by Kris Maze
January is a time to reset the clock and to check in with our fountains of creativity. To use the cliché of pumping our thoughts out like water, we have a limited resource of creativity and, when neglected, it can also run dry. But if you are a regular reader of this blog, you are probably inspiring your muse and keep a healthy creative balance.
In this post, I will write about 8 hidden benefits of joining a writing contest. Whatever your experience level with writing competitions, you may find new motivation to try one.
Want to follow up these reasons and try a competition? Browse lists of competitions at the end of this post. Familiar with writing contests? Do you know of ones that I’ve missed? Tell us in the comments and share with our readers.
If you have been grinding away on a project, switch up your focus and write a short story for a contest.
I was introduced to NYC Midnight by other writers here at WITS. We have competed side by side a few times. It’s great to have a person to commiserate with. It is good to utilize our collective knowledge of various genres.
According to their competition descriptions, each contest holds a writer to very specific constraints. Writers get three prompts, depending on which challenge they join, like genre, action, character, setting, object, subject, or a word. They have a time frame ranging from 8 days to 24 hours to submit their work. They also have a tight page or word count. This challenge both freaks out the writer when they get an unexpected element and/or pushes them to expand their writing skills.
Again, NYC Midnight challenged and encouraged me as a writer. Reasons I found this valuable include the following:
Many contests are genre specific. A quick internet search of “writing contests” and “mystery” brought up several articles showing 55 contests and more for 2023. Search for your specific needs. There may be a contest directly related to the work you are looking to showcase.
If you have a short story, entering it into contests is one way to shop it around. Winning entries are often published in contests, giving your story—and your list of publications—a boost.
Get ready to rumble and put your finest work out there. Writers tend to submit their best work, so competition can be tough, but motivating as you polish up your own story. Let the competition energize you and have fun with it.
Most contests have experienced judges that will read through and select the winning entries. Many of these contests offer a feedback option regardless of who wins the prizes. Search for the ones that do if that appeals to you. Getting commentary on what worked in your story can be a valuable part of the contest process.
A little research can help you get the most from your writing contest experience. Think over these considerations before submitting your work.
There is a trend in writing contests to only join free contests. The idea that there are many more entries than prizes can raise some eyebrows, but holding a contest has costs writers should pay attention to as well.
Writers may live the creative life without always receiving pay for their work, but it doesn’t mean they should. If a contest is held by what you deem a reputable organization, it may be worth supporting them.
Many online services charge the organizers fees for submitting entries. There are also many costs associated with hosting a contest and keeping the information readily available online, on a website, and throughout social media. Think of ways to your entry fee can inspire other writers by keeping contests open and available.
Writing contests vary. And so do the needs of each writer. These aspects may help a writer decide on which contest they want to join.
The bigger the potential prize, typically the more entries and higher level of competition
Smaller contests are great chances to get noticed. Local contests can connect writers to other writers and editors in your community. This could lead to more writing resources and friends nearby.
Putting your work into a contest can get exposure of your work to others in your area of interest. This is especially nice if the judge will also provide feedback.
You may not be able to enter your work into another contest or publish it if you have put it into certain contests. Always check the entry rules carefully.
Check the entry rules carefully again. It wastes the time of judges (and potentially your money) if you haven’t matched your work with what the judges are looking for. You may have a suspense spy story, for example, but the contest is looking for stories that depict the noir and crime elements of that genre. Save yourself and the contest judges' energy by only entering contests that match your story well.
Writers UnBoxed has many great resources for writers. This post gives detailed reasons to join and lists prizes and benefits of each contest. Here is a list they recently posted: Fiction Writing Contests Worth Your Time in Winter 2022-2023 .
Reedsy has articles written by editors and has many insights into the publishing industry. They also host a weekly contest with a prize of $250 and a chance to be on their blog. Here is their list of writing competitions curated by Reedsy: The Best Writing Contests of 2023 .
Poets & Writers is a nonprofit magazine that offers a list of writing competitions here. This post allows the writer to filter the contests by fee, genre, and deadlines.
Writer’s Digest offers several contests and requests that writers enter through their Submittable Portal. According to their description, this long-standing staple of writer knowledge has been offering contests for over 90 years.
“Honoring writers across a variety of genres and formats, including short pieces (fiction and non-fiction), poetry, performance scripts, articles (print or online) and self-published books, Writer’s Digest has a competition to highlight your work.
Winners are eligible for cash prizes, free trips to our ever-popular Writer’s Digest Annual Writing Conference, promotion in our print magazine and website, and more. “Writers Digest Online Magazine
This is just a starting point for finding writing contests. Look online for your genre with a simple search. Check the websites and publications of your favorite writing organizations (local, regional, national) for chances to submit your work. Look to your library and community colleges for other opportunities.
Writing competitions can bring new energy to your writing process. Try a contest and maybe it can bring positive changes to your writing career.
Please brag about your successes below in the comments and share the benefits writing contests have provided you. New to contests? Let us know if you are planning to try one and we can cheer you on.
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Kris Maze is an author, writing coach, and teacher. She has worked in education for many years and writes for various publications, including Practical Advice for Teachers of Heritage Learners of Spanish and the award-winning blog Writers in the Storm where she is also a host. You can find her horror stories and young adult writing on her website. Keep up with future projects and events by subscribing to her newsletter.
A recovering grammarian and hopeless wanderer, Kris enjoys reading, playing violin and piano, and spending time outdoors.
And occasionally, she befriends trees.
Copyright © 2023 Writers In The Storm - All Rights Reserved
Seems to me there is a difference between entering a competition (with limits such as prompts: "an alien story about a dog, a potato, and a fireman") vs. applying for an award - such as submitting to one of the award organizations for Romance novels.
In the first case I would expect to write something new following the instructions given, and in the second to submit a work written or published in the award's timeframe and genre but with the actual details up to the writer.
The former will have to be shorter, and can get you thinking; the latter can be novel-length and something you've been working on for ages.
The best part of these contests might be the additional feedback, but winning an award can give a writer confidence that can't be earned any other way: judges liked your story enough to choose it over a slew of others.
Or in other words, many are the entries, few the winners, so there must be something special about the chosen few.
That effect lingers, even though it may not lead, certainly not immediately, to sales. The recommendation of people you'd like to be peers with is an formal anointing of your writing choices.
It could get expensive. It may not be the best use of your time or your resources. You don't NEED awards, and can write fine without anyone's approval.
But it FEELS good when your writing wins that approval and receives a prize. It just does.
The brag: when the first novel in my mainstream literary trilogy, Pride's Children: PURGATORY, was named 2021 Best Contemporary novel by Indies Today, it was a validation of the fifteen years that went into its creation and writing. And yes, it was emotionally satisfying - after a number of years and other competitions - to feel understood, because autodidacts don't get that from teachers or workshops.
Alicia, you make so many good points, but I mostly LOVE your brag -
Pride's Children: PURGATORY, was named 2021 Best Contemporary novel by Indies Today.
It is emotionally satisfying and validating, as you stated. And sometimea that is just what a writer needs. 🙂
Contests can, yes, be expensive, but valuable if chosen wisely. And many are free.
I agree with you that it isn't always the best use of writerly time if it takes away from your core writing. This year I stepped away from a couple of my favorite challenges in order to focus on my WIP and websites.
I appreciate your thoughtful answers and attention to our work here at WITS.
Alicia, congratulations on your award-winning news! How wonderful.
I enjoyed reading your perceptive thoughts about competitions versus awards. In an industry filled with nuance, you've deciphered things with impeccable precision.
Well done, and congratulations again.
Great lists and suggestions, Kris.
Your #1 reason, Don’t Let the Creative Pump Run Dry, is stellar. Even if not for a contest, changing your focus for a while can break through thought blockages and get you back on the path.
I have to slow down to refill often and it is almost always leads to me writing better quality work.
Kris, what an excellent resource for writers! I love how you covered some of the nuanced differences (and similarities) between writing contests and book awards. Requirements can sometimes be tricky, and reward can appear in different ways.
These programs can be used to gain recognition for your work, keep your skills sharp, and hone your creative skills.
Beautifully written. Thank you for sharing.
I was published as contest runner-up the first time I entered a writing contest.
This past October I was published for the fifth time. Once again, my entry was a runner-up in a writing contest and published as a result.
I've entered other contests where I didn't place, but I've always found value in the feedback, if given. I also have participated as a judge in a writing contest.
If you find one that's a good fit, and it's not too expensive, it's definitely worth it!
PS. The first book won several "Best of" awards, too.
Yay!! I have always found tons of value in the feedback from contest judges. Since most of them are not paid, I am always so honored with their labor.
Contests are usually how I find out how well my book is doing what I set out to do. Did I get the story across? Is it believable? Are the places that yank the judge out of the story?
Those are all super powerful things for the author to know.
I had a bad experience with a contest that left me soured on them in general, but I've been having a lot of fun entering all of the World Anvil contests lately. With this post from you and learning from Hannah recently, I'm starting to think about maybe getting back into contests! Thanks for this, Kris!