Writing Contests: Friend or Foe?

Writers seeking recognition, validation, or those with a competitive streak: you’ve probably heard plenty of opinions on writing contests, good and not so good. I’m going to throw my opinion in the ring since I’ve a few writing contests under my belt, so I know a little something. Maybe very little, but still.

Were the contests I entered worthwhile? Yep. That’s because I didn’t enter contests with large fees or that appeared illegitimate (per this site and this one).

I entered my first one when I was ten years old. I submitted a poem about horses to McCall’s magazine. And received a certificate of recognition. It felt pretty good.

Fast forward a few decades. I wanted to write a book, but didn’t know how, what, where or much of anything. But I stumbled across a writers’ contest sponsored by the San Francisco Writers’ Conference. The winner would attend the conference for free. I entered the first chapter of something festering in one of my drawers. I dusted and sent it off. And surprise! I won. That win changed everything. When I attended the conference as the winner, everyone seemed to think I could write. For the first time, I thought I might be able to pull it off.

Fast forward a year later. I had a nearly finished manuscript for a mystery novel. I entered another contest with no entry fee. The winner would win $500 to be used toward taking a writing course. To my great surprise, I won! It felt wonderful!

I’ve also entered contests with small fees, lost and received let-down feedback. One of the four judges gave me a very low score. She made it clear she didn’t like the writing (this was the same manuscript I’d used to win the scholarship). Two judges gave me okay scores and one thought the manuscript was perfect! I learned the importance of not focusing on negative feedback and that opinions are subjective.

Would I enter a contest again? Sure, if the price was right. Contests can be confidence boosters, learning experiences and notches in our belts…if we choose carefully and not take any feedback too personally.

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