People often ask about the value of entering competitions, belonging to writing groups and membership with writing organisations. For me, it’s like this ...

Writing Competitions
While writing for myself is important, I know that writing for publication means I must always keep readers in mind. One way to guarantee that my work falls into readers’ hands is to send it to competitions. People who run competitions are avid readers and in a great position to comment on my work, especially in comparison to the work of others. The latter is most important because, in addition to established authors, those I’m up against in competitions are my competition when seeking publication. Gaining places and positive feedback in competitions gives me some indication of where I’m at in terms of achieving my goal. What’s more, feedback from competitions helps me see how my story was perceived from a reader’s point of view rather than a writer’s. That is useful in helping me learn about my strengths and weaknesses—essential pieces of knowledge to continued learning. Writing competitions are a gift! I encourage others to make use of them.

While competitions are generally inexpensive, a few have substantial entry fees. My advice is to assess what the entry fee is paying for. If it provides feedback in the form of a reader’s report specific to your entry it could be well worth entering. If it is promising the possibility of publication in an anthology, I advise that you base your decision on the publisher’s reputation and the entry fee. Some competitions with little credibility have been known to produce anthologies only after enough entrants commit to purchasing copies. These are ones I don’t enter.  Generally, competitions advertised through reputable writing organisations such as the ASA, CBCA and Writers’ Centres are fine.

Writing Groups
Also known as critique groups, these can be most valuable in giving me an opportunity to hear responses to my work from a reader’s point of view. One of the reasons some people choose not to use them is that they find it tricky to decide which feedback to take on board and which to disregard. The ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’ of writing are subjective but I feel it is important to open myself up to feedback. It helps me learn and grow. The simplest tool for helping me work out what elements of feedback are valid is to ask the person giving feedback to point out the parts of the work that gave rise to their opinion. Having someone point out words, phrases and character action and dialogue that gave them a particular impression helps me rework or fine tune material to increase the chances of readers absorbing it as I wish them to. Likewise, it often shows when I’ve neglected to give readers enough to help them feel the story as I hope they might.

Things to think about with critique groups
Setting a time and meeting place, sticking to it and turning up with something to work on shows commitment to growing as a writer. While at times it may be difficult to bring material, bringing ideas for brainstorming keeps me moving forward. By committing to working on the material my critique partners bring, I practise analysing stories from a reader’s perspective. Discussing with other writers what their intention was and pointing out words, phrases, action and dialogue (or lack of same) that brought me to specific conclusions means I learn to analyse writing in a way that also helps my skill base grow.

Writing Organisations
This is where I hit the jackpot! Organisations such as those in the links page of this site provide many things. Besides informative articles, generally forthcoming in regular newsletters, they advertise courses and workshops, competitions and festivals and keep me in touch with what is happening in the world of writing and writers. They keep me inspired, help me keep on track with achieving my goals and they care about me as a writer. They have been around a long time and will be here while ever people like you and I join up and make use of their services. I think no writer can truly operate as an island and feel we need writing organisations and they need us, so I support them!
© Copyright Emma Cameron