The motivational power of writing competitions

deadline clock

As much as we complain about deadlines, they have an important role in motivating us. When I asked writers what inspired them to keep writing, the top response was deadlines with 75% agreement.

Most of the writers I know don’t have the luxury of being able to write full time – instead they squeeze in writing amongst their other work commitments. They don’t have a boss forcing them finish a writing project, they have to set their own deadlines.

Internal and external motivation

75% of writers are inspired by deadlines

Writers are motivated and inspired to write. From a psychological perspective they have an intrinsic motivation to create which comes from enjoyment of the task itself. When I asked them, most writers found it easy to find inspiration, and have ideas for writing projects. It seems that expressing themselves creatively is something they just have to do.
However, many writers struggle to complete their projects. This is where extrinsic motivation comes in, having an external goal or reason. In my survey, it was no surprise that writing competitions were a real motivation.

Working to deadlines

When my old writing group decided to publish an anthology, I dusted down a short story I had written several years ago, gave it a bit of an edit and sent it off. Admittedly I missed the deadline by a day. The whole experience was very motivating, we had a launch party in August and people liked the story – I felt I should do something with it. But what, and when? It didn’t seem worth editing it for its own sake – I had already satisfied my intrinsic motivation to write it.

So like the writers in my survey, I decided to enter it into a competition. I searched a list of competitions and found one with a deadline of the following Saturday. I set aside some time on Friday to edit the story, and a day before the competition closed I sent it off.


I love that short story – I enjoyed writing it and liked getting feedback from my writing group and others who read the anthology. Yet it felt brilliant to send it off to the competition. If it gets placed it would be amazing, if not, I know that having the deadline forced me to edit a story which would have otherwise stayed in my overflowing top drawer. It’s a better story than it once was, and that’s a prize in itself.


If you’d like to find out what competitions are approaching, check out these links:


Bec Evans About the author: Co-creator of Prolifiko, Bec has spent a lifetime reading, writing and working with writers. From her first job in a bookshop, to a career in publishing, and several years managing a writers’ centre, she’s obsessed with working out what helps writers write.