The Write Stuff Essay Contests

LOVELL, Maine — Wanted: new owner for a classic Maine inn. Experience: whatever you’ve got. Requirements: 200 words of pithy persuasion.

Oh, also needed is a willingness to work 17 hours a day.

But for anyone who has day-dreamed of jumping off the 9-to-5 treadmill and running a country inn, Janice Sage is offering an essay contest to let them do just that.

Sage owns the Center Lovell Inn and Restaurant, three hours north of Boston, and is ready to retire 22 years after she acquired the place in a previous essay contest.

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“She’s a beauty,” Sage said of the rambling, 210-year-old inn, which has magnificent views of the Presidential Range. “Who doesn’t want to wake up in the morning and see these mountains?”

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Plenty of people apparently want that experience, despite ultra-long workdays that come from cooking breakfast, cleaning rooms, taking reservations, checking out guests, and serving dinner in a maintenance-greedy inn that is open year-round.

Sage expects more than 7,500 entries from around the globe. At $125 per entry, the total she rakes in could surge past the inn’s estimated value of $900,000.

Sage makes no apologies for seeking a large nest egg as she sails into the rest of her life. After 22 years at the Lovell Inn, and 16 years before that as manager of a busy Maryland restaurant, Sage said she’s earned the right to sit down more than once in a while.

“My feet have been getting bigger every year,” she said with a chuckle. “I’ve always been on the go.”

Sage gave few clues to what the winning essay should look like, other than being grammatically correct and showing passion for the work. The subject, “Why I would like to own and operate a country inn,” seems simple. But stringing together the right 200 words — about one-fifth the length of this article — with the right tone, right ingredients, and right passion will be challenging.

Even the winning formula used two decades ago remains a mystery. Sage said the essay is the property of the previous owner and she is prohibited from disclosing its contents. But Sage was more than happy to describe what running the inn requires.

“Unless you raise 14 kids, you’re not going to be used to this,” Sage said, referencing the needs of seven rooms a day, seven days a week in high season. “Look, this is something you start when you’re young. It takes a lot of stamina.”

Reading 7,500 essays also will take a lot of stamina, and Sage intends to read them all by May 17. She will pass along the top 20 essays — without names or addresses — to two people from the area whose identities also will remain a mystery.

The judges are charged with choosing a winner by May 21, and the transfer is expected to occur within 30 days after that.

The deal comes with strings. The new owner must agree to maintain the property as a country inn and restaurant for at least one year after the hand-over, keep the building painted white, and maintain the roofing and shutters in forest green, hunter green, or black.

And there are sweeteners. The victor will receive $20,000 to start running the property, which includes a wraparound porch, a cavernous kitchen, and 12 acres close to Kezar Lake.

The furnishings and equipment come with the inn, but any leftover food and liquor go to Sage, a native of central New York who plans to continue to live near here.

“Why would I go anywhere else? It was too hot in Maryland,” Sage said with a laugh. “New England and upstate New York are a very comfortable place for me — somewhere north of Pennsylvania and New Jersey.”

But when she wrote her essay more than two decades ago, Sage had never been to Maine. A friend heard about the contest on the Phil Donahue television show, and Sage paid the $100 entry fee after winning a small prize in the Maryland state lottery.

Three weeks later, she was on her way to Lovell, a village in southwestern Maine within sight of Mount Washington. Sage flew to Portland and hired a driver, who soon became lost while navigating the back roads to the property.

Once in Lovell, however, all was well after Sage spied the inn. “It could have been half in the ground, and I would have taken it,” she recalled. “I was thrilled.”

Not all that followed was thrilling: $500,000 in renovations, scrambling to serve up to 120 diners a night, and two guests whom she told never to return. “One was just being annoying on purpose,” she recalled with a grimace.

Still, the work and its routine have been their own rewards.

“I call her my grande-dame, my big old grande-dame,” Sage said wistfully. “I tell her when I’m painting that if she didn’t clean up so well, I wouldn’t do this.”

And then there are the guests — except the two annoying ones, of course — whom Sage said she’ll miss.

The constant shuffle of visitors meant constantly changing conversations, and close bonds formed between Sage and parents who stayed at the inn every year while delivering children to summer camps.

“I’ll miss it for all the good reasons,” Sage said. “I’ve loved it.”

For her successor, the innkeeper offered advice that should prove to be tougher in practice than concept.

“Just breeze on through and don’t let things bother you,” Sage said. “Enjoy, just enjoy.”


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Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at macquarrie@globe .com.

The YES! National Student Writing Competition is an opportunity for middle school through university students to write for a real audience—not just you, the teacher—and the chance to be published by an award-winning magazine.

Each quarter, students are invited to read and write an essay on a selected YES! Magazine article. We divide contestants into four categories: middle school, high school, university, and Powerful Voice (for authors whose essays are powerful and passionate). Winning essays in each category are published on the YES! Magazine website and in our online education newsletter.

Register here.

Click here for general information about the writing competition.

Read recent featured essays here.

Less Stuff, More Heart

This winter, students will read and respond to the YES! Magazine article, Less Stuff, More Heart: 5 Gifts On a New Dad’s Christmas List, by Christopher Zumski Finke. In this story, Zumski Finke acknowledges that one way people connect is to exchange gifts—it’s a way to show our appreciation for one another. Now that he’s got a child in the house, Christopher wonders how he should deal with holiday commercialism that’s fixated on buying and giving gifts.

The Writing Prompt

One Christmas, author and new dad Christopher Zumski Finke found himself reflecting not only on the gifts we give, but also the gifts we receive. What do I want for my son? For myself?  Hint: It’s not “things.”  

Students, please respond to the writing prompt below with an up-to-700-word essay:  

Imagine you’re about to celebrate a special holiday, milestone, or birthday.  If you could ask for any non-material gift, what would you ask for? What would make this gift so special to you?

Who is Eligible?

  • You must be a classroom teacher—homeschool cooperative, resource centers, supervised writing groups, and schools outside the U.S. included—for your students to participate.
  • Student writers should be in grades 6-8, grades 9-12, college/university, or adult continuing education.

How does it work?

  • Complete the competition registration form by December 8, 2017 (see link at bottom of page).
  • Students respond to the YES! article with an essay up to 700 words.
  • Submit up to three essays per class period, along with student release forms, by Jan. 26, 2018.
  • For each of the following categories, YES! staff (and possibly the author of the article) will select one essay that we feel is well-written, compelling, and captures the spirit of the article:
    • Middle School (Grades 6-8)
    • High School (Grades 9-12)
    • College/university
    • Powerful Voice (for an author whose essay is uniquely powerful or thought-provoking)
  • The selected essays will be featured on the YES! Magazine website and in our online education newsletter, reaching thousands of YES! readers, including over 18,000 teachers.

Common Core State Standards

This writing competition meets several Common Core State Standards for grades 6-12, including W.9-10.3 and W.9-10.4 for Writing, and RI.9-10.1 and RI.9-10.2 for Reading: Informational Text *

*This standard applies to other grade levels. “9-10” is used as an example.

What are the essay requirements?

  • Respond to the article  and writing prompt provided by YES!
  • Provide an original essay title
  • Reference the article
  • No more than 700 words
  • Must be original, unpublished words
  • Teachers must read and submit their students' essays. Remember, the limit is three essays per class period! Please take time to read your students' essays to ensure they have met essay requirements, including correct grammar. Unfortunately, we cannot accept essays sent independently by students.

In addition, we are evaluating essays for:

  • Grammar
  • Organization
  • Strong style and personal voice. We encourage writers to include personal examples and insights.
  • Originality and clarity of content and ideas

How do I submit the three best essays from my class?

  • You must be registered for the competition by Dec. 8.
  • E-mail your three best student essays as word-processed document attachments (please no pdf or scanned documents) to no later than Jan. 26, 2018.
  • Include a scanned, completed student release form with each submitted essay. Please make sure student email addresses are legible and visible —preferably typed. NOTE: Please submit all student essays by Jan. 26, even if there are missing release forms.  Send in completed students releases as soon as you receive them.

Get Started Here:

Registration Form

Student Release Form

Evaluation Rubric

Future Writing Contest 

*Spring 2018

Details announced: Feb. 8

Registration due: March 2

Essays due: April 17

Questions? Please email

Thank you for joining us!

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