“Write the story you have to write, using the kind of words and phrases and inflections you use when you speak. Your voice is literally your voice, your story should sound like you talking on the page.” – Jenny Cruise in Don't Do This at Home: The Four Biggest Mistakes in Contest Entries.These tips are excellent, even if you don't plan on entering a writing contest. I avoided submitting to contests for the same reasons many writers do (not good enough, paying an entry fee is throwing money away, [put your excuse here]). I decided to give contests a try this year. So far, I didn't place in two and received two honorable mentions. The winners of the fifth contest will be announced in May. There was a limit of three hundred entries for this last contest, and I made it out of the first round (top 100). I'm glad I tried writing for contests. Most provided a prompt, which focused my writing, and facing a deadline made me sit down and write. The experience was exhilarating and frustrating at the same time. And despite all the self-doubt and grumbling as I struggled to get my stories in on time, I plan to enter a few more this year.
At the end of Ms. Cruise's article are links to other articles on writing contests. I especially recommend 10 Tips of Winning Writing Contests.