Letters from Sarah Selecky
Little Bird Writing Contest

The 10th Anniversary

Little Bird Writing Contest

Introducing the winners of the 2020 Little Bird Contest!

This year’s contest prompt was:

Start a story with an unusual use of the number ten (10). Name one character Zee. Use the words “mustard” and “costume.” End the story with a bright flash.

Our 2020 contest judge was Sheena Kamal, bestselling author of four books including No Going Back.

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  • Winner: $1,000
  • First runner-up: $250
  • Second runner-up: $250
As well, the winning stories are published in an annual short fiction anthology: Little Bird Stories.
The submission guidelines below are for our 2020 contest. Come back in early fall 2021 for updated guidelines.

Here's What To Do:

1. Start writing. Your story must be inspired by this year's contest prompt:
Start a story with an unusual use of the number ten (10). Name one character Zee. Use the words “mustard” and “costume.” End the story with a bright flash.

2. Read “Deep Revision”, my free series of writing tutorials. Do the homework: it will help you rewrite your story draft to make sure it’s the best it can be. You can find it on my Free Resources page.

3. Subscribe to Little Bird Stories to read stories by past winners.

4. Listen to the Little Bird Salon. On September 12, I spoke with Sheena Kamal about writing and ambition, how to find your confidence, and writing with intuition.

To listen now, log in to your Sarah Selecky Writing School Simplero account and access Free Resources. If you don't have access to my Free Resources yet, you can sign up here.

5. Submit your finished story between October 1, 2020 and November 1, 2020 at 9pm ET. The submission link will be live starting on October 1.

Submit Your Story

  • be a maximum of 2,500 words
  • be inspired by this year's contest prompt
  • be double-spaced with numbered pages and submitted as a .pdf or .doc file (.docx files are not accepted)
  • be submitted anonymously: your name must not appear anywhere on your story to ensure the objectivity of the judge (your name will go on the submission form only)
  • be accompanied by a $25 entry fee (you may enter as many times as you like).
Important dates:

September 1, 2020: Contest prompt announced

October 1, 2020: Contest opens

September 12, 2020: Little Bird Salon

November 1, 2020, 9pm ET: Contest closes

Any questions? Please get in touch with us at [email protected]

About this year's judge
Sheena Kamal's bestselling debut The Lost Ones won her a Kobo Emerging Writer Prize, a Strand Critics Award, and Macavity Award for Best First Novel. The sequel It All Falls Down has been called “a stunning, emotionally resonant thriller” in its Kirkus-starred review. Her new adult thriller No Going Back and her first YA novel Fight Like A Girl were released in 2020.

Find out more about Sheena.
About the contest
When I first went on Twitter, I tweeted daily writing prompts. They worked so well that people wanted to know how to use what they’d written, which is where the idea for The Little Bird Writing Contest came from. It’s now an annual, international contest exclusively for innovative, emerging short fiction writers. The contest opens each spring when the birds come back and showcases the excellent stories (up to 2,500-words) that come from Sarah Selecky Writing School's daily writing prompts. And when we say showcase, we mean it—each year we publish a beautiful anthology that is available to subscribers. Five dollars from every subscription goes to the Pelee Island Bird Observatory, to help protect the real little birds out there. To subscribe, go here. And that’s not all. Each winning story is chosen by a celebrated author who also participates in The Little Bird Salon so that you can benefit from what they have to say (see below).

Little Bird Judges
  • 2020 - Sheena Kamal
  • 2019 - Cherie Dimaline
  • 2018 - Michelle Winters
  • 2017 - Esi Edugyan
  • 2016 - Lisa Moore
  • 2015 - Neil Smith
  • 2014 - Rebecca Lee
  • 2013 - Alex Ohlin
  • 2012 - Zsuzsi Gartner
  • 2011 - Matthew Trafford & Jessica Westhead

Little Bird Salon
Each year, since 2013, I’ve spoken to The Little Bird Writing Contest judge about what inspires them, the process of writing, what they think of revision, and more.

In 2013 Alix Ohlin and I spoke on the phone with over 250 writers and readers listening around the world. In 2014, Rebecca Lee and I had a Skype chat from Toronto-Wilmington, NC. In 2015 I spoke with Neil Smith, from Montreal. In 2016, I spoke to Lisa Moore about the “tremendous engine of desire” that drives story and why a writer has to use intuition before submitting something for publication. In 2017, Esi Edugyan gave practical advice to writers who want to understand the creative process, especially how to balance research with writing, how to turn first draft scenes into full stories, and what makes a compelling opening paragraph. In 2018, Michelle Winters and I talked about why writing contests are so important. She shared what she's looking for in a story—what makes a "gut punch" happen—and why surprises are so critical in short-story writing. We also talked about extensive revisions, and how to balance deadlines and rewriting. In 2019, Cherie Dimaline gave a master class on writing. And it was one of the best conversations about storytelling I’ve ever had. In 2020, Sheena Kamal shared her positive philosophy with an expansive kindness that we all need right now. It was an antidote to angst and doubt, and a bright invitation to simply be yourself in your writing. It made me feel lighter, more grounded, and grateful to be a writer.

We have a secret room in our Sarah Selecky Writing School classroom to inspire your creative process. All of the Little Bird Salons, along with other free resources, are available for you. Please help yourself! Sign up on my Free Resources page.
Become a Little Bird Stories Subscriber
Subscribe to Little Bird Stories, and read what writers who placed in The Little Bird Writing Contest did with our Daily Writing Prompts in previous years! Get all published volumes of Little Bird Stories right now, and receive a new anthology of fresh short fiction every year. A lifetime subscription is $25. A percentage of every subscription goes to the Pelee Island Bird Observatory, to help protect the real little birds out there. When you become a Little Bird Subscriber, you're supporting the study and conservation of wild birds and their habitats!

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