Winning and Losing Writing Competitions
My favorite poet Emily Dickinson sent her poems to The Atlantic Monthly Magazine in 1862. Editor Thomas Wentworth Higginson promptly rejected them. That rejection inspired more poems. The communication turned into a relationship based on poetry that went on for many years.
If there’s a chance the winner might only receive a virtual pat on the back, why do people enter writing competitions? They might lose. Sending your writing to a competition involves risk. What if nobody ever acknowledges them and they have to contact the magazine to see who won? I did that. Sometimes, only Grandma and your husband will know you won that gift certificate or a Famous Writers tote bag. Do it, even if all you win is a note saying your work is promising.
A writing competition is where a person submits a piece of writing by the deadline following the submission guidelines and paying a fee. Different publications and contest sponsors have varying standards. The judges likely have favorite things to look for or that one thing that catches their eye. Judges may have diverse lifestyles, experiences, or education. Submissions are often read first by assistants before sending their choices to the judge. Prizes may include money, from ten dollars to thousands. Your writing could win publication. The prize could be a subscription to the magazine or a free course. Don’t forget that part where your name appears in print. If you’re lucky, your photo could be featured. The word “winner” looks good on a resume.
One of the best things I said to myself after I lost a prestigious contest is “I’ll show them! Just wait until next year. “
One of the best things I said to myself after I lost a prestigious contest is “I’ll show them! Just wait until next year. ” Even losing a competition for creative writing at the county fair caused me grief. ” They’ll be sorry. The State Fair has a better prize anyway!” I have lots of dialogue and pep talks with myself. After all, I’m a writer. Who else is going to listen to me analyze why my writing wasn’t chosen? Was it that word I changed at the last minute? Can they tell how old I am by my writer’s voice? I guess they wanted a younger person. Was my poem too conservative or too artistic, or too political, religious, personal, or contained too many foreign-language words? A woman ridiculed me once because I lost a poetry contest. I composed a great comeback on the spot. Being a winner means continuing to do what matters. It shows you’re alive and you didn’t let life defeat you!
Then there are the questions about what my writing was “not.’ Not creative enough, not contemporary enough, not relevant, not rigid enough, not original enough, or not bold. I didn’t make the judges cut since I was afraid to go outside the boundaries, whatever those unspoken boundaries are, those boundaries that are really what the judges say they are but never stated in the guidelines. Maybe my story was offensive since my poem talked about a sensitive topic. My novel had things that might trigger a reader’s anxiety or cause bad memories. I forgot to include trigger warnings at the front of the manuscript. How am I to know what will trigger another person’s anxiety? What about the thousands of years since writing was invented and the author just wrote whatever was in their mind?
“They’ll be sorry. The State Fair has a better prize anyway!”
I’d be crazy not to use my education. I love writing so much that I majored in creative writing. My dream was always to be a writing teacher. I used examples of writing competitions in the classroom; the winners, the losers, the good and not so good, even though they were officially the winning submission. We discussed many of the things I’m writing about today. My students worked in groups to critique winning entries. They judged each other’s writing for fun. They learned where winning poems and stories are published. Students researched literary journals, magazines, online publications, and competitions sponsored by libraries and schools. Entering all those competitions gives the writer practice in editing, proofreading, and other valuable skills.
Why do I continue entering competitions after suffering so much doubt about myself? I might give up writing forever and take it easy. What good does it do to hit the submit button again after feeling so hurt when my manuscript wasn’t chosen? What makes me sure of my creative talent that I write cover letters and check to see if I used the correct font or spacing? I remember my Dad’s favorite answer when my sisters and I would fail at something. Try, try again, he’d remind us.
What have I won? I’ve won honorable mentions, third place, and a critique. Two of my stories were published in an anthology. Three of my poems are now included in the Indiana State Library’s Hoosier Author Section. I won a scholarship to a writing course in Lithuania. There’s more as they say on those late night info-commercials. My writing resume keeps getting better and better.
Here are the links to read my poems on the Indiana State Library website.
HI Kay, thanks for sharing your thoughts about entering writing competitions. I must admit that writing competitions have really helped me with my writing career an awful lot. I had only ever written picture books for children when I saw a writing competition on a fellow blogger’s blog. He was a successful writer and I was inspired to enter a story. I wrote a story for an older child and entered it. It won an honourable mention in that competition which was very encouraging. The following year, I entered a horror story in the competition (all of the best paranormal and horror short stories were to be included in an anthology so there was a ‘prize’ of sorts for everyone who wrote a decent story). I never got anywhere in the competition but my story was included in the anthology and I was invited to write another for the same anthology. This is how I started on the road of writing for adults. Amazing, when I think back.
I’m glad you liked my thoughts about writing competitions. I like to read biographies of writers. A common theme is competitions. That little voice that whispers “Do it!” brings out my competitive spirit. One day I feel like turning off my computer for good, then the next day I’m studying guidelines for the next contest. Thanks for replying to my blog post!
My pleasure, and I am the same 😊