Competitions are a sore subject for many writers, but here's the thing - there are some good reasons for entering, sharpening up your writing skills - and you mig even win! However, the competitions I guarantee you won’t win are the ones you don’t enter. Today, I want to think about why to enter competitions can help improve your writing. Also let’s think of ways to maximise your chances of winning compatitions.
Entering competitions helps you hone the discipline you need to be a successful writer. Whether you are writing for a publisher, a blogger or entering a competition, your work will be required within a certain time frame. I guarantee the famous Douglas Adams’ (Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy) quote: “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.” won’t cut any ice with your publisher waiting to produce your book, the blogger waiting for your content or the competition which won’t wait for your entry.
The importance of this is that when you submit work to a publisher and tell them that you’ve won competitions or had work accepted elsewhere, the thing they will pick up on is that you can write to deadlines and that someone else thought your work was of a good standard.
So, to ensure that your writing keeps up to scratch, challenge yourself to enter competitions.
Commitment to writing requires becoming used to getting rejections. It happens to every writer. You need to learn from the rejections and see them as a way of improving your work. And don’t use them as an excuse to give up. Be prepared to learn and improve.
In many cases people don’t enter competitions because of fear of failure. But really, this is your job - get over yourself Think about whether it is fear that stops you entering competitions and where that fear come from. Fear that it will prove you are not quite good enough? What's the worst that can happen - you don’t win? You don’t get placed? That doesn't mean you are a bad writer; all it means is that you didn't win this competition. Lots of other people entered but didn't win either.
Let's try to think about things differently. Many competitions give feedback to entrants. So enter, but even if you don’t win, use the feedback to polish your short story, poem, book review, drama or whatever it is, so you can enter it again into other competitions (or even the same competition) when it comes around again. That’s what you call a win-win and no writing is wasted.
So now we’ve thought about why to enter, how can we maximize our chances of winning?
1) Choose the competitions you enter carefully and do read the rules and conditions. Some unscrupulous organisations prey on the hopes of writers and offer large prizes for the winning or top three entries. They will usually charge expensive entry fees (they've got to pay for those prizes somehow) and will sometimes state the organisers have the right to not award any of the prizes. Can you believe that? The organisers do not have to choose any winners, nor do the entrants have a right of recourse either.
2) Always read the rules carefully and then follow them!
There's a good reason for me telling you this. I ran a short story competition recently. Not one single entrant followed all the rules.
The first entry I read wasn’t a story – it was a description.
The word count was 1,000-1,200 words. Some wrote too much, others too little.
The final entry I picked up had been submitted after the closing date.
It was depressing to be faced with such poor attention to the rules, and the writers could have saved themselves a lot of time reading the rules first.
3) Also check the rules about how many entries you are allowed to submit and whether you can enter multiple competitions at the same time. If you are allowed to enter multiple competitions at the same time, feel free to give them a go. Bear in mind that if you win one, you may have to withdraw from others, so choose wisely.
4) Consider stepping out from your comfort zone. By that I don't just mean in entering competitions, I mean the types of competitions you enter. There are many different genres and types of competition. You may only write crime fiction, but there are so many other types of writing. What have you got to lose?
5) The Rules Again
Check the closing date for entries and make sure you give yourself time to write, edit, and polish your entry before submitting. And also, at the risk of seeming to contradict what I said earlier, if you fall across a competition that is closing soon and you feel you can do it justice in the time available, submit your entry. Perhaps it is one of those that was unsuccessful in a different competition. No writing is wasted.
6) Make it Quirky
When you are planning your competition entry, think outside the box. Think of the line another entrant might use and then make yours completely different.
Make it unusual. Let it catch the eye, intrigue and entertain.
Make sure that when the judge reads another entry, they are still thinking about your piece.
7) Be Gracious
When reading any feedback you get do so carefully and take it on board. For many writers, feedback can be difficult to accept. To be told your piece of writing isn;t perfect feels like being told you have an ugly child or a badly behaved pet and we get defesive. How could anyone possibly think that my piece is anything but worthy of a Pulitzer Prize? If you can get over that and read the feedback properly, you can use the salient points to improve your writing.
8) Never be down heartened
I have one friend who has papered his bathroom wall with rejections and unsuccessful competition entries, but he keeps trying. Another makes a good second income from entering competitions successfully. Whichever side of the line you fall on, remember the result of any competition is only one person's opinion. You could enter the exact same piece of writing into another competition, and it might win.
9) Have Fun
Entering competitions should be fun. So, enjoy them and use them to improve your writing. Have fun trying out new genres and types of writing. But remember to read and follow the rules or you will never have any success. (Did I say that already? it's still true!)
10) Do Your Best
There is no point in entering any competition if you don't give the entry your best shot, but don’t stress about it. When I find myself out of my comfort zone my stress levels rise and I need to remind myself to breathe.
I hope some of this has resonated with you and you have found it helpful. If it is new to you, I hope it helps. If you knew it all already, I hope it served as a useful reminder.