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Writing Contests

I recently submitted to a writing contest. The NYC Midnight: Short Story Competition, to be exact. It was scary, it was difficult, but in the end I felt so much better for choosing to stand up to the challenge.

Have you ever thought about submitting to a writing contest before? If not, I would like for you to consider this quote from late sports journalist, Howard Cosell. He said, “The ultimate victory in competition is derived from the inner satisfaction of knowing that you have done your best and that you have gotten the most out of what you had to give.”

Isn’t it so encouraging that when you do something, follow it all the way through to completion, that you are rewarded with a great sense of accomplishment? I full-heartedly agree with Cosell in this. Sometimes, that’s all I need to keep myself moving as a writer. Just knowing that I took the time to write a story and submit to a contest makes me feel that I’ve accomplished something, even if it doesn’t end with a winning story. You know why? Because it forced me to write. Not only that, but it forced me to write outside of my comfort zone.

Let me break it down for you, as many contests have different standards as far as entering a story. The contest I entered, for instance, has three rounds. The first round only recently ended this last weekend, and I have to wait about a month and a half ot hear back from them. Talk about anxiety!

As said before, some contests will force you outside of your comfort zone as a writer, as this one in particular did. But that’s a good thing! If you don’t write a certain genre and they ask you to do so, just do it! If anything, you’re exploring unknown territory and adding to your talents as a writer. You may have to do some research and may have to sit and think a lot more than you’re used to, but in the end you will do the best that you can. And as Cosell said, you will be happy in knowing that you did your best.

So, for this contest I was assigned the task of writing a short story in the drama genre. The story had to involve a sous chef and a garbage collection. What? Yes. And I had eight days to write it. It was stressful, but in the end, I felt so good in forcing myself to do that.

What about other writing contests? Not all contests out there consist of three rounds and make you write a story specifically for that contest. For example, Writer’s Digest hosts several different contests each year. One in particular allows you to submit a story in the category of your choice, which means you can submit something you’ve already written. Great, huh? If you feel inspired to submit to something like this, I suggest you do a heavy read-through of your work and edit the heck out of it. Again, I feel the need to reiterate my opinion on writing contests. They can be highly motivational, and can only encourage you to continue to get better as a writer.

In regards to competition, actress Deepika Padukone once said, “For me, competition is good; that is what keeps me on my toes and keeps me going. I am always trying to better my own work, do better than my earlier films... do films that are challenging and exciting for me.”

Yes, she speaks on films and acting, but this can be directly applied to our work as writers. If we don’t challenge ourselves, we won’t get better at our art. She makes a great point when she says that she is competing with her earlier self. Isn’t that something we should all strive to do? Pick up one of your earlier pieces of writing. Does it suck? That’s great! You know why? Because you are recognizing something that only someone who has grown and developed their talents would see. That is proof to yourself that you have improved, and that you can continue to improve in your work as you continue to write.

Now that you know a little bit about different contests out there, let’s talk about resources, as far as finding the right contest for you. Writer’s Digest, as mentioned before, has some great ones to submit work to. There are also many sites out there that will list “best writing contests”, as is the case for the Chanticleer website. They have a list of contests that would result in some seemingly prestigious awards, and it might be worth looking into. Another source might be that of free contests, where you don’t have to pay an entry fee. The Write Life has a list of such contests, and I will list resources at the bottom for your convenience.

I must stress: ALWAYS READ THE FINE PRINT! I agree with blogger Victoria Strauss, who has noted that not all contests out there are worth the risk. Noting some such contests, she said, “There's also the risk of bad stuff in the entry guidelines--such as the MeeGenius Golden Owl Contest, where simply submitting constitutes agreement to publish and acceptance of a publishing contract that claims rights in perpetuity.” There are definitely contests out there that have a hidden agenda, and I encourage you to look into it before submitting.

So, before submitting to a contests, be wary of what you are agreeing to. It may be beneficial to even read reviews from previous contestants to see if there seems to be anything off about the way the contest is being conducted.

I hope that this blog has given you guys some things to think about. Namely, the benefits of submitting to good, wholesome contests out there, and how they can help you in your writing career.

Challenge: I encourage all of you to seek out writing contests online and submit at least once! I’m not saying you have to choose one of those that forces you to pay an entry fee and so on. But, you will feel accomplished for taking the time to enter something, and may have the opportunity to speak with the judges to discuss your work. What have you got to lose?


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