Teenagers who love to write can lay the foundation for a career or a lifelong hobby by honing their skills while they are young. Writing contests allow teens to gain experience submitting their work and having it judged by others. They keep teens writing and give them their first glimpse into the world of publishing. Contests can also be a way for teens to make money while doing what they love. Teens can submit non-fiction, poetry or fiction in any genre to win cash prizes or scholarships.
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Themed Essay Contests
Many organisations and magazines run essay contests in which participants are asked to respond to a prompt. Each month, for example, the Stage of Life Essay Contest offers high school students the chance to submit an essay on a particular theme. The theme is announced at the beginning of each month, and students may submit essays throughout the calendar month. Past themes have included "What are you most thankful for?" and "What stresses you out, and how do you cope with that stress?" Essays must be non-fiction and 500 words or less. The first place prize as of December 2010 was a £16 Kodak Gallery gift card.
Teen poets can enter contests that are specific to one form of poetry or open to all. The Poetry Society of America gives the Louise Louis/Emily F. Bourne Student Award to one high school student annually. The award carries a cash prize of £162, as of 2010. Poems may be in any style, but they must be unpublished. Nominations for this award are made by high school teachers and administrators. If you have a poem, or several poems, that you would like to be considered, talk to one of your teachers about entering the contest.
General Fiction Contests
If you love writing fiction, look for short story contests that are aimed at teens. The Claremont Review writing contest is open to writers between the ages of 13 and 19. Stories may be literary or in any genre. In 2010, an entry fee of £13 allowed you to submit up to three stories of 500 words or less or one story of up to 5,000 words. The first place prize for the 2010 competition was £325. The Claremont Review also runs a poetry contest for teens.
Themed Fiction Contests
Some fiction contests are based on prompts or are open to authors of a particular genre. The Annual Misfits Writing Contest, which is run by the Minnesota Society for Interest in Science Fiction and Fantasy, is open to writers of all ages whose stories fall into those genres. The contest has youth divisions for writers who are 16 or younger. Winners in 2010 received Amazon gift cards worth £48.
Contests for Specific Groups
Some writing contests are open only to applicants who meet certain qualifications. For example, the Fire Escape Writing Contests, sponsored by author Mitali Perkins, award prizes annually to teen writers who are immigrants, have at least one immigrant parent or are internationally adopted. There are two categories -- poetry and prose -- which include both fiction and non-fiction. The first prize for the 2011 contest was £32.
New contests emerge all the time. Inquire at local institutions, such as your city library, for contest announcements. Ask your school's guidance counsellor to keep you informed about essay contests. Teen magazines often run writing competitions. Check into the legitimacy of each contest before you apply, and be careful when deciding to submit to a contest that has an entry fee.
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