The result of entering any competition can only be a ‘good’ result whether you win or not.
What you gain from deciding to enter a competition is a fresh look at your work, past and present. You might be delighted with the prose in earlier pieces, possibly stunned at the errors you find in another piece that you thought it was ‘perfect’ when nobody wanted it. But most of all you will have tightened up a manuscript and fleshed out its bones before submitting it.
I refuse to pay huge amounts to enter a competition but this is my individual choice. You may be happy to invest in your work with this expense. Make sure when you pay a high fee that you are going to get feedback and a critique that is value for money. Sometimes you will find the judges in agreement on a particular part of your submission which must tell you it needs revision. It would be silly to ignore their comments, having paid for them to read it.
Be positive about comments received. We are like artists who paint pictures. Writers paint pictures with words. Just as the artist always wants to get out his paints and alter his finished work, we writers are never satisfied either; a word to add just here; a sentence to delete up there. If two of the judges love it and one hates it, don’t despair. This is what happens when your creation goes out into the wide world and is read by others. Everyone’s taste in reading matter is subjective. If you belong to a book club you will know this. Rarely would the whole group enjoy the same book.
Pick a competition with a theme that appeals or could apply to a piece you have already written. Tweak an existing effort to suit the contest or have fun creating a story to fit the parameters given. This is all good writing practice.
Often if the theme amuses or challenges you then your prose will reveal your enthusiasm. It would be useless for me to write a short piece on astrophysics when I know nothing about the subject. However, a contest with an unusual theme can often be the incentive to pop out on the Net and look around, learning about the subject before you begin. If it’s fiction you only need a few bare bones of information to get your mind ticking over and your imagination excited. The delightful thing about fiction is that it is just that – fiction, and doesn’t have to be factual or true. Such bliss.
At first I couldn’t bear to lose the work I had to delete and I created a file for ‘discarded pieces’ in case I ever needed them again. I realized the other day that I’ve stopped saving them. I’ve never reused any of the deleted paragraphs, sentences or delicious phrases. I now just press the backspace key and they disappear into the ether. I’ve learned that I can create more words just as great, and I don’t need the discard file as a backstop. It’s taken several years for me to become this reckless with the backspace key.
Last year I entered several competitions. One of them I won! The other entries are now pieces I can build on, edit and some I will put on my blog and website as free reads. One piece I’m going to use as the basis for a longer story, perhaps even a novel and another I have recently altered and sent off once more.
Every time you write you get better at doing it; a bit like skateboarding or water skiing or riding a bicycle. Even baking cookies eventually becomes easier and after years of practice you can often do it without a recipe.
My intention for this coming year is to continue to enter competitions. Often short word totals are required ranging anywhere from 300 to 3,000 words. The need to delete surplus words and expressions hones your editing skills. I usually belt it all out, thought after thought, ending up with a piece that is far too long, but I’ve put down the essentials: a beginning that grabs, a meaty middle and a snappy ending. Then I go back to the beginning and start editing to reach the required word count.
You will find you can replace two words with one, and will begin to recognize where you have indulged in filtering. This is where you write something to show an action, then carry on and explain it. This can annoy your reader.
Example: ‘No thank you!” he shouted, his voice rising.
This could have been written as “No thank you!” The exclamation mark shows it is said loudly, therefore ‘he shouted, his voice rising’ is filtering. (e.g. ‘Gilding the lily’; ‘over-egging the custard’ and other such expressions) I’m prone to doing this and have to delete all these extra words during the editing process.
Just like a skeleton every story’s bones are different, although they follow a basic structure. Your bones are your individual voice and style. Don’t let them hang around. Give them a shake, wrap some flesh around them, change the heads about, and alter the path they are walking. Make the changes, rewrite and rewrite, then send it off to find a new home.
Every piece you enter is another step on the ladder to becoming a more skilled writer. As I said at the beginning: it’s irrelevant who wins. You are a winner by the very act of entering.
Deryn Pittar writes futuristic fiction, under the penname of ‘Virginnia De Parte’. Setting her stories in the future allows her imagination to run free, creating characters with previously unheard-of talents. She also has the pleasure of watching science and technology catch up with her imagination.
When Deryn Pittar isn’t writing romance, she writes short fiction, young adult and poetry; and is published in these genres. She recently won a Sci.Fi. contest which can be read here. Her blog and website have articles about the craft of writing, and short pieces to interest her followers. You can listen to excerpts from her published novellas on her website and read other posts on her blog.
She has four short videos on YouTube encouraging new writers in this craft:-
Deryn lives in the aptly named Bay of Plenty, New Zealand; along with four million people and a number of elusive hobbits.
KATE BENTLEY, is short-sighted but too vain to wear glasses. When she is tossed backward by the up-escalator at Sydney Airport she is rescued by THOMAS WINTERS. She falls for his kindness and melted-chocolate voice and doesn’t notice his lined face or the double-chins caused by his blood-hound genes.
For Thomas, single and lonely, meeting Kate is the chance of a lifetime. Shy and hesitant, Thomas courts her with gentle determination. When he discovers she can see memory bubbles and collects them to return to her father’s failing mind he suspects she could be g-altered. He asks his old friend WILLIAM CORBAN to investigate.
Their romance falters when Thomas adopts SUZIE, a genetically-altered child from the “Nursery” where he grew up. A misunderstanding on Kate’s part sees her cut Thomas from her life, but when her father, COLIIN BENTLEY, wanders from the house she turns to Thomas, and his dog Buster, for help. Colin is eventually found with the assistance of Thomas’ genetically-altered friends.
Kate realizes her future is tied to this gentle man who has won her heart – but has she left it too late?