Creating Time For Creative Writing: Enter Writing Contests

by Alicia Sparks on February 15, 2011


A clock. To, you know, represent the time you need to create.

About a year and a half ago, a friend told me about a fiction writing contest Esquire was holding. The magazine was looking for 4,000-word short stories based on any one of three provided titles, the first place prize was $2,500 and publication, and the deadline wasn’t for several months.

A magazine that’s been around since 1932? Interesting topics? Plenty of time?

All of those sounded just peachy to me, but what actually made me enter the contest was the motivation it provided to actually write something unrelated to work.

For a couple of years before that writing contest, my creative writing had been so painfully stagnant I could almost feel it – physically. The need to write something that wasn’t for someone else – that wasn’t meant to market someone else’s product or announce someone else’s new service or tell visitors what someone else’s website was about – was almost suffocating at times.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m grateful for someone else’s writing demands. Without them, I’d probably be blogging about how to sign up for unemployment. Still, it was clear I needed to find some time – to find some kind of balance – so I could do both.

Entering a writing contest was just the kick I needed to create – not find – that time and balance.

To make this already long story short, I didn’t win the contest (can you believe it?) but I did finish the first short story I’d written in years. I even let a few people read it.

Also, I learned entering writing contests is a great way to rekindle that passion for writing. Entering a writing contest:

  • Allows me to write about a topic I’m interested in.
  • Lets me stretch my creating writing muscles without feeling guilty. (Yeah, I know, I shouldn’t feel guilty in the first place, but sometimes I do when I’m working on personal, non-paying writing, okay?)
  • Gives me a deadline. (Makes it harder to put off!)

Plus, if I tell people I’m entering a contest, BOOM – I’m held accountable, suckas.

We contract and freelance writers need that work-related writing to, you know, eat, but sometimes it can interfere with our personal and creative writing. What do you do when this happens? Have contests worked for you, or do you have another trick for creating time for creative writing?

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Shavonne White April 5, 2012 at 4:55 pm

Hi Alicia, how are you my name is Shavonne I am a freelance writer trying to publish and find a writing gig. I have written 4 books and i love it is my passion. I am currently going to school for journalism and I really want to persue my dreams as a writer but I dont know WHY know one will give me that one CHANCE to show myself.

Alicia Sparks April 24, 2012 at 8:57 am

@ Shavonne – Congrats on completing four books! That’s a huge accomplishment!

When you say no one has given you the chance to show yourself, specifically what are you referring to? Do you mean that no one has hired you for writing gigs yet, or that no one has agreed to publish your books? Both processes can take a long time (especially when you’re just breaking into either business); a big chunk of a professional writer’s time is spent job hunting (networking, marketing, follow ups, etc.). Do you have an online portfolio to show prospective clients? Are your query-writing skills up to par? These are all things to think about as you consider why you haven’t had a nibble yet.

Be sure to keep me posted as things progress!

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