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We received a lot of strong submissions for the Creative Writing Contest, and we’re thrilled to finally announce the winners. (I was the slowest judge — my bad.)

This post lists the winners, and a few other notes.

Note on private submissions

Some winners originally shared their entries through a private form so that they could submit them elsewhere if they didn’t win a prize. 

I’ve now cross-posted those entries, with the date of their original submission, so that everyone can read them. (I’ve used the Forum Archives account if the author didn’t have a Forum account.) 

These newly available entries include our first-prize winner!


First prize

The $10,000 first prize goes to atb, for The Unweaving of a Beautiful Thing:

It had been eighteen minutes since Death had arrived and the witch had refused to be taken.

The spell was like spiderweb, intricate threads woven into the world, and Death had paused to admire it. They’d known that the witch might fight, for the powerful often greeted them with defiance. Fire had been flung at Death in every hue, while others they’d visited had attempted deceit, offering up innocents cloaked in their own guise. One wizard had tried a love spell, not understanding that Death already loved them all. But the witch’s web was something new; it was an attempt to trap Death in its threads. It was elegant and audacious and cunning, and yet…

“You are aware,” said Death, “that this approach will fail?”


Second prizes

We had promised that at least one of these prizes would go to a nonfiction entry, but we had two fiction entries in a perfect tie for second. As a result, we’ve added a third “second prize” to account for our highest-scoring nonfiction entry.

These $3,000 prizes go to:


Third prizes

Because of the extra second prize, we’re only awarding three “third prizes”.

These $1,000 third prizes go to:

Honorable mentions

These eight entries earned a $250 Honorable Mention prize:

What’s next for the winners?

I’ve contacted the authors to let them know how they can collect their prizes. If you’re a winner and didn’t get an email, send me a DM.

Because I’m no longer at CEA, I’ll leave detailed plans to the next Content Specialist. But I do think we’ll be widely sharing the entries on social media, and I expect that we may end up using them (with authors’ permission) in some of our online resources.

If you think any of this work should be read more widely, please share it yourself! Let’s get these people the readers they deserve.

Also: If you have any ideas for how CEA could make use of all this great writing, leave a comment or send me a message!

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Potentially could these be released as audiobook/podcasts?

Quick thought: I think it might actually be pretty high impact, and clearly worth the relatively low time/money required, for someone to do pretty good human readings of these and release them as episodes in one podcast feed. 

This is based on things like: 

  • how successful Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality has been as an outreach tool + my guess that there being a podcast version helped with that
  • how successful other podcasts (esp. the 80k podcast) seem to have been as an outreach tool + my guess that it's plausible similar could occur with fiction
  • how much I appreciate having things like the Nonlinear Library + my guess that a nontrivial fraction of other potential high impact EAs who haven't heard gotten into EA would be the same + my guess that that would generalise to or is even stronger for fiction than for nonfiction

We could instead have machine-read versions. But I'd guess that, for fiction as an outreach tool, human-read versions would be sufficiently more appealing and engaging that it's worth the extra time/money.

(I haven't tried to verify any of the above, e.g. haven't checked how many high impact people got into EA/rationality via the HPMOR podcast as opposed to reading it.)

EDIT: Also, if that seems to go well, it may well be worth following that with:

  • Recording many/all of the entries that aren't mentioned in this post
  • Doing more to encourage further creative writing like this than we'd otherwise do, because now we now we have an additional channel to put it into that may draw people into EA
    • E.g., this could update us in favour of running another competition sooner, or having a monthly prize, or just publicly promoting the idea of writing such things and making people feel impactful and high-status for doing this sort of thing

So there may also be some good value of information, rather than just the expected impact of having recordings of these particular entries.

This is something I might give some thought to doing. One question is where it should live — I think the two most obvious options are the Nonlinear Library podcast, or on a new 'EA Fiction' podcast feed (advantage of the latter is that it could continue running if it goes well, disadvantage is it's maybe a couple extra hours to set up).

Incidentally, I also think it would be valuable for someone to produce table reads of some of the conversations MIRI recently published.

Please can anyone let me know if you would like to help read or edit something for either this EA fiction thing, or the MIRI conversations? I expect it would be possible to get a mic sent over, or at least compensation for your time.

If the eventual human-read versions of this creative stuff and/or the MIRI conversations are high quality in my view (see below), I'm willing to personally guarantee (say) at least $500 for a mic (if the person doesn't have one already and it costs that much) and $20/hr for up to 5 times as many hours as the cumulative total run time across all the episodes produced, with the guarantee being capped at $1500 total. 

Fine print:

  • It's also plausible I'd personally provide a larger amount, and I'd guess that a funder like EAIF would provide a grant for this and would do so up to a larger amount (that'd be my preferred starting point, with me as a backup, unless the total amount requested is <$1k in which case I might just provide it right away myself). This is just what I'm willing to personally guarantee right now, without thinking about it further.
    • Note that EAIF has recently made larger grants for projects that are in some sense smaller, e.g. ~$5k for one relatively short and simple video.
  • I haven't checked or thought about how much mics cost; what's a reasonable ratio of hours spent preparing, recording, editing, and publishing to hours of content produced; or what's a reasonable hourly rate. That's among the reasons it's plausible I'd provide a larger amount of compensation, and especially why it's plausible a funder like EAIF would.
  • It's probably best if you contact me before you make these things, and maybe do one quick reading with whatever mic you already have so I can confirm that it seems your final version will be high-quality-as-deemed-by-me.
    • If you haven't done that, it's possible I'll later deem the thing you make insufficiently high quality, which is bad for its impact and also means I probably wouldn't pay up, and that'd also be uncomfortable and awkward.
    • In contrast, if you have done that, I might also provide part of the money in advance or something, if necessary.
  • I'd definitely count as "high-quality" readings as high-quality as Rob Miles' readings of the Alignment Newsletter and the human-read versions of HPMOR and Rationality: A to Z. I'd probably also count somewhat lower-quality readings as high-quality. I wouldn't count something that's only as high-fidelity and engaging as the Nonlinear Library's machine reading as high-quality, since then there's not much point having humans read it.
  • This only applies as a guarantee if the people involved don't already get funding elsewhere and if it doesn't seem more logical for them to get funding elsewhere.
    • Though it's also plausible I'd top up someone's compensation even if they get some funding elsewhere.
  • Although I'm a guest manager on EAIF, I'm writing this in my personal capacity.
  • This doesn't mean I'm confident that a given reader of this comment should spend their time on this.
    • There are many other things I'd also personally guarantee funding for if I thought that would increase the chance that they'd happen and if the topic came up.
    • (E.g., I'd probably prefer if Fin doesn't do this himself unless he'd find it engaging enough to not trade off against "regular work hours", since I think the opportunity cost of Fin's time is quite high)

Great! Both the MIRI conversations and the creative writing pieces amount to a bout an audiobook's worth of content, so I think this would be best if multiple people helped record them. Plus it could be useful to have both male and female voices for some.

I would be happy to project manage either of these things if there's enough interest!

I'd quite like to help read some of these. I strongly agree that a table read of the MIRI conversations would be good: given their conversational nature I think a lot of people would find them easier to approach as a recording than as a text log.

Also, my impression is that the Fable of the Dragon Tyrant got a lot out of having a nice video version. If the recordings go well it might be worth considering commissioning an accompanying video for the top prize winner at least.

I hope we can have narrations of these stories, it would be great! (Authors: if you want to read your own work, I could help post it/edit it?)

I read the winning entry into the EA Forum podcast here ... Spotify link here.

I hope more are forthcoming .

oops. some audio issues -- a silence gap. Should be fixed now.

Thanks everyone for all of your work! I look forward to reading these.

If anyone wants to publicise these I made a folder of a load of instagrammable excerpts from each of these - I will be posting them on my EA group account, but feel free to use them as well.



Contests like this seem to generate great content!

Meta note: is there some systematic way to discover and hear about EA forum contests/prizes? My experience is that despite checking the forum front page fairly often, usually when the winning entries show up on the front page. Some page on the forum listing all prizes would be useful – does this exist?

There's the "prize" tag. Any user can tag posts (or suggest new tags actually).

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