If you want to know how to become an author, you’ve probably asked yourself the following questions:
- How can I develop my craft?
- Will writing short stories make me a better writer?
- Are writing competitions worth my time?
Here are the answers.
Writing competitions help you build good habits
By now, you’ve probably heard of Heinlein’s rules. The Writers of the Future Contest is especially good for helping you master Heinlein’s first two, namely 1) You must write, and 2) You must finish what you start.
It’s easy for new writers to fall into the trap of starting stories but never finishing them, or to get stuck rewriting the same story over and over. With its quarterly deadlines, WOTF encourages writers to finish and submit a new short story every three months. If you commit to entering all four quarters, you’ll also be building the discipline and productivity necessary to succeed as a professional writer.
Writing contests can be good for morale
Nobody likes rejection letters, and new writers get a lot of them. Even established authors still get rejected. Writing contests, however, are a little different. Some contests offer feedback on your work, while others have tiers of awards even if you don’t win the top prize. Earning an Honorable Mention or Semi-finalist can help keep you going when it feels like all you’re getting are rejections. When you move from one tier to another, you know your writing has improved.
Writing competitions give you a chance to experiment
Writing contests are great for experimentation. Maybe the contest calls for a romance story but you don’t write romance, or the story has to include a werewolf but you only write hard sci-fi. Maybe the contest is for flash fiction, but you always write long. Stretch yourself, and give it a try. If you want to become an author, this is how you grow.
Athletes know that if they want to get better, they need to practice a wide range of techniques and activities. Writing is the same way. If you only write what you’re already good at, you’ll limit your development as a writer. In order to develop your craft, you’ll need to try new things, so look for themed competitions that give you a chance to flex new muscles as a writer.
Writing contests help you target your practice
It’s fine to write for yourself. It’s also fine to write a rough draft that you know isn’t perfect. If you’re aiming at winning contests, however, you’ll need to focus on honing your skills. Perfect your spelling, grammar, punctuation, and formatting. Before you write each story, identify the writing skills you’ll be practicing in that story and write them down.
Perhaps you want to write an adventure story with tight pacing and a POV you’ve never tried before. Or maybe you want to work on intricate plotting and snappy dialogue. Either way, you’ll get the greatest benefit if you identify your practice areas beforehand so you can give them extra attention while you’re writing.
When you’re done, give the story one last round of polish and send it off.
Then start the next one.
Kary English grew up in the snowy Midwest where she avoided siblings and frostbite by reading book after book in a warm corner behind a recliner chair. She blames her one and only high school detention on Douglas Adams, whose Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy caused her to laugh out loud while reading it behind her geometry textbook.
Today, Kary still spends most of her time with her head in the clouds and her nose in a book. To the great relief of her parents, she seems to be making a living at it. Her fiction includes several short stories and a fantasy saga about a little girl and an orange kitten. Kary’s highest aspiration is to make her own work detention-worthy.
Kary is a Hugo and Campbell nominee and Writers of the Future winner whose fiction has appeared in L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume 31, the Grantville Gazette, Daily Science Fiction, and Galaxy’s Edge.