Writing Competitions: If you are not in, you can’t win

November 3, 2012 § Leave a comment

If you are not in, you can’t win. So, I recall, went the slogan of the one-time Irish Sweepstakes.

We know if we don’t enter a competition, we certainly won’t win it. We know another thing too: if we do enter, we have no guarantee of winning. About seventeen months ago, I decided to concentrate on entering writing competitions. The thinking was: I would win a competition and attract the attention of an agent.

We have learnt that most literary endeavours, submitted to literary agents, are no good. Literary agents expect nothing from the slush pile, and their expectations are, almost always, realised. The same people who submit to literary agents probably enter writing competitions as well: therefore those entries will be no good. Of course, we don’t really believe that. But the conclusion seems logical.

In order to make time to write short stories for competitions, I suspended work on a children’s book I had been writing for several months. Three short-story competitions had a limit of 5000 words; I did a great deal of writing. There were also novel competitions. For two of them, I started new novels.

I entered over fifteen competitions (novel and short story). How did I fare? Very badly. In one short-story competition, my two stories had the distinction of being placed in the first hundred of over a thousand entries. But where? In the first ten or the last? Or had I only received a standard letter: one sent to all unsuccessful competitors. Had I earned the feeble distinction of being in the first one hundred, or had I been let down gently. It hardly mattered.

Yet when I entered two or three novels for another competition—at £25.00 an entry—none of my novels made it into the first hundred. That was a blow. It is true that I had thought very little of making it into the first hundred of a short-story competition, but it was worse still not to attain even that feeble distinction. Are there more than one hundred unpublished novels which are better than two or three of mine? Something must be wrong somewhere.

I do not conclude—what perhaps some of you would conclude—that I cannot write but I have to conclude that I cannot write novels that please judges. Three chapters or so of different novels went to different judges. None of them caused a frisson of interest. The judges could not care how my novels ended.

It is hard to rally against these defeats, to extract what is positive about them. Truly “success breeds success” and “failure breeds. . .


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