Friday, June 22, 2007

Don't Enter Writing Contests: But if you do. . .

To become a confident writer, don't enter writing contests, especially those that charge a fee. Your odds of winning are between 1 in 600 and 1 in 1200. If you like gambling, take that money and bet on a horse.

Where did I get those numbers? From editors who run writing contests for poetry, fiction, nonfiction, flash fiction, first books, and chapbooks.

Confident writers don't need to enter contests to prove themselves or impress other people. Save your time for improving your writing, maybe trying something new. Save your money for something you know you can get, like a better computer. Even if you did win, there are so many contests that no individual prize is worth much. The only prizes really worth having are those people nominate you for, and they nominate on the basis of good writing.

But, if you must discourage and hurt yourself by entering a "contest," here's some inside information if you want to almost win:

Poems: For local and regional contests, send poems about trees and flowers, and the seasons; if you have a "snow globe"poem or a patriotic poem, you might place. For a contest run by a literary journal, send a poem that berates yourself for living in North America while the rest of the world suffers.

Short fiction: Send stories about the lives of middle-class white professionals, particularly writers, editors, or teachers, and their relationships and sexual problems; be sure to mention their yoga class.

Flash fiction: The overall message of your flash fiction should be that "life is degrading" and the tone should be rueful. A little girl should appear as a character.

Essays: Use an exotic locale. Africa and Asia are preferred.

The above tips may double your chances, to about 1 in 300 and 1 in 600. Sound like odds you can handle?

For writers who believe they are above the odds, and entitled to win a prize because they have published or have an M.F.A.:

Things that Contest Judges Hate Right Now: Anything Midwestern; humorous or satirical poetry; work with a feminist outlook; fiction or essays about the blue-collar world or working women; anything that hints that digital technology is good; lesbians.

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