. I’ll be visiting your post to ‘flesh’ it out. Thanks for including the link.

  10. I think these experiences make you feel as though you’re back in school taking a pop quiz. That was something that always made me nervous… 🙂

  11. Best of luck! I wish I had more time to enter contests. Seems like i spend all my free time trying to promote the books I’ve written. And rules, not a huge fan 🙂

  12. I once submitted work to a Journal and although it was declined, I was invited to submit more work. In my excitement, I rushed into sending something else which was inferior to the first and believe me, I received it back very, very quickly.

  13. Renee, thank you so much for stopping by at my blog and for liking one of my posts ”Always end the day with a positive thought” May you be bless more abundantly in the name of Jesus Christ.

  14. Just dropping by to say Hi. Hope all is well and amazing for you and your family. Spring is almost over and Summer excitedly rushing in, so much adventure awaits. Have a great weekend.

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