Writing Contests Part Deux: Why Judge One

Since I have writing contests on the brain, I thought I’d produce a mini-series.   Just for the record, no one is paying me to write this (wish they were) but I know a lot of contest organizers run around in a frenzy looking for judges.

Having picked up the gavel a few times, I’ll admit to gaining as much from the judging as I have from entering my work, maybe more.  Here’s why you might consider it.

1) Giving back. Writers rely on each other in this lonely endeavor we’ve chosen.  Volunteering to be a judge is one way to give back to wider writing community that nurtures us.

2) Improved self-editing.  As a newby writer, judging  gave me a set of tools I use to review and revise my own work and strengthen my value as a critique partner.  Chapters often provide orientation or at least a rubric for judging. That rubrics I’ve used to judge have been directly applicable for reviewing my own work.

3) Placing yourself on the skill spectrum.  Judging multiple submissions across genres gave me a realistic picture of where I stand as a writer–how far I’ve come, how far I need to go.  It’s a safe way to learn.

4) Figuring out what works.  I find the hardest thing to judge/critique is a well-written piece. Bad just bites you in the face and its easy to spot the tooth marks.  Forcing myself to analyze works across a range of skill levels helps me determine what works. what doesn’t and why.  And then I get to bring those great skills back to my own work.  I’ve noticed a tendency for critique groups to hover around similar skill levels. Judging throws you into the wide, diverse sea.

5) More skin thickening. Knowing how varied judging is helps me keep it together when those scores show up in my email box and they’re not what I’d hoped.  I’ve gotten lower scores than I’ve given on works that were objectively not as good and seen works I’ve judged as mediocre emerge as finalists.  Judges differ as do editors, publishers, reviewers, readers, fans.  A fact of the writer’s life.

How about you? Ever judge?  What did you learn from the experience?


  1. I’ve never judged one but think it would be interesting. Great point on learning from others and their mistakes. 😉 I pick up notes for my editing checklist all the time when I critique others in my crit group.

  2. I learned that I really do have information that can help others. I also learned what it must be like for agents & editors because I got to a point judging where I could tell just off the 1st page whether the rest of the entry would be any good. And of course, it helped me see what skills I excelled at and which ones I needed to still work on in my own writing.

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