Twenty-one years ago, this month (last week, in fact), I won a short story competition in Writers News. Little did I know then that I would later go on and become a regular columnist in the magazine. Nor did I even think that five years later I would have a published book (heck, I hadn’t even had the idea for the book at that stage!).
But one thing I did know at that point was that I had a little more confidence in myself as a writer. (Not a lot, but definitely a smidgen more.)
And that’s one of the reasons why competitions are important. They offer something similar to publication (and can even lead to publication). They offer a third-party validation of your writing skill.
If an editor publishes an article or a short story in their publication, then someone else has deemed it of publishable quality. Someone else has recognised the skill in how that particular idea has been developed and written. The same goes when you win a competition.
Competitions can become important stepping stones in our writing journey.
Emily Bullock won the 2011 Bristol Short Story prize with a piece called My Girl. Here she explains her reasons for entering this particular competition.
‘The Bristol Short Story Prize seemed like a prize open to taking risks. I was attracted by the diverse range of writers that they had published before. I considered them a prize that would respond well to powerful material. I wouldn’t advise anyone to write to please, but it is important to think about who might respond well to your voice, once you have the work completed.’
For Emily, this competition proved a useful, writing business career step. Not only did she win, but her story was published in the competition’s regular anthology.
‘I was approached by an agent at Johnson & Alcock in the November after the anthology came out that summer. They said they were impressed by the story and wondered if I was looking for representation and had anything I would like them to read. I sent in my novel and received a reply saying that the agent was leaving the agency, but wanted to pass the submission to a colleague. I thought that might be the end of it, but that colleague, Ed Wilson, met with me and signed me up.’
It also led to other opportunities:
‘Winning the Bristol Short Story Prize 2011 was such a great opportunity. BSSP’s promotion and publication of my short story helped me to get broadcast on BBC Radio 4, and find an agent, which led to an offer of publication for The Longest Fight from Myriad Editions.’
You don’t have to win a competition to gain from it. After all, every piece of writing we undertake helps us to develop our writing skill. Being a runner up, shortlisted, or even longlisted, can boost our confidence significantly.
So the next time you come across a writing competition that piques your interest. Don’t just look at the top prize. Consider what it could do for your writing career too.
(And if you’d like to try your hand at a short story competition, my writing group is running one: details here: https://wrekinwriters.wordpress.com/doris-gooderson-short-story-competition/)