Entering Writing Competitions: Really Useful Links by Lucy O’Callaghan

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Lucy O'Callaghan

Lucy O’Callaghan

Some writers enter competitions to seek validation of their writing, some use the deadlines of submitting to focus and hone their work, and others avoid them altogether. Entering writing competitions can be daunting but there are many benefits in overcoming your fears. I have put together some articles, podcasts, and YouTube videos with advice on entering writing competitions.

  1. https://www.whisperingstories.com/5-things-to-know-before-entering-a-short-story-contest/

In this article, a judge for the weekly short story contest at Reedsy shares 5 things to know before entering a short story competition. They tell the writer that your opening should engage the readers right away. With a short story, your opening sentences need to do the heavy lifting, use a short intriguing statement or compelling description. It is important that your writing is consistent; read your work through before sending it and edit it thoroughly. Another important aspect is your ending. Most good endings play it safe. Your ending does not have to be unexpected or even unusual in order to satisfy, in fact, readers should have a sense of what’s coming. Each tip in this article is backed up with great examples.

  1. https://thewritepractice.com/win-writing-contests/

The Write Practice tells us about the critical mistakes writers regularly make in submissions to writing contests and advises you to follow some guidelines to be sure you don’t make them. They include being sure to adhere to the theme and focus on a bite-sized story. Structure your story with clarity in mind; don’t overcomplicate your story. Hook your readers and the judges with a brilliant first line and get straight to the action. Start your story at the moment when ‘normal’ ends! This article also explains ways you can cut excess words so you can focus on the story. It advises you to nail the ending by tying up the loose ends neatly but not too neatly, leaving the story feeling resolved and also a bit mysterious.

  1. https://www.writersdigest.com/resources/6-tips-for-entering-fiction-contests-from-a-judge

This article from Writer’s Digest emphasises the importance of following the guidelines when entering competitions. Your work could and probably will be ignored if you don’t. Keep the writing tight. Just because it might be a 3,000-word limit, it doesn’t mean you must use every word if the story can be written more concisely. It directs you to proofread using different techniques; in this way, you’ll find that you’ll pick up errors. The last tip is don’t address the judge in any way, you would be surprised by how many do!

  1. https://selfpublishingadvice.org/writing-competitions-why-enter-and-how-to-win/

This article is by Dea Parkin who has worked with the Crime Writer’s Association’s Debut Dagger and the Margery Allingham Short Mystery Competition. She advises how best to go about preparing your entry. Dea explains that writing competitions can inspire authors. Submitting your work, regardless of whether you place, or win, encourages you to hone your work; it makes you a sharper editor. You must adhere to the rules! Read them carefully. If there is a theme make sure your entry encapsulates it. Be different but not so different that a judge can’t be confident the story will have a wide appeal. And finally, if you know who the judges are, research them and find out about their writing preferences.

  1. https://www.writersandartists.co.uk/advice/right-time-enter-writing-contest

Writers and Artists discusses the right time to enter a writing contest. You want to make sure you are at a stage where you have the best chance of success and can best take advantage of the benefits of entering. There are questions you need to ask yourself. Do you feel ready? Do you have a piece that you have drafted and edited ready to submit? Do you have an idea you would like to start working on specifically for this competition? Start with small competitions that are free and work your way up from there. Don’t forget to look out for competitions that cater to niche genres or subjects that you might enjoy writing about. Are you ready to be rejected? Rejection comes hand in hand with writing contests. You need to be able to accept the fact that you may not win and be sure that you will be able to bounce back from disappointment. How are you approaching writing contests? Are you writing because you are good at it or to make money, or because it’s your passion? Writing contests are a great way to fuel your passion and grow as a writer. Those who write passionately are most likely to succeed because their enthusiasm and dedication will come through in their writing.



In this episode from Fiction School, they discuss the role contests can play in a writer’s life, how to love rejections and losing, and the litmus test all writers need to give themselves before they enter a contest.


Writing competitions are hard to win, but easy to do better in. In this video, Kevin shares a few tips/steps that have helped him be shortlisted three times and longlisted three times.

This video, A Guide to the World of Short Story Contests, discusses the ways in which submissions for short stories contests are different from regular submissions.

Following the guidelines of a competition is essential which may seem like common sense but so many people don’t. Whether it’s not adhering to the word limit or theme, it can immediately put you out of the running. The plus side of entering competitions is the thought of someone reading your work makes you work, edit and hone it to make it as perfect as you can. Plus, you are putting your work out there! I hope this week’s column has been useful for you. As always, please get in touch if there is anything you’d like me to cover.

(c) Lucy O’Callaghan

Instagram: lucy.ocallaghan.31.

Facebook: @LucyCOCallaghan

Twitter: @LucyCOCallaghan

About the author

Writing since she was a child, Lucy penned her first story with her father called Arthur’s Arm, at the ripe old age of eight. She has been writing ever since. Inspired by her father’s love of the written word and her mother’s encouragement through a constant supply of wonderful stationary, she wrote short stories for her young children, which they subsequently illustrated.
A self-confessed people watcher, stories that happen to real people have always fascinated her and this motivated her move to writing contemporary women’s fiction. Her writing has been described as pacy, human, moving and very real.
Lucy has been part of a local writing group for over ten years and has taken creative writing classes with Paul McVeigh, Jamie O’Connell and Curtis Brown Creative. She truly found her tribe when she joined Writer’s Ink in May 2020. Experienced in beta reading and critiquing, she is currently editing and polishing her debut novel.
Follow her on Instagram: lucy.ocallaghan.31. Facebook and Twitter: @LucyCOCallaghan

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