Type ‘writing competitions’ into your search engine and pages and pages of numerous competitions appear before your very eyes. Poetry, article writing, short stories, novellas and flash fiction to name a few; there’s a competition for any and every type of writing. But exactly what is the attraction of competitions and are they worth entering?
One of the attractions of competitions is that they’re great fun to enter and if you are named as a prize winner, there’s no feeling quite like it. Many competitions have cash prizes and of course, there’s the prestige that’s associated with a competition win. It’s something to put at the top of your writing CV and it can lead to other work. The majority of competitions also publish the winning entries in print form, in a magazine or anthology, while others publish on the internet. Some organisers also provide a critique to the entrant in exchange for just a few pounds. This can be invaluable as all too often editors reject our writing with no hint of why our precious piece of work isn’t suitable.
Big or Small
Some competitions offer small prizes, for example £25 cash as a top prize or a book token, while others offer an eye-catching first prize of £1000. If you are a beginner, it’s a good idea to start small and work your way up. The bigger the prize money, the more entrants there are likely to be and you will be competing against the best. Most importantly, a win is a win, whatever the competition.
Think outside the box
Competitions allow writers to stretch themselves and to write something that doesn’t fit neatly into a mainstream publication. Writers can push the boundaries and absorb themselves in something fresh and new. Open theme competitions obviously offer the writer a chance to write about a theme of their choice, within reason. For example, an entry of a racist nature wouldn’t be favoured by a judge.
Other competitions have a set theme such as writing a ghost story or a poem about winter. In others, entrants are given a setting or an opening line. Even though entrants are required to write something within these boundaries, you still need to think outside the box. For instance, one of the competitions where I was named as a prize winner had to feature a librarian. When I first considered what to write about, a stereotypical image of a librarian came to mind, complete with a quiet library full of books. I knew a judge wouldn’t want to read numerous entries of this nature. A judge wants to read something unexpected, exciting and compelling. So I started to make a list of things you wouldn’t normally associate with librarians and libraries. My prize winning story featured a siege, which took place in the library. This obviously stood out and caught the judge’s eye.
Read previous winning entries
It really is worth taking a little time to read previous winning entries. What made them stand out? Did the writing flow from one image to the other? Did the story urge you to read on to the very end? Or in the case of poetry, did the winning poem follow a set form? How did the poet make sure every word counted? Some competition organisers write reports on the winning entries, highlighting exactly what the judge was looking for and why the winners ticked all the right boxes.
Read the rules
Most competitions have a few simple rules to follow, but there are some where the rules seem endless. Simple or complex, the rules must be adhered to. For example, if the rules state that an entry must be the unpublished work of the entrant, it really means that the work cannot have been published before. If it’s discovered that your entry has appeared in an issue of last year’s local paper or in an old short story magazine, your entry will be disqualified immediately.
Word/ line count
This is always stated in the rules and is a strict rule to abide by. If the competition requires a maximum of 40 lines of poetry, it’s no good sending in 41 lines. Why should you be allowed an extra line?
Checking your work through is vital. If a competition judge has to decide between two entries, both with brilliant storylines, but one with mistakes and the other without, the prize is likely to go to the one without the mistakes.
If you send an entry in with the typing slanting upwards, splodges of ink dotted over the crumpled pages and faded words here and there, you’re obviously not concerned about your sloppy presentation. Such an attitude will put a judge off.
So why not take a deep breath and enter a competition? Take a look at my ‘Markets For Freelancers’ Page and you’ll see a couple detailed there. Alternatively, there are plenty advertised on the internet and in writing magazines. See if a competition theme inspires you or a previous winner’s entry sparks off an idea. You never know, you could be a winner sooner than you think.