Writing For Aspiring L2s

As part of the path to L2, judges have a fair amount of writing to do:

  • You will have to get on a Competitive REL tournament so that a L2+ judge can review them. That likely means you will have to write a cover letter to be accepted to that event.
  • You will have to write, at a minimum, reviews of two different judges.
  • And you will have to write either a tournament report, conference report or an article. (As a reminder, the full set of requirements to test for L2 are here.)

So for this week’s installment, I am going to share some thoughts and tips on how to do your best writing in general and in these specific contexts as well.

GENERAL TIPS

Budget the right amount of time for your writing. If you are writing on a deadline, make sure you have enough time to let ideas live and breathe in your head, enough time to execute your ideas and enough time to revise them as needed.

Have an audience and objective in mind. When you are working on a piece, it is crucial to think about who you are speaking to and what you are trying to accomplish. Those things should help shape everything you do. Indeed, sometimes it makes it easier to think of a particular person as you write.

Just do it. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with all the different tasks and responsibilities you might have going on, and to keep the writing you need to do on hold. Sometimes you just have to pound away at a keyboard and give it a first shot. Don’t let procrastination get the better of you.

Put some effort and passion into it. Sometimes, writing is tedious. Or you may have a philosophical disagreement with this writing requirement or that. Or you may just want to check something off the list. That’s all understandable. But at the end of the day, you still have to do it. Why not try for more than just the bare, box-checking minimum?

Read it aloud. Sometimes words that seem like they work well on a page don’t when you speak them out.

Double-check everything. Then triple-check it. You don’t want to let a typo, a factual mistake or other issue potentially undercut the legitimacy of everything else you’ve done. Most word processors have built-in spell checkers and grammar checkers these days. Use them, but don’t become overly dependent on them. A computer can’t tell that when you typed “cad,” you really meant to say “card.”

Get a second opinion. Things that might make sense in our heads may not be as clear to others. Everyone can use a friend or mentor to give feedback. Please avoid being overly defensive about any feedback you receive. And of course, thank the person who was willing to spend some time to help you.

 

COVER LETTERS

When you apply for an event such as a Grand Prix or a Star City Games Open, and even some smaller events, the tournament organizer may require you to write a cover letter. A few tips here.

Keep things under 100 words if possible. Judge managers may have to wade through dozens, sometimes scores of these applications.  You don’t want to impinge on their time any more than you have to. So keep things short, sweet and to the point.

The point is answering one basic question: why should the tournament organizer choose you? The average tournament organizer has far more applicants than spots. You have one job in writing a cover letter – make a case why you deserve the spot more than someone else. How do you bring value to the event? Are you a harder worker than the next person? Better at customer service? Wonderful with rules knowledge? What are your strengths, how have you shown them in the past, and how will you use them to benefit the event?

People’s opinions will vary on this. But mine is that pretty much everything in a cover letter should be focused on answering why you should be chosen. A lot of people want to talk about the sorts of things that they hope to gain from the event, like experience at Comp REL, or a chance to work with a great tournament organizer or what have you. Those sorts of things are at best secondary, taking up space in your 100 words that you can ill-afford. There’ll be plenty of time to talk about your yearning to improve your skill at deck checks later if you get staffed.

Find the right tone. Some people might be very apologetic about their lack of experience in their cover letters. Some will overstate their qualifications. Some will be too dry, while others will try to be too humorous. You just have to experiment and see what seems right. It’s probably best to avoid jokey cover letters. And it’s best to focus on your strengths rather than your weaknesses.

Use references wisely. If you are not known to a given tournament organizer, a good way to improve your chances is to have someone vouch for you. To quote an old Chicago saying, “We don’t want nobody nobody sent.” So when you work with a L2+, in addition to asking for feedback, consider asking that person as a reference. Do not make the mistake of name-dropping someone merely because you were at a judge conference together or even because you worked an event together. And don’t use someone as a reference without letting him or her know, and asking the broad strokes of what the person would say.  Because if the tournament organizer calls your supposed reference up, and he or she has no idea who you are, or worse, thinks you aren’t good enough, there go your chances of getting staffed. Even assuming the reference is someone who is going to support you, he or she would be in a better position to do so with some time to think about what to say.

Here’s a sample structure:

Paragraph 1: I would be an excellent choice for [this event] because [1-3 ways in which I would bring value to the event.]

Paragraph 2: [Brief summary of my experience] has taught me [skills] that I can use at your event.

Paragraph 3: [Two or three references] will vouch that I have [skills].

Paragraph 4: Thank you for your consideration.

Here’s another sample structure:

L3s Paul Baranay and Evan Cherry wrote this excellent article.

They discuss at more length focusing a cover letter around areas: Experience, Goals, and Needs (with a possible fourth section, References).

Avoid unforced errors. It is easy for a judge manager to use a single cover letter mistake as justification to reject your application. So the general writing tips listed above apply with extra force.

Two particular issues to touch on in the realm of cover letters: First, don’t put the wrong event name in the cover letter. This should seem obvious, but it is also something that apparently happens all too often. People cut and paste cover letters from previous events without updating the event from GP X to GP Y. Don’t risk it. Either just write the cover letter from scratch, make sure you have updated the event after cutting-and-pasting, or make the reference to the event generic.

Second, if the application instructs you to do something or to not do something in the cover letter, follow the instruction. A judge manager very well may conclude: “If this person can’t follow directions in applying, how can I trust him or her to follow directions at the event?”

REVIEWS

There is an entire project dedicated to improving how people give reviews and other feedback.  Check them out here.

But to quickly cover some areas here:

Be detailed. It is not enough to merely say, “Jessica was an excellent head judge at this event.” You should list several reasons why you came to that conclusion. Think about everything she did before, during and after the event. How did it help the event be a success, or how could those things been done differently to make the event more successful? What did her actions teach you about judging, either positively or negatively? How would you assess her in terms of her organization, her efficiency, her diplomacy with players, so on and so forth? Try to dig deep on all those things.

Take notes. You might be efficient enough to start and finish your review while everything is fresh in your mind. Or, if you have a particularly good memory, you might be able to recreate events of a tournament that was more than a couple weeks ago. But for most people, I’d guess that it would help to be taking plenty of notes at the event that you can refer to later.

Communicate with the subject of the review. Let people you are reviewing know at or before the event, “Hey, I am thinking of reviewing you.” Tell them afterwards, “Hey, this is what I’m generally thinking of writing.” Ask people you are reviewing questions before or as you’re writing. And before you officially submit the review, show it to them. Note: this doesn’t mean that you will change one word of what you’ve written, necessarily.

Following this advice will likely mean the final product will be better both in terms of the writing and the effect it has on the reviewer. You’re going to spend more time and thought putting the review together this way. You’re going to potentially have some issues and mistaken assumptions clarified. You’re more likely to get buy-in from the person you’re reviewing. And even if your feedback is more critical, showing it first will at least somewhat cushion the blow.

 

TOURNAMENT REPORTS, CONFERENCE REPORTS AND ARTICLES

The main advice here would be along the lines of this essay by L3 Joshua Feingold:

The short version: In your writing, try to focus less about what happened and more about why what happened matters.

We hope these tips help as you prepare to seek out L2 certification and beyond!

Have a topic you’d like us to discuss?  A new L2 we should interview?  Any other feedback?  Email us at mtgjourneyofdiscovery@gmail.com