This last month I entered my first writing competition. It was a learning experience. I had never written a short story before, so that was new. I am in the middle of a full course load and still working on my novel, so I had to be very intentional with my writing. After I was done, I made a list to help me consolidate the experience, and learn for next time. Here it is.
1) Before beginning: Read all the instructions including the application. There may be a hidden clause that is important.
2) Look at the time and set reasonable goals for each stage: first draft, second draft, final draft. Most importantly, meet your goals.
3) Been done the submission including application and final draft a week early, but do not submit until the night before. Give yourself the grace period to make changes.
4) If possible, wait for it to be good, sleep on it and then submit. Do not send it off as soon as it is done, and you are sick of it.
5) Relax: Tension makes mistakes. When in doubt, change it, but keep the old draft somewhere, reread it after a bit of time has passed, maybe the next day. If you are still in doubt, change it back.
6) The final draft should be shorter, not necessarily than the first draft, but than the last proceeding draft. If you haven’t gotten to the place where you are removing unnecessary words, clauses, and sentences, its not the final draft.
7) Reread your opening and conclusion before submitting. They are what your reader will remember, make sure they are the best they can be.
8) Do at least one edit bottom up: One paragraph at a time, starting at the end.
9) Try to read what you wrote, not what you think you wrote: esp. tense, spelling, missing words and grammar.
10) Have fun! – Learn and give yourself a break.
Its not on this list, but the other thing I learned, is that you need to take chances. Even if you don’t succeed, at least you tried, and you learned something.