The title suggests I’m a veteran of writing contests. I’m not. I’ve only entered two and I’m in the middle of the second one. Both are Yeah Write Super Challenge contests with three rounds, each requiring an essay in response to a prompt. The better writers/essays move on to the next round with about ten writers being in the the third, final round.

I hesitate to say better writers move on because you can be a pretty good writer and bomb out of this writing competition. I say that as a one-time loser, properly chastised by the frank and searing criticism of my entry to the last round of the first Super Challenge.  I’d quote it but I ripped it into tiny pieces and swallowed it, bit by dry bitter bit. There’s the point of not having one’s name on an essay submitted to a contest, I guess. Your name can’t scream “I’m a nice old lady. You need to be nice to me!”

There you have the con of writing contests, well, two cons:  losing and getting honest feedback. I thought about the essay a long time before the third round of the Super Challenge. It had been forming up in my mind. This is unusual since 90% of what I write is totally in the moment and off the cuff. So, because I’d been mulling it, I figured it would be a great essay. But it was a mess.

The best analogy is a suitcase built for a weekend getaway packed with clothes for a year, bra straps and socks hanging out the side, a pair of mittens jammed in the outside pocket next to a swim suit, with ski goggles strapped on the handle. You get the visual here? That was my losing submission. And the judges had no trouble telling me the many, varied things wrong with it, the central one being trying to do too much in one essay. This is the lesson of the ages for an essay writer. I need a tattoo.

So what are the pros of writing contests? There are several. The writing pressure is one big plus. In the Super Challenge, the prompt is sent to the contestants on Friday night and the submission is due 48 hours later. So this is an intense writing experience and that makes it very challenging and fun. Writing to a prompt can be a bear but I think it’s also a plus for writers, especially if the prompt is a word you would never use or a question or situation that is either completely foreign or irrelevant. But you don’t get writing muscle by shuffling the same 10 cards, right?

And, of course, the feedback is one of the great benefits of a writing contest. The same dull knife that scraps the lining out of a writer’s soul is the one that points the way to doing better. I know this, have known it for a long time, but I remain a tender little flower, hiding from criticism like a dwarf pansy behind the garage. Clicking open the feedback email is a ‘cover my eyes’ event but I do it anyway. That’s good for me, like the test results telling me my cholesterol has gone through the roof. Not pleasant but good to know.

If you’re a writer, think about entering the next Yeah Write Super Challenge. At the very least, get engaged on the Yeah Write site. You will be exposed to some good writing and even better instruction and it’s all pretty painless. A small way to get better at what you do. No pros and cons. It’s all good.