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).

Advertisements

Five Reasons You Should Quit Writing

I love writing. It’s as if you’re staring at an empty pan, only to realize you know how to cook, and you have bacon on hand. Thus, creation and consumption are born.

Not everyone who writes loves writing. Ask a technical writer. And not everyone who loves writing writes. Ask a reader.

Then you have that not-rare-enough breed, those who love writing more than they love to write

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

What do I need to do to make my writing as good as the writers I interact with online (Facebook, Twitter)? What kinds of questions or things should I talk about with them, so I have some more productive conversations?
—Jameson Cory, Pembroke Pines, Florida. 

Unless you have some existing, established creative outlet of your own, this is why I don’t recommend befriending writers. (And because I’m crotchety and mean, so there.) Writers write. They talk about writing. They joke about writing. They tell others how they can write better. They write about people reading their writing.

So if you’re not writing, what do you feel guilted into doing? Writing. 

Here’s five warning signs you might want to quit writing.

You love reading.

You read one book a day, minimum. The pleasures and machinations of the written word fulfill your soul. To you, the epitome of eros is that evening where you cozy up to the fireplace and snuggle with a good book. You’re the type who will eat dinner out without bothering to care to cook. You don’t need to write if reading makes you happy. Writers need readers.

You love fun.

Don’t tell me you haven’t heard of the “fun ban” for writers? Let’s put it this way: if you’re big on travel, clubbing, filling the void with parties, friends, alcohol, cruises, and material pleasures, then you live a fun life. Writing is insular. You can’t do it at all the fancy restaurants you Instagram. Livetweeting your awesome third European vacation isn’t considered flash fiction. Face it, you live for the thrills for consumption. Read a book on one of your expensive cruises, and we’ll call it even.

You love the myth.

There’s some idiosyncratic appeal to the tortured artists, the pre-hipster hipster who labored over each stroke of the typewriter, every nuance of the pen. The feverish all-nighters, the race to slip under the descending portcullis of deadlines, and the dashing esteem these artisans acclaim. Quit you’re writing while you can keep that myth intact.

You love company.

Nothing wrong with people. Ok, there’s plenty wrong with people, but that notwithstanding, people take time. Effort. Money. Let’s say you’re given the option to spend the night out with friends. And they’re paying. Most everyone says ‘Yes’ to that. Every time. Unless you’re a writer. There’s always something to be written. Sure, there’s the occasional luau here and there, but there’s always the writing now and now.

You love writers.

Most writers/bloggers/content creators can’t get away with being Henry James. There’s a modicum of humor, verve, and interaction they’re obligated to deliver. It’s their job to draw you into their personality and their persona. That’s how they get their prose to sing. It’s nice that you like these folks, but if you like writers for their works and personality, you’re a fan. And not every fan needs to be a writer. Sitting in a garage won’t make you a car. Neither will keeping company with writers make you a writer as well.

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).

Read Better, Write Better

You’re reading all wrong.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

Dear Writing All Wrong,

I’d like some advice on the following:

Since I’ve been writing stories I’ve hardly picked up a book to read. Some people have frowned upon me for that. They believe that reading books of successful authors can help you become one yourself. I believe it will only cause me to copy the authors’ methods of success, instead of coming up with a style of my own.

Is it really necessary to read other people’s books to become a good writer?

“That crazy German girl”, Gun Barrel City, TX

For starters, “methods of success” ≠ writing style and voice. And there’s a world of difference between “successful” authors and good authors.

Reading and writing are a balance, if a curious one. Readers who always read, never writing, remain good readers. Whereas writers who always write, never reading, may not even exist.

Reading is an important part of the input/output continuum. Can’t understate that. But let’s stick to the question, poke holes in some myths here.

1) Reading books of “successful” authors will NOT help you become one yourself.

Most “successful” books are crap. Do you want to be known as the author whose books are ones you see in grocery stores? If that were the case, we’d have more “successful” authors, no? Eating a steady stream of Big Macs, McRibs, McChicken Sandwiches, and Land, Sea, and Air McBurgers isn’t getting you closer to profiting off of owning your own McDonalds. So it is with the consumption of any product of “success.”

2) Reading books of “successful” authors will NOT cause you to copy “success.”

At best, you’ll be copying stilted prose, thin plots, and sham characters. That kind of material, for worse or for worser, could influence your voice.

But is influence a bad thing? Not really, because:

3) Reading good books will influence your style for the better. Let it happen.

You derive your style from influences. Take a gander at artists’ Wikipedia profiles. Even comedians have blurbs as to their influences. And who they influenced. Nothing new under the sun; soak it up anyway.

You can derive your economy of style from Saramago, or your expansiveness from Henry James. You can delve into the magical from reading Marquez, or the whimsical from Twain. Set your bar of influence high, and your writing will do better to follow.

Be influenced by artistry, aesthetic merit in writing. Not just “success.”

4) Read other people’s books to be a good writer? No. Read better books to be a better writer.

It isn’t 100% necessary. But it’s worth the effort.

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

On Writing Prompts

I was out shopping with the missus today, scouring cheery aisles of education supplies. To my surprise, I found an abundance of writing/literature/communication aids. Didn’t think they taught any of that, given today’s dismal educational climate.

Found boxes upon boxes of “writing prompts” in the mix. Really? We’re in that kind of shape these days, eh? Judging by the emails I’ve gotten (and ignored), it seems so. Can’t say it’s all bad. But there’s room to make them better.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

Do you know of any good writing prompts?

—Meghan Simon, Bournemouth, England

Other than “Write. Write now!” or “Why are you wasting your life?” Not really.

In a perfect world, we wouldn’t much need writing prompts. Writing is borne of the imagination; it’s the genesis of inventiveness. How proud of yourself do you feel when you take someone else’s idea and write off of that? Or when you develop seeds you expect others to plant?

Fine. I realize it’s more of a recreational gimmick. But don’t go so much planting the seeds of others when you can create them yourself. That’s half the fun right there.

But for the sake of the post, here are some writing prompts for your enlightenment, if you must:

—A zombie suffers a traumatic brain injury and loses his craving for the brains of others. Does he find love among the mindless of his own kind or among the humans who fear him because he’s “different?”

—The future version of yourself has broken into your house, left everything in shambles, set your car afire, and eaten all of your Bacon Blast™ Doritos®.

—Instagram now offers a taste of your food and drink right when you photograph them. Your protagonist is blind. She only has a flip phone.

—A clockwork android befriends the wrong person: Leonardo da Vinci.

—Technological breakthrough allows for universal translation of the barks and thoughts of dogs. Animal rights groups campaign against dog ownership after it’s discovered that the vast majority of dogs hate being owned by humans. Shep just wants a toy.

—Bullying is banned in the United States. To enforce the bullying ban, the Dept. of Education has authorized local, student-led Anti-Bullying Task Teams to use whatever force necessary to combat bullying. With that kind of authority, there’s no way bullying ever happens in America again.

—Your apartment has been robbed, cleared of everything, save for a watch, a copy of The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, and a bratwurst with a half-finished game of tic-tac-toe etched into it.

—A writer justifies his writer’s block by imagining it into a mental illness. And it’s contagious. Crap.

—A hip, young Los Angeles comedian wades through parties, afterparties, and after-afterparties chasing dreams, money, and love in a sea of affluence and popularity. JUST KILL THIS GUY ALREADY.

—A man walks a giraffe down the street.*

I actually wrote something brief from that last one. Did you have any good works come from a decent writing prompt?

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

Less is More: Describing Characters

You’re in the business of writing to write stuff, tell stories, and do it well. You take great care (I would hope) to paint lightly, letting this thing called “imagination” fill in the rest.

And then you screw it up by slapping down all the details, leaving the reader with no work to do.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

How do I describe my characters the right way? Is there a way of doing too much? Too little? Where’s the happy of happiest mediums? 

—Ramona O’Neal, Blue Mound, Tex.

I’d like to say that there is no “right way,” only many “wrong ways.” But that sounds more amusing than it is true.

Just to make this easier, here are some of the wrong ways of going about it.

Beginning with description 

A rookie mistake. A bad writer mistake. Unless you write to dumb readers, they will figure this character out.

Using a mirror

I. Will. Not. Read. Your. Book. If. A. Mirror. Is. Used. To. Describe. Your. Character. This is the cheapest trick of cheap tricks.

Going “Whole Hog”

Including every single detail just tells your reader, “Hey, I don’t trust you to get this right. Let me do all the work. You just buy my crap, follow my posts, and eat the circus peanuts I toss you from my blog, ok?”

Using description as a plot point

That’s also a cheap trick, unless this is The Rhinoceros Man, Vol. 2 or whatever.

Character description is over-rated. Don’t underestimate your reader’s imagination. Give them something to work with, then let them take the rest.

Heck, while you’re at it: weave it into the story. Work smarter.

“He itched his pug nose.”

“She plucked a stray hair, letting the red strand fall to the sand.”

“He hiked up his frayed cargo shorts and wiped the sweat from his unibrow.”

“The punches darkened his once blue eyes into stinging maroons.”

“Her spindly hand stung from slapping his foetid jowls.”

“His paunch threatened to burst through his designer shirt as he shifted his bulk toward me. He’s more substance than style, even if he labored for the opposite.”

Swift tells. Strong brushstrokes. Strategic nuance. Get the painting started. The joy of reading is filling in some of that detail yourself. Don’t cheat your reader.

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

Writing the Best Chick Lit Ever

Chick lit. Back in my day, it was candy. Today? Money.

And even still, you’d be surprised how many well-meaning authors screw it all up.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

Dear Writing All Wrong,

What advice do you have on writing good chick lit?

—Caroline Heidl, Germantown, Md.

Well. Uh. Yeah. Right, then. Good to see you’ve asked the expert on chick lit.

From what I’ve gathered, chick lit is like the literary version of Lifetime®, only better, and more intelligent. Of course, the same could be said of Caveman Legal thrillers, armpit slicks, and the occasional YA ghostpunk novel.  Here are some basics to getting these down, and getting them good (I think):

Don’t write about “man” stuff

Your chick lit shouldn’t contain any of the following:

-Chewing tobacco

-Eating pork rinds

-Losing an argument

-Being “OK” with someone pretending to listen

-Farting (or farting around) or burping (or burping around)

-Rounds of “chainsaw-jousting” while riding rocket-powered motorcycles 

Writing about the common traits found only among the man part of the human race will discredit your intent, sad to say. Even if it’s pretty cool when ladyfolk do that kind of stuff.

Write believable women

“Susan Sass is on top of the world, having purged herself of insecurities, trusting in her gift of good looks, and using her perfected charm and wit to win over anything and anyone she wants. But deep down inside—she’s the exact same winner as she is on the outside! And she gets along with everyone in life: ex-boyfriends, jealous co-workers, even her mother-in-law.”

That’s not believable. Flaws make for great stories. Throw a few in the mix. Instability. Calamity. Acne.

Renege on romance

Because exotic, spicy fairytales of farfetched flings are just that: lousy. Prince Charming isn’t a popular guest star in the chick lit kingdom. Neither is Prince Perfect-Abs. The lads of chick lit are more pauper than prince. That’s life.

Don’t keep your distance on the difference

Gender. It’s as much knowing what differentiates what “women want” and what “dudes do” when the circumstances could be the same. To put it lightheartedly:

Crisis: Severance of employment.

Chick: “How could this happen to me? I thought I was doing just fine here. Great, months of job hunting and flailing, here I come. (Cue more introspection)

Dude: “Sh*t, how’m I gonna pay up for my Ford, my beers, and my cigs this month?

Crisis: Relatives moving in.

Chick: “Oh. My. God. This was my house. And now it’s a courtroom where I’m being judged 24/7. Can’t somebody declare a mistrial?”

Dude: “We got an air mattress in the closet right? Ok, we’re good.”

Crisis: Pregnancy.

Chick: “Here begins a new chapter of life, written before I picked up the pen. Breathe. This happens all the time. There’s a book on this, right? Ok. I’m not sick yet. Why am I not sick yet?

Dude: “Wait, WHAT? How did I get pregnant? Man, all my bros are gonna flip.”

Come to think, I’m giving chick lit the win.

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