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?
Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!