Anthologize This

I am a human typo.

September 26, 2014 at 10:13am
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avowed

Today, I found the word “avowed” in a quick revision I typed up. I don’t even know what “avowed” means and I’ve never used it before in my life.

September 16, 2014 at 4:46pm
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The Rise of the Click, The Fall of the Writer

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In the past few months, I noticed my local alternative newspaper, City Pages (a midwestern Village Voice-owned publication) seemed… different. The stories had switched from news and events to Buzzfeed-style lists I’d never seen in that paper before. Things like like “11 Reasons Your Bartender Hates You” and “7 Reasons Your Waiter Hates You” later the same week. The change was so dramatic that I actually looked on LinkedIn to see if the editor had changed.  Indeed, the editor-in-chief had been fired, and recently replaced with a Village Voice bigwig from the East Coast. While I was there, I decided to give the former editor a short message, telling him that I didn’t appreciate the good work he did with the paper until he was gone, and that I missed the way things used to be.

There must have been some changes going on internally with City Pages. I noticed an editor tweeting about looking for writers. When I inquired, I learned that she was offering $20 per article, which I thought was a little low for a publication that everyone in the city knows by name, and that probably gets more buzz than the actual city paper. I never heard from that editor again, but the great editorial shift continued. They began splitting up popular stories across multiple articles. A single interview with an up-and-coming local business owner was published in two parts (which I hope meant $40 for the writer). Simultaneously, the paper began doggedly following any controversy around restaurant tip policy, perpetually rekindling the ever-popular internet debate over whether or not the tip system should be abolished altogether. It was pretty clear what was happening, my paper was specifically pushing articles that attracted traffic, and milked them for every sweet click they could.

With all the criticism around the practice of “click baiting”, it seems that even [once-]respected journalistic publications are moving into a grey area in which they sacrifice quality content for traffic and, ultimately, revenue. By splitting up one popular story into two articles, a paper doubles the traffic flow for the same (honestly pretty small) amount of content. By generously peppering news with thoughtless just-for-fun lists like “How to Order Coffee without Sounding Like a Tool”, the newspaper attracts the bored epicurean, maybe, for a moment. So when all clicks are equal, what is the incentive to publish original writing that actually matters?

It’s not exactly abhorrent, considering how cutthroat the fight for traffic is these days, and with the steep decline of printed and local news. Is the future of journalism a landscape in which traffic is the sole measure of success, where editors will do whatever it takes for a click? Will we reach a critical mass in which people begin to demand in-depth, skillful writing? Or are we just now learning that the public never cared if the writing was good or not in the first place?

July 20, 2014 at 6:22pm
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Reblogged from theparisreview

I’ve only spent ten percent of my energies on writing. The other ninety went to keeping my head above water.

— Katherine Anne Porter (via theparisreview)

July 7, 2014 at 9:38pm
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I think this is done. 
But I can’t tell because I don’t know what it feels like to finish something.

I think this is done.

But I can’t tell because I don’t know what it feels like to finish something.

July 6, 2014 at 8:30pm
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Wanting/Taking

I got my hair cut on Thursday.

I’d seen this stylist before, but it had been a while. He told me I was lucky to catch him, because he will be leaving Minnesota in two weeks to go back to New York City. He said that he thought he’d be happy back in Minnesota, where he was born, but a number of people from his past kept calling him with increasingly enticing offers. Finally, this month, he ended up with five offers he said he absolutely could not turn down.

I told him I envied his life. I asked about how he started, and he told me that he moved to Milan upon graduating school, working mostly illegally until the Italian government caught on and sent him back to the US. By then he had already met his important contacts, and found himself unknowingly doing hair for the editor of Harper’s Bazaar. Days later, he received an unexpected phonecall asking him to be at the Yves Saint Laurent fashion show in an hour.

It’s been about 4 days since he told me his life story, and I feel like it’s been staying with me. I have only a passing interest in fashion, but something about the travel, the freedom and the fast pace of his life excited me. I thought I could be pursuing his life, but instead here I am in my entry-level office job. And I can’t help but think that if I took the plunge, then I would be there in time.

I have friend who work in retail and restaurants still, like I once did. And they envy my cushy, hip office job. I’m not better than them. I didn’t do anything they can’t do. I’ve even sent them links to other jobs they would like, jobs that seemed perfect for them. They never apply for those jobs and continue to tell me that they envy my life.

I think it must work the same way for me. I think that only those who receive are those who ask. And I haven’t been doing anything lately. I think about the people I work with, and it occurs to me that they don’t want what I want out of life, and yet I put myself on the same career path as them. That doesn’t make sense, does it?

June 5, 2014 at 5:01pm
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Yes, Adults Should Be Embarrassed to Read Young Adult Books →

I hadn’t thought about this at all, but she brings up some good points. Though some YA brings up some really complex ideas, questions and explorations, they shouldn’t be new to adults.

I dunno!

May 25, 2014 at 7:09pm
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Writers: To Get Better at Writing, Stop Trying to Improve Your Prose

I once sat in a coffee shop for a reading in which a writer read for 30 minutes (the longest reading I’ve ever sat through from a person who has never been published before) from her novel-in-progress. Let me give you a summary of her excerpt:

  • She had just moved to a new city and was lonely.
  • Her boyfriend had just broken up with her and she was heartbroken.
  • She was so depressed she could only manage to wear one big sweater, leggings and cowboy boots.
  • She felt bored at her job as a writer (and yes, she was a professional writer in real life).

The excerpt included some beautiful imagery of laughing amongst dandelions, sunsets, nighttime breezes, inanimate objects “dancing”, and fingertips brushing against things. It was all very elegant and inspirational, but after the first 10 minutes, we all slowly began to realize that she was several pages deep and nothing had happened. There was yet to a scene with a beginning or an end, and all she had done was describe nonlinear moments with no apparent purpose to them. In other words, there was no story.

If you’ve taken writing classes or have worked with other writers, then you’ve probably encountered many talented writers who made you question what the hell you think you’re doing in even attempting to write. While it’s true that there are many people in the world who can’t write worth a damn, it’s also true that it’s not at all hard to find someone who is a very good writer. So I’ll posit this: writing great prose is easy. High schoolers can do it. If you want to sit back and critically look at ways to improve your writing, you have to ignore your prose and focus on something else.

In my personal opinion, great prose is only 25% of the battle.

I think prose is one of the first things readers pick up on. One striking sentence is all it takes for someone to tell you you’re a great writer. So I think that’s how many of us started writing — didn’t we all start by writing a couple descriptive paragraphs of a scene or a feeling? But how long is a reader willing to admire your way with words before they want something to happen? If your prose is only satisfying 25% of your reader’s expectations, they aren’t going to turn the page. And if you’re 17 years old when someone tells you you’re a great writer, then you can leave the prose on the backburner for a while and develop everything else that goes into writing.

So what is the other 75%? Depends of the writer, of course. It’s probably a mixture of pacing, characterization, having a good premise, and a number of other things. But whenever I read masterworks, I can’t help but notice flawless structure. To me, structure is a great place to start honing your skills, because it’s something that is concrete and therefore easy to analyze and observe. And once mastered and paired with your command of prose, it might just be the fastest route to a complete story that captures peoples’ interest.

Try this: take a short story, figure out its conclusion, and go through every paragraph, marking how the paragraph relates to the story’s conclusion. Of course, not every story works for this exercise, and many brilliant authors break this kind tight structure, but it’s still worth your time to learn. (That should really go without saying for every piece of writing advice.)

One eye-opening exercise for me was when I did that to Kevin Brockmeier’s “The Ceiling” (it’s in your Scribner!). As I noted how each paragraph moved the story forward, it became clear that every single sentence in that story is an arrow pointing directly to the story’s final sentence. So, while many pedestrians — and a fair number of writers — insist that we artists are at least a little bit in the business of gilding lilies, you can show them one randomly chosen story in which every sentence is something like a cog in a machine. Essential, cohesive, functional, and always moving forward.

So, if you’re trying to get better as a writer, my advice is to to stop questioning whether or not your prose is good. It is, okay? Set that aside and study your storytelling. Are you the girl in the coffeeshop throwing beautiful ideas and lovely descriptions, or is your story written with purpose and clarity? Study how your story moves and flows. If you get a good handle on a tight, focused structure, then I think you truly are in the top echelon of writers.

The best part is that it’s almost mathematical and can be learned. It’s up to you to sit down and do the work.

April 22, 2014 at 2:33pm
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Save this for later: 25 books every writer should read. →

The hard work, the MFA vs. NYC debate, the negativity, the importance of a good Twitter account, the parties you have to go to, the readings you have to do, people you should meet, the agents you need to impress — amid all the different ways writers have found to obsess over what it takes to be successful, we sometimes forget the most important thing of all: great writers need to be great readers.

You can’t read everything, but once you’ve moved past all of the totally obvious titles, considering adding these 25 titles to your TBR pile. They’re excellent examples of so many different ways that novels, short stories, poems, essays, and creative nonfiction can be done. For writers, this list could serve as something of a syllabus; for those who just want something new to read, it offers a chance to step out of your comfort zone and try a few new ideas and formats on for size.

But this list is far from complete: tell us in the comments which books you would add to it.

April 11, 2014 at 10:54am
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LEVELER →

I can’t help you with poetry. I can’t help myself with poetry. I don’t know how it works and I can’t give any feedback on poems. I can’t write poems because I wouldn’t be able to tell if it is good or how to make it better.

Leveler is an online journal the posts poems, but you can also open a column that displays an explanation from the editors as to why the poem works.  Maybe I’ll be able to learn a thing or two.

February 7, 2014 at 12:05am
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Speaking of Thought Catalog

Do you think people ever write parodies of Thought Catalog articles for the purpose of getting them published in Thought Catalog? There are so many possibilities.

Possible Thought Catalog Articles:

  1. What Eating Kale Feels Like
  2. 31 Reasons I Parted My Hair The Other Way Yesterday, But Not Today
  3. Dear People Who Believe In Things, Shut Up
  4. Why It’s Actually Much Harder To Be Beautiful
  5. I Know The Doctor Said Your Erectile Dysfunction Is A Medical Issue, But I Can’t Help But Take It Personally
  6. 41 Reasons Why Lists Are Easier To Write Than An Actual Essay
  7. What Racism Means To Me, A White Person
  8. What Wearing Corduroy Pants, A Western Shirt, A Hoodie, Denim Jacket, Glasses And Chukka Boots Feels Like
  9. 94 Reasons I’m Over My Ex-Boyfriend
  10. An Ode To Bearded Men With Half-Sleeves

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