There was a post in May, by Mike van Horn, called “Writing Contest Rant.”
That post stuck in my head for several reasons. I enter contests. I never expect to win, at least in the traditional sense. I find his rant entirely valid, as well as the ensuing comments from everyone else. I even posted a rumination on my blog about whether I should contest, or not.
Yet, I still enter contests. Why?
After that post, and agreeing with all of his points, I re-evaluated why I still wanted to enter contests. What was I getting out of it? I’m writing full time now, so it’s not like I need an incentive to write. In fact, I now have enough writing projects to keep me happily engaged daily, not to mention the challenge of building and maintaining my own websites.
Why waste my time on a useless pursuit then?
At the same time I’m questioning my judgement, I also realized I lacked motivation for keeping up with my personal blog. Then I got the idea to use each contest to write the chapters of a story. Each contest would provide one chapter. Once I complete the story, I will post each chapter on my blog. I still write within the constraints of the contest parameters, but add the twist of how it relates to the rest of the story.
I now have six chapters into a story that has been a lot of fun to write. Now when I get the feedback from the contest, I admit I feel a bit smug, like I’ve manipulated them to my purpose and they have no idea. I also feel like it has ratcheted up my writing skill a notch.
At some point, though, I will reach a moment where I decide the whole exercise is pointless. I regard the challenge of writing within the contest parameters to be fun. But as I spend all day writing (and painting) I find I need that sort of challenge less and less. Also, the story that has evolved from these contests may be larger than the amount of contests I will enter.
One final observation. In my personal writing journey, I struggle/d with endings and writing less than thirty thousand words. The contests have helped me learn the art of less is more. It helped me smooth out my revision process.
While I understand contests are not for everyone, as a person who wanted to be a full-time writer, but had to concentrate on my day job first, they became a helpful skill building process. Especially when I removed any hope of winning from the equation. I still have a long way to go. But at least I’m honing some skills along the way.
While contests lack the merit of reward for writing well done, they serve as a tool to improve aspects of an individual’s skill. Like all tools, they don’t work in all situations and, like some tools, they just need a new purpose or alteration to make them more useful.
At any rate, I’ll likely continue with the contests I enjoy until they become drudgery. Then I’ll know I played along as long as I could and then let them go.