Even though I’ve been submitting my work to writing contests since second grade, I still feel like a new writer with a lot to learn. When I only submit to a few contests a year, I have a hard time picking the right ones. Which ones fit with the stories I’ve already written? How would I have to edit what I have to fit each guideline?
Since it’s easy to get overwhelmed by these questions, I’ve found that prompted contests are useful to me. In this type of writing contest, you are given a prompt that you need to follow. It is limiting, but sometimes being limited is what’s necessary for me to be creative.
Prompted Writing Contests
Some prompted contests that I’ve used and liked have been:
- SLCC – 30 Poems in 30 Days: This writing contest gives you a poem prompt every day for the month of April. At the end of the month, you submit your collection of poems, and there is one winner.
- NYC Midnight: This group runs multiple contests per year, from 100-word microfiction contests to short story (up to 2500 words) contests. The shorter contests have a 24 or 48 timeframe from the release of the prompt until you need to submit your work.
Writing Contests with Deadlines
I also enjoy the above contests because I need deadlines to motivate me to write. Another good “contest” for aspiring novelists who prefer having deadlines is NaNoWriMo.
NaNoWriMo is National November Writing Month. The goal is to write a novel in 30 days by keeping up with a certain word count every day. A novel can seem more achievable at 3000 words per day (which is a respectable 90,000-word novel by the end of the month). There are multiple ways you can participate. Find out more on this Reedsy blog.
While I’ve enjoyed the poetry contest and attempting NaNoWriMo, the NYC Midnight format has become my favorite due to the short timelines and, more importantly, the positive and negative feedback you receive after each submission.
Writing Contests with Feedback
Getting feedback as a writer is simultaneously great and terrible.
As a new writer, it’s nice to have positive feedback. You can see what you’ve done well and what was exciting to readers. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by what readers like about my writing. As a writer, sometimes it’s difficult to see your own strengths.
However, negative feedback is equally important to growing as a writer. Readers point out omissions that make it hard to understand the story. I’m constantly surprised by what people don’t understand or want to know more about.
One reason I like the NYC Midnight contests is that they provide feedback in the above format: first, positive feedback and then negative feedback. The feedback is also always in the form of comments (so no worries about grammar or having your story demolished by red ink).
While I sometimes take the negative comments poorly, it’s reinvigorating as a writer to know that someone read my work and took the time to write what they liked about it.
Since feedback reinvigorates me, I tend to avoid contests that never provide any feedback other than announcing a winner. It feels like submitting into a black hole.
Writing Contests that Aren’t a Black Hole
The vast majority of writing contests don’t provide feedback. Sometimes you don’t even get any notifications from the contest unless you are a winner.
I find this a bit disheartening.
However, many would argue it’s a good introduction to the reality of publishing. Submitting your work to magazines and book publishers often feels like submitting into a black hole. Unless your work is accepted, you’ll only get a nice but firm email saying it isn’t a good fit for them.
So there is a benefit to submitting your stories to contests without feedback. It is a reality check, and perhaps it can help prepare you to accept future rejections and move on. This seems like an important skill for a writer who wants to be published.
Sometimes matching your work to writing contests is challenging. Submitting to a prompted contest can help you determine an appropriate topic and inspire you to write within a defined timeframe. Plus, you generate some new work!
If positive feedback inspires you, try submitting your work to a contest that provides feedback. Try to remember that negative feedback is also helpful for your growth and development as a writer, even if it hurts a bit at the time. I’m still trying to learn this too.