boardgame competition image of ducks and dice

What makes you enter a writing competition?

Welcome to my first blog as writer-in-residence for the Hysteria 10 writing competition. This is the third year I’ve been involved; twice as a reader and once as a finalist in flash fiction. Meeting other readers in Zoomland during the process and taking note of feedback from entrants made me want to ask this question.

Some writers write purely for themselves and keep their hard-won words in a drawer.

Some submit to magazines and e-zines. The internet has brought so many opportunities for your work to get a hearing, and the standard can be variable from established markets like Stand and The Rialto for poetry to a proliferation of online sites which may last for two or three editions and then disappear.

Then there is the self-publishing route which has boomed.

Other writers enter competitions. Presumably, you are in this group, or you wouldn’t be reading the blog post. So back to my original question. Why enter a writing competition?

To make money?

Unlikely. You wouldn’t back a horse at 300-1, which probably represents the odds in most writing competitions.

To compare yourself with other writers?

This is a valuable exercise, but it means you have to take note of the judge’s report or read the winning entries carefully to learn what you can. Is there anything in your entry that the judge would have liked or disliked? I’ve read judge’s reports that have said there were too many poems about cats or death, so if you’re going to write about either of these, your poems had better be good – or at least a take on the subject the judge has never read before.

Remember always that the judgements of judges and readers are subjective.

The advantage of Hysteria is that there are several readers in each category, and from ten years of experience, it seems a consensus emerges about the final ten, although the readers don’t discuss entries with each other.

There will always be outliers. In 2021 my absolute favourite didn’t even make the final cut. There must have been something in the work that appealed to me but didn’t press the same button for the other readers. If I had been the sole judge, that would have been the winner. The fact that other readers didn’t feel the same way just goes to show how subjective the process can be.

The chance of publication.

This is what has driven me to enter competitions. Being realistic, I started every competition with no expectation of winning. For me, the prize would be publication. Many competitions produce an anthology of winners and commended. After that, there may be still room in an anthology to fill, particularly in the case of poetry and flash fiction. You might find longlisted pieces given a slot.

For several years I felt as if I was floating around the edges, getting also-ran publications, but never on the podium. Patience and trying to improve technical skills. Reading lots of poetry to discover different ways people tackled the form made me more imaginative in my approach.

What stops you from entering the competition?

Is it the feeling that you aren’t good enough? That you aren’t “a writer”? Other people are writers, but not you? But why not you?

We hear a lot about imposter syndrome. That somehow you don’t qualify. Don’t worry about it. Ask any leading artist, writer, or actor. It doesn’t go away.

What you should be asking yourself is whether you have something to say, a story to tell, an emotion to explore, or a theme to investigate. If the answer to any of those is ‘Yes’, then get writing.

Next time. I’ll be looking at the nuts and bolts of entry rules and some thoughts about this year’s theme. Magic.

Diane Jackman is the Hysteria Writing Competition‘s writer-in-residence for 2023. You can find out more about her in the conversation we had for my podcast series on Substack.

(Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay)

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