In the age of the internet, an infinite amount of writing resources lies at your fingertips. From editing websites to online guides, anything you might need to help on your writing journey can be found. One such tool you might not have previously considered is the writing competition. A simple Google search will pull up a plethora of possible contests, all waiting for eager contestants.
I understand the apprehension of trying out a competition. We writers like routines, and breaking away from it can be frightening and stressful. However, competitions provide many unique opportunities, and can broaden your writing horizons.
Most online contests follow a similar format. After the sign-up registration closes, each participant receives a prompt. Everyone might get the same prompt, or contestants will be broken up into groups to receive different prompts, or everyone gets multiple prompts from which they can pick and choose. It’s up to the organization. Then, the writers go to town. There’s typically a word limit (I’ve seen everything from 100 words to 2,000), and a specific deadline by which you must submit the final product.
Once you’re done, you sit back, relax (to the best of your ability), and wait for the results. Waiting periods can take weeks, often due to lots of submissions. Then the winners are announced, and either you take home the prize or you don’t.
Cranking out a story with limited words and a strict time frame might sound stressful – and admittedly, it can be. But it’s also good practice. When forced to be economic with your words, you must be efficient and succinct in your storytelling. It’s an exercise in narrative clarity which translates to your other writing. If you can create a story with minimal words, you can cut your other works in progress down to the essential components.
Competitions also stretch your imagination with their prompts. Often, a specific genre will be included as part of the prompt provided. If you end with a genre you’re familiar with, great, but if the opposite occurs? That’s an even greater challenge, forcing you out of your comfort zone. These contests can push you to tell a story aside from your usual style, generating new ideas to explore later on.
Participating in these contests can provide you with important experience. As an added bonus, lots of online competitions offer the opportunity to receive feedback on your work. Hearing constructive criticism from people working in the industry can go a long way, granting you insight into your writing you otherwise wouldn’t know about.
The one downside to these sorts of competitions is cost. Most require an entry fee to participate. There is a chance to win that fee back upon placing, in addition to publication. But remember that competition can be steep. If you’re planning on joining online contests, make sure to save up and budget accordingly – you don’t want to break the bank over something like this. Also, check into the organization’s legitimacy. You don’t want to get scammed by a random stranger hoping to capitalize on a young writer’s passion.
Next time you’re stuck on a work in progress, take the time to search for upcoming competitions. Push your boundaries a little, and see where it takes you.
is a writer based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Graduating in May 2020 with a degree in English Literature with a Writing Emphasis, Ian writes comics, poetry, and scripts. He is currently an intern for The Brain Health Magazine and aims to work in the comic publishing industry. In his spare time, Ian plays Dungeons & Dragons, board games, and bass guitar.
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