Have you ever taken the time to really search the internet for writing competitions? Perhaps it’s because I’m based in Ireland (the land of Saints and Scholars, lest we forget), but it feels as though there are literally hundreds of competitions and possibilities for submission. Everywhere you go there are more and more.
I’m definitely not complaining about this. It’s wonderful that there are so many places interested in, and willing to take a chance on, unpublished work and authors that are just starting the process of carving out a career. The only problem I have is keeping up with them all. For every opportunity I find, I know I’m missing ten more; I have to tell myself that this is okay, and hope that I’m being drawn to the ‘right’ ones. It’s annoying to not know about a competition until after the closing date has passed, particularly when it sounds like one which would have been really enjoyable and challenging – and even more particularly when the closing date has only just passed.
I’ve no idea how hard this process must have been before the internet existed, and all these competition notifications weren’t available at the touch of a few buttons. I presume, perhaps, that people were more proactive about attending writers’ groups or events and actually talking to one another about what sorts of openings were available. That’s not always practical or possible, of course – it’s a lot more convenient to keep up to date with this sort of information through the web. There’s literally no excuse not to submit work, at least not in terms of there being a lack of opportunity – the opposite is definitely the case. It’s a full-time job in itself keeping on top of everything, though. I’m the first to admit I don’t always manage it.
In the past four or five weeks, I’ve written about twenty-five short stories of various lengths and styles. The longest was 3,500 words, and the shortest 99; I’ve experimented with form, voice, and content. Some of them have found homes in competitions or in submissions, but most of them are just like delicate linens, wrapped in soft tissue and stored out of direct sunlight. I hope that these stories will be brought out and displayed at some point, but there’s no real guarantee of that. A lot of competitions, and even some literary magazines which call for submissions, will be looking for stories written to a particular theme. This can be very inspirational – being given a theme and/or a word limit can definitely spark the creative flow – but it also means that if you’re drawn to writing stories about psychopathic rabbits dressed in luminous spats who go on to reform their characters and fight crime against cucumbers, you might struggle to place your work with some literary magazines. Also, there aren’t a lot of competitions (at least, not that I’ve seen) which call for that particular theme, though the world would be a better place if there were.
I’ve tended to write whatever stories come to mind, not worrying too much about writing ‘to order’, and I’m enjoying the feeling of building up my personal stockpile. I’ve actually enjoyed this process so much that I don’t really want to bring it to an end (or even to a temporary halt), but I do plan to do that during April in order to focus again on my longer pieces. I wish I’d tried to write short stories years ago! It goes against my instincts to edit or change a finished piece, one that I’m happy with, to suit a particular competition or fit with particular submission criteria, so I hope I’ll be able to find a place to let all these more or less miscellaneous tales out into the open sometime in the future, just as they are. Even if they never get lifted out of their storage drawer, their value lies in the fact that writing them stretched my brain and got me to think, and that’s fantastic.
A lot of competitions and calls for submissions are quarterly, which means that March 31st is a deadline I’m seeing all over the place. This is why I feel April is a good time to get back into the novels I’ve neglected for the past while – I can spend a few weeks, perhaps a month, immersed in the longer forms before focusing on shorter works once again. I can’t believe how much I’ve enjoyed my experiments with short fiction, though, and it’s quite possible my brain will drag me back to the short story form a little bit ahead of schedule. Of course, I can keep my eye on the various calls for submissions that regularly pop up even while I’m not focusing on the shorter forms, and if a story I’ve written is suitable I can happily send it on its merry way. It’s great to get the best of both worlds.
I’m lucky to have a husband who does his best to help my writing endeavours whatever way he can; this includes making me a nifty Excel spreadsheet to keep track of all the stories, submissions and competitions I’ve entered, as well as those I want to enter. I also keep a separate folder in my documents file for each magazine or competition to which I submit work, so there’s no confusion over what I’ve submitted, and when I submitted it. As well as that, a lot of places use software called Submittable, which is a great way of tracking your submissions and finding out at a glance what stage your submissions are at. Technology can help not only in finding out where the opportunities are, but also keeping track of what pieces have gone where. It wouldn’t do to submit the same story twice to two different places, of course. You want to give yourself the best chance, so it’d be a shame to disqualify yourself over a silly mistake.
The most important thing, of course, is to enjoy what you’re writing and not stress overmuch about competitions and submissions. But when you’re ready to submit, there’s no shortage of opportunity. When and if you do, good luck!