And Penelope writes, insanely, about her family’s stint as reality TV subjects. The comments are particularly interesting because they begin with some hapless, new reader scolding Penelope about grammar, and morph into all sorts of wooly silliness.
I’ve been giving writing workshops as much as possible lately because I love them. If you’re in Williamsport and you want to take an incredibly inexpensive workshop with me at Pennsylvania College of Technology, click here. I’m offering three that begin in about two weeks.
I always do group writing prompts in workshops. In fact, the Know Thy Characters workshop was more prompt than presentation. In my workshops at Penn College, we’ll do one prompt at every meeting. The first ten minutes of class. It gets us in the zone.
So I’m not here to tell you that you ALWAYS should write in a group. No no no.
I will tell you that it’s probably almost always better to write alone.
But here’s what happens for me whenever I write in a group, or even with one other person, or even spend a few hours (not writing) surrounded by other creative people:
1. The gates between my inner and outer life are opened for a bit.
It’s really easy to get too lost in my own head, to forget that there’s a rest of the world, and to remember that my ideas are generally best when I let them out of my mental vacuum.
2. The energy of other creative people comes in through the gates.
I never get more breakthroughs in my thinking about my writing writing than when I’m writing in a group. This is almost never a breakthrough in terms of phrase or diction, it’s an idea breakthrough. For example, I’d been having trouble with a character in my book, Delta. At Comic Con, when I was surrounded by creative people and taking part in this amazing buzz of enthusiasm and energy, Delta got an identity, or at least a skeleton of an identity.
3. I surprise myself.
This is going to sound egomaniacal, but I surprise myself a lot in general. I think that’s in large part because whenever I am alone, I am convinced that I’m an uncreative loser with nothing to contribute. So whenever I have a great blog day or a big idea, I am surprised. The ways in which I surprise myself whenever I write in a group are different. I get these brilliant phrases and I think, “I don’t write that well.” It’s attributable to the open gates thing, and to the fact that whenever I write in workshops, I do it with a pen on paper and not–where I do most of my writing–at the keyboard.
And Here’s What I’ve Noticed for my Students:
1. They surprise themselves!
I’m using the Comic Con Workshop as an example because it’s the most recent, but this kind of stuff has always happened. The writers who came to my workshop were all over the place in terms of their ages and writing achievements and ambitions. I had very young students all the way up to adult students who were teachers themselves. One guy found out that his villain wasn’t really a villain. Another was surprised that her hero was more like a villain.
2. They get more out of the workshop.
People are accustomed to getting droned at. Sometimes, you can watch their brains shut off in their faces as they walk into a classroom. Writing prompts, engaging in a creative process with other people, opens them up again. Even if you only follow the prompt with one question, and that question is as lame as, “What did you think of that prompt?”, the students are re-engage and contribute more. This engagement and contribution increases as the workshop proceeds.
3. They get inspired.
The day I gave my workshop at WCC was my best weekend blog day to date. Where I normally have 20 or fewer views on a weekend day I don’t post, Saturday of WCC I had almost 100. People were looking for my workshop. So that’s one action, but another–and one that I’m sure happened, and may still be happening–is that the folks had big ideas that have helped to propel their stories. Some of them even told me that they never thought about loving their characters before, especially their villains, and they seemed jubilant about it.
So do you want to get inspired? Come to my workshop. The ones at Penn College will be a ton more involved than the one provided here, and I won’t be using Powerpoint (at least not all the time).
It’s true of blogging, too. I decided about 2 months back that it was time to try to take this blog to the next level.
As I began to read about others’ ideas about blogging, things have more-or-less fallen into place.
Here are a few highlights of the things that have set the ball in motion for this blog, and for my future as a person who makes a living doing social media:
1. I finally focused. Not hyperfocus or microfocus, but I figured out what I write about most often, watched my hits by varying post types, and paid attention to tweets & retweets & comments.
2. I’ve got a schedule–sort of. A loose one anyhow. I (almost) always write for my blog first thing in the morning, and I post at least 5 days a week. I don’t find this to be terribly difficult, but some folks would and do. You do what works for you, okay?
3. I am a read like a crazy person–at least one blog post or resource a day. It’s paying off.
1. Reorganize and purge my categories and labels.
2. Get some material in he hopper for weeks I have big projects.
3. Post two reports for sale (hopefully by end of April): one on How to Start a writers’ group (post on the topic on Friday), and one on verb tenses. Both inexpensive and well worth it.
4. Figure out some kind of email subscription service (a la feedburner) and do a newsletter.
5. Post a survey. That’s next. If you read here regularly, or if you’re in new blog love, please take eight seconds to click your answer or write one. I don’t feel like I have to ask people to vote if they hate it, because haters like to hate.
279 Days to Overnight Success is an amazing resource. And it’s free. Read it. That’s all. Any type of blogger with any goals would benefit from the 12,000 words (which is not a huge time committment, either).
Stanford at Pushing Social writes a lot about how to use blogging to build your own business or brand. I find some of his tips to be too sales-y for me, but he is not over-the-top.
Penelope’s advice about blogging which was the first place I went. That was not–though I do love Penelope–100% all the best advice for me. You really have to find what works for you, what’ll make you feel like doing your blog. Now, I’d say about in the middle of my journey, I’m reaching a spot where I synthesize the voices I hear. Pluck some advice from one, and other advice from another.
My Name Is Not Bob is Robert Lee Brewer’s blog. RLB is an editor at Writer’s Digest which is a terrific publication. He writes about other stuff, too, but his thoughts about social media for writers tend to be more about sharing than about bossing you around. I dig that.
Copyblogger is more about the business of copywriting and web marketing. But they’ve got loads of free info on SEO and Keyword stuff that I’ve been meaning to get back to.
Brian A Klems is one of the bloggers and editors for Writer’s Digest. Most of the time I dislike his posts, but this one is truly excellent, and a pretty solid distillation of all the best blogging advice.
Resources for Writers, Novelists, Self-published, and Wannabes
A note here: You can tell when these various folks have done their due diligence about blogging and are doing it well. Reading at these sites–though they are not as universally well-blogged or well-designed as above, sometimes they didn’t have to because their readers came before their blogs–can be educational on the point of what looks most professional or badass.
Justine Musk writes about creativity and authorship and being a badass. I really dig her.
My friend Jamie writes about being an editor. She gives great tips about excellent stuff to read, writing pitfalls and grammar issues to avoid, and has a generally enjoyable voice & aesthetic.
Julianna Baggott’s blog is probably weighted heavily toward being more entertainment than advice, but she does have an advice to writers section that she updates whenever she posts on the topic. Always, the posts are beautifully written.
The Rumpus is great. I haven’t spent enough time there, but there’s a lot of entertaining, smart writing. Entertaining, smart writing is good stuff to know about if you wanna be a writer.
Kristen Lamb’s blog is all about writing and authorship. Her voice is also spunky and fun. My favorite thing she’s doing right now is her series of posts called “Don’t Eat the Butt!” It’s about bad–but prevalent–advice to writers and how to avoid being bogged down.
Tomorrow is the Weeks to Geek post. It’s going to be a little bit headier than you’re used to, but the whole component of the event that’s for librarians has gone–so far–unmentioned in the press & on this blog. And well, I’ve always been a softy for the underdog.
My journalism studies stopped abruptly after my first semester of college when I realized that my true love is fiction & writing it. So after–or perhaps it was during–my second semester, I did a ninety degree turn and switched from Journalism to English with a Creative Writing concentration.
I spent most of the glorious next four years swimming in the ocean of literature, criticism, contemporary fiction, and writing. I dropped the Oxford Comma habit, then picked it up again when I ditched MLA for Chicago Manual.
Now, ten years later, I find myself as a practicing journalist. Would those lovey journalism professors I scorned during my energetic and immersed first year of college be proud of me, or would they think I’m a poser? I feel like a poser.
I write hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of words each week for newspapers and magazines, and am in hot pursuit of more of this work using my trusty manual, Writer’s Market, and the online service, too. These are invaluable for the freelance writer.
And while all of the editors I work with seem to esteem me and my work somewhere between pleased and just-glad-to-have-a-reliable-freelancer, I keep finding and being offered more of this work, so I must be doing something right.
The jargon eludes me sometimes (though I cheat), and there are many aspects of AP Style that strike me as particularly un-stylish.
I’m kind of devastated by the realities of the print media business, and I am knees-deep in something that feels, in many ways, to be almost dead. Rasping halted breaths after the world wide web and free content bludgeons it, print media is living paycheck-to-paycheck.
Nobody is paid well enough (especially not freelancers), and in the barren economic environment–or in the failure of print media to adequately prepare for and adapt to new media–the dearth of analysis and criticism that print media can afford its subjects contributes to the general disregard for critical thinking that is all too prevalent.
Still, I love talking to people and learning new stuff. I love to do research and procure a working understanding of new topics. And for the Williamsport Sun-Gazette (that I’m not linking here because every time you open their website, you get popups from Publisher’s Clearing House or Netflix), I get to talk to artists and musicians primarily, and I’ve met some excellent people, and learned about some groovy new tunes. I’ve also talked to some Broadway celebs and authors I admire or respect.
But, I live in Williamsport, PA. And while there’s tons of stuff that’s happening here that’s amazing, it’s not New York, Chicago, LA, or even Nashville. We get d-list celebrities and Glenn Beck. Besides which, freelancers for small-town newspapers don’t really get to talk to the national acts (which is totally understandable and I am NOT complaining), and even when I do get to talk to national acts, it’s not like they’re folks who’re up-and-coming. American Songwriter probably doesn’t want a piece about Foghat. And the two pitches I’ve made for singer/songwriters that I thought would work there have been handily ignored. (Again, not complaining. Rejection is a reality of a career as a writer)
And in this huge Wildcat Comic Con project, I’m meeting even more cool people and learning even more cool stuff. Ditto my podcasting for Billtown Blue Lit. And these are up-and-comers. So I’m hoping to mine a goodly number of pitches from this work.
But I find myself wondering why I expend so much energy and get paid so poorly (or not at all) when the likelihood that this work (or more of it) will still be available for me in even two years is slim. Staff writers are more-or-less a thing of a bygone age, with staff writers having made a laborious transition to being called editors and getting paid less to do more work, so I don’t delude myself. I am an apprentice to an industry that won’t be able to provide for my retirement.
So I mostly view this work as personal enrichment, and building a solid base of published pieces that I can leverage into better-paying gigs, plus writing practice because (say it with me), All Writing Is Writing Practice!
(I am also considering applying to graduate school again. Don’t tell Penelope.)
Too, I’m getting my name into the world, on the internet, and the more people who know about me, who see my name in conjunction with things they enjoy, the greater my odds of being offered freelance writing work of any stripe.
Here we go. Those of you on whom I bestow this award, your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to pass this award along to 15 other bloggers, and share 7 things about yourself that your readers may (or may not) know. You can read mine here.
A note about my awards: I am first awarding to people like me–or better than me, but not so much better than me that they won’t participate and re-award. These account for about half. I’m including Justine Musk in this category because I have a small suspicion that she would view this kind of thing as big fun, and participate to prove that she’s not too big time. The rest will be blogs I think it is essential for you to read, but by people or organizations who are so awesome that my blog is not even on their radar, or if it is, they are really freaking busy doing all the stuff that their big-time public lives allow or require of them, so they will probably not be paying this award forward.
I hereby award this Versatile Blogger Award to (drum roll):
1. Marc Schuster: Marc’s blog is informative and writerly. He tells good stories. Go forth, friends, and read him. And buy his books.
2. Becoming Cliche: This woman is really funny. And her blog is inspiring because she does, indeed, post every single day, and she uses strikethrough to great effect.
3. This is me not awarding to Solomonian, since she hasn’t posted since she got a job. But before she became employed, her blog posts were one of the joyful parts of my day.
4. Jamie Clarke Chavez is my newest cyber-acquaintance, and it turns out, we are the same person separated by about 1,000 miles and an undisclosed number of years. Seriously, why would you even ask? Jamie is wonderful, so much so I’m excited to meet her in person, and will travel to do so. So I’m hereby extending the scope of this blogging award to include exceptional social media cheerleading, friendship, and food love.
6. Justine Musk. This is the kind of blog I can get lost in for hours. Her writing is delicious and she is legitimately a generous soul topped with an excellent mind.
7. Penelope Trunk is inspiring and smart and obnoxious and she home schools her kids. I love her. I write about how much all the time. Doubt me? Go ahead, plug her into the search bar over there. She’s easily the most-linked person here.
8. Julianna Baggott is smart and incredibly prolific. She’s like 40, and she’s written 17 books, some of poetry, most novels. Her blog is lovely and she is so thoughtful & generous with her time and thoughts.
9. Jane Friedman‘s blog provides amazing insight into the publishing industry, what thinking people are saying about authorship, social media, new media, etc. She collects voices. My blog is not 100% off her radar, since she has published a couple of my posts on her blog, but she is really busy. And really inspiring in her ability to get stuff done.
10. Copy Blogger is a great place to learn how to do any and all of the following & more: market yourself as a writer, build a platform, use SEO, use social media, find copywriting work, etc, etc. Very helpful. Not maybe for all of you, but there’s a lot of stuff there that can be applicable to anybody using social media for business–not necessarily all writing projects & work.
I am living just now in that not-space in my mind where all the things I want to say are blurred together, a smear, not distinct from itself or other smears. There are smears for the grand things I have not done yet, like buy a star for Child’s menarche, or spend a month on another continent. For the mundane things like taking out trash and doing laundry that I have also not done.
Because I have, all day, swallowed mucous and made hot tea and thought about things, but remained mostly inert.
So instead of attempting to say anything reasonable to you in my muted capacity, I will make some links to things I read today and yesterday that made me happy, and to some nice music that made me sad.
The Rumpus is a great place to get sucked in reading for hours. This particular post made me really happy, and when I sat down to write for you today, I almost wrote a mimicry of this. But my brain would not cooperate. Go forth and read. And smile. And then write your own list. That is my assignment for you. Post it in the comments or on your own blog and post a link in my comments.
Last night, Fella and I watched “Hilarious” by Louis C.K. I could tell it was recent because of the jokes, but a little light came on as he repeated over and again about how he’s 41. (The thing was filmed in 2010, LCK was born in 1967 according to IMDb)
I thought, “Hum. I think he’s around the same age as Tina Fey.” She’s a 1970 kid.
Then I thought, “Penelope’s in her early 40s, too!”
So all my favorite public figures, with whom I most identify, and whose success I most aspire to emulate, are in their early-to-mid 40s (Penelope was born in 66, so that makes her 45 for some part of this year).
I think the reason I love these three is because they all have kids my kid’s age, and their public life is informed by that. Also, they’re all funny/self-deprecating, smart, and embrace their natural appearance, keeping the plastic parts to a minimum.
So I’m in my early 30s, and the three people I most covet a lunch date with are at least 10 years older. What does that mean?
I have some ideas.
1. Either I am less prone to aborting unwanted fetuses, or worse at birth control than they are.
2. I’m reversing that 30 is the new 20 thing–30 is the new 40.
3. Tina, Louis, and Penelope are all extremely immature, or, spending ALL of one’s 20s and part of one’s 30s not being a parent is awesome for your soul.
4. My soul is ahead of its time.
5. I should have been a teenager, not a child, during the 80s. I could’ve been awkward, acned, and rapaciously horny at the same time I wore pink spandex pants with an oversized glitter kitty t-shirt.