Blog on Writing

6 Reasons to Enter Writing Contests by Steph Beth Nickel


Sure, it’s fun to win a writing contest, but that isn’t the only reason to enter. Here are six other reasons: Practice Makes … Better Every time you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, hopefully the result is better than the last time. While practice doesn’t really make perfect, it certainly does make better. This is especially true if you are reading between writing stints. Both fiction and skills development nonfiction are helpful. Even if you don’t edit other people’s work, the more you learn, the more easily you’ll 1) spot good writing and 2) be able to incorporate the elements of good writing into your own work. Enter contests with no or nominal entries fees when you’re starting out. As your skill level and confidence grow, you may want to enter those with a more substantial entry fee. (Be sure to do your homework and make sure the organization is legitimate.) Write Tight Entering contests like Write to Done’s Flash Fiction Contest and Writer's Digest’s Short Short Story Competition are great ways to flex your writing muscles while writing succinct stories in no more than 500 and 1,500 words respectively. The Write to Done contest runs from October 17 to December 15. (This will possibly be an ongoing contest, as this is the second one.) The Writer's Digest early bird deadline is November 17—and saves on the entry fee. To write succinct fiction, you must learn not only what to leave out but also what to include that will still show not tell and engage all of the readers’ senses whenever possible. Follow Guidelines This certainly seems like a given, but you may be surprised at how many novice writers don’t take the time to read—and abide by—“the fine print.” If you don’t do so when entering a contest, the worst thing that can happen is that your entry will be disqualified. However, if you don’t follow the guidelines when approaching an agent or editor, you may earn yourself the reputation of being “unprofessional and difficult.” That’s not what you want. Carefully following contest guidelines is great practice for other writing endeavours. Work to a Deadline Again, this seems like a given, but failure to do so could mean the difference between winning $3,000 from Writer's Digest or being disqualified. (I’d prefer the cash.) Even if you don’t win, anything that helps you learn self-discipline and how to prioritize your time is a good thing. Make note of upcoming deadlines in your day planner in order to stay on track. (Note that some contests require you to send in your non-refundable entry fee before sending your submission. You don’t want to be out the money, even if it is only $10 or $20.) Learn From the Critiques and/or Winning Entries Some writing contests include a critique. Of course these are subjective, but if more than one judge mentions the same thing, it’s worth considering. It’s also worth considering what each individual says, but you will never make everyone happy with your work. That said, if it’s a technical pointer (spelling, punctuation, grammar), take note. You don’t want your compelling stories to be discarded because the judges are distracted by “an easy fix.” Even if you don’t receive a critique, you will likely be able to read the winning entries. You really should do so. It will give you practice analyzing what gets the judges’ attention. After you’ve done so, see which elements you can reasonably apply to your own work. And last but not least … Get a Confidence Boost While I may earn the title Captain Obvious for this last insight, I’m going to go ahead and share anyway. You’ll feel great when you win—or even receive an honourable mention. Though your bank account may not look much different, a win will likely give you a significant boost and encourage you to keep writing, keep honing your craft, and keep entering those contests. Steph Beth Nickel is the coauthor of Paralympian Deborah L. Willows' memoir, Living Beyond My Circumstances, published by Castle Quay Books. Among other things, Steph is a freelance writer and editor. You can connect with her at stephbethnickel@gmail.com ... on her Facebook author page ... or on Twitter (Image by Sarah Grace Photography)

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Effective Endings – Fiction 101 Part 1 by Janice L. Dick

Janice Dick - Pic

Satisfaction Guaranteed! That’s our motto. We want to make sure that once we’ve shared with our readers the journey our characters have taken, we also grant them a satisfying ending. It doesn’t matter how great the story is; it must leave us content on some level by the time we turn the final page. (more…)

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Writers Write by Brenda Wood


We just started a writers’ group, and more than half of the folks in attendance haven’t written a word. They don’t even journal. I’m not sure they even do a grocery list. However, in our breakout session, every one of them asked the same question. “How can I find a publisher for my book?” I wanted to scream, but you would have been proud of my tact. I spoke gently into their expectant faces. “Book? You have no book! You don’t even have three lines on paper. You don’t need a publisher yet!" (more…)

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Emphasis, Only When Necessary – Carolyn R. Wilker

Attention 2

There was once a writer who emphasized so many words in his text that it felt as though he was screaming at readers. His message was full of capital letters, underlines and italics, and so nothing important stood out, not even the writing. I closed the book and put it away, but I didn’t throw it out; I used it as examples in my teaching of what not to do when writing. (more…)

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Daily Obeying Our Caller – Jack Popjes

Path in Autumn

The name of Eugene Peterson’s classic book on discipleship A Long Obedience in the Same Direction describes exactly how we become the writers God called us to be. C. S. Lewis, writing about character development, mentioned the importance of not just being on the right road but facing the right direction and moving, be it ever so slowly, in that direction. What can we do to keep obeying the One who called us to be writers? (more…)

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Curtains: Writing effective endings – Pamela Mytroen

The End 2

Endings can be difficult. Do they ever feel like they are just tacked on? I like to think of them as different types of curtains on stage. I’m not a scriptwriter or even an avid theatre-goer, but this visual helps me as I write my endings. Three that I come across regularly are the “Sudden-Death Curtain,” the “Preview Curtain,” and the “Curtain Call.” (more…)

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Holed Up or Hold Up?


A while back, I got to thinking about why I have such a tough time just sitting down to write. I have lots of ideas for books floating around my head. And because I work from home, I have the privilege of creating my own schedule. So, what’s the hold up? (more…)

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Fiction 101: Part 10 – Don’t Let Your Middle Sag – Janice L. Dick

Open Book

At my age, a title like this makes me take notice. I sit up straighter, pull my shoulders back and suck in my middle. Adapted from http://goo.gl/nNe6vj That’s what we want to do with the middles of our stories: Be aware of their presentation and do what’s required to improve them. (more…)

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Never Stop Learning

Learning Road Sign

How to confound your family in one easy step . . . Curl up on the couch reading Lynne Truss’s Eats Shoots and Leaves and laugh uproariously while your family is trying to watch television in the same room. “Only a writer,” you say. And you’d be right. Or an editor, agent, or publisher. (more…)

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How to “Right” Funny – Brenda Wood

Live Laugh Love Banner

I’m told that I write funny. People laugh at my comments all the time, but I can’t say that I always understand why. Anyway, there is no point trying to dissect the why of a joke because then the joke is no longer funny.  Some of the world’s funniest people had no sense of humour at all, but their work is hilarious. Think Lucille Ball. You don’t need a sense of humour to be funny because funny is in your mind.  (more…)

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