Writing competitions: why you should take part

Writing is not a sport, right?

No, it’s most certainly not. It’s also highly likely that if you are a fiction author reading this, you’re traditionally not the competitive type. A writer’s life consists of many solitary hours spent in our own head, hammering out our make believe lives on our keyboards and then many more painful hours critiquing and re-writing our own work.

So upon completion of Radiant, when a more experienced, very talented (and published) author by the name of Lisa Heidke, suggested entering competitions, I cringed. Just a little. I’m not an attention seeker. Not really. Sure, I’ve written a book and I’d like other people to read it, but I don’t want to force it on anybody. And I certainly don’t want to compete with anybody.

After stewing on this sage advice for a while, I took a deep breath and did some research. I’d heard about the Romance Writers of Australia being pretty well regarded and this become apparent once I perused their website. As well as providing a fabulous support network to romance writers and an annual conference that attracts top international authors, they run a variety of competitions. In fact, I was surprised at just how many competitions they run. That would take a lot of work surely?

You’ve got to be in it, to win it

After much stalling, I identified one competition that appeared particularly well suited to me. Then stewed on it some more. Finally, about a week before the deadline, I got my act together and sent in my entry. Got to be in it to win, I thought. Then left it at that.

But the ladies at RWA are smart. They kept sending me (useful) newsletters and in them would remind us all about upcoming events and competition deadlines. I noted vaguely that the deadline for the finalists being announced was in a few weeks, so decided that I’d use that date as a self-imposed deadline to polish my manuscript to within an inch of its life (after a year of on again, off again editing). Then I could finally say I was finished and get on and self-publish.

The benefits of writing competitions

After that, something strange happened. I got through to the finals!

It was just as well I’d spent all that time polishing and finalising my manuscript because I only had a matter of days to get the entire thing printed and in the post to be considered for the finals. Adrenalin, anyone?

And that was when it hit me. I finally got it. You don’t enter competitions to beat your opponent, you enter them because:

  • It’s a litmus test for your book. It can be scary taking the leap to query publishers or to self-publish. You might believe in your work, but how do you really know it’s ready? Competitions can help in this process.
  • Feedback and encouragement. Depending on the style of competition you enter, you might get the opportunity for completely objective and constructive feedback on your writing and manuscript. Honest feedback that tells you what you are doing right (and wrong), can be invaluable.
  • Credibility. Being able to say you were a finalist or even a winner of a competition communicates credibility. It demonstrates that experienced judges found your work readable and compelling. And if they are willing to give it a place or appoint you the winner, better yet!

Competitions can take your writing to the next level

I also realised something else after I commenced my journey into writing competitions. We are more like athletes than I first realised: persistent, dedicated, constantly refining and improving our craft with a single-mindedness that is sure to drive those around us into fits of frustration and admiration (equally I hope).

There was a nice bonus too, which I wasn’t expecting. I don’t actually feel like I’m competing with these other authors. Instead, I feel honoured to be considered among their number and judged against their talent. Ultimately, it will all make us better writers in the long term. I may want to succeed but I’d like the other gifted writers around me too as well.

So after that pleasant burst of activity, I’m back to my corner of the world where I can sit in safety behind my computer and listen to my music and write. Because we’re not really competing are we? No? Not really. Good.

Glad we’ve got that settled.

What’s your experience with writing competitions? How have they helped or hindered your writing?

3 Replies to “Writing competitions: why you should take part”

  1. Great post, Belinda! Yes, definitely enter in writing competitions! I won First Prize in Family Circle Magazine’s 2011 Fiction Contest. I wasn’t even going to enter it but I pushed myself to do it. From there, I got the confidence to publish my book The Mom Who Took Off On Her Motorcycle. So yes, go for it!

  2. I’m going to sound negative Belinda, and you can probably guess why. I’ve never won or even got close to winning a writing prize. Are these people blind, can’t they read how good my words are?

    That’s usually what I say after a rejection. The truth is, people judge prizes, and their likes and dislikes probably hold sway over most other criteria. I’ve judged poetry prizes, and it was the poems that appealed to me most that I selected.

    I’ll assume it’s the same for most judges. Great content and a well-written story will also be part of those criteria, I hope. Many times, I’ve found it’s the quirky stories that win prizes. Plus, there seems to be a leaning towards stories that include a social issue that win. Like the recent Age short story prizewinner.

    But, as they are the only game in town, you have to get in it. Unless you get a publishing contract.

    1. Hi Rob, thanks for visiting my blog and sharing your thoughts – you make some great points.

      I agree, judges will bring their own likes and dislikes to the process, it’s unavoidable. Here’s hoping the competition organisers ensure they do their best to select the most appropriate judges.

      The same way writers research publishers for their suitability before they query them, the same approach can be useful when searching for writing competitions. It’s difficult if your writing or genre doesn’t neatly fit into any of the competitions out there.

      I wonder if it’s all that different to dealing with publishers? They have their own set of criteria, yet they are readers too and bound to be influenced by their own likes and dislikes.

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