2016 Writing Contests

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There are hundreds of writing competitions of every kind for most age groups every year, giving writers a chance to polish their skill, get feedback, or perhaps get published. While some contests demand payment for entry, there are many which are free to enter and offer the possibilities of cash prizes for the winner. For those who are passionate about writing no effort of the pen ever goes to waste, so this year why not try your hand at one or more writing contests of 2016.

Take The Plunge

Any writer will tell you the best practice a person can have who desires to write is to write, and write, and write. Then, when all the writing is exhausted to read and read and read. For the passionate, it is total immersion into the written word which brings out the new and irrepressible. For example, it is clear that writer George R.R. Martin has read a crap ton. His early work is a sarcastic litany of different genres he likes taken from a new slant: Fevre Dream-vampire story like you never heard; The Dying of the Light-startling unique and entertaining sci-fi; Armageddon Rag-historical satire laced with philosophy; and finally to the Game of Thrones series-a mind bending take on fantasy with just enough magic to keep you turning the pages but never quite satisfied. It is clear George read so much he knew what had been written on what and how, and he was genius enough to turn his pen to all his favorite genres. So, new writers be encouraged! You could be the next Martin! Get that pen, and always keep a book on hand, for you never know when the freedom to read appears. 

One of the joys of writing contests is that anyone can enter many of the contests, while others are for published authors. Whether you have won prizes for your writing or never shared it before, contests are open to you with just a bit of searching. The skill of the words on the page are the great equalizer. For those who enjoy penning fiction and nonfiction stories, here are a few contests to get you spinning:

L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest

Whatever your feelings about L. Ron Hubbard’s work and philosophy, the prizes for this regular contest are nothing to sneeze at. Every three months, winners earn $1,000, $750 and $500, or an additional annual grand prize worth $5,000.

Submissions must be short stories or novelettes (up to 17,000 words) in the genre of science fiction or fantasy, and new and amateur writers are welcome to apply. (Gurnett)

The Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize is held annually, and focuses on discovering new writers. This contest requires, “If you live in the U.S. and have published at least one book (in any genre), you’re eligible to submit a current manuscript in progress for consideration. The judges look for winners who push the boundaries of traditional literary nonfiction” (Gurnett). An example of a work which would have fit this contest was the memoir “A Million Little Pieces” by James Frey, accept for the fact that it eventually came out that Frey lied, and this was actually a fictional account. 

The Drue Heinz Literature Prize offers the enticing reward of $15,000 and publication with the University of Pittsburgh Press. A sure way to jumpstart a literary career, “You may submit an unpublished manuscript of short stories, two or more novellas or a combination of novellas and short stories. Your total word count should be between 150 and 300 typed pages” (Gurnett). The Tony Hillerman Prize is presented by St. Martin’s Press and Wordharvest, which aims to find the best first mystery novel, but it has to be set in the Southwest. The award is $10,000 and publication. The Prize emphasizes, 

It’s open to professional or non-professional writers who have not yet had a mystery published, and there are specific guidelines for the structure of your story: ‘Murder or another serious crime or crimes must be at the heart of the story, with emphasis on the solution rather than the details of the crime.’ (Gurnett)

So no Chuck Palahniuk relying on shock and gore to win this one. 

The St. Francis College Literary Prize is a biannual prize of $50,000 to mid-career writers who have published at least three books. However, this prize comes with a catch that some may like ad others disdain. The winner, “but must be able to appear at St. Francis College in Brooklyn, NY to deliver a talk on their work and teach a mini-workshop in fiction to St. Francis students” (Gurnett). This is the tiniest sliver of what is available for those who have the passion and gusto to try their hand at competition. Seek out more options online, and remember there are plenty of free ones.

Creative Writing

Creative writing can mean a lot of things to different people, but these international creative writing contests each have their own specialty. Here is a brief list of international options to spark the creative flow:

(List redacted for preview. Available via download).

This is only a short international sample, and the list goes on. So for those of you chomping at your pen, or the side of your laptop right now, a good way to get started is to follow the immortal direction of the master, Ernest Hemingway, who said, “To get started, write one true sentence” (Open Culture). That statement could seem ironic from a predominantly fiction writer, but good fiction has its grounds in truth in order to transcend the limitations of reality through the magic of the pen. Thus, when imagining a creative framework for a work of writing remember to tether fantasy with truth gleaned from experience to give it approachability while still allowing the concepts to free float about the imagination. 

Still Open to 2016

With every swing around the sun opportunities are lost or won. While many contests deadlines have already passed there is still a host of prizes awaiting their winners. Each of the following writing contests have deadlines in August or later:

(List redacted for preview. Available via download).

A good way to stay up to date on writing contest opportunities is to get on the email lists of writing magazines, blogs, and other resources (New Pages). New contests are coming out all the time, as “Contests have always been a vital part of the writing world, giving writers the chance to have their work reviewed by editors and possibly published. Literary journals, universities…regularly host contests, helping authors gain exposure and hone their craft” (The Writer). One reason this is so is that the literary community are voracious readers, and always on the lookout for fresh talent to feed the insatiable maw of inspiration that love of reading and writing creates. It is a delicious sickness which can lead to always having a friend right at hand, and never being bored again. That if you can read in transit without getting nauseous, if not, always books on tape. 

Winning money from writing contests can be a great way to earn money for college while sharpening your critical thinking and typing skills (Aerogramme Writers’ Studio). Understanding the need for this some writing contests aim at those entering or in college. The current topic for the contest Your Local Security is, “define the single most important political issue in this election. Tell us not only what that issue is, but also tell us why and how you propose we come to a solution that benefits the majority” (My College Guide). With a prize of $1000 this submission could double as a political science paper in a pinch.

Open from only 12th grade to college, the Atlas Shrugged Essay Contest has a range of prizes: $10,000 for first three $2,000 second prizes five $1,000 prizes for third; 25 $100 prizes; 50 semifinalists $50 prizes (My College Guide). For it is essential to have read Ayn Rand’s masterstroke, and those who have a firm grasp of Objectivism stand a much higher chance of having their voice heard. The topics to choose from are greed, deceit, good, and evil. While on the surface they may seem simplistic, Rand’s interpretation is anything but (My College Guide). A simple search of the Internet will reveal many pathways in which to hone your writing skills, get exposed to new writers, styles, and snatch opportunities which flow like butterflies through the wind. 


Writing contests continue to entice writers young and old with the prospect of support, reward, and direction. Competition can spur on insight within the matrix of limitations. There are as many options out there as there are types of writings, and then some just for flair. The love of writing can be fueled into a fulfilling career which leaves a lasting legacy of imaginative flair and brawny brilliance. The key to success is to continue writing and reading no matter what, simply for the love of it. For writing that has the voice of adoration of the writer in it rings with the spice of life which keeps people reading Twain, Dickenson, and the other masters today and hopefully, always.

Works Cited

Aerogramme Writers’ Studio. “23 Short Story Competitions in 2016.” Aerogrammestudio.com, 1 Dec. 2015. Retrieved from: http://www.aerogrammestudio.com/2015/12/01/short-story-competitions-in-2016/

Almond Press. “A Curated List of Creative Writing Competitions in 2016.” Dystopianstories.com, 2016. Retrieved from: https://www.dystopianstories.com/writing-competitions-2016/

Gurnett, Kelly. “29 Free Writing Contests: Legitimate Competitions With Cash Prizes.” The Write Life, 11 Feb. 2016. Retrieved from: http://thewritelife.com/27-free-writing-contests/

My College Guide. “Writing Contests: Earn Cash For College.” Mycollegeguide.org, 2016. Retrieved from: http://mycollegeguide.org/articles/paying-for-college/writing-contests-earn-cash-for-college

New Pages. “NewPages Bist List of Writing Contests.” Newpages.com, 2016. Retrieved from: http://www.newpages.com/classifieds/big-list-of-writing-contests

Open Culture. “Seven Tips From Ernest Hemingway on How to Write Fiction.” Openculture.com, 2016. Retrieved from: http://www.openculture.com/2013/02/seven_tips_from_ernest_hemingway_on_how_to_write_fiction.html

The Writer. “Writing contests.” Writermag.com, 2016. Retrieved from: http://www.writermag.com/writing-resources/contests/