Zen and the Art of Blogging

Creative writing demands a different frame of mind than article writing, research paper drafting, and blogging do. But that doesn’t mean someone who does one can’t do the other! The place where you start is just a place to start, and then you work out from that point. The process is not necessarily linear.

Earlier this week, my friend Christine tweeted:

Creative writing is initially hard when all you know is journalism and research papers. Thoughts, @ryssiebee?

I absolutely agree! Creative writing demands a different frame of mind than article writing, research paper drafting, and blogging do. But that doesn’t mean someone who does one can’t do the other!

The first difference between creative writing and more journalistic/research-based writing is that, while doing the latter, you usually know where they want to end. You almost always have a goal in mind.

Of course, the point of writing a newspaper article or research paper is to uncover something new or to synthesize information in a unique way, but you usually has an agenda before he/she starts writing.

While you may discover something new along the way, you are, for the most part, driving a car to a specific destination. You are either vaguely familiar with the route, or you have a GPS with you.

When I’m writing a story or poem, I almost never know where I want to end. In fact, if I know the end before I start to write, I can guarantee that whatever I write will be total crap because it lacks imagination and possibility.

To extend the car metaphor with creative writing, you decide to get in your car (the car of your dreams), you turn the ignition, and you sit there until you’re ready to go. You have no destination, and you drive until you run out of gas. Creative writing is a joy ride.

Breaking a bout of creative writer’s block is not about knowing WHAT you want to write. It’s about knowing where you want to start. You have to start somewhere, and the place you start probably won’t be the beginning, at least not when you get to the end (is that too confusing?).

The place where you start is just a place to start, and then you work out from that point. The process is not necessarily linear; you can go in circles, you can overwrite. Creative writing is a discovery process in more ways than one.

The mental preparation required for creative writing is much different from that when writing a journalistic piece or research paper. With an article or research paper, the collecting of sources is a meditative process. The writers forms the paper in his/her head while gathering sources and then strings them together to create a story.

For creative writing, I have to be in a very specific frame of mind. Nothing else can be bothering me. It’s very much like trying to go to sleep. If I have a lot of things on my mind, I will not be able to start writing, the same way I will not be able to sleep. I usually find myself writing new fiction on the weekends or when I’m on vacation because my mind is clear.

After a long day at work, it’s almost impossible for me to switch from work brain to creative brain.

Which is why I blog. Blogging is as close to my work mindset as I can get, and doing it means I’m still writing everyday, which is so important to me.

My creative writing blog is kind of an illusion. Yes, I’m offering new short story excerpts every day, but what most readers don’t know is that I started writing my collection in the summer of 2007. The stories that I casually post every day are the result of many hours of staring at blank screens, writing, rewriting, deleting, changing narrators, living and breathing my characters, rearranging, copying, pasting, hating, and loving.

I’m at the best part, the part where all I have to do is perfect the prose. This part of the creative writing process is more akin to blogging because I’m not actually creating anything earth-shatteringly new.

To be honest, I haven’t written a new story or poem in months. My mind is not in the right place.

That meditative state that’s perfect for creative writing comes and goes. It’s not even worthwhile trying to pursue it until you feel you are so full of thoughts and emotions that, if you don’t write them, you are going to explode.

(Photo by mattimattila)

More Mileage from a Blog You Sometimes Fuel

One of my favorite professors asked, “What’s the point of doing this if you’re not having fun?”. Remember: she was speaking to a room full of people so determined to cpublish a book that they would drag themselves through miles of mud to do just that. But I will never forget the question she posed.

Admit it: you only update your blog when you feel guilty. Twitter reeks of blog neglect and half-hearted attempts at updating:

@OhThatStevie: @JennyBec1969 I honestly am going to try to update my blog a little more often than once every blue moon.

@littleponderer: Watching Underbelly. I should update my blog but I’ve been soooo busy – hopefully will update it tomorrow.

@jacksonstf09: It is amazing how awesome a person can feel after a 2 hour workout…I feel AMAZING…I really should update my blog. I think I will 2day.

@defiantprincess: I wanna update my blog.. but too lazy to type. Should I ?

@farchadhilahmoh: so bored. i think i should update my blog to chase the boringness away.

@noeminoems: i should update my blog..but that can wait, like how it has waited for months now x:

@Huizhenpawnyou: Should I update my blog?

You get the point. If I had a penny for every time someone used the words “should” and “blog” in the same sentence, I would be a very rich woman.

When I was in grad school for creative writing, one of my favorite professors asked, “What’s the point of doing this if you’re not having fun?”.

Remember: she was speaking to a room full of writers, people so determined to complete a manuscript and publish a book that they would drag themselves through miles of mud littered with glass shards and syringes to do those things. But I will never forget the question she posed.

Have you ever wondered why my blog is so entertaining (ha ha ha)? If I had to write about social media in a formal way, if these posts were homework assignments, I would not last more than a week. I have to constantly reinvent this website to keep the work fun for myself.

You need to imagine that your blog is a game you play with yourself. Consider the ways you amuse yourself when you’re stuck in traffic, when you’re waiting forever in a doctor’s waiting room, when a flight is delayed, when you can’t sleep at night.

Your blog should be the most fun you’ve had since marathon Monopoly sessions with your next-door neighbor.

I know you’re laughing right now. You’re thinking: “Going out with my friends is way more fun than blogging” or “Playing with my new puppy is way more fun than blogging”. Well, if you think those things are more fun than blogging, then you should be doing those things and not blogging.

Okay, I admit that was kind of harsh. You should be doing those things, blogging when you can, and not complaining or feeling guilty about it.

Before you play with your new puppy, though, consider these points:

1. Blogging is a great way to experiment with an idea before you fully commit to it. A blog post is hardly ever a fully realized and realized piece of writing. Anyone who believes that his/her blog posts are written at full potential really needs to give true writers more credit. Good writing takes many drafts to develop and perfect.

However, if you really like an idea and want to pursue it further, you should consider taking it off your blog and to another venue. My Comma ‘n Sentence blog posts have become longer-form articles (see “Too Shy to Schmooze: Creative Networking” and “Business Owners Building Networking Bridges“). Currently, I’m working on expanding the ideas I first shared in “The World Wide Web Is the New Water Cooler“.

2. Blogging is a great way to discover and reinvent yourself. After blogging for a few months, you might actually enjoy reading your old posts. You will start to notice how you’ve grown as a writer and a person, and you can use this knowledge to gain greater insight into yourself. In addition, you can also use your old posts to help you brainstorm ideas for new posts. 

3. Blogging can give you motivation (as long as you have enough motivation to blog). Whether or not you actually have an audience for your blog, blogging makes you think that you’re writing for an audience. Someone, somewhere on the Interwebz, expects you to write clearly and creatively. This knowledge will challenge and motivate you.

I recently started a creative writing blog for this very reason. I was having trouble motivating myself to tackle revisions, and I hoped that blogging would hold me accountable. In grad school, I was forced to write and revise for my professors and workshop-mates; blogging for an “audience” mimics that feeling. I don’t want to disappoint my loyal readers!

4. Blogging can give you hope. Half the fun of blogging is sharing what you write! I don’t know about you, but one thing that gets me out of bed every morning is the excitement I feel when I think about promoting and sharing my work with my current and potential friends.

Don’t get me wrong: life is great for so many reasons. But I’d rather not imagine my life without writing and sharing. 

(Photo by kevinspencer)

Sending Messages in Digital Bottles

Have you ever had so much to say to someone but couldn’t tell that person? Have you ever written a letter to someone and then ripped it into tiny pieces? If you answered “yes”, then you’re in luck! The Internet makes it easy for you to write anonymous notes to people who will probably never guess you are writing about them.

Full disclosure: I’m kind of obsessed with the second person voice, and I love the art of letter writing.

I’m especially enamored with the idea of writing letters to people who should never read them, and I enjoy reading letters never sent – it’s a juicy form of voyeurism.

Have you ever had so much to say to someone but couldn’t tell that person? Have you ever written a letter to someone and then ripped it into tiny pieces? Have you ever addressed another person in a diary or journal entry?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then you’re in luck! The Internet makes it easy for you to write anonymous notes to people who will probably never guess you are writing about them.

Blogger Anna from Shmitten Kitten writes:

I just want to complain about you to the anonymous masses in a place you’ll never see it. Is that too much to ask? Maybe I gotta take this complaining business underground. I need a Fight Club situation where me and a bunch of people can all go and complain about people without them ever finding out who did it.

Here are a few websites where you can post your own anonymous notes and read other letters-never-sent:

Dear Old Love: By e-mailing dearoldlove(at)gmail.com, readers can submit one -sentence notes intended for former lovers. Notes range from nostalgic to angry to heartbreaking and even demanding.

Every day, the editors post (and cleverly title) approximately 10 new notes. What I love about reading these short posts is the chance to “read between the lines” – what takes just seconds to read gives me fuel for my mind to wander for a few minutes. I like to imagine the people writing the notes and also the intended recipients. Sometimes, the notes even read like poems.

If you want to carry your voyeurism with you, you should know that some of the best posts from Dear Old Love have been compiled in a book of the same name.

Ex Boyfriend Dead Letter Office (mentioned in Shmitten Kitten post from above): Similar to Dear Old Love, Ex Boyfriend Dead Letter Office accepts short letters to ex-boyfriends. My favorite thing about this website is the editors post a picture of a stud-muffin celebrity namesake with each note.

Secret Tweet: Secret Tweet is unique because it functions as a blog and also as a Twitter account. You can submit a confession in 140 characters or less, and Secret Tweet will post the confession to the website and Twitter. Characterized by a number, each tweet is completely anonymous.

One has to wonder if bored Internet users are simply submitting ridiculous stories to be considered as Secret Tweets. However, that possibility is what makes the site interesting to me; you will never know if the tweet is true or false, and you can’t help but wonder about the people submitting them (crazy enough to perform some of these acts and possibly even crazier to imagine them).

Following the Secret Tweet account is fun because, every once in a while, a confession will appear in your Twitter stream and catch your attention – these tweets are usually very different from other things people are tweeting.

Letters to Dead People: Celine Song creates designs graphical, black and white letters to dead people, and she posts these letters on her tumblr. In a letter to the living people who read her blog, Celine writes, “It is also really fascinating to me how wildly misunderstood some of these letters are or how some people passionately disagree with me.”

By composing original letters to famous dead people like Shel Silverstein, Adolf Hitler, and James Joyce, Celine reveals more about herself than she does about the dead person. Obviously, everyone would have their own questions that they would want to ask a dead person, if they had the opportunity.

Do you know of any similar websites? Please share links in the comments.

(Photo by internets_dairy)

Fact, Not Fiction, for the First Time in Years

I promised myself that, upon my return from San Francisco, I would throw even more of my heart and my soul into my side projects, which means blogging here every day, reviving Too Shy to Stop (we already have three new articles scheduled for publication!), and tackling the revision process for “The Prescribed Burn”, my fiction manuscript.

The first person who can guess the song lyric reference in the post title gets a free hug (no Googling allowed!).

I promised myself that, upon my return from San Francisco, I would throw even more of my heart and my soul into my side projects, which means blogging here every day, reviving Too Shy to Stop (we already have three new articles scheduled for publication!), and tackling the revision process for “The Prescribed Burn”, my fiction manuscript.

The last thing on this list is probably the most difficult for me, but I am going help myself by taking advantage of two things I already do well: blogging and sharing via social media.

After some thought (not too much), I decided to make use of two domain names that I already own: LaryssaWrites.com and ThePrescribedBurn.com. I set both URLs to point to a WordPress blog where I am going to post revisions/additions of my manuscript, which is currently approx. 60,000 words in length.

Yeah.

I need to get serious about revising this thing. I have already gone through the whole manuscript twice: once because I had to make it decent enough to submit as my grad school thesis and again because I changed the perspective from third to first person. I have also added a lot of content since May 2009, when I graduated.

Though I feel the story is in the right place, I don’t really like the writing. The language and artfulness of the manuscript is not up to my personal standards; this was not a priority during my first few revisions because I wanted to get the structure right before I focused on the details.

On my new blog, which you can follow most weekdays (new content at 10 AM, just like with Comma ‘n Sentence), I will post very small chunks of the manuscript, revised with close attention to detail, language, and syntax.

In grad school, I would write “harder” because I knew that someone was always holding me accountable. Without that extra push, I have difficulty focusing on what I know I need to do. Dear readers, won’t you be my extra push?

I am completely aware that sharing my work in this way may change the way my completed manuscript will be received in the future, but I’m willing to take a risk; I feel the payoff will be much greater in the long run.

In an essay (read it – it’s good!) from The New York Review of Books about the future of book publishing, author Jason Epstein writes:

The difficult, solitary work of literary creation, however, demands rare individual talent and in fiction is almost never collaborative. Social networking may expose readers to this or that book but violates the solitude required to create artificial worlds with real people in them.

I don’t know where this experiment will lead me, and I may terminate it if I feel that the results are detrimental to my creative process. For now, I remain positive and hope you will follow me on my journey to create a work of art. As always, your feedback and constructive criticism is more than welcome. Love.

And Then the Creative Class Spontaneously Combusted

According to science fiction writer Gwyneth Jones, the company as a digital publisher is now getting “…unprecedented access to billions of tiny payments, for product that costs them effectively nothing, at their point of entry. This seems to mean they don’t have to worry about any form of resistance at all…”.

On Tuesday, Guardian writer Alison Flood reported that approximately 6,500 writers opted out of Google’s plans to digitize books. Flood wrote:

“Former children’s laureates Quentin Blake, Anne Fine and Jacqueline Wilson, bestselling authors Jeffrey Archer and Louis de Bernières and critical favourites Thomas Pynchon, Zadie Smith and Jeanette Winterson have all opted out of the controversial Google book settlement, court documents have revealed….

As well as the authors named above, these include the estates of Rudyard Kipling, TH White, James Herriot, Nevil Shute and Roald Dahl, Man Booker prizewinners Graham Swift and Keri Hulme, poets Pam Ayres, Christopher Middleton, Gillian Spraggs and Nick Laird, novelists Bret Easton Ellis, James Frey, Monica Ali, Michael Chabon, Philip Hensher and Patrick Gale, historian Simon Sebag Montefiore, biographer Victoria Glendinning and bestselling author of the Northern Lights trilogy Philip Pullman.”

I really do admire the fact that these well-known, well-respected authors and their representatives have chosen to take a stand against Google. They took the time to research the company’s plan, and they decided that they did not want to be a part of it.

When an author’s work is published, he or she can decide in what form the work can be published. The author can restrict publication in other mediums. Google is violating that right.

According to science fiction writer Gwyneth Jones, the company as a digital publisher is now getting “…unprecedented access to billions of tiny payments, for product that costs them effectively nothing, at their point of entry. This seems to mean they don’t have to worry about any form of resistance at all. I don’t like the sound of that, not from anybody’s point of view.”

Despite my support of these authors, I have my qualms; it’s easy to argue about publishing rights when you have a good reputation and an impressive publishing history (easier to obtain in the past, when print was still the only option).

As someone who is working on a collection of short fiction and who one day hopes to be published in some way, shape, or form (I just want my work to be read, honestly), I am fully aware of how difficult it will be for me to get my work noticed once I am finally ready to distribute it to the world.

I’m not the only one writing books.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, “More than 10 times the number of colleges and universities offer the M.F.A. today in creative writing than when Associated Writing Programs was founded in 1967. Thousands of graduates now receive such degrees each year.” And that doesn’t include the people without writing degrees who are crafting books!

Oh. my. goodness.

All these people are hungry to be published. Wouldn’t you be too if you spent years of your life working on something that you believed was good? Most of these people would be thrilled if Google decided to publish their work.

Yes, Google only “publishes” authors who have been previously published. But I can almost guarantee you that Google will seek new ways to act as a publishing company in the future.

I’m actually really surprised that twriters are the only ones speaking out against Google. The publishers should be angrier – shouldn’t they? The major houses need to rethink their business models if they don’t want to lose out to Google.

I don’t really have a solution because, to me, the whole thing seems like an unstoppable train. Writers are HUNGRY to be published. One day, the beloved authors cited above and their estate holders will no longer exist. They can only fight Google for so long.

Where are you, publishers? Why aren’t you fighting the good fight?! The best insights/ideas I’ve seen are contained in this essay about the revenge of print from The Brooklyn Rail:

“In a flagrant attempt to compete with Internet culture, to crash books into the marketplace on hot button topics from steroids to celebrities, from political scandal to political ascension, corporate publishers aim now to meet immediate demand. If a book about teenage vampires becomes a bestseller, then the hustle is on to find and market a series about pre-teen vampires. And because of this constant rush to the market with books that have the shelf-life of a bruised tomato—in hardcover, with supplemental cardboard cut-outs that stand in chain store windows and usher customers down narrow sales aisles—this ideology has influenced the ebb and flow of the industry…

The goal for book publishers, most simply put, should not be to undertake a virtual arms race of developing technology with both the Internet and media, or to try to compete on a bloated scale with music and film, or even to translate a work to conform to an undetermined potential future model. The mission for book publishers and print media at large should be to create a product that is irreplaceable and indispensible.”

People are writing irreplaceable, indispensable things, and they are trying, waiting. Their desperation will enable companies like Google to take advantage of them, the creative individuals, ultimately helping themselves destroy their own value.

And then the creative class spontaneously combusted. The end.

(Photo by joguldi)

In Defense of Snark

Snark (Combination of “snide” and “remark”. Sarcastic comment.) is a method of creating reality, a reality that suits me better than what’s presented to me, even if that reality is dark and pessimistic. If you call my writing snarky, perhaps you should refer back to Packer’s original piece and reevaluate your definition of snark.

So how exactly does this steaming helping of schlocky snark add to the discussion?

– Commenter Casso

Casso, how does whatever-you-said not add to the discussion?

I stand by the words of writer J.G. Ballard, best-known for his novel Crash:

We live in a world ruled by fictions of every kind—mass merchandising, advertising, politics conducted as a branch of advertising, the instant translation of science and technology into popular imagery, the increasing blurring and intermingling of identities within the realm of consumer goods, the preempting of any free or original imaginative response to experience by the television screen. We live inside an enormous novel. For the writer in particular it is less and less necessary for him to invent the fictional content of his novel. The fiction is already there. The writer’s task is to invent the reality.

Snark (Combination of “snide” and “remark”. Sarcastic comment.) is a method of creating reality, a reality that suits me better than what’s presented to me, even if that reality is dark and pessimistic.

Yes, I creatively rewrote Packer’s piece which, admit it, was complete bullshit – his article was full of fear and ignorance that you could smell from a mile away.

Don’t even get me started on the unfair jabs he made at David Carr – I was coming to the defense of a journalist I admire.

If you call my writing snarky, perhaps you should refer back to Packer’s original piece and reevaluate your definition of snark.

I like to think that I was providing a service for people who trust Packer based on his reputation and generally stellar writing. Some readers may know nothing about Twitter and will now judge it unfairly, based on Packer’s ignorant assessment of it. I was providing a counterpoint for the unenlightened.

Snark, because it can be so abrasive and eye-catching, is a language that people understand – it elicits emotion. I was translating Packer’s piece for an audience that might not understand it.

In the comments on my post, Casso and Boom (snarkers themselves) hide behind nicknames.

I’m not afraid to speak my mind and attach my name to my strongly-held opinions.

Snark v. satire

According to Wikipedia, “In satire, human or individual vices, follies, abuses, or shortcomings are held up to censure by means of ridicule, derision, burlesque, irony, or other methods, ideally with the intent to bring about improvement. Although satire is usually meant to be funny, the purpose of satire is not primarily humour in itself so much as an attack on something of which the author strongly disapproves, using the weapon of wit.”

I believe snark is different because it calls out just one human folly: the use of bullshit in writing and speech.

Now, I COULD get all philosophical here and say that truth is subjective, that there is no absolute truth, and that bullshit is relative.

However, in today’s media landscape, facts are regularly manipulated and spun.

To counter “bullshit” constructively, without snark, you could provide a detailed summary of facts that support your argument.

Or, you can bring attention to its absurdity by mocking it, exaggerating it, or creatively reconstructing it. Snark.

Snark v. bullying

On February 5, Alison Hendre contributed a piece to The New York Times Complaint Box about mean-spirited comments on a high school sports blog.

This kind of snark, which I think is more accurately referred to as “bullying”, stems from boredom rather than an actual desire to change anything. She cites some comments:

“What? He’s no longer averaging 25 points per game?”

“Why does that no-talent bum start every game?”

In response to Hendre: have you ever sat in the bleachers at a Yankees game? Sports fans heckle and prod – that’s just what they do. I understand the comments are a bit harsh for a high school sports blog but realize that these people have sad little lives and nothing better to do than make pointless comments.

The problem with snark on sites like Gawker is that the commenters are just trying to “one-up” each other. On Gawker, commenters are actually encouraged to generate the most ridiculous comments possible – they receive gold stars and virtual pats on the back for great comments. Therefore, they are just writing things for shock value. Leaving comments on Gawker is just another form of bullying.

As for the people that lurk on Gawker all day long, waiting for approval? Just feel sorry for them and ignore them too.

Snark v. respect

In a way, written snark engages in direct conversation with the original writer. Realize that, if I respond to someone, it means that I respect them enough to care.

If I thought Packer was a completely bad/worthless writer, I wouldn’t be wasting my time by engaging in a dialogue with him.

For example, yesterday I realy wanted to engage with this piece about government-funded media. Though I generally disagree with the concept, I was interested in what writer David Swanson had to say.

However, I read his first paragraph about 10 times, didn’t know what the hell he was trying to say, and moved along my merry way.

Listen, I realize that George Packer is a very accomplished writer. However, just because someone is accomplished doesn’t mean he is omnipotent.

I was angry and wanted to express myself. And I did because I could. Because this is America, and we, as Americans, have certain freedoms.

I only snark because I care and because I seriously mistrust anyone who tries to write about something he doesn’t understand. I believe my choice to rewrite his piece, rather than write about it, only further emphasized my distrust of his language.

(Photo by cogdogblog)

Where Have All the Writers Gone?

What I offered was a community of writers and networking opportunities, the freedom to write about almost anything arts and culture related, my editorial feedback, a customized article layout, and a chance to be published online. I have also written job/school recommendations for many of the writers that have worked with me.

Laryssa,

I remember talking to you a long time ago about how you got started with Too Shy to Stop, and now I am in a position where I am wanting to start something that is likely going to require a lot of writing. I just want to talk with you a bit about how you got your writers to begin with.

I think I remember you saying something about going to Craigslist at first, but some of those people didn’t work out.

I guess what I need to know is have you come up with a successful method for finding the correct people to write for you? What do you pay them? Did you pay them at first? If not, what did you offer them as compensation?

Sincerely,

Wrangler of Writers

– – –

Dear Wrangler of Writers:

Great question! I am happy to offer my input.

When I first started Too Shy to Stop, I had no intention of inviting other writers to contribute. For four months, I was the sole contributor. During this time, I generated approximately 150 posts.

In September 2008, I wanted to use Too Shy to Stop as a way to make new friends and to create a venue for other people with similar voices/interests. I tapped into my immediate professional and personal networks, and I also did advertise on Craigslist.

I couldn’t pay anyone to contribute, but I wasn’t trying to start a business either. In retrospect, I’m amazed that anyone agreed to contribute at all. The original Too Shy to Stop website was very plain and amateur-ish in appearance.

When I launched the new Too Shy to Stop website in January 2009, I tried to recruit more writers – I placed ads on journalism job related websites like Ed2010, Berkeley School of Journalism Jobs website. I also spend a lot of time networking via Too Shy to Stop’s Twitter account.

I advertised the chance to write for Too Shy to Stop as an internship and an opportunity to build a writing portfolio.

At around the same time, the economy tanked, and a lot of people were getting laid off from media jobs/having trouble finding media jobs. In an effort to continue writing and building their portfolios, many recent or soon-to-be graduates wanted the opportunity to write.

I was one of those people, and I too used Too Shy to Stop as an opportunity to write articles, keep my journalism skills fresh, and have the satisfaction of sharing my writing with others.

What I offered was a community of writers and networking opportunities, the freedom to write about almost anything arts and culture related, my editorial feedback (I spent a lot of time editing drafts), a customized article layout, and a chance to be published online. I have also written job/school recommendations for many of the writers that have worked with me.

I didn’t hold any of the writers to time commitments or article minimums. They came and went as they pleased, and they had very flexible deadlines. These terms meant that I had a lot of contributor turnaround. I also had to deal with receiving submissions from people who shouldn’t have been writing in the first place – quality control is tough when you’re asking people to contribute for free. However, I was happy to publish what I could.

Nowadays, writers are pretty easy to find, but that doesn’t mean the writers you find will be any good. With the market as it is, people who enjoy writing are generally desperate to land any type of writing job. However, the good writers know what they are worth, and they probably won’t work without pay unless they are trying to build portfolios or have ulterior motives.

Managing writers and an editorial calendar requires a lot of time, effort, and patience; it’s pretty much a full-time job. I wish I could devote more time to this type of work, but I have another job and other responsibilities. For this reason, I suggest that you hire or be a good editor.

You need to value great content and understand what makes great content in order to provide it to your audience.

Good luck!

Sincerely,

Laryssa

Why You Should Care about Media and Writing

The Internet makes writing exciting and dynamic! Ideas can quickly spread and evolve, and more people than ever before can feed the information machine. What was that? “Writing and media are just fine without my input or attention,” you say? I can understand why you might think that way.

In case you didn’t already know, I am passionate about and completely in love with writing and media, and I hope to convince YOU, person who probably doesn’t really care about writing/media, why these things are important.

The Internet makes writing exciting and dynamic! Ideas can quickly spread and evolve, and more people than ever before can feed the information machine.

What was that?

“Writing and media are just fine without my input or attention,” you say? With so much being circulated via print publications and the Internet, I can understand why you find it difficult to imagine a dearth of information.

However, choose an issue that’s really important to you and ask yourself: how you would feel if everyone just stopped writing about it?

Or, better yet, how would you feel if all the good writers stopped writing about it?

What if you REALLY cared about blue-footed boobies and then, suddenly, all the good writers decided to stop writing about blue-footed boobies, leaving one amateur poet to publish a series of poems about these birds? Wouldn’t that embarrass you? Would you want someone with absolutely no talent to be the person writing about your favorite thing?

Essential writers, the writers who WOULD do blue-footed boobies justice, are losing jobs due to budget cuts. One of the most depressing and hard-hitting things I’ve read recently were the comments on a Gawker post about “Freelance writing’s unfortunate new model”, a Los Angeles Times piece about the freelance writer’s struggle to make a living. Gawker commenter CassandraSays writes:

Those media outlets then wonder why their sales are dropping. You know, now that there’s hardly any actual content in their publications. Why oh why is no one subscibing to their almost content-free newspaper that takes a week to cover even really big stories?

Writers are representatives and ambassadors.

Online, writers are leaders – they are best at articulating an original thought, and they move people to participate. Readers respond with comments like “Oh yeah, you’re right” or “I never thought of it that way” or “I totally disagree with you” – instantly. Many times, these readers did not previously care enough to have an opinion, but the writer is able to challenge them.

To respond to a printed piece, you would have to write a letter to the editor/author and snail mail it. Rarely, would you know that he or she received your letter, which would probably not be republished unless you were lucky or awesome. On the Internet, a commenting community is just as important as the author who publishes the original piece.

You should care because you can get involved. Even if you have no desire to start a blog, you can become part of the commenting community on a website that you enjoy and appreciate.

SO MANY people on the web write for free; as a writer, becoming discouraged on tough days is easy when you’re not making money. However, comments can keep a writer going. Given the anonymity and the vastness of the Internet, writers like to know that their work is being read.

Take a moment to think about your favorite websites. Do you even know about the people who contribute? Do you know the people who do the layout, the editing, and the programming?

Next time you read an article that you like, notice the byline. I am always interested to learn more about a writer when I read something I enjoy. These days, most journalists and authors have personal homepages where they showcase their writing samples. Take the time to get to know their writing style and where they’ve been published. You might even become a loyal fan!

Every time you whine about the length of an article, realize that the time it took you to read (or not read) it was probably just 10% of the time it took for the writer to craft the damn thing. Trust me, writers have better things to do than sit around and write 12-page articles. But a writer WILL write a 12-page article when he/she cares about the topic (and is most likely being compensated for writing about it).

Last week, I received news from editor-in-chief of The Silver Spring Penguin that she is moving out of town. Because this hyper-local, hyper-informative website was basically a one-woman show, The Penguin, which provided Silver Spring’s 75,000 + residents with news, restaurant reviews, an event calendar, updates from board meetings, and profiles of local business owners, is closing shop.

Commenter JD writes, “Your departure seriously leaves a massive hole in Silver Spring news.”

Not happy with the size of the Sunday Times? Well, the Times has cut writers and therefore content to save money, which means the paper is smaller and fewer people buy it. If no one is buying the paper, then the newspaper has to cut more writers because they are not making enough money to pay staff members. The paper becomes even thinner. The smaller the paper, the less advertising space.

Stop complaining about the death of print; if you want newspapers to stay alive, you’re going to have to buy them, regardless of whether or not you can find the news online or elsewhere! You, the consumer, who now appreciates writing and media (thanks to this post, of course), have power and the ability to influence.*

*Don’t get too cocky. You lack the media’s power, but your power makes an honorable mention.

(Photo by K. Kendall)

Instant Books for Hungry Readers

This new thing called the Internet allows anyone to publish anything instantly. Slam your head on your keyboard, examine (or don’t examine) the results, and publish online! Only on the Internet could something like this go viral – heck, people might even call your head-banging efforts art.

Some people still aspire to publish their writing in printed and bound books.

Despite the fact that more and more writing is digitized, a print book is the gold standard of achievement and success for many aspiring (and even established) writers.

The problem with printed books is that they take a long time to write and a sometimes equally long time to produce.

First, the author needs to secure a contract with a publisher, which can be one of the most daunting and difficult tasks. Next, the manuscript must be edited, and the publishers must decide how they want to market the book. Then, the book goes into production (copy-editing, layout, binding, etc.). Finally, the book is released and finds its way to a bookstore near you!

With digitization, the writing process can take a long time too. However, production cost and time are slashed.

This new thing called the Internet allows anyone to publish anything instantly. Slam your head on your keyboard, examine (or don’t examine) the results, and publish online! Only on the Internet could something like this go viral – heck, people might even call your head-banging efforts art.

Kidding aside, a lot of writing on the Internet can actually be very good. Out-of-work journalists share writing on their blogs, fiction writers share chapters from their works-in-progress, and comedy writers test jokes on their Twitter followers. Many of these people could care less about the print publishing process and its obstacles. Instead, they value making their work visible and accessible to a hungry audience. The online audience, constantly devouring the next-new-thing, is always seeking fresh work.

I have this theory that, in an effort to compete with online publishers and writers who primarily promote their work online, writers who still aspire to be print rockstars have to rush through the process. Often times, printed work can become quickly irrelevant, especially when so much new content is being produced online.

Why wait to publish an entire book when you can release each chapter as it’s completed?

Why rely on a publisher to do your marketing when you have endless free marketing tools and tactics online?

Have all the good in-print novels been written already?

Shouldn’t critics turn their attention to work being produced online as well as in print?

Is the best new work stewing like primordial matter on the Internet?

(Photo by Hieropenen)

What Would Tina Fey Do?

Newsflash: having a lot of Twitter followers does not make you famous, not on Twitter, not in the real world, not anywhere. Though she’s extremely hard on the women she profiled, Grigoriadis actually gives these women way too much credit. The average person would have no idea who these twilebrities are!

My Twitter friend Matthew Rogers tipped me off to a Vanity Fair piece, which he described as a “complete failure of an article” and “extremely insulting to several female users in particular”. Boy, was I curious!

America’s Tweethearts“, published in the January 2010 issue, is about female “twilebrities”, Twitter celebrities who amass a ridiculous number of followers. Writes Vanessa Grigoriadis:

Whether you consider Twitter a worldwide experiment in extreme narcissism or a nifty tool for real-time reporting—a plane ditches in the Hudson, millions take to the streets in Tehran—it may not yet have dawned on your text-saturated brain that it’s also a path to becoming famous.

Newsflash: having a lot of Twitter followers does not make you famous, not on Twitter, not in the real world, not anywhere. Though she’s extremely hard on the women she profiled, Grigoriadis actually gives these women way too much credit. Sure, I’ve heard of some of these twilebrities because I’m interested in media and marketing, but ask the average person if they know who Julia Roy or Stefanie Michaels – they wouldn’t have a freaking clue!

Why did she choose to write about these twilebrities and give them any sort of press if she already sort of hates the fact that they have thousands of followers?

MOST people who sign up for a Twitter account have no idea what they’re doing. They follow who they follow because it’s cool to follow those people. In the new media circle jerk, new media types fluff each other up and add each other to lists of suggested people to follow. None of this circle jerking actually means that the tweeted content is worth following. However, the more followers you have, the more followers you get – it’s a tipping point of sorts.

In a tone that reeks of jealousy and bitterness, Grigoriadis writes:

According to a study of 1.5 million tweets, released this year by Oxford University Press, the words “cool,” “awesome,” “wow,” and “yay” are among the most common on Twitter—and it’s a safe guess that most twilebrities use them as freely as Laguna High freshmen.

Since when did Twitter become a source for high-brow literature? Twitter doesn’t claim to be anything but a place to broadcast 140-character bits of information.

Frankly, I would be really angry if I was one of the women profiled in this piece. Grigoriadis has absolutely nothing positive to say about them, even though she COULD HAVE said positive things about them. These women all make a living doing something related to media/social media/tech, and they’re all fairly successful. Way to speak positively of your peers!

Take Sarah Evans, for example. She is a public relations and new media consultant who owns her own business. When Grigoriadis describes Evans, she uses this quote: “’Twitter is like going to a giant cocktail party, every day,’ says Sarah Evans, 29, a publicist and self-described ‘Twitterholic.’ ‘Except you don’t ever have to get dressed up!'” I would like to see the Evans interview in its entirety.

Of course Evans is on Twitter – why wouldn’t she be? She makes a living off of being technologically savvy, connected to important media people, and staying at the forefront of her industry. You, Grigoriadis, may not like Twitter, but Evans needs it to put a roof over her head.

This is America. If someone can make a living working for themselves, more power to them. If they have to employ tools like Twitter to stay on the cutting edge, so be it.

In a way Twitter IS a popularity contest, but it only has to be if you care. If you want to follow the people with the most followers, if you choose to pay attention to the most popular people, you will be annoyed by these things. You should be following people who tweet things of interest to you. If you don’t like something, don’t follow it. If you don’t want to sit at the cool kids table, DON’T DO IT.

I’m just so personally embarrassed by this article. You can’t say one positive thing about these ladies, Grigoriadis? These women have their own viable businesses or creative pursuits, and they work hard, JUST LIKE YOU. Just because they use different medium than you doesn’t mean  you have to belittle them.

(Photo by Robert Scoble)