Tuesday, February 01, 2005


Good writing contest, redux

You may remember me requesting nominations for a Good Writing Contest about two months ago. I said it would end about one month ago. Instead, I've lazily allowed the link to sit in my sidebar until now. Sepoy and Rob both made some great nominations, but since the pool of nominations was small, I've decided not to pick a winner.

In truth, the contest was always tongue-in-cheek, an attempt to criticize the pretensions and apocalyptic tone of the Bad Writing Contest. Secretly, I always knew that I would be able to spin the results of the contest either way, as I pointed out in a comment over at Locus Solus, responding to a post on my Good Writing Contest by Paul:
You're right that the same charges brought against the BWC -- lack of context, begging of the question, etc. -- could be aimed at the GWC.

That's part of my point: can the critics of the BWC reasonably defend what "good writing" is? And can they do so while avoiding the same pitfalls that they accuse "bad" writers of falling into?

I think they can, but we'll see. I'm running the contest by following a variation of the First Law of Cross-Examining: never run a contest for which you don't know how to spin the results. If there are lots of nominations, I can declare the humanities alive and well. If there are very few nominations, I can claim that if it is so hard to say what "good" writing is, then why is it so easy to identify the "bad"? (Leave aside for a moment the more likely interpretation that no one reads my blog. I suspend that explanation thanks to the First Law of Blogging, which is always to assume that your statcounter must not work very well.) The fact that the deck is stacked is also part of the point: the deck was always stacked with the BWC too.
I still believe there are plenty of good writers in the humanities, and I continue to resist the ideas that all jargon is inaccessible, that all subtlety is obscurantist, and that all scholarship is dense. But as for now, I'm laying the First Ever Good Writing Contest quietly to rest. Thanks to those who linked, participated, and snickered along with me.

Collective Improvisation:
Oh no, Mr. McDaniel. We demand a public announcement of the much awaited results. Call it the Third Law of Blogging: Always Finish What You Started.

Now I understand why you wanted to get rid of your archives ;) 

Posted by sepoy

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 2/01/2005 11:43:00 PM : Permalink  

Maybe it's time for a "bad blogger contest."Also, there is a corollary to the "First Law of Blogging": even if your stat counter is working, you should assume that many more people keep up with your blog through RSS readers that don't show up in the stats at all. 

Posted by aj

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 2/02/2005 02:23:00 AM : Permalink  

You've found me out, Sepoy. Neither you nor AJ will have any trouble convincing me that I'm the odds-on favorite to win any "bad blogger" contest! ;-)  

Posted by Caleb

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 2/02/2005 08:10:00 AM : Permalink  

S'true, Caleb. Not only are you a danger to any paranoid completists reading, but I am an RSS reader (no pun intended) myself. 

Posted by rob

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 2/02/2005 05:08:00 PM : Permalink  

Yes, and if there were any doubt remaining, here's the clincher: I've actually cut and pasted one of my own comments on someone else's blog and acted like that counts as a new post! 

Posted by Caleb

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 2/04/2005 11:21:00 PM : Permalink  

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