A Writing Tool for Motivation and Focus

 Today’s guest post is courtesy of Julie Cahill Tarr 

3d man athlete competition, on white backgroundWhy Not Enter a Family History Writing Competition?

Many of us struggle with writing our family history stories.  We know the stories exist, we have done the research, but we cannot seem to get started with the writing process.  There are many strategies out there to help us, but one strategy I find useful is entering family history writing competitions.

Several genealogical societies hold annual writing competitions to recognize authors in our field.  Many of these authors are your typical genealogist, like you and me, with a story to tell.  I can hear it now:  “but I’m not good enough,” or “I don’t have time,” or “I don’t know what to write about.”  This is precisely why a writing competition can be good for the genealogist’s soul.

Since our goal is to start writing our stories, here are two reasons why a family writing competition can help:

  • Motivation – Each competition has a deadline.  Having a deadline means having a goal, and with that goal comes motivation.  We know exactly when we must complete our entry and we can plan accordingly.  Having this type of motivation is what helps us sit down and write.  I often find that when I have an open-ended writing project it never seems to get done.  But, when I have a deadline, such as a contest entry deadline, I am excited and find the time to complete the project.
  • Focus – While most of us know we want to write about our family, we often struggle with what exactly to write about.  This lack of focus often derails us and we never seem to get around to writing anything.  Many of the competitions have specific criteria for submissions.  This aspect alone can help us determine what we want to write and essentially keep us focused.  Having a focus allows us to get the writing done.

In addition to accomplishing the goal of writing our stories, writing competitions can offer some additional benefits:

  • Publication – Oftentimes, winning entries are published in the society’s journal or newsletter.  This is a great benefit, especially for authors who have never been published.  Not only could you place in the competition, your work could be published for the world to see!  In some cases, even if an entry did not win, an editor may ask for permission to publish it.
  • Learn – Some societies provide judging sheets or comments after the competition.  Having any sort of feedback helps us learn what areas of our writing/research are strong and what areas need work.  For many of us, this is an invaluable tool and helps us strive to be better writers (and genealogists!).  Keep in mind, this feedback is not meant to demotivate, it is meant to help us learn.

With all these things in mind, entering a family history writing competition can also help us in the long run by providing us with much-needed courage for continuing to write our stories.  Placing in a writing competition gives us the motivation to write more and even submit articles for publication.  Even when we do not win, just having gone through the process gives us the courage to try again or work on something else.  Either way, we are writing and ultimately sharing our family history stories.

Family History Writing Competitions


 Below is a list of popular family history writing competitions.  Be sure to review the complete rules for each competition before entering.

  • Dallas Genealogical Society, DGS Writing Contest – Do not have to be a member; entries do not necessarily have to relate to the Dallas area.
  • Ohio Genealogical Society, OGS Writing Competition – Do not have to be a member; entries must fit the criteria of OGS quarterly or newsletter.

Julie3_FBJulie Cahill Tarr. Genealogy has been a passion of Julie’s for several years and she has been a professional writer for as long as she can remember. Helping people write their family stories is a perfect blend of both passions. She provides writing, editing, and design services to assist other genealogists in telling their family stories.  Julie is currently the Quarterly Editor and Education Committee Chair for the Illinois State Genealogical Society.  You can follow Julie on her genealogy blog, Julie’s Genealogy & History Hub, at http://genealogy.julietarr.com/blog.



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