On Writing –random thoughts on a Saturday morning

1. People Don’t Read Anymore

Oh,so much writing! Blogging here,blogging there,communicating via Instant Messenger with friends and coworkers all day long,email –I sure do cobble together a lot of typed words in the course of a day,considering the oft-stated,“People don’t READ anymore.”If people don’t READ,then what the frack am I doing,writing so much? And why is the internet so popular? With a few obvious exceptions,the internet is mostly words.

You could translate the statement to mean “People don’t purchase books anymore.”I suppose this could be true,but then how do you explain Harry Potter and the Da Vinci Code phenomenons? (Phenomena? Phenomenii? Forgive me,it’s early. I need more coffee.) Not to mention icons like Neil Gaiman and Stephanie Pearl McPhee,both of which are juggernauts in their own way.

Mostly,I think “People don’t READ anymore”should be translated as “I am a pompous ass.”People read plenty, believe me.

2. Flash Fiction

Escape Pod (“The science fiction podcast magazine”) publishes flash fiction on their blog. “Flash fiction”is a bite-sized story of 300 words or less. I’ve been browsing through these little niblets of fiction this morning,and I am astounded. I can barely write about how I had a sandwich for lunch in 300 words or less,never mind telling an entire story,fer crying out loud.

Given that people don’t READ –but they do –but they have short attention spans –I think there’s a real future for flash fiction. For one thing,flash fiction is perfectly suited for reading on a cellphone,smartphone,or other WAP browser. One could also subscribe to a flash fiction service,and receive a flash fiction story emailed to your account a few times a week. If I was both retired and wealthy,I would attempt to set up something like this. Since I am neither,I release these ideas into the ether. Go,little ideas –fly free,with my blessing!

If you’re interested in writing flash fiction,Escape Pod is also running a flash fiction contest,with a $100 first prize. I don’t like to make the people in my life uncomfterbuls by talking about them here,so I’ll just say that “a friend of mine”has submitted his story to the contest,and at last report,it was doing quite well.

Here,I would instruct you to set up an account on their forums and vote for “friend of mine”‘s story. Except the contest entries are posted anonymously,and I neglected to ask him which one was his. So instead,I instruct you to think winning thoughts in his general direction. Thanks.

3. Advice

I think that for the most part,advice on writing –like advice on losing weight –is futile. There are some solid general rules (write every day –eat less and exercise more) but ultimately,each person has to find their own path. Just because one person was successful with method A,doesn’t mean it’s going to work for person B.

One thing I believe should be a general rule is NOT “write what you KNOW.”I tell people,“write what you FEEL.”Keep experimenting with different types and formats of writing,and don’t be judgmental. There are a LOT of different ways to make money off your writing,but you’re only going to get to that money-making point if you’re giving people something that you felt passion for.

Okay,that’s a little convoluted.

I think every writer has it in their mind that a big book sale is what’s going to make them successful. So they try like the dickens to write a Big Book. When they’re not writing The Big Book,they’re pounding out a shocking volume of words somewhere else –be it blogging,non-fiction pieces,song lyrics,product reviews,what have you. To an outside observer,it’s clear that their passion lies with The Other Writing,but lordy,just try to point this out to them.

Their Other Writing is fantastic –because they have a passion for it. I love reading anything that was written with this passion,no matter how boring or abstract the actual topic is. (That’s why people subscribe to the New Yorker, no?) However,their Big Book sucks,now and forever. They will ultimately finish their Big Book,shop it around to publishers,get a ton of rejection slips,and get their heart broken so badly that it will never really be whole again.

Don’t be that person. Set aside all judgment,listen to yourself,look at what you enjoy writing,and write the hell out of it. You’ll find a way to make money off it,believe me. I understand there are some people who get paid to blog,and have developed a huge audience of kind,thoughtful,and loving readers –all because of one little knitting blog,fer crying out loud.

This rule could also be summed up as “write the path of least resistance.”

4. Resources

Blah blah writing advice is futile. Lately I’ve been enjoying two podcasts:

* Mur Lafferty’s I Should Be Writing,billed as “A podcast by a wanna-be writer for wanna-be writers.”Writing advice and analysis,interviews with successful authors,and blog-style updates on Mur herself.

* Tony and Ciaran’s Starship Sofa,or as I like to think of it,Staaship Sewfer (it’s the accents,you see). Each podcast is a biography of a successful science fiction writer,one writer per episode,including episodes on two of my personal favorites (Neil Gaiman and Iain M. Banks).

And if you’re having trouble coming up with character names,I found a website that uses a cute little trick to display a semi-random list of names. The Baby Name Guide Phonetics Search has you put in the first names of each of the parents –or heck,just two regular words,it’s not picky –and uses these to compile a list of names that include elements of both. The resulting list is both exhaustive and inventive.

For example,if you put in,say,“Erika”and “Jack” (tee hee!) you get about 50 names. You get your “interesting names I wouldn’t have thought of”(Jasper,Emerson,Fergus,Akasuki). And you also get your “that name is unspeakably funny”(Everhard,Justice,Pegasus,Worcester). It’s fun for all ages!

5. On Scarves

When not writing my brains out,I managed to finish my Malabrigo scarf. Here it is,being blocked on my wicked cool blocking board:

Yarn:Malabrigo Merino Worsted,one skein,color “Roanoke”

Needles:OMG I totally forget. Sorry! I’m pretty sure I used the size that the ball band suggests. Unfortunately,I can’t find the ball band.

Pattern:Yarn Harlot’s One-Row Handspun Scarf. I cast on 24 stitches –the amount called for,plus two,for the slipped-stitch edge. LOVE THIS PATTERN.

I’ll be wearing it to Madrona today. I haven’t yet decided if it complements or clashes horribly with the plum-colored fleece jacket I’ve been wearing lately. If you run into me at Madrona,you can weigh in on the topic. I think it depends on the lighting –sometimes I look down and think “Pretty!”other times I look down and think “Ugh!”

Speaking of Madrona,I should be showering. Ta!

8 comments to On Writing –random thoughts on a Saturday morning

  • From someone who has more books than yarn and LOVES to read. I personally don’t read as many books any more. I do read plenty on the internet! Between the blogs and the knitting I don’t have that urge to read quite so much. Only my favorite authors or something highly recommended.

    Also,interestingly enough as someone who used to write quite a lot,and received much praise for it I can’t blog for @$!#! I’m not sure entirely why this is…

  • Your scarf looks great! I discovered Malabrigo yarn in December and immediately planned three scarves with it. I just finished the third…so soft and pretty.

    About writing,over the past 8 years I’ve been involved with different aspects of teaching writing in an academic setting,and I agree with much of what you said. To build on your discussion of how people should write about “what they feel,”I find that the most important realization for students as they develop as writers is to understand that they have something to say. If you have the time and interest,Peter Elbow has written some really great books about writing.

  • Coupla things. One of our county board members stopped in the county library a week or two ago to check his e-mail on our public access computer. While we were chatting as he put on his coat to leave,he asked if hard-cover books were on the way out because of the internet. Duh. That just goes to show how dumb some people (in power,more’s the pity) can be.

    Thing the second. Neil Gaiman lives in…Menomonie,Wisconsin. About 90 miles from me. I’ve seen him,heard him speak,(he was the lunch speaker at a state library conference a few years ago) and snapped a picture of him with the county library director. He is gorgeous in person in a quite English sort of way.

  • Josiane

    Well,after reading about half of your post to the writer in my life,I finally told him he had to go and read it all! Very interesting random thoughts.
    Lucky you to be able to go to Madrona! And luckier you that you can shower before going! Yeah,I woke up to frozen pipes in the shower this morning –and since I live in a place where hard winters are nothing exceptional,one would think that the builders would know how to place and insulate pipes so they don’t freeze,fer crying out loud!!! Sorry,I just had to vent…

  • SusanJ

    Thanks for the pattern info and link. Last week I bought my first (I know it will not be my last) Malabrigo yarn and was looking for the perfect project for it. My yarn is Roanoke Gold which is the variagated version of yours. To me it looks like something my grandmother crocheted into afghans in the 60′s. Brown and shades of gold and yellow.

    have fun at the fair…

  • Patti

    Oh,I went Friday for 2 hours,that was all I was allowed out. But I fell into the Socks That Rock booth and emerged covered in yarn.

    Writing –I was a Greener and we all worshiped Peter Whathisface,who wrote Writing With Power,and the two things that stuck with me and have consistently worked for me are not editing yourself on your first draft –if you sudden swerve into violent swearing,just go for it and you can take it out later. And doing things ahead enough that you can put a piece away for a couple days or weeks –when you get it out again,it doesn’t even look like your own writing,you’ve lost a lot of the attachment,and you can see it more clearly and edit it wisely.

    I love passion,too. :) Watching people work at something they’re passionate about is neat,too –I watch an artist friend paint sometimes,and I used to know a blacksmith,that was wonderful!

  • Great scarf….I’m making it in olive and loving it.

  • Agree,agree,agree on the writing. Not a pro here,but aside from blogging,have written::lowers voice,looks around in a shifty-eyed fashion::fanfic. (Just wish I could get back to it…depression,then a crazy roomie for several years didn’t help.) I learned the useful things about writing from reading massively;like 5 books a day,when I have the books and time. You just have to sit the hell down and write. (Personally,the outlining bit never worked for me;totally stifled any creativity. I usually have no idea where a story’s going. Isn’t that what the characters are supposed to tell you?)

    And not reading?::snorts::Definitely more people reading off the net –I sure do –but I,for instance,read constantly,and am slowly building back my supply of books after having had to sell about 2,000 paperbacks when our lives sorta got shot to hell. I *might* have about 500 or so books now,but I consider that pitiful. Don’t ask about how much reading material I have on the computer! Books are right up there with food and shelter as far as I’m concerned. And maybe edging out food a bit.

    Scarf looks great,and I think it would look great with plum. So,did anyone give you an opinion at Madrona? [g]