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How to improve your award entry (and improve your chances of winning)

Posted by Sarah Mitchell on 9th August , 2022 in The Write Fit
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It’s award season where I live in Australia. For years I’ve been working with the Business News in Perth to support their business awards. I run workshops to help nominees write better submissions. I love doing it because I meet so many interesting people and learn about all kinds of businesses.

Most of the applicants are not writers. My workshop is designed to help those people write a submission that’s going to appeal to the judges. I provide all kinds of insider tips like RTQ, ATQ – read the question, answer the question. (It’s surprising how many people don’t do this.) About two-thirds of the workshop is dedicated to writing technique.

I was recently asked what was the single most important thing someone could do to improve their chances of winning. Everyone knows they’re pitching against other businesses. They’re looking for insider tips but, like most successful people, are trying to figure out how to maximise their efforts.

No-one had ever asked me that before. It was the easiest question of the morning, but no-one expected my answer.

Start early.

I’m as guilty as the next person of procrastinating, but it hurts your writing. I know there’s a large percentage of writers who feel like a deadline is the thing that helps propel them to the finish line more than anything. Trust me on this; it doesn’t.

Dan and I have the opportunity to write award submissions for all kinds of people, all over the world. We often get requests a day or two before the deadline, asking for help. Experience has taught us to say no because it always ends in tears – usually ours.

Why? Short does not equate to fast. Most award submissions have a word count for each question, which lulls you into a false sense of security. Many of them run about 1200 words in total – or about three pages of copy. That might sound like something you can do in a couple of hours, but it’s a lot harder than it looks.

For example, try to describe your business philosophy in 250 words. How about reporting your success strategy in 200 words? Don’t forget to back everything up with evidence. Explain how your values are tied to your success and give examples from the past six months to prove it – and do it in 150 words. Oh, and don’t forget to share your financial data from the past three years, your business plan and any photos or multimedia you want used for promotional purposes if you win.

It’s a tough gig to enter an award. The people who win have usually dedicated a lot of time to preparing a thoughtful submission. It’s true of any kind of writing. The more time you give yourself, the more relaxed you are while writing and the more time you have to edit and proofread.

If you’re having trouble getting started, start anyway. Write the parts you know, even if it’s not complete. Make a list on your page of the things you want to include. Don’t worry about structure. Don’t worry about perfection. Take Ann Handley’s advice and embrace The Ugly First Draft. Ann calls it the “show-up-and-throw-up phase” of writing. Stephen King calls it “writing with the door closed.” You have to turn off your inner critic and focus on getting words on a page, not on producing a finished product.

A tight deadline might make you feel more alive when you’re writing, but that’s only because your anxiety levels have risen enough to cause a physical reaction to your due date. If you ask me, it’s not worth it.

The sooner you get out of the starting blocks, the better your writing will be. Your readers – or the judging panel ­– will be grateful you invested the extra time.

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This is the 70th edition of The Write Fit, a regular newsletter from Dan Hatch and Sarah Mitchell at Typeset — and it's a bumper this month! It’s Sarah with you today, ruminating on a habit that gives everyone a running chance to become a better writer.

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