Sunday, September 29, 2013

Grand Experiments

     “Hi, this is Chris from the CATS contest.  I’m calling to tell you that your piece, ‘The Grand Experiment’ has won first prize.”

     Affirmation for one’s writing may come from a variety of sources.  For some, their stories, poems, or articles are accepted and published in a magazine or as a book.  Others write their memoirs for their grandchildren who laugh in the right places and cry at the sad parts.  Many create their own writing blog and have “followers” who thank them for sharing their thoughts.
For myself, if I’m ever wondering whether my writing is actually any good, I enter a writing contest.  Raising three children who require most of my time and energy does not leave a lot of time for writing the great American novel.  Usually I’m content with the short stories and poems I produce for friends, family and the local groups for whom I volunteer.

Every once and a while, though, as a writer, I crave outside confirmation that says, “Yes, you are a writer, and you are a good one, too.”  When that happens, a writing contest is a wonderful place to receive such encouragement.  Not only do I receive calls like the one above which sets my heart tingling with excitement, but usually a monetary prize follows the phone call which sets my husband’s heart a’tinglin." And often, your piece will be published in a magazine, a writers’ newsletter, or online.

A writing contest enables you as a writer to do several things:  It helps you to hone your writing skills because you want your piece to stand out from the others.  It encourages you to write carefully,  since there are word count limits.  It provides an opportunity for learning how to write for a deadline.  It gives you a reason (“I could win money, honey!”) to do something you really want to do anyway which is to write.

Some points to keep in mind, though, if you want your foray into writing contests to be successful:

1.  Enter contests which fit your style of writing.  If you have never written nonfiction, you may not want to enter a nonfiction writing contest.  If the contest wants you to write about a theme you don’t like, don’t do it.
2.  Follow the contest rules exactly.  If the contest is asking for a short fiction piece, don’t write a memoir.  If they say 1,500 word maximum, they mean 1,500 maximum. If they want you to write about WWI, don’t write about WWII.
3.  Look up the previous year’s winning piece.  Reading it will give you a sense of what the judges might be looking for in a “winning” piece.  It may also spark some ideas of your own.
4.  Don’t enter a contest that asks you to pay an exorbitant amount of money.  Many contests are free, and just as many have processing fees between $5 and $35.  If they are asking for much more, it may not be legitimate.    
5.  Don’t take it personally if you don’t win.  It doesn’t mean you are not a good writer.  It simply means they received multiple submissions and had to choose one.

     For anyone who wants to try their hand at a writing contest soon, Writer’s Digest is holding their annual “Short Short Story” contest.  Information can be found at

Paula Castner

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