Monday, April 6, 2009

Writing Contests


So today (now that my rant about skinny jeans is done), I wanted to talk a bit about writing contests.

Some people say that writing contests are just a way for some people to make money. And I guess for some of the sponsors that is true, BUT I think even those contests can offer you a little insight into your writing.

I never enter a contest unless it offers feedback. Feedback is the most important thing you can get your hands on as a writer. If you let your family and friends read what you write, GREAT! but don't expect impartial feedback from them. They will either be overly hard on you, or far too easy on you. Feedback is what will help you develop your story in subsequent re-writes... and there will be many re-writes. I joke on the main webpage that I have re-written my script Losing Faith 150 times. Well, I'm currently working through 151. Why? Well because of some feedback I received and some new ideas to punch up the humour. As you grow as a writer go back to your previous work and take a look at it with fresher more experienced eyes. You'll see holes and rough patches that you hadn't noticed before.

My suggestion is that you find yourself a pro. Before I start shipping my scripts off to contests I like to feel that they are as close to perfect as I can get them at the time. (I know I just said I've re-written them 150 times). Find someone who will work with you, and offer you ways out of problem areas. A good reader will point out the weak parts but show you what you've done well because it can act as an example of how you have been clear in your writing and created some strong scenes. They will help you learn from your own success and their experience. Once the two of you have reached the point of exhaustion with a certain project and you both agree that material you have in your hand is really good... Send it out into the world of contests. See what other people, who aren't intimately involved in the creative process have to say. Chances are they will come back with some useful tips and ideas for improvement.

Writing contests are good tools, but they can be quite costly. AND THE WAITING WILL DRIVE YOU MAD!!!!

A few good ideas to make sure you are working with a reputable contest are:
  1. Submit only to contests that are recommeneded by other people in the industry. I like to use a website called Movie Bytes to find and research contests. But the WGC has posts occasionally for these types of events.
  2. Follow the submission guidelines to the letter. It sucks to have your script disqualified for a minor issue.
  3. Try using a service like Without a Box when possible. They will qualify your project and make sure its not missing anything and track your submission for you to make sure it has been received by the contest officials.
  4. Look for the annoucement in the periodicals they say they will be announcing in or have announced in previously. Some\Most contest say they will annouce the winners in a magazine, or post the results on their website for 6 months etc. Check! See if the previous winners are listed.
  5. Make sure the cost justifies the return. If they are asking for $75 and all you get is email notification that you've made it to the finals... No good. There are plenty of economy contests that offer feedback, software and publicity to their winners.
If everything checks out, the next thing to do is submit... and wait... and wait...

Waiting for the deadlines to arrive is grueling. I always try to make the early submission deadline because there is usually a break in the cost of the entry fee. But it makes waiting for results (sometimes up to 8 months) a living nightmare! Because, if you are like me, you are constantly re-writing your work and making it better so by the time the contest roles around you've found 20 funnier jokes, 3 typos, and taken out 2 scenes that made the script lag in the 2nd act. The way I have overcome my writers anxiety for situations like this is to simply forget about them. I put an entry in my calendar that reminds me that I have a deadline coming up and I check the website or keep a more vigilant eye on my email for about a week before the announcement date. AND you do have to watch! I read a review of a contest by its winner who said he had no idea he had won until he received his prize pack in the mail. The contest people had not otherwise contacted him, but when he went to the homepage there was his name in lights! Sooooo... don't completely forget, but put them out of your mind. You know?

Writing Contests are good tools. Look for contests with feedback, and low entry costs. If you go for the high end contests with big entry fees, make sure the return on your investment is good. Feedback, and interview with a few agents, a live reading of your script... You know... Make sure to do your homework, both in researching the contest, and in evaluating your work. Rarely do contests accept corrected pages so if you send them a script with 100 typos, you'll likely be kicked out in the first round.

Good luck!

- G

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