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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Writing, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. Logic Problems

Watch out for these logic problems to prevent your reader from being pulled out of the story.

http://writershelpingwriters.net/2014/12/four-logic-problems-will-ruin-day-manuscript/

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2. The Audiobook is Live!!

I’m so excited to tell you that the audiobook of WISH YOU WEREN’T is live! I didn’t realize after approving the final version that it would take Audible nearly two weeks to listen to it to make sure the quality was up to par, but I’m glad they did. Because that ensures that anyone who […]

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3. Edging back to blogging

posted by Neil Gaiman
I really am out of the habit of blogging, aren't I? Some of it's from travelling too much, and most of it is probably from using Twitter and Facebook in places and ways that I would have blogged in the past.

Last year's social media sabbatical was really pleasant and rewarding, though, and I'm thinking about doing another, longer one, at the end of this year. Which will probably mean I'll return to blogging again then.

I'm writing this from a hotel in Dublin, where I was today receiving the James Joyce Award. Now off to the UK, where I'll be delivering the Douglas Adams memorial lecture, as a benefit for Save the Rhinos. (Almost all tickets are gone. A few VIP tickets are up on ebay.) The Lecture is called Immortality and Douglas Adams. I know that. Now I just have to write it.

A new book is out: it's called Trigger Warning: Short Stories and Disturbances.

I learned when Smoke and Mirrors came out what people say in reviews of short story collections, and learned it again when Fragile Things came out, a decade later. The reviews say "A good collection of stories, let down by (the weak stories) and redeemed by (the strong stories)" But nobody ever seems to agree on what the weak and the strong stories are, so I never feel I have learned very much from the reviews, but am always happy that people found stories that they did like in there.

So that's what most of the reviews say.

Then there's Frank Cottrell Boyce writing in the New Statesman, about Trigger Warning, short stories, what they are and how we read them, and it's an essay I'd love even if I weren't in there:

It is interesting that Saint Columba makes an appearance. Columba began his exile on Iona in penance for his part in the 6th-century Battle of the Book, a conflict that had its origin in his secret copying of Saint Finnian’s psalter: a kind of medieval illegal download. The subsequent ruling – “To every cow its calf, to every book its copy” – marks an important moment in the history of books. Were they beautiful, magical objects, to be carried into battle as charms (as the psalter was)? Or were they a means to disseminate information? Should their magic stay locked inside or should it be shared? Trigger Warning seems to grow out of a similar rift – the alternating currents of struggle and synergy that flow between the page and the electronic media.

I'm pleased that most readers seem to enjoy most of Trigger Warning, especially pleased and relieved that "Black Dog", the second of the American Gods stories of Shadow in the UK, seems to be well-received. I'm nervously caracoling towards the next novel, and suspect I'll start it in a few months, when the current giant jobs are done...

Amanda and I went to Sarasota to see my 97 year old cousin Helen, and seeing we were there and it was Valentine's Day, we did an event at the beautiful historic Tampa Theatre. This, at the end of a VERY long evening, is me singing "I Google You".



And the beautiful P. Craig Russell limited edition print we did for it is up for sale at Neverwear:

Ah. That was my return to blogging and it wasn't funny at all, was it? Bugger.





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4. “Imma let Bilal finish but Jodorowsky is one of the most inspiring artists of our time.”

10437659_883656848323805_2368046984849607672_n.jpg

Via
Alexander Jodorowsky is the visionary filmmaker behind El Topo and Santa Sangre. He’s also kind of the original “films to comics” crossover creator, since filmmaking is very expensive but comics aren’t—in recent years The Incal, Bouncer, Tehcnopreists and many other weird and wonderful books.

Kanye West is a well known collaborator with Paul McCartney.

The documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune came out in 2013!


4 Comments on “Imma let Bilal finish but Jodorowsky is one of the most inspiring artists of our time.”, last added: 2/27/2015
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5. What makes a story “high-concept?”

In an article titled Write Better: The 7 Qualities of High-Concept Stories, Jeff Lyons, a story editor, outlines the aspects that help a story fit the notion of “high-concept” whether for film or a book. The qualities he lists are:

  1. High level of entertainment value
  2. High degree of originality
  3. Born from a “what if” question
  4. Highly visual
  5. Clear emotional focus
  6. Inclusion of some truly unique element
  7. Mass audience appeal

Check out what he means with each of these things here.

For what it’s worth.

Ray

© 2015 Ray Rhamey

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6. Interruptions and Trailing Off

I was working on an edit this morning and it reminded me of a small writing issue that I see way too often in manuscripts. Now, some people have called me very strict when it comes to dialogue formatting, and I’d agree. I have very low tolerance for excessive dialogue tags, too much gesture/action clogging up scene, improper formatting, and fancy “said” synonyms or adverbs. What I’m about to discuss here is another one of my pet peeves. The good news is, it has a very intuitive fix, which you can begin to implement as soon as you’re aware of the issue.

This week we’re talking about proper formatting for interruptions and trailing off in dialogue. Let’s first look at examples of this done the wrong way:

I began to say, “You just never let me finish any…” when Mom interrupted me.
“That’s because there’s nothing you can say,” she moaned. “What you’ve done is so…so…” She trailed off.

Here we find both an interruption and a trailing off description (with a bonus fancy “said” synonym). We also find, and I hope this popped out at you, a lot of excess description of pretty obvious stuff. This dialogue is currently bogged down in logistic. Instead, it should really move quickly and fly off the page.

The good news is, you can accomplish that with punctuation that exists for just this purpose.

To create an interruption that everyone will recognize as such, use an em-dash where you want to end the dialogue. You create an em-dash by typing two hyphens, and most word processing programs will tie them automatically into the longer dash.

To indicate a person trialing off from their train of thought, whether in speech or narration, use an ellipse. You create one by typing three periods in a row with no space before and sometimes a space after. If there’s a pause within a sentence…like this, you don’t need a space after. If there’s a pause between sentences, use a space… And that’s really all there is.

Now we can use both of these punctuation tools to revamp the example:

“You just never let me finish any–”
“That’s because there’s nothing to say. What you’ve done is so…so…”

You’ve cut the whole “I began to say” business, and the “Mom interrupted me” because it’s all right there in the punctuation. Wham, bam, thank you, ma’am!

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7. Business Success - Do You Really Have the Power? (8 steps to help you get there)

I read a great article over at Matt Lloyds Blog. It explained why some are able to create a successful online business and other can’t. It was a l-o-n-g article, but it was interesting. To break it down and give you the gist of what Matt said, we do have the power. We are in control of whether we become successful or not. We have to stop making excuses and playing the ‘woe is me’ card. Stop

0 Comments on Business Success - Do You Really Have the Power? (8 steps to help you get there) as of 2/23/2015 6:42:00 AM
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8. Monday Mishmash 2/23/15


Happy Monday! Monday Mishmash is a weekly meme dedicated to sharing what's on your mind. Feel free to grab the button and post your own Mishmash.

Here's what's on my mind today:
  1. My daughter's birthday  My daughter turns eight on Thursday! I can't believe it. We're having a party on Saturday, and she's really excited. It's Monster High themed, of course. ;)
  2. Editing  I've got a full week with edits again. 2015 has been non-stop editing.
  3. Drafting  I surpassed the 40K mark on my WIP this weekend. I have a feeling I'm going to have to put it aside until I get some of these edits off my plate over the next two weeks.
  4. Less than a month until the release of Looking For Love  I'm getting everything together for the release of Looking For Love. The blog tour is in process, and the teaser quotes are ready to go. :)
  5. Giveaways  I have two giveaways going on right now, but you have to be a member of my street team to enter. If you aren't a member but would like to join, you can do so here.
That's it for me. What's on your mind today?

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9. Playwright's ruminations - the fix is in

Sitting down in front of the computer, chin in hand and thinking about playwriting. Again. Note the word, "thinking" but not the actual act of taking fingers to keyboard and producing some worthwhile dialogue. Still further delayed the process by going over finished plays and assessing whether they need fixing or editing, something I'm prone to do in both my writing and painting. Frequently, the end result is ruining any progress on whatever project I'm "fixing."

I'm an inordinate "fixer" of all my artistic undertakings, which really don't require further adjusting. Recently, I applied what I swore were the absolute final strokes to a black and white painting first started three years ago, which has been "fixed" over the years. Perhaps this will be the reality and then again, who knows.

In as far as my plays are concerned, some have been altered to the point where all objectivity has been  lost as to the strongest version. Most often, the changes are relegated to small dialogue adjustments or altering what appears to me to be a weak a scene. In the end, a decision has to be made which version is the best version to submit, followed by a period of self-doubt and whether my plays are actually produce-able. Perhaps this is a common pattern with writers in general in that the selection of the right words is paramount to the whole story line. In as far as dialogue is concerned, the character has to utter words and phrases that suit her/his mannerisms, personality and mien and therein lies the challenge.

Although the actual act of submitting plays is a positive move, there is also the self-doubt that creeps in  waiting for updates on their fate. Negative thoughts like:

- perhaps the wrong version was sent - whatever that is
- maybe I don't have what it takes to be a "real" playwright
- given the volume of experienced and produced playwrights, many of whom are familiar names to   
  the public and within the theatre community, do my literary gems stand a chance?

And so the uncertainty continues but something drives me to persevere. The possibility, whatever the odds that  there  is a theatre "out there" somewhere that will see something special in my plays is enough to keep me going and press on. Meanwhile, some fine tuning of the dialogue and changes to the story arc is required to Dead Writes. Really.

P.S.: just read that Larry David's new play, "Fish In the Dark" is a big hit on Broadway. It should only happen to me!  Mazel-tov, Larry...or Mr. David. Good to note that good comedy will always draw a crowd.

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10. Interesting blog posts about writing – w/e February 20th 2015



Here’s my selection of interesting (and sometimes amusing) posts about writing from the last weekabout writing from the last week:

Mentally Preparing for Revisions (Janice Hardy)
http://blog.janicehardy.com/2011/01/re-write-wednesday-revisionist-attitude.html

Test Your Observation Skills (Mary Keeley)
www.booksandsuch.com/blog/test-observation-skills/

4 tips for handling multiple perspectives in a third person narrative (Nathan Bransford)
http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2015/02/4-tips-for-handling-multiple.html

7 Ways Writers Live in Paradox (Rachelle Gardner)
www.booksandsuch.com/blog/live-in-paradox/

The Mini-Outline (Adriana Mather)
http://querytracker.blogspot.com/2015/02/writing-productivity-tip-mini-outline.html

Avoid Overwriting – Subtle is More Sophisticated (Jodie Renner)
http://blog.janicehardy.com/2015/02/avoid-overwriting-subtle-is-more.html

Fatal Submission Mistakes (Wendy Lawton)
www.booksandsuch.com/blog/fatal-submission-mistakes/

How to Self-Publish Your Book (Jane Friedman)
http://janefriedman.com/2015/02/16/self-publish-your-book/


If you found these useful, you may also like my personal selection of the most interesting blog posts from 2014, and last week’s list.

If you have a particular favorite among these, please let the author know (and me too, if you have time).  Also, if you've a link to a great post that isn't here, feel free to share.

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11. YA Fiction on Kindle: Life with Jesse Daniels

Racy Young Adult Fiction

Well, it's official! I'm once again chained to my desk, a slave to a novel, this one titled My Best Friend's Brother. Wanna guess what it's about?

I've revised, edited, revised, and am now editing it again. I don't feel completely nuts yet, which is quite odd, because my word processor is crashing every 3-5 minutes; I'm literally to the point where I'm saving work every 15 seconds. I would wish this on my worst enemy, but not on anybody else.

In the meantime, my debut novel—Life with Jesse Daniels—is now on Amazon Kindle! Check it out here!

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12. Character Descriptions

Creative character descriptions are hard to master.



There are long debates about how much character description is enough and how much is too much. Some readers want to know hair and eye color, height and weight, etc. Some want to fill in their own details.

Not enough detail and you have talking heads. 

Too much detail and you turn some readers off.

The choice is yours. Write what you enjoy reading.

Either way, you have to define your character in a way that makes the reader care what happens to him.

An important consideration when describing characters is the viewpoint lens filtering the information. Self-description is tricky and often results in narrator intrusion.

1. Dick can compare and contrast himself to someone else.

He was five-six maybe five seven, coming up to my shoulder. His hair was buzzed like mine, which used to indicate military but had become a recent fad. He could be bulked up from training like me or a gym membership. It was hard to tell these days. 

2. Someone can insult or praise Dick's appearance.

“Your nose looks like you head-butted a rhino, your big brown eyes are bloodshot, and that dimple doesn’t make up for the weakness of your chin.”

3. The three-item list is a little on-the-nose, but employed often.

Dick was a thirty-five-year-old with a pot belly and no hair.

If this is in Dick's POV, it is narrator intrusion. Dick would not talk about himself that way. But a secondary POV character could describe him:

Dick turned out to be a thirty-five year-old with a pot belly and no hair. His wide blue eyes and plump lips completed the resemblence to a man-sized toddler.

4. A unique voice makes descriptions pop.

He had the kind of face that would render him boyish well into old age: round blue eyes, fair wavy hair, freckled nose, and baby smooth skin, the kind of face that would age quickly overnight, as if a witch's spell had broken. The transition would be quick and painful.

5. Mirror gazing is considered cliché, but character self-description is done.

Rather than a list, add a little attitude.

Christ, I was getting old. My hair had more gray than brown and was receding faster than the ocean at low tide. The bags and sags on my face made it harder to shave. My eyebrows had taken on a life of their own. The guy in the mirror wasn't me. It was some old fart sitting in a park feeding pigeons.

6. Avoid narrator intrusion.

 The following descriptions are narrator intrusion in anything other than omniscient POV.

1. Dick's blue eyes lit up when he saw Sally.

Sally could see his blue eyes light up. An omniscient narrator could say it. A first or third person narrator would not.

2. Dick stared at his handsome reflection in the dresser mirror. His eyes were blue. His nose was crooked. His chin was dimpled.

This is you, the author, telling us what Dick looked like.

7. Sense of character trumps details.

You need to give your reader a firm idea of who they are dealing with more so than the color of his eyes, especially when you choose the vague description technique.

Is Dick harsh and judgmental, sweet and lazy, or coarse and fun-loving? The reader fills in whether she thinks that person is corpulent or thin, attractive or not, based on the way the character presents himself.

It creates dissonance when a character's physical description counters what the reader feels about him. This can be done accidentally or on purpose.

8. Make your characters authentic from the ground up.

As outlined in Story Building Blocks II and Story Building Blocks Build A Cast Workbook, it is useful to assign each main character a personality type. The traits propel them and affect the way other people see them. Temperament types are universal, but you can warp and shape them in hundreds of ways. This may sound like too much work, but it is well worth it to do the research. Personality types react to each other in different ways and your readers will not be the same temperament type.


The majority of writers employ pedestrian descriptions; those who master the craft are unforgettable.

Related Posts on Character Description:

http://dianahurwitz.blogspot.com/2013/11/the-magic-of-voice-and-r-kahler.html





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13. Google’s Panda Crawls Your Pages Looking for Ranking Factors (Good or Bad)

Josh Bachynski, over at the TheMoralConcept.net, wrote an amazing post on Google’s Panda. What I love is in his opening line, he admonishes Google Panda for being, lack of a better word, unethical, “Google sets the Panda SEO rules according to their subjective standards which they do not outright publish other than a list of vague, unhelpful, questions.” This is exactly how I feel and I’m

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14. The Room In My Head - revisited - Linda Strachan

In January 2009 I wrote a blog on ABBA about the  Room in my Head.  It went something like this -

The Room In My Head


As the new year begins I look inside my head to find that room where inspiration might be hiding….   


In the middle of the room there is space, empty of life or furniture.   Walls, accustomed to colour and pattern, stand bereft waiting for design - perhaps imprints of flowers, pattern or activity.



Underfoot boards made of wood and nails move to mark my passage and where the light floods though glass no curtains block its passage. 


And yet the room is full of hope and joy because the sun is shining, casting summer against the emptiness.  
Sounds fill the space with anticipation - strains of mystery that fill my ears and delight my senses, holding me captive - wondering - what I will discover?



This year, many years and stories later, I find my year starting with the Room in My Head well populated by the book I am currently writing.  There is still space in the room although it is well furnished with characters and places, ideas, textures and much activity.



Underfoot  ideas are scattered on the boards like so many sparkling jewels - tempting and clamouring for attention. 

Terrified they might be discarded, their brilliance allowed to fade, dissipate and be condemned to become mere pebbles abandoned on the path to the finale.


Light flooding through the glass varies with each passing day, dependent on the story's progress, from dreary grey rain-clouds...







to breezy sunshine over water.




At the moment the Room in my Head is packed with a tapestry of thoughts, emotions, wrong turns and epiphanies.


It changes daily and fills to bursting with the noise of those who inhabit the story, each with their own goals and intentions, duplicitous or discernible,

but always fascinating.




What fills the Room in your Head?



---------------------------------------------
Linda Strachan is the author of over 60 books for all ages from picture books to teenage novels and the writing handbook Writing For Children.
Linda's latest YA novel is Don't Judge Me  
she is Patron of Reading to Liberton High School, Edinburgh.

Her best selling series Hamish McHaggis is illustrated by Sally J. Collins who also illustrated Linda's retelling of Greyfriars Bobby

website:  www.lindastrachan.com
blog:  Bookwords 




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15. Writer Wednesday: Text-to-Speech Proofreading


Two weeks ago I mentioned that you should always read your book aloud during revisions because it allows you to hear errors. Well, today I want to take that a step further, and here's why. It's already been proven that the human brain can read misspelled words as long as the first and last letter are in the correct places. Well, think about this. You've read your own book countless times and know the story so well, that your brain is also filling in missing words. So what do you do?

Some people hire editors. If you are self-publishing, I highly recommend this. And not just because I am an editor. You are too close to your manuscript to find errors. Your brain will fill in what your fingers either didn't type or typed incorrectly. So having an editor is a must for self-publishing. (If you aren't self-publishing, get a few beta readers and/or CPs.) However…editors are human too. Yes, we do our best to make your work as error free as possible, but our brains work like yours. I read every book I edit twice. On the second time through, I know your story. That means my brain may fill in gaps (missing words or letters) just like yours will. Think about how many published books (even by the big five) still have an error or two in them. This is why.

What now? Ereaders have a cool feature that can help. It's the text-to-speech function. Over the past few weeks, this has become my favorite final pass on manuscripts. I send the Word document to my Kindle. (Handy tip: If you email the document to your Kindle with the word "Convert" in the subject line—don't actually use quotes, though—your Kindle will convert the document's formatting to make it look nice on your Kindle.) Then I let my Kindle read the book to me while I'm looking at it on the Kindle and following along. I have the Word document open on my laptop at the same time, so that when I hear a mistake, I can pause my Kindle and fix the error on my document.

While proofing the ARC of Looking For Love, my Kindle let me know I misspelled Harvard. Hearing Havard jumped right out at my ears, but not my eyes or my proofreader's eyes. So this is my new favorite proofreading method.

Have you used the text-to-speech feature to help you proofread?

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16. Do you live in the South? Can you help me find Clem and SLY?

back of $5front of $5
Isn't this amazing! A writer in Cummings, Georgia (Meghan Harker, http://exquisitelyodd.com/) found it in her till at work. She posted it on Twitter and a friend alerted me. I traded her $5 bills - only mine was in a copy of Girl, Stolen.

Can you help me find Clem & her friend SLY? I would guess Clem and SLY are in middle school. I originally thought Clem was short for Clementine, but a librarian in Georgia says Clem is a pretty common boy's name there.
April and Jenny KOIN Clem Sly
After I put it up on Twitter and Facebook, I heard from KOIN-TV. Reporter Jenny Hannson and her photographer Ole interviewed me Monday for a story that will run on Friday (and be online) about the $5 bill found in Georgia with instructions that it be used to buy a copy of Girl, Stolen. There's a chance the story may air in Georgia as well.

April and Ole KOIN Clem and Sly croppedI would love to find Clem and SLY and give them and their school library some books!  And if you could help, I'd give you books, too!

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17. A communication question for you

The other day I was listening to a news item on the radio and this number was cited: 500 million. It struck me that “1/2 billion” was the same.

But is it? Do they communicate the same thing?

For me, one expression “feels” like a larger amount even though, mathematically speaking, they are identical. What about you? Give your answer in the poll.

Do you have a similar communication issue that you can mention in comments?

Which feels larger, if either?

My answer: because a “billion” is a hugely larger number than a “million,” for some reason ½ billion feels like the larger of the two.

For what it’s worth.

Ray

© 2015 Ray Rhamey

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18. Ten Principles of Fair Use

The College Art Association has just released a guidebook about the special circumstances when it's OK to use someone else's copyrighted artwork.

Called the "Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for the Visual Arts," the short, free, PDF is the result of years of work from the Association's legal experts.

Here's a quick summary of 10 main principles that are covered in the document.

1. You don't need to worry about Fair Use if permission is already granted, such as work designated by a Creative Commons license, or work in the public domain, such as images published before 1923.

2. If you're writing a review or an analysis of a given work, you can show the work or quote necessary parts from it, as long as you give appropriate credit. Generally speaking, this kind of use is permissible if it involves "criticism, comment, teaching, or scholarship."

3. If you're a teacher, you can display a copyrighted work as part of a specific curriculum for a specific group of students.

4. If you make art, you can adapt or reference copyrighted material if you use only what you need, and alter it into a new medium, generating new artistic meaning.

5. It's generally OK to use copyrighted work if the use is transformative, meaning that it "adds something new, with a further purpose or different character."

6. Museums can show copyrighted works as part of their curatorial mission, as long as it's credited, and not downloadable in high resolution form.

7. Academic libraries and art schools can preserve digital copies for purposes of study, again as long as they're properly credited, and not released in high resolution form.

8. If you deliberately repurpose the work of others, you should be prepared to explain the artistic objective, and you should not claim to be the creator of those derivative elements.

9. Judges consider whether the derivative work is commercial or educational in nature, and whether the derivative work undermines the market for the copyrighted work.

10. None of these are absolute rules. Like principles of freedom of expression, there are plenty of gray areas, and judges may rule one way or another, depending on many factors. My personal disclaimer: I'm not a lawyer; these ten basic principles I've summarized here are necessarily oversimplified; they're not the last word on my personal opinion; and I recommend you read the whole document.

In an appendix to the publication, Peter Jaszi puts the principles of the Copyright Code in context by explaining how the rights of the creator are balanced against the needs of the culture at large:

"The goal of US copyright law is to promote the progress of knowledge and culture. Its best-known feature is protection of owners’ rights. But copying, quoting, recontextualizing, and reusing existing cultural material can be critically important to creating and spreading knowledge and culture. That is why there is a social bargain at the heart of copyright law. That bargain is: Our society offers creators some exclusive rights in copyrighted works, to encourage them to produce culture. The compensation that creators receive from exploiting their copyrights is important as an incentive to this ultimate end; it is not an end in itself."
Free PDF: Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for the Visual Arts
Wikipedia on Fair Use
Thanks, Animation World Network

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19. Writing for a Diverse Audience: SCBWI NY 2015 breakout recap

Over the weekend (Feb. 7), I taught a breakout session at the Annual Winter Conference of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators here in New York, NY. We were discussing how to write for a diverse audience. My main focus was on helping the audience to remember that no matter what you’re writing, your audience will always be diverse. Too often, writers think that there’s a dichotomy–that there are “multicultural books” that are read by kids of color, and that “everyone else” (meaning, white kids) read “mainstream” (meaning, white) books.

This just isn’t the case. Readers tend to read widely, and kids of color are just like their white peers, reading the most popular books, the books assigned to them in schools, and whatever else they happen to come across that sounds interesting to them.

Writing for a Diverse AudienceBelow are the links and a few notes from the handout I gave to writers at the conference, with a few annotations to clarify what we were talking about. I hope it is a useful resource when you’re thinking of writing for a diverse audience (i.e., when you’re thinking of writing–period!). If you have any further ideas–or links where writers can go further in depth–please add them in the comments.

Other coverage: SCBWI Conference Blog

Other sessions on the same topic: Newbery Medalist Kwame Alexander’s breakout session on writing diverse books


Seven Essentials You Need to Know about Writing for a Diverse Audience

  1. Don’t feel “forced” to write diversity, but remember your readers are diverse
    • If your real-life world isn’t diverse, if you don’t know any people of color, if you don’t know how to write diverse characters without relying on stereotypes, you don’t have to feel pressured to do so.
    • And don’t feel like you need to come in and “save” anyone—come in from a position of equality and seeking equity.
    • However, your world is likely more diverse than you think.
    • Often, people of color and Native Americans are most hurt by passing comments in books that aren’t “about” POC at all. (Debbie Reese’s blog has many examples of this.)
    • Don’t be afraid to discuss race. If you’re new at this, do a lot of listening.
  1. You need to know about power dynamics
  1. Expand your definition of “diversity.”
  • Diversity is not just about race, religion, class, etc. It is often about how many different identity markers come together to create a specific experience. Here’s a basic definition of  intersectionality. Think about how it affects your characters.
  • Intersections happen across 11 lenses, according to Teaching Tolerance:
  1. race
  2. ethnicity
  3. language
  4. immigration  
  5. religion
  6. gender identification
  7. sexual orientation
  8. class 
  9. ability
  10. age
  11. place
  1. Social media doesn’t have to be a distraction.
  1. In your writing, seek both the universal & the specific.
  • Universal stories appeal to a broad swath of readers: characters dealing with parents, love stories, stories of loss—these are all stories of the human condition.
  • Specific details make your story richer.
  • If you are writing cross-culturally, do your research. Debbie Reese has an excellent guide on seeking a cultural expert in Native American issues. Look for similar information on the culture you’re writing about.
  • And write a good book:
    • the most important thing about a diverse book is the same thing as for all books. What matters most:
      • Characterization
      • Plot
      • World-building
      • Pacing
      • Age-appropriate content (though not shying away from edgy topics)
      • Concept
  1. Contextual clues are better than exposition of culture.
  • Show, don’t tell!
  • Remember that your audience includes cultural insiders and outsiders. Balance enough information for outsiders with the possibility of boring insiders with too much basic everyday information.
  1. School visits are a great way to reach diverse students.
  • At the beginning of your career, be willing to do school visits or Skype visits for a low honorarium, until you can build up your resume and network with more teachers.
  • Keep in mind that schools with a high percentage of diverse students are often the most underfunded. They may not have a budget for an honorarium, but may be able to purchase books for students to compensate.

Stacy Whitman is Editorial Director and Publisher of Tu Books, an imprint of LEE & LOW BOOKS that publishes diverse science fiction and fantasy for middle grade and young adult readers.

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20. Trust Your Manuscript; Trust Yourself

Several years ago when I first started this blog, one of the first posts I wrote was titled, It's All About Trust. This morning I woke up realizing it still is--creative work really is all about trusting your gut, your instincts, your ability, and especially the work itself.

For the last twelve months I've been avidly editing and preparing my new novel The Abyssal Plain for submission. I'm now in the beginning of those first submissions and initial contacts. There's just been one problem: an irritating, exasperating, and very worrisome question I've had about one of the manuscript's plot points. Midway in the story, one of my female characters suddenly becomes antagonistic toward one of the male characters. For the life of me, I couldn't figure out why, but it seemed the natural way for the narrative to go, so I let it ride. 


That said, I didn't really like the way I left this thing dangling. I couldn't understand why my character became mean, then meaner, then almost unbearable in her hostility toward this other character. I tried to blame it on her moodiness, but that just seemed so unfair to her as well as the poor male character who had to bear the brunt of her anger. Oh, well, I thought. No one will notice (fingers crossed). Keep calm and submit the manuscript anyway. An answer will come. Strangely enough, it did!

This morning I woke up with the answer so loud and clear it made me not only laugh in sheer relief, but sent me running to my office to write down what is basically a small paragraph of insight and explanation that clarifies everything. How, I kept asking myself as I scribbled away, could I not see what the conflict was? After all, it was right there in the manuscript waiting to be seized and expanded upon.

In other words, I'd already done the groundwork, I was just too caught up in other manuscript concerns to see or appreciate it. Thank goodness for my subconscious. Thank goodness for sleep. Because all I had to do was be present, agree to work on the manuscript no matter what, and believe an answer would appear, which it did--in glowing (and logical) technicolor. Having this answer appear at this exact moment has changed my entire attitude toward both the manuscript and submitting it. Let's just call it "increased confidence." Whew.

A few of the things I've learned from this experience are:

  • Whenever you're stuck on a plot-glitch or other irritating problem, just keep working past whatever it is. Don't stop and don't give up. Keep moving forward!
  • Learn to be comfortable with mystery. If the answer doesn't appear right away, or even a few months later--trust that it will, somehow, somewhere. You may have to wait for some outside help, such as a critique partner or an editor asking, "What does this mean?" Or, "Why is this event happening?" But that could be the perfect time to receive your best and most true answer. 
  • Don't be afraid of the extra work weaving your answer into the manuscript may entail. In my case it's just going to take a new paragraph or two, and then some additional dialogue lines and tags. But it also means changing my pagination, printing out new manuscript copy, fresh proofreading, etc. And that's okay--this new info helps my story to make sense and will encourage a reader to keep reading without having to stop and figure out what's going on. (And then forget all about reading my story while they pick up something more coherent to read.)
The next time you're stuck in a manuscript, or any other type of creative endeavor--artwork, beading, house-renovating included--concentrate on trust rather than worry. You'll find a way. I can trust it.

Tip of the Day: "Sleeping on a problem" really does work! I might not have been thoroughly aware of how much I wanted an answer to my manuscript question, but it must have been in my psyche somewhere, ready to appear. 


One good tip I'm reminded of is to write down any question you might have about any life situation, creative or otherwise, and put it under your pillow. Then forget all about it. People who've tried this tell me they wake up with the answer as vividly as I did today. How about you? Any tips on the subject to share? Let me know! Happy dreaming/problem-solving.

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21. WWYK? No thanks.


I used to be guilty of it. God help me, I was terrible, and I’m sorry. As a teacher, for years I begged my secondary school pupils, when they were ‘doing’ creative writing, Write what you know. You’ll do a better job, especially in exam conditions. In my defence, there are only so many variations on pixies/wizard schools/families-massacred-by-intruder stories a person can read without going insane. (I did go a smidgeon insane. I realised it when I saw that I had written on someone’s story, This is tiresomely derivative. He was eleven.)

And it’s true that when they simply wrote about something that had actually happened they tended to do it better – but that was 100% because they were deskilled in an education system which marginalises creative writing, notbecause there is something intrinsically good about writing what you know.

I was a complete hypocrite of course. I had never followed WWYK, either as a child, a teenager (my books were pure wish-fulfilment) or as a professional writer.
some soppy wish-fulfilment, aged 15


The word that is most often used about my novels is realistic. I like that. I hate fantasy (sorry, fantasy fans and writers). But it takes a lot of artifice to make something seem realistic, and it certainly doesn’t simply involve writing what you know.  

When Taking Flight, my first novel, came out, readers much preferred the voice of the male over the female narrator. This meant a lot to me, because – though instinctively I knew that his voice was more authentic, and certainly had come more easily – there had been, deep-down, a nagging suspicion that perhaps I wasn’t really allowed to write from a male point of view? That it wasn’t playing fair by the WWYK rules. After all, I have never been a teenage boy.

It’s always mattered to me that books write authentically and authoritatively about any subject they tackle. As a pony-mad child, I noticed and cared that K.M. Peyton knew whereof she wrote; when an editor wanted me to describe a grey horse as white I refused: a grey horse is never described as white, even if it is. Many of my readers wouldn’t know, but I wasn’t prepared to break faith with those who did.

But authenticity isn’t the same as WWYK

My new novel, Still Falling, is out on the 26th February. There are no horses. There is love. There is sexual violence. The main character has epilepsy. There is a lot of trauma.


There is a lot in this book that I have never encountered personally. Just as, inGrounded, I wrote about teen suicide with a profound sense of responsibility which involved a lot of research, I took the preparation for writing from the point of view of a character with epilepsy very seriously. I spent weeks on epilepsy support sites, read dozens of books, and – most importantly, as I have done for everything I’ve ever written about – used my imagination. Not just my making-up-stories imagination, but empathy: What would that feel like? Now what would it feel like if I was seventeen? What would it feel like if I was seventeen and this was my first day at a new school where I wanted to stay invisible?

It’s always a bit scary when a new book hits the world. Yesterday I came across a review which, for the first time, went into detail about the epilepsy aspect:

I have to say something, first of all about the way Wilkinson handles her depiction of epilepsy...she has it exactly right. The way she shows what happens with a seizure, the dangers of simply 'falling' and the effects this condition has on a person’s view of themselves, along with the misconceptions and concerns of those who lives are intertwined with someone with epilepsy is spot on. (www.fallenstarreviews.blogspot.com)

Phew. This felt like another endorsement of going beyond WWYK.

I was lecturing Masters Creative Writing students recently. Their tutor mentioned how attached they seemed to be to memoir-writing, and the very first question I was asked was about WWYK. And I said –

Write what you don’t know. 
Write about what you want to know.
Write about what you’re very glad you don’t have to know.
Write about what you love.
Write about what you hate.
Write about what scares you.
Write about what excites you.

And to generations of my former pupils – I would say sorry for burdening you with the old WWYK thing, but fortunately no one of you ever took the blindest bit of notice of me. So that’s OK.
aged 9 -- orphan heroine sets out in world -- she has never heard of WWYK




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22. Interesting blog posts about writing – w/e February 6th 2015



Here’s my selection of interesting (and sometimes amusing) posts about writing from the last weekabout writing from the last week:

Four Reasons Your Query Might Be Rejected (Rachel Kent)
www.booksandsuch.com/blog/four-reasons-queryrejected/

Editing Clauses in Publishing Contracts: How to Protect Yourself (Victoria Strauss)
http://accrispin.blogspot.com/2015/02/editing-clauses-in-publishing-contracts.html

Writing Characters Whose Loyalty is Uncertain (Janice Hardy)
http://blog.janicehardy.com/2015/02/writing-characters-whose-loyalty-is.html

Give Them What They Want (Rachelle Gardner)
www.booksandsuch.com/blog/give-want/

So What Do I Do Now? (Wendy Lawton)
www.booksandsuch.com/blog/now/

How to Become a Traditionally Published Author (Carrie Jones) aka carriejones
http://carriejones.livejournal.com/401423.html

Call Your Book By its Name (Sharon Bially)
http://writerunboxed.com/2015/02/09/simple-promo-tip-call-your-book-by-its-name/

The Quintessential Paradoxical Pantser Conundrum (Larry Brooks)
http://storyfix.com/quintessential-paradoxical-pantser-conundrum

Have a Routine (Michael Mcdonagh)
http://querytracker.blogspot.com/2015/02/writer-productivity-tip-have-routine.html

Yanking Readers Out of a Story (Elizabeth Spann Craig)
http://elizabethspanncraig.com/2748/yanking-readers-story/



If you found these useful, you may also like my personal selection of the most interesting blog posts from 2014, and last week’s list.

If you have a particular favorite among these, please let the author know (and me too, if you have time).  Also, if you've a link to a great post that isn't here, feel free to share.

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23. Golden Advice: Inspired by I Corinthians, Chapter 13 -- Love

Hi folks, this is my February series on Golden Advice. I like to spend the month of February digging into the wisdom that has come my way, and that guides my art, my craft and my life. I find having some wise stuff in the soul helps me write stories with purpose. This week's thoughts are inspired by I Corinthians, Chapter 13, The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis, The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman, and a vast number of other books.


 I can barely touch a teacup of this topic in one blog. I hope that this little cup helps.

I think a lot about love. I think we live in a love-starved culture. People consume and consume trying to fill the love void in their lives. The McDonald's culture prevails. We are a throwaway, instantaneous, junk food society with a huge bucket of voyeurism and gossiping thrown in. Ugh.

Love does not thrive in this society; I am talking real love. Love is not safe; it's about risking all of yourself for nothing in return. It demands many things of you, but on the love journey, you gain your true self. I think of every story I write as a love journey. I think of my life that way too.

My definition of love flows right out of I Corinthians, Chapter 13.  Here's a verse: Love is patient. When was the last time you saw patience lifted up as a good thing. Patience often means spending mega time waiting for someone to change and suffering some wrong while waiting. It may also mean you wait and the other person never changes. Dang this tough. 

Here is the  big deal. Love is kind. It's about not digging into someone else even when you are are in pain. Kindness is about listening. It's about hearing. It's about admitting you are wrong.
Love does not boast. I come short in this one because I feel inadequate. It's not about tooting my own horn -- cough, avoid Facebook. I hope everyone who knows me feels more connected to me than my possessions, my achievements and my abilities. You know, I want to keep it real.

Love does not dishonor others. Ack. I struggle with this one too. I look at the mega success of others and feel like the smallest potato in the bag.  I have found myself saying ill favored stuff about others, because I feel lame and he or she has what I want. Dang, I don't deserve any cake. Taking time to offer kudos instead of degrading: note to self, get with the program. Creating characters who cling to honor, really is what I want to be all about. 

And at the end of the day, love never fails, even if you are shattered into a million pieces. Drag them all together and love through those pieces. You might nick others with  the shards inside of you, but don't let that keep you from loving. 

So that is the teacup of love for the day. 

As you create you artistic works, let each stroke be lit by love. Let each word be lit by love. Love is the light in darkness. Let it shine. Let it shine. Every little thing is going to shine. 

Here is a doodle for you: Tangled Hearts



You still fascinate and inspire me. You influence me for the better. You’re the object of my desire, the #1 Earthly reason for my existence. I love you very much. Johnny Cash to June Carter Cash

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24. The Elements of Academic Style by Eric Hayot




Dr. Parenti: We get the grant, we study the problem, we propose solutions. If they listen, they listen. If they don't, it still makes for great research. What we publish on this is gonna get a lot of attention.

Colvin: From who?

Dr. Parenti: From other researchers, academics.

Colvin: Academics?! What, they gonna study your study? [chuckles and shakes head] When do this shit change?

The Wire, Season 4, Episode 13, "Final Grades"

It is only within the last few years that I have reluctantly accepted that I deserve that noxious and disreputable label: an academic. Truly, I am doomed.

But then, I've yet to meet an academic who isn't keenly aware of the doom. My sentences keep going off in various directions toward what I'm sure would be an incoherent 10,000-word rant about my love/hate relationship with academia. I delete those sentences because I'm not here to rant about academia, but rather to praise a book that serves as both a writing guide and a (sometimes sly) philosophical statement about knowledge and the communication of knowledge. It's a book aimed directly at people like me, and yet I think at least a few of its chapters deserve a wider audience than the doomed weirdos of grad school.

The book is The Elements of Academic Style by Eric Hayot, author of On Literary Worlds, a book I found marvelously provocative. Elements is also marvelously provocative, and shares On Literary Worlds' desire to shake things up a bit within the academy, but it's also highly practical. It has much to say about the purpose and rhetoric of academic writing, and it does so from a position not only of deep knowledge of such writing, but deep appreciation for it — and that may be its most revolutionary element.

At its most basic level, Elements is a writing guide for graduate students in the humanities, with information about the differences, for instance, between conference papers and journal articles, between dissertations and books, between Chicago citational style and MLA style, etc. It offers the sorts of advice you can find in lots of different writing guides: advice about developing a writing practice, putting together a writing group, living through doubt and self-doubt and self-hatred, forcing yourself to submit for publication, and so on. All good stuff, and Hayot has some interesting ideas and opinions about it all, but it's not what the book is best at.

For me, the most compelling and valuable sections are about the rhetoric of academic communication. The book is broken into four parts, and it is part two that I spent the most time thinking about and working through. Hayot titles this section "Strategy" (the others are "Writing as Practice", "Tactics", and "Becoming") and in eleven mostly very short chapters he discusses the structure, rhythm, and conventions of good academic prose.

"Good academic prose!" you cry. "Surely, it's an oxymoron!" Not to Hayot.

photo by Rick Elkin

As I was rereading this book to get ready to write about it and recommend it to the world, a friend told me about Hayot's recent Critical Inquiry essay, "Academic Writing, I Love You. Really, I Do" [JSTOR link]. It's a kind of companion piece, or perhaps preface, to Elements. While there's some overlap in their contents, the form and purpose are different (the essay is formally playful in a way the book is not), but their stance on how we in the academy communicate, and perhaps could communicate more effectively, is the same. "Academic Writing, I Love You" is just what it says: a paean to a type of writing lots of people disparage and hate — indeed, Hayot begins the essay with four pages of quotations from various writers who have said that academic writing is the most horrible thing on Earth and probably the whole reason Hitler ever existed.

Even academics hate academic writing! Or, at least, they claim to. (Self-hatred is one of the fundamental fuels of humanities departments, it seems.) Who ever steps up and says that, Bad Writing Contest aside, Judith Butler and Fredric Jameson are doing interesting things with prose and language? We say, rather, that we like them for their ideas, that their ideas are better than their sentences, that we know it's bad and jargony and impossible to read but yes actually there really is maybe something there worth thinking about or so somebody once told me and I need to say this for tenure I'm sorry I don't want to admit it I hate myself I'm an academic.

Hayot is different. In "Academic Writing, I Love You" he says:
To the producers of the immense amount of loathing and contempt governing much of the metadiscourse on academic writing, I affirm: you have not accounted for a writer or a reader like me, or indeed for the many writers and readers like me, who have a taste for writing that does not say everything that it does, and for whom Theodor W. Adorno or Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Jacques Lacan or Judith Butler have provided an immense amount of pleasure, not just at the level of the idea, but at the level of the sentence. When the metadiscourse isn’t ignoring such readers en- tirely—“everybody likes the other fellow’s prose plain” (except of course the people who don’t)—it is shaming them by accusing them of arrogance (“the demon of academic hubris inevitably lies in the shadows nearby”), insecurity (“they want to sound smart”), elitism (“if we thought more like carpenters, academic writers could find a route out of the trap of ego and vanity”), or perversion (“I have begun to characterize this psyche as sado-masochistic”).

Now, there is nothing wrong, let us agree, with being a masochist. Or a carpenter. But if you want to insist that scholarly writing is somehow fundamentally broken and off course you need to account for the large number of folks with their shoulders to the wheels, pushing happily as both writers and readers in what you think is the wrong direction. Excluding those people from consideration by insisting that their desires and pleasures are essentially pathological means that you will have, inevitably, an incomplete and therefore probably bad theory of what writing is and how it works.
When I read this, I nearly burst into the tears of joy that come when a long-held secret is finally released — when somebody says what you've always been afraid of saying because saying it only opens you up to ridicule, or so you think.

Actually, as with so many things, Samuel Delany got here first. He has often championed the pleasure of the complex text — whether Walter Pater or Jacques Derrida — and it was through early exposure to Delany's nonfiction and, especially, a few key interviews that I allowed myself to admit that there was something in the sentences and prose structures of Foucault and Derrida especially that, even when I had no ability to comprehend their ideas or no knowledge of the arguments they were entering or no familiarity with the sources they were building off of ... still, I could admire. (Later, I would add Butler to the list, as well as Gilles Deleuze. Unlike Hayot, I've never fallen in love with Fredric Jameson's writing, despite reading a lot of his work.)

Hayot admits that there's a lot of bad academic writing out there. But, of course, old Theodore Sturgeon famously told us there's a lot of bad everything out there. I'd actually be willing to bet most published academic writing is not so much bad as it is mediocre, and the reason is that structurally and often even philosophically it's very formulaic — in many ways, academic writing is even more genrefied and conventional than science fiction, and academic writers, particularly ones who aren't famous or highly cited, are often judged primarily on how well they hold to and replicate the conventions.

It is here that I think Elements is most wonderful — it doesn't assume that academic writing is, as a genre, hopelessly awful, and yet it very much understands the genrefication of academic writing, and so can hold out a hope that it is not especially difficult to make a higher percentage of that writing better through some thoughtful techniques and practices. 

Here the title of the book comes into play. One way to de-genrefy a writing practice is to complicate its possibilities of style and form. Academic writing is particularly stylistically bound: not just with the jargon, but with the actual expression and structure of ideas, the patterns for which are quite limited if you (especially as an early-career scholar) want your work to be recognizable as academic writing — and if you ever want to get even the most precarious job, you'd better have plenty of writing that is recognizable as academic.

Hayot analyzes a diverse selection of passages that he considers to be stylish and effective (as well as a few he considers less than stylish or less than effective) and shows why. Here, Hayot shows that what makes this writing good can be learned by any academic, and thus academic writing as a genre can be immensely improved. It's a utopian impulse. By improving academic writing as a genre, perhaps we could even improve academia.

Perhaps, the book suggests, we are not entirely doomed.

This is why the "Strategy" section is so compelling to me. It's very nuts and bolts, and I love that. (Hayot praises Joseph Williams's book Style, which is one of my touchstones, and is the most nuts-and-bolts book about nonfiction prose that I've ever encountered. I violate its principles all the time, particularly in blog posts like this, and I don't think clarity is the be all and end all for every type of prose, but still: Williams's Style is a holy book. No single book on writing ever taught me as much.) By demonstrating close analysis of how academic prose and arguments work, and how they can work best, Hayot achieves something useful both for the writer and the reader.

For instance, I love Hayot's proposal that effective academic argumentation benefits from a structure he calls "The Uneven U". This is one of the longest chapters in the book, and one of the best. The basic idea is this: "Imagine a system or a continuum that, across five levels, divides one major function of a piece of literary critical prose: its proximity to a piece of evidence." He names Level 5 as the most abstract and Level 1 as the most concrete (the pure evidence). Looking at how they work effectively in a paragraph, he comes up with the uneven U, because the paragraph begins with Level 4, continues downward until it puts Level 1 in the middle, and then moves upward toward Level 5. Hayot then says that this structure can be expanded to multiple paragraphs, to sections, to entire papers and books — that it can work fractally, with each paragraph an uneven U that contributes to sections that are themselves uneven U's that contribute to a whole that is, in its general structure, itself an uneven U.




Hayot provides lots of details, and it's a marvelous way to think about how to write effectively when writing this stuff we call academic prose.*  It's not the only way, by any means, but it's a really effective, practical strategy, and one I'm definitely going to try whenever it seems like my academic prose is not doing what I want it to do, despite my best efforts. (Which is a lot of the time.) Further, it helps make various assumptions transparent, and by offering one very clear form, it provides ways to think about adjusting it, riffing off it, exploding it.

Beyond the Uneven U structure, Hayot does a nice job laying out the different reasons for certain conventions. His approach is common-sensical: readers of anything have at least a few predictable desires and habits, and knowing about those desires and habits is useful for the writer, even if you decide not to satisfy some of those desires and not to cater to certain habits. That's an approach I know from the nonacademic world of writing (where, indeed, I often seek to frustrate desires and write against people's reading habits. You might have noticed that I am not an especially popular writer...) A lot of it was review for me at this point, but useful review, because I have not yet internalized the conventions of academic writing, and I still feel like a stranger in its realm.

His practical, materialist sense of why we write the way we do, and why conventions are what they are, opens up space for experiment and innovation. This is perhaps clearest in his discussion of titles:
As you almost certainly have noticed, the current standard format for most work in literature, history, or cultural studies is:

EVOCATIVE, OPAQUE TITLE: DESCRIPTIVE, THEMATIC SUBTITLE

Some examples: Telling It Slant: Avant Garde Poetics of the 1990s [...] Animal, Vegetable, Mineral: Ethics and Objects [...] Beautiful Circuits: Modernism and the Mediated Life [...]

If for whatever reason you're committed to avoiding this format, you will find another major cluster of titles that follow the following pattern:

A CONCRETE NOUN AND AN ABSTRACT NOUN

This structure is more common for article titles than for books. It gives you things like "Elizabeth Bishop and the Ethics of Correspondence" [...] or "Working-Class Writing and the Use Value of the Literary"[...] At some point all of these begin to resemble the descriptive, thematic subtitles that follow the colon in the more conventional form.
Hayot then discusses the ins and outs of these patterns, the better and worse ways to use them, all with plenty of examples. But he doesn't stop there — at the end of the chapter, he writes: "If you want to distance yourself from the herd, then you'll have to break the rules," and he offers five techniques "to play with the standard format": ways of changing the balance, eliminating some parts of the pattern, looking to older patterns of titling, etc.

The command to "learn the rules, break the rules!" carries through various parts of the book, and is perhaps most clearly stated at the end of a chapter on "Structure and Subordination" in a sidebar on "Descriptions and Norms":
The somewhat violent clarifications here aim to make the process of academic writing easier to understand. You should feel free to follow these lessons and rules as they were, for now, norms of some kind. But the final rule is ... break the rules! The best writing is the best because it upends standards in some way, either by enacting them with an opalescent, devastating skill (at the limit, the truest violation) or by carving new paths through the shady woods that separate what the reader understands from what the writer means. This is a book that wants you to surpass and destroy it. After which someone will write us all a new primer.
The are, of course, institutional limits to this, as Hayot I'm sure knows. I suspect that if I had written "Academic Writing, I Love You. Really, I Do", Critical Inquiry almost certainly would not have published it, or at least would have insisted that I tame its formal experiment. (Similarly, I suspect that Derrida could publish Glas and have it taken seriously by academic publishers because he was already Jacques Derrida.) And perhaps this is for the best. Perhaps we should have to demonstrate that we can color within the lines before we get to ignore the lines altogether and make our own art. I've had one professor tell a class I was in: "Make sure your first journal articles are conventional, that your dissertation is conventional, and that your first book is conventional. After that, maybe you'll have some freedom to play around. But even then it's risky."

And yet ... I really don't believe this. I certainly don't believe it for nonacademic writing, where I am very much with Carole Maso in asserting: Break Every Rule. Perhaps academic writing is different because it seeks to extend knowledge and even identify something resembling truth, and so it should be contained within recognizeable forms, but I'm with that good ol' dead white guy John Milton on this: "Truth is compar'd in Scripture to a streaming fountain; if her waters flow not in a perpetuall progression, they sick'n into a muddy pool of conformity and tradition." Too often, academia is not a bastion of truth and knowledge, but is instead Milton's muddy pool.

For scholars early in their careers, there are especially powerful incentives to slime ourselves all over with the mud of that pool. If you experiment with your writing — if you, in fact, risk failure — you will become a cause of much concern, you may have a hard time getting your dissertation committee to go along with your weirdness, you will likely have a harder time getting your work accepted for conferences or journals, your CV will suffer, and if you somehow manage to miraculously defeat all the forces working against you, including the statistics of the job market, and get a tenure-track job, your tenure review and evaluations will probably encourage you to be more conventional. Of course, there are exceptions to all of this, and I may be especially paranoid, but I've seen very little evidence otherwise, which is one of the reasons Hayot's book feels so fresh, even revolutionary, within this context.

Part of my own problem is that I came to academic writing and publishing from the world of nonacademic writing and publishing, which is very different in nearly every possible way. I've got plenty of experience as a teacher, so I have confidence there, and I feel somewhat prepared as a thinker at this level, but as a writer I feel at sea, and I buck against a lot of the conventions because I've been writing my own way for so long, in a system that, for all its many faults, I understand pretty well. But with academic writing (and academia in general), I keep finding myself thinking, when I encounter one convention or another that I haven't paid enough attention to, "You mean people really care about that?" Perhaps I find this book so valuable because while I often like reading good academic prose, when it comes to writing it, I often feel like there's some sort of secret conversation about what it should contain that I somehow have missed, despite reading a lot of it. Hayot helps make some of that secret conversation less secret.

Ultimately, of course, we can't just improve academic style in writing. But because humanities scholarship is so tied to writing and publishing, opening up new possibilities for writing and publishing may, in fact, open up new possibilities within the institution itself. To change attitudes toward academic style means changing practices in the training of graduate students (which Hayot addresses), changing the practices of conferences and publishers, changing the practices of hiring and tenure committees. It means experimenting. Every writer and thinker knows this, because to write and to think is to experiment — to try stuff out and risk failure. It's terrifying because in a very real sense this is about people's livelihoods. But given the state of higher education in the U.S., at least, there's little reason not to experiment, because it's only a minority of people who are making any sort of livelihood from this work, or who even have any hope of making a livelihood from it. American academia is a perfect embodiment of capitalism in the way that it wastes human beings: their knowledge, their potential, their good will. 

The rules are against us. Learning them is important, because we need to know the landscape, the architecture, the logic. But the rules do not like us, they do not want us, they do not have any use for us. Not breaking them is unconscionable.

This is a book that wants you to surpass and destroy it.

Let's get started.


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*I'm deliberately avoiding any argument about whether "academic prose" or "academic writing" are useful terms that describe actual things. This blog post is too jammed with stuff already. I will say this: I'm not entirely convinced that "academic prose" and "academic writing" are useful terms, but people generally seem to know what we mean when we use them, so I use them for now. Much like "science fiction", "academic writing" means that stuff I point to when I say, "academic writing", at least here.

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25. Monday Mishmash 2/16/15


Happy Monday! Monday Mishmash is a weekly meme dedicated to sharing what's on your mind. Feel free to grab the button and post your own Mishmash.

Here's what's on my mind today:
  1. Drafting  I didn't get much drafting in last week because I had so many client edits. I think I wrote about 3,500 words and that was all on Friday. This week I'm hoping to write more.
  2. New Agency Sibling  If you didn't hear the good news, DL Hammons announced that he's signed on with my agent, Sarah Negovetich. I'm so happy for DL, who runs the Blog Blitz I'm part of and Write Club. Congrats again, DL!
  3. Editing  I have more edits on my plate this week. 2015 has really been the year of editing for me so far.
  4. Beware the Little White Rabbit Animated Cover  By now, you probably know I'm an editor for Leap Books. Well, I'm editing this amazing anthology that just got an animated cover. Check it out. (If you don't see the animation, click on the image.)
  5. Looking For Love Cover Reveal  Last Friday, I revealed the cover of the final installment in the Campus Crush Companion Series (written as Ashelyn Drake). In case you missed it, here it is:
That's it for me. What's on your mind today?

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