Folsom's 93

The Lives and Crimes of Folsom Prison's Executed Men

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. . . Seldom is heard a discouraging word . . .

Isn’t that how the song goes? “Oh, home on the range . . . la, la, la . . . where seldom is heard a discouraging word . . .” I thought it was “encouraging word” therefore providing some sense to this post—stay with me—but I looked it up and it is indeed “discouraging.”  And I don’t want to be discouraging. (Then I realized what a downer if the song said seldom is heard an encouraging word . . .) Ok, anyway . . .

I’m talking about judging entries for a literary contest. I want to be encouraging, but what do I do when those types of words escape me? When I can’t think of an encouraging thing to say except, “Ah, keep at it,” or “Good use of the word the.”

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What if I find an entry offensive? Both in content and in language? Now, some people might conclude—if they didn’t know better—that swashbuckling sailors or a pack of wild truck drivers raised me (sorry, Mom) but even the product of those upbringings can easily get offended. Even me. I won’t repeat what the entry-in-question contained, but it did in fact leave me speechless, which rarely happens.

Not every submission has been bad. For every four entries, there is one that earns a double take and leaves me wanting more pages. These, I jot down on a piece of paper for my own use; one to look back on when the results of the contest are announced. I realize that this endeavor; this process of printing out your proverbial baby and sending it off into the unknown to unknown judges for the purpose of being well . . . judged, can be a very scary thing. Believe me, I know. I’ve done it twice. The second time resulted in a finalist position, but that was all. Someone else’s baby fared better.

My motto as I read through these entries: Not a Discouraging Word. In the meantime, I’m looking for sage advice here, folks.

Have you ever judged a literary contest? What did you learn? What would you have done differently? Tell me, O’ Wise Ones . . .