Variations on a theme

“I began to write mysteries because I was trying to get published – trying very hard, a soul destroying, painful process which I wish never to repeat. The novel I had to sell was not a mystery but an historical novel, and I had been hawking it around the publishers for four years. The only reason I did not give up is that I am myself a very obstinate person. I submitted it to the Australian Vogel Literary Award, a competition for unpublished manuscripts. They did not give me the prize, but one of the Vogel judges asked me to come and see her, and told me that she didn’t want the historical novel but could do with a couple of mysteries. I agreed so fast that the words echoed off the wall, and then sat on the tram going down Brunswick Street wondering what I had gotten myself into.” – Kerry Greenwood in the introduction to ‘A Question of Death’

I first read this quote several years ago now, but it inspired me. It taught me to hope that one day, I too could show my work to the right person, have them see potential in it, and find myself contemplating a book deal…

I’ve written before about my plans to enter more competitions in the hopes of getting my work noticed. But lately I’ve been wondering: is it better to write something and then find a suitable competition to enter it in, or find the competition first and then write something appropriate?

Recently I’ve been doing the latter – finding a competition with a theme that intrigues me, and writing something specifically for that competition. I should point out, I’m still pretty picky about which competitions I enter. Right now I’m focusing on short stories, so I’m not going to go out of my way to write a screenplay just because there is a competition to enter (although I’d consider a poem if I liked the theme enough). I’m also not likely to choose a genre I’m not really familiar with, such as horror, steampunk, spy thriller etc. This has been working pretty well for me, but over the next few months the number of competitions running has dropped off, and I haven’t yet found anything I’m interested in entering between November and February.

I’ve sworn after the rush I had to get my last entry in on time, I’d be more organised in the future. With that in mind I’ve decided to start planning now how I’ll spend that down-time. Should I focus on the competitions I’ve already picked out and write only pieces that match their themes? Should I write stories to please myself and hope I’ll find a suitable outlet for them in the future? Should I shift my focus a bit and spend some more time on my novel(s)? Ideally I’ll manage a mixture of all three…

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