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YoungArts Writing Competition: All You Need to Know

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Writer typing with retro writing machine. View from above.

YoungArts Writing Competition: All You Need to Know

According to Nicole Cooley, who won the YoungArts Writing Competition in 1984, the contest “makes you feel like a real artist.” Even though it’s for high schoolers, when you’re there, they treat you like a serious writer, not just a high school student. “You’re a writer that people are going to take seriously,” Cooley stresses.

If you’re a young writer with dreams of creating serious literature and becoming part of the YoungArts network, you’re in the right place. This guide has all the contest rules you need to know. Plus, we’ll share some valuable tips to help you create a submission that stands out.

What Is the YoungArts Writing Competition?

The YoungArts Writing Competition is a part of the bigger YoungArts national competition, a yearly program that helps young people develop their creative talents. It covers 10 artistic disciplines: classical music, dance, design, film, jazz, photography, theater, visual arts, voice, and of course, writing.

A teacher talking to her middle school students.

The program is pretty competitive. They get thousands of applications each year, but only a select few make it to National YoungArts Week, where the chosen winners with distinction get together to meet other talented folks and learn from established artists. In 2024, the event took place from January 7 to 14 in Miami. During this week, 151 young artists came together to showcase their work through performances, readings, and exhibitions. They also attended workshops to help them get even better at what they do.

Aidan Forster, a published poet and 2017 writing winner, says: “I finally thought of myself not as a writer, but as an artist.” This is one of the main things YoungArts aims for: helping young people see themselves as artists, taking that first step towards a creative future.

What Are the YoungArts Writing Competition’s Prizes?

Every YoungArts award winner gets cash, anywhere from $250 to $10,000. On top of that, they also get a medallion and access to YoungArts Post, an exclusive online space for YoungArts artists. Those who win with distinction proceed to the National YoungArts Week.

Also, since it started back in 1981, the YoungArts program has given out over 20,000 creative and financial scholarships to artists worldwide. Just in the 2020-2021 season alone, they awarded over a million dollars’ worth of grants and awards.

Among the winners, 820 have even received the U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts, which is a huge deal for high school students. Many YoungArts alumni have gone on to attend top schools like Harvard, Yale, and Juilliard.

Winning these scholarships also gets you into the YoungArts alumni community, which is a lifetime network of creative and professional support. Shamell Pitts, who won for dance in 2003, says, “YoungArts can open up doors for you that you didn’t even know were there. It can connect you to others who will then be a part of your life for the rest of your life.”

What Are the YoungArts Writing Competition’s Guidelines?

In the YoungArts Writing Competition, applicants compete in six specific genres of creative writing:

  • Creative nonfiction
  • Novel
  • Play or script
  • Poetry
  • Short story
  • Spoken word

But before we dive into each genre, let’s go over some general guidelines:

Eligibility

  • You need to be a U.S. citizen, a permanent resident, or someone who can legally receive taxable income in the U.S.
  • You should be in grades 10–12 or be 15–18 years old by December 1 of the year you’re applying.
  • If you’re aiming for distinction, it should be your first time attending National YoungArts Week.

Application fee

The submission fee for applying to YoungArts is $35. If you submit multiple applications across disciplines or categories, you’ll need to pay $35 for each. But don’t worry if that’s a bit steep for you—fee waivers are available. Just shoot them a request letter.

Timeline

For the 2025 cycle, applications will open in July 2024. They usually close in October, and winners are announced in November. National YoungArts Week typically happens in January of the following year. Keep an eye out for updates from YoungArts if you’re interested.

Copyright requirements

Your entry must be completely original. If you’ve already submitted your work to other competitions, make sure you have the right permissions to submit it to YoungArts.

YoungArts Writing Competition: Specific Genre Requirements

We’re still waiting on the specifics for the 2025 cycle of the YoungArts Writing Competition, but let’s take a peek at what they asked for in 2024:

View of a woman writing in a table.

Creative nonfiction

  • Content: Two separate pieces. Can be memoir or a personal essay.
  • Page count: Must not exceed 20.
  • Language: Must be in English. Include translations for any other languages used.
  • Format: Double-spaced, using only Times or Times New Roman font of 12 pt. size. Include page numbers.

Novel

  • Content: One 200-word synopsis and one excerpt containing the first 20 pages of the novel.
  • Page count: Must not exceed 21 pages.
  • Language: Must be in English. Include translations for any other languages used.
  • Format: Double-spaced, using only Times or Times New Roman font of 12 pt. size. Include page numbers.

Play or script

  • Content: One script for a dramatic performance. Or, if it’s an excerpt, it should be accompanied by a synopsis (no more than 200 words) explaining its place in the whole play. Scripts for musicals are not accepted. Avoid pieces with illustrations.
  • Page count: For a standalone script, must not exceed 20. For combined synopsis and excerpt, must exceed 21 pages.
  • Language: Must be in English. Include translations for any other languages used.
  • Format: Standard stage play or script format. Celtx software is preferred. Include page numbers.

Poetry

  • Content: Three to five separate poems.
  • Page count: Must not exceed 10.
  • Language: Must be in English. Include translations for any other languages used.
  • Format: Formatting can reflect the author’s intention. Include page numbers.

Short story

  • Content: One to two separate stories.
  • Page count: Must not exceed 20.
  • Language: Must be in English. Include translations for any other languages used.
  • Format: Double-spaced, using only Times or Times New Roman font of 12 pt. size. Include page numbers.

Spoken word

  • Content: Two to three written poems. You’ll need to perform each poem in a separate video.
  • Page count: For the written material, must not exceed 10.
  • Page format: Feel free to format them as you like.
  • Language: Must be in English. Include translations for any other languages used in the written portion.
  • Video recording: Make sure your image is clear as it will be viewed on a large screen. The panel needs to see your facial expressions clearly. Set up your camera in a fixed position focusing on you. Avoid panning or moving the camera. Record your audition in a clearly defined indoor space with a neutral backdrop free of creases or distractions.
  • Props: You’re allowed to use one stool, two chairs, and one table.
  • Music: No background music or soundtracks allowed.

Make sure you stick to these requirements so you don’t get disqualified. If you win and go to a YoungArts program, they’ll publish your work in a book. Winners with distinction also get to perform one of their pieces live during YoungArts Week.

YoungArts Writing Competition: Writing Tips

For the 2024 cycle, the YoungArts Writing Competition laid out what they were looking for: command of the tools of language, originality, imagination, depth of ideas, and overall excellence.

Now, let’s see how you can nail these in each genre:

View of a female student working in front of her computer.

Creative nonfiction tips

  • Find your unique angle. Whether it’s a personal experience or a historical event, dig deep to uncover the angle that sets your story apart. This could be a quirky detail, a fresh perspective, or an unexpected twist that grabs your reader’s attention.
  • Show, don’t just tell. Instead of simply stating facts, bring your story to life by using vivid descriptions, dialogue, and sensory details. This helps readers immerse themselves in the narrative and connect more deeply with your writing.
  • Be honest and authentic. Readers value authenticity, so don’t be afraid to reveal your true thoughts, feelings, and vulnerabilities. This honesty will make your story more relatable and compelling.
  • Create emotional impact. Aim to evoke strong emotions in your readers, whether it’s joy, sadness, anger, or nostalgia. Emotions help to engage readers on a deeper level and make your story more memorable.
  • Craft a strong narrative arc. Just like in fiction, your nonfiction piece should have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Build tension, introduce conflict, and resolve it in a satisfying way to keep your readers hooked from start to finish.

Novel tips

  • Create complex characters. Your characters should feel like real people with flaws, strengths, and evolving motivations. Give them depth by exploring their backgrounds, desires, and how they change throughout the story.
  • Build a rich setting. Transport your readers to a vivid and immersive world by describing the setting in detail. Use all five senses to paint a picture that helps readers visualize the world of your novel.
  • Craft a gripping plot. Keep readers hooked with a plot that is full of twists, turns, and surprises. Include conflict that challenges your characters and keeps the story moving forward.
  • Show, don’t tell. Instead of telling readers what is happening, show it through actions, dialogue, and sensory details. This allows readers to experience the story alongside your characters.
  • Edit and revise. Writing a novel is a process, so don’t be afraid to revise your work multiple times. Look for areas where you can improve pacing, character development, and plot coherence to create a polished and compelling final product.

Play or script tips

  • Focus on strong dialogue. In a play or script, dialogue is key. In your YoungArts Writing Competition entry, make sure your characters’ conversations are natural, engaging, and reveal important information about the story and characters.
  • Create memorable characters. Characters in a play or script should be distinct and memorable. Give each character a unique voice, personality, and motivation to make them come alive on stage or screen.
  • Think visually. Unlike a novel, a play or script relies heavily on visual elements. Use stage directions and scene descriptions to create vivid imagery that enhances the story and engages the audience.
  • Structure for impact. Pay attention to the structure of your play or script. Create a strong beginning that hooks the audience, a compelling middle that builds tension, and a satisfying conclusion that leaves a lasting impression.
  • Consider the practicalities. When writing for the stage or screen, consider the practical aspects of production. Keep sets, props, and costumes in mind, and make sure your script is feasible to produce within the constraints of budget and resources.

College female student learning remotely.

Poetry tips

  • Focus on emotion. Poetry is a powerful way to express emotions. Connect with your feelings and use descriptive language to evoke emotion in your readers.
  • Play with language. Experiment with different poetic devices such as rhyme, meter, and metaphor to create lyrical and captivating verses.
  • Use imagery. Paint vivid pictures with your words by using imagery. Describe scenes, feelings, and experiences in a way that allows readers to see, hear, smell, taste, and touch them.
  • Be concise. Poetry often thrives on brevity. Choose your words carefully and aim to convey your message or evoke a feeling in as few words as possible.
  • Revise and edit. Like any form of writing, revising and editing are crucial in poetry. Refine your poems by cutting out unnecessary words, rearranging lines, and polishing the language to make every word count.

Short story tips

  • Focus on a single theme. Short stories are more focused than novels, so choose a single theme or idea to explore. This allows you to develop your story more deeply in a shorter space.
  • Limit the number of characters and subplots. Keep your cast of characters small and focus on one main plot. This helps to maintain a sense of coherence and prevents the story from becoming too complex.
  • Create a strong beginning, middle, and end. While all stories should have a beginning, middle, and end, in a short story, each part needs to be concise and impactful. Grab your readers’ attention from the start, keep them engaged in the middle, and provide a satisfying conclusion.
  • Use concise and evocative language. Short stories require precision in language choice. Use descriptive language to create vivid imagery and convey emotions without unnecessary words.
  • Leave room for interpretation. Short stories often leave some elements open to interpretation, allowing readers to draw their own conclusions. This adds depth to your story and engages readers on a more personal level.

Spoken word tips

  • Consider the performance. Unlike written poetry, spoken word is meant to be performed. Write with the rhythm, pace, and emphasis of your performance in mind, using techniques like repetition and pauses to enhance the spoken delivery.
  • Use powerful imagery and emotions. Since spoken word is performed, focus on imagery and emotions that will resonate with your audience when spoken aloud. Use vivid language and expressive delivery to bring your words to life.
  • Engage the audience. Spoken word is often more interactive than written poetry. Consider how you can engage your audience through your performance, whether through eye contact, gestures, or audience participation.
  • Be authentic and personal. Spoken word is a form of storytelling, so draw from your own experiences and emotions to create a personal connection with your audience. Authenticity can make your performance more compelling and relatable.
  • Practice and rehearse. Since spoken word is a performance art, practice is key. Rehearse your piece to work out the pacing, delivery, and emphasis to ensure that your performance is impactful and engaging.

No matter what kind of writing you’re submitting to the YoungArts Writing Competition, don’t forget to revise your work and ask for feedback. They give you chances to refine your work, catch any errors, and really make it stand out. Fresh perspectives can help you connect with your audience better, making your writing more impactful.

YoungArts Writing Competition: Winning Works

To really get what the YoungArts Writing Competition is after in their winning entries, check out the winners.

Let’s take Ulysses Hill’s creative nonfiction piece “The Threat of the Black Boy,” for example. This is a moving creative nonfiction piece that explores what it’s like to be a young Black man in America. The story centers around a simple UberEats delivery, which unexpectedly becomes a profound reflection on race, fear, and identity.

an unidentified hand starting to write something

What makes the piece stand out

  • Hill’s skill with language is impressive. For instance, the description of the narrow street and the upscale sandwich place really pulls you into the story. The use of dialogue also adds to the tension and fear felt by both the author and the woman receiving the food, making the narrative even more impactful.
  • One of the strengths of this piece is its original perspective. Instead of relying on clichés or stereotypes, the author presents a nuanced and personal account of their experiences, challenging readers to think differently. They use introspection and reflection to explore complex themes like identity, fear, and resilience, adding depth to the narrative.
  • The author’s imagination is also on display, using creative storytelling techniques to keep the reader engaged. By framing the story around an Uber Eats delivery, they are able to explore deeper themes in a way that feels relatable and accessible. This approach makes the piece both compelling and thought-provoking, encouraging readers to reflect on their own beliefs and experiences.

All in all, Hill uses vivid descriptions and deep introspection to paint a clear picture of the challenges faced by young Black men, showing how fear and prejudice affect their lives. What makes this piece so compelling is its raw honesty and emotional depth, as well as its ability to tackle complex ideas in a clear and relatable way.

If you’re interested in watching Ulysses Hill read the piece, you may watch this video.

Other winning entries

You can also check out the readings and performances of the other winning entries:

For more winning works, be sure to check out the YoungArts 2023 anthology.

Conclusion

The YoungArts Writing Competition gives young writers a stage to show off their skills and imagination. It is all about finding and celebrating the best literary talents out there, the future voices of literature. So, if you’re a high school student who loves to write, this competition is the perfect starting point. Not only will you win cool prizes and scholarships, but you’ll also become a part of a lively community of artists and mentors.

FAQs

Who can enter the YoungArts Writing Competition?

You’re eligible if you’re a U.S. citizen, a permanent resident, or someone who can legally receive taxable income in the U.S. You should also be in grades 10–12 or be 15–18 years old by December 1 of the year you’re applying. Plus, if you’re aiming for a spot at the National YoungArts Week, it must be your first time.

What types of writing does the YoungArts Writing Competition accept?

They accept creative nonfiction, novels, plays or scripts, poetry, short stories, and spoken word pieces. Each genre has its own guidelines, so make sure to check those out.

When is the deadline for the YoungArts Writing Competition?

The application window usually closes in October. For the 2025 cycle, applications will open in July 2024.

How much does it cost to enter the YoungArts Writing Competition?

The submission fee is $35. If you’re submitting multiple applications across different disciplines or categories, there’s a $35 fee for each. If you need a fee waiver, you can request one from them.

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