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How to use writing contests to reach your goals

I’ve been on a contest kick lately. In my post about using a calendar to keep track of upcoming contests, I mentioned that part of my overall writing plan for 2012 is to submit to more contests and send my work out to be published in literary journals and magazines.

What I’m discovering as I do this is that the mini-deadlines are giving me just what I need to reach my larger goals. For example, I’ve been wanting to compile my first poetry manuscript for the last couple of years, but I just “never got around to it.” So, when my writing partner, Carly, emailed me a contest that she thought I might want to enter, I chose that contest deadline as the deadline to finally compile my manuscript. And I did it. And through that process, I learned so much and became motivated to think about what themes I want to explore in my next book of poetry.

Another contest calls for a 10,000 word or less excerpt of a fiction or creative nonfiction book. If your entry wins, then a publisher will read your entire manuscript. It doesn’t guarantee publication, of course. But it would look great on a resume. And even if I don’t place in the finals, I’ll still get so much out of it–including having polished my manuscript even more.

These contests are everywhere. Just type in “writing contests 2012” into your search engine or “poetry contests 2012” or “fantasy writing contests 2012.”

Poets & Writers has a database of contests from around the world.

Writer’s Digest holds many of their own competitions.

State arts organizations also often hold contests and feature grant opportunities. In Washington State, we have the Artist Trust Foundation. In Idaho, you’ll find the Idaho Commission on the Arts. You can find contests for every genre and every type of art.

Choose a contest and work toward that deadline. Even if you don’t win, you’ll be ahead of where you were. You just may find it helps you reach your big goals faster.

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