Yesterday, I linked to a piece in the Independent that asked whether authors need to win an award if they want to guarantee a long career. I don't have the answer to that question (apart from no, almost certainly not), but it did get me thinking about the importance of awards and competitions for unpublished writers. That's right. We can be winners too.
Before I go on though, I must say that this article - and most of my others, actually - is something of a note to self for me - a slap on the wrist, even.
As you might guess, I'm about to recommend that you enter competitions and submit your work to magazines. But to tell you the truth, it's a while since I did so myself, and more fool me. I aim to rectify this in the near future.
Okay, on with the show.
Above the parapet
The great thing about entering competitions and submitting to magazines (ECASM from now on) is that they typically ask for short pieces - stories or poems.
That means that you don't have to worry about writing something more substantial before getting your work out there. In theory, a brand new writer can write on single story, start ECASM straight away and be successful.
However, if you do have a larger collection of work to choose from, ECASM can provide a useful distraction. It, as in the result, can be something to look forward to while you bat on with the rest of your collection, or something else entirely.
ECASM also makes you feel like you are part of something bigger - that you are contributing to the wider writing community.
Scribbling alone in your room is all good and well, but it's important to pop your head round the door every now and again and say hello to the rest of the writing world. ECASM is great for doing just that.
ECASM (which is getting more annoying to type than actually writing it in full) forces you to think about your work in a different way.
It's no longer just a story in a drawer, it's for public consumption. What's more, you're sending it to someone whose job it is to judge both yours and its literary merits.
So you need it to be good, right? You need to work on your submission to the point where it's as brilliant as it can possibly be. And that's a splendid thing. It's great to think critically (and I mean really critically) about any piece of writing.
Think about it. Do you put all of your work through the same rigorous editorial process? Or do you put extra critical emphasis on the bits that you know someone else is going to see?
It's the latter. Of course it is. And that's fine. ECASM is an excellent way of forcing you to get down to the nitty gritty.
Good for the CV
Finally, there's the winning. Everyone likes winning. You have to be in it to win it, as they say, and you won't win if you don't ECASM. With no agent or publisher to do it for you, the onus is on you to get your work out there.
If you're successful, WCASM (w for winning) looks great on your covering letter and author biography. These things really do make a difference.
It means that when you submit to an agent or publisher, you can say, 'Oh, and I won this competition and was published in this magazine.' That says that not only are you a totally awesome writer, but that you have the motivation and commitment to ECASM in the first place.
You want to be read. You're as keen as mustard.
Let it all hang out
There are many other good reasons for you to get your work out there as much as possible. ECASM is just one way (well, two) of reaching an audience and getting your name in lights.
The main thing is to not be afraid to try. If you're serious about your writing and want to see your work in print (or e-ink or whatever), ECASM is a great way of dipping your toes in the water. Very little harm can come from it. No one gets hurt.
Sure, you might never win a competition or get a piece accepted to a magazine, but the process itself provides plenty of rewards. The very act of preparing a piece for submission makes you think carefully about what you're creating, and about who you are as a writer.
ECASM helps you improve. That's all any of us can ever ask for.
Share your thoughts
Do you see the value in writing competitions and submitting your work to literary magazines? Is it just another distraction from getting on with your masterpiece? Let me know what you think in the comments section below.