Contests, Critiques, and Judges

16 May

Contests, Critiques, and Judges, Oh My!

By Peggy Staggs


Have you judged a contest? Or participated in a critique? What kind of judge or critique partner are you? Did you do your best?

Once upon a time, I entered a contest. I got two good scores and one that, to this day, makes me shake my head. I can only believe the person judging had no idea what they were doing. S/he changed all my “ed” words to “ing’s”. You can imagine what that did to my sentence structure. It turned a decent entry into blather.

When I judge or critique, I put aside the subject matter and concentrate on technique and style. Do they have a grip on the basics? If not, how can I guide them in the right direction? I’m one of those people who want others to succeed (Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against success for myself. You’ll hear the scream when I get the call, no matter where you are. I’ve got really good lungs.).

When I judge, I learn from each entry. It’s either what to try next time, or that gives me an idea, or whoa, that doesn’t work at all. When I offer advice or provide a score, I want to give back what I can to those who helped me.

My attitude in judging and critiquing is simply; if this manuscript has potential, I want to do everything possible to help the author get published. After all, isn’t the ultimate goal to have more good, really good books to read. I hope someday that really good book will be mine, but until then I want to lend a helping hand to anyone I can.

I’m no saint, but I do try to be as honest as I can—both to myself and to others. I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if I judged an entry with jealous feelings. Don’t get me wrong. There are times when I think, “Man, I wish I’d written that.” Or “Why didn’t I think of that?” But I give the author all the kudos they deserve. I wouldn’t want to be the small mind that discouraged someone from continuing to write. And we all know how isolated and fragile we writers are. Note to friends and family: When someone says, “I’m going to be a writer,” send them directly to therapy. Long-term therapy. But that’s for another blog.

I remember a very wise man who once said to me, “How would you feel if they did that to you?” Thanks, Dad. The good news is, those few words are always with me. The bad news is I’m completely astonished when others are rude, ungracious, or less than honorable. Didn’t their fathers share those words with them?

In the end, it comes down to personal honor and integrity. Are you going to treat your fellow writers with the respect they need and deserve? Are you going to give them the very best advice and guidance you can? Or are you going to be one of those judges. Are you going to send a new writer groping for a box of tissues through tear-filled eyes? Or are you going to have them thinking, hey, I can make this better?

The end result will be fewer wall-slammers. There is nothing worse than spending good money and time on a book that disappoints. So do your part to keep that from happening. Encourage, support, and give honest, helpful advice. We’ll all be better for it.


Posted by on May 16, 2011 in Idaho


10 responses to “Contests, Critiques, and Judges

  1. Johanna Harness

    May 16, 2011 at 6:44 AM

    Great advice, Peggy! I love that you mention learning from the entries you judge. I find this with critiquing as well. I learn so much from my crit partners, from the writing they share with me.

    • Peggy Staggs

      May 16, 2011 at 7:43 AM

      Thanks. Critiquing and judging are two very valuable ways to help others and ourselves.

  2. Meredith Conner

    May 16, 2011 at 7:31 AM

    Love the post Peggy! Contests can be so helpful with the right advice. Thanks for blogging today.

  3. Liz Fredericks

    May 16, 2011 at 12:14 PM

    Peggy, you offer a powerful way for me to look at the contests I enter and judge. Thanks for putting it into perspective.

  4. Clarissa Southwick

    May 16, 2011 at 5:26 PM

    Peggy, I’m sure you are a fantastic judge and I would feel privileged to get your comments back on my scoresheet.

  5. Janis

    May 16, 2011 at 6:12 PM

    Thanks for the timely post. It always pays to use a fresh perspective.

  6. lynn mapp

    May 16, 2011 at 7:55 PM

    Contests, oh my! Judging, oh my! Thank you Peggy for sharing that information.

  7. maryvine

    May 16, 2011 at 9:17 PM

    Your attitude is wonderful, you put a new spin on it for me. It’s more than just not hurting their feelings but going a step further by teaching with purpose. Thanks!
    P.S. I’ll be listening for your scream.

  8. Patti Yager Delagrange

    May 17, 2011 at 10:55 AM

    Thanks so much for this. I have entered my fair share of contests and I just love it when I’m given honest, helpful criticism instead of just plain meanness! A judge has the opportunity to either help or hinder and I believe s/he should always, always take the former.

  9. Andrea

    May 23, 2011 at 9:54 AM

    Thanks so much for your blog.
    I’m so glad I found it. I was in a critique group a while back and while most crits were helpful others were wrought out of self importance.


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