Writing contests. Fun ways to focus your writing or try a new genre or style with a group of other writers all working toward a similar goal: to finish a thing. There’s also usually some kind of prize involved like money, publishing, editor’s reviews, or text acknowledgment of how much work you put into the piece that didn’t get chosen—a harsh lesson that not everyone wins. I know of some fun Facebook-group-driven contests that call for short stories (usually written in the comments of the contest post) and a few lucky writers will be chosen as “Winners” and their work highlighted for the hundreds or thousands of others who view that page.
What I want to talk about now, though, are more official contests that look for a specific length, style, and/or genre of story and offer some tangible reward for winning.
Contests are good for writers because they:
Offer a workable deadline.
- If you’re a runner, or you know any runners, you probably know that you often get the best, most motivated workouts when you’re training for a race. Why? There’s a goal. There’s a deadline. There’s a plan. You’re not just out putting feet to pavement in the cold and dark because it’s good for you (especially when it doesn’t always feel good), there’s a race and a half hour or so of attention from spectators cheering you on. There’s a bit of anonymous fame, a medal at the end, and bragging rights.
- A writing contest—at least for me—is similar. When I’m not reaching for a goal, I get lazy and I don’t really challenge or stretch myself. When I worked with a mentor, I constantly asked for deadlines as a method for getting my lazy butt into my writing chair and channeling some creativity onto the page. Now, I look for things like NaNo WriMo or the bitter disappointment of reaching yet another New Year’s Day without finishing SAAFire to act as deadlines for me.
- In a contest, other people are working toward the same goal and, while you obviously want to be the only top winner, it’s nice to have that community. Writing can be such a lonely hobby/profession/obsession. Competition brings people together. Sure, you’re together to write each other under the table, but it’s also to marvel at the wonderful things our competitors produce. NaNo WriMo is great for this because you can work on your own story in a group that understands how much sweat and blood and tears you’ve poured into it—just as you understand where they are coming from.
The Cash/Prize Money
- By a show of comments, how many of you are rich? How many of you make a living of your writing? Oh, that many? I thought so. Some contests come with monetary prizes, publications, and/or opportunities to be reviewed by people who can make the publishing and the cash thing happen.
- I do not pass up these contests when I know I can write something good for them. It’s just that, as a novel-writer, I don’t put as much love into my short-story craft so those opportunities are few and far between.
I thought about ending this post with a list of contests but, honestly, the list depends on what you write, how long it usually is, and a host of other factors. I would instead encourage writers to google writing contests for their genre (including deadlines associated with literary journals) and story-type. You’ll probably find a huge list and something that piques your interest.
What writing contests would you recommend? Leave a comment below!