I'm judging the first round of the GUTGAA pitchfest next week and I'm nervous. I'm not the only judge, there are lots of other talented writers judging with me, and it's only the first round, so the next round is judged by actual licensed literary agents* but still, I'm nervous.
I think it's because I am painfully aware of how subjective this writing thing is. Who hasn't rushed out to the bookstore to buy a hot new book, a pocket full of friend and family recommendations and a glowing review in a big paper, only to get the wretched thing home and say, "REALLY?" I've got a short stack of these books at home that I need to gift to my library. Popular, handsome books that I should have loved, all the indications were there. But I just didn't.
Judging a contest (hell, judging your sister's boyfriends for that matter) is a fraught business. I keep thinking 'who am I to judge?' Of course, that never stopped me from judging my sister's boyfriends, or her haircuts or her choice in nail polish, and that is the point I'm slowly creeping up to. We do judge, every second of every day. We have discernment, whether consciously or not. We decide in favor of some things and not others. We judge. The key to judging fairly, I think, is to keep the personal (as much as possible) out of things.
So here's my game plan for next week's judging.
1) Read everything with an open mind, even if it's not my cup of tea. ESPECIALLY if it's not my cup of tea. I bet I'd like lots of different cups of tea if I let myself. Rooibos. Oolong. I digress.
2)Take note of dings. Dings are stops along the reading - when something sounds either off, or confusing, or just takes me out of the reading. When I read anything I want there to be as few dings as possible. Flow and Clarity be your watchwords.
3)What speaks to me? What pitch is something that makes me curious to hear more? What pitch is unexpected, not something I've read before? What pitch has legs? And by that I mean that you want to hear more, you can't imagine how it's going to turn out, but you can't wait to find out. What pitch makes me go AH!
4)The HOOK. Is it there, in the first 150? It should be. I've been there, in the bookstore, a fish swimming in the water waiting to be caught and no hook has found me as I scan the first two pages.
5) Finally, I think I'd look at the quality of writing in the first 150. Is there a consistent, compelling VOICE? Is the writing polished and clear? I'm a big fan of clarity because it's something I struggle with in my own writing (I always want to get fancypants when I don't have to.)
That's the plan. What do you think? Anything else I should be looking at? Whether with crit partners, your own writing or other arts - How do YOU judge?
*WHAT? THEY DON'T HAVE LICENSES? OUTRAGEOUS!