Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Writing in Circles

I have recently come to discover the value of writer's circles. I've always loved finding a friend what will read what I've written and give me decent feedback (not what my roommates always say: "That's so good! I loved it!" regardless of the subject or content). There's something almost precious about a relationship of honest literary minds.

I think the best places to meet the kind of people you can make these relationships with are probably in English classes or at writing conventions. If these aren't available to you, there are a lot of writing groups online (I belong to one: Obscurity Knocks) in which you can post works and receive feedback, and one benefit of these groups is that you don't necessarily know that people who are reading your work, and then  you can be really honest.

Another good way to meet people is by starting a blog and reading other blogs. Since I've started this blog, I have discovered a lot of other writing blogs that I enjoy, specifically Creative Writing Corner and Writing Forward. If you engage in coversation with other writing bloggers, you'll fine a great group of people who are willing to read and comment on your work.

The benefits of having a writing circle, rather than reading and editing a whole project on your own are so numerous, it seems ridiculous to try writing without that circle. I'll just expound on a few of my favorite benefits:
  1. Having a different angle on your work. I was working on a screenplay last winter, and I got to a point where I couldn't decide whether to kill a certain character or not, so I called up one of my handy writer friends who had read a majority of the screenplay and asked him what he thought. He asked all the right questions: what would the other characters do without her? What could she add to the plot if she stayed alive? How would she die? and many other aspects I had not yet considered. I was then able to continue writing with the whole picture in mind.
  2. Discovering weaknesses that you didn't see yourself. I sent an excerpt of a novel to the same writer friend, and his feedback shocked me. The bad guy didn't really seem bad. This excerpt was supposed to be a scene where the villian's pure evil nature shrouded the reader in darkness. But it didn't do that for my friend (perhaps he is accustomed to evil?). He gave me suggestions, mainly pertaining to the rhetoric of the villian's dialogue and mannerisms, on how to make the villian feel more evil.
  3. Bouncing unstable ideas around. I've been considering a certain project for quite some time, but haven't been sure how to go about it. I've written a segment of what I imagine the project would be, and I've shared it with numerous people in an effort to see both how it is received and how I could expand it. Getting feedback on a budding project can sometimes be the life support that brings a project to fruition.
And let's not forget the benefit of fulfilling relationships and just plain having fun with people who share your interests. I encourage all writers to find others who are willing and have the ability to give useful feedback. If you have no one else, feel free to contact me!

Contemporary Media (and how to use it)

A little while ago, I wrote a blog about two corners of the rhetorical triangle: the rhetorical situation, and the rhetorical appeal. Today I would like to talk about the third corner: contemporary media.

There are four basic forms of media: traditional print, innovative print, traditional web site, and innovative web site. There are relatively self-explanatory, but I'll run through them quickly to answer any questions.

1. Traditional print: Words that appear on a page. Books. Newspapers. Newletters. Black and white words on paper. Simple enough.

2.  Innovative print: Words that work with pictures and style to make the page more interesting. This could mean different fonts, different print sizes, different colors, embossing, shadows, borders, images, and what-have-you. 

3. Traditional web site: The web site where you go and read from the page. You scroll through, and there aren't any videos, there's nothing to click, you can't add to the web site; it is just giving you information.

4. Innovative web site: A website that allows you to play with it: the information and design of the website is dependent upon what you put into it. These are websites where you can change the information or leave comments behind. Wikipedia, social networks and blogs are probably the most prevalent examples of innovative websites.

Now obviously, there are certain mediums that speak better to certain people. If you wanted to change how 80+-year-olds feel about the legal drinking age, it would probably be better to give them something to read than require them to join a web site where they are going to have to upload things, comment on other people's posts, input information, or change the user interface. However, if you were trying to get 14-year-olds to change their opinion about the legal drinking age, that is probably exactly what you'd want them to do: use an innovative web site. 

So deciding which media to use and when is something that all writers have to do. Recently, Stephen King published nearly an entire novel online only. There are actually many authors (not necessarily good ones) that publish almost exclusively online. There is a whole new era of text novels. And let's not overlook the use of Kindles and iPads. These are all combining different mediums together to publish many forms of writing. It's kind of exciting to be able to publish however we want, isn't it? 

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The National Undergraduate Literature Conference

This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend the National Undergraduate Literature Conference at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah. At this conference, undergrads present fiction, poetry, non-fiction and literary criticism in panels that deal with the same genre or similar subjects. There are also guest authors that come to address the students and revel in the literary richness of it all.

Two of the authors that came to visit this year were Lawson Fusao Inada and Ana Menendez. I very much enjoyed their writing, but they also gave interesting insights to the writing process.

Inada encouraged us to carry a notebook or anything to write down thoughts and inspiration whenever they come. He actually suggested carrying around an extra register in your checkbook because it is much less bulky and more convenient. I've been told to do this by several writing professors of other writers, but I've never quite adopted it. In high school I carried around a fat little notebook in which to write emo poetry, but since I've come to college I haven't been so great at it. And I know that I have lost so many half-formed poems and ideas for stories or resolutions to struggles I was having with characters or plots in stories that I'm working on. Perhaps it was the simplicity of the checkbook suggestion. Perhaps it was Inada's amiable nature. Perhaps it was being around so many great minds and so much literature. Perhaps it was a number of things. But this time, I really felt a need to follow the advice.

There are clearly huge advantages to carrying around an observation notebook:
  • Being able to captures ideas on the spot
  • Being able to write down bits of conversation as you hear them
  • Writing lines of a poem as they form
  • Compiling ideas to use at a future time
Menendez gave advice that is somewhat new to me: write to the pain. I'm pretty sure that my creative writing teacher in high school may have said something to the same effect, but I questioned her sanity and probably didn't take her seriously. But Menendez suggested that where it is painful is where there is the most meat, so to speak, to write from. Whether it is emotional pain, as in writing about a personally painful experience, or mental pain, as in a concept you can't quite articulate or research that doesn't quite come to a conclusion, that is probably where all the gold in your writing will be mined from. I believe that writing to the pain is more satisfying in the end as well.

Pain is just another form of passion and we all know that passionate writing is better in every aspect than bored writing. For example, my social psychology textbook is probably the most entertaining textbook I've ever read, and I'm certain that is because the authors engage their emotions and personalities in the text. I practically feel like I'm on a first name basis with them.

I hope to improve my writing by implementing these two techniques I learned at the feet of two masters. Or at least two published authors (I did highly enjoy their writing).