Three Essentials and a Checklist for Entering Contests

by Katy Kauffman, @KatyKauffman28


Hearing my name stunned me. It was my second BRMCWC, and I was waiting to hear whether my article and my devotion did well in the unpublished writers contest (now called the Foundation Awards). Articles was the first category of the night. Honorable Mention was the first award. I won it.

I remember walking to the platform and receiving my certificate. The whopping twenty hours it took me to write the article had been worth it. If they took pictures with the winners back then, I hope I was smiling because the amazement didn’t wear off. I heard my name again in the Devotions category later on. I felt like I could be a writer, like maybe this whole writing thing was possible.

At every stage of growth in our writing journeys, contests keep us on our writing “toes,” and push us to do better. Each time I enter a contest, I hope to receive some kind of objective feedback about my writing. For some contests, my name was never called or posted on a website. I knew I needed to try again. For other contests, I was so happy I wanted to cry. Both sets of results motivated me to keep writing. 

Three Essentials for Entering

In the ten years I’ve been writing, I discovered three essentials to entering contests—time, homework, and feedback. If you’re planning on entering one of BRMCWC’s contests this year, work on your project now. The more time you have, the more you’re able to write, rewrite, leave it for a few days, and come back to it. Reading your project with objective eyes allows you to process what you’ve written as the judges will. Having enough time also lets your creativity flow.

A second essential is to do your homework. Read the books on writing style, grammar, first lines, and first pages to grow in your abilities. Read your favorite authors to notice how they craft their wording, build tension, or make a point. And then write.

If you win, hooray! If you don’t, it just means there’s more room to grow or the judges had so many wonderful entries that it was hard to pick. Test your growing skill with a contest, and never stop learning.

The third essential involves other people—get feedback on your writing. I never submit anything to anyone without my trusted writing buddy looking at it. I value her input. Writing is not so scary or lonely when we have someone else who can give us objective feedback.

Don’t submit to a contest without someone else reading your writing first. It’s best if you can find another writer to look at it. Your friend may find a typo you didn’t catch or interpret your message in a way you didn’t intend. Don’t edit alone.

Your Own Personal Scoring System

Ask yourself these questions to gauge the readiness of your submission. Let them be your own “judge’s” checklist, and objectively analyze the strengths (or weaknesses) of your writing. On a scale of one to ten, evaluate each aspect of your writing, and see what score you would give your own entry.

  1. For nonfiction, does my lead-in capture the reader’s attention with a story, question, statistic, thought-provoking statement, or something similar? For fiction, have I started the story with conflict, something poignant about my protagonist, or a key to understanding the plot?
  2. Have I used vivid nouns and verbs in my opening lines?
  3. Do the first lines of every paragraph easily show my flow of thought?
  4. Are those first lines crafted so well that they could receive an award on their own merit?
  5. Do my paragraphs hold the reader’s attention and give value for the time spent reading them?
  6. Is my tone conversational?
  7. Is there a superb finish—a principle of encouragement for the reader, a problem solved, a resolution made, or a battle won?
  8. Is my “take away” likely to be meaningful to my intended audience?
  9. Does my title draw the reader in and give a taste or promise of what’s to come?
  10. Have I incorporated the feedback, good advice, and suggestions that my writer friends have given me?

Out of a score of one hundred, how did you do? If your writing scored around fifty points, keep at it. Use the checklist above to tweak your entry until the cumulative score reaches eighty or above. You could even give this checklist to a friend, and ask them to rate your work before you enter it.

Writing is a growing process, and contests are a good way to see how we’re doing. I wish you well in this year’s contests. What do you think is the hardest part of entering—the confidence to submit, finding the time to write, or knowing when to stop editing? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.


Winner of the 2016 Selah award for Bible studies, Katy Kauffman is an editor of Refresh Bible Study Magazine and a co-founder of Lighthouse Bible Studies. Her next compilation—a Bible study on godly character—releases in the spring of 2018. Katy’s writing can be found at,,, two blogs on writing, and in online magazines. She loves spending time with family and friends, making jewelry, and hunting for the best decaf coffee. Connect with her at her blog and on Facebook and Twitter.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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