15 Tips to Help You Win Writing Contests

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Whether you’re looking to make a name for yourself or just want some extra pocket change, writing contests are an excellent way to achieve both of these goals. From small contests that are free to enter to big ones that require a fee, these competitions are a great opportunity for writers to showcase their skills and win a prize or two. Before you enter though, make sure you know how to win them. Otherwise, your efforts and the opportunities will just go to waste. Below are helpful advice on how you can emerge as a winner in a writing contest.

We host a number of free, fun writing contests on Commaful if you ever want a fun challenge!


1) Practice

It’s a great idea to practice before you join a bigger, more serious contest. Do exercises and focus various elements of writing that will help you become a better writer. These elements include style, grammar, spelling, punctuation, word usage, narrative voice, description, dialog, dialogue tags, and length.

You can join online communities for writers. Look for writing prompts and get feedback on your writing. Observe how other writers write as well.

2) Understand contest format

Writing contests vary widely on how they are formatted, especially with respect to the kind of prizes they offer. Even contests from the same organization will differ greatly in how they are structured and what they publish.

The format can influence which of your works you want to submit and which has the highest chance of winning.

3) Think about the purpose of the contest

Regardless of the conditions and rules of the competition, it’s essential that you know what you’re getting yourself into. This requires taking time to read the guidelines for the contest thoroughly and thinking about what it means for your writing career. 

Whether it’s the substantial monetary prize, the additional features like a book launch or guest blog post, or the more underhanded advantages like a guaranteed publishing contract, the bottom line is that the rewards need to be in line with your career goals. If your goal is to kickstart a freelance writing business that makes a stable income, a grand prize might be exciting, but you need to ask yourself if the money would really be enough to support your lifestyle and your business launch later on. If you’re trying to win a literary prize that will get your work read, you might be better off entering a small literary contest that might not have much money, but will give you more exposure.

4) Know the rules of the contest

The stated contest rules should always be one of your first references on how to win a contest. It’s important to actually read these rules, so you know exactly what they are asking for when it comes to the genre, length, and any other details about the submission.

Find information about entries submitted to multiple categories or to other contests as well. Many writing contests will disregard entries that have been sent to other competitions but some allow submissions to multiple categories within the same contest.

5) Check out the organization holding the contest

When it comes to choosing a writing contest, be aware of what you’re signing up for. Some contests are geared more towards experienced writers, and others focus more on new faces. Make sure the organization running the contest has its heart in the right place and hosts it for the right reason.

One way to assess the legitimacy of the contest organizers is to look for their past events. Search for their social media pages to see photos and posts related to previous contests. For newly launched contests, you may check whether they’re legitimate or scams by finding reputable organizations, companies and individuals that are sharing news about such competitions. 

6) Understand the judges’ preferences

Before you can begin writing, you need to understand the judges. Some judges are looking for what’s called the “writer’s writer” where you’re solely judged on how your writing stands up. Other judges want more than just the piece that you’ve submitted for the contest. There could be other criteria that they may judge each entry on, including whether or not you meet the requirements of the submission form. Some judges are even looking for a personal story in addition to your writing.

It’s also beneficial for you as the writer to understand a judge’s preferred style or genre. If a judge has certain tastes in writing, you need to match that up with your writing. It’s a mistake to think that you can write anything and if you win there will be no adjustments necessary. Remember, the organizers and judges still have the final say.

7) Start collecting ideas

Take a seat and write down all the initial ideas you have for your contest entry. If you’re unsatisfied with what you’ve come up with, move around the house or spend time in your yard. Take a walk in the park, go on a hike or visit a museum. Or, you can watch or read randomly. Just make sure you don’t copy the same lines, names or any other copyrighted content in TV shows, movies or books. Do whatever that prompts your creative juices to just keep flowing. 

8) Sample from your good writing

You wouldn’t want to send something you wrote as a teenager to a prospective client, would you? If you wrote and published on Tumblr, Commaful or any other platform, go over your accounts and assess the content that garnered the most engagements. You may believe you’re the greatest writer on earth, but even if you have ego issues, you have to admit your early works aren’t a good representation of your current abilities. However, your old stuff is still good inspiration for sample pieces that will earn you more writing contests.

Re-read a past project and reach out to the best parts while also making some notes about your writing process at the time. This can give you a feel for what you were trying to accomplish, what actually happened, and how you felt about the results. There’s a tension between learning where you succeeded and where you can improve, and seeing that tension in your earlier writing can inspire you to take your current writing to the next level.

9) Study your writing competition

By studying your competition, you can determine if you have a good chance of winning. It can give you inspiration for things to include in your submission as well. 

For example, if you notice all the winners provide artwork with their stories, it’ll give you a sense that it might be important to include artwork. You can study past winners or current submission (if they’re available).

10) Write a gripping story for your contest entry

If you’re joining a contest for fiction-writing, make the judges and your readers wonder how your story will turn out. Increase the tension in moments when your protagonist is paralyzed by her choices or undermined by her vulnerability. Do your best to make readers care about your characters, with appealing, emotional development. Watching people engage in conflict as they deal with moods and feelings—their own and each other’s—is the primary path toward the scary unknown that could develop at any moment, transforming your tiny story into an epic journey. Put all your writing skills to play and make something amazing! Focus on the story at this stage, not the details, like grammar.

11) Read it out loud

After you’ve done a complete read-through of your contest entry, read it out loud to yourself. This way, you can spot your vocabulary opportunities and catch awkward exposition scenes. 

If your entry is more on the non-fiction side, read through the whole thing out loud to a friend who’s not familiar with your topic. Listen closely for areas that need more explanation.

Remember that the goal is to make your words come alive for your readers and for the contest judges. Don’t just keep them learning minimal facts; make them want to act and feel and understand, and give them a whole new vocabulary to do it with.

12) Proofread and edit

You’ve got characters, an outline of the plot, and descriptive detail into the setting and time period. Your first draft flows pretty well, but it’s time to make your contest entry truly shine. Steps for revising and editing include applying the following strategies: Delete needless words. You can get rid of those crutches, like using “very” or starting a sentence with a character’s name, when you revise. Put all needed commas, periods and other punctuation marks. Make sure they’re correctly used though.

Look at your openings and make sure the ones that give too much information are pared down. The opening line or paragraph should give just enough information that the reader is intrigued without being provided with details that can turn them off. Drive the narrative with description. 

Pay close attention to the details in your piece to avoid including typos and misspellings. When proofreading, use a late night version of your chosen font and printing. Also, avoid excessive white space, even with justified margins. You may believe that tidy formatting is unimportant, but it will create vague notions about you as a writer among judges.

13) Pen a killer title 

You also need a killer title. You have to make sure it carries as much of the action and emotion of your entry as possible. What you can do is use a tagline generator to get a good title going, unless you already have something better in mind. Next, if you’re submitting a book manuscript, you should write your book description, which should be no longer than three paragraphs long and should focus on the why of your book, not the what.

14) Enter in good time

More often than not, entering a writing contest is easy. They’re hosted online anyway. That means you can simply submit online and the organizers can also announce winners on their respective websites or social media pages. But if you wait until the last minute to enter, you’re bound to find your name omitted from the winners’ circle. Allow yourself a month to get a draft completed, get critical feedback from a few trusted beta-readers, and then submit to the contest before the deadline. If soon isn’t feasible, at least be sure you give yourself enough time to come up with at least a decent first draft—writers with a solid story under their belt are far more likely to emerge victorious.

15) Complete every step

A reputable contest will have well-worded rules, as well as a clear description of the submission process. Pay attention to every detail, and make sure you complete each step exactly as the contest asks you to. Don’t leave a job half-done.

If you want to win a writing contest, you need to do everything the judge tells you, and you need to do it right away. If in doubt, ask the contest organizer questions about their contest. Better yet, ask for an example of last year’s winner, so you can see exactly what kind of story they like. Once you’ve submitted, don’t double check or ask for extensions. That will just make the organizer think that you’re careless or uncertain. Either follow the contest rules and deadlines they’ve set, or don’t enter at all.

Knowing where to look for opportunities and how to take advantage of them makes it easier to become a better writer and build a career around it. So what are you waiting for? Search for writing contests and showcase your best outputs.

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