Improve your creative writing competition chances
Want your writing competition entries to impress judges and win prizes? Here are some helpful hints for writers with their eyes on the prize
Make it easy for the reader to see how good your story is
This means making your entry clear and easy to read: no spelling mistakes, typos or inadvertently repeated words and phrases. If there are formatting rules for the competition, follow them. No-one ever won a competition because their story was exactly the right length, in the right font, in the right line-spacing – but stories may get rejected before anyone gets the chance to read them if the writer hasn’t taken care that their manuscript conforms to any particular requirements.
Don’t draw attention in the wrong way
No-one ever won a competition, either, by formatting their manuscript in a fancy font, or putting it in a coloured folder. And no-one ever won a competition by contacting the judges and/or organisers and trying to establish a connection – has my manuscript arrived safely? When will the longlist be announced? Remember, at this stage they won’t know or care who you are or what your name is because the vast majority of competitions are judged anonymously.
Consider the brief
Think about what the competition requirements are. If it’s for a love story, ask yourself if your entry really fulfils the brief. If it’s a story for children, write for the target readership. If it’s an open competition, consider who is running it. If it’s a literary magazine, the chances of a straightforward genre story being the winner are minimal (although cross-genre work that plays with literary conventions may do well!). If it’s for a genre story, use your strongest storytelling skills to create the best story you can within that genre. If it’s for a sonnet or a ballad, make sure your poem really is a sonnet or a ballad. If it’s for a haiku, count the syllables!
Think about your idea
And think about it again. Bear in mind that if an idea springs immediately to mind, it may well have occurred to other writers. Hone your idea and plan the outline and arc of your story. Also, consider that whilst there might not be many truly original ideas, what makes a piece of writing stand out is the execution – the voice, the tone, the style. Make your writing the best it can be.
Think about what you can take out
Don’t send your first draft, even if – in fact, especially if – you’ve written it to a deadline for a particular competition. Treat your entry with the care it deserves. Have you over-written any parts of it? Made it over-wordy? Padded parts of it out to meet a wordcount? Spattered it with words that you wouldn’t normally use? Make sure everything in your piece of writing is there for a reason.
Remember you can’t fail
Even if you don’t win or get shortlisted, you have written something new. You’ve exercised your writing muscles and your creative brain, practised your storytelling skills, honed your prose-writing technique, tightened your ability to create a stanza… You’ve hopefully enjoyed the creative process, and learned something about how you work. You might have tried a new style of writing, and found you enjoyed it.
If your story or poem was a winner, that’s marvellous. Now write another one, and make it even better. If it wasn’t a winner, put it away for a while, and then come back to it and see how you could improve it. And in the meantime – write something else. You never know, it might be the real prize: it might be the best thing you’ve ever written. It might be the one that wins you a writing competition.