Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Why do I judge contests?

Okay, there are plenty of reasons I judge contests and most of them good… But every time I sit down to actually judge contest entries, I end up grinding my teeth 99% of the time and regretting I volunteered to do it. WARNING: I just spent way too much of my long weekend judging contest entries, so I’m a little bitter.

I think what I find most difficult in judging is finding nice things to say. I do think (hope) I word my criticisms carefully and make lots of suggestions… but I do find it hard to say nice things about entries that just plain suck. Am I a mean bitch judge? Perhaps I am.

So, why do I do it?

  • To give something back. I learned a lot from judges in the first few contests I entered and hope some of these writers are learning from me.

  • To support my chapters. I judge for both of the RWA chapters I belong to… Doesn’t explain why I’ve volunteered for a few other contests run by other chapters, though.

  • To see what’s out there. The unpublished part of me wants to know what else is floating around in submission land. Used to depress me. Now it makes me feel good about myself. Hope that means my writing has gotten better. Maybe it just means I’m more deluded now.

  • To gain experience critiquing. Getting better at recognizing problems and getting to the core… Still have much to learn.

  • To learn about writing. I’ve had a few true light bulb moments writing comments to contest entrants. Moments where, when I’m trying to articulate what I think they could improve on, I realize something really huge about my own writing or writing in general. Don’t know if the recipients of these pearls of wisdom consider them as such. (They probably want me burned in effigy.) But judging contests has helped me clarify some things.

  • To make my own writing better. Even if I know something like, “don’t put back-story up front”. Sometimes, when I do it myself, I can come up with lots of excuses and rationalizations why it’s okay for me to break that “rule” in that particular case. But when I see something like that in six bad entries in a row… It helps me see how an objective reader would view my work and it pushes me to try harder.

  • Oh, and because I've been reading my CPs' work tonight in preparation for our weekly meeting, I've realized another reason I judge contests. To appreciate what fantastic writers my critique partners are. Seriously. I don’t know why we aren’t all published yet. We will be. Soon.

And, the final reason I do it?

Because I’m a masochist at heart.

Hey, LIGHTBULB MOMENT! That must be why I write, too.


Molly O'Keefe said...

I think practising critical thinking is one of the best things we can do for our won writing. Analyzing how something works or why it doesn't helps us figure it out in our won writing. Sadly - however we can't always see it in our writing which is why it's so important to have critique groups and to judge contests. Keeps us fresh. On our toes. Slightly bitter.

Sinead M said...

I heart bitter..

I enjoy judging contests. I admit, by the fifth below standard entry, I start to get frustrated, but then you read something that is different and great and well written.

And then the good entry doesn't final, but the really awful one does and you realize what a truly subjective process this is.

It sort of makes me feel better.. but I'm not normal..

Sara Hantz said...

I find that most the work I judge is so mediocre... but then suddenly there's a totally fab entry and it makes it all worth while!!!

Kimber said...

Well, if I suck, I prefer to hear I suck than some nicey-nice comment the judge doesn't really mean.

But then I have rhino skin (comes with too many presentations to bastard executives).

Which is why I DON'T judge contests (I'd make too many people cry - not a good scene).

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