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In Praise of Competitions…

February 16th, 2018

In summer last year I chanced upon a short story competition and decided to enter. I hadn’t even appreciated that such things existed.

I didn’t win. In fact, I heard nothing back from the organisers, save for an acknowledgment of receipt. But I enjoyed the experience; it piqued my interest, and I searched for more.

Before long, I had a list of potentials and aimed to come up with entries for each. These were stories that I would never have written were it not for the spur of the contests.

I’ve always loved writing, but, like so many others, I felt that life rather got in the way. The day to day necessities of work and home, the can’t-be-missed TV series, the occasional crisis that can shatter even the most carefully planned routine. I wrote when I could, but, more often than not, my efforts stayed rooted to the computer screen.

Writing for competitions changed that; suddenly I was finding the time to create for a purpose. Maybe not the unwieldy novel I dreamed of completing but that had always overwhelmed me in the end, but shorter, neater pieces, 500 words here, 2000 words there. Each on a different subject, each a different challenge. Each – hopefully – improving on the last.

The contests provided the structure I needed. They gave the opportunity to write to a word count, to a deadline, sometimes to a theme. They came with the knowledge my work would be read; perhaps with a sigh or a wearily raised eyebrow, but read nonetheless. They offered the possibility of feedback. And, however remote, they offered the chance of a win.

I have met with a small degree of success. My stories have been published online and in two print anthologies. I was surprised and delighted to be placed in this year’s Writers Bureau flash fiction competition. Of course, there is a feeling of validation at having your work praised by professionals.

But, these successes aside, the majority of the stories I have submitted have failed to make any shortlist. And I don’t regret writing a single line of any of them.

This is why I feel competitions are worth the effort. Not so much for the potential prizes, welcome though they are. Nor even for the warm and encouraging words that accompany a success.

They are worth it because they will encourage you to write. And, by writing, you will have created something original, something that would not otherwise exist had you not taken the time to bring it to life. Something that someone, somewhere, might sit down and appreciate.

And isn’t that what it’s all about?

Matthew Gibson was born and brought up in London, where he lives with his partner and two cats. He studied English literature at university and developed a love of the short story form. Now, several years later, he has decided to try his hand at his own. He has been placed in a number of flash fiction competitions, with entries published online and in print.


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