When I first began to take my writing seriously enough to consider the possibility of publication, I really had no idea what I was getting into. I joined a few groups and crit circles. My favorites of which, if anyone out there is in search of that sort of thing are Scribophile and the Writer's Digest Forums. I have also had some moderate luck using Critique Circle.
The first two of these sites, Scrib and Writer's Digest, offer occassional member contests. Each will give writers a set of guidelines and some kind of prompt. Always with the idea of spurring creativity in their member groups.
I had always considered them a "neat idea" and tried one or two of them. Some, like Scribophile, offer prize money for the winners, others just acknowledgement.
I've never placed in the top, but I have written three or four stories I would not have written were it not for the contests. The last of which, "Lost Hope", written for a combination of two separate prompts and a call for submissions, is to be published in the coming months (see previous blog posts for details). For me, that the the culmination of a dream, so in essence, aside from any results from the contests, I've already won.
My point is this, and maybe most of you know it already: Any excuse to write, any reason to put pen to paper in search for that crazy, fickle guy, Inspiration, is something you should grab onto with both hands. Genre be damned! Get out there, write something. Toss a lasso on some creative juices.
Who knows, maybe there is a dream on the end of that rope.