Monday, May 16, 2011

Thoughts From a Contest Judge

My friend and writing colleague, Jen Nipps,  is my guest blogger today. She is the author of Devoted to Creating, a devotional guide that illustrates the creativity surrounding us and shows how we can use this creativity in God’s service in unexpected ways, as well as, sparking creativity in the reader. In addition to being a writer, Jenn is also a “promotion guru” on social networks. She is a wealth of knowledge on using various sites including Facebook and Twitter. Please visit her website:

In February and March, I was honored to serve as a judge for the OWFI writing contest. Specifically, I judged the Nostalgic Prose category. I overheard a few comments that I would like to address. I figured this would be the best way to do it.
Why didn’t I get any comments?If you entered Nostalgic Prose, you did get some comments. In addition to individual comments, I included a letter detailing common mistakes. I understand why some judges would not give comments, though.
It’s time-consuming. We’re volunteering to do the judging. (Personally, I like it because I get to see some of what people I consider to be my colleagues are doing. The contest is blind, so I have no idea who wrote what, though I guess at some of them.) Some judges feel like it takes enough time to read and rate the entires and don’t have time to give additional comments.
How can a manuscript score 99 points out of 100 and not place?
Ideally judging is an objective process. The guidelines that are provided aim to keep it objective. However, in my experience, doing this could result in a 12-way tie for first place and an 8-way tie for second place.
The judging guidelines mainly focus on mechanics and readability. Going on those criteria alone, scores were in the high 90s. I had to get subjective then.
Which one did I like the best? Which ones resonated with me the most? That’s the one that got first place. I went down the line this way until I had 1st, 2nd, and 3rd places and several honorable mentions.
That’s how I had honestly more than one that scored 99 points out of 100 and didn’t place.
I just want to quit writing after that judge’s comments.(This was not said about me, as far as I know.)
I only have one thing to say about this:
DON’T QUIT!!!!!!!
At the end of the general letter I sent to those who entered the Nostalgic Prose category, I put, “Regardless what I or anyone else says, keep writing.”
That’s pretty much what it boils down to regardless if you write for publication, write to enter contests, or write for yourself. All are valid reasons for writing. I’ve done them all. A writer writes. If you are a writer, if your heart says you are and your midset proves you are, YOU ARE A WRITER!
I’ve heard people say that you’re not a writer until you have x# of rejections, until you’ve published a book, until you have 3 articles in print, or until this, that or the other. Do you know what I say to that?
If you think you’re a writer, then You. Are. A. Writer. regardless of what anyone else says.
If the rejection or judge’s comments bother you, do what I’ve started doing. Either rip it up or put it through a shredder. It’s surprisingly cathartic and lets you physically move it out of the way so you can start again, whether on revising the submitted manuscript or writing something completely new.
There you have it. These aren’t all what I thought of, but it’s a start. I might use more of them as future blog posts.
Remember, above all, keep writing.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011



“Don’t mind criticism. If it is untrue, disregard it; if unfair, keep from irritation; if it is ignorant, smile; if it is justified it is not criticism, learn from it.” ~ Anonymous

I’ve been writing professionally for thirteen years. Criticism and rejection are the weights that strengthen the writer’s muscle. In order to survive, we must develop a thick skin. New York Times best-selling author, Steve Berry, addressed this while speaking to the Oklahoma Writers Federation, Inc. conference. He advised us to be teachable and listen to the critiques on our prose. Seventy percent may be garbage but thirty percent will be pure gold.

This is a good word for when we enter contests. I sponsor a contest for the Ozark Creative Writers Conference. I've had 24 entries, all of which were first place quality pieces. However, I could only give one first place award. It bothered me that those who won 2nd, 3rd, and honorable mentions would think their writing wasn't good enough. Even more so, those who won no mention at all probably thought their work wasn't good at all! 

It was, believe me, it was!

Conversely, I've judged contest where not one single entry merited any mention at all, but I had to give a first place. It bothered me to give the impression that the piece was publishable. 

It wasn't, believe me, it wasn't!

When you do not place in a contest, take an honest look at your piece. Invite critique. Be teachable. That said, be selective like you are at a buffet. Most of us do not load everything offered on our plates. Take what resonates with you and leave the rest. 

As Steve Berry advises, dig through the garbage and find the gold!