Hello Children’s Writers and Friends,
How time flies when you live in the 21st Century. My sincere apologies everyone, I seem to have completely misplaced a week. Don’t ask me where it went, but if you find it PLEASE return it, I could use it. Anyway, before the next one disappears I have a question. Have you ever judged a writing competition? If you belong to a writer’s group which holds in-house or even external ones if you’re game, it is really worth doing. You could also volunteer at your local library or even run one of your own, all of which I have seen done and done well. I’ve even entered each of the ones mentioned with varying degrees of success.
Why should you offer to judge or even run your own writing competitions? Here are three reasons: You’ll see how other writers approach a topic, genre, stimulus- in other words how other writers write. You’ll have to follow or possibly even develop a judging criteria. You’ll need to write judge’s reports or some other form of feedback. I have judged two in-house competitions; one jointly, based on a workshop I presented with another writer (nothing like safety in numbers) and the latest one, last month all on my lonesome, based on a workshop presented by a guest speaker.
See how other writers write
Judging a competition is a terrific way to read many pieces of writing on one topic or based on the same stimuli.When everyone writes about the same thing it is amazing and inspiring to see that they all do it so differently. By judging these works you can see how to do it yourself. How to do it well AND how not to do it well. Take note of turns of phrase, character development, narrative arc, how to tweak it and how to break the rules while still clearly showing that you know the rules- a real skill and something only few can pull off well.
Follow or develop a judging criteria
The two competitions I judged ended up needing their own specific criteria, although the Eastwood/Hills FAW (https://hillsfaw.wordpress.com) one of the writers groups I belong to and the one for which I judged the competitions has developed a set of criteria for many genres. Writers are awarded points out of 100 for such things as the development of engaging characters, story memorability and of course, correct use of grammar, punctuation and spelling. As I was involved in judging the two competitions on Children’s writing and Young Adult writing they didn’t quite fit the criteria. So I had the opportunity to develop a new skill of my own. I had to figure out what I was looking for in the stories before me. The first one which was clearly and directly related to the workshop I ran with my co-presenter Laura Davis, so we developed the judging criteria together based on what we had presented. The second one was much more difficult and meant that I had to think deeply about what I had read, heard and enjoyed about YA novels and writing for the YA audience. Then I had to decide which were most important in relation to the talk we had been given. I had to think about what was quantifiable and what quantities I should assign to each part of the criteria.
Write a Judge’s Report/ Give Feedback
With a shiny new success criteria in hand, I reread and reread and reread the manuscripts making notes on the successes and areas needing improvement that each manuscript possessed. This formed the basis of my judge’s report, which took two parts. The individual comments returned with the manuscript to each entrant and the final summary of the group’s performance as a whole. What I was pleased to note, what I felt was missing (oddly enough, turned out to be humour, not my strong suit, but one which KYA audiences both love) and where the competition winners excelled i.e. what were the deciding factors? I also returned several times to the judge’s report and individual comments written with the other judge on the first competition. Thanks Laura for all your help even when you didn’t know you were giving it. Ah the beauty of writer’s groups is their reach, whether it’s workshops, critiques or judging panels, they just keep giving. Gotta love it! Anyway if you get the opportunity or can make the opportunity knock for you, I definitely recommend offering or taking up the offer to judge a writing competition. Yes, it can be daunting, everything new is, so work with a partner, but do it because it’s worth it!
That’s all for now, let’s hope the weeks don’t get away from me next time.
Farewell Fellow Travellers,
Savour the quest