Writing is a marathon, not a sprint.

I came across this particular saying on twitter yesterday. I’ve heard it before. It’s not a new one. But it is something that strikes me as particularly applicable to writing.

Also, knitting. Here is a picture of my current project, a lace scarf knitted up in Rowan Fine Art sock wool. scarf

So that’s a 2 ply yarn, on 2mm needles that are matchstick thin. I knew when I started this project that it would take longer than I anticipated. But after 2 weeks of hand killing work, I haven’t even managed to knit out the first hank. It is the hank that will not end. Or the hank that keeps on giving, depending on your point of view. I love the colour, and it will be beautiful when finished, and I really really want to knit a jumper instead.

Which brings me on to Veruca Salt.

veruca_salt

Good old Veruca, throwing a tantrum because she wants it, and she wants it now. And we all know how that ended up. (and yes, this is the Veruca from the creaky old film with Gene Wilder in it, not the weird new film with Johnny Depp and those creepy teeth).

Writing isn’t an occupation for anyone who wants it and wants it now. It is, as the title of the blog says, a marathon and not a sprint. You have to be prepared for it to be a long haul. And that applies to everything from writing a book in the first place, to selling it later on. A book could be several years old by the time it finally goes up on Amazon. But there are water stops along the way. Some of them are writing conferences, some of them are brilliant books about writing craft, and some of them are writing competitions.

Before I was published, I entered lots of competitions. Writing competitions are fantastic. If you are unpublished, and want to make progress in your career, enter competitions. Some of them are free, some of them are not. A big one, for anyone with romance writing aspirations, is the So You Think You Can Write (otherwise known as SYTYCW) run by the Mills and Boon arm of Harlequin. I entered this twice. I also entered it back when it was called New Voices. I didn’t place, but entering most definitely helped my career.

More contests are run by Romance Writers of America. You have to pay to enter these, but for your entry fee (which is somewhere between £10-20) you get feedback on your opener from several trained judges, one of whom is a published writer. I love these contests. I won two of them. If you’d like to know what it takes to win a RWA chapter contest, you can find a winning opener here, and another one here.

I entered pitch contests. Contests run by national newspapers (was shortlisted in one of those too). If it was an opportunity to get work in front of an editor, I did it. If it offered feedback, I most definitely did it.

So here are my top tips for getting the most out of a writing contest, and the reasons why you should do them:

1. They make you work to a deadline. It’s great practice for submitting.

2. You can get feedback from someone who doesn’t know you and isn’t worried that you’ll kill their bunny rabbit if you don’t like what they say.

3. If you place, it gives you something concrete to put on your writerly CV.

4. If you’re a newbie writer, contests are a great way to connect with other writers, published and unpublished. I did. I found people who would read my work. Some of them were useless, some of them were not. Some of them are now published too. I discovered organisations like the RWA and RNA who offer all sorts of practical help and advice. I learned how to write better.

And because I learned how to write better, I sold.

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