Have you ever entered a writing contest? I'm guessing that more writers will say No to this question than Yes. Why? It takes time, self-confidence, and sometimes money to enter a contest. Most contests will take only unpublished work and that ties up a story, poem or essay that you feel is one of your best. Do you want it languishing in a judge's stack of entries or would you rather it be submitted to someplace that might publish the piece soon?
Have you ever considered it? Far more people consider entering a writing contest than actually do. For many of the same reasons as stated above. I see notices about dozens of contests and I scan the guidelines and consider entering but I let most of them slide by. Competition can be scary. Think back to your school days. Sports competitions were tough for some of us, while others excelled. If you weren't an expert, it was pretty frightening to try out when you knew the risk of being cut was mighty high. In the same way, entering the writing contest may come down to how badly you want to compete and come out on top. Or how much money you're willing to invest in the entry fees.
What's holding you back? Self-confidence may be one of the biggest things that keeps you from entering contests. Especially so if you are an unpublished writer. Or maybe you've been published a few times. Maybe your muse whispers in your ear what makes you think you can compete with hundreds, maybe thousands, of other writers and come out on top? A writer's muse isn't always there to help, they sometimes like to play devil's advocate or shock you a bit. Then, there's the question of money. Some contests are free to enter, some have minimal amount entry fees while others have sizable amounts for entrants. The fees collected end up being prize money in many cases. Each writer must decide on what they are willing to pay and how many times each year. One thing to remember--the contests with the highest entry fees usually award the highest amount in cash prizes.
How do you find the contests? Watch your writers' newsletters for announcements and use your favorite search engine to find current contests.
Are you willing to give it a try? Only you can answer this one. I would encourage you to enter a contest but with a word of caution. Don't aim for the big contests with big awards for your first try. I've said it many times in relation to submitting your work to an editor/publisher--start small and work your way to the top. There are many smaller contests. Look at your state writers group--many of them run annual contests via districts or the entire state. It's a good place to begin your contest journey.
At the end of this post, I've pasted an announcement page for a District Contest in Kansas as an example. Please note that it is not limited to members only. If you live in Florida, you can enter. Nonmembers pay a slightly higher fee to enter. Always measure the amount of the fee versus the possible prize amount to determine the worth of entering. Winning a writing contest will be a nice addition to your writing resume and something positive to add to your cover letter when you submit your work for publication.
Look at the guidelines in this announcement carefully. Just as in submitting your work to a publication, you must follow the rules to the letter or your story may be tossed out without a backward glance from whoever manages the contest. Every contest entry form will be different. Read it, study, and double-check once your entry is ready to send. The bigger the contest, the more difficult it is to be a winner and the reverse is true, too.
* More on writing contests can be read here.