Do's and Dont's
Is there an actual formula for winning a competition? No. While it’s undeniably true that certain names do seem to crop up quite regularly in competition wins, this actually has a lot more to do with talent than with tactics. And, of course, part of the talent is in the choices. Those who win have entered the competition in the first place. You do have to be in it to win it. However, there are some very basic but useful guidelines to follow that will give you a headstart.
- Do follow the rules. Obvious, isn’t it? But many entrants nonetheless fail to observe the basics for most competitions. Common errors include: spoiling an entry by including – whether inadvertently or not - revealing information (such as name or address); disregarding stipulations on presentation of entries (such as submitting handwritten entries when the competition requires that all entries be typed); writing in excess of the word or line limit; and, most common of all, failure to include an entry fee. Remember to read the rules in full and very carefully. Exceptions are never made, however good the work itself may be. Failure to follow the rules will inevitably result in disqualification.
- Even if the competition doesn’t explicitly state it – and almost all will – you can assume that your entry should be on white, A4 paper. Include no illustrations. No fancy fonts: judges like Arial or Times New Roman which are, above all, easy to read.
- Do ensure that there are no typos and/or horrendous grammatical errors. Get someone else to have a read through if you’re uncertain.
- Do not dedicate your work to your mother/father/grandmother/dog/ cat/the queen.
- Do not write about your mother/father/grandmother/dog/ cat/ the queen. In competitions all are topics best avoided like the plague.
- Do be original: avoid hackneyed themes, such as writing about the seasons or death (unless the competition is ‘themed’ and calls for precisely that). Remember that literally hundreds of people will do this very thing. Instead, write about surprising things in surprising ways. Give that weary judge a jolt - stand out from the crowd and get noticed.
- Don’t write to order. That is, don’t waste your time attempting to write the kind of work you think that the judge or judges would especially favour. And never write in the style of the judge or judges. It’s very obvious - and most judges will tell you that nothing on earth is a bigger turn-off. Judges can be surprising in their choices. Their selections often almost impossible to second guess. More often than not, competition winners go against the grain. Don’t try to anticipate what they want. Be yourself.
- Don’t go for shock tactics to make an impression. Profanity taken to extremes is not innovative. Just very, very boring. And it’s never won anyone a competition yet.
- Do read past anthologies of competition winners if they’re available. Take your tips for the top by reading the work which made the final cut. This will also help you to appreciate the standards you’re up against.
- Don’t enter the same material simultaneously to different competitions. As unlikely as it is that you might win two competitions for the same poem or short story, it has in fact happened. The result will be embarrassing for both you and the sponsoring organisations, and may lead to disqualification not simply from one but from both.
- ALWAYS send in your very best work – work you’re really proud of and have confidence in.