Posts Tagged writing

Just Click and You Might Be Emily Dickinson

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When I was a kid, we bought the New York Times after church and then spent the rest of the day reading it. As an adult we had The Denver Post delivered, and I read The Atlantic and other magazines, but I missed the BookReview. We’ve subscribed to the Sunday Times now for a number of years. Although I usually at least scan the book review, I more regularly read other sections indepth. Styles Magazine is a leaf-through section, with an occasional article read. Today, though, I started with Andrew O’Hagan’s piece on the past and modern innovations. He asks what has society/the individual lost by the use of the iPhone and its attendant apps. He contends that life is better with technology.

In many respects, I agree. At a reunion recently my classmates commented about the superiority of “our music.” While I’d agree some of that music is pretty special and some songs are masterpieces, overall I prefer contemporary music. A steady diet of “classic rock” makes me gag. O’Hagan mentions the ease of research using the Internet. That is a plus,although I still look for books or articles beyond what I can easily (and cheaply) find online. He also mentions the availability of friendship, or at least camaraderie, via social media, and talks about the advantages of the world at your fingertips when you live in the middle of nowhere.

Yes, I agree with all those improvements, yet it still seems that something is lost by the use of phones and computers where before we had card catalogs, meetings in person, books, and had to wait to view movies, hear music, etc. Why is instant gratification better than a wait, or having to work a bit to accomplish something? What is wrong with watching Downton Abbey at the regularly scheduled time in the US instead of watching episodes in advance through some Internet service? Yes, I love streaming movies, but I also enjoy watching certain of the special features included on DVDs. I give up some positives for ease and instant gratification.

Typewriter_clip_art_mediumI know if it weren’t for computers, writing would be real work for me and would test my patience. I started writing on a typewriter and never quite got the knack of using the back correction. Even liquid paper was a mess. I could never get the paper to line up properly if I removed it from the typewriter. So yes, the advent of word processing programs with spell check and an easy way to make corrections and changes was a boon for me as well as thousands of other writers.

The ease of typing up stories has to be one of the factors in the rise in the number of writers. Not only is it easier to produce manuscripts, it’s easier to get them out in the world. Self publishing on the Internet doesn’t bother me too much since it seems to be akin to the self-publishing/vanity press of old. I do believe, though, that journals and agents and editors are swimming in print due to the ease of submitting online. In the past, not only did you have to write and type a story, but you had to figure out where to send it without the information being at your fingertips. Sure, you could buy a writers’ guidebook, but it likely was out of date before it saw print. More than once I sent off a story the same day I purchased the brand new book and received it back in the mail with a “return to sender” stamp due to an outdated address.

After you figured out your submission strategy, you had to buy and address envelopes, weigh the manuscript for return, possibly make a trip to the post office, and wait. Most journals back then didn’t allow simultaneous submissions, and stupidly, some of us obeyed that. Now, all you have to do is spend a few minutes looking around on the Internet, click and send, very often directly from the correct journal/agent/editor site.

Emily_DickinsonThe work involved in submission in the past helped weed out those who weren’t serious, those who were dabbling. It is possible that some great writers were left undiscovered in the process who are now found due to the ease of submitting, but is the overall good of the writing world served by this? Would Emily Dickinson have been published sooner and more prolifically if she merely had to click a button to send her poems? Maybe. But possibly her work would have been lost in the jumble of more fashionable submissions.

Would I go back to the day of the typewriter? No. Computers made writing much easier for me. The Internet makes submitting work and research less difficult, too. For those things I am thankful. I suppose another byproduct of the Internet is an increase in the number of places to publish. It would be interesting to know the ratio of writers to the number of journals over time. Has this changed? Of course there are other factors at play in the book publishing world. If, though, the ease of getting information and then submitting is at least in part due to the Internet, it is likely that the deluge of manuscripts to editors was at least one factor in the Agent as Gateway method to publication. As it seems that editors like my work more than agents, I’m not sure this is a positive for me and my writing career.

Andrew O’Hagan admits that technology changed his character, but the innovations in her lifetime did not change his mother’s. I do not know if the Internet has in any way changed my character. At the same time, I do wonder if it has in some way modified my life course?IMG_1343

How has the ease of technology shaped you and your writing career, if at all?

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When Third Place is Something to Celebrate: The 1992 Other Dream Team

Not everyone can win gold, and sometimes bronze makes you happy enough. I’ll get back to that.

The first hurdle I had to surmount when I started writing seriously, or at least when I started thinking seriously about writing was that there wasn’t just one winner. It took me a long time to emotionally realize that more than one book was published each year and beyond that, more than one book was published in each category. Agents took more than one manuscript, and editors usually did, too. So even though I would have to produce a good book, I didn’t have to produce the very best of the year or the best ever written.

In the Olympics, though, only one athlete or team wins gold in each sport. I’ve heard that placing second is the least satisfying because the athletes often are down on themselves for not winning gold. The bronze winners are said to be glad they medaled, but it is likely that some of them feel they weren’t good enough because they didn’t place first. They weren’t the best, so they were a disappointment to their country, themselves, or  another nameless entity.

In the documentary The Other Dream Team,

the Lithuanian men’s basketball team recounts the story of their success in winning. Four of the five gold medal winners in the 1988 Seoul Olympics for the Russian team were Lithuanians. In the intervening years Lithuania won its freedom from the USSR. During that time frame, many Lithuanian players had been drafted to play for teams in the US and elsewhere. After freedom, the international players decided to form a team of Lithuanians to compete in the next Olympics. Although their country rallied behind them, they had no money to support this effort. An unlikely benefactor turned out to be The Grateful Dead. The band outfitted the basketball players in tye-dyed teeshirts in the colors of the Lithuanian flag and helped support the team financially. During the 1992 games, Lithuania, like the US dream team with Michael Jordon, Charles Barkley, and other household names, beat their opponents in embarrassing fashion. The two teams met in the semifinals. USA prevailed. This set up a consolation match for bronze between Lithuania and the former Soviet Republic.

Not only did the team  want to win this game for self respect–and remember in the last Olympics four of the five starters on that Russian team were Lithuanians–but the whole country rooted for them. When they prevailed and climbed the podium wearing their Grateful Dead teeshirts, the players admitted that winning the bronze meant more to them than the earlier gold.

As in basketball, in writing the circumstances surrounding a “win” can determine how one feels about a success.

I wrote the above as a draft post more than a month ago. At this point I don’t remember exactly what my point was going to be, but it seems important to remember that not everyone can be on the bestseller list or win the Man Booker prize. Sometimes the act of publication and the congratulations of a small number of friends and readers is enough. Sometimes it is worthwhile to remember that certain teams start with an advantage–more money, a larger cohort to choose from to form the team, etc. Sometimes bronze is more meaningful than gold.

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Name a “First Class” Novel

Recently Donald Maass published an article,The New Class System, about his take on the world of publishing in Writer Unboxed. In it he listed classes of novels. I am creating a checklist of his First Class Novel points. My first impression was that few novels would fit in this category, and of course, it probably isn’t necessary for all good novels to meet every point.

Here’s the list, taken from his post:

1. Memorable Characters
a. singular destiny
b. likeable
c. self-aware
2. Unique Premise
3. Instantly “real” story world
4. Gripping plots
a. gripping even when slow
5. Gorgeous writing
6. Surprising themes
a.which are challenging
b. change us or see the world in a different way
7. Break rules
8. Transport us to a different culture or time
9. Teach things we knew little or nothing about.
10. Overall “utterly unique”

For my first attempt at “rating” a book I thought I’d have to use something I’d read in the last year, but when I looked at my bookshelf, I realized I have other candidates. For my first attempt at analyzing a book, I am going to use Lambs of God by Marele Day.

1. Memorable characters. Yes, although I can’t, off the top of my head, name any of the nuns or the priest.They are likeable, although they have varying degrees of self-awareness. And yes, at least two of the main characters, including the antagonist, Father Ignatius, have singular destinies.

2. The premise: a group of nuns live isolated in a forgotten monastery have their new traditions and routines interrupted when a man (Father Ignatius) appears with orders to close their sanctuary. I’ve never read a book with this outlandish premise before, and it is hard to see how anyone else could propose it.

3. Story world immediately real. Yes.

4. Plots that grip. I read it quite awhile ago and plot is not usually a major factor for me, nor are nuns the characters I’d put at the top of my interesting traits/occupations list. Glancing at the book now, I’d say it takes a little (p. 5) to actually get into. I suspect it is mostly slow but still entertaining and interesting.

5. Gorgeous prose. This is another characteristic that I’d have to reread to accurately access. I found this novel hilarious and think comic novels can get away with a different level of good prose.

6. Themes: To definitely decide, reread, but probably yes, although obviously not memorable enough I can spout them now.

7. Breaks rules. Again, this is hard to access since I’m not sure what rules are being spoken to, but yes, a book with one male character set in an isolated spot probably breaks many rules.

8. Cultures and times. My recollection from an interview is that the author made up most of the Catholicism for this novel, but it fits due to the cutoff nature of the group. So in the world of fantasy, yes an unlikely culture.

9. Teaches things. I did have to look up the geography since the author is Australian and I was curious as to the setting. I was also curious as well as the accuracy of the theology. Although I may not have learned much about either in the book itself, the book could be considered a vehicle for learning.

10. Utterly unique. My initial thought was, “Yes, this is unique,” but on reflection, I think it could fit into a genre of science fiction/fantasy–isolated outpost. It might have some similarity to Lord of the Flies, (William Golding) and possibly The Sparrow  (Mary Doria Russell.)

I guess I’m calling it as having at least six attributes of the First Class Novel, with three unknown due to the necessity of rereading. The last is a draw since I would have said yes, utterly unique, but on second thought, it does share characteristics with some other stories.

Overall score: 6+

I would love to hear YOUR ideas of First Class Novels and how they rate using this system.

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Have YOU used Learning Opportunities on the Web?

IMG_0562Today I’m embarking on a second Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ workshop via yahoogroups, Editing and Revising for Fiction Writers. So far the number of participants seems more manageable than the Heros, Henchman and Sidekick class I took recently. The class length is a bit longer, and there are a few more self-identified mainstream writers. My first problem is to pick a manuscript to work on.  The first assignment, though, is to write for twenty minutes without censoring ourselves, so the necessity of picking a manuscript can be put off a day or two.

Meantime, I’ve been checking out some of the online college courses to see how they compare to The Great Courses. As one of the drawbacks of The Great Courses is the cost, I was trying to find free college courses on the web, mostly because I’d heard talk of such. Here is an overview of what I’ve found so far, although I have not taken any of these courses. I did find a few other sites that wanted all sorts of information before you could view offerings; I did not look into their offerings.

Coursera:   There are plenty of subjects and classes listed. When I put “creative writing” in the search field, the only class that came up was a Writing Like Mozart class that sounded like it was geared to music.

TED: Under the heading of writing, 33 talks came up. From my brief scan it looked like most of those related to writing were of the inspirational sort and on the short side, making them easy to fit in during down times. They included ones like this: J.K. Rowling: the fringe benefits of failure. This youtube video may be the same or slightly different:

edX.org: has free classes and many interesting ones, although when searching the topic of writing, the ones I found were not currently offered. Another interesting looking class was taught in Mandarin.

This website could also be useful when looking for free online classes: MOOCS: Top Ten Sites for Free Education with Elite Universities. When I followed the links, I came up with UCLA. Unfortunately, all the courses I checked on writing had a fee, the lowest of which was $145.

I hope to have some time in the future to check out a few of these offerings and continue my search for information on the web. I would, though, be very interested in hearing what courses you have tried and what luck you’ve had finding inexpensive or free programs.

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The Great Courses, Writing, and Me

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I’d seen their ads in magazines and The New York Times for years before curiosity finally got the best of me and I ordered one of  The Great Courses.  I’d watched a number of them, such as  The Joy of Thinking and Understanding the Brain, before the Literature and English Language subheading caught my eye. Currently there are 59 different courses listed under this category on The Great Courses website. Thirty-six  of them on sale. I’m not sure if anyone every actually buys courses that aren’t on sale as they are quite costly and routinely are put on sale. A number of offerings, such as Building Great Sentences: Exploring the Writer’s Craft,  and Writing Creative Nonfiction are directly related to the craft of writing. Many other titles are related to language, words, or reading, all useful adjuncts to the writing trade.

Other uses for the courses range from the obvious–history classes as research–to the more subtle. While watching Games People Play: Game Theory in Life, Business, and Beyond, I came up with an idea for a flash fiction series which has yet to see paper and ink. Many of the courses could be of assistance for times when characters have interests you know little or nothing about. Some of the courses are as short as 6 lessons, while others are as long as thirty-six. Most are a half hour in length. Some are 45 minutes. All are taught by professors from around the country who are considered to be the best teachers in their fields.  You can order the courses in a number of different formats for different prices, and many libraries carry a few of the series. Lately, most of them seem to come with free streaming. I prefer the DVDs as I like to listen to them while I’m exercising, and watching on the TV screen is more engrossing for me than on my laptop. I have, though, ordered Latin 101 to listen to on my computer and I’ve listened to others in the car. A few may only be available as audio CDs.

In future posts, I will discuss and review the various courses I’ve found that have been useful in my writing.

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Lessons Resolutions Have Taught Me

I’m not sure I’m ever going to get around to writing the post I was thinking about all week, so I’m taking the easy way out and discussing resolutions.

I haven’t often made those lose weight/exercise more resolutions that are easy to make and easy to discontinue when February rolls around. In the past, I’ve attempted to resolve to do something I’d want to continue for many years. One year my goal was to entertain in some capacity at least monthly. Another year I planned to do something cultural on a monthly basis. That kind of goal prompted me to do something that I enjoyed and probably wanted to do but had been finding excuses not to do. Even though I don’t set either of these as current goals, the fact that I did them for a full year helps me stay in the groove. For various reasons, entertaining has morphed into a goal of twice a year–once outside in the summer and once at the holidays, but the mere fact that I once did this more often encourages me to exceed my goals.

I started implementing my resolution for 2014 more than a month ago. This year I am putting things where they belong in the first place. No more jackets thrown on chairs or mail shoved to the side. This should help me be both neater, making it easier to clean the house, as well as accomplish more since I won’t have to be looking for missing items. If I open the mail and pay the bill, throw away the donation request right away, etc. I won’t have missing bills or other mail avalanching off my desk. This resolution is a direct result of B.K. Winstead’s post Mindful Writing, Mindful LIfe.

The advantage of making a resolution and sticking with it for a year may be that remnants of it continue to influence in later years. I might not entertain monthly these days, but I do still think to ask people over; I look at occasions as a possible time to entertain and I am more willing to take the time to attend a concert or visit an art museum. In the back of my mind, I’m still counting how well I’m doing with both those goals. They are now part of how I operate. My writing goal for this year is to post a blog a week. I believe I posted my first blog on Sept. 27 and although all my posts have not been scintillating, I have already posted often enough to average once a week. This is, then, both the last entry for the past year and the first of the new one.

Since for me writing is all about interaction, I’d love to hear what your writing goals are for the year and how you plan to implement them. At the end of the year we can all see how we did!  Happy 2014.

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Is Attention the Primary Reason You Write?

This morning on Weekend Sunday Edition, Rachel Martin interviewed Daniel Menaker, writer and past fiction editor of The New Yorker and Editor in Chief at Random House, about his new memoir, My Mistake. Although I have since read the transcript of the interview, I originally missed the middle of it and returned to hear him say, “Yeah, I think we write for attention.” My immediate thought was, “That’s odd. I don’t think my main motive for writing is attention.”

Maybe “real” writers do want attention, but I want the story to get attention, not me. Sure, I wouldn’t mind answering some questions about the story or the writing of the story, but that doesn’t mean I want to do it face to face. For me one of the allures of writing is that I can do it behind the scenes and not have to be front and center. Yes, writers who are gracious and entertaining and informative the way Mary Doria Russell was at the recent Readcon event in Greeley are a delight, but it’s hard for me to believe that most writers want to be on the hot seat, being questioned and photographed. Most of the writers I know want to write and publish. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard one of them talk about how they’re writing so they can go on tour or be featured on Oprah or interviewed on NPR. I don’t think one of us in any of the writing groups I’ve been part of have expressed a desire for fame. Publication, yes. The allure of money, occasionally, but most of us who have been in a group  long enough seem to give up on the big bucks and just aim and wish for publication.

My next thought was, maybe that’s what I’m doing wrong; I don’t want attention enough. Possibly that thought is related to another blog a writer-friend reposted the other day, The One Thing You Are Doing to Block Your Writing Success. In this blog the author talks about not calling yourself a writer and how that might be harmful to your career. In other posts on her blog she talks about Myers-Briggs type and relates that to writing and writers. I wonder if, in part, my response to her post and my not usually telling people I’m a writer is related to type? Or, in general, not liking attention being called to myself?

Of course, at some level I do desire attention, the attention of an agent, then an editor which will lead to the attention of readers. There is, also, the matter of the blog. Of course I want people to read my blog and comment and respond. I see that more as interaction than as attention-gathering, though. And yes, in the back of my mind I often have a specific person I want to read a particular work, but again, it’s mostly for the work that I desire attention, not me.

I’m wondering if others who write feel this way or if their primary motivation in writing so to gain attention to themselves?

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