What’s the point of Writing Competitions? a newbie writer recently asked me. Ah, well, I began…
A few years ago I won a writing comp run by a well-known writers’ magazine and I was absolutely flabbergasted. Straight up. Had no confidence in the story, grammar was beyond dodgy (IMHO) and when I read it now I’m still not sure why it won. No matter how well you construct your story, as well as the judges’ decision being final, it is all **SPOILER ALERT** subjective. Yes folks, you heard it here first – subjection is the name of the game. (Along with rejection.) (But we can leave that miserable, life-sucking, soul destroying ‘tion’ for another day…)
So, Subjection: Based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes, or opinions.
You’re not wrong there. As if getting the right story, the right word count, the correct format, the hook, the hanger and a hell-of-a-story all in the same place at the same time isn’t hard enough, we’re still hostage to the judge’s opinion, thought or taste. And when you’re up against that lot, how does anyone win anything?
A recently carefully crafted and painstakingly put-together story that didn’t win a competition sits awaiting another chance in a folder marked ‘Next Time’ (gotta be positive), but having read the one that did win (and its runner-up siblings) I’m at a bit of a loss. Really? I say to myself. Why did that one win? It’s a) not about anything b) not that well written c) not what the remit was at all! Frustrating! Since my win, (so long ago now I don’t think Instagram even existed at the time) I have tried to replicate that winning formula – which itself is a bit of conundrum as I wasn’t sure why it won in the first place. May be because it wasn’t the usual run-of-the-mill horror story. No blood or guts. Or ghosts or vampires. Just terror. Possibly. Who knows? I can’t answer that.
But as granny used to say, it’s not the winning that counts but the taking part. Now, the alphas of the species may not agree – no point in taking part if you’re not going to win they may say, so with that logic as there can only ever be one winner, keep on keeping on. Keep on trying. Keep on writing and entering; hone your craft and write better every time. And if you’re not sure that you are improving, ask for help. And start small; it can be a costly enterprise entering lots of competitions. And if you can find some free ones, even better. Even the ones without prizes are worth a go because it means you’ll be working your hardest to get it right. And for the big guns – the national writing competitions that offer more than just remuneration – do a bit of research on the judges. £10k first prize with a judge whose own books include a history of tanks and paintballing in the West Country probably won’t be that interested in a book about Billy Bunny Tail who got lost in a city and ended up stuck in the revolving doors of a large hedge fund bank. But then again, who knows? All so subjective you see…
The Squat Pen Rests writing comp
Reflex Fiction – international competition
Bath Short Story
Thresholds competition – free to enter and £500 1st prize!
Pen to Print poetry and short story competition
University of Sunderland – closes March 1st 2018
Weekly picture prompt c/o Creative Writing Ink UK
The BBC Short Story Award