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June 17, 2012 / diannegray

Writing for Competitions

I started writing seriously when I saw a competition advertised in my local newspaper (yes – that was a few years back!) Before that I’d just been mucking about trying to write a novel that seemed to be going nowhere – in fact, I think I still have it printed out on old paper somewhere in a drawer collecting dust. I’m glad I printed it out because my laptop was stolen a couple of years ago and I didn’t keep backup copies of anything (I did after that).

That first competition was for a short story and I’d never written a short story. I thought I’d try one with a twist because I’d always loved movies where you get that shock at the end that you never saw coming. I wrote the story and entered it. No one was more surprised than I was when I won. From that moment on I was hooked. I told one of my friends who was also a writer and she said it was silly getting so excited over a minor competition and I should enter the major competitions, like the Harper Collins / HQ one. I felt a bit deflated. It was obvious she wasn’t nearly as excited as I was (as I got older I realised this is something that seems to happen to writers a lot! If there’s one thing I know, it’s to be proud of what you’ve achieved no matter how much the people you think you trust tell you otherwise).

So I wrote another short story and entered it into the Harper Collins competition. Again, it was liked and ended up in the book of winners for that year (Harper Collins ‘Enter’). I wrote another one for Harper Collins the following year and it was shortlisted as well. I wrote short stories for about ten years and each year entered them into competitions. I guess it was a game I played to try and win one a year, which I did.

Then a couple of years ago I decided to get back to novel writing. I think the short story training was an excellent basis because a novel seemed so easy after that. With short stories you have to describe people and places in one sentence! In novels you can use pages. I’ll write more about this soon.

Again, I entered my first novel into a competition but got pipped at the post by a book of poetry. But at least I came second so I knew I was heading in the right direction.

Something I’ve learned about competitions is that you have to make sure they’re genuine. Have a look at previous winner’s stories and don’t pay too much money! Some competitions are set up just to make money and those are the ones I avoid.  In Australia the Scarlet Stiletto is a great one for short stories, most universities hold writing competitions for short stories and Amazon have their Breakthrough Novel award.

Last words – never give up! I had one short story that got nowhere in a minor (local competition) and I didn’t know why because I thought it was pretty good. I didn’t throw it away – I entered it into a national competition and it won. Even though I enter competitions I actually write purely for the love of it (and the demon on my back) and that’s what it comes down to in the end.


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