Your Opinion and Twenty-Five Cents: Judging Your Own Writing

Luc Reid @ 16-03-2011

I don’t know, personally, whether it’s merely difficult or actually impossible for writers to judge our own writing well. You write a story that you’re convinced is the finest thing you’ve ever written and send it out to the world, and it’s only 18 months and ten rejection slips later that you decide it really wasn’t so good after all. Or you scribble something up in a rush that you think is unremarkable, and everyone who reads it tells you it’s great.

This stuff is frustrating. If we don’t know how well we’re doing, how can we do better? And how can we ever have any confidence in our own work? If we can’t really judge the quality of our own writing, even something that sells can feel like a fluke, a bad call on the part of an editor. A few thousand adoring fans can be an effective cure for this, but they are hard to come by in those numbers. Continue reading “Your Opinion and Twenty-Five Cents: Judging Your Own Writing”

Soylent is people! Word processor plugin crowdsources your editing

Paul Raven @ 29-09-2010

Via Bruce Sterling; not sure how workable an idea this is in practice, but it’s a real Zeitgeisty proof-of-concept. Soylent is a plugin for Micro$oft Word that farms out fact-checking, editing, rewriting and proofreading for pennies on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service:

Add this to the metaverse-outsourcing of translation tasks, and there’s a whole lot of people in the text-content industries getting mad angsty about their job security (myself included). Guess we finally get to experience how factory workers are feeling about the future…

(Kinda surprised they went for Word rather than OpenOffice… although perhaps that was a prescient move.)

Interview with Futurismic’s fiction editor Chris East

Paul Raven @ 18-03-2010

Hard-workin’ Futurismic fiction editor Christopher East doesn’t post here very often; not only does he spend hours combing through the slush pile for this very organ, a lot of his time is taken up by, y’know, having a life, and a job and a family. That sort of stuff. Not that I’m jealous or anything. Ahem.

So, if you want to know a bit more about him (and you should, because he’s not only one of the sharpest unpaid fiction eds in the business, but also a jolly decent chap, as we Brits might say), Chris has been interviewed recently by Andrew Porter of writer/reader blog The Science Of Fiction. Here he is talking about how he knows when a story is the right one, and on how he writes rejections:

Chris East: Of course, now that I’ve been at it for a while, I understand why most editors don’t [write personal rejections].  It’s not always possible (crush of time, number of submissions), it’s not always warranted (sometimes there’s not much to say – the story just doesn’t do it for me), and really, the effort rarely pays off (I mean, except for personal satisfaction, there isn’t much incentive).  It’s also not really an edtior’s job to teach writers — it’s the editor’s job to find stories.  But as a writer I always appreciate it when the editor says something helpful, so I do still try to provide some feedback.  I’m also proud that I’ve never resorted to using a form rejection.  I can see how people might think I do, of course – you do tend to repeat yourself once you’ve written a few thousand responses!  But take my word for it, I write every rejection from scratch.

Andrew Porter: As a zine that only publishes one story a month I would imagine that you are often sitting with several stories that you would like to publish but can’t. How do you make final determinations between near equals (i.e. topical relevance, good title, etc.)

Chris East: This has never been a real problem for us, actually.  In fact, our inventory tends to run on the thin side most of the time.  I suspect this is a combination of high standards and a fairly specific focus on near-term future SF – I guess there aren’t that many available stories that fall perfectly into our wheelhouse. So I honestly don’t recall having the kind of one-or-the-other decisions you describe.  The exception might be when we’ve  received a story very similar to something that we’ve already published.  If we’ve recently featured a story about brain implants, for example, we might hesitate to publish another brain implant story close on the first one’s heels.  (Which, since we publish so infrequently, equates to “the past several months.”)  But mostly, it’s kind of a know-it-when-I-see-it situation.  In other words, “Yep, this is a Futurismic story!”  Or, “Nope, it isn’t!”

Lots more after that… some of it quite surreal, in fact. Enjoy!

Editing memories

Paul Raven @ 10-12-2009

Yet again, the line between science fiction and real life gets thinner, and another of our stories gains a slightly prophetic edge.  Richard Kadrey’s Twitter stream alerted me to an article at The Guardian about a therapeutic process whereby traumatic memories can be rewritten or edited in order to make them less debilitating… without the use of drugs. I’m no psychologist, but it reminds me a little bit of the aversion therapy approach:

… 20 volunteers sat in front of a computer screen on which squares of different colours appeared. When blue squares flashed on the screen, they received an electric shock to the wrist.

The next day, the volunteers were shown blue squares again to reactivate the memory. Sensors placed on their skin showed that the images caused the participants to sweat as their stress levels rose.

To erase the memory that linked blue squares with pain, the volunteers were put through “extinction training” which involved flashing blue squares on the screen without the accompanying electrical shocks.

When the volunteers were retested a day later, the fear associated with the squares had gone, but only in participants whose memories were rewritten soon after their fear was reactivated…

In other words, expose the subject to the traumatic memory trigger minus the trauma soon enough after the event, and you can prevent lasting problems. Perhaps this sort of process would be useful for lessening the impact of post-traumatic stress in military personnel on active service? Either which way, it’s reminiscent of Marissa Lingen’s “Erasing The Map”, published here back in February of this year… though Marissa’s story saw memories being deleted rather than edited

Editing the memory movie

Paul Raven @ 13-04-2009

pre-silicon memory aidWell, looks like we can chalk up another predictive success for a Futurismic author! This time it’s the turn of Marissa Lingen, whose Erasing the Map” seems eerily prescient of recent research at Oxford University into the selective editing of memories: How selective will memory editing be?

Sandberg: Current research seems to suggest that it can be pretty specific, but there will be side effects. It may not even be that you forget other memories. Small, false memories could be created. And we’re probably not going to be able to predict that before we actually try them.

[…] It seems that it would be easy to test “tip of the tongue” drug effects on the sorts of small things one recalls on an everyday basis. But what if it’s old, infrequently recalled but still-important memories that are threatened by side effects?

Sandberg: It’s pretty messy to determine what is an important memory to us. They quite often crop up, but without us consciously realizing that we’re thinking of the memory. That’s probably good news, as every time you recall a memory, you also tend to strengthen it. How likely is the manipulation of these fundamental memories?

Sandberg: Big memories, with lots of connections to other things we’ve done, will probably be messy to deal with. But I don’t think those are the memories that people want to give up.  Most people would want to edit memories that impair them.

Of course, if we want to tweak memories to look better to ourselves, we might get a weird concept of self.

Indeed we might… but I’d say the odds are good that people will try to do exactly that. The street finds its own use for things, right? [image by ebbdog]

But what will happen if you try to edit a memory that is false – the repressed memory of abuse that may not have actually happened, for example? If memories are interlinked, what might you lose along with the bad stuff? And if memories can be expunged, could they also be inserted? We’re deep into Philip K Dick territory right here…

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