Short Story Competitions: Are They Worth Entering?

Over the years, I’ve entered a fair few short stories into competitions.

I’m a novelist by inclination, and so most of my fiction writing has been on much longer projects … but I’ve found short stories a great way to try out different techniques, to work to deadline, and to simply have fun.

If you’ve never entered a writing competition, why not give it a try?

You might be worried that everyone else will be amazingly good – but unless you’re going for really big competitions (like the Bridport Prize), you’ll probably  find that the other writers entering aren’t at a super-high standard.

Back in 2007-8, when I was still a relatively inexperienced writer working a full-time day job, I managed to get a couple of shortlistings and a couple of small prizes (a 3rd place and a 2nd place) in Writing Magazine’s competitions.

Looking back at those stories, I cringe a bit: they’re definitely not my greatest writing, but they did well enough to get somewhere in a competition – which was hugely encouraging to me at that stage in my writing career.

After quite a few years focused on novels, I’ve gone back to short story competitions again this year. I entered a couple in January and February – one story sank without a trace; the other (rather to my astonishment) won first prize and was printed in Writing Magazine. You can read it, plus the judge’s lovely comments, here.

So even if, like me, you’re not a particularly experienced or accomplished short story writer … think about giving competitions a go.

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Has Your Blogging Gone as Well as You’d Hoped in 2017? Announcing Blog On

How’s 2017 been for you?

It’s been a mixed year for me: in some ways, I accomplished a lot more than I was expecting (I wrote a whole novella that I hadn’t even thought of back in January) … but inevitably, some of the projects I’d planned to do didn’t quite work out.

For the first year in a while, though, I’ve managed to keep up with weekly blog posts – and it’s been great to be back in the rhythm of writing regularly here on Aiventures.

I know that it can be very easy to lose momentum with a blog, though (I’ve definitely had my share of less than great years).

If your blogging hasn’t gone quite how you’d hoped over the past ten and a bit months, there’s still time to turn it around before the new year.

Announcing … Blog On

Blog On is an eight-week ecourse designed to help you write great posts for your blog, and get to grips with key pages, step by step. If you sometimes feel a bit overwhelmed by blogging, or find yourself procrastinating, this is the course for you!

I’ve been running Blog On, in various incarnations, since 2011 and I rewrote the whole course last year, for my Writers’ Huddle members.

Quite a few people have told me, though, that they’d like to take Blog On without having to have membership of Writers’ Huddle.

I completely understand that. I love the Huddle and the people in it, but I know a monthly membership site isn’t the right option for everyone.

So, for the first time in several years, I’m opening up Blog On to the general public. You don’t need to purchase a Writers’ Huddle membership to join – you can just buy the course itself.

You can get all the details (and join Blog On) here.

Note: If you’re a member of Writers’ Huddle, Blog On is half-price (or free for alumni members): just drop me an email at if you want more information or need any help signing up.

If you’re not a member of Writers’ Huddle but would like to join and take part in Blog On … you can do that! 🙂 Just head over to the Blog On page for full details.

About Writers’ Huddle

Writers’ Huddle is my membership/community site for writers, and it’s been running since early 2012. Members pay a small monthly fee ($9.99 / £7.49) and get monthly seminars, weekly chats, private forums, mini-courses, and lots more … including the full archive of 60+ seminars.

In Writers’ Huddle, we cover blogging, along with a lot of other areas of writing: fiction, non-fiction, freelancing, self-publishing and more. So if you only blog, then it’s probably not a good fit for you. If you’re a blogger and an aspiring novelist, though, or a freelancing blogger, or a blogger who hopes to write a non-fiction book … check it out. You can find out all about it on the Writers’ Huddle home page (opens in a new tab so you don’t lose your place here).

What Could You Achieve With Your Blog in 2018?

Whether you’ve only just set up your first blog or you’ve been blogging for a few years without seeing the results you want, Blog On could be just what you need in order to get your blog into great shape for 2018.

You might want to make money from your blog, launch a freelancing career, build up a great portfolio of your writing, establish a strong readership base, or simply build a regular writing habit: whatever your goals, Blog On can help you.

There’s a full money-back guarantee, too: if the course isn’t for you, just email me before the end of the final week and I’ll be glad to refund you in full. I want you to be able to try out the whole course with confidence.

As well as the ecourse materials, you’ll have access to the Blog On members’ forum, where you can post any questions you have (whether they’re related to the course materials or not) – and where you can ask for feedback on anything you’ve written.

I’ve taken quite a few ecourses myself in the past, and I know how easy it is to start with enthusiasm … only to drop out after a week or two. To keep you on track with Blog On, I’ll be sending out email reminders each Monday and Thursday, and running a weekly prize draw for everyone who “checks in” on the forums. At the end of the eight weeks, I want you to have a blog that you can be justifiably proud of. J

If you think Blog On might be for you, just head here to get all the details.

Got any questions? You’re very welcome to pop a comment below, or if you’d like to contact me privately, just email and I’ll be glad to help.

Is Your Writing Just an Expensive Hobby (and So What If It Is?)

Do you see your writing as a profession or a hobby?

Or both?

While some writers insist that writing is much more than a hobby – it’s a job, a business, even a calling – you might find it helpful to (at least some of the time) treat it like a hobby.

I know that some writers feel that “hobby” has negative connotations … but hobbies have plenty of advantages, after all:

You’re not expected to make money at a hobby. I enjoy reading; I’ve no ambitions to be a paid reader! I can spend time reading without anyone (including me) expecting that I’ll make even a small part of a living from it.

You can spend money on a hobby. Think of golf, sports, craft, even enjoying a particular band: so long as it’s reasonable within your household budget, you don’t feel bad about spending on these things.

Your hobby is (generally) a relaxing break from the rest of life. When I write fiction, I try to see it as something I do – first and foremost – because I enjoy it. A couple of weeks ago, I spent a whole evening working on a short piece that may or may not ever become something I publish … but it doesn’t matter, because I really enjoyed writing it!


I’m certainly not suggesting that you shouldn’t be ambitious, or that you can’t turn your writing into a paying job. I do think, though, that treating your writing as a hobby, at least some of the time, can take the pressure off.

If, for instance, you want more writing time but you’re struggling to explain that to your partner or family, then you may find it easiest to frame your writing as a hobby. Everyone needs (and deserves!) some down time. Maybe their hobby is playing football on a Saturday; yours is writing.

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Five Straightforward Ways to Create Stronger Characters

If your story doesn’t have strong, compelling characters … no-one’s going to want to read it.

That might sound harsh. But however intricate your plotting or however exotic your setting, if your characters are flat and uninteresting, there’s nothing for the reader to invest in.

We read stories because we’re interested in people… and what happens to them.

If your characters seem insipid or passive, here are three ways to make them into stronger, more interesting people.

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How to Find the Time and Energy to Write When You Have Young Children

The hardest thing I’ve done in my life is having kids.

I love them to bits … but if you’re a parent, you’ll know exactly what I mean when I say that nothing prepares you for the reality of children!

Some people stop writing altogether while they’re busy raising small children. If that feels like the right option for you, then by all means take it – I’m certainly not here to say you should be writing. There’s nothing at all wrong with having a break.

If you do want to keep on writing though, then it’s possible to carve out a bit of time, space, and most importantly energy.

(Not necessarily easy, but possible.)

Here are some things that have worked for me: I’d love to hear your tips, too, in the comments.

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Six Simple Ways to Improve Your Writing Environment (and Get More Done)

Do you have lots of great writing intentions … only to find your day filling up with all sorts of other things?

When you do sit down to write, are you easily distracted?


Hey, me too!

I’ve come to realise that this isn’t a weakness in myself: it’s more about the nature of writing. There’s often a lot of resistance associated with getting started … and even once you do get going, it can be very hard to get into flow.

For years, I used to imagine that I would – somehow – become able to effortlessly focus for hours at a time.

And, in fact, I can!

But not when I’m at home.

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Should You Ever Edit While You’re Writing?

A lot of writers will insist that you should never, ever edit when you’re writing.

You can even use software that disables the backspace key, or that starts eating your words if you don’t type fast enough (Write or Die).

Personally, I think a rather more balanced approach is fine!

While too much editing when you’re writing can be a real problem, if you’re occasionally hopping back a few sentences to tweak something, or if you backspace every so often to fix a typo, that’s fine. (I type fast, which means I tend to end up correcting mistakes several times in a sentence…)

Here are my rules of thumb for keeping writing and editing as distinct as reasonably possible:

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How to Set Up an Email List – For Free

Whatever you write, and whether or not you have a blog or even a website, it’s a great idea to have an email list.

You might have heard this called an “email newsletter” or “mailing list” – it’s basically the same thing. The idea is that you let interested readers enter their email address on your site, so you can send them updates.

Some writers and bloggers do this on a regular basis, with a weekly or monthly “newsletter”. Others just email when they’ve got a particular bit of news to share – like a new book coming out.

It’s up to you how you use your email list … but it’s crucially important that you have one.

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What to Do When Your Writing Goals Seem a Long Way Off

What do you want to achieve with your writing?

You might have all sorts of goals. Here are just a few possibilities:

  • You want to win a short story competition.
  • You want to make an extra $500/month freelancing.
  • You want to make a full-time living as a fantasy novelist.
  • You want to sell 100,000 copies of your latest book.
  • You want to get a book onto the New York Times bestseller list.

Some goals are more “realistic” than others. Some goals might take years or even decades to achieve.

Whatever your writing goals are, you might feel like they’re a very long way off. If you’ve currently written a total of two short stories, ever, then making a full-time living writing fiction is going to take a while.

When your goals seem so far away, it’s easy to get discouraged – or even to give up entirely. If you’re going to keep writing, you need to do three key things:

  • Set intermediate goals
  • Get support from other writers
  • Review your progress regularly

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Using Google’s “My Maps” to Keep Track of All the Locations in Your Novel

I’ve got a particularly bad writing habit – and I suspect I’m not the only person who does this…

All too often, I leap straight into the next scene with very little thought about where exactly my characters are located.

If I was writing something focused on a single place (neighbours in a small town, friends at school) then this might make sense. But in my Lycopolis trilogy, my characters are scattered across the UK. Often, they need to journey from one place to another … and in drafting the novels, I tend to simply ignore the finer details of where exactly everyone lives and how they get from A to B.

(I’ll admit that geography isn’t my strongest point in real life, either: if I’m going anywhere new, I tend to look at a map every 30 seconds, and even then, I often take a wrong turn…)

My lovely and longsuffering editor, Lorna Fergusson, often has to pull me up on this – reminding me that readers will want to know what road a character is driving down, or where a particular house is located.

And she’s absolutely right.

The best tool I’ve found for keeping track of everything is Google’s “My Maps”. This is really handy for not only pinning down points on the map, but also for checking driving (or walking or cycling) distances and times between different places.

Note: Obviously, this won’t help you if you’re making up a location (whether that’s a fictional town in the real world, like Sophie Hannah does with Culver Valley in her crime thriller series, or an entire fantasy world).

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