No, this isn’t going to be a plea to get you out of your chair to exercise (though I could use more, I know). Just like we get too settled in our comfy chairs, we let our writing selves get too settled in what we’re used to writing. Not that we’re necesarily happy or even satisfied with this, but we don’t think to struggle and stretch to give our writing the kind of hurdles that make ourselves and readers finish reading out of breath and wanting more.
To combat complacency, I’ve been trying to enter every “short” contest I can find lately that doesn’t require me to snail mail an entry. And I’ve been surprised at how many free or relatively inexpensive ones are out there. Here are a couple of my current favorites.
The Verb newsletter has one every quarter, and the call right now is for Killer/Thriller stories that are 1000 words or less. This contest offers a cash price, and the guidelines are posted at http://www.readingwriters.com/contest.htm. But don’t forget to also sign up for the newsletter–it’s really wonderful.
Another free set of contests is running on the bloglist for the Bookends Literary Agency at www.bookendslitagency.blogspot.com. While there is no cash prize, the winners and runners-up receive a review of the first chapter, synopsis and query letter of the entry by one of the agents. What a deal, huh? The kicker is that your entry rides on the first 100 words of your work–and not one word more. Talk about first impressions! Contests for women’s fiction and romantic suspense are coming in the next few weeks. I’m currently waiting to see if my suspense/thriller makes the cut. One caveat–these contests are not announced ahead of time. You have to visit the bloglist often and be ready to rip, since you only have that day to enter in the comments section. However, even if you have to check the blog regularly, the posts they put up each day are worth reading and always give me new info. And even if you don’t win, they not only post the winning entries, but also explain why they chose each one.
These kinds of contests teach me to write tight. Keeping the focus true to the subject is something that takes practice. It’s easy to think our words are too precious, and contests like these are a way to help me keep my words sharp and on-point.
Another good spot to check out free contests is the Harlequin website. They recently ran a contest for their Presents line that called for just the first chapter and synopsis to be posted online. I heard they are also looking for stories for their new paranormal Nocturnal line, but I since I don’t write those I don’t know all the details. Guess that might be a new stretch I should consider, huh?
So never let yourself get into a rut. Do a search on “contests” or sign up for new writers e-letters and read them. It’s easy to say we don’t have time to read or write something new “just because.” But you might be surprised by what you write, or you may find that old project you pulled out and polished up for the contest gives you new ideas now that you didn’t even consider months ago when the momentum seemed to be gone.
Stretch into new directions and find yourself getting reinvigorated!