Harder Than I Thought

I know reading and writing are subjective, but I didn’t realize how subjective until I agreed to judge a writing contest for a friend. Her local paper offers a writing contest once a year for short stories and poems. The contestants can win first place, second, or third in each category. My friend asked if I’d judge the entries since I’ve been writing for a long time.

“Sure,” I said. There weren’t going to be tons of entries, and I HAVE been writing for longer than I care to think about. I could handle this and encourage some new writers. And then I got the entries.

Judging is HARD. Some stories were free of any mistakes but had little emotional impact. Some hit me hard with emotions but had so many mistakes, I tripped over them. Some writers went straight for angst with stories about cancer or tragedy. A few had subtle humor that made me smile. How do you judge between lemons and strawberries?

I’m no expert in poetry, and I struggled with that even more. I thought about all of the manuscripts editors must get and decided I’d never want that job. Who do you say yes to, and who do you turn down?

I finally decided the only thing I felt good about was to pick the stories and poems that I liked the best, overall. If there were so many mistakes I couldn’t ignore them, that story wasn’t a winner. If I kept thinking about it after I read it, it made my final cut. And eventually, I decided on my top three in each category.

If someone else had read the entries, the outcome might be entirely different. But all I can do is be me. I’m sure the same is true of editors. What one likes, another might reject. We have to remember that. Everyone’s different. What I like, someone else might toss aside. And vice versa. That’s not even considering the business side of writing. What’s trending? What’s glutted? Then things really get dicey.

I doubt I ever volunteer to judge a contest again. It made me think too much:) But it was refreshing to realize that writing is hit and miss. It’s that subjective. And a rejection might only mean that your story’s fine, but the person you sent it to likes something other than what you write.

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