8 Free Writing Contests With Cash Prizes ($500–$10,000)

2016 is fast approaching. What better way to enter it than with some writing contests? We’ve gathered 7 writing competitions to keep your eye on in the coming months. Whether you’re looking for a fellowship or a grant, we’ve got you covered. Best of all, there’s no entry fee for any of them!

Some of the deadlines are coming up soon, so act fast if you want to take advantage of these programs. We’ve organized them by deadline to help you out. 2016 just might be the year you add one of these to your portfolio.

  1. The Steinbeck Fellow Program is currently open for submissions. They’re offering one-year fellowships that include residency at San José State University and a $10,000 stipend. Writers can submit fiction, drama, creative nonfiction, and biography. Recipients must reside in the San José area during the academic year. Deadline is January 2, 2016. To learn more, read their submission guidelines.
  1. TransitionsAbroad.com is inviting writers to enter their 2016 Narrative Travel Writing Contest. Writers are to submit articles that describe “a slower form of immersion travel” and how this type of travel deepens the connection between the traveler and the destination. Essays should be unpublished and fall within the 1,000 to 5,000 word range. First place receives $500, second place receives $150, third place receives $100, and runners-up receive $50. All winning essays will be published on TransitionsAbroad.com. Deadline is January 15, 2016. To learn more, read their contest submission guidelines.
  1. The Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications at Northwestern University is hosting the John Bartlow Martin Award for Public Interest Magazine Journalism. They’re accepting submissions in the form of news stories that have been published in 2015. Stories published in print and digital magazines are eligible, but essays published in newsletters are not. A cash prize of $4,000 will be awarded to the winning author or team. The winner(s) will also be honored at a ceremony in Chicago on May 12, 2016. Deadline is January 31, 2016. To learn more, read their contest submission guidelines.
  1. While this isn’t technically a contest, it is competitive: Cal Humanities is currently accepting submissions for their Community Stories grants program. Entrants are to submit proposal narratives for “genuine and compelling stories from our diverse [California] communities.”Writers can request up to $10,000. It’s important to note that grant recipients must match the grant amount with non-federal cash or in-kind sources. Deadline is February 1, 2016. To learn more, read their grant submission guidelines. (The guidelines are available for download on that page.)
  1. Creative Nonfiction and the Biomimicry Center at Arizona State University are seeking essays on the topic “Learning From Nature.” They’re looking for “well-crafted narratives that will illuminate the relationship between humans and the environment, particularly as we face the challenges of climate change.” Essays should be no longer than 4,000 words.First place receives $5,000, and one runner-up will receive $1,000. All essays will be considered for publication in the fall 2016 issue of Creative Nonfiction. Deadline is February 1, 2016.We do not suggest submitting online since there is a $3 submission fee. However, you can snail mail your essay in without a fee. To learn more, read their contest submission guidelines.
  1. The Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at NYU is hosting the Matthew Power Literary Reporting Award. $12,500 will be given “to support the work of a promising early-career nonfiction writer on a story that uncovers truths about the human condition.” The Institute expects that most of the award will go toward travel expenses.
    Deadline is February 16, 2016. To learn more, read their submission guidelines.
  1. Bethesda Magazine and the Bethesda Urban Partnership are co-sponsoring an essay contest that’s open to residents of Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. Entries should be no longer than 500 words, and there is no restraint on topic.First place receives $500, second place receives $250, third place receives $150, and an honorable mention will receive $75. All winning essays will be published on the Bethesda Magazine and Bethesda Urban Partnership’s sites and will also be honored during the Bethesda Literary Festival. Deadline is January 22, 2016. For more information, read their contest submission guidelines.
  2. The Nelson Algren Literary Awards is an annual short story contest open to all residents of the United States. It is hosted by the Chicago Tribune. Stories should be 8,000 words or less. The grand prize is $3,500. Four finalists receive $1,000. Five runners-up will win $500. The total prizes are worth $10,000. Not bad! Writers are allowed to submit a maximum of 2 entries. There is no submission fee. The deadline for submission is January 31st, 2016. To learn more, and to submit, visit their Submittable page.


Bonus Contest: Splice Today is hosting a political writing essay contest on the topic of the U.S. Presidential primary. The grand prize is $1,000. Second place is $500 and third place is $250. The essay should be about “which candidates will win the Democratic and GOP nominations and compete for the presidency next November. The essay can be objective or partisan.” The deadline is December 31st, 2015.  To learn more, and to submit, read their contest page


We send you writing jobs.

Sign up and we'll send you 3 companies hiring writers now. Plus, we'll send more companies as we find and review them. All in our free email magazine.

We're the magazine for freelance writers.

We send you companies hiring writers.

Subscribe and we'll send you 3 companies hiring right now.

We'll also send you a guide that gets you started.

We're completely free.

Subscribe now. (It's free.)


About Us

We're dedicated to helping freelance writers succeed. We send you reviews of freelance writing companies, assignments, and articles to help build your writing career. You can view our privacy policy here, and our disclaimer. To get started, simply enter your email address in the form on this page.