Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Contests Contested

Do you find yourself on a seesaw when deciding whether writing contests are good or bad? If so, you are among friends. A recent blog post that got raves on a social networking site warned that a writer's work would be stolen and claimed by the individual or individuals sponsoring a contest, any contest. On the other end, many advice columns claim these contests are ways to gain confidence and exposure for little or no money.

The truth lies somewhere in between all loss and true gains.

First, let me tell you about a former fellow student who won $20,000 in a short story writing contest with a story she shared during class. I envied her before the win because she was also a sculptor who knew how to get into the creative flow. After, although many studies show that competition can spur both creative problem solving and motivation, my reaction was less than generous. (After all, only the prestigious contests pay out that much.)

Writing contests tempt us to put our writing out in the real world, and apparently encourage the lone writer to engage in competition that will yield more than angst. The way competition is seen in research, dating as far back as the 1800s, depends on the context.

In sports such as cycling, adding just one rider to the mix encouraged both riders to push themselves to better times and feel more successful, according to an article at social-facilitation-how-and-when-audiences-improve-performance.php. In 1898, researcher Norman Triplett reported that both cyclists and children tended to perform faster, if not better, when competing against others.

In a recent (2011) study of musicians who improvise, Jacob Eisenberg, of the University College Dublin School of Business, and William Forde Thompson, of the Macquarie University Department of Psychology, found that individuals who enjoy competition gained an intrinsic value from competing. In addition, Eisenberg and Forde Thompson discovered that the performances were judged as better when the musicians were more stressed because of the competition.

If you believe you are ready to enter a writing contest, consider whether you thrive or suffer when it comes to competition. However, every writer must face rejection at certain points along the line.

Fortunately for us, we don't have to go it alone due to features like the Science Fiction Writers of America's "Writers Beware" page that provide a starting point for deciding whether the risks are greater than a writer's desire to be published at the moment.

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