True story. I started entering writing competitions in my teens. I had some poems published, received the occasional citation or honorable mention and even received a medallion from an eccentric group called the Melbourne Poetry Society.
Encouraged, I took creative writing at university and received mixed feedback for my work. At writing workshops, everyone seemed way more mature and talented than me. My writing felt too naive and earnest. When a poet in residence looked at a folio of my work and suggested I consider another career path, I pretty much gave up on poetry.
I did enter some short story competitions, one of which was run by the Moonee Valley Regional Library service. Much to my surprise, I received a letter inviting me to their award night. I attended and discovered I’d won second prize in the short story competition.
On completing my arts degree, I entered journalism and began writing for a living. Various newspaper and online gigs followed until one employer went broke during the Tech Wreck era and I found myself working part-time and writing as a freelancer.
Freed from daily deadlines, I rediscovered fiction. I started writing short stories and entering competitions and stumbled across the Moonee Valley Regional Library competition again. It seemed like a chance to measure myself, to see if I’d made progress over the course of almost twenty years in writing.
I entered a short story. And won second prize again.
I had to laugh.
I’ve said elsewhere on this blog that judging yourself by your trophy cabinet can be damaging to your motivation and morale. You’re best to keep writing because you enjoy it, not because you hope you’ll win something some day. While any encouragement you glean can fuel sustained stints at the keyboard, many writing competitions charge entry fees. If you keep on entering, wishing that the next comp will make you famous, you’re doing the equivalent of playing the pokies.
I’m not demeaning competitions or accolades other than first prize. I am saying you write for yourself first. You persist. You rewrite. You progress. Any gongs you collect along the way are a bonus.