Entering poetry competitions can be fun and sometimes very profitable. The prizes can range from simply being published to thousands of pounds! Yes, there really are competitions that offer huge prizes. The Poetry Society, for example, has a competition with a first prize of £5000! You have to agree that a prize like that, and the kudos that comes with it, is well worth the effort of going the extra mile to make sure your entry is a cut above the rest.

Tips to give your poem the edge
So how do you give your poems the edge in competitions? Well, running our own competition has given us a long list of things we don’t like to see, and an equally long list of things that we think make your poem stand out from the hundreds we receive every year. We’ve distilled that list into the following tips:

Tip One – Avoid hackneyed ideas and themes. Honestly, the judges will love you for it. Lost loves, wars, abuse and natural disasters are all great themes, but will inspire a whole host of other poets too. So, unless you can approach the theme from an entirely new angle – forget it!

Tip Two – Always carry a note book or, in this day and age, a recording device – your phone usually has one – as you never know when inspiration will strike! You wouldn’t want to have a brilliant competition winning idea while you’re out shopping, only to forget it by the time you get home.

Tip Three – It might seem like the ‘literary’ thing to do, but it really is best to avoid ‘antique’ phrases, such as ‘doest’, ‘thus’, ‘thou’ and so on. They really have no place in modern poetry.

Tip Four – this is very much related to Tip Three and concerns the use of similes, such as ‘her eyes twinkled like stars’ and ‘she’s as busy as a bee’ and metaphors like ‘I had butterflies in my stomach’ and ‘your brother is a pig’. Unless you can come up with fresh, new, appropriate and more importantly, original similes and metaphors avoid them.

Tip Five – Most competitions allow you to enter free verse or rhyming work. But, if you choose to enter a free verse poem, make sure you know what you are doing – it is not simply a chunk of prose. It must still have structure and rhythm and must be properly punctuated to indicate where to pause and breathe.

Tip Six – Choosing a specific form of poetry, such as a limerick or sonnet, is great – as long as you know how to construct it properly! You must understand the meter and rhyming scheme and avoid changing phrases around or using incorrect word choices just to achieve a rhyme at the end of the line – the judges will not be impressed.

Tip Seven – Proofread and polish. Make this your mantra, as these two processes are important. You could write a cracking poem, only to have it spoiled with bad spelling, punctuation and grammar. When the competition is red hot, you need to make sure your work is perfect!

Tip Eight – Give yourself plenty of time. If you are paying to enter a competition you do not want to dash off something in a couple of hours. Unless you are a super-talented natural poet – and there aren’t many of those – you’ll need time to read and reflect on what you’ve written. This is done most effectively when you put your work to one-side for at least a few days.

Tip Nine – Always, and we really do mean always, follow the rules. Please don’t think an entry over the limit will be accepted just because you think it’s so good – it won’t. You’ll be wasting your time and money if you do not keep to the rules – they are there for a reason.

Tip Ten – And finally, whether you choose to enter a competition with a prize of £10 or £10,000, always give it your best shot. Write with integrity, it’ll show through in your work and the judges will see it too!

We can’t guarantee that applying these tips will help you win every competition. But, they’ll certainly give your poem the edge that’ll make it stand out from the crowd.

And if you’d like to learn more about writing poetry, we have just the thing. Our Art of Writing Poetry course http://www.writersbureau.com/courses/poetry-writing/ shows you how to write a variety of different forms and offers you the chance to have your work reviewed by a successful, published poet.

About Shelley C Bowers

Working for the Writers Bureau over the last eight years has given me a deep understanding of the writing and publishing process – from the initial planning and research stages, right through to finding an agent and sending off work for publication. I am also very familiar with the trials and tribulations that new writers go through – from crises of confidence to dealing with non-paying clients! I hope, through these articles, to pass on my knowledge, so that your path to becoming a published writer is a little easier.