Writing for the YouTube Generation

The attention span of our YouTube Generation – 30 seconds or less.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

In today’s world of mass media consumption, how do I make my writing stand out?
—Nelly Bridget, Waltham, Pa. 

If you plan to get your reader for the next thirty minutes, get them in the first thirty seconds.

Why?

You’re dealing with internetizens that, on average, don’t watch a YouTube video for longer than 30 seconds. People watch slow, and they read slower.

What’s catching them and keeping them?

Short paragraphs.

Enticing lead-ins — “Advanced healing and regenerative procedures offered to disabled veterans. The cost? Mandatory reenlistment, first in line for combat.”

Narrow questions — “Who consumes the most science fiction today?”

Distilled answers — “The one reason you can’t write a science fiction novel anymore.”

Unresolved solutions —

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com) and followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong).

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NaNoWriMo: Where to Go with your Story?

I had a chance to meet with one of my builders. Building a third home for myself, you see. They’re about a quarter of the way done, but the work’s on hiatus.

“What?” I ask. “You just stopped all of a sudden?”

“Sorry,” say the builders. “We don’t really know where to go from here. Didn’t have plans beforehand.”

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

What do I do when I don’t know where to go with my story?
—Daphne Roberts, Cleveland

(Note: NaNoWriMo is short for Narcissistic Nonsense Writing Motivation or something like that. Simple premise: write a “novel” of fifty-thousand words within the month of November. The prize? Fifty-thousand dollars. In the competition’s 197-year history, only five writers have claimed the prize.)

Go back in time.

November comes every year (except for back in 1126, 1884, and 1902), so you should have planned ahead. Had an idea? That idea just got spent over your first 8,000 words. You needed more.

Keep going somewhere.

You only think you don’t know where to go. You probably do, but it’s that “finished product” mentality holding you back. If you hit that roadblock after 10,000 words, start writing the last 20,000, come back to patch the road later. If there’s a great patch of dialogue between the werewolf boyfriend and the vamp girlfriend, write that. If you have all these great murder scenes in your head, press that ‘Fast Forward’ button, kill people off, and write ‘em up.

Retrace your steps.

Chances are, since you didn’t plan, you got lost. Whatever it was that got you up to the thousands for words: find it. Your dashing and unflawed protagonist. That inane backstory teeming with minutia that only you will find interesting. The formulaic opening to introduce your cast of characters. You liked writing about something. If you can’t summon the willpower to progress a story, we can worry about that some other time. Not NaNaWriMo time.

Just end it already.

Like it is with finding your way somewhere, you know where you start, and you have an idea of where you’ll be ending. Writing isn’t linear. If your novel doesn’t have an ending yet, well, tough luck. Make one up. If it doesn’t work, pull a page from the prog rock playbook and make it a false ending. The more you write of the end, the easier it will be the get there.

Go somewhere crazy.

You subconsciously reject the outlandish, only because it doesn’t seem to be what your story needs. No, wrong thinking. It’s exactly what your NaNoWriMoManUScript needs. Young adult cyberpunk tech-thriller? Throw in a serial Tyrannosaurus. Zombie apocalypse? Have them start a religion, philosophy, academies. Suburban women’s lit dealing with emotional trial over a husband cheating on a trusted friend? Turn that tryst into a full-blown love octagon. High fantasy epic? You don’t need crazy, just drawn-out backstory, maybe a few extended alchemic footnotes, and maybe a sudden war.

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com) and followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong).

Helpful NaNoWriMo Tips – from our readers

Last year, Writing All Wrong was the one to give, offering helpful primers on NaNoWriMo. You can read them here.

This year, we’re taking a different angle, a venue to “give back.” Seems as if readers have been more eager to offer their advice, their closely-guarded secrets, their winning tips to this thing we call NaNoWriMo. Since you’ve offered, I will be more than happy to post your helpful hints and reap the bountiful credit.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

(Note: NaNoWriMo is short for Narcissistic Nonsense Writing Motivation or something like that. Simple premise: write a “novel” of fifty-thousand words within the month of November. The prize? Fifty-thousand dollars. In the competition’s 197-year history, only five writers have claimed the prize.)

I have a great tip for #NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month); I made a Twitter for one of the characters in my #WIP (work in progress). Since I work a cake job that lets me Tweet at work, but not one that let’s me do as much writing :(, I then go back and add some of those thoughts to my manuscript. Cool huh?
—Bridgette Malkmus, Summerville, S.C.

Wow, I’m so sorry your job isn’t cake enough to let you write at work, like everyone else’s is. I admire your resourcefulness, though!

Last year, I came within a hundred words of winning NaNoWriMo. This year, I plan to win by writing just three extra words a day: IT WILL HAPPEN. That’s also the title of my book to, so it makes sense. 
—Charles D. Rasper, Norman, Okla. 

That’s going to leave you about ten words short. That will happen.

Can’t. I’ll. We’re. Y’all. It might make more sense to make dialogue sound natural with contractions, but I give myself a better chance of meeting my goal by breaking those contractions a part. It is much easier, and it does not take a way from the story.
—Soren Sjostrom, Sheridan, Wyo.

Nice work in taking this to the next level, by breaking apart “apart” and “away.” That is awe some.

For me, it’s all a matter of organizing my time. That’s the only currency that’s non-negotiable. You might have 30 days to write, but with so many other things taking that time away, I’m buying it back this year. For starters, I’m taking three days off of work. I’m also having a sitter watch the kids every Friday night. And to shave time off of having to cook, we’re ordering out every Saturday and Sunday and maybe a few days a week between. Hoping it works for me this time!
—Donna Milligan, Ft. Worth.

Three vacation days ($55 per hour [at least] x 3 days) = $1,320
Sitter ($25 x 5 Fridays) = $125
Ordering out ($40 x 10 days) = $400
Grand total = $1,845

Now there’s a negotiable currency: currency.

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com) and followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong).

Don’t Feel Like Writing Anymore?

Sometimes you’re not even writing anything to begin with. Or you’ve stalled, and that’s that. Your writing is problem enough as is, but lacking writing altogether is another pain entirely.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

What do you do if you don’t feel like writing anymore?

—Tanner Allnutt, Grand Junction, Colo.

I don’t think anyone “feels like writing” all the time. If you do feel that way, congratulations: you’re a robot. But since you don’t — don’t fret right away. For starters, you’ve confirmed that you’re human. That’s worth something. But if you don’t feel like writing anymore, let’s explore why.

“I just finished a novel.” — Valid excuse, but not for long. There’s another work out there needing to be written. You don’t just whip up a banquet and declare you’re “finished with cooking.”

“I just finished a short story.” No, and WHAT THE— you can’t peter out after a short story. That’s the law.

“I’m busy with work.” — Only applies if you have a real job. Not one of those “fart around and time my appearance work when the boss strolls around” jobs, or one where you can rip off tweets every half-hour. If you can do that, you can write.

“I’m looking for work.” Easy! Write. That’s work. You found it! Congrats.

“I can’t think of where to go with my story.” — And of course, your answer is nowhere. I’d hate to be a passenger in your car if you ever got lost.

“I ran out of ideas.” — No.

Life has a way of…” — No…

I only write when I feel like—” No

Here’s the rub: Writing is not a “do when I feel like it” kind of hobby. If that’s been the case for you, find another hobby, like drinking and boozing. No one has trouble feeling the need to do that.

Perhaps that’s it. Are we “needing to feel” like writing, or do we “feel the need?” You can chase a feeling all you want, but a need chases you. If you go without needing to write, then of course you won’t always feel like writing. And in most cases, you won’t. But if you need to do it, one way or another – you’ll do it.

You can suppress feelings until the end of time. Distractions, cheap thrills, procrastinations, obstinacy: you will find an easier feeling, all the time. But a need? No. You need to smoke, drink, eat, party, coffee, drink some more, sleep, all the essentials and the non-essential essentials. They’re at your core, and you will do them even to your ruin.

If you don’t feel like writing anymore? That’s great. Join the club. You’ll get over it. Back to work.

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com) and followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong).

How Long Should Your Book Be?

I’m not much for maths. (That would make a great blog title though—please don’t steal it. My trademark and intellectual property lawyers are better than yours.) But I must admire the lack of debate about the basics. How long is a foot? How much does a pound weigh? And, yes, you could debate it further, but at the end of the day, one-hundred centimeters make a centometer. Or something. I’m not much for maths.

Try asking “How long is a novel?” Math folks: you are right to mock us.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

Dear Writing All Wrong:

Dumb question, but how long should my book be?

—Nancy Mears, Cranston, R.I

You know how people always say, “There’s no such thing as a dumb question?” People say that.

Nancy, I don’t know. Depending on genre, audience, writing style, whether you want to publish, your book could and should be many lengths.

Let’s run a few tests and see if it’s “too long,” “too short,” or “just right.”

You wrote a 50,000-word magnum opus for NaNoWriMo: TOO SHORT

Your book contains Volume (any number here) in the title: TOO LONG 

You’re writing science fiction: TOO LONG

Backstory is essential to you: TOO LONG

You can read your book in one sitting: TOO SHORT

You can read your book in one sitting on the toilet: WAY TOO SHORT 

Makes for a great read on a cross-country road trip: TOO SHORT

Makes for a great read while driving that cross-country road trip: WAY TOO SHORT

Easy read during hard work: TOO SHORT

Hard read during easy work: TOO LONG

Can’t finish it during one of your numerous month-long vacations: TOO LONG

Would make Tolstoy look like a lightweight: TOO LONG

Would make Borges look like a heavyweight: TOO SHORT

A page-turner: TOO SHORT 

Your bookmark disintegrates before you finish: TOO LONG

Your book disintegrates before you finish: WAY TOO LONG

You read it to sleep: TOO LONG

You read it to wake up: WAIT, WHAT?

It’s something you skim during your skateboard routine: HUH?

Built a house with its pages: NOT UP TO CODE

Makes an emergency meal: YUMMY

Makes an great bonfire: PUT IT OUT AT NIGHT

Emergency floatation device: DON’T PANIC

Kills houseflies: LIFESPAN OF THIRTY DAYS

Kills house intruders: MAKE MY DAY

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com) and followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong).

Time Travel: DOs and DON’Ts

Travel writing? Why, yes, I’m fond of the sort. Evocative, painterly, introspective, resplendent. Taking my couch-planted duff off to places I’m not spending money to travel.

Oh, you’re talking time travel? Get in line.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

Greetings Curator of Blog [designation Writing All Wrong]:

I am Citizen #306765899. You may list me as “Brent Staples.” I inquire after the state of time travel in the writings of YEAR 2012. Thank you.

—”Brent Staples,” City NA9083

Hey 306765899, perhaps I should be the one asking you about how things “are cracking” in 2086 or whenever. Is redheadedness a crime where you live? I do worry about that.

I’m going to forgo opinions and instead offer sorely-needed dos and don’ts for this round of time travel.

DON’T reinvent the wheel.

Science has proven that every writer has given at least one consideration to writing time travel fiction. And many have. You’re following in the sunken footsteps of many who’ve done this before: Wells’s The Time Machine, Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, and God’s The Bible. Don’t shoot for a better wheel. Just make a good one.

DO your research.

If you’re sending characters back in time, then you’d better give a proper picture of what it was like back in the day. I’m not falling for a wooden-toothed Washington or a dragon-less court of King Canute. Same goes for future travels. It’s not guesswork: find future editions of Popular Science or postdated tech blogs that cover the science of your target era.

DON’T delve too deep into how time travel works.

If you’re not strapping on the suspenders of disbelief, then you’re in the wrong business. It’s nice to have some working knowledge of the intricacies, sure, but I’m not reading your book to find out how the heck I can warp back to 2nd grade on my own and duck when that stupidface kid punched me. Unless you’re writing a fictional textbook. That’s an idea.

DO exaggerate.

“But you said—” I know what I said, but if I wanted a history book, I’d read that. Get the facts right (Abe Lincoln was the 16th President, Hitler was a Nazi) before you take the necessary liberties (Abe Lincoln whooped his debate opponents in fencing, Hitler had plans for a Jew-seeking missile [soon thwarted].)

DON’T go gimmick.

Time travel is a common fascination, but an uncommon art. Before you sit down to write time traveling fiction, make sure that this is the best possible idea you have. Avoid using time travel as a novelty. It’s like a rocket. Pretty nift in and of itself, but not when you’re buckling it to the roof of a car. I know you want to “drive faster,” but there’s a better way of going about it.

DO write a good story, no matter what.

Great fiction wins. When your book’s pages meet the fire, burned in punitive pyres of creative purgation, may its mourners not say “This was a good time travel story,but “This was a good story.”

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com) and followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong).

You Are Nothing if Not Critical

Hello, dozen or so readers:

We’re back to the scheduled regularness. My second-written, first-to-be-offered novel—The Travels of Sir Michael Zazu—is off looking for a publisher. Wish it well for me. Thanks.

In the meantime, there’s still a lot of bad writing out there.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

Hey, did you see this article: http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/books/2012/08/writers_and_readers_on_twitter_and_tumblr_we_need_more_criticism_less_liking_.html 

It’s almost like they read your blog, that is, if your blog were popular enough to read, LOL!

—Brad Millen, Akron, Ohio

I hate you. But I don’t hate the point you make.

But please, do give the article a read. It’s much more fun to read the same sort of material from someone more famous. (Done? Yay, great.)

It’s exactly why writing has become more of a sham than it deserves. Schools haven’t failed, creatives haven’t been squelched, and literacy hasn’t plummeted as much as people support.

It’s because writers are too nice. 

Nice to each other, nice to simpering fans, nice to anyone who will review for publicity, retweets, snacks, whatever. Amidst all the niceness, we’ve lost what makes writing better. You are nothing if not critical, and here’s why:

Too much niceness spoils the broth

“Oh, I love everything you do, write, and say! I love sticking @ mentions of you in my Tweets, and liking all your Facebooks and Google Plusses! I want to polygamously marry you and be wedded to your infinite goodness!”

Yeah, because that’s going to prompt good reading and/or writing. Love and hatred both falter when sharing the same blindfold.

Criticism ≠ hate

The social media honeypot abounds with sticky, sappy, gooeyness, but not enough bees. You are not a “hater” if you rightly point out a flimsy plot, stilted characters, or poor word choices across the board. You have a right to demand excellence, even if your favorite author and her fans won’t retweet it.

Fan of great writing, or fan of attention?

Which writer are you going to enjoy more: the one who acknowledges your measly existence from his lofty pedestal, or the one who writes well and couldn’t be bothered to reply to you?

Why are you a fan? No, seriously: ask that question. Don’t lie with a good answer. What about this author tickles you, makes you smile each day, enriches your life?

It’s the fact that they connect with you, isn’t it? It’s that you feel like you’re a part of their “community,” their fan base, yes? And you wouldn’t dare say an untoward thing about what they do, no? They might just—gasp—unfriend you.

I’m not saying that every popular author can’t write worth beans. But if popularity and “connectability” are the new standards of excellence, then we’ve got more going all wrong than just writing.

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com) and followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong).