Books·CBC Literary Prizes

4 lessons Sandra Murdock took away from winning the 2018 CBC Nonfiction Prize

Sandra Murdock, a past winner of the CBC Nonfiction Prize, shares some advice for writers thinking about submitting their work.
Sandra Murdock is a writer based in Dartmouth, N.S. (Arleigh Hood)

Sandra Murdock was the winner of the 2018 CBC Nonfiction Prize for Easy Family Dinners, a story about a Sunday evening dinner with her son and her partner who is battling alcoholism. As part of her prize, the Dartmouth, N.S. writer received $6,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts, a writing residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity and her story was published on CBC Books.

Murdock spoke with Garth Materie on CBC Saskatchewan's The Afternoon Edition about the advice she would give to writers looking to enter this year's prize. 

Write for writing's sake

"I was not really thinking about winning being an end result of this. So the harder part for me was just sort of making that commitment to my own writing to just believe in myself enough to submit it, without ever really any thought about succeeding or competition. Success was just committing to that piece and believing in that piece enough to put it out in the world wherever it ended up."

Write what you know

"I did have to believe in that story and that it was well-written, well-crafted enough to go out there and to stand on its own merits. At that point I was able to stop thinking of it as this slice of my deeply personal life and it became something that I crafted — and that's what I want to continue to do. Take those moments that were difficult and painful and kind of see if they can stand on their own two feet and walk out there."

Dartmouth, N.S. writer Sandra Murdock reads her essay "Easy Family Dinners," which won the 2018 CBC Nonfiction Prize.

Begin with an end in mind

"Knowing where it's going to end can be a big challenge and that's where I was very, very lucky with this particular piece and it's why it's the first piece that I wrote talking about these experiences because it had an end. There was a very clear beginning and end to the events of that day. Maybe do that whenever possible because the challenge of trying to figure out where something ends is difficult."

Believe in your story

"I would say believe in your story. Make sure you're committed to that particular story. I think it helped me a lot that I wasn't committed to a prize or winning or anything like that. I was just believing in the story and the writing and the craft.  So I would say know your story, believe in it and dig really deep into it."

Sandra Murdock's comments have been edited for length and clarity.







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