Category Archives: Blogging

Let’s Get Playful

I started this blog post earlier today. If I had finished it would have read very differently. I would have talked about being ‘present in the moment’ and my observations of human behavior and how we have all, mostly, lost touch with the present in our fast-paced, constantly evolving, sound-byte, multi-tasking world where everyone is rushing to ‘get ahead’: literally and figuratively. It was a dry post, and I didn’t get far with it; a couple of paragraphs and then I started boring even myself. This is never a good sign. If you can’t get your own interest as the writer of the piece than what are you readers going to do? Stop reading that’s what.

End of sentence. Full stop.

So I came to the end of a sentence and I took off for greener pastures, which in my case, today, was writing some fiction at www.panhistoria.com. I really love to write collaborative fiction. Lately it’s been incredibly hard to find the time to do it. In fact my whole movement towards going slow and being present in the moment has really just revolved around one thing: I don’t find the time to be playful and write like I used to. Problem is that I didn’t realize this until about thirty minutes ago.

My community site, Pan Historia, is all about being playful. Collaborative fiction has few lofty ideals. It’s not striving for acclaim and publication beyond the publication of being online where people can share and read, or the acclaim of your friends and co-writers. It’s the writers version of reentering childhood where make believe is the order of the day, and playing dress up is all you have to think about.

For me, of course, as site owner and developer, Pan has developed into a much more serious business – in fact – a business. I have been letting that get in my way. My life is just more busy than it was a few years ago. That’s a fact that won’t go away. I have a relationship to maintain (an enjoyable distraction!), I have a full time job because during these tough economic times I can’t get away with less, and I live in beautiful part of the world that demands I enjoy time outdoors. These are not bad things, and yet I have been letting them freak me out because it has become harder and harder to juggle the different areas of my life and make them all work together.

It’s time to stop battling it. It’s time to take my own advice: go slow, breathe, cook my own food, write for pleasure, and be present in the moment. I don’t have to spend every moment doing something productive. I don’t have to be a marketing DIY pundit. I don’t even have to write in this blog if I don’t want to. I have many blessings in my life, but I need to pay attention to them, remember the job, and be playful. I’ll simply get more done that way – without even trying. Because I’m not working: I’m playing.

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Who Cares What Color Their Eyes Are?

Really – who the hell cares what color their eyes are? Heck, most of us don’t even remember the color of our own spouse’s eyes. I think they are sort of a grey green and mostly I remember that because she told me and it’s important when picking out colors for her to wear. When I meet a person I don’t say “gee, it was nice to meet Bob, he had brown eyes.” I don’t remember people by their eye color or their hair color or their height; unless it’s unusual for some reason. So why is it so many writers write lines like this:

Darkly handsome Antonio, with bronzed biceps and chiseled jaw, gazed deeply into Allura’s violet eyes, so big and moist, fringed with thick luxuriant black lashes.

Yawn.

I’m pretty much done with a book right there, aren’t you? This kind of description tells us nothing except that the characters are artificially good-looking and probably going to be one dimensional. I bet he’s sardonic and prone to misunderstanding the heroine until he takes her roughly, and she’s rebellious and spunky, but she’ll yield in the end.

Writing the introduction for a character that starts with a physical description is, generally, a pretty good signal that whatever follows will be clichéd and hackneyed. Yet I have seen decent young writers make this mistake and follow it with a ripping yarn. They’re going to be fortunate indeed if they can get away with this and expect someone to keep reading. I don’t know about you but nothing about the color of the heroines eyes tell me much about her personality, and eyes simply are not windows on the soul. You can’t see anything in their depths. All the nuances of expression we human beings observe in each other is caused by hundreds of muscles in the face causing the skin around eyes and brows to crinkle and furrow, the turn of a mouth. Body language is a whole body affair and so the tilt of a shoulder, the jut of a hip, or a slouched back is telling us more than a study of an iris.

Here is a great quick sketch of a person:

He is not a guy who cares a lot about how he looks, unless he cares a lot about appearing not to care. He has angular eyebrows, and tousled hair. His disposition was serene, but you could sense a prickly, Jesuitical undercurrent coursing beneath it. He speaks softly with a gentle Texas twang.

No hair color there, no eye color either, but you get a real sense of a living breathing person with personality. I took this quote from a description of Whole Foods CEO John Mackey by Nick Paumgarten in the January 4, 2010, issue of The New Yorker. The writer has picked out some salient features because they stand out and they tell us more about John Mackey than a mere physical description. After reading the article I know a lot about Mackey but not a thing about the color of his eyes. Tousled hair: he’s not fastidious about his appearance. Angular eyebrows: gives him an intense look that accents what the author said about the prickly undercurrent underneath the serene casual appearance. Speaks softly? As Whole Foods CEO he’s knows people are listening. He doesn’t have to shout.

Here is how F. Scott FitzGerald describes his tragic hero Jay Gatsby for the first time:

He smiled understandingly – much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced – or seemed to face – the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just so far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey. Precisely at that point it vanished – and I was looking at an elegant young rough-neck, a year or two over thirty, whose elaborate formality of speech just missed being absurd. Some time before he introduced himself I’d got a strong impression he that he was picking his words with care.

No idea what color his eyes are – well probably he’s blond and blue-eyed and that’s because he was portrayed by Robert Redford in the movie, old sport. This description, that concentrates so much on the smile and how it affected our narrator, while seeming spare in physical details actually tells us a great deal about Gatsby. He’s self-made, very self-conscious, and yet he has a gift of making someone feel very special. Gatsby himself is very concerned with the external: his appearance, his speech, his house, but at the core there seems to be something empty. This image of Gatsby is then amplified and then drawn to its tragic ending throughout the rest of the book. Even more cunningly FitzGerald doesn’t even introduce Gatsby until he’s fueled our interest in through several chapters of mystery and gossip about the elusive Gatsby.

The fact that the movie version tends to stick in the mind of anyone that has seen and read the book is another good example of what it really shouldn’t matter what color your heroine’s eyes are. Casting Robert Redford as Gatsby was an admirable choice because his boyish good looks, so blond, really mirror FitzGerald’s characterization of his protagonist. Movies are a visual medium that need to make the choice about exactly what a person looks like whereas books do not. But once that choice has been made it becomes fixed in the mind. I cannot read The Great Gatsby without seeing Robert Redford but if I had read the book prior to the movie I might see a dark Gatsby, a small Gatsby, a burly Gatsby. My own mind would add details to the important clues that FitzGerald has drawn me and this internalized version of Gatsby would hold far more meaning to me than one created for me of whole cloth.

If you do end up picking an eye color or hair color for your heroine or hero it should mainly be a detail for your own imagination, and unless there is a pressing reason otherwise, probably isn’t important for your reader. How many times have you heard a person exclaim over the movie version of one of their favorite reads that the director got it all wrong? It clashes with their own internalized version of the story. What the author does is paint enough of a picture to grab their reader’s imagination and desire to know about the character, and then the reader fills in the rest, creating a truly original symbiotic relationship between writer and reader. You need to know more about your characters than you write down, and what you end up giving the reader should be revealing of their inner nature, what makes them unique, not what color their eyes are. Better you should tell us just how they organize their sock drawer.


Why I Blog Less So I Can Write More

I have noticed that my blog postings are getting fewer and farther between – even the ‘easy’ ones where I repost already written fiction from my collaborative writing community. It’s pretty hard to maintain a good blog. Anyone that says “you need a blog” is making a suggestion that has merit, but also entails a whole butt load of work. There is the essential component of having a good idea that hasn’t been covered to death, then finding something to say abut that idea that hasn’t been said five billion other times in the exact same way, and then the craft of writing the piece. Once you’ve done that you have to do it all over again, maybe not immediately, but certainly within a timely fashion; say, once every couple of days.

For some people that process can take days right there. And if you’re an expert on something, or even just trying to be informative and give people value for their click, there is all the research that many topics entail. Oh – and you have to do all the links, the attributions, the editing, the keywords, and maybe even a nice little summary. Of course you’re trying to stand out too so you’ll grab hold of some images to pepper your writing with and catch the wandering eye and short attention span of your target audience. You need to promote your blog, post the link on Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, and perhaps Digg It, or Technorati it, and at the end of the day, after you’ve checked all your stats to see your traffic a whole fifteen people might have checked you out.

And if you’re like me and you’re hoping that your blog will alert people to the fun of your true love and get them curious and you find that you’re not driving any traffic there, you gotta start wondering: is it worth all this damn trouble? You have to start asking yourself “why do I blog?”. If the answer is “to advertise” than maybe it’s just not all that useful after all. The standard advice for writers and other professionals is that you have to self-promote, self-promote, self-promote, but is that incredible cacophony of sound that is the world-wide-web really doing anyone any good?

On Twitter, which I actually enjoy for more than it’s potential to advertise my wares, the majority of people that follow me are bots looking to advertise products. All the ‘in the know’ blogs by the ‘smart people’ tell you not to be a bot, but give value, but even those value-laden pundits can become overwhelming and tedious. Link after link is advertised sending you off to sites that tell you how to market, how to create great ads in Photoshop, how to sell, how to write, how to yell louder than anyone else, and it’s all just becoming noise, noise, noise. And we all know what happens next: we drown it out. We tune it out, we drop out, we find a secluded beach somewhere.

The only things that really give value in this life are the things you’re passionate about. I’m passionate about Pan Historia. I’m passionate about gardening, writing, reading good books, good games, good food, art, the people I love, and so if I don’t have the passion to tell you something interesting on this blog – I’m not going to waste my time and yours by making sure I post every few days to keep my blog on the top of the list.


I’m Nearly Famous

I’m very pleased to be able to post that I was interviewed for another blog. Read about Pan Historia in the The National Networker blog. The folks that run that site are really friendly and I’m chuffed as all get out that they choose Pan Historia as a topic.


#WriteChat on Twitter

Right now I’m participating in #writechat – which is a rather cool Twitter phenomena. Every Sunday writers form a free-wheeling chat group in the Twitter stream that weaves in and out of other conversations. Topics are about writing: inspiration, mood, tips, techniques, publishing, etc. For those new or unfamiliar with Twitter, the chat/microblogging platform, hashtags are used to separate out topics and make them easily searchable. If you have software like the Tweetdeck on your computer you can actually create a ‘group’ for any topic you want to follow and it separates them out for you, regardless of whether you follow that person or not.

One of the recurring topics on #writechat is often how such conversations help inspire writing or writers. I don’t really find that to be true. Actually I tend to think of such activities as a bit of procrastination from the act of writing itself. After all if you’re reading a bunch of ‘tweets’ about writing and then jumping in yourself you can hardly be busy at work.

That said I still think it’s a very valuable tool. One of the reasons I’m a big fan of collaborative writing is that I’m a social animal. Traditionally writing has tended to be a lonely business with its fair share of misanthropes in its austere and often dusty ranks. Activities like #writechat connect up different writers to each other and shake out the cobwebs. So even though it doesn’t always lead me to more or better writing, I would be the last one to deny the benefits of just hanging out and getting to know other writers.

And for those that argue that they can see no point in Twitter it’s definitely one of the better uses of the application. It is an excellent Petri dish for meeting and breeding new writers and just one of the examples of how Twitter can be used in a good way to increase connections between people, rather than magnify the modern malaise of alienation, as many detractors of social media claim.


Jack of All Trades

“Jack of all trades, master of none.”

There is something compelling about being considered good at everything, and yet… I long to be a ‘master’ of my trade. The problem, for me, is my own nature. Neither side of my brain seems entirely dominant, and the entire world is full of wonderful things I want to do. Having started a new job my head is now full of botanical genus and species and tables of environmental requirements and micro climates.

I’m in the middle of a re-structure of my volunteer staff system at the community interactive fiction and role-play site I own and run. The ins and outs of refocusing people to create an even livelier and more community orientated site is a highly creative and rewarding task for me. Dealing with all the different personality types is challenging but in a really good way.

I still have a ton of little programming tasks to complete.

So when I sat down about fifteen minutes ago planning to write a little fiction for one of my collaborative novels I found myself unwilling. Over and over again I have pushed the agenda that to be a writer you need to write. Fortunately for me I have other outlets for my writing. Fiction is the left brain of my writing persona. Writing my blog or composing clearly written legible staff agreements that communicate my intent successfully is the right side of my writing self.

Writing is the one thing that I do that ties all the other areas together. Since my community site is online my only method of communication is through the written word. It has forced me to hone my skills. That, in turn, has synergistically impelled my fiction writing to new heights. Talking about any of my activities via my blog whether it be gardening, writing, or painting allows me to continue to sharpen my quill day by day.

The act of writing in all its forms has become essential to the core of me. I may be jack of all other trades, but in the end I aspire to be master of one. Wait … what does that remind me of?

One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

Bwahaha!


Taking Notes … or not.

wyatt_if_only In my friend Jerry’s blog he talks about taking a notebook with him to write down inspiration. Humorously he mentions taking a pen next time. It made me think about some of my own efforts to record inspiration so I don’t lose it. It has, for me, often been a losing battle, and yet I still find much of my inspirations coming out in my writing as if by magic. I’m pretty sure that much is lost however.

I tend to lose notebooks and pens. I have, on numerous occasions, pledged to carry one with me. I have nearly a whole box full of journals, dream journals, and notebooks where only the first few pages have been written on. All of these were started with the intention of keeping notes for inspiration and practicing my writing. They all ended up in the slush pile of Wyatt’s lost and lonely things. My next plan was equally short-lived: I bought one of those little tape recorders so I could speak into it. Two problems came out of that one: I lost it, and I never transcribed the notes I did take.

I have been told over and over again to keep lists and take notes. I lose my lists or forget to take them with me. I have had some better success with notes for projects I’m working on, but eventually those notes, too, get lost and every time I start a new project it’s like starting from scratch. The only thing that saves me is the computer and not a laptop either. I’m talking about my big old honking pc. I can’t lose it because I can’t move it. Which reminds me I did see a guy bring his pc, monitor, and the whole kit and kaboodle to an internet café a few weeks back. That’s determination for you. Anyway back to me. When it comes to my computer I always know where it is. I can keep track of the notes I keep for myself in their little folders (search if I lose them), and suddenly a whole new world of organization was opened to me.

But what happens when I’m driving in my car or walking through the woods and an idea strikes me? Generally, if it’s any good, I try thinking about it a lot, repeating the words in my mind, and then I hope like hell it’s still floating around in my skull when I get back from my trip so I can jump on the computer and write it. More often than not I forget before I get home, or I have something else to do before I log onto the computer. Actually even the act of firing my programs can lose it for me as I start to read email, read tweets, or begin a discussion with someone online at my community site Pan Historia.

So what do you do to keep track of your inspirations and ideas? What works for you and what have you tried that didn’t work?