One of the best things a writer can do to improve his or her skills is to keep writing, and one way to do that is by entering contests. With little faith in myself, the first contest I ever entered was the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. I guess entering a contest to come up with the WORST opening sentence for a novel seemed a natural step for me.
Although I didn't win, I did place and was asked to sign a release for my entry to be included in a book of best entries published by Bulwer-Lytton. This then, was my first reward for writing in the public sector: an award for the best bad writing. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry!
It's a wonder I ever wrote again; but the truth is, I did receive something positive for entering the contest - practice at writing an opening line. Although the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest is over for the year, the Internet is host to literally hundreds of contests for writers of every genre; each one offering practice at improving your writing skills and the chance to prove your excellence. Just type in "writing contests" and you'll be amazed at what you discover.
Winning Writers, a website chosen as one of the "101 Best Websites for Writers 2005-2010" is a great place to start. Check out their contests then scroll down the "What's New" page where dozens of contests are listed. The site includes access to profiles of over 750 poetry contests and more than 300 of the top prose contests. http://www.winningwriters.com/
Tom Howard/John H. Reid Poetry Contest
This poetry contest for poems in any style, theme, or genre is sponsored by Tom Howard Books. First prize is $3,000. A total of $5,550 in prizes will be awarded. Poems that have been published or won prizes elsewhere are eligible as long as you own the online publication rights. Deadline is September 30, 2010. www.winningwriters.com/contests/tompoetry/tp_guidelines.php
Funny 50th Birthday Poem Contest
The website Great Happy Birthday Ideas is offering a $25 Amazon.com gift voucher for the best funny poem for a 50th birthday. Illustrations are encouraged. Deadline is September 30. www.great-happy-birthday-ideas.com/online-contest.html
Literary Laundry Poetry, Play, & Story ContestOnline journal Literary Laundry offers prizes of $500 for best poem and story, $250 for one-act play, plus $250 awards for poetry and fiction by undergraduates. Entries should include a 1-2 paragraph "abstract" explaining why their writing is intellectually evocative or of interest to a contemporary audience. www.literarylaundry.com/