Sunday, August 2, 2015

Read like a writer? Not when you're a judge

Here's something that's making me go, "hmmm."

I am a judge in a writing contest. Yesterday, I finally had time to read through the entries and send in my evaluations. The process of judging catalyzed me into a realization I hadn't foreseen.

I spent the better part of all my education years doing some form of lit crit or drama crit. So, I know how to do that. I'm comfortable looking for theme, voice, phrasing and most of all storytelling. If I say so, I'm pretty good at evaluating pieces to see what worked and what didn't. I remember at a Greenbelt Writers' group meeting, an English Prof at one of the local community colleges came to do a poetry criticism workshop with us. He asked us to evaluate poems and then discuss them. When I gave my evaluations/opinions, he was wowed.

"Are you an English professor?" He asked.
"No, why?"
"Because you know your way around lit crit."
"No," I answered. "I was an English major at the University of Michigan. They put us through our paces."
"Ah, Michigan," he said. "Now, I understand." (Michigan has/had a tremendous English Department, and I benefited greatly by studying there.)

So, I know my way around literary and dramatic critique. But, I realized yesterday that I have changed how I view literature. I no longer look at it as an analyst or a critic. I look at it as a writer. As I have started to write my own books, my perspective has shifted.

Now, instead of looking at the structure, the theme, or the grammar, I look at the quality of the story. And to make things more interesting, I evaluate it based on whether or not it impacts me rather than just enjoying the tale. I can't lose myself in the book or story anymore. And if I am not careful, I start planning/plotting as I read. In other words, I think about how I would do it my way. How would I rework the scene? How would make it more fun/exciting/moving, etc.? And how would I "resist the urge to explain?"*

Yesterday, as I read the submissions, I resisted the urge to think about how I would do things differently and did my darnedest to evaluate each work on its own merits. I think I accomplished that task. But only barely.

Any other writers out there think that way?

* From "Self-editing for the Fiction Writer."

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