Today, I discuss judging and critiquing. Why 'judging' and 'critiquing? For me, doing either of these provided me with an excellent learning opportunity.
Though, I did not think so when I first started judging. My judging (or critiquing) of others' manuscripts enriched my writing, and I believe can enrich any writer who chooses to judge or critique.
Granted, at times, I wondered if I truly qualified to judge someone else's work. Due to the complex nature of the English language, I worried that I may not be giving the correct advice at times. It seems that for every rule I use that there is a contradiction to it.
The two manuscripts I judged in the Suzannah Contest (Nola Stars*) did not help. They both grabbed my attention and kept me wanting more by the time I finished. On one, I could not find any errors: neither in punctuation nor grammatical. The second contained a few punctuation errors.
To get through this dilemma, I just followed my gut. Since I enjoyed reading the manuscripts and could not find fault with their synopses, they received the score that I thought they deserved. One got a perfect score and the second got a near perfect score.
Now, I still would be questioning my ability if all six came out the same way. But the third one showed me what not to do when I write. The flaws that I found glared out at me. Yet, some of these missteps are the same ones that I would find in my own work.
Judging (or critiquing) a manuscript shows me how others do it wrong. Yet, this is important, I also see how others do it right. Seeing both makes me a better writer.
I've judged from six to eight manuscripts every year for the last five or six years. I learn something every time I step up and judge.
A couple of weeks ago, I finished judging six entries. All of them are potential winners in my eyes. All need a little work, but like before, some need much more work than others.
Two entries in this year's group of entries surprised me in that the authors wrote them in first person. I love first person, but judging it came to be a bit of quandary for me. I've never judged (or critiqued) a first person manuscript. (Another post subject. BG) Again, I relied on my gut. One flowed well yet the other did not; thus, I scored one near perfect and the other did not.
Part of judging or critiquing that is important is being able to tell the person who wrote the work what they could do to improve their writing. I don't mean to change their story. It is their voice and not yours. Yes, I would have written some of the material a little differently. That would make it my story and not the person who submitted it.
So, my job is to help find the flaws that could cause a reader to stop reading. While working on a manuscript, I try to denote material and techniques that I like along with my suggestions for improvement.
My problem with critiquing and judging is that it takes me so long to work on the manuscript. These entries are limited to 7500 words. Yet, I can still spend up to three hours working on them. I am not a fast reader.
So, I built a cheat sheet that contained the most common mistakes crossed my path while judging or critiquing. (A future blog post) This cut down the time I used trying to explain why something should be changed. Especially when I came across the same problem over and over.
In short though, I recommend that everyone try to critique or judge anothers' work. It can make one a better writer. I believe I've improved due to my participation in these activities.
Has 'judging' or 'critiquing' a manuscript helped you? If so, in what way?
*North Louisiana StoryTellers and Authors of Romance, Bossier City, Louisiana
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