Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Judgey McCoacher

I'm feeling very Judgey McJudgerson, tonight. But don't worry - it's tempered by the part of me that is Teachy McCoacher.

It's that time of year when - for the second year in a row - I've been asked to be a judge for a writing competition. Which, in many ways, falls right into my wheelhouse. After all, I spend my days as an editor, and - many moons ago - I was a college English teacher.

But it's a different world when you're judging adult entries into a writing contest. There's no interaction with the people, so even though they've entered the contest and know that they're going to be judged, I kind of feel like it's mean to score them. I always have this visual of some little blue-haired lady in a shawl who is going to read what I've written and hate me and vow to never send me cookies. (I have this in mind, even though I have no idea the ages of the entrants, and I'm guessing the median age is probably about my age.)

Consequently, I really kind of want to sit down with each of them for 15 minutes and say "Here's what's wrong with these 10 pages. But - don't worry - because here's what's right with them." After all, as a writer, myself, I know that one "this is wrong" comment can take the wind out of 257 "this is right" comments. And - for better or worse - that really sucks the big one.

So I spend a lot of time on these entries treating them as I would treat students - which is nicer than I treat many of the people I do edits for, since the ones I'm editing often seem to think they're hot shit, and - sadly - are only half right more often than not. So while I do my best to coach (or at least get through to) the authors I'm editing, with these entries I give hand-written critique, and I make marginal notes, and I put a little "Good luck as you move forward" note at the end of each - or at least most - of them.

And I hope that, when they all get my comments back with their entries they think "Hey, this is helpful, I see what he meant. I can move forward with this," instead of "Damn, I'm horrible, I should never have done this." (Which, really, is the same thing I'm hoping the other authors are thinking, when you come right down to it.)

Because, although I may sometimes feel that the authors I'm working with shouldn't have written what they've written, I'm always glad that they have written something. And I'm always kind of terrified that critiquing these entries - even though they've asked to be critiqued - might turn someone off from writing. And that - no matter how low the entry's score - would be a bad thing.

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