My writing buddy Amanda Berry is talking about contests on her blog. She has some great points about the pros of entering writing contests and what you might get out of them at different points in your writing career (or development of a career).
But what about judging? This is a new one for me. I volunteered to judge the Golden Heart for this year. My entries are scored and I'm not revealing what category I judged, so there's no use attempting to bribe me or anything :) But for me it was an interesting process.
This is actually the first contest I've had a chance to judge. And it was very revealing. I received five entries, each 55 pages long, and re-read the scoring instructions about twenty times. One number. No feedback goes to the entrant. And this is a contest that can help launch careers. Gee, there's no pressure on the judges or anything :)
For each one, I wrote a page full of notes about things that I thought worked for the author and things that I didn't, as well as a score range that I thought to give. That score range was purely a gut reaction, and until I read the last one in my pile, I was afraid I was being way too harsh.
I was picking up entries in a fairly random order and it just happened that I picked up my lowest scoring one first, and the highest last. I have my fingers crossed for that last author--I'd have kept reading all the way to "The End", and I hope to see the entry in the finals. Two of the middle-scoring ones were also really promising, but I could see where they needed work.
And, I could see exactly why I got the scores I did on last years entry (those scores were not particularly great, and I re-wrote most of that work after that..and mostly shoved it under the bed as well). Its amazing how much I've learned in the last year, and I hope some of those middle-of-the-pile authors keep working to improve their craft, because they have some awesome ideas.
As I went back to type my scores into the RWA website, I re-read all of my notes and skimmed bits of the entries to see if I still agreed with my original assesment of scores. Yep, just like the SAT's, I think my first instincts were solid.
Judging is like critiquing. The more you do it, the better your own writing gets. I'm glad I did it. And I'll definitely be doing it again.