How to Win a Writing Contest in 13 Easy Steps
After having a story I wrote and loved and brought to my writing group for critique and refined and revised and had edited by a skilled writer #rejected by several publications (some that I knew where out of my league and some I thought were below me), I was fighting that failure feeling. You know it, some version of it, whether you’re a writer or not. It’s when that voice says “Hey kiddo, you gave it a good try. You did all the right things, sent your best work into the world and no one wants it. That story was pretty much the best thing you had in you, and if even that rag rejected you let’s save ourselves from any further embarrassment and give up now.” And less than 24 hours after that nasty voice spoke, I learned the same unwanted story was in the running to win a writing contest.
Suddenly, I’m revived. Just knowing that one person outside of my writing circle found that piece of work worthy of even moderate accolade has restored my faith in all that is possible.
Such is the life of all writers, I think. Perhaps the life of all creative people who dare to push their darlings from the nest. I’m the worst! I’m the best! I’m the worst…and so it goes. Of course, the sensible cells in my brain know a rejection only means that editor did not find my submission right for their publication at that time. Nothing more. It’s not a measure of my talent or worth as a human being. And, sadly, neither are the wins.
The lesson, we all know, is to keep submitting, keep writing, keep getting better because the little story that no one seemed to like could, just possibly, get published, build your audience, make that all-important connection to someone in the publishing world and provide a nice chunk of prize money to boot. Not that any of those things have happened yet, but for sure they won’t if I listen to the voice that says quit now.
I have yet to #winawritingcontest. Okay, I did win one minor contest several years ago for which I received an acrylic trophy that I could, at this moment, easily reach if I were to remove my fingers from the keypad. It sits on my desk to remind me not to take things too seriously and is covered with fortune-cookie fortunes held on by Scotch tape that say things like “You have a charming way with words,” “Success is in your future,” and “All things are difficult before they are easy.” However, my little story that could has made it into the top ten and will, at the least, be published. And after all the emails that began with “Dear Tammie, Thank you for your submission. Though we appreciate the hard work that went into your story…” ranking in the top ten of anything feels like a win.
And you can be a winner too! Just follow my 13 easy steps, offered free of charge, and fame and fortune will soon be on their way:
1. Rationalize that taking a break from finishing the revisions on your novel and focusing on short stories instead will somehow help you write a great book. After all, you’re still writing.
2. Decide you really do need to expand your platform if you’re ever going to get an agent interested in your still-unfinished book, and getting some short stories published is smart platform building. (It is, but that’s not really the point.)
3. Spend a few days researching publications and contests where you can submit those fantastic short stories once you finish them.
4. Write a bunch of stories, print them out, and throw the papers in the air. Whichever page you catch is the first one you’ll read to your critique group.
5. Pretend you don’t mind when your critique group points out all the flaws in your story.
6. Go home and cry while eating ice cream or anything with bacon. Or bacon ice-cream.
7. Take the best of their advice and make the story better.
8. Sit on it a few days, revise again. Revise again. Revise again.
9. Give the story to an editor. Revise again.
10. Repeat steps 4 through 9 with each of your brilliant, future-Pushcart-winning stories.
11. Obsess over the submission guidelines for every contest or publication you’re submitting to until everything looks like it’s written in Cantonese (unless you read Cantonese, in which case, substitute for a language you do not understand) and, finally, push the Send button.
12. Collect rejections. Tell yourself it’s not getting you down. Bacon ice-cream.
13. Repeat steps 11 and 12 until your story lands in the hands of someone smart enough to recognize your talent.