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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Reviewing Your Reviews: How to Absorb Feedback from Writing Contests

Judging contests isn't easy. This year, I judged the Genesis for the first time. I was impressed with how the contest administration tried to even the judging field by sending out a lot of information ahead of time about what was expected of us. (The document was 12 pages long, people.)

If you read my post on Monday, then you might have more of an idea of how I tried to judge. I hoped entrants participated to learn and grow as a writer, so I wrote a lot of comments throughout each of the 7 entries I judged. I feel if a writer is going to put their stuff out there to be judged, then they need to get the biggest bang for their diminished-creativity buck.  In contrast, I know of writers who received no comments in the body of their submission and only general impressions. The learning is greatly diminished when this happens, and that's the real focus of a contest in my book.

But no matter what kind of feedback you received, you can review what was said through a lens that will do you the most benefit.

In theory, anyone judging a contest should be further along in the writing journey in general than those entering contests. When a person with greater authority or knowledge tells a novice what they should do, the feedback is more than likely evaluation, which tends to be viewed as controlling. which reduces creativity and writing for the joy of it.

If the feedback is presented in such a way, though, that it's more informative, trying to help the novice achieve their goals, then it's viewed as empowering rather than controlling. Research done on empowering feedback indicates very little, if any, impact on creativity.

Also, feedback that focuses on the work itself rather than the writer is going to cause less harm in the long run. For example, a judge who wrote, "The way that the spiritual element is manipulated in this story keeps the readers engaged" is praising the work. A judge who writes, "The way you subtly use the spiritual element to keep the reader engaged shows your talent as a writer" is praising the writer. Research shows that the first will be received better and will have less of an effect on future creativity, even though both comments were positive.

Feedback that is more specific is better to help the entrant develop skills than more general observations. Focused comments are usually interpreted as more informative rather than evaluative, and thus more likely to be seen as empowering than controlling.

So go through your comments. Did your judge come off as a know-it-all? Were your talents as a writer in question or was it just your work being judged? Were comments more specific or general?
Depending upon the answer to these questions, you should be able to determine which comments were meant to control and which were meant to empower, and what you should do with both.

Let's Analyze: Who else thinks I need to to do a preparatory class for contest judges? :)