Archives for May 2016

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I’m Not a Spy. I’m a Writer.

Sometimes, I want to turn on my phone’s recorder and secretly document the conversations going on around me. I haven’t (yet), but sometimes, the conversations or characters are so good that it’s really hard to resist. I want to remember this person’s accent, that person’s speech patterns – or just the people in general.

To give you an idea of the conversations that tempt me, here are some examples (yes, these really happened):

1. Two older men (50s plus) arguing about the legalization of marijuana at a bar (1 for, 1 against). The part I remember best went something like this (paraphrased).

            A: That makes sense to me.
            B: Of course it does! It’s your theory!

2. A conversation overheard by a friend of mine on an elevator. It was between an elderly couple:

            Husband: [to his wife] Pete and Repeat were in a boat. Pete fell out, who
            was left? [Silence] Pete and Repeat were in a boat. Pete fell out, who was
            left? [Silence] Pete and Repeat-
            Wife: -If you don’t stop with that crap, I’m going to poke you in the eye.

3. A couple of twenty-some year olds discussing the particulars of iron maiden – the torture device, not the band.

4. A beggar on the street singing to people about politics. He must’ve sung to at least twenty people to vote for a specific person: “If you’re wearing a green sweater, vote for —.” “If you have a roller suitcase, vote for —.”

I won’t say you can’t make this sh*t up, but why bother when it’s happening all around you? People are crazy and amusing and interesting (and horrifying and disgusting). You never know what they’re going to say or do. Or even what types of characters you’re going to meet. If you’re looking for inspiration, that’s where I’d look first.

That’s why I find myself wanting to record snippets of people to better milk them for my writing later. So far, I’ve resisted (since it’s fairly creepy and quite possibly illegal), but I will admit I’ve taken written notes and written down more than my fair share of quotes. With a goldmine like that, can you blame me?

 What about you? Do you have any good ones to share?

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A Life Worth Writing: A Quote for Memorial Day

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing Benjamin Franklin Quote

Said a man who did both.

On a day when we stop to remember those who served in the United States’ armed forces, it seems appropriate to quote one of our first patriots, Benjamin Franklin. A man who helped that nation begin. A man whose deeds have been written about and read for over a century. His words seem to epitomize one of the main goals society gives us for life: to make our stay here worthwhile, memorable.

Isn’t it a natural human desire to be remembered? To want our loved ones to be remembered?

A few weeks ago, I caught part of a special about the families of soldiers killed in action and a group called American Gold Star Mothers, Inc that supports them. One of the main comforts that many of the people said the group gave them was the fact that they felt their children were remembered. That they hadn’t died for nothing and been forgotten.

That’s also a power that writing has. The written word has the power to immortalize people, to spread awareness of their existence, and to show that they have not been forgotten.

Nonfiction writers and journalists are the ones most associated with this heavy task. Memoir writers, autobiographers, biographers – people who write the true stories of people’s lives. People they thought had a life worth writing about and, therefore, worth reading about. But those writers aren’t the only ones. Bloggers and even fiction writers shape a written record of the time, it’s rules, and their experiences. Real people can be immortalized through characters they inspired as easily as true stories.

So how do you choose what is worth writing? How do you know what will be worth reading? I don’t know. And I don’t know that it’s worth agonizing over. In fact, there’s probably only one question about it worth asking: what or whom do you want to be remembered?

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Write Music with Words

This is a great visual representation of the use of rhythm, word choice, and amplification in writing. It should be mandatory for all school children. Maybe, then, they’d understand why knowing how to write more complicated sentences is important.

Don't just write words. Write music.

Remember: the techniques used in poetry aren’t limited to poetry.

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Blogs versus Books: A Battle of Motivation

BLOG: Have you finished the posts for this week yet?
WRITER: Ummm, no. I was just going to-
BLOG:-Then, you better get on that. We have a strict posting schedule to keep up.
BOOK: [Coughs] Excuse me. I believe I was guaranteed at least an hour of undivided attention each day.
WRITER: Yes. That is-
BLOG: What are you talking about? We got people waiting for these articles.
BOOK: Yes, but your whole purpose is to suppliment me. You can’t possibly think you take priority.
BLOG: Will anyone but us know he skipped a day with you? No. You want people to keep coming to a site, you need new stuff. You can have your turn once he’s finished a week of posts.
BOOK: Do those people pay for those posts? No. If he wants to make this a business, he needs something sellable. You’re nothing but a false high. Good for a 24 hour’s worth of likes and gone the next day.
BLOG: [Simultaneously] Listen, buddy-
BOOK: [Simultaneously] Tell this cretin-
WRITER: -Enough! You’re both right. But I just… I don’t…
[The writer collapses into the fetal position, rocking and muttering about needing more hours in the day. Blog and Book exchange incredulous glances, then, resume their argument over the shaking writer as the scene fades to black.]

Ok. Yes, that’s a bit overly dramatic. But there’s a lot of truth to it. The more projects you start as a writer, the more decisions you have to make about workload and which project gets priority (*cough* time management *cough*). If some of those projects are blogs, and some are books (or other not-yet-published works), then those decisions can be harder.

Blogs projects can be seductive because they have something that unpublished works don’t: feedback. People comment. People like your work. You can see instantly if someone visits your page or clicks on an article. That’s addictive! Someone likes it! Someone’s reading! I should post more to that and get more attention! It feeds the pleasure center of the brain and makes us want more of those responses.

Unless you’re posting them on your blog, books don’t have that. The only feedback you get from books is your own and that of any writing circle you take it to (maybe friends or family if you ask). For the most part, writing a book is a solo task, and it requires a ton of self-motivation. There are no clicks or likes to keep you going. The most you’ll probably get is progress, a feeling of accomplishment, or pleasure in how the story is taking shape.

Next to the excitement of blog feedback, that’s a bit weak. It lacks immediacy. With blogs, there is an impression of needing to do it on that schedule. Needing to post and keep up with it because there are other people besides yourself waiting for those words. Unless you have a publisher’s deadline, that’s not true of a book.

The only problem with that is that unless you’re making money off the blog, progress on the book is actually more important. And missing a blog post is less important than it seems. Is anyone really going to notice if you miss one? Probably not. As long as you’re keeping up with it fairly regularly, it won’t really affect your traffic either – again, unless you make your living off the blog.

But guess what? If you make your living off the blog, it’d be a higher priority than the book anyway, right? (If you think about it…)

So, as addictive as that blog interaction is, be wary of letting it seduce you into throwing aside all your priorities. You can check your stats every few hours instead of every few minutes. You can even work on the book first before writing your blog posts for the week.

(Just don’t tell Blog I said that, ok?)