Writing contest season is upon us. Although contests appear throughout the year, many are tied into writing conferences, which proliferate during late spring and through the summer. So we might call the months of March through August the contest “high season.”
Are you participating in a contest this year? Not sure?
Let’s look at how contests can be good for you
1 — Contests can give you the opportunity to try something new. As our Projects for the New Year (see February) suggested, if you usually write or enter nonfiction, send in a poem; if you always enter poetry contests, try entering a short story competition. The idea is to challenge your brain cells. Mental exercise is believed to activate processes that help maintain individual brain cells and stimulate communication among them. Working through a new writing form can function the same way. So the writing exercise itself will be beneficial. But if you actually place – even as an honorable mention – you may have discovered another “natural” writing field!
2 — Contests can provide motivation. How many short stories or poems or essays are hibernating in your files – not quite finished? Perhaps you started one or more of them because you had something meaningful to say. But you don’t really have any markets for them lined up, so “paying” deadlines have taken precedence. That’s understandable. But a looming contest deadline can furnish the motivation you need to reopen one of those files, revise, polish, and send it out for judges’ scrutiny.
3 — Contests can give you a clue. Working on a novel? You think it’s going to be good. But doubts keep creeping in. Should you continue with this one? Or start exploring that other “great idea” you have? Before you abandon a book project, search out contests for book chapters. If your genre fits, submit your first chapter. If it is recognized by an honorable mention or higher award, you now have a clue that it just might be worth pursuing. Caution: If it does NOT place, do not necessarily write it off as a lost cause – judging (as in agent or editor interest) is largely subjective. Plus, your entry may have been a “close win” and still have merit. However, what we’re looking for here is a clear clue that your book has promise – and a mention or a prize can provide that.
4 — Contests can augment your writing credentials. That’s what sportswriter Paul Fein says. “Winning or placing highly in writing contests – if they are legitimate – enhance a writer’s reputation. That has had significant benefits in my magazine writing career. For example, receiving several awards in the USTWA (United States Tennis Writers’ Association) writing contest resulted in an editor asking me to write a column for him in every issue. Also, one can include such contest success in bios that editors sometimes include at the bottom of your articles or in or near the magazine contents. Contest results are also listed on my website, www.tennisconfidential.com. A final benefit is that you learn quite a bit from the contest judges’ comments when you receive a writing award.”
Similarly, award mentions look good on social media profiles, such as LinkedIn, where editors and readers visit.
5 — Contests can offer a diversion. Stuck on a project and not making progress? Bored with a long-term project and could use a short break? Stimulate those brain cells by changing gears for a few hours – draft an essay, write a poem, develop that short-short story you’ve been thinking about, then send it in to a contest just for the fun of it. When you return to your “real writing job,” the words will flow easier – and you’ll see what you were missing before. (That’s what the creativity experts say – worth a try!)
6 — Contests encourage winners to keep writing. Have you been told by teachers, writing coaches, and friends that you write really well – but you haven’t been able to “sell” anything? So you’re about to give up? Try sending a few of your pieces to several contests. Placing in a contest may be just the validation you need to keep on writing.
and a Bonus Reason –
the chance to earn cash awards. Notice I listed that one last. Most contests do award cash prizes for the top one, two or three places. Others offer gift certificates to Amazon or similar book-related sites, books, or other items of interest to writers. A very few, usually those funded by a foundation or university, will offer substantial prizes. And a few others offer no awards beyond certificates. But writers consistently say the side benefits – especially inspiration and validation – of winning a contest outweigh the cash prizes. Hey, but winning a hundred bucks or so doesn’t hurt!
For more information:
Our own Writers-Editors Network Writing Competition Guidelines (Deadline is coming up soon – March 15)
Writing to Win: The Colossal Guide to Writing Contests by Moira Allen
Image courtesy of: By shorts and longs, Julie Rybarczyk