by Beverly Varnado
Before I attended my first writer’s conference several years ago, I wrote several articles and devotions for an unpublished writer’s competition sponsored by the conference. I worked and reworked the pieces, making sure I’d made them the best I could.
Then I sat on them.
As the final deadline for submission approached, my nervousness grew. How could I put myself out there like that? What if this dream I had fell flat on its face?
On the very last day possible, I gathered my pieces together, stuffed them in envelopes, and went to the post office. As I dropped the envelope in the slot, I thought, there, now I’ve really done it.
Turns out, I placed in three categories. I thought myself a nonfiction writer, but the highest award came for the only piece of fiction I’d written since college. God used that award-winning short story to launch my writing career and steer me toward penning a novel. Not a choice I would’ve made by myself.
I’ve entered many contests since. Some turn out great. Some don’t. But I keep entering, and here are five reasons why.
1. Find new directions in writing. Like the competition at my first writer’s conference, sometimes these events help you see fresh possibilities.
2. Earn credibility in your field. I believe making the top twelve finalists for the 2009 Kairos Prize in screenwriting helped me sell the script and secure an option.
3. Placing in a contest inspires. I’d grown discouraged with a novel I was working on, but then it landed in the top ten for a large national competition. I realized that people I’d never seen thought I had something. This encouraged me to keep refining the work.
4. Garner essential feedback. The judge’s comments often yield valuable insights provided by those experienced in their field.
5. Reap tangible rewards. I’ve won cash awards, a book deal, and the invaluable free publicity when news releases are sent out announcing finalists and winners.
Yes, sometimes things don’t turn out the way we hope. We may not place, or the judge’s comments may not be as kind or as helpful as we’d hope. But I believe entering is worth the risk. At the beginning of every year, I decide which competitions I’ll enter and put the deadlines on my calendar. I also note the dates when finalists’ names are released. I’m waiting on three different competition results right now, and I have more deadlines throughout the year.
Contests can be expensive, so be selective about how many to enter. But the long lasting benefits far exceed the monetary investment.
Beverly Varnado is a novelist, screenwriter, and blogger. Give My Love to the Chestnut Trees was one of ten semifinalists in Christian Writers Guild operation First Novel. Her screenplay for this story, a finalist for the 2009 Kairos Prize and the 2008 and 2009 Gideon Film Festival, is optioned by Elevating Entertainment.