New Collegiate Writers

Elaborate on the merits of specific tournaments or have general theoretical discussion here.

New Collegiate Writers

Postby Aaron's Rod » Tue Sep 12, 2017 6:31 pm

In recent months, there has been a bit of hand-wringingabout the lack of spring open/non-nationals tournaments, and with that the lack of new collegiate writers. Will Alston has already said plenty of great things on that and other current issues facing the community. As a new collegiate writer myself, I wanted to offer a slightly different approach to the problem.

As I've said other places:
Aaron's Rod wrote:One of the problems that I see here is that the path from being a "completely inexperienced" to a "quasi-experienced" writer seems to be really hazy. Sure, you can write questions on your own, but if nobody's telling you whether or not they're good you're not getting better, and I haven't really seen any initiatives to get completely new writers going. Even PADAWAN's requirements stipulated that "You don't have to have previous experience writing collegiate questions, but you should have some experience writing questions at some level."


I still believe this is a big problem that needs to be addressed (the first sentence in particular) if quizbowl is going to foster more new collegiate writers. Writing/editing for major tournaments seems to pose the same problem that many new college grads face: You can't get experience if you don't work on a tournament, but you can't work on a tournament if you don't have any experience. So, no wonder so many people are writing side events instead of working on all-subject tournaments. They allow you to play to your strengths, and they're generally smaller projects you can complete by yourself or with a small group of people–i.e., no one has to ask you (an inexperienced writer) to do it, you can just do it yourself.

How do we combat this? Susan Ferrari offered a great suggestion in a quizbowl-related Facebook group:
People who get pulled into writing groups for housewrites, or who get chosen to edit tournaments, are picked based on their reputation in the community; this often leads to the same people editing lots of stuff, or people picking their friends/teammates. I suspect that we're not doing as good of a job as we could be at identifying women who have the potential to be good editors. If you and your fellow editors have time to note which packets have good questions in your areas and reach out to teams to figure out who wrote the good stuff, this could help you identify some under-the-radar players who should be tapped for greater writing/editing responsibilities.


I couldn't agree more–if your questions are good enough to be accepted for a packet-submission tournament, that should count as some sort of writing experience.

Here's another suggestion I've been thinking about: Make writing/editing "positions" for tournaments either by application or by open interest (within reason). You could do it NAQT-style where someone submits [n] questions, although I'd imagine it wouldn't matter if they were "clean" or not. As an example of the latter, see the same done in the high school section. As I see it, this would address a lot of other issues the community is facing:

  • People who have an interest in writing but not a lot of experience never get asked to write/edit for tournaments, because people don't know they're interested. Allowing for people to independently express interest is a natural way to find more talent.
  • A very small group of people edit most tournaments. They get burned-out, and when they need to take a break, they leave a bigger void.
  • People generally ask their friends or people they know well to write/edit for them. This is part of a bigger issue about the "insider"-y feel of college quizbowl as a whole, that deserves its own post on a different day. Anyways, when even "outsiders" potentially get a chance to write/edit, I can almost guarantee the pool will get more diverse over time.
  • A deadline on expressing interest creates a natural deadline for announcing a tournament. I had to field questions from a couple of people (current college students from "outsider" schools, as well as people who know I'm often busy on weekends during the school year) about whether ACF Fall was happening this year. I myself was more than a little annoyed that it took so long to get a team/announcement together. Surely we can do better.

This process would also no doubt be annoying to those giants of quizbowl who have been writing/editing nonstop for the past few years, and it would require a lot of patience on the part a tournament's more experienced writers. Some tournaments may even see a temporary slip in the excellent quality that we've all enjoyed (particularly in the last academic year). However, if the spring open issue is any indicator, the alternative seems to be "fewer tournaments happen at all," which is obviously an inferior option.
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Re: New Collegiate Writers

Postby Cheynem » Tue Sep 12, 2017 8:58 pm

Collegiate quizbowl is indeed much like most real world jobs in that to write, you must have experience, but to get experience, you must write. Indeed, much of my early experience writing quizbowl (where I produced a question that drove Andrew Yaphe to a point by point breakdown of how bad it was) came from my associations with more polished, veteran authors. On the other hand, I don't think anyone died, and I'm now at a point thanks to that experience where Will Alston says my questions are "pretty good."

I think my experience is probably fairly duplicateable from people who come from established programs--I would hope there's some "tap on the shoulder"-esque PRI style hijinx in which up and coming people of all backgrounds, genders, and skills who demonstrate potential are being shepherded into writing projects. Indeed, I went from working on T-Party and MUT to getting a chance to edit CO. Indeed, at a certain point in my career, I went from "being thrilled to get a chance" to "being dragooned to finish Penn Bowl by that damn Eric M.."

The trouble I would think comes in two ways--the established program people are not paying sufficient attention to those who might be quieter and more reticent (and perhaps have lower PPGs) but who are still talented at writing; and in people who do not come from such established programs. Open applications might help the latter, but if you're shy or unsure of your own skills, I'm not sure if you'd apply.

I guess I'll just echo what Alex/Susan said and strongly encourage established people to be, well, encouraging. I came to my second practice and my first tournament as a collegiate player because Andrew Hart said I showed knowledge. I worked on one of my first tournaments as a writer because Rob Carson suggested I did. I stuck with writing questions when people helpfully offered corrections to my horrible questions (hey, how I was to know that Second Empire furniture is a bad lead-in, okay?) instead of just telling me I suck. Let's try and do more of that.
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Re: New Collegiate Writers

Postby Neggman » Tue Sep 12, 2017 11:21 pm

As an example of the latter, see the same done in the high school section.


Correct me if I'm wrong, but this doesn't exist for collegiate sets? While I'm not sure how much this could help with people afraid to start writing on collegiate sets, for those of us interested in writing this year but do not know how to go about the process, this could help. I always assumed teams of writing came together by finding each other privately, but if there is some public method a la the HS forum quoted, it could help to pin it. If not, I'd imagine there'd be a handful of people willing to name themselves as potential contributors this/any year (myself, for example).
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Re: New Collegiate Writers

Postby Philipp Moog » Thu Sep 14, 2017 11:53 am

Here are some thoughts from someone who's very much a fledgling writer:

My introduction to the world of writing/editing was very much a right-place-right-time situation. Last year, I had the (mis?)fortune of being new to a team in the thick of writing a nats-minus tournament ("stanford housewrite"). At that point, I had appallingly little writing experience (which is still the case, but marginally less so) and was wholly unqualified to be writing questions of that difficulty. But, they were in crunch mode and still in need of music questions (among many others), which just happens to be the only category I'm comfortable with. So that's how I, a freshman with a blank quizbowl-writing resume, came to write 2/3 of "stanford housewrite"'s music.

Maybe an almost nats-level tournament isn't the best starting point for most people, but I definitely gained a lot from jumping in head-first. More people need such an opportunity, which requires two things: having that opportunity to begin with and being emboldened to take advantage of it.

As for the first part, packet submission tournaments are great, and we could use more of them. ACF Fall is a wonderful. digestible way for brand new writers to get their feet wet. Maybe future replacements for MUT could be packet-sub too to give new players a more manageable difficulty to work with.

I also think we could be more flexible with allowing people to work with smaller slices of the distribution, especially with new editors. Someone who wants to learn to edit but only feels okay controlling 2/2 might be discouraged if they think they need to take on 4/4. (I'm speaking in hypotheticals, but this is definitely how I have felt before.) This already seems to happen at high-difficulty tournaments, understandably, but I think we can allow it more at lower difficulties too, within reason. (We probably want to avoid having 20 different subject editors on one tournament.)

Regarding the second part, Susan's suggestion of reaching out to people who might show interest and potential based on their submitted questions really is a fantastic one. Hearing "hey, I think you have a lot of promise, keep it up" could be just the right nudge for a new writer.

The ACF Fall editors are planning to give feedback to teams this year; I hope this can be one source of such a nudge. In fact, I think that editors for all tournaments with contributions from newer writers need to make an actual effort to give cogent feedback. Knowing things like "this clue wasn't phrased clearly enough" and "this is how I [the editor] would order these clues instead" are instrumental for new writers' improvement.

Better post-tournament discussion is also crucial. Who wants to get into question-writing in an environment where people spend all their time pointing out slightly misplaced clues, grammar errors, and repeats? Not to say that these aren't important for a tournament to get right, but it does nothing to help writers improve nor encourage them to continue writing in the future.
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Re: New Collegiate Writers

Postby Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Thu Sep 14, 2017 2:18 pm

As an editor, I fully support trying to train new writers and editors, and would like to think that I've taken on several projects that have done exactly that. I find that I have two major functional issues with new writers - indeed dealing with these has caused me to re-evaluate whether I want to take on significant numbers of new writers on projects in the future, unless there are changes in patterns of behavior. These are:

1) Going AWOL. I find that, much more than with experienced writers, I have to harangue new writers to stay on focus and produce questions. This is far from true for all new writers (indeed, those I don't have to bother are lifesavers!) but writing questions isn't doing homework - somebody has to do the work even if you don't turn it in. That means the editor makes up, usually at the last minute, for work that you don't do, which is incredibly disrespectful to do to someone who helps you get a foot in the door.
2) Completely ignoring comments and feedback. In several different writing projects, I've left comments on new writer questions and they have gone unaddressed for weeks or even months. This tells an editor that you don't care, aren't paying attention, or are just too lazy to respond, which aren't signals that editors would like to work with you again.

To some extent, these are inevitable consequences of quizbowl editing (outside of HSAPQ, NAQT, etc.) not exactly being academics or a job, and thus not really being top priority in people's lives. That said, these behaviors have real consequences and cause editors many, many, many hours of headaches - especially when things get to a last-minute crunch and subpar questions need to be rewritten almost entirely from scratch. To my understanding, this is in no small part why PADAWAN was not repeated as an experiment - the padawans frequently just didn't do their jobs!

There's nothing wrong with not knowing how to clue questions well, or how to appropriately assess difficulty - these are all learnable skills and come with time. Even the most experienced editors miss the mark frequently on this. What's frustrating is when you fail to meet even the most basic expectations that would get you fired from a real job, i.e. not doing your work (and failing to communicate ahead of time any difficulties you have) etc. When new writers insist they are eager to work on a project, and yet fail to demonstrate even the most basic level of commitment required for almost any assignment - or, indeed, respect for the people they're working under - then it's little wonder people have second thoughts.
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Re: New Collegiate Writers

Postby Aaron Manby (ironmaster) » Fri Sep 15, 2017 1:58 am

I thought PADAWAN was a great idea and shouldn't be permanently discontinued because of a few flakes. It seems like if the training is done early enough the flakes can be accounted for. Looking at the names from the discussion post it seems like a lot of those people have gone on to write great things.
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Re: New Collegiate Writers

Postby Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Fri Sep 15, 2017 7:30 am

Aaron Manby (ironmaster) wrote:I thought PADAWAN was a great idea and shouldn't be permanently discontinued because of a few flakes. It seems like if the training is done early enough the flakes can be accounted for. Looking at the names from the discussion post it seems like a lot of those people have gone on to write great things.


The issue is, "a few flakes" easily lead to ten, twenty, or even more hours of wasted editorial time! It's great for the writers but if the editors are having to put in substantial extra work to make up for this, you can see why it is not very appealing!
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Re: New Collegiate Writers

Postby AGoodMan » Fri Sep 15, 2017 10:30 am

Would there somehow be a way to have greater accountability for novice college-level writers so that we would not have "flakes"? Perhaps a crude idea, but maybe we could have people who volunteer to write for a packet submission set publicly announce themselves on the forum and periodically report their progress.
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Re: New Collegiate Writers

Postby Sam » Sun Sep 17, 2017 12:44 pm

Aaron's Rod wrote:ments either by application or by open interest (within reason). You could do it NAQT-style where someone submits [n] questions, although I'd imagine it wouldn't matter if they were "clean" or not. As an example of the latter, see the same done in the high school section.

I think ACF Fall had an open application this year, though I don't know exactly how it figured into the head editors' decision making. I guess the editing is still in progress, but I'd be curious to know how that worked out, if it mostly attracted the people who would be editing anyway or if it was successful in bringing in fresh blood.

Every tournament guaranteeing one or two of its editors be people who have not edited a tournament before seems better than one tournament where everyone is fresh, for the reasons Will Alston mentioned above.
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Re: New Collegiate Writers

Postby halle » Sun Sep 17, 2017 7:49 pm

It seems as though a full-scale PADAWAN-style tournament is problematic in several ways, and will not be taking place in the near future, but that doesn't necessarily mean that there aren't people willing to fill padawan/mentor roles on a more individual basis. This could be facilitated by creating a space, such as a subforum, in which new writers can describe their current abilities and goals, and what degree or type of help they'd like, and experienced writers who have time to dedicate to giving feedback and helping with questions can publicly declare their willingness to be a mentor. A formal mentor/mentee matchmaking system would help alleviate the awkwardness of sliding into someone's dms to ask for help, and would be especially beneficial to writers at less-established programs who are less likely to have relationships with established writers. Once matched up, mentor/mentee pairs could sign on to write for tournaments as a team. For example, I wouldn't be comfortable telling a tournament's head editor that I would like to write the lit for their project, but I would happily tell a head editor that I was signing on to write, and that some established writer was signing on with me to make sure the questions were at a certain level of quality before the head editor ever looks at them. There could also be arrangements where mentors sign up to write for tournaments as, like, themselves plus a handful of mentees. This arrangement would be more work for that writer than simply editing a cagtegory for a tournament, but less work than writing the category themselves.
I'm sure there are issues with this idea, and for all I know it's already been tried unsuccessfully, but it seems to me like an approach that's different from any of the ideas being thrown around and potentially worth trying. I'll add that I'm particularly motivated for some sort of program for new writers to be started, given that I'm a completely new writer who is really excited to learn and get good.
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