What was it like to judge a writing contest?

This summer I was a judge for Becoming Writer’s 5th Anniversary Writing Contest. It was SO much harder than I thought it was going to be! Also extremely time consuming. But so fun and it was a wonderful experience! My bio is listed on this page as one of the judges:


The first week we each had to read 80 stories and pick our top ten with our partner judges. That turned into a list of 40, which we read the next week. We then picked our top 10 from that, then that turned into a list of the overall top 15. We then picked our favorite 5, rated from best to worst. THAT was hard because I loved all of my top 5!

Then we all voted. Through all of that, we had to leave feedback on the stories because most people paid extra for judges’ feedback. I also liked to do it anyway to use as notes that I could refer to later if I couldn’t remember what I liked or disliked about a certain story.

In the end it was extremely hard to narrow it down to just 10 and then 5. There were about 20 that I thought could be winners. Only one made me cry, and some of them just astounded me with their incredible writing. Some that were on the top 10 list I did not think deserved to be there, but all of the 8 judges had different perspectives, so it was good that there were a bunch of us.

I’m really glad I got to do this, but it did take up a lot of my time for several weeks. I am so glad I got to see what goes on behind the scenes of a writing contest and how much work the judges put in. I was fortunate to see what judges look for in a winning short story and why certain ones were not picked, and why some were rated higher than others. It was truly incredible how it all came together.

The most valuable lesson I learned was that you should not be discouraged if you do not win a writing contest. Just because you don’t win doesn’t mean you’re not excellent. There were so many excellent stories I wanted to put through to the next round but I could only pick a few.

Sometimes judges are looking for certain things in a story, and sometimes our personal opinions might get in the way. We are only human too.  A judge might choose a story over another because of its storyline or theme, not because the writing was actually better than the other.

Keep trying. The best stories eventually do rise to the top!

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