Thursday, May 19, 2011

How to Win a Writing Contest: Part II

A few months ago, I decided that to win a contest I must first become a judge.  After all, you should keep your enemies close.

I judged a romance writers' contest.  I thought it was a great thing to judge because the contestants were really good and they wrote steamy things.  I'm normally not into "steam," but it was still fun to read for a change.  I'm normally a fantasy gal, but lately all the fantasy stories have started sounding too similar.  For example:  Lonely young man has no purpose.  Lonely young man is told he's the chosen one.  Lonely young man embarks on a quest that involves going to many villages with pubs where he will meet fellow travelers (usually one dwarf and one human warrior).  They travel.  Then lonely young man decides the power is in him.  Blah!~  Get the point?

Anyway, it was nice reading a different genre.  I have to say though, that I read these during the busy sewing season and as dumb as this is, I grew bitter.  Two creatures landed on my shoulders during that time.  They whispered in my ears.  One was my fairy godmother, who wore a darling dress that I've been thinking about making, and the other was the demon of literary hate!  The demon looked like this guy, just a bit smaller.


I kept thinking I shouldn't be wasting my time judging.  Who was I to judge writing, when I'm a seamstress?  Sure I've done A TON of editing over the last few years and I write about two hours each day, but that didn't qualify me to pass judgement on others.

I didn't know what to do, until I talked to my Mary Poppins mother.  "The people in that competition are depending on you.  They're expecting feedback that will help them grow as writers."

That's when I knew I couldn't let the contestants down.  I put on my big girl panties and read 'til the sun went down.  I read about romantic vampires, fairies with boobs, warlocks and goblins, warriors and Hades.  I read about them all, and they were all in love.  It was a great lesson in how to write romance and I loved every minute.  I jotted down my scores on the sheets and even wrote additional comments that I thought would be helpful.  I suddenly knew why Judge Judy liked her job; it's fun judging people, that's why!  I felt empowered and helpful, like I could walk on stilts and live.

I submitted all my comments and score sheets to the administrator.  She told me she got everything she needed and then you know what happened, I didn't hear from her for months.

During those agonizing days, I heard that an agent would be the one to decide on the winner.  That made me shake like my neighbor's three-legged dog.  I didn't like thinking an agent would see my judgmental comments.  I wouldn't have volunteered if I'd known a Indian-food-loving-agent would be reading my scores.

That almost made me cry.  So, when I got an e-mail from the administrator, I didn't open it for a whole day.  The title of it read something like: Thanks Judges!!!

I thought about it all day and night, before finally getting the nerve to open the thing.  The administrator had posted the contest's winner.  She'd also thanked all the judges and forwarded an e-mail from the final judge--the rumored agent!

The forwarded e-mail said something like this.  I'd quote it exactly, but then the agent would have to find me and kill me.  If there are three things I've learned about agents, it's that they love Indian food, they don't like getting stalked and they DO NOT liked getting quoted.  So here's my version:  "Please send my thanks to the judges.  Their comments were very helpful. Also, send a extra thanks to Judge 14, the comments were especially rewarding."

Who was judge 14?  Who the Hell was that?  I went about my day and thought how I'd worked my butt off judging that thing.  Even though I'd been busier than snot in September, I'd done my best!  I couldn't believe someone had out-judged me--Hell, I'd even written on the extra judging sheet.  Then a thought hit me.  How did I know someone had out-judged me?  I wasn't sure.  Maybe I was judge 14.  I ran down the stairs.  I almost fell over the baby gate and a huge bin of fabric.  Could I be Judge 14?  Was it possible?

My stupid computer wasn't on.  I tapped the desk.  It loaded sl-ow-ly.  Then finally it purred with life.  I looked for the judging sheets.  I'd deleted all of them.  I looked again, in different places.  I thought about e-mailing the administrator and just telling her to give out that person's name.  If it wasn't me I wanted to know.  If it was someone else . . . well, I never wanted to meet them.  So, when I was ready to curse that stupid judge 14, I found the file.  I opened it, scanned to the judge number.  My heart froze.  There it was.  My dreams had come true.  I could fly.  I could go to the depths of the ocean and not implode!  I was JUDGE FOURTEEN!

I called my brother and told him the news.  "I'm judge 14."

"You're who?"

"Judge 14."  I said it very seriously as if telling him something amazing, like I was the first woman president or that I'd just eaten cheese on the moon.  I know I sounded classy as I told him the whole story.  "Some person, on a forwarded e-mail, said my comments were rewarding."

"So, who won the contest?"

I paused.  "Come to think of it, I didn't check.  I guess I already knew . . . who the real winner was."

"Ummm . . . you?"

"Yep."  I chuckled.  "The real winner was Judge 14."

My brother almost chuckled, almost, but then he swallowed it instead because he knew it wasn't a time for laughter.  It was a serious moment; he spoke with a judge!  "I'm well . . .  I'm proud of you . . . judge 14," he said as if knighting me.  

"Thanks, Shane.  That means a lot.  I just wish I could send that agent a query and sign it with my new name . . . Judge 14."

He laughed.

"Well, I hope you'll have a great day at work."

"You too, Elisa . . . I mean judge 14."

Anyway, it was one of the best days of my life.  I've decided that one of the keys to winning a writing contest is to make sure you ARE NOT a contestant.  If you want to win, you must be a judge.

Now that I know what my writing pseudonym is (Judge 14--I just had to throw that in here again), I'd love to find out what yours is.

You can generate your name here (I can't wait to read it!):
Superhero Name


  1. I'm so happy for you. Such moments in life can keep us "judging" contests, and writing!
    Ann Best, Memoir Author

  2. Your the best, but, does this mean you will be practicing your judging techniques on me? Like do I have to learn how to use speel chocker? :-)

  3. Nice essay! I enjoyed it--Rae

  4. That must be such a buzz! Sounds like you are a very constructive critiquer. Congrats Judge 14! Well deserved. :O)

  5. I LOVE writing constructive critism, and I think everyone else likes reading it :)

    **Oh and my superhero name is...MISTRESS MASTER...

  6. Yeah, to win I must not be a contestant. I like that :)

    Also, my superhero name that your generator gave me was "ICE ROT".

    What the heck? What kind of superhero name is that? That's more like a villain name.

    You know what, though? I think I can do villain-WAH-HA-HA!!! Yeah, that could totally be fun. Watch out for ICE ROT! Don't tangle with her! She's COOOOOOOL!!!

  7. Mistress Master and Ice Rot ROFL! Those names are awesome!

  8. OH my Hell, I am laughing so hard! I just ran The Hippie and The Scribe's names in the generator. The Hippie is Hydrora and The Scribe is . . . Dirt Master. Needless to say, they are not thrilled LOL! I LOVE it :)

  9. I got...Visiona? I shall no longer call you Elisa, but you are now "Judge 14" to me!

  10. You are clearly a natural, Judge 14!

  11. K judge 14. My name came up Rose man. lol Not exactly sure what that means but at least it isn't stinky feet girl.

  12. Malachite Monsoon?? That is so non-superheroish, but more like that evil kid from Children of the Corn.

    I will never forget where I was the day you found out you were Judge 14...monumentous day for all to remember. ;) Plus, it was just the other day so...

  13. Great posting! In fact, I just finished my "run" as a judge too. Not sure what my # was, tho. I was judging a Young Author Fiction Festival contest -- 28 stories from 6th graders living in and around Paris. What a blast! Ninjas, angels, warriors, pirates and a magic sandwich. It was totally inspiring!

  14. THis made me chuckle. Good on you, Judge 14!

  15. So Judge 14, do you have anything to tell the press? Any secrets to your awesome judging capabilities? Would you care to do a class presentation on how you became so inherently adept at being awesome? Much love!

    As for the name generator...
    Ok, so no joke here, I put in preferences I thought would fit my eldest daughter, and her name came out as "Raven Detonator!" Really! That was freakin awesome!

    My name is "Tiger Shot," my husband is "Fist Blood." My eldest boy is "Spectre Master," my youngest boy is "War Smasher."

    AND GET THIS!!! My baby girl, "Ember Mistress!" I swear to you I did not hack the site!! And I took the first answer it gave me, I did not cheat to get this!

    That really made my day!

  16. I sound like a character of the bible - Prophet Woman...