4 Reasons to Enter Writing Competitions

Why oh why do I do it? It happens over and over again. I notice a short story competition in a writing magazine or through Twitter. It has a desirable prize: money or publication or prestige or, best of all, all three. I check the rules, polish the story, pay the entry fee and upload the file.

Rosette from Cornwall Agricultural show by Matnkat, via WikiCommons

Rosette from Cornwall Agricultural show by Matnkat, via WikiCommons

Polishing the story can take some time. It might require checking former prize winners’ stories, revision to meet the word total, or complete revision because the story has been resting. It always requires a day or two of polishing

I press SEND adding an extra-virtual blessing. I have hope. This may be the one. I have high hopes for a couple of days, and then they descend gradually, and I forget about hoping until I realise that the day of judgement has long passed and I have heard nothing. Yet again I have not won a writing competition. I am very good at not winning short story competitions.

So why do I do it?

Four reasons to enter

  1. The deadline provides some external but strong discipline. The limits provided by the terms of entry are also a useful tool: to keep to 2000 words, and to ensure you have the right font, line spacing, and no mention of your name on the document. As writers of short fiction and flash fiction know, the limits of the form distil the choice of words. Every word must do its work to justify its place in the story.
  2. If I can do all that well enough, follow the rules and pay the entry fee I feel I’ve achieved something.
  3. Recently I entered an international short story competition, and was offered a critique of my piece for a few £££s more. I was feeling flush and agreed. As a result of the feedback received I already know the story wont win the competition. But the critique was excellent and showed me where I needed to do some work to improve it.
  4. I might win. There is a story about the lottery. A scrooge-like Mr Suggs was pestering God to let him win the lottery. Day after day he prayed to God to win the jackpot. Eventually God was exasperated. ‘You want to win the jackpot, Mr Suggs?’ he bellowed. ‘Do me a favour and meet me half way: buy a lottery ticket.’ So if I want to win a writing competition I do have to enter.

What other writers say

In her blog Top of the Tent Safia Moore lists four international competitions for short story writers with prize money. She suggests them for writers who have included competition entry in their new year’s resolutions. Motivation, she suggests, is a key feature of such entries, but the competition can be tough.

Writing in a recent edition of Mslexia Mahsuda Snaith revealed that she had entered about 300 competitions. Like me, she counts submitting among her achievements when she isn’t winning. Unlike me, she has had success, not least as a finalist in the Mslexia Novel Competition in 2013. And that success got her signed up with an agent. Mslexia has a short story competition with a deadline in March 2015.

147 A&WYBClaudia Cruttwell shared her experience of entering competitions for novels on the Writer&Artists website. The value she reports is in taking a fresh look at her MS and seeing it from the perspective of a judge. The requirement for a synopsis also focuses her mind. She hopes to attract an agent. And while she likes feeling pro-active as she enters she warns against the seductiveness of the volume of competitions. Note to self: this is a useful warning.

She’s right. There are so many. There is a long list of competition awards and prizes in the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook with its own index. I have the supplement of a writing journal on my desk. ‘Plan your writing year,’ it prompts. 13 pages of competitions are listed and there are also ads for many of them. The editor suggests that competitions are motivational, ‘a great way to keep your writing mind sharp’ and to bring you to the attention of agents and publishers.

Lynsey May suggests discrimination in selecting a competition and some research into what you might get out of it in her post Always read the fine print. She relates a sad experience to support this advice.

Copa El Pais – Paraguay, by Flahm, via WikiCommons

Copa El Pais – Paraguay, by Flahm, via WikiCommons

I’m pausing for a time as far as competitions go, while I do my writing course. In addition I have a non-fiction work in progress with two colleagues, as well as other things to do – suc as reading and writing posts for the blog. So I wont enter any competitions for a couple of months. But I will tell you if I win.


Have you got any good experiences of entering a writing competition? What’s your secret? What’s your motivation?

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Filed under Writing

9 Responses to 4 Reasons to Enter Writing Competitions

  1. Eileen

    I’m surprised you have never won one – the pieces I have read have always been excellent. The competition must be fierce. Love e x

    • Caroline

      Too kind. And I always value your comments.
      I think there is a lottery element to competitions and that there are always lots of very good entries and it is not easy probably to differentiate between the quality of each. I am assuming I am in the top slice of course.
      C xxx

  2. Maggie Redding

    If you are not motivated, don’t bother, is my feeling. I have not bothered for years and have not written much. Now, having retired, with a lot of experience behind me, i have something to say and I’m saying it. Perhaps age has something to do with this unexpected drive, the realisation that I shall not be on this earth forever. You could put it down to a craving for immortality. Whatever my reasons, I am enjoying it immensely. Each morning I wake and what to write. I do not claim anything for the quality of what I write, it is not literature, rather it is fun and about women’s lives. My standards are the highest possible for who I am and for my background. I am diligent in my writing and re-writing. I have published two novels on Kindle and am not ashamed of them. Friends say they enjoy them. My enemies don’t even know about them. Age has wonderful compensations, not being bothered by what people thinks is one of them. I write a lot about ageing.

    • Caroline

      Hi Maggie,
      I like this attitude to writing as it is all for you and other people gain from it if they want to. I have no problem in motivation either and like you do daily writing. Sometimes I wake up thinking about writing challenges – that pesky chapter 2 of my novel for example!
      Retiring and ageing are two things I am involved in writing about. Tell us what you are writing about ageing – fiction, memoir, polemic? There is a lot of interest in this blog’s theme of older women in fiction. Are you adding to it?
      Thanks for the comment. Caroline

  3. What an excellent, motivating piece. It seems to me that entering really is an achievement in itself, and while winning would be amazing, there is so much pride to be had just in getting something polished up enough to be “out there”. That’s my goal for this year – to keep writing the stuff I get a salary for doing, but to send out at least a couple of things to try themselves in the real world!

  4. Maggie Redding

    Yes, I will ell you. I would like to think I am adding to it, most especially as I find that ageing as a process is undervalued. For me, it is the best time of my life. So much that is unnecessary can be dumped and new things, like writing in my case , taken up.
    I run a course for the local U3A on the Afternoon of Life. Many people are afraid of the changes, of not beig young and there’s treasure indeed there for a writer.
    I have two novels on Kindle, Almost Paradise and Hold Fast to Dreams. The first is about over 60’s in ‘sheltered housing’ and the second about a mother , in her fifties making a last dash to live her dreams. I use this name, Maggie Redding. I welcome comments from readers, especially about the ageing aspects of the stories.

  5. Lovely informative post providing food for thought. The first thing I ever had published was a poem entered in a competition in my teenage years. I did enter a few competitions once upon a time, but not for a long while. I was put off with some that required forfeiting ownership of copyright to them. Maybe things have changed and one day I might try my luck again. Until then, like you say, I’ll let you know if I win!

  6. Helen Ashley

    I am resigned to spending much more on poetry (competition entries, magazine subscriptions) than I’ll ever make out of it. Each time I fail to get anywhere, I console myself with the fact that my entry fees help to keep the competitions going for someone to win.
    But I’ve remade an old (failed) resolution – to send out something to a magazine and/or competition every month. As in your 4th ‘reason to enter’, above, you can’t win unless you send something in. And my first batch went off yesterday!

    • Caroline

      Hi Helen, Well done for sending off a batch. I like your additional reason for entering – keeping the competition going. I’m not sure I’m so altruistic. Hope to read about your winning entries soon!

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