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Writing Contests: 10 Tips for Creating a Winning Entry

Aug 17, 2007
There are literally hundreds of writing contests open for entry at any time of the year. There are contests for every genre and level of experience -- from amateur poetry writing contests to competitions for published novels.

Some of today's top novelists, magazine writers and screenplay writers got a kick start in their careers by entering and winning writing contests.

Here are 10 tips that will help you position your entry to become the next WINNING entry!

1. Follow the Rules. Read them once and then print them out and read them again, this time with a highlighter in hand. If the rules are in a miniscule font, copy and paste them into your word processor and then increase the size of the font until you can easily read it. At risk of repeating myself, be sure to FOLLOW the rules. If it says 500 words or under, you will likely be disqualified for submitting 501 words.

2. Examine previous entries. If the contest organization posts or publishes the winners from previous months or years, read the winning entries. You may get insights into the types of stories and the writing styles that have caught the eye of previous judges. Are the winning entries experimental or conservative? What style(s) did the judges move towards? The idea is not to clone last years winning entry, but to get an idea of the overall direction that the judges appear to prefer.

3. Submit more that one entry. Judging a contest is an extremely subjective process. Submit several entries. Make them quite different in content and style. Your favorite entry may be totally bypassed by the judges. The entry you thought to be the weakest could take a winner's ribbon simply because it evoked the right response from the judge(s).

4. Polish your entry. There is no hurry. There is ALWAYS another contest or another year. Never rush, and never enter a contest in a rush. Unfinished work always looks like unfinished work. Take whatever time you need to polish your entries and only enter when you feel the work is totally finished for now.

5. Write on Schedule. Good writers practice their art. They write regularly and are always learning. Set aside some time every day for your writing. You may only have 15 minutes a day. That's OK. Over a month only 15 minutes a day will add up to almost 8 hours!

6. Read good work. Good writers are usually voracious readers. Don't just passively read, take action, make notes on what you like. Pay attention to how your favorite author describes a character or a location. If the book is your own, make notes in the margins. Highlight sentences, descriptions, and passages you love. Focus on your weak areas. If, for example, you are weak on dialogue, analyze what your favorite authors do. How do they keep out of the "he said, she said" trap?

7. Create a Work Space. Your workspace could be at home, in front of your computer in the kitchen, or it could be in a coffee shop with your notebook or laptop. Your workspace should inspire you and be conducive to your writing. For some that will mean a totally quite space. Others can create a cocoon of inspiration in the midst of chaos. One of my favorite writing areas is MacDonald's during the morning coffee rush! If I lack inspiration, all I have to do is look up!

8. Opening word, sentence, and paragraph. Your opening should immediately grab the attention of your audience. In a contest, your audience is the judge. You have a lot of competition sitting there on the judge's desk. If you don't capture his/her interest right away your entry will quickly go into the rejected stack. Rewrite and polish your opening until you are sure it will keep the reader moving onto the next and then the next.

9. Format. Whether you are writing Haiku or a screenplay, there are accepted formats. The format may be specifically outlined in the rules. If formatting (i.e. double spaced lines) is not specified, do some research and find out the formatting conventions for your specific genre. For example, if you are submitting to a screenplay contest you must use screenplay-formatting protocols. If you don't know what these are ... find out!

10. Enter. One of the saddest tales is "I had this great idea, BUT I never got around to it. It probably would have won. I should have, BUT you know, life got in the way." Yes, life does get in the way. BUT winning writers find a way to get their writing done in spite of it all!
About the Author
Melanie Rockett is THE Contest Guru. Visit her website for more information on entering and winning contests, and for information about DOZENS of current writing contests.
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