Why would you enter a writing competition in the first place?
One reason to enter a writing competition is to force yourself to write. Theres nothing like an impending deadline to focus the mind. If you’re like a lot of writers or aspiring writers then you are inclined to put things off – you’ll write when … the washing is done, the shopping is done, the footie’s finished … you get the drift. A whole lot of ancillary activities push themselves into prominence when the thought of sitting down at a blank page surfaces.
Another benefit of entering a writing competition is to get a sense of how well you write and whether others enjoy your story. If you are selected in the finalists or win a prize then that is validating you as a writer – and it doesn’t matter how small the competition is or how few words you wrote – you made a difference and the judges liked what you wrote. Pat yourself on the back, wear the glow of the achievement and get back to writing the next entry.
How to improve your chances of winning a competition?
Obviously, entering is the first tip. Printing out the entry form along with the Terms and Conditions is an absolute first step but it’s no good if they get lost in the paraphernalia on your desk and you never actually submit an entry. Sounds basic but I’ve ‘lost’ comps before because I simply forgot about them. Set up a digital and physical folder to keep comps in so you don’t lose them.
So the next thing to do is to pen the deadline in your diary – even if you’re just thinking about it. If you then decide to enter you can use that end-date as the starting point to writing. Work out how many days/weeks you have plus how many words are required and map out a plan to schedule your writing time for that entry.
Before you start writing, check out the Terms and Conditions. Really check them out. Highlight key points – open/close dates, maximum word count, them if any, purpose or reason for the competition (that gives possible clues on what content is expected), layout requirements, how to submit eg online, email or by post.
On words count, note that it is normally a fixed word count not a recommended one. So, if the entry requires up to 2000 words and you send in 2001 … you’ll be automatically disqualified without a look-in. Usually word count excludes Title, but check! The same goes if you send in 500 words for a 2000 word comp. Make your entry close to the required word count but never over it.
Layout is important to follow too – again, another opportunity to be disqualified. If the Terms ask for Times New Roman 12pt double spaced and you send in 10pt Comic Sans single spaced, you’re increasing your chances of being tossed without being read.
Meeting Terms and Conditions is the first hurdle in getting through to the winner’s circle. Organisers go through each entry and cull the ones that don’t meet terms. Is the entry on time? Is it in the format we require? Is the word count at or close to what’s been asked? Have they paid the entry fee if any? Are other conditions met eg eligibility, theme etc? These are the first round questions, before your entry being submitted to judges.
“But I wrote a really great story!”
Follow the rules. If you’re unsure about anything ask the organisers or see if they have some FAQs that might clarify things for you. Bear in mind they usually get hundreds if not thousands of entries and can’t respond individually to everyone.
When it comes to writing your piece, think about what the organisers are looking for, think about what the typical writer might write about in response … and then position yourself to do it a little differently. Twists, quirks and unexpected entries are noticeable and that can be a good thing if you are on target with your entry in all other respects.
Once you’ve written your entry, sit on it for a bit then go back and see if you can rewrite it and tighten it even more. Remember to edit and proofread before hitting ‘ submit’. Give yourself every opportunity to put in your best entry.
Seriously, there are no magic words to winning a writing competition, but you’d be surprised at the number of people who fail to give themselves a fair chance by not meeting requirements, or not even submitting! Don’t be that person 🙂