Quite some time ago, I printed out rules for a fiction contest sponsored by Esquire. I thought perhaps I'd give it a go, especially since the first prize is publication in Esquire and $2,500. Sweet. In addition to the story having to be original, it must be based on one of three titles that Esquire provided:
2. "An Insurrection"
3. "Never, Ever Bring This Up Again"
I thought about it for about five or ten minutes and nothing came to mind, so I printed out the contest rules and have had them sitting on my desk for weeks without feeling any sort of inspiration. This doesn't mean, however, that I haven't been writing. Au contraire. I've actually been committed to my work-in-progress, which is a memoir, and making good headway with it. Yet, I know that it will take another year or so before I'm ready to pitch it; meanwhile, it would be nice to see another work of fiction of mine receiving some attention. But, the question is, should I allow these sorts of contests interrupt my progress on my memoir? In order to justify it, I considered taking a thread from my memoir and applying it to one of the titles in the Esquire contest, but nothing made sense and seemed too forced.
Yet, Esquire isn't the only magazine attempting to lure me away from the work that I'm giving precedence. Each month Writer's Digest also has a contest where they give writers a prompt. For instance in a past issue, the prompt was the following:
A man receives a package with no return address.
It contains a pirate-style eye patch and a note.
The only rule is that the short story can be no more than 750 words. The winner's story will be published in the magazine. Yet, do I really want to invest time in writing something that has been prompted by someone else? Without a doubt, if I were having a difficult time coming up with a plot or had hit a roadblock in my writing life, these devices would be most helpful. But I'm not so these contests are nothing more than a tempting distraction.
As for that Esquire contest, all entries are due by August 1, 2009 and it's a safe bet I won't be participating. For now, I must remain true to what inspires me to get up in the morning and what I think about when I turn the light off at night. Once I complete the memoir, well then, perhaps I can give a contest or two a try. That is as long as I'm not neck deep in the novel that I'd put on hold in order to write the memoir.