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How are your New Year’s resolutions going? Didn’t make any? Neither did I, although January the 1st always feels like a fresh start to me, a time for perhaps upping your game and setting out on new challenges. Vowing to make more time for things, whether it be playing with the kids, reading, exercising, cooking, or writing, seems to be a widespread intention. If you dabble in a bit of writing as I do, working to deadlines can be the best motivator. There’s nothing as effective as a looming deadline for chasing away procrastination.

If you write short stories or flash fiction, have you considered entering a few competitions? A deadline and an entry fee are excellent incentives for tying yourself to your desk and filling those blank pages. Here’s a list of 5 professionally monitored competitions for the first quarter of 2015, with links to the relevant websites. I would just add that the competition is tough when prize money is involved, so a first draft must be worked at and polished mercilessly, if you’re to stand any chance of being shortlisted. Also, it’s recommended that you read previous winners’ work which is usually on the competition organiser’s website.

Inspirational reading is never time wasted

Inspirational reading is never time wasted

1. BBC Radio 4 – Opening Lines

Deadline: 13 February 2015

Entry Fee: None

Prize: 3 winners invited to BBC London to see their stories being recorded as a BBC Radio drama and later broadcast on Radio 4, plus publication of transcript on the Opening Lines website

Word Limit: Must be between 1,900 – 2,000

Special Rules: For new writers who have never had a story broadcast on radio

Judges: Radio 4 Producers

2. Fish Flash Fiction Competition

Deadline: 28 February 2015

Entry Fee: €14 online, €16 postal (critique available for €30)

Prize: 1st = €1,000, 2nd = online writing course with Fish, top 10 entries will be published in the Fish Anthology, will receive 5 copies of the Anthology, and will be invited to read at West Cork Literary Festival in July 2015.

Word Limit: 300

Judge: Bret Anthony Johnston, Short Story Writer and Novelist

3. Mslexia Magazine Short Story Prize

Deadline: 16 March 2015

Entry Fee: £10

Prize: 1st = £2,000 plus choice of 2 week writing retreat or a day with a Virago Editor, 2nd = £500, 3rd = £250, and 3 finalists get £100. All 6 stories will be published in Mslexia magazine

Word Limit: 2,200

Judge: Alison MacLeod, Novelist

Special Rules: A women only competition

4. Scottish Arts Club Short Story Competition

Deadline: 31 March 2015

Entry Fee: £10

Prize: 1st prize is £800 plus all finalists get a signed novel by the judge and publication on website

Word Limit: 1,500

Judge: Alexander McCall Smith, Novelist

5. Short Fiction Journal Annual Prize

Deadline: 31 March 2015

Entry Fee: £6 for 1 story, £10 for 2 stories

Prize: 1st = £500 + Publication, 2nd = £100

Word Limit: 6,000

Judges: Alison MacLeod, Novelist and Anthony Caleshu, Poet

Finally, I’d like to recommend 5 more recently published short story collections than those in my pic:

1. ‘Bark’ by Lorrie Moore
2. ‘Sleepwalkers’ by Bernie McGill
3. ‘Saltwater’ by Lane Ashfeldt
4. ‘Young Skins’ by Colin Barrett
5. ‘Three and a Half Deaths’ by Emma Donoghue