Young Authors Writing Competition: All You Need to Know

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

unidentifiable female writing unto her notes

Young Authors Writing Competition: All You Need to Know

The Young Authors Writing Competition is a cool chance for high school students to get into creative writing. Building up your writing skills is super important—not just for nailing your schoolwork but also for rocking your college apps soon. This creative writing contest is the perfect spot to practice those skills and possibly win an award as well.

We’ll tell you all you need to know about the Young Authors Writing Competition. We’ll go over the key guidelines and even some tips and tricks to help you whip up some awesome entries. Whether you’re already a pro at writing or just starting to mess around with words, stick with us.

What Is the Young Authors Writing Competition?

Back in 1995, the Young Authors Writing Competition kicked off as a local writing contest in the lively city of Chicago. Now, it’s an annual event that attracts entries from young writers all around the world.

Different books for the education of students

The contest is hosted by the English and Creative Writing Department of Columbia College Chicago—a pretty cool liberal arts school—and they see thousands of submissions. Every year, students can send in their original stories, personal essays, and poems. The best pieces in each category even win cash prizes.

Who Can Join the Young Authors Writing Competition?

If you’re thinking about entering, it’s a good idea to make sure you’re eligible first. The contest is perfect for young, aspiring writers.

The rules are pretty straightforward. If you’re in high school, from freshman year (9th grade) to senior year (12th grade), you’re in. The age range is typically 14 to 18, but they’re flexible if you’re a bit younger or older.

And yes, you can send your work from anywhere in the world. This contest isn’t just for students in the U.S.—it’s an awesome chance for international students to showcase their English skills, especially if they’re looking at American colleges or universities.

When filling out the form, just use your best judgment regarding your state and zip code details, since there’s one form for everyone, whether you’re domestic or international.

What Are the Young Authors Writing Competition’s Prizes?

The Young Authors Writing Competition picks the top 10 finalists for each category—fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry—and then the top 3 grand prize winners. The winners will score publication and cash prizes. Back in 2015, the first place got $300, second place $150, and third place $50.

What Are the Young Authors Writing Competition’s Guidelines?

Now that you’re clued in on what you can submit and the cool prizes up for grabs, let’s dive into the submission guidelines you need to follow:

1. You can send in multiple entries.

What’s awesome about the Young Authors Writing Competition is that it lets you submit more than just one piece of writing—unlike most contests that limit you to one submission.

You can enter up to two works each in the categories of creative nonfiction and fiction. Make sure to put each piece in its own file. For the poetry category, you can also submit up to two files, with each file holding 1 to 5 poems.

All in all, you could submit up to six entries: two for fiction, two for creative nonfiction, and two for poetry. Just remember, if you’re going to submit multiple pieces, you need to send them all in together on the same day.

2. You can be a finalist in more than one category.

It’s pretty exciting that you can enter multiple categories because it means you could be recognized in more than one. While you can be a finalist in several categories, though, you can only win a prize (first, second, or third place) in one of them.

3. You can submit your work to other competitions, too.

Some contests insist that your submissions are exclusive, meaning you can’t send the same piece to other competitions. But that’s not how they roll at the Young Authors Writing Competition. They’re cool with simultaneous submissions. The only thing they ask is that you let them know if your work gets accepted somewhere else.

Female student smiling at the camera.

Take note: they can’t take pieces that have already snagged national publication or won other contests. They also don’t accept work that’s been published anywhere before, like in literary journals, anthologies, or even your school magazine.

4. Stick to the length and formatting rules.

The main thing to keep in mind is that no individual piece should be longer than ten pages. This doesn’t mean all your entries need to add up to ten pages. Each piece just can’t go over that limit. Don’t worry about hitting a specific word count, either. Just stick to the page limit.

Make sure your submissions are double-spaced and in 12-point font, either Courier New or Times New Roman. If you switch fonts and your piece suddenly exceeds ten pages, you’ll need to trim it down to meet the page limit.

As for file types, only submit your work in .doc, .docx, or .pdf formats to avoid any submission hiccups. Formats like .txt or .rtf won’t work in their system, and neither will files shared from places like Microsoft OneDrive or Google Drive.

Lastly, name your document like this: Category, your last name, piece title. For example: “Fiction_Smith_A Very Good Story.”

5. Your entry can be about anything, in any style.

Whether you’re diving into one, two, or all of the categories, it helps to know what each one involves. So, let’s break it down:

  • Fiction: This one’s pretty open. You can submit any kind of prose—just stick to the format and length rules we talked about.
  • Creative nonfiction: This includes personal essays, memoirs, cultural criticism, and similar stuff. Just a heads up, academic papers don’t really fit this category.
  • Poetry: Any style or format is good as long as it keeps within the length limits.

6. You can fix mistakes in your work.

Everyone messes up sometimes, even writers. If you’ve already sent in your work and spotted an error, don’t panic.

Don’t resend your piece. Instead, shoot an email to [email protected] and let them know what needs changing. It’s as simple as that.

7. Feel free to include your personal info in your entries.

Some contests tell you to leave out personal details to keep things fair, but that’s not an issue with the Young Authors Writing Competition. You’re totally welcome to add your info on your work if you want to. If you choose not to, no worries—they’ll still know which pieces are yours.

Once you’ve got all that sorted, you’re ready to submit your entries. The Young Authors Writing Competition updates their submission link every cycle, so check their website for the latest info and get your work in.

Tips to Stand Out at the Young Authors Writing Competition

In the 2023 cycle of the Young Authors Writing Competition, a judge had this to say about the winners: “All in all, these high school writers, already writing on a college level of skill, clarity, and sustained voice, wrote exceptional pieces. Any one of them could pull up a chair in one of my classes and easily hold their own.”

a female student thinking how to colleges

To clinch victory at the contest, pay close attention to three crucial elements: writing on a college level of skill, clarity, and sustained voice. Let’s break them down:

General writing tips

First off, aim for a writing style that’s as polished as a college pro. This means crafting sentences with precision, using varied vocabulary, and structuring your piece in a way that flows effortlessly. Don’t hold back—showcase your mastery of language and demonstrate that you’re not just a novice, but a budding literary virtuoso.

Next up, clarity is key. Your writing should be crystal clear, leaving no room for confusion or ambiguity. Think of it like giving directions to a friend—you want them to reach their destination without getting lost along the way. So, cut through the clutter, keep your ideas concise, and make sure every word serves a purpose.

Last but not least, let your voice ring true throughout your piece. Your writing should be uniquely you, like a fingerprint on the page. Whether you’re spinning a yarn in fiction, sharing a personal anecdote in creative nonfiction, or pouring your heart out in poetry, infuse your work with your personality and perspective. After all, it’s your voice that will captivate the judges and set your entry apart from the rest. So, embrace your individuality and let it shine through in every word you write.

Now, let’s zero in on genre-specific tips to help you shine:


  • Bring your characters to life by giving them depth and complexity. Avoid clichés and stereotypes—instead, create characters with unique traits and motivations. For example, instead of a generic “hero,” consider a flawed protagonist.
  • Craft a compelling narrative that keeps readers on the edge of their seats. Steer clear of predictable storylines and aim for twists and turns that surprise and delight your audience.
  • Transport readers to a vividly imagined world by painting detailed scenes and evoking sensory experiences. Avoid info-dumping and instead, sprinkle descriptions throughout your story to create a sense of place.

Creative nonfiction

  • Share your truth with honesty and vulnerability. Avoid embellishing or exaggerating your experiences—readers can spot insincerity a mile away. Make your personal experience resonate deeply with readers.
  • Find your unique voice and perspective, and let it shine through in your writing. Avoid imitating others or trying to fit into a mold—embrace your individuality and tell your story in your own words. Consider the distinctive voice of David Sedaris in his essay collections, which blends humor and introspection to create a voice that is unmistakably his own.
  • Organize your narrative with clarity and coherence. Avoid rambling or jumping between topics without a clear thread to connect them. Aim for a narrative arc that guides readers through your story, leading them from the beginning to a satisfying conclusion.


  • Create vivid and evocative imagery that resonates with readers. Avoid clichés and generic language—instead, use fresh and original imagery to bring your poems to life.
  • Pay attention to the musicality of your poems. Embrace free verse and experiment with rhyme, meter, and rhythm to sculpt poems that dance off the tongue. Dodge forced rhymes like they’re hurdles in a race and opt for a natural, organic rhythm that amplifies your message.

A student writing her essays

  • Tap into your emotions and experiences to create poems that resonate on a deep and personal level. Avoid superficial or overly abstract language—instead, delve into the depths of your soul and express your truths with honesty and vulnerability.

By applying these genre-specific tips and learning from both the successes and failures of past writers, you’ll be well on your way to crafting standout entries that captivate the judges and leave a lasting impression in the Young Authors Writing Competition.

Young Authors Writing Competition: Sample Winning Works

To know more about how to stand out, you can study past winners. Here are the grand prize winners for each category in the 2019 cycle:

Fiction: “Flesh” by Grace Wang

“Flesh” by Grace Wang is a captivating story that weaves together identity, tradition, and the search for where we belong, all set against the evocative scenes of a wedding and a funeral. It tells the story of a young woman’s surreal meeting with her grandmother, where she faces her deepest fears and desires amidst the chaos of family expectations and her uncertain future.

Wang’s skill as a storyteller really stands out in “Flesh.” Her knack for creating vivid images, meaningful symbolism, and exploring the depths of her characters’ psyches is clear. For example, a butchered tuna isn’t just a detail—it mirrors the main character’s inner turmoil and feelings of being out of place.

The way “Flesh” sticks with you long after you finish reading is a testament to Wang’s ability to draw readers into her world. It’s a great study in how to pack your writing with sensory details and symbols that punch hard and leave a mark.

If you want to deepen your own work, Wang offers a master class in handling complex themes like family ties and cultural identity. Her approach to crafting layered characters and engaging conflicts provides a rich template for writing stories that not only entertain but also provoke thought and discussion.

Creative Nonfiction: “Impressions on Hair” by Emily Tian

“Impressions on Hair” by Emily Tian dives deep into the emotional and cultural layers of losing hair, touching on identity, self-image, and even mortality. Tian uses sharp imagery and personal stories to pull us into the world of hair and all the meaning it carries.

She brilliantly mixes her own experiences with wider cultural insights, making “Impressions on Hair” a standout piece of creative nonfiction. Whether it’s sneaky childhood experiments with razors or thoughtful critiques on beauty standards, Tian discusses hair with honesty and a keen eye for detail.

Tian shows how blending personal vulnerability with genuine observations can create stories that really connect with people. Her vivid imagery and thoughtful metaphors highlight how powerful and evocative language can bring deeper emotional layers to writing, prompting readers to think about their own life stories. Tian’s approach not only enriches her narrative but also encourages us to reflect on our complex human experiences.

Poetry: “Heritage” by Jonathan Chen

“Heritage” by Jonathan Chen is a poignant dive into family ties and the relentless march of time. This is captured through striking imagery and tight, impactful language.

View of a student writing in an exam sheet.

Chen’s poem really shines in how it packs a punch with its brief structure. He uses metaphor and symbolism to explore the aching for tradition as cultural identities wear away under modern pressures. Images like crumbling stone pillars and bitter fruit powerfully symbolize this loss, striking a chord with readers.

If you want to write poetry that resonates, “Heritage” is a brilliant example to follow. Chen’s knack for vivid imagery and crisp language shows how to craft poems that leave a deep impression. It’s a lesson in using poetry to tackle big, complex emotions and themes in a way that’s both concise and deeply moving.


The Young Authors Writing Competition rocks for new writers. It’s this big stage where you can show off your creativity to the world. As you prepare for the contest, remember this: be real. Whether you’re writing fiction, nonfiction, or poetry, your own voice is what makes your work stand out. So, embrace the challenge, pour your heart into your writing, and you might just create something that sticks with people long after they read it.


What works does the Young Authors Writing Competition accept?

The Young Authors Writing Competition is open to fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry submissions. So, whether you’re spinning a gripping short story, pouring your thoughts into an insightful essay, or weaving words into beautiful poetry, there’s a spot for you to let your voice shine.

How many submissions does the Young Authors Writing Competition receive?

The Young Authors Writing Competition receives thousands of submissions each cycle. That’s why it’s important to stand out by crafting a unique and compelling piece that captures the attention of the judges.

Who hosts the Young Authors Writing Competition?

The Young Authors Writing Competition is run by Columbia College Chicago’s English and Creative Writing Department. The institution is pretty big in the writing world. Being connected with them makes the competition prestigious and gives writers a cool chance to get noticed and recognized in the writing scene.

Does the Young Authors Writing Competition accept multiple submissions?

Yes, the Young Authors Writing Competition accepts multiple submissions. You can submit up to two works each in creative nonfiction and fiction categories, and up to two files for poetry, each containing 1 to 5 poems. Just keep in mind to send all your pieces together on the same day if you’re submitting multiple entries.

When is the deadline for the Young Authors Writing Competition?

The deadline for the Young Authors Writing Competition typically falls in January. Make sure to stay updated by visiting their website for the call for submissions and other important updates to ensure you don’t miss out on any deadlines or announcements.


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