Winning Writing Competitions – Yes You Can!

Competition Success

Author/Editor Annette Young

By Annette Young

Writing competitions – they are a unique way of firing up your enthusiasm for the written word and sending your skill level to crazy new heights. Receiving notification that you have won a writing competition is pretty special. It’s like having your Christmas and birthday presents wrapped up in one sensational moment. You feel good. No, you feel great. More than a boost to your self-esteem, more than an eureka moment – what am I going to spend all that cash on? It’s confirmation that your writing skills are pretty good.

You can be a prolific writer and you can have the best technical writing skills in the world but it doesn’t mean you are going to win any writing competitions – why? Because to win writing competitions, you have to enjoy it. You have to look at the competitions that are on offer and think wow, I really want to have a go at that. Those with a theme are often easier if you are just starting out, or, if you just like having a trigger to springboard your creativity to new heights.

Having a passion for the written word is vital. Enjoying that brain pulsing moment when you take an idea and run with it and find out that hey, it’s a pretty good idea, well, that’s a great moment. You have to be able to live and breathe writing. To stand at the sink tackling the washing up when really, your mind is far away solving mysteries in the Caribbean, or enjoying an illicit preview of your characters clandestine affair.

But more than excitement, you have to be prepared to knuckle down and actually do the work. You have the ideas, you’ve narrowed them down, then you need to find your starting point. Depending on your word count allowance, your starting point might be very close to the end, but decide on this first of all and then let the words flow. Make the opening sentence dynamic. Choose your words carefully, make every one count. Just because you are a competition writer, it doesn’t mean you don’t embark on the whole re-writing element of the game. Change it, shine it, polish it. It represents you but don’t sit on it, doubting it until after the closing date.

Entering writing competitions enables you to put yourself out there. You are endorsing your work and saying, here I am. This is what I am about. Although your work undergoes a judging process, you, the writer are not judged. We know all about the writing journey and often, it starts with writing competitions like ours. The main element to winning is to enter in the first place. It’s as simple as that. You will never start to know how good you are until your work is circulating, doing the rounds. If faced with rejection, take another look at your submission. Could you have improved it? If yes, tweak it, save it and then submit it to another writing competition -assuming the story-line fits. When you write with determination and dedication, you will see  your work progress in leaps and bounds.

So can you win writing competitions? Yes, you can, you just have to dream up a captivating idea, enhance it, write it and then send it.

How to Win Short Story Contests

If you fancy entering and ultimately winning any short story contests, there are some things that you can do to get ahead of those writers who are all vying for those lucrative top prizes.

Firstly, if you are anything like me, you may be bombarded with masses of ideas and subsequently struggle to isolate any one idea before the urge to write profusely takes over, whilst it is great to be an ‘ideas’ person, it can also be very distracting and stop you from settling down to the task at hand. So, initially, you need to find the short story contests that appeal to you. There are lots of contests available right here  and of course there are many writing competitions available to writers worldwide that are easily accessible on the Internet. Some simple research through a search engine such as  will have a long list at your disposal.

So assuming that you have chosen the contest that inspires you the most,  now it’s time to focus that mindset and start triggering off those ideas that are relative. Approaching your goals with a clear mind and a steely determination to win is vital, if you wish to increase your chances of scooping a prize.I have seen first hand how those less experienced at writing, jump on the very first idea that pops into their heads and whilst, from a creative perspective, it can be good to give free rein to your thoughts, it will not in all likelihood, help you to win any short story contests.

Think about it, you will be up against writers of all levels, some published, some not, others may have already won a few contests or come close in the short listing stakes and this cannot help but have inspired them to work harder. You have to creatively outwit the other competitors by developing an outstanding idea and creating a tight, well-written entry that has the judges on the edges of their seats.

My advice ( as editor and judge) is to form your idea into a plot that is so strong that it simply has to be written. Make sure that your idea relates to the given theme (if any) and that your plot is not too complex. This might sound a bit odd as many people think the more involved the plot, the better the story will be but if you are working with a limited word count, you cannot overstretch yourself or find that you have used all of the available word limit and yet are still only halfway through your story.

This is why forward planning is essential. Make the most of this process and enjoy it, why rush?  Mull over a million and one variations if you have to- it will be worth it. Depending on the word count, it’s then time to think of your characters i.e. how many, how can you introduce them? How can you make them larger than life? Also, it’s time to define your starting point. Have you really got time to start at A, work to B and end up at C? Or are you going to jump straight in at B (at a crucial point) and hook the reader (contest judge) and lead them on a journey of your making. Think pace, make it flow and lead them to an ending that packs a punch.

It’s unlikely that your first draft will be your finished product. Edit, edit and edit again until you are really happy that your story is as good as it can be.Once you have checked for any potential spelling mistakes, check the word count and make sure that you are following the contest rules to the letter. You would be amazed at how many submissions fail to make the cut simply because the rules have not been adhered to. If you have missed the deadline, there really is no point sending your entry, whether you have paid for the fees or not. If the word count is over, start editing it again until you have cut out the unnecessary and have polished the remaining words until they dazzle the judges.

If the rules say paste your submission into the body of the email, then do not send them as an attachment. The rules are there to be followed and each submission is checked. Make it hard for the judge to put your submission down and move on to others.

It really is possible to win short story contests, follow my advice and you can improve your chances but just remember that, you have to give yourself the best chance possible to make your submission stand out from the crowd!

Good luck.