Entering the CBC Short Story Prize? Heather O'Neill has 5 tips for you

The 2018 CBC Short Story Prize juror discusses the perks of entering literary contests and what she is looking for in this year's winner.
Heather O'Neill is a juror for the 2018 CBC Short Story Prize. (The Canadian Press)

Author Heather O'Neill is no stranger to the world of literary prizes. Her debut novel, Lullabies for Little Criminals, was shortlisted for a Governor General's Literary Award and won Canada Reads in 2007. She was the first back-to-back finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and her writing has appeared in places like the Guardian, the New York Times and the Globe and Mail. Her latest book is the novel The Lonely Hearts Hotel.

O'Neill is serving on the jury for the 2018 CBC Short Story Prize alongside Eden Robinson and Kevin Hardcastle. The 2018 CBC Short Story Prize is open for submissions until Oct. 31, 2017.

Why should you enter? The winner of the CBC Short Story Prize receives $6,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts, will have their story published on CBC Books and will have the opportunity to attend a 10-day writing residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. Four finalists will each receive $1,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts and have their story published on CBC Books.

CBC Books hosted a Facebook Live video with O'Neill and our CBC Literary Prizes manager, Dionne Codrington, to answer your questions about submitting. During the chat, O'Neill shared some helpful advice for those thinking about entering. You can watch the entire video at the end of this post.

1. Write and write and write

Heather says: "I like a unique voice. It's almost like when you hear a singer that you like and you just adore that voice. I always look for a voice that I love and that's something writers develop naturally. The more you write, the more your voice becomes consistent and idiosyncratic and wonderful. Which is why I always tell young writers to write and write and write, because that's the only way you develop that voice."

2. Get uncomfortable

Heather says: "I always look for [the story] to be thematically interesting — for it to say something about the world that I haven't thought of before, for it to have a little edge or for it to be a deeper perspective on the world because I like my perspective to be opened. I like to be shocked a little and to realize 'Oh! I never really thought about it that way.'

"It's fine to be provocative too. Sometimes I look for uncomfortable things. I remember once judging a competition and the story that I chose was the one that made me the most uncomfortable because it touched on issues in myself that I hadn't quite dealt with."

3. Watch your typos

Heather says: "I'm not that finicky, but some judges will immediately be enraged. Some people hate typos. Do your best because it does throw [the reader] off. It does alienate the reading experience a bit and it throws off the flow of the story. Definitely have someone reread your work."

4. Learn to love deadlines

Heather says: "Good advice for aspiring writers is to find yourself a deadline and stick to it. Deadlines are amazing. If you find yourself a deadline, that's going to actually help you produce something."

5. Seize the opportunity

Heather says: "When you're establishing yourself as a writer, it's important to take whatever opportunity comes your way. This is actually a prize that comes with a lot of recognition and a lot of people in the establishment will definitely read it. It's great to have on your resumé when sending your work to agents. It is an amazing way to introduce yourself to the world."

Heather O'Neill's comments have been edited and condensed. 

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