Why Writing Contests Are A Win-Win

pie eating contest, 1923, image courtesy Library of Congress, public domain

I want to be a writer when I grow up. To that end I’ve done a lot of new things: I’m writing, of course. I also took classes, started a blog, read a lot of books, participated in critique groups, did some public speaking, took a research trip, and in November I entered a contest. It was a short story contest for my state affiliate writing group to encourage participation in the state writing competitions. Since it was a 500-word story, I thought I’d try it. 500 words and they give you the line it must start with – no sweat.

Oh, you naive thing, you.

I brainstormed and got four rough ideas for a story. Which to choose? I ended up working on three of them. It’s hard to write a limited amount of words and still convey what you want. I invested a lot of work and finished before the deadline. It cost $5 per story to enter. After I finished, the debate began.

Self: “I don’t think these are very good.”

Self: “I think they’re pretty good.”

“It’s waste of money.”

“But you might get more money.”

“No, I’m just going to embarrass myself.”

“It’s good writing.”

“But not good enough.”

“You can do this.”

“A professional is going to read this and laugh.”

“You’ll never know if you don’t submit.”

Even after getting good feedback from family and writer friends, I was hesitant. The final argument in the self-debate put me over: “If you don’t believe in yourself no one will.” So I wrote the check and sent in all three stories.

A month later the contest winners were announced. Out of nearly 30 entries, one of my stories won Honorable Mention. And no one was more shocked and thrilled than I when one of my three stories won Second Place! My prizes included a certificate and $40. So I got a little return on my monetary investment, but I got a big return by shrinking my inner critic/Resistance.

What I found most valuable were the scoring pages that were returned with my stories. I learned more about my strengths and weaknesses as a writer. Now, does this mean I’m over it and can submit anything anywhere? No, I’m currently working on a contest story and having some of the same internal conversations. But I will push through and submit. My goal is to submit to five contests this year.

Every writer should try a writing competition of some type. There are several benefits in my opinion:

  • confidence booster
  • work with a deadline
  • makes you push past fear and Resistance
  • professional feedback
  • wake up call to shore up writing weaknesses

Thinking about entering a writing contest? Here’s some good information to help:

Rhonda Hopkins answers the question Writing Contests: Are They Worth It?

Read Jody Hedlund’s Why Bother With Writing Contests?

Read this article from Writing World that gives tips to spotting writing contest scams with Writing Contests: When Winners Are Losers

Want to find a contest to enter?

Check out Just A Contest that keeps a large listing of legitimate contests.

If you want to get your toes wet with a friendly no-stress writing contest, go check out my friend Sandy’s blog Ars Longa Vita Brevis where she is running a short story contest through January 31st. $25 gift card to Amazon or Barnes and Noble is the prize.

Question: Have you ever entered a writing contest? What was your experience? Would you try again?

18 thoughts on “Why Writing Contests Are A Win-Win

  1. I haven’t entered a contest but I do read about them! (hey, it’s a step…) I think a 500-word story sounds incredibly difficult–something longer would surely be easier. I recently wrote a 300-word piece for a publication that had just this little bit of space, and I barely had time to take a breath when I ran out of words. Congratulations, both for entering and for earning some prizes!

    Judy Stone-Goldman
    The Reflective Writer
    Personal-Professional Balance Through Boundaries


    • Thanks Judy! I have been learning to write more succinctly by blogging, but when I write some type of fiction the words go on and on. Working with a word limit was a real challenge for me. I’m not a big conversationalist, so I think I get my daily word count out in writing words instead. LOL


    • I was surprised there weren’t more entries as it is a large and talented group. More chance for newbies like me, I suppose.

      I am always tempted to try my luck with the lottery when I see one of those wins with all the zeros after them, but I am too practical (read:cheap) to try. 🙂


    • Thanks, Natalie! I was smiling for about a week. I think most creative types need all the self-confidence we can get, we tend to lean the other way and be too self-critical most of the time. Of course there is the occasional hack with the ego two sizes too big, but I think that is the exception rather than the rule. Self-confidence is important for writers when we get to the point of having to put our work out there and sell it, so if we can nurture it with things like writing contests, it’s all good.


  2. Have I told you lately that you rock my socks? If I say I’m proud of you, do I sound too motherly? I have some contests in my sights. You have inspired me. 🙂


  3. I entered two short stories in a contest years back and one won second place. I thought the story that won second place was terrible. I thought the story that didn’t place was the best I’d ever written. Go figure!


    • Isn’t that funny? The story that I liked the best of my three was the one that didn’t win anything. That’s another thing to remember when entering contests: craft is part of what you are judged on, but part of it is also going to be someone’s personal opinion so we have to be careful to give contests their proper weight in deciding whether our writing is ‘good’ or not.


    • Thanks for offering the contest! I haven’t written anything YET, but have been ruminating several ideas. I think your theme/prompt has a lot of possibilities. I’m excited to see all the stories that come in.


  4. Good for you Kristin! Contest judges do give valuable feedback. Sometimes I’ve had to wade through comments given by someone who was having a very bad day (writer friends helped me through that one) but you can’t let that stop you. I’ve lost, won second and have been a finalist in some of RWA’s chapter contests. I’d love to try a short story contest in the future. Whole new animal though.
    Keep entering!


  5. Kristin — Thank you so much for mentioning my blog. 🙂 And congratulations on the honorable mention and the 2nd place! I think that’s the best part. When others acknowledge your talent. Of course WE all know you have talent just from reading your blog. You made a lot of awesome points here. Loved it! One thing I’d advise to your readers though is not to get caught up in continually editing/polishing the same two or three things and sending them in over and over again to the detriment of actually writing something else and finishing the manuscript or starting a new one. I forgot to mention that on my blog post. But I sort of got caught up in that crazy cycle and I know several others that have as well. Learn from my mistake folks and don’t waste time. Not to mention that it took a long while for me to actually LIKE reading those pieces again and being able to look at them with fresh eyes. 🙂


  6. Pingback: Sharing is Caring: My Weekly Finds | Barbara McDowell's Blog

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