Competition is a tough nursemaid. We need it to generate fire, impetus sufficient to feel the rush and joy of getting our work just right. That same fire, though, can burn, irrevocably altering our will. It is through careful nurturing of the soul that writers find balance. Enough work, enough play, enough time to mull, some competition, and sufficient time taking in the world. My own recipe includes reading voraciously, watching movies and bingeing on some of the best TV shows ever to grace the tube, travel, attempts at daily meditation, talking with people (friends, cashiers, fellow bus riders, neighborhood kids on scooters, etc.), and work time set aside and jealously guarded. All that, plus work on various projects, volunteer stuff, and family life, leaves little time for competition.
I've thought hard about whether making such an effort is worth it, as I've never made a dime off my writing. In general, competition forces us to produce the best work we possibly can (think Kazuo Ishiguro, whose work from 1989 received the Nobel prize in literature this year). My thoughts have led me to this: writing is habit forming. Like all habits, it becomes a matter of doing, and the more we do, the better we get at doing it. There are a huge variety of competitions for writers, just about something for everyone! Finding it means trips to your local library, pawing through writing journals, talking with writer friends, joining online groups, and keeping your ears and eyes open. And it means writing!
There is tough competition out there, my rejection letter pile is pretty high. Somehow we have to compete with the best around and come through undamaged enough to produce the work that becomes our greatness. Without reaching, we fail to grow. Reach too often, consistently fail, and the work suffers too. There is no perfect formula, it is entirely up to each individual writer to find the balance and know, in their soul, that their work is worthy of the effort.