Writing Competitions Can Boost Your Creativity

Updated on November 3, 2018
Stephen Austen profile image

S.P. Austen is an Independent author writing on a diversity of subjects and genres. He writes short stories, novels, and self-help books.

As writers, we're always on the lookout for fresh opportunities to put our work out into the ethers, especially since we have so much available to us via the Internet. If, like me, you have scoured websites online finding hundreds of sites devoted to writing, you will have noticed a great number of writing competitions where your work may have a chance of actually getting noticed.

Before computers came along, (those of us old enough to remember those punishing days) we had to type up our manuscripts and send them by post (Heaven forbid!) to writing magazines, publishers and agents and wait weeks if not months for a reply, if we were fortunate enough to receive a reply, and when we did it often would begin with "We're sorry, but your ms Yak Farming in the Himalayas does not meet with our publishing requirements at this time." In other words, bugger off, we don't want to hear from you again.

But, thank God, the Internet changed all that, and now we have wonderful formats such as HubPages where we can all get a small slice of the literary pie without chewing our fingernails off and waiting till Doomsday to get that beloved rejection letter. In addition, there are literally hundreds of websites dedicated to writing these days, some better than others, but many offering competitions and other opportunities to get your writing read and in print.

Image by: Free-Photos
Image by: Free-Photos | Source

Should It Cost to Enter a Literary Competition?

Well, I think that the more prestigious competitions most likely could not pay out handsome prize money unless it was funded by the entrants. If a top prize in a really prestigious literary competition like the UK's Bridport Prize, is running into the hundreds, or even thousands of dollars or pounds, then it has to be sponsored by an entry fee. I personally have never done this, as it is a bit like being a needle in a haystack because the whole world of would-be literary talent is clamouring to get in on the act.

Yes, you might win? What if? To me, it's too much of a lottery, and it isn't necessarily the 'best' writing that wins, but more what appealed to the judges. A twenty-five dollar or pound entry fee might seem worth the risk for some writers, but not for me. Thousands upon thousands of writers enter the 'big' ones. But if you decide to do this, my suggestion would be to only enter one such 'big one' once per year. Don't throw tons of money that you can ill-afford to lose at this. It's rather like gambling; yes you might win, but I suggest that you only pay out what you know you can afford to lose.

If I did pay for a competition entry, I would keep a limit on how much I spent over the year, probably entering comps that only require a nominal fee, like five dollars/pounds and not spend more than I was prepared to lose over the year. You can lose an awful lot of money in the writing world this way, so be careful.

Image by: JESHOOTScom
Image by: JESHOOTScom | Source

Free Competitions

Now we're getting somewhere; the freebies. I'm sure that a lot of the free writing comps are not worth bothering with, but the important point here is that if you don't get anywhere, then you haven't lost anything, especially these days when nearly all such transactions are done via email. It won't even cost you an envelope and postage, or the time taken to go out and post it off. No hassle at all to send it off by email, so why not?

Another good thing about the free competitions is that you may get into print or online editions of magazines, which can be excellent exposure for your work, and all publicity like this can be very beneficial. I have not yet won any competitions, but then I probably do not enter more than half a dozen a year, if even that many. I did get an 'honorary mention' in one competition recently, but it didn't make me any money. However, it does encourage the writing process when you know that what you write has been appreciated for its merits.

Also, the free competitions often have prizes of various kinds, mostly in monetary payments, and although these are often modest, they can range up to as much as $1,500. Most seem to average around one hundred dollars or pounds, sometimes less, sometimes a bit more. And of course, there are runners-up prizes too.

Image by: pasja1000
Image by: pasja1000 | Source

Inspiration

Perhaps the best thing of all about entering literary competitions is the fact that they generate inspiration. The reason for this is that they often set a theme for you. So, if you're stuck for a good short story idea, for example, and you find a free comp which wants to see your best Sci-fi story limited to 2,000 words, you can then set about writing it. Not only that, the word limit will train your skills in keeping only the essential elements in your short story, as the real art of good short story writing is knowing how to edit really well and yet maintain the integrity of the story as an enjoyable read.

Because there are literally hundreds of writing competitions out there, they cover all kinds of writing, from short stories to poetry to novellas, novelettes and even full-blown novels. You name it, it's out there. Then there are flash fiction competitions if you're in a hurry and don't want to spend too long on these projects. There are even competitions for writing travel articles! If we can't find inspiration from one source or another online, then we have to ask whether the writing world is for us?

Competitions Rule

I am not particularly competitive, but I think all of us writers must feel that little rush of excitement when we read that there's a good literary competition afoot, and it has a decent prize, (especially if it's free) and the creative juices soon get flowing when we read what the competition is looking for; this is especially so when the comp is 'right up our street' on a theme that we love to write about. I normally enter competitions (again, probably less than six per year) that really appeal to me, because of the subject matter or genre. I never bother to 'try' and write something that just does not appeal to me. That is a recipe for disaster and will lead to the disappointment of mediocre writing.

So, always pick a competition that has that ring of 'that's for me' about it. If you like writing Westerns, and find a comp that wants to see a good Western short, by God, go ahead and send your shoot-em-up story in. Do you mostly write Romance? Okay, there are lots of women's magazines clamouring for good romance stories, and they'll pay for the best ones. Barbara Cartland wrote around 100 romantic period novels, and they sold like hotcakes. I wouldn't do it, no matter how popular they are, because the very idea would nauseate me and bore me stiff, so it wouldn't work. But if that's your thing, go ahead and knock em' out!

The message as always, is write what you love, and match the competitions with the genre that you know and like and are comfortable with. You then have a good chance. Or, if you like to go out of your comfort zone, you could, of course, attempt to write in a completely different genre for a change, and you might surprise yourself. For example, a Science Fiction story may not need to show that you have a degree in Rocket Science and just requires a good inventive imagination. Try it. Don't be afraid. If you're not spending a fortune, or if it's free, then there's really nothing to lose, and you'll learn a great deal.

Image by: ElisaRiva
Image by: ElisaRiva | Source

What Are the Best Websites for Writers?

There is no easy answer to this, as you must find what works for you. Some are good, some are bad and others are downright ugly, so you must learn some discernment. Also, what works for one writer doesn't necessarily work for another. I suggest just going online and writing in key search words like 'Writing Competitions' or 'Free Writing Competitions' etc in order to find what you need for your literary expression. Save them to your 'Favourites' if they seem promising. You can always delete the unfavourable ones later. I have 200 websites in my 'Favourites' that are either publishers or other writing-related sites, as well as literary competitions.

Finally, many of my own stories (on Amazon and SmashWords) started out as short stories that I entered for competitions. Some of them evolved by themselves, after the competition, into novelettes, novellas and novels. These were stories that I might never have written had I not been inspired to enter them in competitions first. You might be amazed by how your own writing skills develop just from a little application by entering a competition. My advice is—do it!

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 S P Austen

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      • Stephen Austen profile imageAUTHOR

        S P Austen 

        4 months ago from Qualicum Beach, BC, Canada

        Well done, John, on at least winning one competition! I'll check out the group that you mention and see if that works for me. I'm glad that you enjoyed this article. Best wishes, Steve.

      • Jodah profile image

        John Hansen 

        4 months ago from Queensland Australia

        Great advice here Steve. I have only entered two competitions that had an entry fee. I didn't win of course. I probably enter two or three free competitions a year now if they are free and the subject suits. I did win one competition to write a love poem and have it turned into a song and recorded. and had another short story selected and published in an anthology about war veterans. I subscribe to Freedom With Writing which is a site that lists competitions and magazines etc that pay for written work of various sorts.

        I love the writing challengesand prompts issued by some of our fellow hubbers here. I always find they offer inspiration and are fun.

      • Stephen Austen profile imageAUTHOR

        S P Austen 

        4 months ago from Qualicum Beach, BC, Canada

        Hello Poppy,

        As I said in the article, I cannot list competitions as there are simply too many, and one person's experience of any comp is not the same as another's. Once you do a little research, you can normally tell whether they are legitimate or not by the fact that they run competitions regularly, or they do not charge a fee, and they show past winners. Results are normally seen in their online magazines or print magazines too. Yes, it is hit and miss, but the scam artists are more likely to charge because otherwise there would be no point in them doing this. But by no means does this mean that all competitions that ask for a fee are scammers. Try exploring online and get a 'feel' for what the comps are like. Best wishes, SP Austen.

      • poppyr profile image

        Poppy 

        4 months ago from Tokyo, Japan

        I worry that some writing competitions are scams. I'm not really worried that people will "steal" my work - I don't have that high of an opinion of myself, haha - but just about wasting time. How can you tell whether a writing competition is legitimate or not? And do you have examples of annual free competitions that you could add to this article?

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