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.
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
- 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.
- If I can do all that well enough, follow the rules and pay the entry fee I feel I’ve achieved something.
- 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.
- 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.
Claudia 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.
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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