Five Things: Advice for your New Writers Awards Application

New Writing at Scottish Book Trust
Category: Writing

The New Writers Awards are a fantastic opportunity for writers who are dedicated to their craft. Competition is tough, but don’t lose heart. Will Mackie, former head of writer development, provides five top tips to help you make the most of your application.


1. Follow the guidelines

It may seem fastidious of us to ask for your writing to be of a certain length and submitted in a particualr way, but each of our guidelines has a justifiable reason behind it. Read the eligibility criteria carefully too. It doesn’t matter how good your work is, if there are serious flaws in your presentation, or you’re just not eligible, you’re liable to fall at the first hurdle.


2. Don’t fear the synopsis

If you’re struggling to compress your novel into a single-page synopsis, don’t lose heart – you’re not alone. It might help you to start by thinking about how you’d explain your novel to a stranger while ascending two floors in a lift. (‘It’s a story of the destructive power of love, jealousy and vengeance set on the Yorkshire moors,’ you have time to say before the doors slide open and you get out. ‘That sounds just like Wuthering...’ the stranger replies as the doors close again.) From that point, expanding to five hundred words will seem a luxury.

Don’t forget that though the synopsis is important, it’s not that important. The way you write – your style and ability to create character and craft narrative – will be apparent in your sample, so don’t feel your synopsis has to showcase your talent. It’s functional, not a bite-sized work of art.


3. Tell your own story

The Personal Statement is your chance to tell us what writing means to you and why we should offer you a place on our programme. Ask yourself how the award will have an impact on your writing life. It might be that the bursary will buy you the precious time to write that you crave, that you have a huge amount to gain from mentoring or that a writing retreat is just what you need to make that all-important breakthrough.

When telling us about your development as a writer, think about where it all began. Iris Murdoch knew she wanted to be a writer from childhood, while a knock on the head led Borges, for Borgesian reasons, to begin to write his enigmatic short stories. Haruki Murakami remembers sitting down at the kitchen table after midnight at the age of 29 and starting to write his first novel. We want to hear your story.


4. Edit, re-write and revise

Everyone needs to step back and self-edit. Look out for repetition – using the same word more than once in a sentence or stanza, or the overuse of a particular phrase, can be jarring for the reader. Check your character names don’t have an unintentional rhythmic pattern to them (that means you, Bradley, Hadley and Toby). Learn how to cut ruthlessly: excessive back story you wrote as much to guide yourself through a tricky passage may no longer have a purpose. Get rid of it. Tinker with your sentences to get the grammar and punctuation as polished as you can manage and your writing will reap the benefits.

Know when to stop though. Don’t spend hours labouring over your choice of a comma, semi-colon or dash then look up and discover you’ve missed the deadline.


5. Know when you’re ready

Take time to choose the sample you’re going to send us. If you have 60 poems or dozens of stories, read them all and select those that you feel are not only your best but that also present the most balanced and representative portfolio of your writing. Make time to prepare your application and then resist the temptation to fire it off straight away. Instead, leave it to sit for a couple of days. That way, if you leap up with a start in the middle of the night facing the realisation that Kylie perhaps isn’t the best name for your Victorian governess, you still have the power to do something about it. Once it’s submitted though, it’s out of your hands.