Writing is a wonderful hobby, but you can take it to the next level by entering into some competitions. In a recent webinar hosted by BeyondDreams and AsterLit, Maddy Russell, a 2020 Scholastic Medalist, Zoe Liu, a 3-time Scholastic Gold Medalist, Liz Shvarts, a National YoungArts Finalist, and Carolina Gao, a Scholastic Gold Medalist, shared their personalized experiences with these competitions. The complete webinar is on the BeyondDreams YouTube channel, but here are some of the mentioned tips and tricks!
Tips for Writing for Competitions
Remember, do not write for competitions! If you are writing purely for winning contests and not for yourself, the work will not be genuine. Instead, look towards selecting pieces. If you are writing for yourself, you would have a good number of pieces to choose from. Then, you can simply edit the work to submit.
Technique is important to get farther in competitions. This encompasses whether or not you use imagery, figurative language, as well as your structure and word choice. The main way to improve this is to write and read a lot. When you read, you see what good writing can be. You do not need to copy any style, but the more you read, the more options you have with how your story can go.
National Writing Competitions
Scholastic Art and Writing
Scholastic is a great place to start, even though this competition is highly popular nationally. One of the major drawing points is that there are various awards available for Scholastic. You can receive regional awards, and if you move on, you are eligible for some national prizes. You can also win a ton of scholarships through this competition.
Scholastic has nearly every genre and up to 11 different categories are available. Grades 7-12 are eligible, and it is good to start early. The deadlines are typically in December or January, depending on your region. There are fee waivers available to those who need it, but it costs $7 per piece. The more work you submit, the more chances you have of winning.
Beyond the regional and national awards, they also have countless special awards centered around specific topics or sponsored by certain organizations. There are direct monetary scholarships such as the New York Life Award, One Earth Award, American Voices, Ray Bradbury Award, etc.
Scholastic tends to appreciate works about identity, trauma, and introspection, as these topics tend to get picked more often. If you dig deep enough, you can find something authentic about your perspective. This can include stories about your family, being a part of a minority group, and more.
National YoungArts is similar to Scholastic since they are both national competitions. However, YoungArts is an interdisciplinary competition, meaning that if you are interested in dancing, music, or visual arts, you can win in those categories as well. It is a competition, but at its core, it is a development program for the top writers and artists in the nation.
You can be a winner at one of three levels depending on how many categories you submit in. There are Honorable Mention and Merit, both of which are regional level awards, and then there is the Finalist award. In addition to getting monetary awards, you can also attend National YoungArts Week, where you meet your fellow finalists, workshop writing, and do intensive work based on the category you entered in. According to Elizabeth Shvarts, who was a finalist in Plain Script, “the YoungArts week experience alone was better than any award or name.”
YoungArts gives plenty of scholarships ranging from $100 for merit, $250 for honorable mention, and $1,000 to $10,000 for finalists. If you are a senior, you also get to become a presidential scholar. This is one of the highest awards in the nation for arts or education, although there are essay and GPA requirements. If you win as a sophomore or junior, you can apply the year you become a senior.
You can enter when you are 15-18, and it opens in June/July. It costs $35 per submission, but fee waivers are available. You can apply each year and as many times as you want. They tend to value pieces with unique voices, such as cultural identity. Even if you are writing for the first time, submit it. Many finalists are new to their genre, so it is okay to submit work that is not perfect or to write in a non-traditional way. Do not be afraid to keep trying and take risks.
Niche and More Local Competitions
Although regional scholarships will offer less scholarship money, the chances of winning are much higher since the applicant pool is significantly smaller. Additionally, you may have more interaction with other winners and possibly make new friends. If you are writing in a specific niche, then you can also grow your expertise in that area. You could also win some local clout, as well as the opportunity of having more accessible award ceremonies.
Types and Examples of Smaller Competitions
Local contests usually come from chapters of larger essay contests, such as Optimist International and the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), where they have a national level competition. However, to go to nationals, you must submit and win awards at the local level first.
There are also smaller national writing competitions, where the trick is to find lists online. Examples of these include Torrance Creativity, Ringling Storytellers of Tomorrow, and Novelly. These may be themed or open submissions, but they tend to be a smaller-scale version of national competitions like Scholastic or YoungArts.
The last type is niche essay contests, which are based on your identity, interests, and expertise and how that might lead you to certain subjects to pursue. For example, the Goi Peace Foundation does an essay contest related to youth and peace. Based on what you love, you can find specific competitions that fit you.
Strategies to Find Small and Local Competitions
Google search and sift through lists. Find these essay scholarships or contest lists on Reddit or Quora.
Ask teachers, school officials, and counselors about local opportunities, as they have a great understanding of what is offered in your area.
“Productively stalk” upperclassmen on LinkedIn because you can see the competitions they participated in, which is outlined in the honors and awards section. Then, you can look up the ones you find interesting and see if it works for you.
Keep track of these opportunities by using bookmarks and spreadsheets to stay on track. You can also use newsletters, so even if you are not eligible or they are not accepting entries at the time, you can be notified of when they do start opening up.
Although applying to writing competitions might be scary, there are many benefits. You can earn scholarship money and awards, as well as experience unique events. Most importantly, you get the chance to improve your writing and meet like-minded people. Therefore, do not be afraid to take the leap to succeed!