I sometimes submit my work to writing contests. And I sometimes wonder why. Though I want to win, I don’t really expect to. This isn’t self-deprecating; it’s realistic: I write nonfiction and most of the contests I enter are for fiction. So why do I do it?
To Stretch Myself: Many of the contests I enter are through Writer’s Digest. Their challenges are fiction focused. Though I have only recently pursued fiction, stretching myself now will pay off later. Plus memoirs, which I also write, borrow from fiction techniques, so that’s another bonus.
To Try Different Genres: The first contest I entered was for poetry. I don’t write poetry—or at least I hadn’t since my teenage years. The opportunity to dip my toe into this genre appealed to me. Even though I didn’t win, my work made it to the finals. This encouraged me to pen more poetry, and I did publish a subsequent piece. I’ll never be a poet, but poetry is a nice diversion.
To Learn: Each submission is a learning opportunity. In some cases, judges offer feedback on our work. This is a great opportunity to grow as a writer. The contests I’ve entered so far, don’t provide comments, but comparing my submissions to the finalists and winners show me how I can improve.
To Celebrate: If you win (or are even a finalist), this is cause for celebration. And if it’s put on by a prestigious group, winning is an impressive addition to your resume. Plus, for all the aspiring writers who talk about submitting but never do, mere participation is a reason to cheer.
To Win: For some contests the payoff is bragging rights, others award prizes, and some include publication in a magazine or book. The tangible rewards are compelling, but for me they simply represent an added bonus.
Have you ever entered a writing contest? What were your motives and expectations?