When the Critic Doesn’t Know Your Name

It’s one thing to belong to, and get feedback from, a local writing group where everybody knows your name. It’s quite another to get constructive criticism from someone who has nothing but your words by which to judge your writing and who isn’t constrained by friendship in giving it. One reason to join OWFI and to enter the annual OWFI Writing Contest is to get this sort of useful, unbiased critique from judges who have no idea who submitted what.

I entered several categories – out of thirty-four – and won in the Technical or How-To category, with my article, “Make a Name for Yourself.” I entered two other categories, but neither of those entries garnered so much as an Honorable Mention. At least one, though, got something more valuable: fair, useful, and constructive criticism.

Most of the feedback on my blog entry, “Deconstructing Constructive Criticism and Praise” was positive, and the piece ultimately scored 92/100 from the judge, who wrote: “You are wise, and you express yourself well. Your style is straightforward. There are signs of a nimble wit. I’d like to see you emphasize that more. It would be enticing to readers. They would eagerly await your next blog and the punch it delivers.” If that isn’t sufficient motivation to hone a nimble wit, I don’t know what is. But there was more.

“Flows nicely, in general,” wrote the judge. “There are a couple of times when transitions could be smoother. On the [emperor] has no clothes scene, make it clear what the child said. Most people know, but needs to be said here.” Check. This is particularly important with an international audience of varying ages.

The weakest point? “The ending needs work. The blog seems to suddenly stop. It needs a closing sentence at least. A take away of some sort in the form of a memorable phrase would be good. And, with a blog, it’s always good to end with something to entice the reader to look for the next blog.” I can’t argue with this; when I blog, I tend to stop abruptly when I’m done saying what I had to say. To skimp on transitions and conclusions has become a lazy habit. It’s a point that my friend and editor Linda Frost Branam stressed in helping me to polish the one entry I submitted, of three, that won First Place in the 2016 OWFI Contest.

I like to think over thirty years of earning a living with my writing makes me a seasoned pro, but this comment from the judge was humbling: “I made a lot of suggestions, but most of them are minor, polish-type suggestions. This contest category is especially competitive with many seasoned writers entering. Little things make a difference.” Indeed, they do.




Holly Jahangiri is the author of Trockle; A Puppy, Not a Guppy; Innocents & Demons; and A New Leaf for Lyle. You can find her books on Amazon at http://amazon.com/author/hollyjahangiri. For more information on her children's books, please visit http://jahangiri.us/books.
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6 thoughts on “When the Critic Doesn’t Know Your Name”

  1. Congratulations on your win.

    Brave of you to submit to anonymous judges, though.

    It depends what you want from your blog and blog readers. I had serious reservations about posting my last post, because it’s less private than I usually write about not myself but my offspring – but this morning there was a comment from someone who was affected by the content. Those are the posts I like.

    Besides, if I get comments I don’t like, I can just delete them!

    I like that.
    Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt recently posted…Non-24: When someone you love is an okapiMy Profile

    1. How brave is it, really, for a blog post? Isn’t that, almost by definition, what we DO – submit to “anonymous judges”? They may not always tell us exactly what they think, or they may not tell us in ways that we can apply their feedback to our writing in general, but blogging at all is a brave act, unless we hide it behind a password. The interesting thing about this contest, though, is that we learn who the judges were, and they may never learn who entered what – unless it wins a prize and gets announced. I think they’re braver than we entrants are, really!

  2. This is such a helpful reflection on your contest experience. You’re so right about the value of being critiqued by someone who doesn’t already know you and your writing. The insightful comments you received from that judge are WAY beyond what I would have expected. If other writers received such a thoughtful critique, their writing can’t help but benefit if they take the suggestions to heart. (And hey, thanks for the shoutout.)

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