I'm running a retreat for writers of EA fiction.

Why? Because fiction can communicate ideas and inspire action, and yet EA fiction is surprisingly scarce. So I want to give aspiring writers of EA fiction an opportunity to do two things. First, to hone their craft. Second, to reflect on the role that writing plays in their lives and in their attempts to make the world better. I hope that some people will emerge from this retreat with a desire to write more and the skills to do so.

Participants will spend six days in a beautiful old building near Oxford (UK) writing, engaging in peer feedback, and receiving mentorship from a professional (though this final element of things is yet to be arranged). The retreat will take place from September 15th to September 20th. The event will be free for participants, and travel, food and accommodation will be paid for.

If you might be interested in coming along then read on. If you're interested but feel like an imposter in some way then please read on anyway; I would love to receive your application.

What (Is EA Fiction)?

I don't like the phrase "EA fiction", even if I find myself using it as a shorthand. I think this phrase lends itself to three misreadings.

Misreading 1 (Identity). I don't care whether a piece of fiction is written by someone who identifies as an effective altruist. What I want to see more of is not fiction written by members of a particular social movement but rather fiction that explores certain ideas.

Misreading 2 (Endorsement). Nor is my interest restricted to writing that endorses "standard" EA views. Indeed, I myself reject some views that are popular in EA, and I feel uncertain about others. What I care about is sincere and thoughtful engagement with EA themes, which can involve criticism as much as endorsement.

Misreading 3 (Subject Matter). Finally, I'm not interested only in fiction that explicitly explores EA themes. I think that fiction is often at its most honest and engaging when plot or character comes first and theme emerges organically from these and from the writer's viewpoint on the world. 

So what do I mean by EA fiction? I mean fiction that is influenced, perhaps explicitly or perhaps subtly, by a sincere and thoughtful engagement with at least one of:

  • The notions of altruism and compassion;
  • The idea that reason and evidence can play a role in altruistic action; or
  • Any of the more specific views that are oft discussed in EA circles.

That might seem irritatingly vague, but I prefer to be vague rather than discourage people from thinking outside whatever box I draw. Basically, if you feel uncertain about whether I'd consider something to be EA fiction then err on the side of assuming I would.

Who (Should Apply)?

You.

Well, maybe not, I guess, if you've only read this far out of curiosity and actually have no interest in writing.

But if you write, or think you'd like to start writing, then why not apply? You don't have to be a professional, or have publications, or have been writing for years, or consider yourself an EA, or have an extensive portfolio, or…

As long as you can pull together a 3000 word writing sample by the deadline, then we'd love to have you apply (you'll also need to be over 18 for the entirety of the retreat, I'm afraid, and your writing will need to be in English).

(The 3000 words assumes you're writing prose. If you're writing poetry, or comics, or plays, or whatever else then there's no strict guidelines; just feel free to make your best guess about what would be a reasonable equivalent, or drop me a message if you want to clarify a specific case.)

As above, people who would like to apply but feel like an imposter are especially encouraged to apply!

What (Will The Retreat Involve)?

There will be three formal components of the retreat:

  1. Peer Critique. Each day will start with a peer critique session in small groups. This will be a chance to get feedback on your work and also a chance to learn by providing feedback on other people's work.
  2. Mentorship. A writing mentor will also attend, leading some of the critique groups and also providing one on one feedback.
  3. Creative Time. Afternoons will be creative time, to be spent however you wish (but with suggested activities including making edits in response to the morning's feedback and writing).

Outside of the formal events, the retreat will involve spending six days in a beautiful old building with a bunch of other writers.

Note that participants will be encouraged to come to the retreat with 5000-8000 words writte

How (Can I Apply to Attend)?

To apply, fill in this form by June 26th.

The form is mostly simple (as long as you know your name and email address), but the one thing you will need is roughly 3000 words of fiction written in English. This doesn't need to be EA fiction, even in the generous sense above: the retreat aims at promoting EA fiction but that doesn't mean the writing sample itself needs to be fiction of this sort. Nor does this sample need to be self contained; it's fine if it's the start of something longer.

If you have any trouble with the form, or any questions, then feel free to send me a message on the forum (or ask in the comments, if you think others might have the same question).

Otherwise, I look forward to reading your applications.





 

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15 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 2:47 PM

I write fiction occasionally and have one half-written EA story,  I'd like to write more. does this put me in your category or are we looking for more commitment than that?

Yep, you should definitely apply if you're interested. So too should people who have never written fiction before but who think maybe they'd like to start doing so (as long as they can pull together a writing sample by the deadline).

There are no expectations about prior work: if you're interested enough to put together a sample then I'll happily consider your application.

I've submitted with a 500 word sample. I have a thing I'm working on that's longer and if I can get it done in time I'll resubmit. Thanks for organising.

This is huge.

Fiction like Atlas Shrugged and Uncle Tom's Cabin and The Jungle have been massively influential.

A surprising number of people have told me they got into the EA/LessWrong sphere through HPMOR, which at least tells us that the writing doesn't even have to be good to make a difference.

It is a common misconception that because a piece of fiction was bad for the particular individual writing, or is low status, or is missing some desired marker of 'goodness', that it therefore is not 'good'. 

There doesn't seem to be any commonly agreed upon definition of what 'good' means in the context of fiction -- so I think it is better to focus on whether it is good for particular individuals, where you can just ask the people if they find the text good.

So while HPMOR is not good for Arjun, it is extremely good for a lot of other text-individual pairings. 

Also, if by 'not that good' you mean 'easy to duplicate', as someone who would very much like to write something that is as powerful, compelling, interesting, emotionally satisfying, multilayered and inspiring as HPMOR, it is not in the slightest easy to write something like it. 

It is a common misconception that because a piece of fiction was bad for the particular individual writing, or is low status, or is missing some desired marker of 'goodness', that it therefore is not 'good'. 

I should clarify that my potshot was mocking the prose. There are other ways that HPMOR was good (or so I suspect—I only got through the first 5 or 10 chapters). I also failed to get through the first chapter of Atlas Shrugged even though I would probably find its aesthetic more agreeable than most people and even though it was much more influential than HPMOR. 

EDIT: Actually, I think my comment had more value than just a potshot. I know a bunch of wannabe writers, my past self included, who were overly concerned with prose quality.

Sure, I agree with you that the prose is passable, readable and fairly solid, but definitely not flashy, literary, or anything special (though I think it reaches a somewhat higher level by the middle, but it never is what is important or fun about the HPMOR).

I personally never had the delusion that pretty prose was particularly important (if anything I go too far in the other direction), but yeah, it is a mistake that people make. 

You definitely do not need to write a poem in prose to have a great deal of impact with your writing. 

I agree with you that the prose is passable, readable and fairly solid

I didn't say the prose was "fairly solid." I would have to go back (and maybe it improves after the first several chapters) but I remember it being bad.

Lol, it's consistently readable. If you expect more, you need to widen your reading horizons.

I think Eliezer really needed an editor to cut it down at points.

This sounds great! I learned about it after the deadline and it conflicts with EAGxBerlin, but if you run the retreat again, I'm happy to apply! I have a few writing ideas in mind for years. And also a few drafts.

Great, it's currently unclear whether I'll run further events of this sort in the future (in part, I want to see how this one goes first), but I may well do.

Thanks for putting this together. Any idea of when participants will be selected? Sept 15 is only a few months away!

Responses have now gone out, and I've notified both those who have been accepted and those who haven't. So if anyone hasn't received a response then feel free to get in touch via forum message.

(I'm not planning to do a detailed post on the application process right now, as I'm focused on preparing for the event, but I'm hoping to do a general reflection post after the event, in which I'll discuss the application process alongside other things)

(Shortly, I'll be away until the 18th. I'll do my best to check forum messages, but please expect replies to be somewhat slow.)

The aim is to notify people who are accepted within a fortnight of the closing date (that's not an absolute guarantee, but it's the intention and I think it's likely to be achieved).