The royal road to being a better writer

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The royal road to being a better writer

Postby Fond du lac operon » Tue Mar 06, 2012 1:28 am

So, hypothetically, let's say that I, or someone else, is interested in becoming a better player/writer/etc. Certainly the best way to do this is to write questions, which I don't think anyone has a problem with.

The problem is, that if you're just writing questions in a void, you won't get better at it. (Assuming writing questions is like creating anything else, anyway.) You need feedback. But if you're at a program without a long, storied tradition of good quizbowl, there are only so many people who you know who are willing and able to give you plenty of feedback. So I can think of like three options:

(1) Write for ACF and other packet-submission tournaments, and hope that people will criticize your questions even after editing and that the criticisms will be germane to what you originally wrote. Alternatively, try to divine things about your writing style from the like 3/3 you wrote that actually makes it in to a final ACF packet.

(2) Use the New Writer Feedback Program. Great idea in theory. Hasn't worked for my hypothetical person in practice, I assume because the hypothetical person who was supposed to provide feedback is busy with hypothetical med school (which is understandable).

(3) Write a (high-school? college?) tournament. But this is a lot of work, and again, if you're in a place without a tradition of good quizbowl, and you're a novice writer, I doubt people will have enough interest in your college tournament to play it.


So is there something in between (1) and (3), or like (2) but without players who have a zillion other responsibilities than helping newbies work on good writing? How do people get better at writing, if they write for nobody?
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Re: The royal road to being a better writer

Postby Cheynem » Tue Mar 06, 2012 1:34 am

One approach might be to write for something smaller-scale like HSAPQ. If you actually are diligent about keeping up with deadlines and ask for feedback from topic editors, you can get a lot of good feedback.

You could also try just trying to form a relationship with an experienced writer outside of your program. At Minnesota, I was blessed with working with some great writers (Andrew/Rob/Gautam), but I've gotten some fine feedback over the years from Matt Weiner, Jonathan Magin, and others. Doing some IRC playtesting or even some simple "can i show you some questions?" could be helpful.

Furthermore, you should contact the editors of packet submission tournaments and ask about improving (based on the stuff you submitted). I've done this after submitting a few Regionals packets.

My basic point of all of this is that there are better ways to improve as a writer than writing a tournament or trying to discern something without any feedback.
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Re: The royal road to being a better writer

Postby magin » Tue Mar 06, 2012 2:34 am

What is it like to be a Batman? wrote:(2) Use the New Writer Feedback Program. Great idea in theory. Hasn't worked for my hypothetical person in practice, I assume because the hypothetical person who was supposed to provide feedback is busy with hypothetical med school (which is understandable).


Hey, if the person assigned to give you feedback has not done so, you can rectify this by emailing feedback.acf@gmail.com, and letting us know that you need a new person to give you some feedback. We'll try to find someone more reliable if you let us know that you've been left feedbackless.
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Re: The royal road to being a better writer

Postby Skepticism and Animal Feed » Tue Mar 06, 2012 10:30 am

I became a good writer by writing lots of things, and then actually listening to my critics. The first tournament I wrote was ripped apart by people like Jerry on this very forum. I wrote another one a year later, incorporating all of their feedback (and even including one of my harshest critics as a collaborator) and it was mostly praised by those very same people.
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Re: The royal road to being a better writer

Postby setht » Tue Mar 06, 2012 10:53 am

If you write for NAQT you can also get a fair amount of feedback; it varies a bit by subject editor, but if you specifically ask for lots of feedback I think most editors would make an extra effort to give it. I know I would; I edit myth at all levels, and physics, math and earth science at the DI SCT/ICT levels. If you're playing DII ICT, you can write questions for use in DI ICT (and vice versa); that is not true for SCT (but of course you can still write the questions and they'll sit in storage until a year where you don't play SCT).

The ACF feedback program should be a great resource for this, so hopefully your situation has been sorted out.

I think playtesting on IRC is also a fine idea--if you write questions for a packet submission a bit early, just show up and see if you can get a group of people who aren't playing the relevant tournament to play your questions and give comments. You probably won't get quite as much in-depth commentary as you would in the first two cases, but it may be faster than anything else.

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Re: The royal road to being a better writer

Postby Fond du lac operon » Tue Mar 06, 2012 8:16 pm

magin wrote:
What is it like to be a Batman? wrote:(2) Use the New Writer Feedback Program. Great idea in theory. Hasn't worked for my hypothetical person in practice, I assume because the hypothetical person who was supposed to provide feedback is busy with hypothetical med school (which is understandable).


Hey, if the person assigned to give you feedback has not done so, you can rectify this by emailing feedback.acf@gmail.com, and letting us know that you need a new person to give you some feedback. We'll try to find someone more reliable if you let us know that you've been left feedbackless.


Honestly, it's not a big deal -- I've written like 50+ questions in between my submission and the present, so any criticisms might not be that applicable anyway. I'm more concerned about the future for myself and others, in particular, the Alabama froshlings who I hope to get to write for ACF Fall next year. (Although it might be nice to have a timeline, like, if you haven't heard back in so many days/weeks, email us back and we'll try to find someone less swamped.)
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Re: The royal road to being a better writer

Postby No Rules Westbrook » Wed Mar 07, 2012 11:35 pm

You know, I don't think many people will agree with me, but I find the whole feedback thing that everyone is doing now to be pretty useless. You just get a weird cacaphony of unhelpful opinions, and I think it has minimal impact on your future writing.

I come from a school that says that the best way to improve as a writer is to improve your familiarity with how questions are written, and improve your knowledge of what people in quizbowl actually know. In other words, this means read a lot of good packets and emulate the styles used by good writers (there's a handful of different styles you should gain familiarity with), and go to tournaments to see what kind of clues people really know.

In order to honestly know whether your questions are good when you write them, you have to have a decent feel for what kind of clues will be buzzed on. You have to be good at predicting how your questions will play - and there's no way to achieve that without gaining experience from reading a ton of questions, and going to tournaments. We all have our various opinions on the role of the "canon" in quizbowl - and you can take whatever position on that you want - but regardless, I think it's impossible to feel confident in your question writing and produce consistent questions without having the above experience. I think what sets good writers apart from mediocre writers is that mediocre writers are only "guessing" at what people might know (e.g. "this clue seems like a very important one based on my research so people should know it"), while good writers are calling on their experience and "predicting" what people will know (e.g. "This is the type of clue I've seen good players buzz on"). "Player empathy" is a great phrase - it's what you need to be a good writer - you need to understand how a player will react to your clues in real life (not in some vacuum where everyone assumes players are robots that correctly parse every word and read the mind of the question writer) - but you can't have "empathy" if you don't have some feel for what others know, what they kind of know, what they don't care about or want to know, and things in between.
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