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Posts Tagged ‘contests’

thI belong to several online writers’ groups. One discussion that keeps recurring is: Should you pay to enter a writing contest? I’m not talking about the obvious scams or “contests” that are no more than money makers for the “sponsors” or ways to build email lists or sell books. (Writer Beware, a site maintained by the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America has an excellent article about how to spot the scams. The same article also has good information and advice about all contests, bogus or genuine.)

The answer to the question of whether to pay to enter contests is easy for some writers—no, never, ever. For me, it’s on a case by case basis. Is the contest sponsored by a journal or entity I respect? Do the entry fees seem reasonable, i.e., enough to pay the judges an honorarium, plus enough to pay out the cash awards, if any? Is there some other guaranteed benefit that comes with payment, even if one is not a winner? These range from critiques or comments from judges, editors or successful writers in the field, to a subscription to the sponsoring journal or other perks. If there is no prize money, do you get a certificate, plaque, or other recognition? One of my favorite potential rewards is being included in a print anthology made up of the winning entries, even if there is little or no cash prize. There will be a greater number of winners, improving my chances, and I’ll have something to add to my shelf of published works.

Then I think about the downside. Some contests require exclusivity until the awards are announced. This means my work is tied up in the event I see another, perhaps better market. Some contests allow you to withdraw. I’d opt for the flexibility. Will developing my entry distract me from other writing actions that would be more helpful to my writing vision? Then there is the investment in time, energy and focus. Each contest has its own rules for length (will I need to cut, or add, words?), formatting and method of submission. That means that every time I enter a new contest, all that work has to be re-done. That effort is no different from answering any other call for submissions. Perhaps I’d be better off going that route.  

So, there are really two questions: should you enter writing contests at all? And if so, should you enter those that require an entry fee? I have and will continue to go the contest route, at least for now, including ones for which I pay for the privilege. I have no advice for others, except to educate yourself, focus on your goals and stick to actions that foster those goals. Then, I believe, you win every day.

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 Deadlines. They seem so far away when I first pencil them into my plans and schedules. But time speeds by, other unavoidable tasks crop up, or I underestimate the difficulty of the project. I try, try to train myself to start early, to get a jump on things, or to create a fake, earlier deadline in order to get moving. But my untrickable subconscious knows very well that it’s a fake deadline and blows it off. Yet, I keep trying. After all, I’ve managed to do it with other appointments. I leave plenty early for the dentist, for movies and lunch dates. And while I used to respond well to deadlines, now they render me immobile with stress.

More importantly, I’ve learned that trying to do things at the last minute is a dangerous practice. If I wait till the day of the deadline for a contest, anthology or other call for submissions to send off my entry, I know I’ll be plagued by some catastrophe or roadblock.

For instance: As I make the last tweaks to the manuscript, Word will hiccup and screw up the formatting for the entire text. I won’t know what happened, so I’ll tear my hair out for hours trying to reverse it. “Undo” will be strangely ineffective. The online support and forums will be mystified or useless. Worst of all, I will have once more broken my “rule” about saving a slightly earlier draft, so I have nothing to go back to.

If that doesn’t happen, my cat will need emergency surgery, my internet will go down or the fire department will knock on the door with a mandatory evacuation order due to a gas leak. The local library or cyber café will be under the same order and besides, I haven’t saved the work in a portable or cloud form.

Okay, so sometimes it works out. I wait till the last minute and succeed. But that just allows me to think it’s a practice that’s safe to continue. Also, it will never be perfect. Even if I get better at working ahead, life will occasionally throw an unexpected punch. Still, starting writing projects early is habit I want to add to my skill set. Now if I could just convince my subconscious to cooperate.   

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