Last week I submitted my manuscript to a couple of writing competitions and it reminded me how valuable these things can be.
I’ve had some limited success with competitions in the past, but each time it has given my confidence and my motivation such a boost.
Writing competitions are fantastic for a lot of reasons:
They give you a deadline
Anyone who has ever struggled with motivation will understand how powerful a looming deadline can be, especially if it is for someone else, something external. The self-imposed ones, while great in theory, just never seem to work as well because you’re only accountable to yourself and it’s all too easy to give up.
I was struggling to finish my manuscript earlier in the year when I made the longlist of an award. I had a week to finish off the final 15,000 words of the story and get it submitted. Suddenly I was flying, typing away into the night getting it done. It’s a powerful feeling, and it’s all down to that deadline. Excuses just won’t cut it when someone else is waiting for your book.
They give you feedback
Most competitions aren’t going to provide each entrant with a detailed manuscript appraisal, but some will allow you to pay a little extra for some feedback. Some even give you a few comments for free.
And if you’re lucky enough to find yourself on the longlist, or the shortlist, or even a winner, then you’ve got a pretty clear indication that your manuscript has promise.
They expose your work to the industry
A lot of competitions will be judged either by literary agents, or by independent publishers. This can be a valuable opportunity to have your work read by someone in the industry, whether they can offer representation or publication, or just feedback.
And when you start to send out query letters, mentioning any success you’ve had in writing competitions will make your work stand out from the other manuscripts on the slush pile.
They introduce you to other writers
Whether you’re communicating through Twitter or meeting in person at an awards event, being shortlisted in a competition can introduce you to other aspiring writers. This can create some fantastic camaraderie as you count down the days to the big announcement, waiting to see who the winner is.
It can also be a great way to find writing peers who might be interested in sharing work and giving and receiving feedback.
They inspire you to keep working
Whenever I enter a writing competition, during the judging period while I’m waiting to hear if I’ve been successful, I feel like I’m doing something. My work is out there, someone is reading it and I’m going to get some feedback, however brief.
Writing competitions help to punctuate those dead months in between drafts, when editing is a struggle and you’re operating in a vacuum with no idea what to do next. They remind you that you need to keep working; you need to have a goal.
And whether you win or not, each competition pushes you a little further forward.