2024 Golden Pen Winner Jack Nash

Write For an Audience of One

I have a secret. As I wrote my novelette, “Son, Spirit, Snake,” which won first place in Quarter 4 of Volume 40, then the L. Ron Hubbard Golden Pen grand prize, I told myself no one would ever read it.

2024 Golden Pen Winner Jack Nash

I believe that’s why my story made it as far as it did. I also think my experience of writing and submitting it to the Contest is a lesson for any aspiring author.

Let me explain.

I didn’t start writing speculative fiction until late 2021. Prior to that, my writing consisted of academic essays and analysis pieces, and I worked as a speechwriter for a former head of state of an African nation. But writing fiction, especially in genres that break the rules of reality, is much different. After my first short stories racked up a slew of rejections, I knew I had a lot to learn.

I’d never taken a creative writing course in college, and I was at a point in my life where returning to a university for another degree was unreasonable. Instead, I read craft books about plot, character, dialogue, you name it. I took notes and learned the basics, and my writing improved. But books can take you only so far. Nothing compares to getting direct feedback from an expert. So, I signed up for an online workshop. I found one that was reasonably priced, fit my schedule, and, best of all, was going to focus on science fiction, fantasy, and horror―my chosen genres.

Well, turns out I was the only one who enrolled. A week before the scheduled start date, I got an email saying the course was canceled. I could either get a refund or I could get four one-on-one sessions with the instructor, focusing on whatever I wanted to talk about.

You mean write whatever I wanted and get feedback? Even better! I said yes.

Over the coming months, I started writing a story about a boy who falls down a gold mine and speaks to spirits. I started the story with no other goal but to learn how to write. This story, I told myself, was practice for something down the road.

My instructor, Damian Johansson, helped me see the flaws in my writing. He prodded me to try being more bizarre, to focus on making my dialogue unique to each character, and to make my descriptions more vivid. To be clear, Damian didn’t write anything for me―that’s not what a good instructor or editor does. He simply read my work, pointed out what wasn’t working for him, and told me to try again.

With each edit and re-write, my story got longer, weirder, and went in directions I hadn’t anticipated. Because I’d told myself this was a practice piece, not something anyone would ever see, I let myself have fun with it. I pulled from personal experiences. I played with themes I thought no one would be interested in. I wrote for an audience of one―me alone.

Eventually, my time with Damian ended. I learned more with him than I had from books, plus I had a new friend. I finished my story just to say, “I set a goal and met it.” Then, I stuck my story in a digital drawer.

However, I’d also made the goal of submitting to Writers of the Future every quarter for however long it took to win or pro-out. My first submission in Quarter 2 garnered a Semi-Finalist. My second in Quarter 3 came in at Honorable Mention. The Quarter 4 deadline was approaching, and I had nothing ready for submission.

Except for that long, weird practice piece.

I took it out, did one final edit, and submitted it just to say, “I set a goal and met it.” I’d count it as a success if it rose to an Honorable Mention, and in the meantime, I’d write something better.

Months passed. In November 2023, I was surprised to get a call from Joni, the Contest Director. Joni told me I was one of the quarter’s eight finalists. I was shocked. That practice piece got Finalist? It wouldn’t win, of course, but Finalist felt pretty darn good.


Another call from Joni a couple of weeks later informed me that my story won First Place for Quarter 4 of Volume 40. Six months later, at the Writers and Illustrators of the Future awards gala in Hollywood, California, Contest Coordinating Judge Jody Lynn Nye and Hugo-Award-winning author Orson Scott Card went on stage to announce my story had won the Golden Pen, the grand prize.

2024 Writers of the Future Grand Prize Winner Jack Nash

I was in awe. I was humbled. I was deeply embarrassed.

You see when I started writing, I was mimicking my favorite authors. I was trying to game the system and aim for what I thought an editor might be looking for.

All those stories failed.

“Son, Spirit, Snake” thrived because I was having fun. Because I told myself no one was going to read it, I was taking risks. My prose wasn’t afraid of anyone’s judgment. I wrote for the sheer enjoyment of telling a story.

My embarrassment came from all the stories I’d abandoned because I was worried someone would judge me.

What a silly reason to stop writing.

This is the point I’m trying to make: don’t discount the stories that speak to you. Be bold in your writing, and never worry if someone won’t like what you put down. So what if they don’t? That’s none of your business as long as you like what you are producing.

You’ll still have to put in the hard work. Study craft, learn as much as you can, read as much as you can. There will still be edits. There will be revisions. There will be rejections. That’s part of the game. Even the stories you adore may not find homes.

But you must write for yourself before anyone else. Because if you’re not enjoying what you’re putting onto paper, who will?

For that crucial first draft, just write it down. Fixing it comes later. And when it comes time to submit, don’t hesitate. If I had given in my doubts, “Son, Spirit, Snake,” would be moldering in my files. I would not have met the amazing judges and other winners of Volume 40, who I now count as dear friends. I would not have the confidence to write more stories, knowing yes, I am good enough if I just let myself have fun first.


Jack Nash

Jack Nash is the 2024 winner of the L. Ron Hubbard Golden Pen grand prize. He holds dual degrees in anthropology and French from Brigham Young University and an MA in African studies from Yale. Originally from the deserts of the American West, he now wanders the urban forests of Virginia with his wife and daughter. You can find him at his website at jacknashstories.com or on X and Threads at @jnashstories.

11 replies
  1. Candice R. Lisle
    Candice R. Lisle says:

    Thank you for this Jack! I am taking your advice to heart. My stories have been judged by editors to be “charming”. My readers laugh in all the right places. I was wondering if a charming, funny story could win WoTF. Your advice is spot on! I will continue to write and enter charming, funny stories and not feel embarrassed.

    • Jack Nash
      Jack Nash says:

      So glad you’re finding this helpful, Candice! Keep writing, keep entering! In Vol. 40 we had several humorous stories win, so yours may very well be in the next issue!

  2. Laura Holley
    Laura Holley says:

    I needed this too. I’ve felt stale lately and struggled to come up with ideas that I think will be good enough for judges or editors. This is such good advice. I’ve been forgetting to write for me. So thanks.

  3. Robert Reilly
    Robert Reilly says:

    Congratulations on your success, Jack! Great advice! It’s always inspiring to hear and learn about the roads others travel to achieve their goals. Right, if the audience of one is dozing off, who else is gonna stay awake and read it? Cheers from Tokyo!

  4. Andrew Lorch
    Andrew Lorch says:

    Thank you for this article! I’ve been stuck in creative limbo since my submission in Q4 that only hit Silver Honorable Mention. I’ve never been fully happy with that piece even though it’s the first thing I’ve ever submitted anywhere—after writing on and off for nearly 25 years of my 30 years of life! And this helped me realize why: I wrote it for someone else. The next thing I write, it’s for myself. And the next thing and the next and…

    • Jack Nash
      Jack Nash says:

      Silver Honorable Mention is still a great achievement! Don’t sell yourself short! But yes, write for yourself over and over! It took me quite a few attempts to figure out what I like to write, play with voice, etc. That’s the great thing about short fiction – so much room to experiment and learn about yourself as a writer!

      • Andrew Lorch
        Andrew Lorch says:

        Haha I supposed I won’t be satisfied until I win or pro out, but hopefully I’ll get there; same day I read this, I came across two other unrelated things that gave the exact same advice. It must be the universe saying something or else a very lucky coincidence. I hope to see more articles from you in the future!

  5. John Cole
    John Cole says:

    I love your advice about writing for yourself! It should be so obvious but if you’re not enjoying what you’re writing, why would anyone else? Thank you for the great and inspiring piece!


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