December 10, 2014

I find it interesting how many writing contests are out there. Even more than that are how few there are that are actually free to enter. Writers of the Future, originated by the enigmatic L. Ron Hubbard, is free and offers a massive prize for any and all winners. Surprisingly, it has nothing to do with that cult he created, and pays homage to his science fiction writing roots.
But aside from payment to or from, I love writing contests because they really force you to stretch your brain muscles. Usually (but not always), there is a theme, or at least one specific thing they require you to include. This can be very limiting in some instances, but awesome in others. Hey, you never know if you just happen to have a story sitting around that fits the bill perfectly, right?
So a few weeks ago, my wife and I were sitting in the cafe at a massive chain bookstore that shall remain nameless. While sipping our coffee, she was perusing the latest in entertainment magazines (she’s a huge movie buff and likes to read the news about them). Since I’d read all the latest in workout and bodybuilding news, I wanted something else. I went over to the writer’s resources section and grabbed a listing book.
I don’t buy these anymore since they’re all available online, and the books don’t give crap for listings on magazines to send my stuff to, but they do list a LOT of contests. Unfortunately, most of those contests cost money, but more on that later.
As I’m looking through this, I ask Amy for a pen and some paper which she always has with her. I jotted down a few contests, and couldn’t wait to get home to check them out. What really stinks is that one of them was still active, while I had to wait a few months for others. Fine, though, because the one that was available gave me an idea.
I wrote the story that night.
Well, most of it. I finished it the next night. I’ve been editing it, and getting it shiny and pretty for submission in a few days. Luckily, I’ve got *some* time to get it ready, instead of forcing me to rush.
Anyway, the point is, it made me think. Not only was there a theme, there were specific rules. Story must include this, that, and these, while being unified by this theme. I had the basis of an idea on the car ride home, and finalized it by dinner.
Naturally, I’ve been tweaking it as time has passed. I’m not saying that I can get an idea within the span of a few hours, but it forced me to *think* of an idea, and how to wedge it into this setting. I’m happy with it, my wife loved the idea, and a coworker said it sounds perfect.
I hate when people say that, by the way. It might be a good idea, sure, but perfect? Well, why not just call of the contest now and save everyone else the trouble of entering?
Regardless, this is what I love about contests. I’ve been working on a new novel, but I’m taking a few days off to indulge my competitive side. Plus, it allows me to stretch and flex my brain muscles. Which is good, since I didn’t work out at the gym today! I will tomorrow, though, so for those worried about my health, don’t.
Now, as I was saying about contests that cost money…
Unlike most writing-related stuff, these aren’t scams. Not usually, at least. Check Predators & Editors, or just go with the ones that everyone has heard of. Sure, they might charge, but there are reasons for that.
Mainly, they need money to pay the contestants. How do you think they get this prize money? Also, the people working for these publications need some sort of payment as well. Web space costs money, gas to get to the contest headquarters, electricity to keep the computers running, etc.
Don’t be daunted by an entry fee. I say, if it’s under $20, $35 in the case of a major contest, there’s no harm at all. But if you don’t have the money, don’t sweat it. It sucks, but it is what it is.
So, wish me luck as I enter this contest. And every other one, as well. Because I’ll do the same for you.