EA Forum Creative Writing Contest: $10,000 in prizes for good stories
Stories are a key part of how EA has grown since its beginning. Some examples:
The Drowning Child and the Expanding Circle, which probably did more to launch the EA movement than any other piece of writing
Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, which introduced many readers to important ideas about good epistemics and AI risk
The Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant, which seems to have been extremely influential for one of the world’s most prominent entrepreneurs (who has since given tens of millions of dollars to various EA-adjacent causes)
There’s a lot of “rational fiction” out there — stories about people thinking clearly to solve problems. Many of those stories also incorporate EA themes. But they tend to reveal their ideas over dozens of chapters, making it hard for someone to pick up on those themes unless they’re willing to dedicate many hours of time.
We’d like to see creative work that “gets to the point” quickly — stories that, in a single sitting, might inspire someone to find out more about effective altruism, whether that means the whole movement or a single idea/cause area/intervention.
So we’re running a contest! We want to see you write or share stories and creative nonfiction with EA themes. And we’ve added prizes to sweeten the deal.
Notably, your work doesn’t have to use EA jargon or cover a popular cause area, as long as it gets across the core idea of “using evidence and reason to help others effectively”.
That said, it doesn’t hurt if the work references popular EA topics in some way, or tries to directly inspire readers to find out more about EA. For example, HPMOR includes a note along the lines of “to learn what Harry knows, read the LessWrong Sequences”. We’d be happy to see stories that would justify the note “to learn what X knows, join a Virtual Program”.
What kinds of content can I submit?
We’ll have two categories:
Fictional stories, like “The Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant”
Creative nonfiction, like “500 Million, But Not A Single One More”
No need to include the category in your submission.
What are the prizes?
We’re offering $10,000 in total prize money. Each of the two categories will have a $2,500 top prize. We’ll also choose five honorable mentions, for a $1,000 prize each.
Honorable mentions can come from either category, in case one category has many more submissions than the other.
What’s the deadline?
Entries must be published on the EA Forum no later than Friday, October 29 (initial deadline extended by two weeks after a few people said it seemed short).
If you’d like to be kind to the judges and let us space out our reading over time, you can publish earlier :-)
How do I submit content?
All stories must be published on the EA Forum and tagged with Creative Writing Contest.
We want lots of people to read and discuss your submissions — we think the Forum will be a really fun place if good stories start showing up. However, we won’t use upvotes or comments as part of our process for choosing a winner.
If you’re wary of sharing your work in public, remember that winning the contest guarantees your work being shared in public (with many, many people). That said, you are welcome to use a pseudonym if you’d prefer!
If you’re submitting work that was already published, by you or someone else, please crosspost it onto the Forum. Try to post the full work if you can, rather than a linkpost; this makes it more likely for people to actually read it.
However, if you’re worried about violating someone’s copyright by doing this (or drawing traffic away from their personal site, etc.), please at least share an excerpt of the story alongside the link to the original source. See here for an example of how we’ve excerpted copyrighted content in posts for the EA Handbook.
(And if you’re not sure whether someone would be okay with their work being shared in full on the Forum, consider asking them!)
To make sure we don’t pull traffic away from the sites where works were originally published, I’ll periodically set the “canonical source” for each crosspost to the URL of the original source, so that search engines will point to that source instead of the Forum.
If you’d prefer to submit work without creating a new post, please leave a comment on this post.
We’d prefer for as many submissions as possible to be shared through individual posts (as we expect more people to read them that way). But we respect that some people are concerned about copyrights and other norms, or worry about cluttering the Forum with submissions, so we wanted to create another option.
Will CEA make use of the winning entries in some way?
We don’t have any concrete plans yet. But it’s very likely that we’ll share some of the best submissions on our social media channels, in the EA Newsletter, etc. And they might wind up in the EA Handbook or a Virtual Program syllabus.
Can I submit work I’ve done in the past?
Yes. You are welcome to submit past work that you think fits our criteria, even if it’s already been published elsewhere. But keep in mind that very long stories with EA content threaded throughout probably aren’t ideal for this contest.
Can I submit another person’s work?
Yes. You are welcome to submit someone else’s work for consideration. If that work wins a prize, you will receive a referral bonus ($150 for a winning entry, $50 for an honorable mention). This is extra money — the author of the winning submission will still get the full prize.
Before submitting something, check the contest page to make sure it hasn’t been submitted already — the first person to cross-post the work gets the referral bonus.
The work shouldn’t be extremely well-known: don’t submit a chapter of HPMOR. But “a medium-upvoted story that appeared on r/rational two years ago” would be fine, as would “this essay from the New Yorker that really evokes EA-ish feelings in my soul”. As we judge the contest, we hope to discover a lot of cool writing we missed the first time around!
If you don’t know whether something is “well-known” enough, we recommend cross-posting it anyway; it’s always nice to have more great work on the Forum. If you want a second opinion before you crosspost, you can ask me.
Can I submit fanfiction?
Yes. But keep in mind that these stories should be widely accessible, even to people who haven’t read your source material and/or aren’t familiar with common fanfiction tropes.
Can I submit poetry?
Yes. However, given how few people read poetry for fun at present, we expect that poetry will have to be especially good to win.
Can I submit multiple things?
Yes. You can submit as many things as you want, whether they were written by you or someone else. We just want to find the best writing we can, and we’re happy to do lots of reading to get there.
Can I submit a song, video, or other mixed media?
For this contest, we’re sticking to creative writing.
However, it’s fine to include images or embedded video as a part of your entry — you can even submit a comic! Just make sure it works as a Forum post.
If you have a song in your heart, a video in your gut, or a painting in your spleen, let us know in the comments. It might help us decide whether to launch a future contest for other forms of media.
Is there a word limit?
There is no strict limit. We want you to submit the best work you can, and to focus on sharpening your writing rather than hitting an arbitrary word count.
That said, keep in mind that our goal is to find things someone would read in a single sitting. The harder your work would be to read in a single sitting, the less likely you are to win.
Who chooses the winners?
I, Aaron Gertler, am one of the judges. There will be at least two others, but the panel hasn’t yet been finalized. (The other judges won’t work for CEA.)
Do you have any suggestions for what to write about?
You can write about whatever you want! But in case you want a starting point, here are some suggestions:
Someone uses the analytical tools of EA to help someone they know with a relatively mundane problem.
Someone in a very different place (another time, another planet, etc.) uses cause prioritization to figure out what to work on.
Someone realizes they were wrong, changes their mind, and does more good as a result.
Major historical events told in the style of “500 Million, But Not A Single One More”: in the style of a myth or fable, but true at the core.
A story about AI risk catchy enough to finally knock out paperclips as the scenario everyone associates with AI risk. (Please?)
What if I have another question?
Please ask it in a comment, so that others can see the answer. If it’s something hyper-specific to you, you can also send me a message.
We think that contests like this might be a good alternative to the Forum Prize, by incentivizing people to write things they wouldn’t have written otherwise. ↩︎
You don’t have to include a note like this yourself, but you’re welcome to — linking to virtual programs, charities, or other real-world resources. ↩︎