Nicole Breit, winner of the 2016 CNFC/carte blanche contest, offers tips and words of encouragement for this year’s contestants
Can you tell us about your winning piece and why you think it was selected?
When I submitted “Spectrum” I very much took the carte blanche tagline— “there’s more than one way to tell a story” — to heart.
I wrote the piece in a course about a unique hybrid form called the lyric essay. I was intrigued by the versatility and possibility of the form — the place where poetry meets the personal essay. It allowed me to explore the anxieties, joys, challenges, and small victories that go along with being a rainbow family in a way that wasn’t strictly chronological. Instead the story is told through a series of memories and images organized by colour.
As for why it was selected, when Deni Béchard presented me with the award, he talked about how “Spectrum” addressed an important contemporary issue, the emotional sensitivity in the work, and its stylistic innovation.
What makes a creative nonfiction piece stand out from the crowd, and what will you be looking for when you read this year’s submissions?
There are so many possibilities, no one formula for what makes a stand-out piece of writing. But if I had to try to distill it, I think exceptional writing comes down to the writer’s control over the piece. The work delivers maximum impact with every craft choice, from the choice of form, to command of language, and an unwavering attention to what the reader needs, every step of the way.
In terms of contest submissions, I’d love to read experimental pieces — work that stretches and pulls and challenges the genre in some way. I’m very open in terms of subject or style. Send in your humour and travel writing, your literary journalism, your flash nonfiction. More than anything I want to be immersed in story, to lose myself in the world of the writer.
Are there different considerations when submitting to a CNF contest versus those centred around other genres?
I think the relative newness of the genre is a great advantage for contestants. If you take a risk, try something new, you have a good chance of capturing a judge’s attention.
I imagine there is also less competition with CNF contests than poetry contests. Poetry contests often accept multiple poems per entry. With CNF your chances of being shortlisted or winning are much higher than if you submit to a poetry contest based on entry volume alone.
I’ve also heard from literary magazine editors that they receive fewer entries to contests than regular submissions to their publications, further increasing your odds for getting noticed when submitting to a CNF contest.
In addition to the CNFC win, you were also awarded the 2016 Room Magazine award for creative nonfiction. How have these experiences contributed to your literary career?
When I started submitting to contests, my ultimate goal was the cover letter I’d one day write, when I was ready to approach an editor about publishing a collection of my work. The CNFC/carte blanche and Room awards are accomplishments I’m very proud to include on my CV, and I hope will bring me closer to my bigger goal.
This year my world has opened up thanks to these contests. I’ve received invitations to read, which have allowed me to connect with other writers and readers in a very immediate way. Reading to an audience has permitted me to see in someone’s face how a line hits them. People sometimes approach me to tell me a bit about their own lives, and why something I’ve written has moved them. This wonderful intersection of heart and imagination has deepened my love for writing and why I think it’s so important.
What piece of advice can you offer new and emerging writers wanting to enter this year’s contest?
I wholeheartedly encourage new and emerging writers to please share their work. Your stories matter. More than one wise soul has said that without stories, we have no identity, no historical record — we don’t exist.
Moreover, the practice of submitting to contests/publications is an important part of the writing life, and essential for the work ahead. I also believe there is immense room for a multitude of diverse, as of yet, unheard voices. Enter. Don’t be shy!
Nicole Breit is a poet, essayist and all around word nerd based in Vancouver. Check out her website.