Should I enter writing competitions?
Updated: May 29, 2020
Should I enter writing competitions is a question I am often asked. For writers without agents and a network of their own, writing opportunities and competitions can be a vital link to the industry and getting work out there. My experience of them has been mixed but I absolutely do enter them. Not all of them, but anything that fits with an idea I am currently exploring anyway. After all what's the worst that can happen? You get turned down and move on.
The BBC Writersroom I know is a real go to resource for anyone looking for opportunities and it has been the source for me of both a fair bit of rejection, but also further work. Years ago, I went to a touring event that the Writersroom were running, allowing people to meet producers from CBBC. They talked about the kind of content they were looking for, then writers got into smaller groups to pitch an idea and get feedback. I pitched mine, the other writers loved it but the CBBC producer said it would never work. I ignored him, submitted it anyway and it was selected for a BBC/writer's room residential where you got to work on your idea over a few days.
I have subsequently submitted all kinds of scripts to the drama, comedy and CBBC windows over the years. The one thing they immediately give you is a deadline and something to work towards which can be hugely useful when working on spec material. They also help to give you a much-needed thick skin, as the rejections are nicely worded, generalised and non-specific but still ultimately turn you down, which is something every writer needs to get used to. I once worked alongside a hugely successful scriptwriter and I asked him what his strike rate was. I was amazed when he told me it was about one in ten, as I had always presumed everything he wrote would be almost immediately filmed. It can however be a little depressing when you get a rejection saying your script was not chosen as they try to cheer you up by letting you know just how many thousands of submissions they actually received. Making you realise just how many writers there are out there vying for attention and competing with you.
The important thing to remember is that you are on the receiving end of a subjective opinion, so a rejection does not mean that this need be the end of the road for that particular script. I once had a CBBC sit com get down to the last few submissions, meaning you then received some quite detailed feedback. Which, in my case, mostly described the reasons why they would not be taking it further and listing the ways it just did not fit with the current criteria that CBBC were looking for. A few weeks later an Independent production company bought it and submitted it directly to CBBC who then immediately commissioned another script. Having said all that, I have had ideas turned down and soon afterwards realised that they were absolutely right not to take it further as that particular script clearly did not work after several other rejections. I always think that if three people read something of yours and all think the same thing it is worth listening to. One is never enough.
This year I have been really luck in that I submitted some ideas for a Have I Got News for You call out and got through from over 1000 writers down to the final few. And then recently had a short film script long-listed from 700 plus down to 30. These opportunities were open to any writers, so you did not need an extensive CV and agent to submit and they show that it really can be worthwhile trying. There is of course an element of luck involved, as I have no idea how anyone reduces a list of a thousand down to a few but in my opinion, it is always worth having a go. As well as the Writersroom, I find that Twitter is a great place to start. There is the annual Red Planet prize and countless other opportunities on offer out there. My only rule is that I never enter anything you have to pay for, but I am sure there are competitions that are perfectly legitimate that do ask for an entry fee. I would just always be wary as there are also opportunities out there for exploitation. Happy writing and good luck.