The following column appeared in the September/October 2009 issue of WCDR’s newsletter, Word Weaver.

The Writing Fairy® Eat My Dust Column

by Dorothea Helms

Winning writing contests is one of the most exciting things I’ve experienced during my career. In addition to validation for my writing from an objective source, the wins have brought money, plaques, prizes and prestige. Contest wins listed on a writer’s CV also add credibility.

I don’t know of a magic formula for winning (even though I’m The Writing Fairy), but I do have some tips I’d like to share on how to increase your chances.

  1. Come up with a creative way to approach the contest topic.
  2. Follow the rules.
  3. Write with abandon, polish your writing with care.
  4. Follow the rules.
  5. Enter
  6. Follow the rules.

Sound simplistic? For years, I have served as a writing contest judge from local to national levels, and I have run several contests myself. I’m always astounded at the number of entrants who neglect the rules.

If the maximum word count is 2,500 and your entry is 3,000, it will be eliminated before it’s even read. I’ve had to axe entries for being over the word count many times. If the rules stipulate that the piece has to be original and unpublished, make sure it is. Nowadays it’s easy to do a Google search for one of the sentences and find out if it’s on a website somewhere. I’ve done that and found published work that has been entered as unpublished. And if there is an entry fee, remember to include your payment.

The best way to make sure you follow the rules is to READ THEM. In one of my Writing Fairy contests, after I published the names of the 10 finalists, one of them contacted me to say he had just read the rules, and that his entry had been published in a major US newspaper. I had to eliminate his piece, and it took time and effort to figure out who was next in line to take his spot in the top ten.

When it comes to increasing your chances of winning writing contests, the only thing worse than not following the rules is not entering. If you read winning contest entries and think, I can do better than that, then do better than that and send it in. You’ll find a fabulous list of writing contests on the WCDR website. Get on your butt and give it a whirl.

Oh, and did I mention Follow the Rules?