Writing advice

Whilst I was ensconced in writing my novel, I used to see competitions advertised for unpublished manuscripts and fantasise about a time when I would be in a position to enter. The allure wasn’t so much the prizes on offer as the satisfaction of having a finished product at my fingertips which I could fire off at will. I longed to be able to able to say, ‘Oh yeah, I’ll give that one a go.’  Well, now I can.

But what is the point of entering? It’s not like I’m seriously expecting to win anything. I’ve never won a competition in my life. What other benefits might be gained from pitting my MS against hundreds, if not thousands, of other hopefuls?

Well, firstly, when putting together a competition submission, I inevitably find myself taking another look at those opening pages or chapters.  I view my submission from a fresh perspective. I wonder what the competition judge will make of it and how it will compare with all the other entries. I re-evaluate its impact. Of course, it’s easy to over edit, so I try not to tweak it too much. But, as this is the same opening that’s going out to agents, it’s a good idea to repeatedly make sure it’s up to scratch.

The same goes for the synopsis. Different competitions impose different word limits, meaning that I’ve had to write several versions of my synopsis. Infuriating as this is, the more I rewrite it, the better it gets. It’s good practice, like doing scales.

The lowest word limit so far was two hundred.  I’m not joking. This certainly challenges you to pinpoint exactly what your novel is about. When I was moaning about this to a writer friend recently, she came up with a Hemingway-esque six word synopsis for my novel. It was brilliant and very funny. Try it.

Another benefit of entering competitions is that it helps me to feel pro-active. It gives me deadlines to meet and briefs to fulfill. Putting my completed novel to work gives me a boost: something all writers struggling on their own need from time to time.

And if, by any chance, I were ever to be longlisted, shortlisted even, well, that would be a very nice accolade to add to my writer’s CV. An agent is more likely to take notice if they know that someone else, particularly someone with literary credentials, has liked my book enough to put it through to the next round.  Some competitions even offer agency representation as a prize. Others reward with cash prizes, writing retreats, critical feedback, mentoring, or even publication. Nice work if you can get it.

This post, however, comes with a warning. There are so many competitions out there, for novels alone, I could spend ridiculous quantities of time preparing entries: sorting the correct format, re-sizing the synopsis, filling in forms and writing out cheques. An activity that was meant to be productive could soon turn into a displacement activity.

Following the relief, the anti-climax and the guarded optimism that comes with completing a novel, I need to remember to keep working. My ambition, after all, is not to be a competition winner, but to be a writer.

Claudia Cruttwell is currently seeking representation for her psychological suspense novel entitled, ‘A Piece of Broken Sky.’ She has an MA in Creative Writing from Brunel University and writes short stories on a variety of themes. She blogs about her journey to publication on her website and can also be found on Twitter @cscruttwell.