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While tempting, Richard Holt suggests that competitions should not be your only motivation for writing.

Writing competitions provide a valuable opportunity for writers to test their material. No matter what type of writing you’re producing, from one-act gothic radio plays to weighty academic tomes, there’ll be competitions and prizes to match. I suspect the trap is that it would be easy, as a writer, to do nothing other than enter prizes.

Collectively the availability of so many writing prizes is a great incentive to keep writing—to produce plenty of new material. Not everything you write will find a publishing outlet. But if you write constantly you will finish with a good back catalogue of well-worked material perfect for submission to competitions.

Individually, however, prizes and competitions are a poor motivation for writers. To be precise, writing pieces to fit competition entry guidelines or trying to second-guess what a particular judge might be looking for is a recipe for frustration.

Your reasons for writing what you do should be your own, linked to your desire to tell stories, express emotions or communicate ideas. If you do this constantly and diligently you will develop such a collection of good writing that you will be able to take advantage of opportunities as they arise, using work that represents your own voice and perspective.

Next time a competition lures you, ask yourself if you have already written a piece that fits the guidelines. If something appropriate exists submit it. Avoid the temptation to write to a competition brief unless it’s a perfect fit for something you’ve been itching to tackle. For most of us the reward for a writing life is long term. Life is too short to focus on, or be motivated by, chasing literary competition gold.

May your words pour onto the page,

Richard Holt

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