Why should you consider submitting your work to a writing contest? To get noticed. Why should you think twice before submitting work to a contest? Because they cost money to enter, your work could be tied up for the duration of the contest and some contests are fake.
But in writing this thing, I tried to take it slow, even as I wrote it fast. I tried to pause with scenes and chapters and ask myself along the way: why is this here? Not only that, but what do I want this scene, this chapter, to do? Specifically, what do I want it to do_to the reader_? I want them to feel a certain way, so how do I engineer that feeling with story and character?
Wendig talks abut being in touch with the purpose of your writing from the earliest moments. The writer’s intentions will dictate word choice, character development, scene and setting.
What exactly trigger’s Ebenezer Scrooge’s big transformation in A Christmas Carol? I always thought Scrooge’s change of heart came about when the spirit of Christmas-yet-to-come pointed a boney finger to Ebenezer’s grave. I may have been influenced in that respect by the Mr. Magoo version.
Re-reading A Christmas Carol this year I noticed that the spirits themselves have little to do with Uncle Ebenezer’s big 180. Scrooge generally scoffs at the spirits, suggesting that Marley’s ghost is a bad dream induced by heartburn, an “undigested bit beef, a blot of mustard.” The transformation actually starts when Scrooge rediscovers his inner child and sets him free.
There’s nothing like a book to take you into different worlds, experience different lives and in the doing learn something about yourself. Here’s a list of offbeat books by some very worthwhile authors, including one who lives to chase animals:
The wildly various stories in Running After Antelope are connected and illuminated by a singular passion: the author’s attempt to run down a pronghorn antelope. His pursuit-odd, funny, and inspired-is juxtaposed with stories about sibling rivalry, falling in love, and working as a journalist in war-torn countries. Scott Carrier provides a most unique record of a most unique life.
photo by Jonathan Worth, Creative Commons Attribution 3.0
For the past week I’ve been following sci-fi writer Cory Doctorow as he posts on BoingBoing. Here’s what I’ve learned:
1. Be prolific. Doctorow posts anywhere from eight to sixteen posts a day.
2. Use pictures. Doctorow almost always includes a picture and he’s meticulous about the attribution.
3. Quote the material. A fair use snippet of text lets you provide an overview of the material in the original author’s words.
4. Be diverse. Doctorow’s subjects include intellectual property rights, copyright, privacy, science fiction, comics, toys and anything Cthulhu-related.
5. Use many sources. Neatorama and Super Punch appear to be a couple of Doctorow’s favorite sources, but he gets a lot of referrals and appears to have a robust set of feeds for gathering primary source material.
6. Take the weekends off. I don’t know if Doctorow ever posts on weekends but from my one-week sample it looks like his peak hours are Monday to Friday in the morning.
I am amazed, baffled and tremendously envious of people who can make even a fraction of their living by blogging. So I decided to do something about it.
Starting this week I am going to try my hand at shadowing another blogger and learning what exactly it is that they do. What are their topics? How often do they post? What are their sources? What can I learn from all this?
We’ll see how it goes. Then I’ll post about that.
Who should I shadow first? First up: science fiction writer Cory Doctorow.
In his book The Size of Thoughts, Nicholson Baker talks about some of the unexpected advantages of library card catalogs over databases: fingerprints for instance. Dark smudges of body oil can tell you at a glance which topics in the catalog are the most popular, something that would take a complex structured query to achieve in today’s online systems. If you could get at the data.
Baker proposed a digital equivalent of fingerprints. “The accumulation of random ‘grime pixels’ in the top margin – though never so dark that they would interfere with legibility, of course, and every tenth retrieval might remove one grime dot rather than add one, since handling wears away previous deposits too.”
When I discovered that Tinderbox notes yellow with age, I decided then and there that this was the personal information manager I had been seeking for many years. In particular I wanted an application that would help me see who I should be talking to as much as what I should be doing next. I demo’d every Contact Manager app I could get my hands on and was quickly reaching the point of settling for an old-fashioned paper Rolodex file.
Virtually all Contact Managers follow an address-book, calendar, task list metaphor. I liked Market Circle’s Daylite and felt that it almost met my needs, but still found myself working against the structure built into the app. Tinderbox, on the other hand, has virtually no structure to start off with. You begin by creating notes and defining relationships.
At the moment I have a hodge-podge of ideas, structured personal narratives and future scenarios. But every day it is shaping up into a map that reflects my own unique way of thinking.
I’m on the road again. The road to hell, good intentions to blog my NaNoWriMo novel-writing experiment are lying like dead soldiers on the roadway.
Early on I was going to post about Banging vs. Swooping. Kurt Vonnegut once said (and I swear I heard this on a public radio interview, though I can’t find the source) that some writers are “swoopers,” they simply open the tap and let the words flow across the page. Mark Twain was like this. Said his head was like the water tower at a train depot and he would write until he was empty.
Other writers, like Vonnegut, are “bangers.” They sweat and toil over every word.
Naturally NaNoWriMo, writing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days, lends itself to swooping. Turn off your internal editor and spit out 1,675 words daily and you’ll be just fine.
Now I’m a banger. But for this project I’ve manager to churn out 32,000 words by sheer force. Some of it pretty crappy, like the day when I forced my main character to paraphrase the Spark Notes for Ivanhoe.
At this point I’ve lost my way. I’ve got no clue about my character’s motivation and the whole manuscript has devolved into “he did this, and then he did this, and then he did this…” like a story told by a six year old.
So that’s how it is my friends. Nine days left. 18,000 words to go and I’m like the guy in Run Fatboy Run, bruised battered and spent. Groping for a reason to go on.
Here it is, the eve before National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo,) sort of an ongoing joke started by Chris Baty where tens of thousands (150,000+ this year) of people line up like entrants of the Bay to Breakers marathon, and pound out 50,000 words of prose.
At the moment I’m up to my armpits in research. Did you know that in 1860, Sir Richard Francis Burton wrote about a trip to California on the Overland Stage? Burton has an amazing ear for Western experience, slipping into dialect and salting his narrative with tall tales along the way. The book, written one year before Samuel Clemens made the same trip, is remarkably similar to Roughing It, written by Clemens 12 years later. Burton’s book is more philosophical, while Twain’s is more humorous. Together they make good bookends for era.
What to do until midnight when I can unleash the muse and begin my own marathon dash through the English language? I suppose I’ll brave the zombies of Halloween, go out and get a Black Jack taco and a fifth of frontier whiskey and settle down to write at the stroke of midnight.
Photo by A is for Angie: http://www.flickr.com/photos/71719923@N00
What kind of blog posts do you find the most compelling? A decade ago someone pointed out to me that the surest path to get on a best-seller list is to have “Ten Easy Ways to…” in your title. The Blog-o-sphere bears out this line of attack – list posts (ie “Merlin’s top 5 super-obvious, “no-duh” ways to immediately improve your life“) get all kinds of instant traffic. List posts, or “Tens,” are easy to write and very easy to read. I fall prey to them all the time because there’s usually one halfway useful idea in any collection of ten things. And a Tenner usually doesn’t go on and on ad nauseum. Each item is a quick wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am story.
Finally you have arcs. These are genuine stories with a beginning, a middle, and perhaps someday an end…spread out over the scope of a blog. These aren’t your “I found a cute new bistro” or “what I did on my summer vacation” posts. There is some real drama and real conflict attached. It’s a tough act to pull off when you live an ordinary life and have just a few minutes a day to craft a decent post. The best of the breed without a doubt is Fat Cyclist.
This blog tells the story of Elden Nelson, a cycling enthusiast who hit middle age and realized that he’d let the one passion in his life slip through his fingers. Out-of-shape and 30 pounds overweight, could he get it back? As a devoted father and husband could he carve out the time and purpose to get back on the bike and ride?
This alone is enough to carry a good story arc, at least for a blog. But then Elden has to face a real life plot complication – his wife Susan is diagnosed with breast cancer. Can Elden keep sight of his goal and at the same time care for his wife and children?
These are not rhetorical questions here. I’m genuinely interested in what YOU think makes the best blog strategy. I’m struggling to find a vision for this blog and I’m starting to think it might be a mix of arcs and nuggets. I don’t think my story is as big as Elden’s…certainly not focussed enough to sustain a readable blog. But I’m likely to get bored with posting nothing but nuggets. I feel a need to live out a larger purpose.
So you tell me, what’ll it be, arcs, nuggets or tens?
I think I’ve put together some nice little blog posts here at Wild Rye. Just nothing as FREAKIN’ AWESOME as it could be (at least in my head.)
Why would that be?
It reminds me of my GI Joe. I was seven years old when Hasbro’s action figure first hit the market. The Unique Selling Proposition for GI Joe was authenticity. I had a gas playing with the gear. I persuaded my mother to cash in some Blue Chip stamps for the authentic machine gun nest and bivouac tent. I made camouflage, sand bags, the whole nine yards.
But I was stymied by the actual action figure. I named him William McKinnley and promoted him to Staff Sergeant, the highest rank in my kit. Frankly I felt like he deserved to be a Major, but those weren’t the cards that Hasbro dealt. I wanted to be authentic, so it never crossed my mind to fabricate my own clusters to pin on his collar.
The big problem with William McKinnley, however, wasn’t his rank. It was his personality–boring as a lump of oatmeal. He was bland, detached, a “do-your-duty” kind of guy absolutely without any fire in the belly. I don’t recall every imagining him in a combat situation. He seemed to be permanently assigned to a desk job. This was not what I wanted from an action figure, but that’s who he turned out to be.
After two years in active duty service William McKinnley’s rotator joint split and he lost his right arm. There was no Purple Heart in the kit either. Frustrated by his inability to advance, feeling useless on account of his arm, Sergeant McKinnley became severely depressed. He rarely left his bed inside his monstrously oversized footlocker. He might have even become an alcoholic, though I never caught him at it.
It seems a little crazy to me that at the age of seven or eight I could not imagine a decent battlefield narrative for my soldier–I spent every waking weekend hour watching Combat and B-movie war flicks. I could have named him Sergeant Slaughter and trained him into a Nazi killing machine. But that’s not the way it worked out.
So fast forward to today, I’m sitting in front of a glowing LCD screen trying to think of something really killer to write about…and I can’t. It dawns on me that it’s really not me sitting here at all. William McKinnley is here, pecking away at the keys slowly with his left hand. And that, my friends, is why I can’t post the truly amazing things that are simply swarming around inside my head.