As with any other type of writing contest, it's important to stick to the guidelines. Stay within the proscribed word count, use the required formatting, and DO NOT miss the deadline.
In order to succeed in theme-based contests, you have to look beyond the obvious responses and surprise the judges. You might even surprise yourself.
One of my earliest wins as a writer was in a poetry contest that wanted humorous takes on love. Rather than go for outright humor in every line, I set up a typically romantic scenario before delivery the final deadpan line.
symbolic of our love
The judges got the joke, and I got first prize.
The first time I ran a contest, I asked entrants to write about "the first time." The phrase might bring to mind memories of first love or first sex, but I wanted to see something more. What I got was an eclectic mix of stories, including tales of skydiving, wartime, jail, and a woman's first encounter with her grandchild who had Down's Syndrome.
Whether you're writing for theme-based contests or simply looking for inspiration for your next project, keep an open mind. Details don't change, only your perceptions.
Trust your instincts. Don't be afraid of the "strange" ideas that pop into your head. Don't listen to the little voice that whispers, "You can't write that." If you hear that voice, get the "strange" ideas on paper as fast as possible. You're probably onto something good.
Betty Dobson is an award-winning writer of short fiction, essays and poetry. She also writes newspaper and magazine articles but is still waiting for those awards to materialize. In the meantime, she continues to run InkSpotter Publishing, which has three new books available and several more in the works for 2012.