Writing information specifically geared to the Minnesota writer.


800px-LadysslipperOnce again, spring is right around the corner—and so are some important deadlines for 2013 writing contests in Minnesota. Whether you’re a fan of writing contests or not, there's plenty here to spark any writer's interest. This list is a bit more extensive than the one I posted last spring, and it mainly applies to Minnesota writers (although a few contests are open to writers everywhere). So get your creativity flowing and get browsing. Many of the following deadlines are fast approaching!

  1. Support the U—Essay Contest for College Affordability. This student-organized essay contest seeks essays highlighting college affordability and why the University of Minnesota is a good investment for Minnesota. U of M students are invited to submit appropriate essays of between 250 and 500 words. Multiple cash prizes are available, including $300 for the first place winner. Deadline: March 1, 2013.
  2. Rolfzen Memorial Writing Contest for Poetry and Short Fiction. Sponsored by the organization honoring Bob Dylan in his hometown of Hibbing, Minnesota, this international contest is open to poets and fiction writers for poems of no more than 1,000 words and stories under 4,000 words. Adult and student poets as well as adult fiction writers are eligible. Prizes include publication in Talkin' Blues journal. Deadline: March 3, 2013.
  3. Minnesota Journal Writing Contest—Citizens League. For this debut contest by the Citizens League of St. Paul, you can write an 800-word journal article answering the question: What common assumption in today's public policy world is completely unfounded, and why? Prize is publication in the spring edition of the Minnesota Journal. Deadline: March 4, 2013.
  4. Minnesota Emerging Writer’s Grant. Though not a writing contest, this grant is worth competing for. It provides financial and professional support to writers for their artistic endeavors. Sponsored by The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, the Emerging Writer's Grant may be awarded to several emerging Minnesota writers (non-K-12 students, who have published fewer than three books) in amounts up to $10,000. Deadline for applications: March 27, 2103.
  5. student writingMinnesota Historical Society Dear President Lincoln Student Writing Contest. All Minnesota students in grades 6-12 are invited to write a response to Lincoln's Gettysburg Address in 300 words or less. Winners receive a trip to the Pennsylvania Battlefield in July 2013, an iPad, and the opportunity to blog about the experience.
  6. Lake Superior Writers— 2013 Writing Contest. This is an open-theme writing contest in the areas of poetry (up to three poems), fiction (up to 500 words), and creative nonfiction (up to 1,500 words). Only members of the Lake Superior Writers group are eligible. Membership to the group is available for $35. First place winners receive $100, plus a $50 gift card. Deadline: April 1, 2013.
  7. Rochester Public Library’s 2013 Youth Writing Contest. Both poetry and short stories will be judged in this teen writing contest sponsored by the public library of  Rochester, Minnesota. Winners receive Barnes & Noble gift cards, publication, and an awards program in May. Deadline: April 14, 2013.
  8. Minnesota Christian Writers Guild—2013 Writing Contest. Members of the MCWG are eligible to enter this travel writing contest for cash prizes. Membership is available for $40 ($20 for students). Articles must be between 700 and 1,200 words. Deadline: April 15, 2013.
  9. Minnesota Medicine ‘s 10th Annual Medical Musings Writing Contest. Minnesota medical school students or Minnesota physicians can enter a piece of writing on any aspect of medical practice or the study of medicine. Submissions must be unpublished. Winners will be published in the July 2013 issue of Minnesota Medicine magazine. Deadline: May 3, 2013.
  10. Geek Partnership Society’s Annual Writing Contest. The GPS honors science fiction writing, fantasy, horror, supernatural, and alternate history fiction. For this writing contest, five contest divisions are available: open (which includes the premier Scott Imes Award), poetry, youth (two divisions), and graphic novel. The Scott Imes Award will go to a local contest entrant. All submissions must be unpublished and written by amateurs (nonprofessional writers). Prizes include gift cards and publication. Deadline: May 15, 2013.

Image 1 by Medicuspetrus

Image 2 by Sylviac



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new-years-day-68837_640Now that 2013 has kicked off, it’s time to get busy writing, right? Sure, except that it’s not always easy to shift gears after weeks of, well, slacking. Even if you have a list of writing goals for the new year, you may not know where to begin or how to begin or whether you should just scrap your list and start over.

Getting motivated to be productive during a long, cold month can seem daunting, for sure. But here’s an idea: why not begin with some easy, fun tasks that don’t actually require writing? I can think of three that might actually help kick-start your New Year:

  1. Get involved in the writing community. Take a class, sign up for an event, or check out local resources for writers. In Minnesota, there are lots of options for writers to get involved. I recently stumbled across this handy list of Resources for Minnesota Writers, provided by the Friends of the St. Paul Public Library.
  2. Consider writing something you’ve never written before. Have you always wanted to pen your memoirs? How about putting together a family history book or researching a person’s life and then writing a biography? Writers aren’t limited to one genre; in fact, writing something completely different can be highly rewarding and liberating – even if you don’t go on to publish it. So give some serious thought to a totally new project.
  3. Read, read, read. If you want to become a better writer, it’s what you have to do. Gather a pile of reading material, from magazine articles to a list of interesting blog sites to books. Then spend some quality time enjoying and learning from other writers and authors. It can be the single most important thing you’ll do all year.

Not quite ready to start writing? Give any of these prewriting tasks a try, and see how quickly January - and your writing slump - slip by.


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An interesting new website just launched by some graduate students from North Dakota State University. Sponsored by Assistant Professor of History Angela Smith, the site is called The Fargo History Project and serves as "a vehicle for student research” in a digital history class. The site is designed to attract community engagement about local Fargo history and will continue to add information from future history classes at NDSU.

I’m especially excited about this new website for several reasons. First, I’m from Fargo and have always been interested in learning more about the city’s beginnings. Also, as a writer of history, I appreciate reading what other history writers have to share. And finally, I have a small part in the project. I was asked to perform an audio recording of a history piece I wrote years ago on Fargo pioneer Martin Hector. Unearthing my old article and reading – aloud – what I’d written years ago turned out to be as fun as it was rewarding. Plus, I got to relearn the story of the man who happens to be my great-grandfather.

I am grateful to Angela Smith and the students at NDSU for creating an innovative way to share and discuss important local history – and keep yesterday’s news fresh and alive. Check out the new website at Fargohistory.com.


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Duluth_Skyline_-cOne of the greatest things about living in Minnesota is the endless writing ideas the state has to offer. Now I don’t consider myself a travel writer by any means, but I do write about regional topics more often than not – and maybe even more than I realize.

You know that age-old advice, write what you know? Basically every writer who follows that advice writes about their region. And it isn’t necessarily in the form of nonfiction. In fact, writers often set their fictional stories in their town or region. Or, they create a character that comes from their geographic area or travels there. Sometimes, it’s as simple as using memories of growing up in a specific place and incorporating those memories of time and place into a story.


Here’s a bonus for writing about a region: one piece of writing often leads to another. For example, I wrote an article on the Chippewa Indians and how they brought wild rice, a classic Minnesota food item, to the region. That led to two more articles on wild rice, how to cook with it and its health benefits. Those articles made me think about other Minnesota history and native food topics.

So whenever I think I’ve run out of writing ideas, I think of my region. I can write the obvious travel pieces about the fabulous Minnesota lake vacation spots or the great golf getaways or the phenomenal bed-and-breakfasts. But those topics just skim the surface. Minnesota’s rich history and culture, interesting people, ever-changing climate, incredible shopping, and varied industries contain hundreds of ideas to research and write about.

Certainly Minnesota isn’t unique. Every region contains a wealth of ideas for writers. A visit (online or in person) to the local history center, the Chamber of Commerce, the public library, or the state tourism website will prove it. On the other hand, so will a simple journey down memory lane.

(Image: Duluth, Minnesota, by Derek Bakken)


If you have teenage kids, you probably know all about rap music. If you’re like me and have a child who writes rap, well, you may know more than you’d like to know about rap music. And, like me, you may have a mixed opinion about it.

Rap music is really all about beats and lyrics. As a writer, I can appreciate that. I like good writing and a good message performed to a catchy beat.  Of course, a big complaint of parents is the profanity that seems to make its way into rap songs, and I’m no different. I’ve always wondered why rappers couldn’t get their point across without using all the colorful language. My son’s lyrics are relatively tame, but an expletive here and there can still feel like nails on a chalkboard. I’m sure other moms of rappers agree. So what are we to do?

I decided to sit down with my son and find out a little bit more about what goes into the writing of a rap song. The result? His answers not only helped me understand and even embrace his passion, they offer some good tips for writers of all genres. Here’s what my son had to say:

What or who inspired you to start writing rap?

A friend of mine used to write raps, which were more like poems, and text them to people. He got me inspired to write my own raps. Professionals who’ve inspired me along the way include Lupe Fiasco, Blu, and J. Cole.

How is writing rap like writing poetry? How is it different?

Well, rap music and poetry both need flow and rhythm. They also should have a conclusion and tell a story. But with rap, you’re more inclined to make everything rhyme. You also have to have more structure with rap, because it has to fit within a beat and be musical at the same time.

What’s the most challenging thing about writing rap?

There’s a lot of pressure to show your credibility, which can limit you as a writer. You have to try to keep it real and be true to yourself, approach every song as yourself.

Why do you think profanity is so prevalent in rap music?

There’s always a place for filler words, like swear words, in rap songs. Profanity is used because artists are mostly from a younger generation, so they’re more desensitized to that type of word. Plus, the fan base is young people, who again don’t care about swear words. The profanity is more a reflection of the generation than the music itself.

In your opinion, is profanity necessary for a good rap song?

No, but a swear word wouldn’t hinder a song’s success. On the other hand, too much swearing in a song wouldn’t make it mainstream, but some artists don’t care if they’re not mainstream.

How do you come up with an idea for a rap song?

I usually come up with a concept from my mood or something that happened. I don’t know how the song will unfold or end, though, until I start writing.

Has writing rap music helped you in other areas of your life? If so, how?

Mostly, it’s helped my vocabulary grow. It’s also helped me socially and kept me up on current events. And it’s helped me become a deeper thinker.

What advice would you give an aspiring rap writer?

Find a way to separate yourself from everyone else, and keep some ambiguity in your lyrics so that listeners have a reason to listen to your music again and find new interpretations of it.


Image by Vincent & Bella Productions


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Can’t get motivated to write? Maybe you need a change of scenery. Truth is, sitting at a desk all day can get old. Of course, it may be more practical to write where everything you need—your computer, writing resources, files, phone, etc.—is at your fingertips. But do you really need all those things to write all the time? Sometimes, a pen and paper or even just a new environment will do the trick.

I can think of several places I like to write besides at my desk. One is the public library. There, I have millions of books and periodicals at my disposal for research and note taking, plus a friendly staff, plenty of quiet spaces to write, and even a little café. On a rainy or snowy day, it’s a perfect alternative to my desk. I also like venturing to the local historical society, where I can take advantage of everything it has to offer writers.

Coffee shops and restaurants can be good writing venues, too, as long as the noisiness and busyness aren’t distracting. For me, going to a different room in the house—like the sunlit porch or the dining room, where I can spread out my work on the long table—is sometimes all I need for a change of atmosphere. But when the weather’s nice, there’s nothing better than the great outdoors.

Peaceful Lake Atmosphere - Ideal for Writing

Where I live in Minnesota, the public parks can be perfect motivators for writing. Many of the parks here are spacious and peaceful, with lots of inviting spots to set up shop—at picnic tables, under shade trees, and in pavilions. The area lakes offer another relaxing and inviting writing place, whether sitting on the dock in a comfy lounge chair or under an umbrella at the beach.

My favorite place to write outdoors, though, is on my daily walk. I usually take the walking paths near my house that cut through the woods. And no, I don’t bring a pen or paper with me. In fact, the only thing I have with me is my dog. Amazingly, on those walks I’ve done some of my best and most productive writing. I’ve figured out sentences, written conclusions, brainstormed for ideas, and made important writing decisions. The best part? I return home eager and ready to write.

Writing at a desk is practical and often necessary, but for those times when you need a change of scenery, there are plenty of options. Find a place that works for you, and get re-motivated to write.

Have a favorite place to write beyond your desk? Please share it here.

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Can’t think of anything to write about? If you’re at a loss for words, try looking at a picture. Pull out that box of old photos and unearth one of your favorites. Better yet, grab your camera and take a fresh shot of anything that inspires you—trees, animals, food, people, the sunset. Then go back to your desk and study the picture. Imagine all the possibilities it has to offer for a story.

Take this photo of a buck that appeared outside my husband’s office window. At first glance it’s just a buck, one of many we Minnesotans see meandering through the wooded areas of our cities and suburbs. But look more closely at the image and consider all the ways you could write about it.

Start with the buck’s physical traits, like his enormous size and thick belly. This guy could easily weigh 200 pounds or more. Look closely at his impressive antlers. How many branches or points do you count? Notice his eyes. He’s staring directly at the photographer (my husband), intensely and fearlessly. Now study the scene. He’s alone in a wooded area in the wintertime. But imagine what you can’t see too. What’s beyond the trees? Are there other deer nearby? How did he get here? What’s his next move? Is he in any danger?

Together these details could set the stage for an engaging fiction story, either for children or adults. Alone they offer numerous topics for a nonfiction piece—from antler uses to buck behavior to wild animals living among civilization. The point is, just by studying a picture you can come up with all kinds of writing ideas. Try it and see how easily the words begin to flow.