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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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).

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).

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).

How Many Words Should You Write in a Day?

“Whoever writes the most words in a day, wins!”

Is this what we’ve come to?

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

How many words should I write in a day? 

—Nathan Burt, Cantonment, Fla.

What? 

This isn’t NaNoWriMo. This isn’t a contest. This is writing. Art. Do or do not. There is no word count goal in life.

So what occasions this question? Oh, I know!

Writers. 

Writers who will toot the rusty trumpet of wordcount boasts by the 500s, 1000s, 1500s, and OMG I WROTE OVER 9000 WORDS TODAY. Writers who have slit throats and slain the “good writing goats” over the profane altars of “Most Words Wins.” Writers who forgot that writing isn’t probs, probes, stats, or maths. This isn’t a numbers game.

You misspelled quality. Looks like you wrote quantity instead. That’s your problem.

Is it OK to eke out some occasional hollow boasts of word count in your Tweets, posts, and braindumps? Can’t fine or arrest you for that. We’re all guilty. But don’t make it a habit.

Don’t be guilty of surfing with the popular crowds of crows, shouting out into the nothing about the numeric dent they’ve made in their #wip. Don’t strut like an ostrich on uppers after you write xxxx number of words in xxxx amount of time. You don’t see stenographers hop up and do the Dougie in the courtroom after they wrote “FIFTEEN THOUSAND WORDS IN A DAY, YEEEAH!” 

Heck, you could write “swag swag swag” over and over again for an hour and light the jorts off of most wordcount poseurs.

Just write. Write something. Make it good. One hundred hard-earned words well-written and kept quiet win out over the thousands who write for nothing more than the inevitable wordcountbrag fodder.

It’s the words that count, not the word count that counts.

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