Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, contests and more!
Start Your Free Trial

3 Steps To Reach Your Writing Goal & Earn a Writing Prize

Tell us what writing prize you’d like to win this year, and we’ll provide three tangible steps to help you meet your goal in 2023 and beyond.

An image of the journey to win a writing prize
Add to Favorites

For the resolution-makers, the goals of January beckon louder than a hall of carnival barkers. Surely this year will be the year, the one where we write more, worry less, find an agent, get published, net more bylines, and stop neglecting our long-suffering drafts. But with all the clamor of long-term possibility ringing in our ears, it can be difficult to focus on short-term attainability. Enter our winter carnival, which relies less on long odds and more on direct, achievable action to make your dreams come true. Tell us what writing prize you’ve got your eye on, and we’ll give you three concrete targets to aim for.

Writing Prize#1: More Time To Write

Your aim here is simple: The only way you will write more in 2023 is if you make more time to write. Emphasis on make, which requires a physical effort on your part. You must spend time to make time. Here are three ways to go about it:

Bundle writing with an existing habit. Nestle writing into pockets of time that already exist in your days. Can you write over that first cup of coffee, when the morning is still quiet? Use dictation apps to craft sentences or brainstorm chapters in rush hour? Tap out a few lines in the school pick-up line? Pick apart your days or months and find one habit or time period that can be paired with writing.

Put writing events on the calendar. Join a writing group: Your group will expect pages to read, and you will spend time writing in order to produce those pages. (See our next prize for more on finding a group.) Or register for free online write-ins hosted by Gotham Writers Workshop or Shut Up & Write. Having a fixed “event” to attend on your calendar will help build a writing habit in a structured setting – and spending time in the company of fellow writers will both provide accountability and boost your morale.

Advertisement

Worry less about writing every day. Many successful authors do write every day, it’s true, but many of those same successful authors don’t have non-writing day jobs. Committing to writing every single day sets us up for failure when we get sick, busy, stressed, burnt out, or just plain stuck; failure makes us feel miserable; and misery doesn’t exactly lend itself to creative brilliance. Instead, focus on writing regularly. Can you commit to getting up an hour or two early once a week? A Friday night writing date? A bimonthly Saturday morning power session? A dedicated writing weekend once a quarter?

Writing Prize #2: Find a Writing Group

Reach for the nearest three books on your shelf and flip to the Acknowledgements page. At least one – and likely all three – will give thanks to a group of fellow writers. Very few authors navigate the funhouse maze of the publishing industry alone, and neither should you. A writing group is a terrific way to connect with fellow wordsmiths, build community, sharpen your critical eye, and get feedback on drafts in the process. Here are three entry points for your quest to find the right group:

Start local. Who meets near you?

Advertisement

Start with genre. Who writes what you like to write?

Start with an online platform you like. Who meets online in a space and format (Zoom, Discord, Facebook Groups, etc.) you already know and enjoy?

Writing Prize #3: More Creativity

If creativity was a balloon animal, lately yours has felt a little sad. Droopy. Underinflated. Unrecognizable. Let these suggestions provide a breath of fresh air:

Join a writing challenge. NaNoWriMo, which encourages participants to complete a novel draft in one month’s time, may be the most famous writing challenge on the internet, but you can also explore NaPoWriMo (write a poem every day in April, with prompts), ChaBooCha (write a book manuscript for younger readers in March), or StoryADay (write a short story every day in May and/or September). Not every draft will be good, let alone publishable, but you’ll be surprised at what treasures may emerge after a dedicated month-long burst.

Take a writing class. Or a one-day seminar. An online session. A proceed-at-your-own-pace program. If you don’t know where to start, follow the same advice as finding a writing group: Start local, start with genre, or start with a platform you already know and enjoy.

Advertisement

Go to your library and check out one craft book. Go in with a list, pick one at random, or ask your librarian to see which ones are popular. Spending time with an expert in a format you already enjoy (the written word) is one of the simplest and most effective ways to refresh and re-inform our craft.

Writing Prize #4: More Motivation

Writing is always a long haul, but some hauls feel longer than others. Here are three boosts for clambering out of the murky ball pit of demotivation.

Get out of the house. Attending a writing conference, literary festival, or writing retreat – DIY or otherwise – can do wonders for reenergizing your work.

Advertisement

Find an accountability partner (or partners). Pair up with a fellow writer and cheer each other through the slog of redrafting and revision.

Picture your draft out in the real world. Imagine its book cover on sale at Barnes & Noble; write its jacket copy. Picture your short story in print in your favorite literary journal or your essay in your favorite publication.

Writing Prize #6: Getting Published

Your pieces are polished. They’ve been read by trusted critique partners. They’re ready to be tossed into the ring – or readied for ring toss. Here are three ways to steady your aim:  

Choose a submission tracking method in early 2023. If you’re going to be sending out multiple manuscripts, you need a system for juggling multiple submissions. This can be an Excel or Word doc, a handwritten spread in your planner, or a paid subscription to Duotrope ($5/month), which will also show you the statistical odds of acceptance for each market among fellow users in addition to a host of other benefits.

Advertisement

Start booking “submitting dates” on your calendar. You already have dedicated writing time with your main-squeeze manuscripts; now it’s time to woo Submittable and Moksha. Having dedicated, unhurried time to focus on submissions can prevent rushed submission errors or unfollowed guidelines. In each session, check on each of your prior submissions. Update your submission tracker accordingly. Then send your shiny new submissions out into the world and watch them fly.

Research new markets each month. There are oodles of literary journals, niche magazines, and online publications looking for new work out there. How much time can you spend actively finding them? Try flipping through a new publication every time you go to the library or a bookstore. Search for calls for submissions each month. Consider Journal of the Month, which sends a different literary magazine each month to subscribers.

Writing Prize #7: Finding a Literary Agent

We won’t lie: Few prizes in our carnival have tougher odds. But a little legwork can go a long way in improving your chances. Try these for starters:

Advertisement

Consume at least three resources by agents or publishing professionals. The more you know about the industry, the better prepared you’ll be. Read query letter critiques at Janet Reid’s “Query Shark” blog (queryshark.blogspot.com). Peruse the successful query letters and proposals Eric Smith has compiled at ericsmithrocks.com. Subscribe to DongWon Song’s “Publishing is Hard” newsletter at publishingishard.com or sign up for Kate McKean’s “Agents & Books” newsletter at katemckean.substack.com. Listen to “The Shit No One Tells You About Writing” podcast, which is co-hosted by two agents (Carly Watters and CeCe Lyra) as well as author Bianca Marais.

Follow the #MSWL hashtag on Twitter. MSWL stands for “Manuscript Wishlist,” and it’s an easy, casual way to see what specific stories agents are looking for. You can also use Twitter’s Advanced Search function to search for #MSWL-tagged tweets that mention relevant genres, tropes, or other keywords as well.

Subscribe to PublishersMarketplace. Widely considered to be one of the best – and many would argue the best – resources for agent research, PublishersMarketplace.com serves as a database for publishing deals. You’ll be able to see which agents have done recent or consistent deals in your genre, for authors of similar books, with your dream imprints, etc. It is $25 for a one-month subscription, so save this step until your manuscript is ready to submit so you can unsubscribe when your research is complete. Until then, subscribe to PM’s free newsletter, Publishers Lunch, to get a feel for how deals are worded and published; you can also take note of relevant deals in your genre.

Advertisement

As with any carnival, there are no guarantees, no sure bets – the subjectivity of gatekeepers means publishing remains more a game of chance than a meritocracy. And none of these suggestions are intended to be the only ways to go about winning a prize; they are merely intended to be a starting place. Because narrowing your focus amidst all the new-year noise can increase the odds that you skip out of 2023 with your chosen prize tucked firmly under your arm.

Nicki Porter is the former senior editor of The Writer.

Advertisement