On Thursday last week, I decided to research writing competitions and found one to enter. The deadline loomed in 72 hours — how’s that for intimidating? It’s been a while since I entered a writing contest and figured it’d be good to flex my short story muscles. It helped that I had a good idea and not much slated for the weekend, so I dove right in. I ended up learning quite a few things.
You have to strike while the idea is hot. If you have a good idea, get as much of it down as you can when it hits. Take a timeout, brainstorm it, scaffold it, let the creative juices flow. I was lucky that I had a good idea right when I needed one, but what if I hadn’t? That’s why it’s important to always write down potential story ideas that you can use either now or later. You just never know.
Welcome to your box! Entering a writing competition is the writer’s equivalent of living in a studio apartment — you have to make use of every inch of paper. You have to IKEA the hell out of that space. You have to get rid of all the stray ideas your story collected but never seems to use. Because the space is so defined, you still have to leave room for the story to breathe. Word hoarders and idea collectors — consider this therapy. Or tough self-love.
Editing is like the movie SAW… just for writers. Writing competitions have word counts. They aren’t being cute about it. Test them at your peril. Write the piece the way you want it. Bask in its glow while you go get the scalpel. Then put on your scrubs, promise your story it will look so much better after a few little cuts, and get to work. If you hate to edit, if you think you can’t, if you think you will ruin a story by trimming the fat, you definitely need to enter a writing contest. It’s just like SAW: you can’t get out of the submission room until you’ve cut off something precious to you. It’s probably going to hurt, but your story (and your contest entry) will live.
Your words have wings. Let’s see if they can fly. Are you published yet? If not, this is a good time to see how your work stands up to criticism and critique. Some contests will actually give you feedback — look for those if that’s important to you. If you’re in the long haul of working on a novel and you want to test your skills on the masses first, then shove that little short story birdie out of the nest and let her fly!
I really love the story I wrote and I hope it does well. We’ll see! Win or lose, shortlist or not, it was a valuable experience. You don’t even have to pick a contest that requires a fee. Just running the gauntlet is enough.
Here are a few website with a list of 2019 open competitions. Give it a try — I promise you’ll win, if not the contest then at becoming a better writer.
From Jerry Jenkins: The Ultimate List of FREE Writing Contests in 2019
From Aerogramme Studio: A Guide to Short Story Contests in 2019
From Writing Competitions: Writing Competitions