The Daily Press
14 ECC students selected for publication in pair of national contests
What is better than having an entire group of students selected to have their writing published? For Elk County Catholic High School, the answer is having that entire group of students selected to have their writing published in two separate contests.
According to Elk County Catholic High School English teacher Dawn Salter, all of the students from ECC who entered had their writing selected for publication – an accomplishment that she noted is very rare.
“There were 14 students selected for both contests,” Salter said. “Thirteen are my creative writing class, and one enjoys writing and wanted to enter the contest.”
The 14 students consist of 11 seniors – Adria Schmidt, Lydia Anderson, Noah Armagost, Madison Marzullo, Madison Bierley, Rachel Sloff, Allison Geci, Owen Daghir, MacKenzie Kennedy, Sarah Reedy, and Italia Cicione – and three juniors – Douglas MacDonald, Brooke Dippold, and Crystal Hanes.
Salter used both contests as assignments for the students in her class.
The first of the contests offered through Young Writers USA took place last fall. Titled “Twisted Tales,” it challenged students “to explore characterization and the effect of the narrator and perspective on a story.” Students’ entries had to put a twist on the classic narrative of good versus evil and show the other side of the story.
“The ‘Twisted Tales’ contest opened at the perfect time,” Salter said. “I assign what I call ‘Villian Story.’ That assignment is they have to pick a villain from a list of fairy tales or Disney movies and tell their story from the perspective of the villain. The ‘Twisted Tales’ contest was basically the same, so the students took their assignment and used it for the contest. The class assignment was that the story had to be at least two pages. The contest only allowed 100 words. The hardest part was going from, in some cases, 700 words or more to 100 words.”
The other contest was titled “Through Their Eyes” and focused on poetry. It ended in early January. Students were prompted to write a poem from someone or something’s point of view.
“For ‘Through Their Eyes,’ they first had to brainstorm who or what they would be. This contest was to write a poem from the perspective of someone or something,” Salter said. “There was no length cutoff, and they could use whatever style and conventions they wanted. When they finished their poems, we had a poem reading day so the class could give suggestions and encouragement to fellow students. I made a few suggestions, but most of the work was independent.”
Salter shared that she previously had students enter contests offered through Young Writers USA, but none had been chosen for publication. That made it extra special to have the entire group selected this year for two separate contests.
“I’m extremely proud of all of them,” Salter said. “Most students will complain about writing. The point of creative writing is to write and be creative.”
Salter noted that she enjoyed watching all of the students grow as writers throughout the semester-long creative writing class.
“They are all very good writers and grew throughout the semester,” Salter said. “Most of the assignments require them to think outside the box, and they did a great job at this.”
Despite their success, the students described submitting their work for the national contests as being “intimidating,” and none expected to be selected for publication.
“Having your work out there is definitely intimidating,” Reedy said. “Coming up with a new idea is always a struggle too, but when you see your work being liked by someone else, it really gives you a sense of appreciation for all the hard work you did put into it.”
“There are so many really good writers out there, and I never thought that my writing could ever be up to the standards of being published like that. It was a really neat experience,” Reedy added.
When it came to brainstorming ideas for both contests, Geci shared that she went with ideas that she liked and tried not to overthink them too much because she never imagined that her work would be selected for publication.
“The hardest part of the writing process for me was knowing that it was going to be compared to thousands of other people. This affected my writing process because I had to figure out a way for my story to stand out in just 100 words while still keeping a plot and having it make sense. Overall, it was a really fun experience and everyone should give it a try,” Geci said.
Kennedy took a similar approach to Geci in choosing her topics.
“The hardest part was definitely the writing block I experienced,” Kennedy said. “I didn’t know what to write about, so I chose something that was very simple, yet something dear to me.”
Having prompts provided as part of the contest, if they chose to use them, was also helpful for some of the students.
“An exciting part of these contests is getting a prompt for an idea that you might not have previously thought of,” Bierley said.
In the end, what each chose to write about was up to their own imagination, something that particularly appealed to Armagost.
“The best part of entering a national contest was just being able to know that you had done something with your active imagination you thought was only just a distraction. The scariest thing was the doubts of saying your imagination wasn’t enough to be as creative as everyone else’s. The hardest part of this was trying to come up with an idea that really matched my own imagination,” Armagost said.
Marzullo credited the pressure of writing something good enough to be published with helping to provide extra motivation for her.
“By knowing this competition of work is taking place, my motivation to write at my best level skyrockets, which is when I write my best,” Marzullo said. “Knowing that I have thousands of other writers creating very good pieces too, I am able to write something that is both intriguing and entertaining above all levels.”
As was the case for many of her classmates, the word limit also presented a challenge for Sloff, though she enjoyed having the opportunity to share her work with others for the first time.
“Before this, I never shared my work, so trying this new thing feels good and exciting,” Sloff said. “The scariest part of entering a national contest, for me, was not actually being able to be fully clear in my pieces of writing. The hardest part of the writing process was the word limit. Most contests have a word limit, and I found that my writings are very wordy, so I struggled cutting down on my words.”
Having the ability to share his work with others was also an element of the contests that appealed to MacDonald.
“It’s quite daunting to think about all of the people who I will never meet reading over my story. Yet again, that is also what I like about this so much,” MacDonald said. “I like that my story can be seen by so many people, and I like the challenging prompts that this competition offers.”
Dippold also appreciated the opportunity the contests offered for she and her classmates to showcase their creativity and share their creations with others.
“Of course, I did not expect to be chosen, and I bet no one in this class was expecting it either, but I am truly proud of all the hard work each and every one of us has put into each piece that we have had published,” Dippold said.
While countless individuals they do not know will read their work once it is published, being able to share it with each other throughout the writing process was helpful for the class, Hanes noted.
“The best part of entering a national contest is that we are doing it as a class, which means that we all have each other’s backs and we can ask each other for help and critiques if we need it,” Hanes said.
Daghir described having the chance to be published as being the best part of entering the national contests, with the scariest part being the possibility of being rejected for publication.
“The hardest part of the writing process was keeping it within the 100 word limit. The limit makes it hard to make the full story,” Daghir said. “I didn’t expect to get selected because I don’t think of myself as a stellar writer.”
Cicione echoed Daghir’s sentiments.
“When I started writing to enter both Young Writers contests, I think the hardest part was getting over the thought about if my work was going to be good enough. I feared that my writing would not stand out around thousands of stories from other students, but I now know that I was more than good enough,” Cicione said. “I never thought I would be one of the ones who were chosen to be published, let alone our whole creative writing class. Being chosen to be published two times in a row has definitely increased my confidence in the strength of my own writing and that of my classmates. This is definitely an accomplishment to be proud of.”
Anderson perhaps summed it up best when she described her approach to the competitions.
“I wasn’t confident I would be chosen (for publication), but I knew that if I loved what I wrote, that people would see something special in it,” Anderson said.
The students are now hoping to make it threefor-three as they have entered another contest offered through Young Writers USA that ends in March.
“The new contest is ‘Integers,’” Salter said. “Each mini saga needs to revolve around a number. They sent prompts and ideas or, again, the students can use their own ideas.”
As was the case with the first contest, each of the entries for the new contest was limited to 100 words.