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Thursday, 9 February 2012

Top 12 Reasons to Enter Writing Contests

To be awarded to wikinews writing contest winners
Image via Wikipedia

Much has been written about entering writing competitions, so I've decided to add to the topic only with a list of reasons why it might be a good idea for you. There's no priority in the list, for me; the headings are simply as they occurred when I sat down to do this piece. But, for you, there almost certainly will be reasons that are more important than others. Have a read and see what you think.

1.      Kudos:
Some contests are so well-respected by readers and the industry that becoming a prize-winner can truly alter the way you're perceived as a writer. Win the Bridport, the BBC International Short Story, the Aeon Award, for example and you'll gain a great deal of respect from readers and fellow writers.
2.      Cash:
In these hard economic times, a bit of extra income is surely worth considering, isn't it? I won't enter a contest that asks for payment unless the top prize is at least 20 times the value of the entry fee, as I don't consider it a worthwhile investment. But, win one of those contests and your income will definitely increase. For example, on 3 occasions I've won prizes in the Writers' Forum magazine short story contest, for which I paid entry fees of £6, and won 2 second prizes of £150 and a first of £300; pretty good returns, I think you'll agree. And, for those with even less to spend, there are plenty of contests that are free to enter - visit the Writing Contests tab above to find details and links.
3.      Reputation:
Gaining a good reputation amongst readers is paramount to success in the writing world. If you can claim to be a prize winner in any writing contest, it brings such a reputation closer.
4.      Exposure:
We all need to make ourselves known to both readers and the industry professionals. The way in which prize-winners of contests are publicised ensures them a wide audience and drives more people to their work.
5.      Discipline:
Some writers appear to need motivation to encourage them to actually write, rather than just talk about writing. I've never needed such motivation and actually believe that if you do need it then you shouldn't be writing: do something you actually want to do instead. However, for those who do need some specific aim for their writing, entering contests, with their deadlines, is a good way to increase personal discipline and actually get on with the writing.
6.      Experience:
Entering contests is a great way to gain more experience of the actual writing process. You have to produce your best possible work if you're to stand a chance in a contest and this is an excellent way of honing your skills and developing your story-telling faculties.
7.      Verification:
Writing is an isolated act and it's often difficult to know how you're doing. You can, of course, join a writing group (I recommend you to do this, if there's a good, supporting group available), or become involved with a peer group online. But entering contests, especially where the offer of a critique is included, will give you feedback. And, of course, should you win a prize, you have concrete evidence of your writing abilities. But, a word of warning: failing to win a prize doesn't necessarily mean you're writing is no good. It might simply be that the judge wasn't in tune with your story on the day he read it.
8.      Broaden horizons:
It's very easy for a writer to stick to what he knows, to write only for those genres he's comfortable with. Entering themed contests is a way of breaking out of this self-imposed straightjacket and may even show you that you do well in other areas. Certainly worth a try. Who knows? You might become a best-selling author or a world-renowned poet as a result!
9.      Bragging rights:
No matter how shy or modest we are, we all harbour a wish to tell the world how great we are. What better way than to shout out to the world that you're the winner of XXXX contest? Have a go and tell the world how good you are.
10.  Success:
Success, they say, breeds success. Get your entry out there and win a prize. Who knows what may result from that single success? It might just be the start you need or, if you're already established, it may be the success that lifts you from mid-range to best-seller.
11.  Attraction:
We all, well most of us, if we're honest, would love to attract the attention of an agent or publisher (I'm not going into the self-publishing v traditional publishing discussion here - another time, perhaps). Imagine it: you're sitting at your desk, in your bed, at the kitchen table and there's a phone call or a letter from an agent asking if she can represent you. Wow! That's a feeling we all want to experience. I know; I won a prize in a playwriting contest and gained an agent as a result (I'm no longer with him, but that's another story).
12.  Excitement:
The buzz we all get from being acknowledge for our skill, that elation we all experience from recognition, the simple excitement of opening that letter and having the cheque fall out. It's not just the money, is it? It's the fact that someone out there, someone with judgement and taste, has decided that your story, poem, play, essay or whatever is something that stands out from the crowd. Your work has risen above the rest and been selected as outstanding. That's something to be excited about, isn't it?

So, you've reached the end. Have you been inspired? Are you going to enter a contest? I'll repeat what I said at item 2: if you want to get on with it now, you could do worse than visit the page tab entitled 'Writing Contests' above. Basic details and a link to the relevant website should provide you with all you need to get started. Good luck, and let me know of your successes.
And, as always, let me have your views by commenting on the post.

A silly question for you to ponder: Why do toasters always have a setting that burns toast beyond the stage where any decent human being would eat it?

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