The Writing Shed
The Art of Being
How to win a writing competition

How to win a writing competition

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Do you want to learn what it takes to win a writing competition?

You’ve entered your short story, flash fiction or poetry into all sorts of writing competitions but the ultimate prize has always eluded you. You read the winning entries and wonder what they had that you didn’t, what made them stand out, whilst you faded into the background. Sometimes it’s obvious, even you would have picked them out for a top spot, but most of the time it’s hard to tell why they won and you didn’t.

In 2012 I set up the Hysteria Writing Competition. Since then, thousands of people have submitted their work in the hope they would be published in the annual anthologies, or even win each categories first place. Over the years I’ve learnt a lot from talking to the readers and judges, I’ve paid attention to the writers in residence and I’ve talked to and interviewed many of the winners. And, I’ve noticed that common themes emerge that suggest you can create and craft a winning entry.

So, in 2022 I put together a series of monthly conversations with past winners, together with these insights to help you work your own competition magic.

There’s no cost to join, and by the end you will know more about what it takes to win a writing competition, putting you in a better position to do just that.

I have split this course into two parts because it’s too long as a single post. The second part will become available in mid July.

Topics covered include:

  • How NOT to win a writing competition

  • How to win a short story competition

  • How to win a poetry competition

  • How to win a flash fiction competition

Each topic is set out below and includes a recording of the conversation with each past winner, a downloadable worksheet with hints and tips you can use today to improve your entries, and a set of links to relevant posts from the annual writers in residence.


I’m thrilled you’ll be joining me for the How to Win a Writing Competition podcast series. What to do next:

Throughout this course I’ll share links to some of the winning entries in each category. Other writers are great to learn from and everyone published in this anthology will give you insight into what works, at least for the Hysteria Writing Competition.

Why not invite your friends to join us

If you know anyone who’d like to join in, why not send them the link so they can find out more too.

Want to ask a question?

You can use the comment section at the end of this post to ask a question. Me or one of the other readers will get back to you with an answer as soon as we are able to.

Part 1. How NOT to win a writing competition

Listen to the recording


Key Points

  1. Pay attention to the rules

  2. If there are guidelines, read them

  3. If there’s a theme make sure your entry reflects it

  4. Check your spelling, grammer and punctuation

  5. Encourage your readers to use all their senses

  6. Show, don’t tell

  7. Don’t forget judges and readers are human and will have their own preferences

  8. Suprise the readers and judges

  9. Dare to be daring

  10. Don’t follow the crowd

Download the worksheet

Your worksheet this month is a handy checklist you can use to remind you of the key points from this podcast. Keep it handy for the next time you’re entering a writing competition!

How Not To Win A Writing Competition Worksheet
74.7KB ∙ PDF file

Additional Resources

Part 2. How to win a short story competition

Listen to my conversation with Jane O’Connor


Key Points

  1. Make sure you have a central character your story can revolve around. This can be an animal as well as a human.

  2. Use the full story arc including

    1. Normal life

    2. Inciting incident

    3. Solving the problem

    4. Demonstrable change in the characters

  3. Make sure there is a good balance between light and dark

  4. Try to give your story a positive ending, too many entries are overwhelmingly sad and negative

  5. Use a strong voice or images to hook your readers in

  6. Be clear about where your inspiration comes from

  7. Make sure every word counts and earns it’s place on the page

  8. Think carefully about how you pace your story, making sure it moves along nicely and encourages readers to turn the page

  9. Let your readers use their imagination, you don’t have to fill in the blanks, they can do that themselves

  10. If you’re writing anything historical make sure your language, clothes, locations and foods are all contemporary with the period.

Download the worksheet

Your worksheet this month is a handy checklist you can use to remind you of the key points from this podcast. Keep it handy for the next time you’re entering a short story writing competition! It also features an exercise if you’re stuck for a bit of inspiration.

How To Win A Short Story Writing Competition Worksheet
60.1KB ∙ PDF file

Read the winning entries

Additional Resources

That’s it for the first part of this free course. Part Two will be available in the middle of next month.


hysteria writing competition advert
The Writing Shed
The Art of Being
A podcast about writers and writing