Let’s face it; we’ve all heard the excuses. Some of us have probably muttered one or two of them in our time.
There you are, casually surfing the web or browsing your favourite Facebook or Twitter links, when you stumble across a website that is offering a chance to put your writing into a competition. Your eyes light up.
‘I’m a writer. I’ve written stories. I could enter one for that.’
You look at it for a while, maybe you even consider it, but ultimately you decide that it’s not quite your scene and you decide not to go through with entering something. And the excuses we give for not going ahead range from the completely logical to the ridiculously bizarre:
‘I haven’t got anything worth submitting to it.’
‘It’s only a small competition so it’s not really worth it.’
‘People might not like it.’
‘Someone might try to steal my ideas.’
These are all phrases I’ve heard uttered by various writers at various times and, to tell the truth, I’ve even said a few myself at various times. And I get it. As writers we are very protective of our work and the idea of submitting it to a competition, particularly one that isn’t the Man Booker Prize, makes a lot of us cringe because we feel like we are somehow devaluing our work.
But the very worse excuse, and I mean this in every sense of the word, is this…
I might not win.
No word of a lie, when I hear someone utter that phrase I feel like smacking them in the face. As writers we are obsessed with this idea of being better than anyone else and, let’s face it, we’re chasing after a rotten carrot with that one.
There is only one person in the world who is going to be a better writer than everyone else and the chances of that person being you are slim to none.
And yet writers will often look at competitions as a chance to win glory and have everyone adore their work. Despite the fact that writing is not a competitive sport, we enter these events and jealously eye up the competition, trying desperately to pick holes in it when in fact we shouldn’t really care what anyone else is doing. Competitions are about you showing off your work and if you’re wasting time on other peoples’ then you’re not doing the best for your own.
So, without further ranting or raving on my part, here are my top tips for tackling writing competitions.
1. No competition is too small
This idea that just because you don’t recognise the name of competition then it isn’t worth your time is ridiculous. Assuming, however erroneously, that writing is a competitive sport, are you really doing yourself any favours by jumping straight into the big leagues? Would you see an Olympic Gold medallist who never ran a competitive race before? Of course not.
If you have an issue with putting your precious work into smaller competitions think of it this way. Every competition is about gaining exposure, even those you don’t win. If you go for the popular ones, you run the risk of getting lost in the swamp of hundreds of other stories. If you do something for a smaller competition with less applicants, you’re far more likely to be noticed… just a thought.
2. Forget about someone stealing your ideas
It’s surprising how many writers haven’t figured this out yet. But I’m afraid that true originality is extremely rare and most stories are very similar to each other. More to the point, if you think you have come across an original idea, the chances are that someone has got there before you anyway. I remember once slaving away for months trying to develop an idea for a screenplay about a man investigating his own amnesia by telling the story from both the beginning and the end…
I will never forgive Christopher Nolan for stealing my story ten years before I had even thought of it…
But in all seriousness, if plagiarism is what is holding you back, then you may as well give up writing. All writing is in some way based on the work of the people who came before you – it has to be otherwise we would never develop fresh ideas. If you’re willing to take from the ideas pile but not put back then you won’t get anywhere.
3. Embrace the fact that people won’t like it
Again, I will never understand the mentality of people who don’t submit work because no one will like it. If no one will like it, why did you bother writing it in the first place? Ok, maybe you write an occasional piece that is meant for you and you alone, but never submitting anything?
If you’re afraid that no one will like it, I have one piece of advice for you. Accept that there will always be someone out there who will not like it. There always is. There are always people who say Stephen King is overrated or that Harry Potter is trashy literature, and yet these are multimillion pound and dollar franchises. And the vast majority of us will have to accept a huge amount of rejection and negativity before we get anywhere so we may as well embrace it from the start.
I’ve always thought of it this way; I can gain far more from a negative review from someone who hated my work than from a five-star, competition winning review that tells me I’m brilliant. Sure the latter gives me a massive ego boost, but it doesn’t really help me develop my work or make me any better. Embrace the negativity and make it part of your writing process.
I assure you, it will be better for you in the long run.
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