I don’t know how other writers feel about contests, but I have participated in a fair number. There are advantages to participating in contests. Some of them are:
- You have a deadline that you have to meet. It teaches you the importance to meeting those deadlines. If you miss a contest deadline, then you are out of luck. They don’t give you a chance to fudge on the date. I think it was Jerry Jenkins in his book, Writing for the Soul, that he said only 3% of writers meet their deadline. Wouldn’t you like to be in that 3%? I’m sure that would make you stand out in the publishing world.
- You can receive some great feedback from experienced writers and editors who are the judges on your work. They make comments on your work whether you are a winner or not. Take it and learn from it. Take what you can use and discard the rest.
- Contests are usually for short pieces of work, but not always. Learn to write tight and only the best work wins. Likewise you only send your best work to an agent or publisher, not the first draft or the “good enough” draft.
- Contests have specific guidelines that you must follow or be disqualified. That is the way it is in the publishing world. Publishers and agents have guidelines for a reason and expect writers to follow them.
- When you win contests, that makes you “An award winning author” when you are writing up your vita/resume.
My only caution is don’t forget to keep writing and submitting with a focus on your career as a published author in mind. There are so many contests that it could easily eat up your writing time. Make your writing do double duty. Some places to find contests are Winning Writers (both poetry and prose), Writers Market, Poets & Writers, and Creative Writing Contests. (These are sources that I have found or used in my own research, but always thoroughly research the contest source and sponsors yourself to be sure that they are legitimate before sending your work or participating in a contest.)