Thursday, October 22, 2009

Why I Love Losing Writing Contests

If you find yourself staring at the wall, reciting your query letter verbatim, wondering if you should change the structure of sentence 3, why not enter a query letter contest? I'm going to enter the Kidlit query contest over at literary agent Mary Kole's site.

How do you feel about writing contests? As the books-as-babies metaphor goes, entering writing contests is a bit like entering your kids in pageants, no? Then again, some of these contests are just plain fun. For instance, I'm writing a short story for the Genre Wars over at the Literary Lab, and--dork alert--I'm enjoying it.

Every year I say I'm going to try to win the Flannery O'Conner Short Fiction Award, and on the eve of the deadline, I find myself shivering on the floor, blowing my nose in the discarded pages of my short stories, wondering why I try--but every year I also do a ton of revising to get those stories in fighting shape. To me, contests are just motivation to do SOMETHING.

Here is what I have accomplished by losing several contests this year:
  • I revised a pile of pages into a semi-finished novel that I later finished.
  • I wrote Chapter 1 and a synopsis of a second novel.
  • I wrote a short story from the point of view of a secondary character in my novel. In doing this I learned so much about him--why he wants to be a doctor, how he feels about his mother, that he learned to be compassionate when he was a scared little boy who had to be extraordinarily brave to save someone he loved.
There's more, but that's enough. The point is: I may have done these things anyway, but probably not. I didn't win a damn thing, but my contest-entering was not in vain.

Do you enter writing contests? Worth it, not worth it? What are the best writing contests? What makes a writing contest worth your effort?


  1. I love writing contests. When I first started writing seriously, the first thing I did was enter a bunch of contests. Writer's Digest, Cheerio's and many more. I lost at all of them. But, it does spur me on, it helps me to keep writing when I think I'm done. :)

  2. I entered one writing contest--kind of. I was in 11th grade and my teacher submitted my BEACHCOMBER paper without me knowing about it. It won some kind of national award and they announced it over the PA system during the morning announcements. Back then I was too emabarassed and caught up in my HS drama to think it was cool. Now, I wish I would've kept at it.

    Contests are scary.
    You are my brave role model.

  3. I haven't done any yet, but I would consider it. I'm working on a short story now, and will have to see how it might fit into open contests.

    oh, and I definitely want to swap shorts once I go over mine with a sharp editors brush!

  4. I've never entered a writing contest (actually maybe I did when I was in elementary school). They are scary. Go MARIE!!!

  5. I've entered a couple. The PNWA I liked because you receive detailed critiques and the contest has a good reputation and a reasonable entrance fee. The other one I entered--The Alaska Writers Guild Scholarship Contest--I ended up winning a scholarship to their annual conference. And, there was no entrance fee for the contest.

  6. I like the 24 hour Writing contest, and I just mailed in my entry to the Mary Shelley contest last week.

    Contests are fun, in my opinion. It's like gambling with a good hand. There is that excitement of holding something that might win.

  7. Oh, it's so wonderful you let these things help you grow, and that you have fun! I can't wait to read your entry for Genre Wars. Of course, I won't know it's yours until all is said and done. :)