When I was a young creative writing student I used to keep track of all the writing contests. I’d bookmark the contest pages on the websites of all the literary magazines. I’d make lists of due dates, word count limitations, themes, restrictions. Sometimes I’d even print out the submission forms. But did I ever actually send in a submission? Well…
If you’re a new writer, a writing student, or just nervous about sharing your work for the first time, submitting your story or novel to a writing contest can be incredibly daunting. You might find yourself coming up with any excuse to avoid actually submitting your work. You’ll convince yourself that your story isn’t polished enough, your first chapter doesn’t have enough of a hook, you don’t know how to write a synopsis, your plot is too racy, too boring, too cliched, too embarrassing. If you work hard enough at it, you’ll probably be able to convince yourself to give up this writing business altogether, because your writing will never be good enough to be shared with the world.
But that would be a shame.
Taking the leap from hiding your work to sharing your work can be gut-wrenching, but it can also be one of the most rewarding experiences for an author. If you’re leery of hitting that submit button, here are five arguments for entering writing contests to help you take the plunge.
You’ll Never Know Until You Try
You might suck. It’s possible. Maybe your book is absolutely terrible and the judges will laugh their heads off as they send your manuscript sailing straight into the trash. Or maybe you’re the next Ernest Hemingway. The fact is, if you never share your writing with anyone except your cat, you’ll really never know. Sure, by keeping your stories to yourself you’ll avoid the sting of rejection, but you’ll also never feel the joy of having a reader tell you that your book made them cry, or laugh, or taught them something about themselves.
Putting yourself out there can be frightening, but it can also be thrilling and rewarding if you happen to win that grand prize. After doubting yourself that much, just think of what a surprise it would be to be told you’re the best of the best!
Nobody Has To Know
Are you hesitating about entering that short story contest because you’re worried about the humiliation of losing? Afraid you brother will mock you, that creep in class will smirk, your mother will say I told you so? Well, here’s a tip. Don’t even tell them you’re submitting. Like a nervous high school student applying to colleges he doesn’t think he’ll get into, it’s easy to submit your manuscript to writing contests electronically or by mail without anyone being the wiser. There’s no need to add on the extra pressure of other people’s expectations. If your book isn’t chosen as the winner, or even a runner-up, it can be your little secret. And just picture the looks on their faces if you happen to win!
Think About That Prize
One great way to get over your fear of entering a writing contest is to focus on the prize. Is there a big monetary reward? Or the promise of being published in a magazine for the first time? Or a book deal? Whatever the prize happens to be, just think about how much you want it. Sometimes just imagining yourself winning is a great motivator to get off your butt and make it happen. It might even energize you to give that chapter one last re-write. Don’t discount the power of your dreams.
It’s Great Practice
If you’re really serious about being a writer, you’re going to have to face the terror of submitting again and again. Do you want to make money from your writing? Are you hoping to one day quit your day job and do this writing gig full-time? Well, I hate to break it to you, but none of that comes to you by magic.
To get published you need to send your manuscript around, to publishers, to agents, to friends who work at publishers, or friends who know agents. You’ll need to get your book beta read to make sure there aren’t any plot holes. You might even want to get it edited before you start sending it out. A lot of people will have to read your writing before that book deal comes your way.
Thinking of self-publishing to avoid all that rejection? Well it turns out hitting that “publish” button is a lot like hitting that “submit” button. It’s scary as hell.
Avoiding this part of the process isn’t going to do you any good if you really want to make it as a writer. Eventually you’re going to have to bite the bullet and put yourself out there. Entering a writing contest is a great place to start.
Don’t Let The Fools Run The Show
One of the best reasons to submit your book to a writing contest is ego. No, not your ego. I mean the egos of bad writers. You know who I’m talking about. His stories always feature himself as the main character. He’s positive he’s about to get a book deal. He emails the president of Harper Collins directly to ask why he hasn’t gotten published yet. He’s basically insane, but he knows how to type words on a page.
This guy will definitely be entering the writing contest.
There’s only one thing that can stop this guy and his planet-sized ego from getting what he so firmly believes he deserves, and that’s you. Just think about it. If all the great writers convince themselves their writing isn’t good enough, then the only people applying to these contests will be the crazies, the narcissists, the hacks of the world! It’s up to you to stop their inane stories from taking over. You cannot let them win. You just have to enter the contest, and that’s final!
When I finally got up the guts to submit my work to Geist Magazine’s Literal Literary Postcard Story Contest, I ended up winning first prize! I remember how proud I felt when I asked them how many other authors had submitted (250), and how much money I had won ($500), and when the magazine with my winning story would come out. I was on cloud nine for days. And to think I’d almost not submitted at all because I was so sure my writing wouldn’t be up to snuff. I was so glad to be proven wrong, and you will be too.
But only if you stop your whining and enter that contest!