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.)
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org … on her Facebook author page … or on Twitter (Image by Sarah Grace Photography)