Developing your writing skills – lessons from Wadadli Pen

In 2004, the Wadadli Pen winner was Gemma George for her story Stray Dog Prepares for the Storm. According to judge D. Gisele Isaac, selection was far from easy; her emphasis was on rewarding creativity. The winning story had, she said, “the best combination of writing skills and storytelling …a good mix of philosophy, social commentary, humour…all the elements of a good story and added to the creativity, it was well written.”

Good, quality writing is always a plus in a writing competition. Isaac described 2005 winner Sandrena Martin’s The Torturer as an example of “smart…intelligent writing”.

In 2006, she urged the young writers to focus on our distinctiveness so that there is not a feeling of ‘anywhere’ and ‘anyone’ about (their) work.” She encouraged them to “give free rein to their imagination”.  It was a year in which she commented on the dip in creativity. “Many of you decided to play it safe and rein in your imagination,” she chastised. “That is not what you should be doing.” The winning story Angelica O’Donoghue’s Road Trip to Paradise did not play it safe.

A reminder that it’s all in the details comes via Isaac’s comment on 2004 runner up Lia Nicholson’s story Tekin Ahn Dey. “I actually saw the event, I smelt, I heard the music, I felt it. It was very evocative. She managed to put me there.” The story is not just in what happens but how it is reported. The 2011 winner Devra Thomas’ Sands and Butterflies had chief judge Brenda Lee Browne praising the “natural dialogue” and “lovely pace” and in the case of the best story under 12 Orique Gordon’s The Lost Coin, the “nice rhythm”.

The flaw singled out in 2012 in the case of several entries was clichés and over writing.

I mention these notes re the good (creative, well written, grounded, imaginative, evocative, smart, surprising, well layered, well paced stories with rich detail and believable dialogue) and the could be better (playing it safe, being too vague, clichés, overwriting) because that’s how we grow.

It’s one of the reasons I’m doing the Jhohadli Summer Youth Writing Project to work with interested young writers on building their skills, not just so that participants can do better in Wadadli Pen but so that they can better express themselves in life. I’m doing my best to ensure that cost is not an obstacle to participation and encourage you to take up the opportunity.

*Disclaimer: the Jhohadli Summer Youth Writing Project is not a Wadadli Pen Project but both are run by the same person and both are concerned with empowering young people through the literary arts.

As with all content on, except otherwise noted, this is written by Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, and Oh Gad!). All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed it, check out my page on Amazon, WordPress, and/or Facebook, and help spread the word about Wadadli Pen and my books. You can also subscribe to the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks.

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Filed under A & B Lit News Plus, Literary Gallery

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