Private Blogs (Clap): They’re Helping You

Most people who have a blog update their blog because they want to share their thoughts with the world. Why would anyone want to create a blog that no one is going to read? Isn’t a lack of readership why most people give up blogging? And isn’t the promise of a readership why many people start?

Most people who have a blog update their blog because they want to share their thoughts with the world. Why would anyone want to create a blog that no one is going to read? Isn’t a lack of readership why most people give up blogging? And isn’t the promise of a readership why many people start?

If I told you that private blogs have a purpose, would you believe me? Did you know that, in WordPress, you can label a blog post private or public? You can also decide whether or not you want search engines to find your blog. You can even password protect your blog so that a few or no people have access to it.

I choose to share all my posts here because I would like feedback, and I would like to demonstrate that I think about and have an interest in things like creativity, writing, the Internet, and social media. But what if I don’t want to share? What if I want to blog/free-write but don’t feel like perfecting every post? What if I want to rid myself of the pressure?

I’ve been experimenting with private blogs to help me with my writing. Recently, I started a new blog to help me with a nonfiction writing project. I’ve actually been scared to write about the subject matter because I am so overwhelmed by everything I want to say. Starting a private blog about this subject allows me to explore the subject in small chunks, save drafts for myself, gather corresponding images, test creative ways to approach the subject, and feel motivated by the way my writing looks published.

Even though no one else can see my private blog, I like being able to view my posts with the layout that I have created. I can feel like I’m making progress and like I have some sort of order to my thoughts. I might make the blog public once I feel like I have a better handle on what I want to share, but, for now, I just add posts without any pressure. If I do decide to make it public, I will already have content to share with my new readers.

If you are an aspiring writer or have ideas that you want to explore, I highly suggest you start a private blog, especially if you don’t feel confident about sharing your work. Seeing the published product will provide you with some motivation and creative license. Writing isn’t always about the readers!

(Photo by ?????????)

An Ode to Starbucks Wi-Fi

Starting the first of July, Starbucks Coffee will give you reason to buy a latte or Frap. All stores will have wi-fi. Guess what? It’s free! Yuppies can surf the web and eat a wrap. Visit your local ‘Bucks to send a tweet or download music from the iTunes store.

An Ode to Starbucks Wi-Fi*
by Laryssa Wirstiuk

for Dan, who suggested I write this

Starting the first of July, Starbucks Coffee
will give you reason to buy a latte or Frap.
All stores will have wi-fi. Guess what? It’s free!
Yuppies can surf the web and eat a wrap.
Visit your local ‘Bucks to send a tweet
or download music from the iTunes store.
The bloggers will rejoice and write blog posts
while sipping on a treat.
The room will fill with IM sounds galore
while coffee drinkers sample Starbucks’ roasts.

By now, I know each ‘Bucks in N-Y-C
but only by how clean the bathroom is.
With free wi-fi, I’ll pee then check my e-
mail, take a ten-minute personality quiz.
I’ll fight for a leather chair or table seat
just so I can connect to the Internet.
The person next to me can look at porn:
“Starbucks now serves fresh meat.”
Now just decide: which coffee will you get?
The tall? With whip? Some ice?! You look forlorn.

*Form inspired by “Ode on a Grecian Urn” by John Keats

(Photo by Daquella manera)

Summer Reading: 15 under 40

I love to read new and emerging fiction, and I get particularly excited when I read a great story by a peer. Below are the 15 writers under 40 who make me really giddy. I probably could have chosen 20 with some more thought, but 15 came to mind very easily. I included both fiction writers and poets.

Every year, The New Yorker publishes a Summer Fiction Issue. This year, the editors decided to compile a list of the best 20 writers under 40. I don’t necessarily agree with this list so I decided to make my own.

I love to read new and emerging fiction, and I get particularly excited when I read a great story by a peer. Below are the 15 writers under 40 who make me really giddy. I probably could have chosen 20 with some more thought, but 15 came to mind very easily. I included both fiction writers and poets, and my list is arranged alphabetically.

1. Nick Antosca, fiction writer (b. 1983): I first discovered Antosca when I read his story “White Apple“, published online at Spork Press. When I Googled him, I learned that he is only two years older than me but has already published two novels: “Midnight Picnic” (Word Riot Press, 2009) and “Fires” (Impetus Press, 2006). His writing has appeared in Nerve, Hustler, The New York Sun, The Huffington Post, and other publications. You can read his blog and follow him on Twitter!

2. Matt Bell, fiction writer (b. August 29, 1980): About a month ago, Matt Bell did a cool experiment; he wrote and edited a short story live on the Internet. He is the author of “How They Were Found”, a forthcoming collection of short stories published by Keyhole Press. In addition to publishing three chapbooks, Bell has stories in over 70 literary magazines, including American Short Fiction. He also writes book reviews and essays, which have been published by The Los Angeles Times and American Book Review, among others.

3. Kevin Brockmeier, fiction writer (b. December 6, 1972): I first read Brockmeier in grad school, when my professor Merrill Feitell encouraged us to check out “Things That Fall from the Sky”, a story included in a collection of the same name. I will forever remember this story as one of the most heartbreaking (in a good way) things I have ever read. What I like best about Brockmeier is his ability to cross genres; he has published two collections of stories, two children’s novels, and two fantasy novels.

4. Stacie Cassarino, poet (b. February 15, 1975): Cassarino’s poem “Northwest” is one of my favorite poems of all time. She writes: “The mind loves hope. /Dumb heart, come down from the walnut tree. /All the distance is ultimately a lie.” In 2008, New Issues Press published her first collection, “Zero at the Bone”. Her work has appeared in The New Republic, Gulf Coast, Iowa Review, and Georgia Review, among others.

5. John Grochalski, fiction writer and poet (earned B.A. in 1996): Grochalski is identified as more of a poet than a fiction writer, but I really like his short story “Bill Smells“. He is the author of poetry collection “The Noose Doesn’t Get Any Looser After You Punch Out”, published by Six Gallery Press in 2008. His poems have appeared in Avenue, The Lilliput Review, The New Yinzer, and The Blue Collar Review, among many others. His fiction has been published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Pequin; one of his stories will be included in “Living Room Handjob”, an anthology.

6. Anya Groner, fiction writer and poet (b. January 26, 1982): I don’t mean to brag or anything, but Groner and I are Facebook friends. She just completed her MFA and lives in Mississippi. Groner’s story “Tenderly Now, Before I Expire” is one that I love dearly. I first read it in Flatmancrooked’s anthology “Not about Vampires”. Her writing has been published by Fiction Weekly, Memphis Magazine, and Bookslut.com.

7. Victor LaValle (b. February 3, 1972): LaValle visited the University of Maryland when I was a student there; he even came to speak and answer questions at one of our creative writing workshops! I tend to confuse him with Junot Diaz, but I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. He is the author of a short story collection, “Slapboxing with Jesus”, and two novels: “The Ecstatic” and “Big Machine”. “The Ecstatic”, my favorite, was a finalist for both the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award.

8. Sarah Manguso, fiction writer, poet, and essayist (b. 1974): Manguso’s most recent book, “The Two Kinds of Decay”, is a memoir of her struggle with a rare autoimmune disease. Her poetry collections include “Siste Viator” (2006) and “The Captain Lands in Paradise” (2002); the Village Voice named the latter a Favorite Book of the Year. She has won a Pushcart Prize and numerous prestigious fellowships. She currently teaches at Fairfield University.

9. Christopher Merkner, fiction writer and poet (earned B.A. in 1996): I saw Merkner read at AWP this year, and I really enjoyed his poems about marriage and children. You can read some of his poems online at Gulf Coast, a journal of literature and fine arts. I’m not familiar with his stories, but he recently had fiction, a story called “The Cook at Swedish Castle”, published in the Black Warrior Review. He teaches creative writing at the University of Colorado Denver.

10. Mary Miller, fiction writer (age 32): I read about Mary Miller in HTML Giant, the “internet literature magazine blog of the future”. Then, I read her story “Go, Fish“, published in Barrelhouse in 2008. Miller writes:

The cherry falls from his cigarette. It lands on the carpet and she thinks, this is how fires start. She steps on it, pretends it’s a spider that refuses to die. When he looks up at her, she says, “Your cherry,” and he says, “Oh.” Then he asks her to sit on the bed with him and she says she’s comfortable where she is because it was an unexpected offer and her first inclination is always to decline.

Miller’s stories have also appeared in Oxford American, Mississippi Review, Black Clock, and Quick Fiction.You can purchase her chapbook, “Big World“, online.

11. Meghan O’Rourke, poet and critic (b. 1976): O’Rourke is best known for her role as contributing writer to Slate, but she is also a talented poet. She is the author of “Halflife“, a collection of poetry published by W.W. Norton & Company in 2008.

12. Marissa Perry, fiction writer: I can’t find very much about Perry, and I’m only assuming that she’s under 40. I know that she lives in New York City, that she also designs websites, and that she has an MFA from the University of Michigan, which awarded her a prize for her thesis in 2006. I loved her story “Trespassing”, which was published in Tin House’s 2008 Summer Issue. I think I e-mailed her once, to ask her some questions about process and craft; however, she was really busy at the time. You can read her blog, Abandon, and her story “The Invisibles” in Zoetrope.

13. Josh Peterson, fiction writer (b. December 7, 1978): I know Peterson’s work the same way I know Groner’s; I discovered one of his stories in “Not about Vampires” (Flatmancrooked). Peterson is pursuing his MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Arkansas and works part-time as a freelance writer. His story “The Nipples of Men” is forthcoming in The Tomfoolery Review, and another story, “An Infinite Amount of Monkeys,” is forthcoming in Defenestration.

14. Selah Saterstrom, fiction writer and poet (b. 1974): Saterstrom’s book “The Meat and Spirit Plan” is one of my favorite books of all time, and I’m pretty sure that every 20-something woman should read it. Like LaValle, Saterstrom spoke at one of my creative writing workshops in grad school. Her earlier work is experimental and can also be classified as poetry. Her work has appeared in Tarpaulin Sky, Monkey Puzzle, 3rd Bed, and in the Seattle Research Institute’s anthology Experimental Theology. Please read her.

15. Emma Straub, fiction writer (age 30): Like Peterson and Groner, Straub is also a Flatmancrooked author. I bought her book, “Fly-Over State” at the Flatmancrooked table at AWP; I even had a chance to meet her! As she promises on her website, everyone who buys her book will receive a personalized love letter. Straub also co-edits Avery: An Anthology of New Fiction and the Read section of the Dossier Journal website. I highly recommend you follow her on Twitter!

Who’s your favorite writer under 40?

(Photo by el7bara)

Would Picasso Have a Twitter Account?

The real work on those stories happened offline, during long hours of solitude and intense concentration. Sure, I realize that my manuscript is not yet complete and could stand many more revisions, but I was happy to share what I had, to come out of the “darkness” and see the light.

In a blog post for The Guardian, Robert McCrum writes:

For new and original books to flourish, there must be privacy, even secrecy. In Time Regained, Marcel Proust expressed this perfectly. “Real books”, he wrote, “should be the offspring not of daylight and casual talk, but of darkness and silence.”

How many “real books” enjoy “darkness and silence” today? Not many. In 2010, the world of books, and the arts generally, is a bright, raucous and populist place. The internet – and blogs like this – expose everything to scrutiny and discussion. There’s a lot of self-expression, but not necessarily much creativity.

As a creative writer, I resent and disagree with McCrum’s assertions. I have shared creative work online, via my blog Laryssa Writes Fiction. In fact, I posted what amounts to a book-length work and allowed anyone who was interested access to it.

However, the real work on those stories happened offline, during long hours of solitude and intense concentration. Sure, I realize that my manuscript is not yet complete and could stand many more revisions, but I was happy to share what I had, to come out of the “darkness” and see the light.

How would I be able to write dialogue if I couldn’t observe and participate in casual talk? The best banter, the stuff of believable dialogue, occurs on social networks and via online chat tools: Twitter posts, Facebook status updates, Gchat conversations.

Trust me: when I’m working seriously on something, I deal with more than enough darkness. A person cannot sustain too much intense creative output without needing to air out the mind and wrestle with the mindlessness that sometimes is the Internet.

And what’s so bad about scrutiny and discussion? Sure, not everyone who reads your work, views your photo, or finds your piece of art may be qualified to offer you helpful criticism or be able to help you grow as an artist, but isn’t some of the point of creating art sharing it?

What’s the difference between self-expression and creativity? Shouldn’t everyone have the right to express oneself, even if the goal of self expression is not necessarily high art? Isn’t noise, chatter, and collective expression what make the world so interesting anyway? You don’t need an M.F.A. or some other fancy training to do it. What do you think?

(Photo by sudhamshu)

5 “Internetized” Idioms

New mediums mean that we need new ways to describe and talk about them. I take five common idioms related to communication and translate them for the Internet age: “spread like wildfire”; “put in a nutshell”; “be on the same wavelength”; “bite your tongue”; and “keep you posted”.

I take five common idioms related to communication and translate them for the Internet age.

Idiom: spread like wildfire
Meaning: news, information, or gossip is transmitted very quickly to many people
Translation: spread like Tila Tequila AND her sextape
Origin of new idiom: the Internet makes it easy for users to share all types of information, even leaked sex tapes, quickly and easily

Idiom: put in a nutshell
Meaning: summarize a big idea or story simply
Translation: keep it to 140 characters
Origin of new idiom: social networking tool Twitter limits user posts to 140-character tweets

Idiom: be on the same wavelength
Meaning: the goal is for two or more people to communicate and listen so that they understand each other
Translation: add emoticons to clarify
Origin: oftentimes, Internet users must add emoticons after statements to ensure that they are interpreted correctly

Idiom: bite your tongue
Meaning: you avoid saying something that’s probably best left unsaid
Translation: hold your tweet
Origin: in the no-rules world of Twitter, many users are tempted to tweet anything and everything; think twice before you do

Idiom: keep you posted
Meaning: to keep a person informed about a situation, provide updates
Translation: keep you Facebook posted
Origin: with Facebook, you can let all your friends know about updates and happenings in your life

(Photo by Kevin Tiqui)

Facebook, I Love You, but You’re Bringing Me Down

The time I first found out about Facebook, I was eighteen years old, in spring, oh-four. How could I know this site would be a hook distracting me from papers, tests galore? Six years later, I found myself with plus or minus seven-hundred friends, a news feed full of pics.

The time I first found out about Facebook,
I was eighteen years old, in spring, oh-four.
How could I know this site would be a hook
distracting me from papers, tests galore?

Six years later, I found myself with plus
or minus seven-hundred friends, a news
feed full of pics, updates, a need to discuss
the weather, Barack, pop culture, and booze.

But now, Mark Zuck wants more from me than I
would like to give. The privacy guidelines
are longer than the Constitution: why?
I want to delete my account, destroy the signs.

Facebook, I’ll always love the times we’ve had,
but privacy infringement makes me mad.

Note: title inspired by “New York, I Love You, but You’re Bringing Me Down” by LCD Soundsystem

(Photo by suez92)

Things That Go “Poke” in the Night

Have you been dreaming about Farmville again? You go to the bathroom to wash your face and brush your teeth, but you’re distracted by a strange noise coming from your computer in the other room. Are you hearing things? You shut off the faucet and listen closely. “Mooooo.” Did you really just hear a cow?

You wake up for work, and the first thing you do is check your Facebook news feed. Did any relationships dissolve overnight? Did any of your friends post embarrassing photos of themselves? Do you need to wish anyone a happy birthday?

No. Everything seems normal in this corner of the Internet.

Wait, a new Farmville notification? You check on your farm, which you’ve been neglecting for days. The corn looks fine, your chickens seem healthy, and you just received a tomato plant as a gift from your cousin.

You thought you had a few cows but don’t see any on the screen. You rub your eyes. Have you been dreaming about Farmville again? You go to the bathroom to wash your face and brush your teeth, but you’re distracted by a strange noise coming from your computer in the other room.

Are you hearing things? You shut off the faucet and listen closely.

“Mooooo.”

Did you really just hear a cow? You would like to ask someone, but you’re in the house alone. The moo-ing progressively becomes more labored, and you cover your ears. Maybe you are being punished for abandoning your short-lived vegetarianism.

You should check your computer, you think. It’s probably just one of those pop-up ads talking at you again.

Toothbrush still in your mouth, you return to the room to find blood splattered all over your farm. You touch your computer screen, and the blood is real, still warm. You jump and shriek! The toothbrush falls out of your mouth and lands on the floor with a thud.

Frantically, you wipe your screen and notice that three of your cows have been violently slaughtered* in your Farmville application.

You turn to run out of your room, but the door slams shut. The doorknob won’t budge! You’re trapped!

You log out of Facebook and try to close your browser window, but you can’t. The cursor has turned into the face of Satan and is moving on its own!

Suddenly, all the words that you have added to your Scrabble application are missing, and the Satan cursor begins adding new words: “destroy”, “your”, “privacy”. Wow, Satan just scored 35 points!

You try shutting off your computer, Control-Alt-Deleting your way out of this nightmare, but you’re trapped. Satan is laughing and screwing with your Scrabble board!

Suddenly, you hear a knock on your bedroom door. Who could it be? Who could possibly be knocking on your bedroom door at 8 AM?! You’re the only one at home!

Suddenly, a piece of paper is slipped under the door. You pick up the many-folded document and realize that it’s a printed copy of Facebook’s new privacy policy.

“Who is it?” You ask. You’re trembling. “Who’s there?!”

“It’s Mark,” says the voice behind the door. “I’m here with the marketers.”

“No!” You scream. “Please, no!”

*No cows were harmed in the making of this horror story.

(Photo by syvwich)

Hacking to Haiku, Software to Sonnet

Ward provides numerous examples to support his claim; both code and poetry have purpose, meaning, and structure, and they work efficiently. His post made me think more generally about the ways that writers and programmers are alike. As a writer, I feel like I can understand and articulate the programming process.

Anyone who reads Comma ‘n Sentence on a regular basis knows that I love to read and write poetry (see “Two Twitter Trending Topic Poems“, “10 Haikus Dedicated to Twitter Spam“, and “An Ode to Facebook Creepers“).

In a recent post for Smashing Magazine, blogger Matt Ward described the ways that poetry is like programming code (the WordPress tagline is “Code Is Poetry”). Both poetry and code have purpose, meaning, and structure, and they work efficiently. Ward writes:

This code-is-poetry metaphor comes at least partly from a perception of poetry as the master’s craft. Whether you love or hate it (and I know a lot of people hate it), there has always been a general sense that poetry sits at the apex of the written word, as though poets sit in an ivory tower, composing lines with a golden pen.

Code has purpose and meaning. It requires structure. It should be lightweight and elegant, not bogged down with lines and lines of garbage. Writing great code isn’t something that just happens. It takes discipline and work! It’s an art unto itself.

I’m by no means a programmer (I can do trial and error with basic CSS), but I do believe that the writing process and the programming process are very similar. Poets and programmers do have a lot in common; they need to communicate a message, they assess the audience, they interpret the audience’s needs, they gather the available tools (words vs. code), and they use the tools in a way that best communicates the message to the audience.

One thing I wanted to add to all of Ward’s excellent points is the way that both good poetry and good code do their jobs without revealing their structure. A poem is good because it overwhelms the reader with imagery and conveys a powerful emotional message. Even though a lot of poets use structural conventions (haikus, sonnets, villanelles), the reader should not be thinking about stressed syllables and rhyme.

With good code, the user will be able to appreciate the software/website/application without thinking too hard about how it works. Most users don’t care how programming works, but they do want to be able to use something without too much trouble. Effective programming will produce an attractive interface and be easy to navigate. The actual code will be an underlying mystery to the user.

I used to think that programming was more a science than an art, but a few of my programmer friends and colleagues have convinced me otherwise. Many admit to enduring hours of trial and error to solve a problem. Few programming problems can be solved with a one-size-fits-all formula. Programmers, like poets, must use a lot of creativity to overcome the limitations of their chosen medium in order to execute an overarching vision.

(Photo by xJasonRogersx)

Two Twitter Trending Topic Poems

On the Twitter homepage, users can see Twitter’s 10 trending topics. These can include the most popular hashtags or the most widely-tweeted words and phrases. The top 10 trending topics are constantly changing, and they can be organized by specific location or worldwide. I decided to write two 10-line poems to honor the topics.

On the Twitter homepage, users can see Twitter’s 10 trending topics. These include the most popular hashtags and/or the most widely-tweeted words and phrases. The top 10 trending topics are constantly changing, and users can be organized by specific location or browse them worldwide.

At approximately 11 and then again at 11:30 PM on Thursday night, I listed of Twitter’s 10 trending topics. I decided to write two 10-line poems to honor them. In the poems below, each line begins with the trending topic (in bold text, listed in the order Twitter provided) and then continues with my text.

To Be Her Secret

#DontActLikeYouNever thought about taking her home. She’s the girl at the bar
#nowplaying music so bad you’d stuff toilet paper in your ears if you were alone.
#LetsBeClear: it’s the worst music you’ve ever heard, worse than
Justin Bieber accompanied by a chorus of dying cats and the
#realhousewives of New Jersey gossiping in a rest stop bathroom.
Mavs are playing on one of the flat screen TVs while you flirt with this
#Libra, a pretty girl with curly blond hair. She confesses her hatred for the
Spurs; her ex used to make her watch every game with him.
George Hill was the only redeeming factor,” she says. “George and
Rapper Eminem – they’re my secret crushes.” You want to be her secret too.

To Sexile Again

#dontactlikeyounever wished you were in college again,
#nowplaying beer pong in the basement with your roommates.
#letsbeclear: you never really liked beer, and the roommies were
Halo Reach Beta-playing nerds who needed to get laid. Doing
Eenie Meenie Miney Moe with A) college, B) working, or C) auditioning for
#realhousewives, you hope Moe stops on A) college.
Spurs, according to the dream dictionary, are what you dream about when the
Mavs are going to win. If you really have that much power, why can’t you make
Justin Bieber go away? Why not be the beer pong champion? Why not write
#FF, the code letters for “sexile”, on the dry erase board tonight?

(Photo by JMRosenfeld)

Laryssa Wirstiuk is a social media marketing and online image consultant. Learn more about how she can help you and your business gain friends and customers by visiting Comma ‘n Sentence Consulting.

10 Haikus Dedicated to Twitter Spam

Twitter spam is so special that it should be honored with poetry. Spam includes: barely-legal webcam girls, social media gurus, people that promise I can become rich in just one month, people who follow then unfollow me, weight-loss and fitness programs, and accounts promising free merchandise.

Tweet that you’re lonely,
barely-legal teenager.
Show us your webcam.

A million follow
me on Twitter. It’s a dream.
You’ll make it real.

Terms: you violate.
I will never know you, friend,
account suspended.

Another guru
tells me social media
will boost my profit.

Lost a follower.
I wonder what I said wrong,
who I offended.

Free iPad, MacBook
if you click this shady link!
(Virus is the cost.)

Lacking avatar,
your face is the Twitter bird.
What hides behind it?

You need to lose weight.
We sell fat-burn shakes and pills
from a basement lab.

Make money at home
while wearing your pajamas.
Be rich in a month!

Follow me again
because you unfollowed me.
Follow me again.

(Photo by Tom (hmm a rosa tint))