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Writing Contests

March 22, 2013

Writing contests.  I’ve wanted to write since I learned how to read, and while I’ve always known that I’m pretty good at it – having your mom or your wife say you’re good is nice – they aren’t objective readers.

I’ve been listening to Mur Lafferty a lot over the past year since I decided that I wanted to give being a writer a try, so when I received my first couple of rejections, it didn’t bum me out much.  Actually my reaction was, “Cool!  Now those stories are finally free again to submit somewhere else.”

I hate how long some submissions take.  That’s one of the benefits of web sites like the Submissions Grinder and Duotrope – they’ll tell you what the average submission length is, and some of them aren’t really that bad – a couple days for Clarkesworld.

99% of the stories submitted there are rejected though, and usually with a form letter, so you have no idea why the story didn’t make it.  Either it was bad, didn’t work for the slush reader, or just wasn’t what they happened to be looking for that day.  A form letter really isn’t that much to go on to help improve your craft.

One place to go is critique groups – I don’t have a good one that I’m part of so I can’t really write much about that.  The one thing that I’ve heard though, is that you need to be very careful with critique groups because you can get some pretty terrible advice.  You should look for a group where most of the members are better / have more experience than you.

My current favorite is contests.  The mother of all scifi/horror contests is the Writers of the Future contest.  I haven’t worked myself up to entering it yet, but I’ve got a story in mind that needs some rewriting before I send it off anywhere.

Last summer I entered the Escape Pod flash fiction contest – 750 word stories, and I did pretty well.  The story was rough and needed to be rewritten, but it still did alright.  So when Escape Pod’s sister podcast Pseudopod announced their flash fiction contest, I got to work and came up with two 500 word stories that I think are going to do really well.

One of my stories has already won its group and is headed to the semi finals and the other story’s group hasn’t shown up yet.  The cool thing is that I think the second story is better than the story that’s already in the semi finals.

It’s exciting to see the voting, to read the comments that people are making, and it’s also consuming.  A new group shows up every two days, so every two days at midnight it’s possible that my next story has shown up, and new comments are being posted all the time.  Whew.  Fun stuff.

The nice thing is that even if neither of my stories wins, I can see the feedback directly and I can see how much my writing was liked.  I’m not getting a bland form letter, I’m getting real, helpful, constructive feedback that can help my writing get better.

So when the contest is over and I’m less consumed by it, I think I’m going to polish up my story about Mars, add a couple thousand words, and send it off to Writers of the Future.  Most likely it will be the beginning of a process that may or may not result in winning a prize, but I think I’ve found what works for me, and that’s a pretty good prize to win all on its own.

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