On the subject of writing and competitions, if you have yet to expand your writing career by entering a competition, why not make it your New Year’s resolution to try your hand in 2015? If the idea appeals, a few tips might be helpful, some of them learnt the hard way.
In the first place, make sure that you read the rules of the competition carefully and that you follow them scrupulously. If the rubric says the word limit is 5,000 words, don’t send 5010 (you may in fact get away with this, but it’s not worth taking the risk!). If you’re told to send your submission in Arial, double-spaced, don’t choose some funky difficult-to-read font just because you think it fits well with your subject of, say, Goths or Martians. And do take care over the grammar and spelling. Not all competitions judge entries on accuracy, but whether they do or not, judges will be put off by slapdash work. Finally, if it is a short story competition – and most writing competitions involve either short stories or poetry – think about the constraints of the short story form. Every word counts. You only have 5,000 words – it may be fewer even than this. With this deliberately limited arsenal you have to create a world with its own internal credibility, construct a narrative, develop some interesting characters and provide a compelling conclusion. There’s no room for superfluous description or characters that don’t make a contribution. And avoid introducing very unusual words more than once. ‘Atop’ is a word that seems much to be in vogue with authors at present. Personally, I dislike it, but whether you favour it or not, no short piece of prose can support its appearance or that of other arcane words more than once.
That’s it! Sermon over. If you do enter some competitions in 2015, I wish you every success. And remember, you learn as much from rejections as from acceptances – hard though that may be to accept at the time. Even if you aren’t successful in a particular competition, don’t destroy your story. It can be reworked and improved; and might well find a willing publisher elsewhere, if you keep on trying!