I have a friend* who is a very good writer, as well as being a writing coach and teacher. When she was first starting out, she would sometimes send me some of her pieces to edit and review before she submitted them… to writing contests.
At the time, I had not yet ventured into the world of publishing at all, and I remember wondering why she was submitting to contests. So she could get… what? A feeling of validation? From some obscure literary press no one in the real world had ever heard of?
I was too shy (or judgemental) to ask.
But now, here I am, seven years later, submitting to literary contests. Why?
Here are my own reasons, presented in a way that moves from the bottom of the motivations pyramid, to the top.
1. Possibility of good payment.
This really is the number one reason I first became interested; I’ll be honest. Some contests, like the Bridport Prize, offer great cash prizes, for very low entry fees. Many of us have been writing for years, without payment. Wouldn’t it feel awesome to get paid for some of our work?
Yes, validation… I’m not proud of it, but this would be my second biggest underlying reason. I know it’s not the most noble reason. But many of us are still these imperfect humans that feel we need a bit of encouragement to get on with things. Many past winners of prizes mention that succeeding gave them the sense of encouragement they needed, to keep moving forward with their dreams and goals. Getting “official” recognition and getting paid both make it easy to validate and support the continuation of our creative efforts.
3. Points for the ol’ CV.
For writers, each publication success or contest win is another point for the resume/CV. It’s what bios are made of in the writing biz. If we have a couple of wins or publications in our achievements list, all kinds of doors begin to open. We may be asked to teach a class in creative writing, act as reader/editor, or be offered other great writing-related job opportunities that further both our own writing experiences, as well as the writing journeys of others.
4. Supporting top-notch literature.
When we pay a fee to submit to a literary contest, we’re effectively supporting the writing industry. For the price of a couple of lattés, in some cases, we’re helping ensure there will still be a market for avant-garde, artistic writing in the near future.
5. Access to high quality literature I may not have read the likes of until now.
To create great output, we need great input. Reading some of the anthologies gets me out of my addictive blog-reading habit and back into the special beauties of print-based publications. Older issues/anthologies are usually available on the contest websites, or via online bookstores, for very small prices, or sometimes even for free, as is this one from the César Egido Serrano foundation. Often I think I’ll just “dip in,” to get a feel for what kind of submissions a contest/publication is looking for, then find I can’t stop turning the pages. Reading exceptionally good writing, especially in the evening, just before going to sleep, helps me fill that “creative well” with high-quality ideas and words, which subconsciously preps me for my morning writing session.
6. Upping my literary game.
Reading the content in the anthologies, and even just reading the judge biographies or guidelines, can inspire us to write something amazing, and sometimes even innovate new forms. I loved this quote from 2018 Bridport Poetry Prize judge Daljit Nagra:
“The poem can be conventional or outlandish and show very few features of a regular poem. The only test of pleasure for me is to feel surprised, moved (logically or emotionally) and feel as though I’ve been on a journey. I’m happy to read poems about any subject matter and whatever tone suits so long as the poem commits to its own constraints and teaches me how to read itself. Above all, I want to feel the poet has enjoyed writing the poem, I want to feel their authority over the words and layout.”
That line about a poem teaching the reader how to read itself — wow! This helped me become more adventurous in my contest submission and try something new. I submitted a poem that was in a style I had never seen before.
Conclusion: Ultimately, though my original motivations were to satisfy base-level needs and wants, I find that submitting to writing contests enhances my creativity, courage, commitment, and feeling of connection.
Whether or not my submissions end up winning a prize, each time I hit “submit” I’ve already “won” in my own mind —I was creative, I was courageous, I made a commitment (to myself) and I stuck to it. These are all good practices on any journey, regardless of where it takes us. When I make a new piece, I often feel truly connected to creative spirit. And if one day I get an official win, I will have connected with other readers and writers on a whole different level.
And that’s the ultimate goal, is it not? To feel connected.
xo ♥︎ N
Process notes/refs: Written directly into Medium’s text editor over a period of several sessions. [*Edit 2020–05–02: Friend name and site links removed to protect the innocent. ;)]
Nadine can also sometimes be found writing at https://nadinejl.github.io/, contemplating the growing wasp nest in her skylight window frame.
If you wish to contribute and/or show appreciation, please clap and/or comment. Thank you for reading. 🖤 Next up: How to Win Every Time (Tips for Sumitting to Literary Contests)