Contest Testimonials

Sheila, your comments and suggestions greatly improved my work. I appreciate the way this competition was structured.

—Rhonda Wiley-Jones

Thank you so very much for your SUPER fast and thoughtful reply. I`ve been stuck with this piece for almost two years and any revising was to no avail. The ending did not seem right, as you suggested. And some of the images did not fit, such as the tear extinguishing the flame – I like your rephrasing for that part. In summary, all your comments were “right on” and will get me out of this rut! Thank you!

—Beth Krueger

I`ve really appreciated your thoughtful responses to my essays… It`s so great to get some solid feedback!

— Kristie McLean


This was a fantastic story. I don`t usually like war stories, but you brought the whole experience to life. A compelling read! Thank you.

— Celia Jones

Thanks so much!I`m thrilled to be honored by Writing It Real and look forward to your comments.

— Jan Burak Schwert

This is a huge thrill for me. Thank you! 

— Lori Stott

As I have mentioned before, your experience, writing and website is so important to me and to so many others. It is as though we have found a united voice for our memories, feelings and ideas to share with others and in turn help us understand who we are, why we write and the importance of having a site like yours to exchange our essays. Thank you so much for my honorable mention award. It means a lot to me.

— Diane Leone-Ferdico

A new contest coming in September. Please check back for our fall contest guidelines.  In the meantime, read below to get the idea of how Writing It Real contests work.

“I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.”

–James’ Michener

Our Previous Contest Went Like this:

1) Submit Your Entry
2) Receive Sheila’s Comments
3) Revise Your Entry
4) Submit Revision for guest judge

At Writing It Real, we believe the writing is in the revising. In that spirit our contests are about receiving detailed response to a draft and having our entrants send revisions in for consideration by a guest judge, who chooses three place winners. Our guest judge this round will be announced soon.

Submit up to 2500 words of prose or up to three poems to our contest, and Sheila Bender will respond in detail via email within a week after receiving your entry. Then you may revise the work (revisions may exceed the initial word limit) and resubmit by the contest deadline.

The members’ reading fee of $15 entitles the entrant to detailed response and a chance to win consults with Sheila on their entry or on other work they’ve created. There is no additional reading fee for the re-entry. If entrants do not submit a revision, their original entry goes on to final judging.

Sheila wants everyone to be a winner, and by receiving her detailed response to your submitted writing, you get a jumpstart in making your writing sing. A guest judge chooses three winners. First place receives two free 30-minute telephone consults with Sheila, and second and third place receive one 30-minute consult each. All (with the author’s permission) winning writing will be published in Writing It Real.

The sooner you enter, the more time you’ll have for revision. Please submit your writing soon.

There are Optional Prompts such as this:

If you don’t have a draft on hand, here’s an idea to start you off whatever genre you are working in:

The road less travelled is a compelling topic. How about chosing a literal road and reflecting about what happens when you take it — a left turn instead of a right; a local road instead of a highway; a road full of potholes even though you know a smoother and cared for road is available.

Or, take the theme figuratively: extending a hand in friendship or forgiving someone who it is easier to ignore or be angry at; a career or marriage or travel choice that seemed unusual to choose; selecting a  hobby most people would not have.

Where might your topic lead you? What road do you reach when you achieve insight by finishing your essay or poem or story?

How to Enter

If you are a member, log into Writing It Real and then click the Buy Now button below. You then pay your entry fee ($15) and submit your entry. If you are not a current Writing It Real member, it’s easy to join and enter the contest in one payment. You’ll receive the many benefits of belonging to Writing It Real, including being able to enter other contests during the year to receive Sheila’s response for the low reading fee of $15. This contest is worth it! Previous entrants to Writing It Real contests went on to publish their writing in journals around the country after they revised based on Sheila’s comments.

Sheila believes customized help from a writing professional empowers writers to reach the next level in their work.

Our online form allows you to pay your fee via Credit Card. Your entry must be attached as a double-spaced Microsoft Word or .rft document. We will not be able to read submissions that are any other file type. (Remember — word processing programs do allow you to save in these formats.)

If you’d like to submit hard copy, mail a double-spaced copy of your entry along with a check to Writing It Real, 394 Colman Drive, Port Townsend, WA 98368. Remember to include your email address.

Again, entrants receive Sheila’s detailed response within a week of receipt of the document. The detailed response is guaranteed to speed you on your way to a finished piece.

Then after you revise, return to the entrance form and check “revision” and your revision (remember at no extra charge) will be entered for final consideration. If you don’t resubmit, your initial entry will be entered into the judging.


1st place – Two 30-minute consults with Sheila
2nd & 3rd place – One 30-minute consult each


If you are already a member, be sure to login now, then you’ll only pay the $15 reading fee for your contest submission.The contest fee for nonmembers is $50 and includes a $35 Lift Off level year’s membership to Writing It Real, plus the contest reading fee of $15. Please use the buy button below to join now. After you submit your payment, you will be routed to the contest submission form. You can upload it as a .doc, .docx or an .rtf file (most word processing programs allow you to save in one or more of these formats). Do not put your name on the submission. Your name and email is on the form you fill out.

If you have questions, email us. If you prefer, send your double-spaced manuscript and a check to:

Writing It Real Contest
394 Colman Drive
Port Townsend, WA 98368

If you do a paper submission, include a cover letter with your name, address, email address and phone number as well as the name of your submitted pieces. Do not put your name on the submissions themselves.

Need Some Encouragement?

“At the core of the personal essay,” Philip Lopate writes, “is the supposition that there is a certain unity to human experience.” As essayists and, to my mind, poets, in writing about ourselves and our experiences, we are in some way talking about everyone. It is not only our experience that matters, but our interest in sharing it that moves others.

Orhan Pamuk, winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Literature, put it this way in his acceptance speech, “All true literature rises form this childish, hopeful certainty that we resemble one another.”

As personal essayists and as poets, we work very hard to catapult ourselves, via our words, into new territory. When we are done, the beautiful web of our thinking and associations glistens. It is as if we are working toward the creation of love and compassion even when we are writing of horrors. The Dalai Lama says that love and compassion are not luxuries but necessities because without them we lose our humanity. For those of us who write, words on the page are our way of moving toward those necessities.

To judge a personal essay contest means first to be an interested reader, honoring that I am being let in on all manner of human experience. For me, this work is not only pleasurable, but elicits my gratitude.

— Sheila Bender