It’s that time of year again. Contests abound! Now, granted, they exist throughout the year, but it does seem as though a good number of them crop up right around the beginning of the year. One thing seems to be a common theme, at least this year: a dearth of judges or not enough judges to go around without overloading someone.
So the call goes out, Judges Needed! And there are many experienced writers who respond. But inevitably, among the hue and cry are some who consider themselves too new to judge. The question arises: am I really fit to judge? I’m a newbie, I’m not published, I’m still learning my craft. I’ve seen these questions in some of my groups (those of you who know me, know who you are!) and even my critique partner has hesitated.
For those of you waffling: waffle no more! Go for it!
I bit the bullet and volunteered for the BIG ONE my second year in RWA. Yes, I was a rank newbie when I volunteered to judge the Golden Heart, and I’ve never looked back. It was the best thing I ever did for my writing.
Contests are about growing as a writer. That holds true not just for the entrants, but for the judges as well. After reading through the first batch, I realized I understood just a bit more about my craft than I had before. So the next year, I did the GH again, and I volunteered to judge a group contest. And the third year, I did three. I pared back the past two years, but that’s got more to do with time than anything else.
And my writing grew. With great rapidity! Looking for strengths and weaknesses in the writing of complete strangers helped me turn a more critical and appraising eye on my own work. I found, not flaws, but surprising similarities, regardless of the genre I was reading.
In evaluating the hard-fought efforts of my fellow writers, and finding ways to critique without criticizing and to praise unabashedly when due, I found myself learning new ways to hone my own skills. Developing a deeper understanding of how my words can be blended into just the right magic potion.
So Newbies, be brave! Volunteer to judge, just like you volunteer for other things. You might be surprised at how good it feels to help a fellow writer grow, and at how much you will grow in return.