Kit de Waal: I would urge everyone to enter competitions
The first success I ever had with my writing was an Honorary Mention (note the capital letters) in the Fish Prize for Flash Fiction in 2014. It was the first thing I’d ever sent out and getting an email telling me that my work had been recognised was by far the most thrilling thing to happen in my writing career. They said that if I wanted I could attend the prize giving ceremony in Cork that summer and I dashed to my computer to book the flight and hotel. It cost me quite a bit but the excitement of standing up in that little church hall in Bantry Bay and reading for three minutes was more than worth it.
I’ve since gone on to win first and second prizes, been shortlisted and longlisted, and written a novel that has done well, but nothing compares to that first time because it was when I realised that I might have some talent, that I had written something that had objective recognition. This wasn’t my mum or my friend saying ‘well done’ but an organisation that knew what good writing was – and wasn’t – and I had somehow slipped into the right pile.
We writers spend so long alone working on our craft, living in our heads, reading and re-reading our work, sharing it with trepidation and taking criticism on the chin, going back and back and back again until we can hardly see the wood for the trees. We care about beautiful prose, about our words and their effect and sometimes all we want is the reassurance that it hasn’t all been for nothing. But entering prizes has more benefits than simply the chance of winning and hopefully getting a bit of cash and finding ourselves in an anthology, a published writer, maybe for the first time ever! Getting our work prize-ready is really the point.
We may know the judge and the likely calibre of the other entries. We look up the winner from the previous year and read the winning story. Maybe we buy the anthology to get a feel for the standard of the prize winning work. We polish our precious story until it shines. We edit it down – or up – to the required length and make sure it says what we want it to, that we are proud to put our name to it. And lastly, we pay our money that goes into the pot for the prize and keeps the competition going.
Disappointment comes to all of us. I have entered many, many competitions over the years and never heard from most of them. It’s been expensive and disappointing but the wins, when they come along, have kept me going. Being shortlisted or longlisted is no mean feat when many competitions have hundreds of entries and an Honorary Mention (note the capital letters) can mean as much as First Prize to a new writer with three hundred words of her first flash fiction.
I would urge everyone to enter competitions, the local ones, the free ones, the little unknown ones, the big ones with the big prize money. As a minimum, your work will benefit from the extra attention and you never know, this could be your time!
With the very best of luck!