Participating in a creative writing contest is a great way to catch many birds with one stone — especially if you are a new writer, or you have recently started exploring different niches or genres. Taking part in a contest can increase your visibility, boost your confidence, force you to improve your time-management skills, and help you take your writing skills to the next level. Should you win, you may not only enjoy a handsome sum of prize money, but also gain a great deal of prestige within your niche.
Finding creative writing classes or contests is easy — so long, that is, as you have an internet connection and know how to use Google. Pinpointing the right creative writing contests for you, and actually having a chance of winning is, however, a different kettle of fish. How do you do it?
1. Get Real About Your Niche
Have you always been attracted to fantasy-infused science fiction, and do you have a background in astrophysics? You could, theoretically, enter the Claymore Award — because what story doesn’t at the very least contain elements of mystery or suspense? Don’t try to make your writing voice fit the creative writing contest, though. Instead, choose contests that seem to be made for you.
What is truly important to you? What stories do you have a burning need to shout out to the world, rather than a willing reluctance to share? Commit to writing only those, and decide how well a writing contest fits your niche, rather than how expertly you could force your work to conform to the requirements set by a particular creative writing contest.
2. Use the Internet to Your Advantage
The first step would be to peruse one of the many long lists of writing contests taking place this year and taking an honest look at which ones may be right for you. The pro tip, however, would be to narrow your own requirements down, on paper, and then to search for them. Creative writing contests may be designed for writers within a specific genre, or they may focus on who you are as a person. Try to see what comes up for both. There are creative writing contests for mystery writers, personal essays, veterans, new writers, writers under 35, writers based in Iowa, and writers who promote cultural diversity, to name but a few. Make your list, and get Googling.
Once you find “eligible candidates”, read the submission guidelines very carefully and be honest with yourself about how well you’ll be able to do. Only sign up if you determine that the creative writing contest ticks all your boxes.
3. Determine Your Budget and Time Constraints
Many creative writing contests have entry fees. All require a time commitment as you either write a submission specifically for the contest, or edit a manuscript you already had. Have you just found the perfect writing contest, but with a deadline only a month from now? If you know you would have to spend months to do the subject justice, it’s not going to be right for you. Are you thinking of singing up for a popular creative writing contest with a hefty entry fee? Be honest about your goals. Those who simply want to hone their craft may have a better reason to participate than those who are in it for the prestige or prize money.
Writers who have never participated in creative writing contests may, on the other hand, want to sign up for at least one simply for the experience. You’ll build your skills and gain fascinating insights, whether you win or not. Once you know what you can expect, you will more easily be able to determine which creative writing contests are right for you.