One of the most effective ways to hone your writing skills is simply to keep writing! There are many opportunities for a writer these days to take part in writing competitions the world over, thanks largely to the power of the internet. A budding writer keen on improving his skills and image as a writer will seize the most appropriate opportunities as often as he can. This does not mean, of course, that one participates indiscriminately in every writing competition one comes across. That would be a stupid thing to do and extremely counter-productive.
Based on my experience and reading, here are a few tips to keep in mind, before you bang out your first submission for a writing competition:-
- Look Before You Leap: which means pick and choose carefully. You are investing your time and energy so zone in on only those which match your interests and strengths. The cash prize for a Poetry Competition may leave you drooling, but would you want to try when you have never written a poem in your life? If you have written romantic stories and are passionate about them, would you do justice to a fast paced action packed crime thriller? Another important aspect that you need to read through with care is what is stated as regards copyright, publication rights, re-publication rights and the like.
- Do You Qualify? : Yes, there are many terms and conditions that you would do well to read carefully. We don’t want our hard work to go waste because we haven’t read the small print, do we? Some competitions specify who can apply and what kind of material can be sent in. For example, it may state that applicants should be from the State of Texas or have lived there for 5 years. Your entry may be fabulous but you don’t qualify if you live in Kolkata and have never been to Texas in all your life. Likewise, some specify that material submitted should never have been published before, either in book form or even on an online forum. Others are more easy on these terms. They don’t care which part of the world you live in or whether your effort has been seen online or not as long as it has not already been published in book form.
- Follow Guidelines Scrupulously: Many ask for a fee and specify how that should be paid. All have time deadlines. Some specify the font you should use and what you should or should not write in your covering letter. Usually all of them detail how exactly submissions are to be made. The time deadline can sometimes create confusion if you are applying from the other end of the world. In your anxiety to send in your best effort, do factor in the time difference so that you don’t overshoot the deadline.
- Simultaneous Submissions: Some contests specify that your submission should not have been or should not be submitted elsewhere. Some don’t mind if your work has been submitted elsewhere. In any case, courtesy demands that if your submission is accepted in one place, you should immediately inform all those to whom you had originally submitted your piece so that they need not spend time evaluating it any more.
- Keep Track of Your Submissions: With so many opportunities you don”t want to lose track of what you have sent where. Use some document (an Excel sheet would work fine for this) to monitor your submissions. This will be a record of your efforts and you will know at a glance as to which have been rejected or are still in the pipeline for being considered. It will also help you understand what you need to do to improve your writing.
If you are attempting to write for a competition sponsored by a literary magazine (and there are so many of them out there), check the material they publish, the writing style and language used. These provide you with useful pointers as to what the magazine and its readers expect.
In “The Write Life”, Kelly Gurnett shares valuable information on, “27 Free Writing Contests”. Is this a place where you can start? If not immediately then perhaps the next time the competition is due?
All the very best in your efforts to win that writing contest!!