Guide to Longer Writing Competitions

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This guide provides advice on how to enter and win longer writing competitions.  These are much easier than you think! Longer DOES NOT MEAN MORE DIFFICULT!

It’s counter-intuitive, but you may find these longer writing competitions EASIER to enter than the shorter ones because you need less conciseness of wit and brainpower. These competitions offer BIG CASH with an even lower entry rate than the shorter writing competitions, it really is worth spending more effort – the rewards can be HUGE!

Most of these competitions will ask you to write on a fiction or non-fiction theme or topic. Be prepared and you will radically increase your chances of winning!


Unless a particular theme jumps out at you - Scan all the competitions on a regular basis and note down themes of interest. TOP TIP: Write down the different topics into your phone. When lightening strikes, you just open up that note and start sketching out your idea. If that sounds like a weird way of doing things – just try it! Your brain will think in the background and will subconsciously search for ideas while you get on with your life – trust me, it works!

If ideas are not coming and closing dates are approaching, then you might need to give your brain a budge by researching the keywords on the Internet. A good tip is to search the word in a dictionary to get all the different ways that the topic can be interpreted. Why not do this first? Well, it’s harder work, and takes time – so just trust that your brain might deliver you an idea – if not, then researching might work!

WHAT WILL WIN? Simple answer: The Idea!

Most entries will be the most obvious. The judges take valuable time to read the entries so aim to stand out! Be unconventional and original and whisk the judges off their feet with your sparkling insight. Generally an excellent idea will win out over perfect writing skills – but you have to ensure that your unique idea isn’t so weird that it alienates the reader. Aim to entertain – not to baffle or to sound clever. Judges want to be entertained. They usually publish your winning entry, so they will want to appeal to a large audience so bear that in mind when formulating your idea. How do you get ideas? There is no simple answer, but there are many strategies that might help you:

MINDMAPPING POSSIBILITIES: Write the topic/theme in the centre of a blank piece of paper and draw lines outwards, towards the edge of the paper, then let your creativity go wild! Give each line a different function – depending on the topic, to get you started, these might be helpful – obviously it depends what themes you are thinking about:

  • Senses: sights, smells, touch, sounds and tastes
  • Living things: people, animals, aliens etc.
  • Feelings – laughter, anger, fear, regret etc.
  • Built environment: houses, factories, palaces, tree-house etc.

Both fiction and non-fiction themes can be inspired by simply heading down to the library or through your own book collection and flicking through books that cover the topic. Another good strategy that can work is news stories – enter the topic word into the Internet and click on NEWS and you can be amazed with what comes up.

Once you have a rough theme in your head, you are down to the planning stage. It might seem ridiculous, but a lot of story entries are anything but – a lot of entries will be just description rather than a story, this is because the entry has a lack of conflict or something to be ‘solved’ at the end – not like a whodunit, but something must ‘happen’ in a story – be it, something lost and found, a battle of some kind, a quest. Your writing should aim to ask a question of some kind and end with the answer. It will have a beginning middle and ending.

A rule of thumb for length: the beginning and ending combined should take up about 25% of the word count – and the remaining 75% should be the action. Building in some anticipation and making the reader care about what is happening. All this sounds very simple but it’s amazing how many ‘pro’ writers fall in love with how their writing sounds to the detriment of the actual story!

The main body (The 75%) should follow a logical order. It’s fine to build in a flashback, but on shorter pieces, it’s easier to write a chronological account of event rather than being flashy – if the story idea is interesting, you don’t need flashy literary devices – keeping it simple, original and entertaining - and you might surprise yourself!

GET WRITING! Remember the points in the previous section regarding sentence length etc. Go for it!

Before sending your entry, sit on it. You can take this as literal as you want, but this is the phrase that writers use to describe the period of time that they refer back to the writing so they see the work with ‘fresh eyes’. The more time you can leave before re-reading your work – the easier it will be to spot mistakes because it’s easy to miss things out. The things that you miss out are much easier to spot after not looking at your writing for a few days.

Finally – read it out loud to see that it ‘flows’ and do a spell and grammar check and you’ll be done!

These competitions are not intimidating once you have broken it all up into manageable chunks. Once you are in your creative stride, it is really enjoyable to win a competition like this! If you aren’t lucky – keep the writing for another comp! Good luck!

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