Writing competitions

Clare's competition filing system

My filing system

Thursday 28th June

I go in for a lot of short story competitions. That’s to say, I have done, although rather less so lately, being, as I am, more given to writing plays. Currently I’ve got four plays out – it was six, but two have just been rejected by Insignificant Theatre’s Speakeasy monologue comp. Shame, because I had hopes of one of them.

However, I have had a full length one accepted by the Ronald Duncan competition to go forward into the finalist stage, which is lovely. If you win (the accent being on the if), you get it ‘workshopped’ and then performed. The problem is that the finalising is in Leeds and they want you there, as well as ‘participating in the marketing’, whatever that means. It sounded like a lot of trekking and expense – do you know how much it costs for a six-hour train journey to Leeds from here? A friend won it last year, so I wrote to ask her advice. She went up a couple of times and paid for a few extra performances, but it was her first time of having a play performed and she’s happy to be able to call herself ‘award-winning’. I’ll check with the organiser, but I’ve already had quite a few plays performed, so I can probably let this one go and try it somewhere else.

I’ve written about competitions on my website, but chiefly for the organisers of them. There are lots of rules for competitors, and woe betide you if you don’t stick to them, but nothing as far as I know for organisers. Organisers are capricious. They can do what they like and tie you up in knots with complicated rules and vast entry fees. I have a rule myself – if the rules are too long or the fee is too high compared with the value of the prize, I don’t go in for them. They’re like pretty girls and buses.

Play writing competitions are different. You rarely get paid for them, but you do get performed, which is helpful, and it goes on the cv. You need a good CV when you’re applying to theatres. There’s one competition that sounds all right, but closer reading reveals that it will cost you £300-odd pounds to put it on and you have to provide your own company. This is like self-publishing, and something I won’t do. If my work is good enough, you pay me, that’s how it works. If it isn’t, I don’t want the world to know.

When you go in for a lot of competitions, you have to keep on top of what’s gone where (although I did send a story to a comp once which was rejected, and then forgot and sent it again a couple of years later and they raved about it!).

I have the most ham-fisted, yet strangely efficient, system for keeping track. I print out my list of possible stories and plays, my list of upcoming competitions and my list of what’s waiting for results in 20 point and pin them on my office wall. The rest – results, sent-to, and record – are on the computer. You also get a very good idea of pieces that aren’t working when no one likes it.

Some of my stories are a triumph of hope over experience and have been the rounds to the point of exhaustion, but I do top them up with new ones from time to time. Hard to say if they’re any better.