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A New Year Writing Resolution

The following Blog Post was written by OCA Writing Student Deborah Riccio.

Resolutions are uncommon for me. I stopped making them after deciding that these unrealistic self-imposed (and easily broken) targets were not helping me get through another dismal January because by the beginning of February I’d begin to hate myself so much for being such a lightweight that I seriously doubted I had an inch of willpower inside my flimsy body.

So when I found out that David Tennant* doesn’t do NYR’s either, I reckoned I was in pretty good company, and nobody could argue with me on that score. However, since I started studying Creative Writing with the OCA, I’ve been so buoyed and boosted by tutor comments and positive feedback on both units I’ve thus far covered: Writing Skills and Art of Poetry, that this January I decided I’d have a bash at entering writing competitions and see if my creativity had blossomed enough to get noticed by the outside world. I didn’t announce this as a ‘proper’ NYR and kept the decision to myself –a kind of secret aspiration.

I made a folder (a physical one – hardbacked) decorated with sparkling hot air balloons and christened it ‘OPPORTUNITIES’ – much more inspiring than plain old ‘competitions’ and put in 12 dividers, writing the months of the year on each. Inside these I slotted 2-3 writing competitions found online or inside the latest edition of Myslexia. I found rafts of details on Paul McVeigh’s blog, which is a veritable fount of writerly knowledge and what he doesn’t post about writing competitions probably isn’t worth knowing. I decided to enter 1-2 per month and see how I got on.

Writing 3

Those competitions asking for silly money entrance fees were quickly dismissed and I found others being run by organisers whose names I’d heard of, or who on close inspection of their back catalogue and past prizewinners appeared to be legitimately on the lookout for hidden talent. And I kept it up.

It’s a good thing that the length between the deadline for entries and the decision of the judges is so protracted, because all of a sudden you’re onto another month and another new set of OPPORTUNITIES before you have chance to even consider how your last entries are getting on.

I’d never entered poetry competitions before. Ever. Oh, unless you count the limerick competition in our local freebie paper decades ago where I won a trip to Paris for my winning rhyming efforts. But I’d never had the courage to put any of my ‘serious stuff’ anywhere. (I couldn’t even stay in the same room as my husband when I asked him to read the ones I was submitting for Formal Assessment. I know.)

So when two of my poetry competition entries came back through my letterbox along with letters from the organisers, telling me how much competition there’d been and the quality of the pieces and the standard and blah blah blah, I skipped to the end to find out why they were writing to me. And found I was being invited to resubmit my poem with any corrections I deemed necessary, along with a cheque for anything between £26.99 and £199 for pre-publication costs, and then my unremarkable entries would be included in an anthology along with other non-runners in this dubious race.

Furious, these were torn to shreds before I even had a chance to catch my breath. This, I decided, was why I’d never entered a poetry competition before – they were nothing but scoundrels who preyed on poor poets’ sensitivities for ill-gotten gains. That was it. No more poetry competitions for me.

Writing 1 crop

Meanwhile, I’d seen the Greenhouse Literary/Faber & Faber Funny Prize 2015 announced in quite a few places and, even though I didn’t have a complete (new) children’s manuscript, let alone a funny one, or even the first chapter of a funny children’s book… what did I have to lose? I wrote the first chapter, including a further 4 thousand words and sent them off. My thought process behind this was twofold: if it got nowhere, then I’d only written a chapter and at least I’d know I wasn’t on the write track ;)… although on the other hand if it did get shortlisted, then I’d have the most valuable thing in a writer’s world – the validation that it was worth continuing with.

I got shortlisted. And I still can’t believe I can write those words.

When the email arrived I stopped breathing for a while before bursting into tears and grinning for the rest of the day. Then came the realisation that this meant I could feasibly win, and therefore they’d be asking for the rest of the manuscript. So I put everything else in my life on hold for the ensuing week while I knocked out a further 30 thousand words. Just in case. It wasn’t complete, but it wasn’t far off. Finally, on the day the winner was announced, I had an email just before telling me that although I hadn’t won, they thought if I sent the book to another agent, it’d be snapped up. The emotions I felt are difficult to describe. I’d invested so much energy and time in this book that I actually felt a little disorientated. But once I’d picked my bottom lip up off the floor I couldn’t stress to myself enough as to how important it’d been to have got this far. Shortlisted! I can add this to my ever-increasing Writing CV and I also have an almost-complete humorous children’s book under my belt. The Offices of Letters and Light would be proud of me.

Last week I found out I’m shortlisted for another writing competition. I know. It’s famine or flood round these parts 😉 One I’d forgotten all about entering – and in the poetry category too, which we all know from my opening paragraphs, are heinous things and should be avoided at all costs.


However, not so the Hysteria Writing Competition 2015. There were 3 categories: Short Story, Poetry or Flash Fiction. And however many times I scoured the email, I could not for the life of me find a catch. So, I am shortlisted. I am shortlisted! Ten shortlistees in each category, and all of us will be published in their forthcoming Hysteria4 anthology out at the end of November, shortly after the winners of each group are announced. There’s even a cash prize for these winners. Plus we all get sent a FREE copy of the anthology.

Now that’s what I call a proper competition.

I’m not one of those people who urges everybody to have a go at something they might not feel comfortable with, but seriously, what’s to lose apart from average entrance fees, comparable with the price of fish & chip supper for one. Hmm?

*Other incarnations of Doctor Who are available.

Posted by author: Joanne
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11 thoughts on “A New Year Writing Resolution

  • Great post, Deborah – and congratulations! My publishing deals came about via competition success too and I think they are a fantastic way to (a) set yourself deadlines and (b) get affirmation on your writing. Well done!

  • Competitions sound like a good thing. This article has encouraged me to have a go at two current competitions where ‘life writing’ pieces may be suitable, the topic of the OCA course I have just started

  • Thanks everyone. It’s certainly something I’m going to be doing again and again and again ……. glad it’s inspired some of you 🙂

  • Congratulations Debs. As you say, with competitions you just have to be careful that the organisers are not there to make money out of you. And like Barbara, my first two (shared) poetry collections were as a result of winning the Poetry Business competitions.

  • Thanks Liz – and it has to be said that had it not been for your encouraging and supportive feedback throughout the Art of Poetry module, and the great result I got at Formal Assessment, I’d never have had the courage to have submitted any poetry to anywhere – ever. 🙂

  • Debs, thank you for the excellent and inspiring blog post. As some one just starting out on a writing journey it was good to see that there are things out there that can help along the way. Long may your success continue.

  • Pingback: Writing Awards Ceremony Experience | WORD BIRD

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