2014 Polly Prize for Creative Writing
Meet our 2014 Winner, Bethany Wood
The recipient of the 2014 Polly Prize for Creative Writing is Bethany Wood of Surrey, England. Bethany was shortlisted along with three other creative, talented, hard-working young writers: Rhiannon Reintjens of Australia, Erin Harvey of Florida, and Olya Wickham of Australia. Bethany’s essay stood out just slightly above the others because she really embraced the style and tone of a personal essay and did a great job showing me how much my novel, Polly Wants to Be a Writer, has helped her. Congratulations, Bethany!
Polly Taught Me Pride
by Bethany Wood, Age 15, UK
When I started writing this essay it was scary.
I looked at the pile of papers, envelopes, invitations and newspaper sheets covered in scribbled handwriting and thought, ‘I give up. I’ll never sort out this mess.’ But I didn’t, because I had read Polly Wants to Be a Writer. I scooped up the mismatch of paper and laid it out on my desk. I got started. I rewrote all the various ideas, thoughts and notes I’d jotted into one long document, not looking back or giving myself a chance to edit anything out. I swapped the sieve for a bowl and every tiny detail went in.
Time must have sped by. I was so deeply involved with writing I did not notice my mum enter the room until the light suddenly went on. ‘Bit late, isn’t it?’ she said. ‘Why are you working in the dark?’ I told her I didn’t realize and gawked at the clock in disbelief. I scrolled back over my Word document and a warm feeling of pride spread all over me. I had written my first draft.
I love first drafts. There––I said what I promised myself I never would. I used to edit as I went. I could never be satisfied or see anything in my writing until I had sorted it out. But soon I came to realize that all my best ideas were being eaten up by one huge great “Negative Nelly” inside me, who desperately needed a giant muzzle. I only have one person to thank for helping me overcome this. I pay my gratitude to somebody who, one day, had a character come knocking at the door to their brain: a character that, unlike most of the characters that stay inside people’s heads, made it into the big wide world. This special little girl is called Polly.
I see myself as Polly’s long lost twin. From the first couple of pages I could see we were going to get along, and I’m not usually one to judge people quickly. As the book progressed this understanding continued and the realistic use of language helped me relate to Polly. For once I didn’t feel alone. There on the first page was everything I had thought countless times. There is nothing I do better than postponing my writing. I am supposedly too tired, too busy or waiting for the right moment to start. The fact is: the perfect moment doesn’t exist. As it puts in the book, ‘I’ll get to it later, there’s too much going on right now.’ Luckily, with the help of Ms. Whitford, I am improving at not putting off things, but getting stuck in. Unfortunately for my science teacher, this feeling has not yet spread as far as my science homework…
My mum is stubborn. My dad is stubborn. I inevitably inherited the same streak of stubbornness. But it is because we are so determined. Polly is stubborn and won’t let others stand in her way. When she wanted to save the girls from Dr. Mammozarack’s lair, she had the determination and courage to succeed. This is how I want it to be with my writing. I mustn’t let anything stand in my way and stop me, but have the determination to reach my goal. Using things to your advantage is a theme throughout Polly Wants to Be a Writer. Since reading it, I have tried to channel my stubbornness and determination into something positive. It is the same with my literary dragon––I must use him to my advantage.
As the book progressed I grew to recognize and familiarize myself with my inner dragon. I love this metaphor as it labelled and helped me understand that deep feeling inside me which I could not place before. In a funny way it made me feel special, as if I had a gift which no one but me could handle. It made me feel responsible, but also linked to all the other writers in the world. It inspired me to be like all those courageous authors who trained their inner dragons to perform mind-boggling wonders.
The detailed explanation of the six-step writing process clearly written at the back is really useful and easy to locate when I need it. Having read the book first, the summary sorted out all the knowledge in a fashion that’s easy to refer to. I have also discovered new hope in all my discarded stories. I am now able to focus on their originality without worrying what needs to go, but what needs to stay.
I dream of the day I can hold a book in my hand and see my name printed on it. I am filled with even more happiness when I picture my mum opening it and seeing it dedicated to her, as just a small token of my gratitude. She has nurtured, encouraged and helped me through all my writing, and been with me as I’ve experience the ups and downs of life. This has been the main source of my writing.
Another thing I regularly dream about is script writing. Without a writer, there is no script. Without a script, there is no show. Dialogue is probably the most important part of performance as it shows the character’s personality. It also has to be totally accurate to the time and age of the person. One of the biggest tips I picked up from Polly Wants to Be a Writer is that every single word counts. It gives me a thrill to help other people with their writing, be that editing, guiding, enhancing, critiquing or encouraging. In the future I hope to attend creative writing classes and perhaps even lead a group. As when Ms. Whitford tells Polly to stop worrying about others, my favourite part is when she says, “It’s Polly’s turn to shine.” Everyone needs a Ms. Whitford––Laura, I thank you for that.
Of all of my many faults, greed is not one of them. Having grown up in a family who has difficulties financially I expect very little and don’t want for much. I am realistic; I don’t expect my fortune to fall into my lap. I am a worker, and will work hard to achieve things in life. It is a difficult career, but there is nothing more satisfying than a day of writing. I am used to very little and anything, however small it may seem to others, is a lot for me. If I won this prize I would spend the money cautiously and carefully to enhance my writing, perhaps on things like writing technique books, a writer’s conference or a subscription to a writer’s magazine to keep me updated, reminded and inspired regularly.
I thrive on competition. Polly had her heart set on winning writing classes with Ms. Whitford and thought herself a worthy candidate, but ended up disappointed. Yet she didn’t lose hope and ultimately reaped the reward. I think of this regularly in all my activities so that when I don’t succeed I still come back fighting, holding out hope that someday it will be my turn. As the book taught me, professional writing is a competition and a tough one. I want to be somebody who lasts the duration and doesn’t get weak and give in. And, with the right support, I think I can make it.
I love writing, however slushy that sounds. I’d love to have a career in something I love. It is not a chore and it could never be a chore. Every spare minute I am thinking about my characters. I love my characters, good and evil, as they help me understand myself. Sometimes it is like I can pour my contained nastiness into someone truly awful, and forfeit none of the blame myself! When I’m not writing, I’m reading and looking at books. I look at their language style and can often tell an author without looking because each writer is linguistically unique. I am always searching for my own defining voice.
Winning this prize would be the kick-start I need for everything: my career, my confidence, my CV, and the proof to me that I’m worth something (a little bit of my inner Polly slipped in there!). It will also give my family the confidence they need that I can, and will, achieve my goal. There is only one person and one book that I can thank for finishing this essay. It took time, it took patience, it took control, but I am proud. Polly Wants to Be a Writer ultimately made me proud. Proud of my ambition, determination, courage and skill, that I, unlike all those other hundreds and thousands of young people, have overcome the stumbling blocks and jumped over the hurdles. I have learnt an unexplainable amount…
But as hard as I try, I don’t think I will ever quite overcome writing anywhere and everywhere. High five Polly!
It is hard to explain in words how happy I am to have won this prize. I loved writing my personal essay as it helped me realise the journey I have been on as a writer, which I hope is just the beginning! I am very grateful to Laura for creating these competitions and for the regular inspiration I get from her website. Writing is a beautiful and unique art which I love to read and share. Winning this prize has boosted my confidence and inspired me never to give up. Also I would like to say congratulations to the other three finalists who made it so far in this competition. I have entered a few other competitions and it was very exciting to have won one. After a few I never expected to do well, but I am pleased I kept trying. To all the other young writers out there – don’t give up! Next time may be your turn to shine. I hope people continue to get inspiration from Polly Wants to be a Writer and, like me, find their own inner Polly… – Bethany Wood