Posts Tagged ‘Windy Jackass’

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Advice on Writing Advice for Writers

July 5, 2011
[This post was kicked into gear thanks to a FB note by JPM, whose Facebook feed is often full of moments like this. This piece has been laying around in my “unfinished” work folder, under the presumption that at some point I would finish the mofo off and send it out to be rejected by various humor sites.
Thus properly motivated by JPM’s note, I took a look at it and decided that it looked pretty finished to me. I also have other “unfinished” posts that tie into this one, so I’ll probably be looking harder at those as well. If nothing else, you’ll get to see (and experience) the immense amount of self-loathing that goes into calling yourself a “writer,” which makes all of us a bit masochistic and probably even more than slightly deranged. (This isn’t some sort of power tripping derangement either. This isn’t a “I suffer for my art” thing. This is a “I hate writing but am internally compelled to do it” sort of thing.){Also, it’s not a real “hate.” Obviously. It’s a special kind of love that manifests itself most frequently as hate and is usually self-directed and has nothing to do with writing as much as it has to do with “not writing”.}]

This is what a blogger looks like. Except, replace the "pipe" with a nicotine patch and the pen with "completely useless box o' electronics/internet."

So, you want to be a writer? Waving aside the fact that this makes you about as unique as a band influenced by the Velvet Underground, and the fact that there’s an entire internet full of writers already, you have to ask yourself, what do I have to offer the written world? What do I bring to the table that hasn’t been brought to the table so often it’s being sent back?

Still drawing a blank? Put down that sketch pad and listen up. (Just a little metaphoric humor there. Feel free to use that when breaking the ice at your next book club meeting or whatever the hell it is you writers do with your spare time.)

What most writers are looking for, despite the fact that they’ll never ask directly, is advice. All writers, especially writers who have never been published, crave writing advice. If nothing else, it allows them to put off writing for at least another 10-15 minutes. Never underestimate a writer’s desire to be doing anything but writing. This element is key to the “writing about writing” business.

Another crucial element is a side-effect of the advice itself. Whether the reading writer agrees or disagrees with the advice is immaterial. The end result is always the same; a refreshing confirmation of the reader’s superiority to other readers/writers/advice authors.

If the writer agrees with the advice, it justifies his or her peculiar habits, no matter how unpleasant or anti-social.

What if the writer disagrees entirely with your slapped together and mostly borrowed (without attribution) advice? Not to worry. Your new adversary will be enjoying a nearly identical sense of superiority, with each point of disagreement becoming a shiny new feather in his or her cap of Writing Knowledge.

My other typewriter morphs into a large beetle. I get more work done on that one.

An added bonus for the reader is the chance to compose an overly long comment expressing (point-by-point) how completely wrong you are about everything from the amount of time you should spend writing each day (2-12 hours) to how much margin is acceptable for submissions in .doc format (2-12 inches). Once again, the aspiring writer is allowed to escape the hellish prison of their current novel/essay/fanfic submission and right (or should I say, “write”?) any and all perceived wrongs with a pure passion borne of vindictiveness and procrastination. (You’re correct. I shouldn’t say “write.” We’ll leave that for the struggling writers to use.)

At this point you’re probably wondering why YOU have to do all this writing while other writers are allowed to duck their chosen profession. Well, I’ve got good news and great news.

The good news is that practically anything you come up with off the top of your head can be considered “advice,” whether it’s a suggestion they read every day (something they already do) or more drastic recommendations like cutting themselves out of important family events (immediate and extended) to ensure they have more time to sullenly glare at their blank pages.

The great news is that other writers have written plenty of advice for writers already. It’s everywhere. A quick internet search should find you a few thousand articles to cherrypick from. If you don’t mind doing a little transcribing (don’t worry, it’s much easier than writing “from scratch”), you should easily have at least 10-15 items on your list. With this pre-paved list in hand, you may now allow the children to return from their basement exile, provided they still communicate using ASL only.

Still need another nudge? Here’s a brief list of sure-fire advice:

Problem solved: My homunculus will be writing all future posts. In second person.

1. Read more.
Reading is a great procrastination technique. Writers reading are “doing research” or “developing technique” or simply doing it because “it’s a dying art. Well, both reading and writing, actually. Turn off that TV. It’s killing your brain.”

2. Write more.
As much as writers hate being reminded that, as writers, it would logically follow that they spend a great deal of time writing, it’s an even bigger faux pas to leave this off the list. Try to give your readers some leeway. Make it sound like a suggestion and utilize the word “try,” which will allow them to excuse their failed attempts and often, their failure to attempt. Avoid specifics as to what kind of writing should be done. This allows your reading writers to justify angry comments, angry Facebook status updates and angry comments on the statuses of others as being part of their “writing 2-12 hours a day.”

3. Be honest.
Basically, this is “write what you know” phrased in a way that allows writers to more highly regard their own confessional pieces involving more unseemly moments in their lives. These moments are often something they’ve often secretly wanted to brag about without having it sound like a rejected Penthouse Letter. Just as every writer believes themselves to be a “unique voice,” they also tend to regard themselves as the “last honest writer.”

4. Write in your own voice.
Yet another form of “write what you know.” Nothing makes writing easier than writing the way you speak. In theory, just typing up whatever rolls through the writer’s head (unless it’s sporting a foreign accent) should get their great American novel or Kim Possible fanfic epic kicked out in no time. Everything should click for a few minutes until they realize how limited their vocabulary actually is. A loss of momentum is to be expected as they spend the next hour or two looking up synonyms for “nice,” “awesome” and “asstacular.”

This should give you the headstart you need to start cranking out post after post of “Advice for Writers.” In fact, you could just copy and paste what’s included here for a quick eHow post. Just make sure to remove all disparaging comments leveled at your potential readers before submitting.

-CLT

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This Explains Nothing

May 25, 2011
[Note to readers: my fishing license has been revoked. I’m not looking for reassurance. I’m trying to work something out using the few tools I have available.]

It’s been long, too long since I’ve posted anything of value in here. Well, I’ve posted plenty of stuff, mainly music-related, but no original writing. Apologies all around and apologies in advance is this piece goes long/gets weird/gets tiresome/has too many parentheses.

Quite honestly, I’m working through some weird sort of writer’s block. It’s not normal writer’s block as I’ve been doing quite a bit of work over at Techdirt. Given context and a starting point, I’m doing fine. Coming up with something on my own? Not so much.

Now I do enjoy the Techdirt gig, with all of its attendant “getting published elsewhere” glory and included perk of being able to say I write for Techdirt, something that probably will remain more important to me than anyone else but still won’t prevent me from name-dropping it frequently (often inside this very post) in hopes that it will somehow turn into a well-paying career for a respectable publisher that isn’t currently going out of business.

On the downside, it does tend to use up a lot of what I used to refer to as my “free time.” I feel bad that I’ve let this blog kind of slide, but the other thing is very shiny and new and I haven’t been doing it for 2+ years and so it kind of gets priority thanks to my willingness to be entranced by novel experiences.

(But not actual “novel experiences.” Like many others, I harbor the secret [but not so secret now, is it?] desire to write a Novel. [Capitalized so as to be easily identified as Something With Pretensions Toward Greatness.] I have some unorganized scrawlings in some notebooks and some ideas that float around, but nothing substantial, so you can all stop holding your breath. Or start holding it, and then stop, just as a favor to me.)

Let me take a moment here before this all goes downhill/sideways and tell you how grateful I am for your comments and compliments over the past 2+ years. No matter what I say from this point on, remember that.

(I’m serious. It is important that you know that I highly value your readership. Especially considering how flaky I have been lately about responding to comments and posting entertaining articles. [And nobody mention Tanager. I really need to go answer those comments. If you don’t bring it up, I won’t feel nearly as shitty as I do everytime I look in there and see the dust gathering.])

From this point on, I have nothing prepared. I am winging this in hopes that a breakthrough occurs as I ramble on, hopefully to some sort of conclusion or enlightenment.

BOLD STATEMENT OF NON-INTENT

Do you know what people hate more than poor writing? Writers bitching about writing.

Therefore, there will be no complaints beyond this point. Just positive stuff with the occasional bitterness. (Directed at nobody in particular — the best kind of bitterness. It’s the kind of unfocused bitterness that makes family reunions and office retirement parties the kind of excruciating event you wished you had the callousness to just say, “You know what, I’d rather drag my unprotected eyes across a stack of thin cardboard that’s been dipped in margarita salt than hang out here any longer.” We could say those sorts of things. We honestly could. We’d be branded “misanthropic” or “fired” but at least we wouldn’t have to make any more small talk about Aunt Whoever’s prize-winning quilt pattern or the 40+ years of middle management by the guest of honor.)

HERE’S WHAT I HAVE LEARNED FROM BLOGGING

It’s hard. It’s fulfilling. It’s sometimes scarily easy. It’s its own reward occasionally. There are way too many smart and funny people* out there. The overall ratio of smart/funny to the rest of the internet may be low, but I don’t read stupid or unentertaining blogs, so I can’t give you any stats.

*See also: the blogroll. If your name is on there, then you are who I am talking about.

Sometimes I stare at the blog and hate it for needing my help. Without me (or RF) cranking out posts, it does nothing. A week goes by and I’ve got nothing and I start to feel like a cybersquatter. “No one’s taking this name. If for no other reason, this stays live. I’ve got a brand to maintain.” (“Maintain” apparently meaning posting intermittently with a definite lack of cohesion.)

I have this blog on my RSS feeds. Why? Because it looks more professional when it shows up there. I find it inspiring. (I also find it narcisstic. But I want to try to remain positive.) The simple, clean lines of the RSS feed show up with a lot of established blogs and it feels good to me. “Look at it go! Hanging out with Marginal Revolution! And Cato@Liberty! And Techdirt! (Again. I warned you.)

Google Reader allows me to flatter myself. That’s got to be the most unintended use ever. I’m sure beta testers never stumbled across that “feature.”

POSSIBLY RELATED ANECDOTE

I used to work as a DJ in a bar. And it was fun. It was the most fun I’d had while still earning money. I could drink and play music and get paid. I did this for a few years until the management decided they wanted to chase out The Dance Crowd and replace them with The Rock Crowd, mainly to get rid of The Black Crowd.

And I played along. And then I left. I quit and moved halfway across the country to kill what was left of my soul with a nine-month stint as occasional boyfriend and stand-in dad for the last woman I dated before meeting my wife. This fell apart in 9 months or so and I returned to the town I left and reclaimed the job I left.

Why? Well, because I could. DJing is easy. Things had changed and the bar was back to at least being all-inclusive as long as sales were good. But it didn’t last. And then management made the same decision. The employees fought it but I was right back in the job I loved hating every minute of it. I was no longer a DJ. I was just some guy playing records for money, catering to a crowd that wanted to be somewhere else, working for people he didn’t respect.

So I drank more. And more often. I handled this soul-crushing, whorish job like anyone else would: I attempted to set some stuff in the employee restroom on fire and got canned.

Related how?

I’m not sure. Something about how doing the thing(s) you love can still be heaped full of suck occasionally. In the bar case, it was external. (Except for the drinking. That was all me.) Here, it’s internal. Sometimes it’s a mixed blessing. Other times, it’s hangs all over everything like an overly talkative acquaintance, hammering away at you with inanities and sucking away your inspiration. (Again, internally.) You want to do the things you love, except sometimes you can’t find the easy joy in those things. The upside is this is usually temporary.

My brain is bricked. But it will be back. It’s happened before. I’ve written my way through (once). I’ve waited it out (once). This is some of each.

-CLT