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A Beginner's Guide to Writing Competitions
by Dawn Copeman

Return to Tips on Winning Writing Contests · Print/Mobile-Friendly Version

Are you ignoring a potentially lucrative source of income, a source of free training and a chance of publication? If you don't enter writing contests then you are.

You see, writing contests aren't for everybody else but you. They aren't just for Pulitzer winning writers or for writers with hundreds of clips. They are for everybody, and that includes you.

Now, entering a writing competition can be daunting. You imagine you're up against thousands of people with tons more experience than you and that your entry will be laughed into the bin. (No? That's just me?)

But the fact is that entering writing contests shouldn't be that more daunting than writing a query letter, or an article on spec. In fact, given that there are thousands of contests out there actively seeking your submission; I'd say that entering a contest should be less nerve-racking than trying to pitch an idea to a new magazine.

Now you might say that you haven't got time to seek out writing contests and write entries for them. You're far too busy using your limited writing time searching for new magazines or new markets to pitch your ideas to. Well, whilst I concede that this is a valid point, I would also counter that by ignoring contests you are ignoring a potential source of income and of publication.

Think about it. Most writing contests are advertised months before the closing date. They provide you with a clear deadline and plenty of time to work and re-work your piece before you submit it. The contests also give you a clear theme, word limit and submission details, which means that you can view your contest entry as another piece of work and fit it into your schedule accordingly.

But why should you? Why devote your precious writing time to entering contests? I used to think like that, but then I read something that instantly challenged my opinion and made me change my mind.

I forget now where I read it -- it was on some writers' forum or other -- but a writer said she earns a third of her income every year from contests. A third! Now, I don't know about you, but I'd sure like to increase my writing income. Yet, I'd never considered contests as a way of doing this.

That was enough to convince me to start looking at contests in a different light. And the more I thought about them, the more my opinion changed. From being something ‘other writers do', I now view entering contests as something all writers should do.

Are you new to writing and need some training? Entering a competition will provide you with training in meeting a brief (i.e. writing to a theme and topic), meeting a word limit, editing and meeting a deadline.

Thinking of switching genres? Entering a contest will enable you to start to practice your new genre, to experiment with themes and ideas.

Need clips? Many contests offer publication on their site, ezine or in their magazine as a prize.

And what's more. none of this need cost you a thing! Whilst there are contests you need to pay to enter, many are free and offer you the same benefits as the ones where you need to pay. As far as I can see, entering contests, especially no-fee contests, is a win-win situation for the writer, even if they don't actually, erm win.

Contests force us to stretch ourselves as writers: to meet deadlines and word-counts, to try out new genres, to write about new theme. In doing so, we develop as writers.

If we do win, we get the acclaim (you can put in your bios and queries that you won the such-and-such contest), maybe a published clip and, if we're very lucky, cash too!

If we don't win, we know we've stretched ourselves as writers and have developed our skills, and we can always re-work the piece and maybe pitch it to a magazine or, contest rules permitting, enter it in another contest.

So now that I've convinced you of the value of entering writing contests, how do you find these contests? This newsletter lists free contests every month and more can be found in Moira Allen's Writing to Win: The Colossal Guide to Writing Contests.

When you've found a bunch of no-fee contests; search for a contest theme that you think you might be able to write about. Remember, you want to stretch yourself; so don't make your parameters too narrow, but likewise, make sure you don't try and over-reach either! Read the contest guidelines carefully and stick to them. If it says US only, don't enter from Australia. If it says no photos, don't send them. If it says 1232 words precisely, make sure you meet the word count! Also check for submission methods and double-check the deadline.

Then, when you've chosen your contest, plan for it in your business plan or schedule. You must make time to write your entry. If it is going to win, it must be well written: don't try and rush it. Build in time to re-read, edit and re-draft and polish your entry. By fitting it into your plan you are more likely to actually sit down and write it. So treat it as you would any other piece of work. The more professionally you approach your contest entry, the more this is reflected in the quality of your finished work.

Then, just as with any other submission, when you've entered your first contest, don't just sit around waiting for the results; enter another! In fact, you could try and enter one contest a month. It will certainly help to improve your organisational skills and will mean you've got at least one new writing project a month to work on.

So, go on, enter a writing contest. You've got nothing to lose and everything to win. Good luck!

Find Out More...

Choosing a Writing Contest - Tammy Mackenzie

Contesting: Why and How - Kathryn Lay

Through Judge-Coloured Spectacles: How to Win a Writing Contest - Sue Emms

Step Into the Winner's Circle! - Moira Allen

Writing to Win - Moira Allen

Writing to Win: The Colossal Guide to Writing Contests, by Moira Allen

Copyright © 2006 by Dawn Copeman

This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.

Dawn Copeman is a UK-based freelance writer and educator who has published over 300 articles on the topics of travel, cookery, history, health and writing. An experienced commercial freelancer, Dawn contributed several chapters on commercial writing to Moira Allen's Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer (2nd Edition).


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