Confessions of a Writing Competition Judge

Last week, I helped longlist for a writing competition for teenagers.

I was given two batches of twenty prose and poetry pieces and asked to choose my favourite four in each.

I read, reread, pondered and scored.

All of my scores were on the Craig Revel Horwood side of stinginess, so when a piece of writing scored a SEVEN, well oh my giddy aunt, it was good. It was easy to choose the best two works in each batch. Sassy, original with beautiful turns of phrase, they stood out.

It was less easy to choose the third and fourth pieces to go through. There were so many pieces which each had different merits, a smack-you-around-the-face ending or an opener that shone, a dodgy first half followed by a magical second. I reread these pieces lots of times before I was able to make a choice.

Here are the two things that struck me most about this competition:

  • Originality is almost all. Lots of writers had similar ideas, but the entries that went through had a concept that was a cut above the rest.
  • Why use a big word when crisp simplicity works so well? As Stephen King says, “Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule.”

I so enjoyed being an early reader in this competition and contributing to that bit of sparkle that writers feel when their work makes it through.

So to all early readers in writing competitions, thanks for tangling yourself in words.

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