Monday, January 31

Persuasive power of the post-it

Anyone sending things in to agents or competitions should consider the 2005 research by Randy Garner which found that people were more than twice as likely to respond to a survey if it had a hand-written post-it note on it.

This much exceeded the effect of a hand-written note on ordinary paper.  What is it about post-its?  Researchers found that not only did more surveys get returned, but they were more fully answered! 

And for the lazy, apparently even a blank post-it note has a slight beneficial effect.  Well, it's worth experimenting with.  Just don't use those cheap ones which fall off.

Garner, R. (2005). Post-It Note Persuasion: A Sticky Influence. Journal of Consumer Psychology. 15(3), 230-237.

Sunday, January 30

Write words - 5 months in...

In August I joined Writewords, a site for creative writers to share and discuss their work, paying £20 (annual) for standard membership.  Like most people, I'm not keen on paying to join websites, but this seemed to offer something that I couldn't get elsewhere...

I had been on a weekend course at Cove Park working on my short stories, and had been advised that getting peer feedback was essential to progress.  I had made some unsuccessful attempts to find a real-world writing group - the only one near enough meets once a week on a Tuesday, at the same time that I have to pick up my kids from school.  I hoped that WW could be like a virtual writing group.

An incentive was the option of a free trial, allowing me to join one group (groups are organised by topic e.g. short story writing, and have a maximum of 30 member) and various other limitations. Although the trial lasts a month, I liked what I saw and upgraded after a couple of days, allowing unlimited groups, uploads of work etc.

I quickly became involved in some of the weekly challenges on the flash fiction groups - the winner of the previous week sets a challenge to the group, such as a theme or keywords, as well as the word limit.  The other members were positive and supportive, often posting very detailed technical feedback.  These groups are lively, and the flash has been a fun form to experiment with (it also fits well with internet submission opportunities).

There are of course some negatives of the site.  The navigation took me a while to get my head around, and a 'random read' button - taking you from any page to a randomly selected piece of work from the archives - often leads to a very old piece of work and/or an inactive user account.

Together with 4 or five others in my village, we are hopefully going to start a real, face-to-face writing group beginning next month.  I think I've seen enough to feel that it is well worth renewing my WW subscription all the same.

Saturday, January 29

Writing competitions

There are so many interesting writing competitions out there, it can be hard to choose (see the NAWE ebulletin for examples).  Naturally, most of them want an entry fee, which from what I have seen, typically ranges from £4-£10.  Some give the offer of feedback.

When I recently met the poet Rab Wilson after a reading he had done, he was very encouraging about my writing attempts, and advised me to send my stuff off to competitions.  It was great of him to be so positive, though I suppose a part of me thought that it's all very well if you're the sort of person who would win the competitions!  If I enter these, will I just be throwing my money into a bottomless pit?

I guess at some point, the time comes to take the plunge and start going for some of these, especially if I'm submitting things that peers have already looked at and liked.

Thursday, January 27

Which Moped with the Chrome-Plated Handlebars at the Back of the Yard by Georges Perec

I can’t get enough of this story, I must have read it twice at least.  You need to have a couple of glasses of wine and relax with the terrifically bizarre prose.  Each sentence is a gem; the plot is secondary and the title a distant third (yes there is a moped in it, but so what!?)

Ok, so who is it about?

“There was once this character called Karamanlis.  Or something like that: Karawak?  Karawash?  Karapet?  Well anyway, Karathingy.  It was a weird enough name, whatever it was, a name that rang bells, that stuck in your mind.”

The story revolves this character’s aversion to being sent out to the French-Algerian war with his unit, “wobbling under the weight of Aribicidal paraphanalia”.

He asks Henri Pollack, his friend and sergeant, and Pollack asks the narrator and his crew to help out. The narrator is portrayed as one of a group of radical and unrealistic intellectuals:

“The fully-skimmed cream of the French intelligentsia.”

They resolve to break the man’s arm, a plan for which enthusiasm quickly wanes, and while getting extremely drunk, they weigh up their options.  Tell the truth?  Run over his foot and break it?  Give him drugs to make him crazy?  Kick him out and abandon the whole project?

Filled with non-sequiturs and blatant contradictions (“Karastein was an individual whose slight build did not spoil a certain burliness”),  the experimentalist Perec seems to break all the rules of writing at every turn, yet the overall effect is of an exuberant energy which makes you want to laugh out loud at the audacity of it, or at the very least read on with a silly grin across your face.

Will Karabungo avoid being packed off in the troop train?  You would almost rather not find out, keep drinking the wine and, like the characters, just stick on another Lester Young record and not worry about it.

Jacobs (1887)

An early study of STM capacity

Even people who haven't studied Psychology can probably tell you about the 'magical number' 7 (plus or minus two) - the supposed maximum number of items we can hold in our short-term memories.

The best known study is Miller (1956), who tried to investigate the reason for the limit, finding that it was not limited to information load - the rationale being that a short word contains a lot more information than a binary digit (0 or 1) but yet the limit is still in the range of 5-9 items.

However the concept was known long before Miller, so it is not strictly accurate to attribute it to him.  Ebbinghaus investigated it, and in the UK, Jacobs studied what he called 'prehension'.  Participants were presented sequences of numbers, and asked to repeat them in the correct order. The sequences are initially short, and gradually increase in length one digit at a time. A person's digit span is the point at which they can recall sequences of a certain length (e.g. seven items) correctly 50% of the time. Jacobs found a digit span of 9.3 on average - when letters were used, the average was 7.3 items. Age differences were also found, with digit span increasing through childhood.

Miller was the first to talk about 'chunks' of information, but even that concept has largely been superceded by the idea of a time-limit (how many items can be pronounced in just under two seconds), leading Schweickert & Boruff (1986) to wittily question, magic number or magic spell?

Jacobs, J. (1887). Experiments in prehension. Mind, 12, 75-79.

Wednesday, January 26

My book!

It's very nice to start a blog about writing with a bunch of book proofs on the desk in front of me.  Ok, it's not fulfilling my ambition to publish a book of short stories, but it is a (hopefully) very useful textbook/revision guide for students of Higher Psychology (which I teach):

Higher Psychology Success Guide, published by Leckie & Leckie

(The front cover is not actually going to have a rat on it!)
For more on the subject of Psychology, see my long-standing blog on the subject, Minds and Models - lots of straightforward summaries of research findings.

Welcome, & thanks for reading

It may be the first rule of blogs to stick to one thing, but I have decided to break the rules (like writers do, especially inexperienced ones!) and bundle together my blogging about what I read with my blogging about what I write.  With luck it will be a happy partnership, and the two things might start to form some useful connections in my subconscious.