How to Win Writing Contests

How to Win Writing Contests

It can be helpful to know how to win writing contests. With so many entries it may seem impossible for yours to possibly stand out. 

The truth is many writers struggle with confidence issues. Many writers second guess themselves so much that they do not even enter themselves in a writing contest. While this is unfortunate you can take advantage of this as a writer.

By understanding what contests are looking for and understanding the common mistakes participants make you can greatly increase your chances of winning writing contests.

Play on The Reader’s Emotions 

When you write an entry for a writing competition you often do not have too many words to stand out. Many contests have limited word counts and as a result, you have a limited amount of space to make an impact with the reader.

The easiest and most powerful impact you can make with a reader is an emotional one. Do not be afraid to engulf them in an emotional journey. Try to make the reader smile, or maybe cry. There are many emotions to choose from, do not simply default to sorrow.

There are many benefits to making an entry that is emotionally charged. First of all, writing makes the reader feel something is interesting, so the reader will not be bored. Judges that are picking a contest winner may spend hours reading entries. If yours bores them they may skim through it to hop to the next one. The other key benefit is that an emotional entry is not easy to forget. If you make an emotional impact on the judge they will surely remember your entry when it is time to pick the winner.

play with the readers emotions

Shock the Readers 

When you are writing an entry for a writing contest, never play it safe. Too many entries have a basic or uneventful endings. Those are the entries that instantly get forgotten. 

This is a writing contest we are talking about. Do not be afraid to swing big. There is no consequence if you miss. Think of it this way. The chances are if you do not take risks you will not win anyway.

If you have an idea for a crazy twist ending or a shocking finale that no one will see coming, go for it. Do not be afraid to have the main character fail, or even die. You have to go into a writing contest. Honestly, you are better off writing an ending the reader might completely hate than writing one that is safe.

Twist and endings are not the only places you can throw the reader off guard. Take a close look at the prompt and try and brainstorm what you can see a lot of the entries attempting. Do anything but that. Try to find a setting or a premise that none of the other entrants would even consider writing about. 

The judges have likely read dozens of the same story. Give them something different to look at.

Delete as Much as Possible

This one is more effective than you may think. In all cases, no reader loves to read paragraphs of fluff. A perfect story only presents you with the interesting information you need to understand the story. While a reader can find excess words annoying, the judge of a writing contest may see it as a critical flaw.

When you read hundreds of entries you quickly become tired of looking at words. Words that seem to have no purpose will surely be frustrating to any judge. They also do nothing to enhance your story, so there is no point in keeping sentences that may be removed.

This is especially so at the beginning of your entry. Many entries to writing contests start too early in the story. Read the first paragraph of your entry and ask yourself if the story could stand without it. If the answer is yes, delete it. Continue this until you reach the true beginning of your story.

It is best to delete the excess fat of your story after you have written it. Condensing as you go can make the writing process difficult. Besides, that is what editing is for.

Proofread Before You Enter Writing Contests 

Speaking of editing, please edit your story before you submit it to a writing contest. I can not tell you how many entries are submitted with basic errors that could easily be cleaned up with editing software like Grammarly.  

Any error can hurt your entry into a writing contest’s chances of winning. A glaring error or two can take your story out of contention, no matter how brilliant it is.

How to Win Writing Contest

Be sure to read your entry many times over. You should not only edit it for mistakes but also look to make efforts to improve it. If you can show it to a friend and get some feedback. Many entrants will not make that effort so make sure you do. The first draft of a story is never perfect. Submit the best piece you possibly can. There is a reason most writing contests give you time to create the best possible entry.

While editing it also takes time to read the prompt. Make sure your entry adheres to it. If you do not follow all the rules of a contest it is safe to assume your odds of winning are zero.

Read Winning Entries for Previous Contests 

This is a step that seems obvious, yet many entrants do not put in the time to see if the host of the contest they are entering has run a contest before. If they have, there is a good chance you can find an example of previous contest winners.

A previous contest winner by the same host is golden for you as an entrant. You get an inside look at what the host is looking for. You get inside knowledge to the judges’ taste. 

Even if previous winners have not been posted you may want to look at the winners of some similar contests. This can show you some of the elements of a winning entry. Even if it does not help, at the very least you get to read some good fiction in your favorite genre.

Win Writing Contests by Entering More Writing Contest 

Winning a writing contest is a numbers game. Sometimes you do everything right and another entry just appeals to the judges more. Do not let this scenario discourage you. To take the risk required in your writing to win a writing contest you have to accept the chance of failure. 

You will not win every contest you enter. That being said, if you follow all these tips your chances of writing a contest-winning entry will increase. To offer yourself the best chance of winning you need to branch out and enter multiple contests. With enough persistence, you are sure to find some success.


Now that you have a better idea about how to win writing contests, now it is time to get to work. There are plenty of writing contests out there. Find some that interest you and write some entries.

If you take these tips to heart, writing contests are a decent way to earn a little extra on the side as a writer. The more experience you acquire entering a contest the more your writing contest skills will improve. Just understand nothing is a guarantee when it comes to writing contests.

While these tips will certainly help there is no magic answer for how to win writing contests. The best you can do is enter as many contests as possible and give them everything you got.

Good luck!

Author: Patrick Nilan

Just a young writer looking to take the mistakes I've made to aid the next generation.