With fond memories, the journey started in August last year during the lockdown. Being one who loves to write, I always had a pen and a jotter somewhere close. Give me a refrigerator stocked with goodies, uninterrupted electricity supply, cable television, wireless fidelity internet connectivity, smartphone, notepad, a pen and jotter, and I’d stay indoors and writing — never to step out for any possible reason. That shows how stupendously I love to write.
I had just written my entry for an online essay competition in preparation for the 55th birthday celebration of His Excellency, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, the honourable minister of transportation. After submitting my entry, I began to surf the net that fateful day, and with great nostalgia, I recall vividly how I stumbled on the website, “www.cmonionline.com.” At first, it got me thinking… “See money online? How? Which kind of money do they want us to see again? What are they even talking about?” All these questions caressed my mind. Then, to oblige my curiosity, I clicked on the link. Behold! It was a blog; an online weekly essay competition. The competition was at its maiden stage — week one. Then I said to myself, “we die here be dat; bring it on!” That was how I learnrt about the competition and how my journey in the competition began. Today, the competition is already in week twenty-six (26).
The journey from week 1 to week 26 was not without twists. It was an incredible roller coaster for me — everything in a package. At some point during the early stages of the competition, I even submitted two entries for a particular week — week 3. My love for writing and naivety for some unwritten rules about the competition almost got me disqualified for that reason ***chuckles***. Later on, I went on to win my first prize in week number four-(4) of the competition for my essay titled, “The 2020 Edo Gubernatorial Polls: Intrigues and Lessons Learnt.” The fact that I won the week’s prize was pretty gladdening. But what gladdened me the most was that my essay gave the judges tough a task to select the winner and eventually, we had two winners for the week. Interestingly, the other winner coincidentally wrote on the Edo state elections as well.
In the words of one of the judges, it read, “Chukwuemeka Oluka has established himself as a natural writer with an easy flow. His introduction was styled much like a media report, taking the reader through the events leading up to the election before delving into the core issues and dissecting the lessons learnt therein”. Another judge had this to say about my winning essay, “well worded with flow and consistency. Use of metaphors and catchphrases. Very distinct in writing and delivery. Grammar is top-notch as well as easy to understand and readable. Very communicative as well.”
The other winner for week 4 was also electrifying in his essay so much so that Cmoni submitted thus, “As I am unable to break the tie, I will have to award a cash prize of N10,000 each to these two writers….” That probably may have inspired the idea of having to increase the weekly prize money to N20, 000 for the top two essays later as the competition progressed. Before then, I won again in week fourteen-(14) with an entry titled, “I Support Zoning, ‘With My Full Chest’”. My (wining) essay for that week became the cynosure of all eyes. It seemingly was the yardstick upon which other essays were rated. Writers who wish to improve their chances of winning in the competition should endeavour to read the feedbacks for week 14 because for the very first time, a judge took diligent and painstaking efforts to list out vital points.
Through it all, my approach to the weekly writing challenge remains a deliberate one. To avoid witnessing writer’s block, I write not less than 300 words in a day. So, by the time I put everything together, I must’ve attained the word count permissible. I also ensure I read crazily — not limiting myself to any genre. Tellingly, my essay inspiration(s) had had to come from the least expected of genres. I also listen devotedly to both local and international news to polish my grammar and to keep me abreast of current global trends. Social media happenings have also inspired some of my beats in journalism and entries in the competition.
Another approach I adopt is to distinguish myself as a natural writer using simple, clear and unambiguous language devoid of weird and heavy-sounding vocabularies. Since the competition provides writers with topics and not necessarily titles, I ensure that the titles I give my essays always stand out — so much so that it catches the readers’ attention effortlessly and stimulates them to read. I also ensure I edit my work painstakingly before submission.
Meanwhile, the competition continues to grow from strength to strength. The number of essays grew from 15 entries as of week 11 to over 20 essay submissions during week 24 — creating a huge audience of not just writers, but readers and thinkers alike. The competition’s website will proceed to attract greater traffic as days turn into weeks and weeks into months; and so, translating to more income for the blogger through pay per clicks and impressions this traffic yields.
As of week 25, an independent survey I took reveals that 32 wonderful essays have clinched the weekly prizes so far from the competition’s inception. Writers who haven’t won, have gone on to improve themselves tremendously — showing a win-win situation for all.
From the survey, a breakdown of the 32 winning essays shows that 17 emerged from the creative writing category, while 11 were essays from the current affairs category. The remaining 4, emerged from the social category. This reveals 53.1%, 34.4% and 12.5% winning percentages respectively. A further breakdown of the individual categories shows that female writers have won more in the creative writing category with a win percentage of 58.8% compared to 41.2% for males. But that feat could not be replicated in the current affairs/politics category where the male writers have had a breathtaking dominance of 90.9% compared to a mere 9.1% for females.
But then, one beautiful thing about Cmonionline’s weekly essay competition is that it gives writers the room to express themselves. Regrettably, such expressions don’t translate to robust engagements amongst them across the blog’s social media platforms. Writers find it somewhat reluctant to make comments on the blog’s Facebook posts. Also, the blog’s Twitter handle hardly sees replies or retweets from writers. I recall how a (potentially new) writer asked a question for clarity on a feedback post on Facebook, but got no response. There is therefore a suggestive and unseen social divide amongst the audience, and writers are seemingly not comfortable engaging themselves and discussing their essays. Why that is so, (even after they’ve been urged to discuss) remains something that beats imagination. But the truth remains that, I have made friends with a few writers from the competition — some of whom in our comfort zones, I have given objective criticisms to their entries leading to their noticeable improvements.
Despite these developments, the competition continues to inspire and hold a lot of promises. It becomes instructive, therefore, that the following suggestions be taken to improve our writing as we journey together.
First, the editor(s) must ensure that edited titles of entry submissions are on the same wavelength with the writers’ intentions — not drifting from the mood, syntax and message each essay intends.
Then, judges should be encouraged to give feedback on all published essays — not just the top or winning essays. This is crucial because such corrections will improve the learning curves of all writers and encourage them to write more.
Next, brief citations of judges should be announced to the writers and the online audience. If I have a Professor of literary studies or a Doctorate holder in Journalism as a potential judge, for instance, I need no rocket science to tell me to up my game because I know an authority in the field is expected.
That said, grading rubrics should be introduced in the announcements to herald each week’s essay topics. This will help carry potentially new writers along and also aid existing writers to make informed decisions where applicable. It will also help followers make the right decisions should a vote arise to separate winning essays.
In all, writing is indeed a journey and not a destination. Winning a prize in the weekly essay competition is important, but what is the most important is to build and constantly improve oneself in the journey of writing. It can only get better. Yes, it can!
Oluka Emmanuel Chukwuemeka is a graduate of Electronic and Computer Engineering from the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Anambra State. He is a research enthusiast and a passionate writer. He writes in from Enugu and can be reached via “email@example.com”