Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Tales of a Contest Judge

MOOD STATUS: "Nervous". HATE going to the dentist.

Well, I finally finished and sent off the contest entries I've been judging over these past few weeks.

This is my third time being in the judges seat. But judging this year was made a lot easier due to my SONY ereader. I wasn't tied to my desk. I could easily bring my work anywhere (except the beach) which was really nice.

This year was little different for me as far as what I saw in entries. Without going into too much detail, I'd like to share a few brief observations.

1**I found it surprising and a little disconcerting (especially with the amount of grammar info that can be found on the Internet) that half of the entries had major technical problems. Meaning the entries were formatted wrong or proper grammar wasn't used. We're not all English majors here (especially not ME), but simple every day dialogue punctuation and neatness should be a gimme, not a reason to deduct points. It completely killed me to do that.

2**Also, most of the problems I had weren't with the actual writing sample so much, but with the synopsis. (That's one of the reasons I leave the synopsis judging part until the end)
I think that goes to show you that writers (myself included) have real problems writing a clear and interesting synopsis. Let's face it, we all know writing a synopsis is like writing a book report. Bleh.
Luckily, I think author Kathy Carmichael has some great info on that subject.

Even though it's time consuming, judging is a wonderful way for me to grow as a writer (and help my RWA chapter). I see firsthand what works and what doesn't and why. As I try to help, it reminds me of what I should avoid in my own writing, too. It's a win win.

And what's best? Nothing gets me more pumped than giving a writer some well deserved kick-butt scores. :)

Have you ever judged a writing contest?


Eileen Astels Watson said...

I've never judged. Would like to be good enough one day to, though. It'd be nice to give back and also learn through doing it. I know it's time consuming, so you should be proud of yourself for being so selfless.

Thanks for the link on Synopsis writing. I'm always working on improving that little terror in my life.

Chicki said...

I've only judged the contest my writing group held at B&N. Sounds like a lot of work ...

Now you can get back to being a writer.

Jessica said...

I'm actually judging one right now and was going to do a post on it too. Amazing the stuff we learn! The entries I have range from newbie to pretty polished.

Eileen, I don't think you have to be some super writer to be a judge. LOL! I'm sure you know enough already, but all a judge really needs to be is a reader with some understanding of craft (imo). You'd make a great judge!

Jody Hedlund said...

I've never judged. I think it would be incredibly interesting (frustrating?). But is so important to do well, since a point or two could make the difference between winning or not!

Jennifer Shirk said...

Eileen: You could definitely judge. In my book, if you enjoy reading, you can judge. :)

Jessica: Every year is a little different. One contest I judged, EVERY entry was excellent and ready for submission. The scoring was tight!

Jody: exactly. These competitions are tight, so a point or two can make a real difference.

Jill Kemerer said...

Our chapter is very small and we keep discussing the pros/cons of hosting a contest. At this point it wouldn't work for us, but in the future I'd gladly sign up to judge. I really enjoy critiquing other writers and learn so much doing it.

What a blessing for the entrants to have you judging them!

Eileen Astels Watson said...

So how do you get invited to judge then? Do you have to ask to be one? I always thought it was by invitation only.

By the way, Jennifer, I'd love for a refresher course on grammer for dialogue. I get conficting critiques on this. Any thoughts on doing a post on that? Hint, hint!

And thanks again for the synopsis link. I came back to link and print now that I'm near a printer.

Stephanie said...

Wow...I've never considered how much you can learn about your own writing by judging others!!

Kate Karyus Quinn said...

Wow, judging a contest sounds so interesting! It's interesting that they judge the synopses - I know that mine is TERRIBLE and would hate to have it judged as part of a contest.

Chelle Sandell said...

I'd thought several times about judging when volunteer calls for help went out. Not sure if I'm ready yet;) I've got Kathy Carmichaels's website bookmarked from when I did the OKRWA conf. pitch. How's your tooth?

PatriciaW said...

I have. It ups the ante for me, just as critiquing does. For example, with punctuation. I don't want to ding someone on doing something incorrectly, so I find myself checking online for "how-to's". Makes me a better writer.

Sometimes the writing is very elementary and requires a lot of comments. Sometimes it's very good. I try to make sure I have as much good to say as pointing out areas for improvement.