Competitions. I’ve never been a big fan of them. Mainly, I think, because hundreds or even thousands of people can enter them, but there’s (usually) only one winner. So, you have one person who’s feeling on top of the world and another 99+ who feel like losers. So imagine my surprise to find myself spending most of January preparing my WIP for not one, but two, competitions.
If you approach competitions correctly, the very act of preparing your work for one is a major win for your writing. Suddenly you have a deadline and a reason to edit a section of manuscript to death with high precision focus. Obviously whenever you edit you should be trying to make your WIP as good as possible, but a competition does give a whole extra impetus.
I’d started 2015 thinking about my opening chapters and feeling quite dissatisfied that they weren’t as full-on and punchy as the original one that was so well received at Winchester last year. Although the new entry point into the story could never be as majorly in-yer-face as the original, I decided to rewrite it and get it as close as possible in pace and impact.
In the midst of these thoughts I came across this fantastic blog post on Twitter – http://booksbywomen.org/rosie-garland/. Despite my anti-competition stance, Rosie Garland (winner of the 2012 Mslexia Unpublished Novel Competition) started a thaw within me. There can still only be one winner, but if you have something already written that could be entered, then why not?
I’d already been planning to apply for a Northern Writers’ Awards. They wanted a 5,000 word submission, but that word count wouldn’t take me as far into the story as I'd like. Later that day I came across another Tweet that reminded me about the Mumsnet/Janklow & Nesbit competition. They wanted 8,000 words and although that would cover my two opening chapters, I was frustrated that it wouldn’t take me far enough in to allow my second narrator to have his voice heard and give a better sense of the world the story was moving into.
There was only one way to deal with this dissatisfaction. I took a deep breath, opened a new document and got stuck into a serious slash and reshuffle of my first chapters. What I was left with after this brave bold exercise is a much more punchy pacey start, that achieves all my desired objectives! (Never be afraid of doing a serious slash job – just make sure you do it in a separate document so you haven't lost the original if you decide it was better in the first place.)
Having gained a new love for competitions and having got my work to a suitable standard, I considered fully embracing competition land and entering a few more that had similar deadlines. Unfortunately, perhaps, I don’t have the personality for that. I can only go for something if I really want it. If I don’t, then it feels wrong, like I’m just stealing someone else’s opportunity, someone who might be desperate for the thing that I'm lukewarm about. I do really want the prizes for NWA and Mumsnet/J&N and therefore they were worth going after.
So what could I win? The prize for the NWA (New Fiction Bursary) is an editorial report on my WIP. A friend won one last year and said it was a great help. My WIP is at the point where what it needs most is external professional editing advice. It would also give me a valuable opportunity to network with other Northern/local writers.
The winner of the Mumsnet/Janklow & Nesbit competition gets agent representation from J&N, which would be a dream come true! The likelihood of my WIP getting published, and sooner than its current trajectory, would increase exponentially.
Obviously there can only be one winner (or five in the case of the New Fiction Bursary!), but competitions are founded on hope and that’s still alive until the shortlist is announced at least! I’m encouraged by Rosie Garland’s story, because
sometimes often a book not being published or winning a competition isn’t about the quality of the writing, but about it not getting to the right people or its time not being right. I’m already aware of other competitions coming up this year that I might enter…if I need to.
I’d normally end a blog post with some sort of exhortation to try something out for yourself, but am struggling with being magnanimous enough this time! Surely it’s shooting myself in the foot to encourage potentially better writers to enter the same competitions as me? Possibly, although it would make me up my game, which is never a bad thing!
You have to be:
"In it to win it" (The National Lottery)
– and even if you don’t win it there are many other benefits. Perhaps my change of heart about competitions really began at the Winchester Writers’ Festival last year when I came second in their Feature Article competition. That endorsement of my writing was incredible and made me feel like a winner anyway, especially on my first attempt of doing anything like that.
“The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.” Willie Nelson
There are so many competitions out there, especially for short stories, poetry and flash fiction it seems. Being shorter perhaps they’re easier to enter or perhaps just easier to judge! Why not Google (other search engines are still available!) competitions for your genre of interest and see what comes up?
So, go for it! But perhaps you could just go for different competitions than me, please!