Why You Should Consider Entering Literary Contests

A bit ago, I read an article in The New Yorker by Malcolm Gladwell about the difficulties that young people face in a capitalist economy. Gladwell equated their big hurdle to rolling a boulder up a hill. Essentially, what Gladwell argued was that for any recent graduate entering the workforce, it has become a difficult process to gain that first foothold of credibility that can be parlayed into a long and fruitful career. Despite those initial difficulties, Gladwell posited that once established, for most it becomes relatively smooth sailing afterwards, aside from the fact that younger workers begin gunning for your spot.

The nature of the literary game serves as a perfect example of the truth of Gladwell’s analogy…

I myself faced many doubts about my writing ability. I had a professor at Beloit College write “Don’t make a career out of this” on an admittedly horrible short story I penned for his class. I wondered many times if I was only wasting my time writing fiction, poetry, and screenplays.

And then I landed my first acceptance letter from a competitive literary magazine, one that only accepted 13% of submissions. Mind you, the vast majority of submissions to that publication came from qualified writers with previous publications to their name who were submitting their best material. Despite how difficult it seemed before landing that first acceptance letter, since then it has been a steady and relatively easy progression of acceptances of my poetry and short fiction.

For you, perhaps your first admittance into the literary game might not come from a literary journal accepting your short work, an independent publishing house deciding to publish your manuscript, or an agent deciding to represent you—your first big break may come from winning or placing in a literary contest.

If most everyone chooses to go one route, that being the route of trying to publish their short stories or poetry or get their manuscript picked up by an agent or small publishing house, then perhaps it might be worth considering trying something counterintuitive like utilizing a literary contest to get your first break into the literary game.

Here are three reasons why you may want to consider entering one or more literary contests:

  1. It costs money to enter most contests. I fully understand that most people do not have money to throw around; however, imagine that you apply to five contests at an average cost of $20 each. For that $100 investment, if you win or place in any of the contests, you have just earned a major feather in your hat and can speed up the process of embarking on a career as a writer going forward.
  2. Few writers enter most contests. For many aspiring writers, the price, even as low as it is, is prohibitive. For established writers, only a handful of contests have “name recognition.” This creates a perfect opportunity for the aspiring writer hoping to make a name as many contests have only approximately fifty or so applicants, yet offer up slots for as many as ten writers to win or place.
  3. Contests grant instant credibility. Winning or placing in a literary contest immediately commands respect, making it easier for agents and publishers to take you seriously and opening up many doors for your literary career.

To learn more about specific literary contests, consider making a habit of visiting Poets & Writers. They have a page devoted to writing contests (+ grants and awards). Check it frequently and if a contest appears to be an appropriate fit, then take the risk and enter it!

What do you think about literary contests? Do you think they are a good method for aspiring writers to break in? 

Why It’s Important To Celebrate Other Writers’ Success


A friend of mine who is a successful poet quipped—and in my opinion, not untruthfully—“Writers hate other writers.”

Unfortunately, what he said rings true. For many of us, rather than celebrating when other writers achieve success, we utilize it as an opportunity to deride. Some writers will even extend this into their own circles of friends, turning against any writer who starts to amass a degree of success. This practice is not only in bad form, but it can also hinder a writer’s career.

Here are a few reasons why writers should celebrate other writers’ successes:

  1. The literary world is vast. There are many literary journals, publishing houses, contests, grants, and awards. You have a wideness of options as you go forward in your literary career and thus there’s no need to perceive any other writer as your competition.
  2.  Bad reputations become known. Writers talk amongst each other. So do editors and other literary figures. If you have a reputation as someone looking to bring enmity into the literary community, there is a possibility that your writing will be blacklisted, regardless of its quality.
  3. Successful writers can become valuable resources. In writing, like in anything else in life, successful individuals have far more power to influence and bring about the success of others. It is not wise to alienate people who can help you in your own literary career.
  4. It feels good. The simplest and most important reason is this—it makes the world a better place when you spread positivity rather than negativity. You will feel better when you make others feel good and this will lead to more creativity and productivity.

How do you feel about this topic? Do you think that within the literary community there is a significant amount of tension between writers? Leave a comment below to start this discussion.


Free Cash For Writers


“Every night before I go to sleep
Find a ticket, win a lottery.
Every night before I rest my head
See those dollar bills go swirling ’round my bed.” – Patti Smith, Free Money

This is probably going to be the shortest post ever on The Literary Game. Writers, by all means, start applying for grants. If you receive one, it may not be equivalent to winning the lottery, yet I cannot imagine any writer (OK, maybe James Patterson, Stephen King, or J.K. Rowling) not needing a little extra money while chasing their literary dreams.

Take a look for yourself at these grants featured at FundsforWriters by clicking here, and apply, apply, apply!

In success,

p.s. Sharing this post helps other writers find out about an amazing resource to obtain grants. Just sayin’ 🙂


Love And The Writeaholic

Happy Valentine’s Day!

The message of this post is simple: Embrace love and enjoy life!

As a writer, it’s easy to push love away, to neglect exercise, to avoid seeing friends, to become a hermit, to miss out on life. For the sake of both your well-being and your writing—don’t do that!

By all means, stay focused on chasing your literary dreams. Take time to write because that’s the easiest way to improve your craft. Take time to network with other writers because they will help you learn of opportunities. Take time to target publications because you may get your writing published. However, don’t make those goals your entire life. Doing so will only stunt your creativity and your mental health.

On this Valentine’s Day, if you are fortunate enough to have a love to share it with, embrace him or her, and maybe, for the night, put down the pen.


Writer’s Spotlight: Punk Science by Dee Em Vine

I would like to thank Dee Em Vine for their wonderful post the other day, which you can read here just in case you missed it: “Writing Through Chaos: Finding The Will To Write When Everything’s A Mess.”

Dee Em Vine is both an incredibly talented writer and a close friend. They have been kind enough to allow me to publish their play, Punk Science. Below is an excerpt. To read the full play, please click here.


So what do you do for a living?


I’m a grad student


Oh, wow. What for?


Creative Writing.


You’re right. I am judging you.

Dee Em Vine is a fiction author, entertainer, and artist. Vine was born in Chicago and raised between Northern Illinois and the Tampa Bay region of Florida. A drifter at heart, they write characters who frequently find themselves on the move. Vine’s literary work seamlessly weaves the fantastical with the political.

You can follow Dee Em Vine on Tumblr by clicking here.

Guest Post: Writing Through Chaos: Finding The Will To Write When Everything’s A Mess by Dee Em Vine

Every writer possesses an arsenal of excuses for not writing. A full-time student with a part-time job struggles to scrawl pages of thoughts onto paper in her down time. Mothers of young children must tend to their offspring’s every whim. A man whose day job saddles him with extra-long hours is too tired to pick up a pen by the time he gets home. The rapid advancement of technology over the course of the past three decades has created a cultural working environment not suitable for creative thought. Writing for a living can seem as allusive to some as becoming the next Hollywood starlet. Yet, the world of publishing has become more accessible than ever before. Prolific and talented writers will always find a market for their work. You can be one of them.

When I was a child, I enjoyed writing and drawing comics. As I grew older, I felt more inclined to hone in on my writing skills. As a result, I haven’t drawn anything in years. Part of this is because once I enrolled in university, my life simply became too busy to create comics by myself. I felt overwhelmed by my course load bundled with the side work I needed to make ends meet. After college, I experienced a summer of unemployment in NYC. Fed up with the lack of opportunities, I decided to begin teaching full time in China. I went from having a completely unstructured schedule to working sixteen hour days. With every new contract, the cycle continued. At first, I felt quite depressed and powerless. I couldn’t muster the inspiration or energy to write.

Then one day, as I sat in a fishing boat in the middle of a lake thinking about my visa, my muse came flying back. I went home and finished my first novel after several years of adding bits and pieces to it. I believe that taking that moment to enjoy a change of scenery helped me to come up with fresh ideas. It doesn’t have to be a big change, either. If you normally work in a Starbucks, try bringing your notebook to the park. Switch coffee for tea. Call a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while. Breaking the mold is what good writing is all about.

Additionally, I think full-time writers should have as few responsibilities as possible. Minimize debt, cut back on the non-essentials of your budget, and get used to living a simple life. I definitely recommend having a day job. If you can’t find a daytime job, try volunteering. Regular social interaction is important for your mental health and your writing. You will need new events in your life to keep you motivated and new conversations to improve your dialogue. Being a writer shouldn’t be synonymous with being a hermit. That’s a bad stereotype I wish we could get rid of.

Finally, even in the most chaotic moments — when your midterms are due and you haven’t studied, when your baby is crying, when your parents are yelling — learn how to stay grounded. Make yourself an immovable rock in the storm. Filter that chaotic energy around you and put it into words. Use the notes app on your smartphone to take down new story ideas as they pop into your head. If you aren’t big on using tech, carry around a small notebook and a pen to write down ideas. Whatever you do, don’t shut down. Don’t put down the pen. Someone out there needs to see your words.


Dee Em Vine is a fiction author, entertainer, and artist. Vine was born in Chicago and raised between Northern Illinois and the Tampa Bay region of Florida. A drifter at heart, they write characters who frequently find themselves on the move. Vine’s literary work seamlessly weaves the fantastical with the political.

You can follow Dee Em Vine on Tumblr by clicking here.

Constructive Criticism: Not Everyone Will Find Your Writing Perfect…Or Even Decent

A few days ago, I gave a copy of one of my short stories to a rather erudite business partner. I mistakenly thought that she would appreciate it, especially since I was rather fond of this piece, believing it to be one of my best works of short fiction.

I was convinced that this short story had a great deal of merit: the innovative voice of the protagonist; the experimental nature of the prose; and the content’s challenge to the middle-class values that dominate the literary world all appeared, from my vantage point, to have been executed rather well. I proudly crowed that the story had already been rejected by a certain publishing house that claimed to be in the market for edgy fiction, but balked at the content of this story as being far too offensive to publish.

To say that my business partner disliked this short story is a dramatic understatement. She hammered me about the lack of merits of that particular piece. It reminded me of when I was a creative writing student at Beloit College, how I felt like I was in front of a firing squad when my fiction was critiqued by my professor and classmates.

However, my business partner’s point made a lot of sense. She told me that she had a lot of misgivings about the fact that my protagonist was not redeemed in any way at the end of the story. Essentially, what she did not like was that there was no arc to the character’s trajectory, despite the fact that the short story was roughly 4,000 words (flash fiction can get away with no arc, it being able to rest on being a “snapshot” far more easily than possible for more expansive short fiction). I took her advice into consideration. When I revise the piece, I will address this concern.

My partner, unlike me, has a particular worldview that colors her lifestyle, and this extends into her reading preferences. She is a firm adherent to the school of positive thinking. In my professional pursuits and overall lifestyle, I am not the stereotypical gloomy writer. However, though I maintain an enormous amount of positivity at all times, my fiction can hardly be described as “positive.” She and I argued for a bit about the purpose of fiction. She claimed that it should, as all things should, uplift. I don’t hold that particular viewpoint. In fact, I believe that fiction that is inherently moralistic is usually quite awful.

The point is, she, just like that one particular publishing house, did not like that piece because of their particular biases. Not everyone will like your writing either. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t good. I can’t recall how many people I know who have lambasted Stephen King, Dan Brown, or J. K. Rowling, yet they are among the highest paid and most successful writers. While my own tastes are more inclined to realism of the school of Raymond Carver and John Cheever, or the Southern Gothic works of Carson McCullers and Flannery O’Connor, I can acknowledge that King, Brown, and Rowling have talent, and every book that I’ve read by them I have enjoyed. It’s as simple as different strokes for different folks.

When you get harshly criticized by someone who reads your piece, remember the following:

  1. Not everyone likes that particular type of literature. It’s not a personal attack. It just means that your writing does not happen to be that particular person’s cup of tea.
  2. Most people have good intentions and their criticisms are designed to help you improve your writing. Unless you are associating with bottom of the barrel types, when individuals critique your writing, it is out of a desire to see you grow. Listen to their criticisms, and if you find them valid, take heed.

In short: As a writer, there is no way around it—you will deal with an extreme amount of criticism. To stay sane, please don’t take it personally. 

How do you feel when others aggressively criticize your writing? Do you find it helpful, or does it seem like an attack? I’d love to hear your perspectives.

In success,