Last weekend was the annual NAWGFest writers’ weekend, full of fantastic workshops and talks. The highlight is the Gala Dinner on Saturday night when the women dress up and look absolutely stunning, and the men dig out an old shirt they once wore for work a few years ago.
It’s at this dinner that the winners of NAWG’s writing competitions are announced. Judges, like myself, have read all of the entries, cogitated, considered and then picked a winner and some runners up. However, none of the entrants knows which of them is the winner. All they know is that they’ve been shortlisted.
The ceremony begins after everyone’s eaten, and this year’s NAWG President, Lord Fellowes of Stafford came along to open the envelope and announce the winner. (Actually, Lord Fellowes explained that at the BAFTAs and Oscars, it’s incorrect to use the phrase ‘And the winner is…’. The correct term is, ‘And the prize goes to …’) So now you know.
The winners collect a lovely glass trophy, worthy of any mantlepiece (I have one myself – a trophy, I mean, not a mantlepiece) and runners-up receive a certificate of their achievement.
Competitions should form part of any writer’s business. They:
Encourage you to write more material. Every time you write something new you give yourself the opportunity to improve your skill.
You have a deadline. Commissioned writers are given deadlines, but if you’re at the beginning of your writing journey, or in a ‘fallow’ patch, commissions aren’t always easy to come by. Competitions give you that deadline. It’s a focus.
You don’t have to win to receive a moral boost. Being longlisted, or shortlisted, is an achievement in itself. It might not be the result you were wishing for, but the judge liked your work enough to consider rereading it again, comparing it with other high quality material. It means you’re on the right track.
It can offer opportunities. Some competitions provide feedback, or critiques, which can be a useful way to get someone else’s perspective on your work. (Magazine editors are not in a position to do this.) Alternatively, the fact that you’ve won, or are publicised as a runner up, can bring new opportunities your way. Literary agents, for example, sometimes review winning/shortlisted work. In a feature I wrote for Writing Magazine last year, one interviewee explained how she was taken on by an agent as a result of winning a short story competition.
Competition placements help build your writing curriculum vitae. Publishers and literary agents take note of competition placements, especially if they’re relevant to a bigger project that you’re working on. Won a travel writing competition and are currently writing a travel book? Perfect! Been runner up in a national short story competition and have written a novel? That’s interesting, because someone else has judged your work to be of interest. It all helps build a profile.
And then there’s the trophy/certificate/prize money. What’s not to like about that? Nothing helps re-motivate you during those low moments than five minutes spent flicking through competition certificates, or polishing your trophies 😉 Someone thought you wrote well once … so you CAN do it again.
And if there’s an opportunity to go along to an awards ceremony, GO! Why not feel special once in a while?
So next time you see a writing competition, give it a go. Don’t dismiss it. You never know where it might lead.