I was talking to a fellow writer at a recent book signing event, he was telling me he had never once, in all his days, entered a short story competition, though he had written many stories. His main issue with competitions was that you have to pay an entry fee. Well yes, you do, but it isn’t massive and it usually goes back out in prize money and in paying the judges. In some cases, such as the Magic Oxygen competition for which I have regularly been a judge, it goes to charity.
Not everything can be free is the message I suppose, some things have a value. That goes for the books which people have spent time writing and it goes for writing competitions too.
So I thought I would give you just a few reasons why I think it’s a great idea to enter competitions. I entered lots when I started writing, I lost most of them and won a few both large and small – here’s why I think it’s a good idea to enter:
It makes perfect doesn’t it? Well, it makes better at least. Some young writers believe they are great straight out of the box, perhaps a few of them even are. But one thing we all have in common is that we get better at a skill if we practice it and writing is no different from any other skill. Story writing is a perfect opportunity to get in that all important practice. If you write a story every month for a year then chances are they won’t all be bad, and if you do it again for a second year I bet you notice an improvement by the end of it. Entering competitions gives you a use for these stories.
Try new things
Since you are not committing your life’s work to a short story you can afford to play around with ideas and try new techniques. You might fancy writing a science fiction story say, or adopting a new point of view, or writing in the style of a favourite writer. Give it a go! You might crash and burn but who cares, it’s just one story you will write more. And sometimes these experiments work out well. I once wrote a story in the style of Jorge Luis Borges which was later published by an alternative American magazine – I couldn’t believe it when I got the cheque for that one.
And the feedback might simply be silence. But even silence can be valuable. It helps us learn that we have to work harder to push through and make our literary voice heard. But sometimes you also get actual words of advice from competition judges, especially if your story is shortlisted. Having the humility to take this on board and learn from it can be a real road to development I think.
Learn to accept rejection
It’s tough to win story competitions, lots of people enter so it stands to reason that often your story will lose. That’s not a bad thing I think, it helped me grow a thick skin for when I started getting rejected by publishers, and that happened plenty before I found the ones who published my two novels. It hurts the first time, and occasionally later on if you think you have produced something good which has been overlooked, but in the end you learn to accept a knock back philosophically. And I can tell you from experience that a story which is ignored in one competition might go on to win another.
Sometimes you win!
That’s a great feeling, and it really isn’t all about the money. I mean ok, I once won the Bridport Prize and they gave me a cheque for several thousand pounds, and who doesn’t need that right? But I think the first story prize I ever won was about £100 and I was just as thrilled to win that at the time. Often you also get published in a competition anthology and seeing your work in print can be a big moment for a developing writer. There’s a sense of accomplishment and the knowledge that you must be on the right track. It’s great to know that judges who have read through hundreds, sometimes thousands, of stories, picked yours out as special.
If you have enjoyed this post and want to find out more about my writing, click here to download a free sample of my award winning novel Song of the Sea God and see if you agree with the rave reviews.
It’s difficult for a short review to convey the quality of writing in this astonishing story … I also found myself considering whether this is one of the cleverest allegories I’ve read.