Monday, June 29, 2009

On the tip of my brain...

Last Friday I had a brain fart, and I'd sorry to say I've never recovered. What I mean is, I still can't think of the word that I wanted last Friday.

The scene: me, at a company picnic, describing a Liverpool-top clad coworker. We were getting a game of football (aka soccer) going. Liverpool-clad guy, or LCG, hogged the ball...maybe showing off a little, I don't know. It wasn't as if he was a Manchester United fan, in which case he definitely would have showed off, but you get the point. Anyway, I remarked, " the ball."

I simply could not think of the word that I wanted, and I assure you that "hogged" wasn't it, although it works.

It's kept me up at night.

I lie there, going through my brain's thesaurus, which admittedly isn't very good. Dominated? That's good, but that's not the word I'm looking for. Manipulated? No. The word I want is floating out there, just out of grasp...teasing me. "I'm here," it calls. "You have to catch me first."

When I grew tired of trying to think of the word, I turned to thinking of the horror of what is happening to me that it's taken four days and counting for me to think of a WORD. Age. Sleep-deprivation. Who knows...but I do know that this is bad, as in spider-on-your-shoulder bad. Words are supposed to be my tools, and I'm supposed to be good at them. Orchestrated? No. Capitulated? Come on, now you're just being silly.

At about midnight last night I thought I should just get on the internet as I usually do to find the word, but that seemed to me to be part of the problem. I use the internet for most things. (I don't believe the naysayers who say that most of the information on it is fake. I don't doubt that there's some crazy stuff, but a little common sense helps superbly in discerning what is what.) The problem is that I'm now so reliant on using the internet that part of my brain has liquefied and I am no longer able to think of appropriate words when I need them.

It reminds me of one of my favorite Kids in the Hall sketches:

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Tonight, I like this song while I write:

Who's a crappy writer?

I'll tell you: anyone who's ever written for the technical or business sector knows that getting a technical point across can be difficult to do succinctly. Having the confidence to put that point across well is even more difficult. You've got to have the right tone, keep within the structure of the document, make sense, and write well all at once. I've always lacked confidence in it despite being a technical writer for many years, but have persevered nonetheless. I only recently realized that I don't write horribly.

This realization came late because everyone is an editor. And when you produce content, you are especially under fire. The best end of the fire spectrum is when someone with no writing or grammar skills corrects you. (My favorite was when someone diligently went through my document and changed all the instances of "that" to "which" -- and not in the right way.)

The worst is when someone who is intelligent and writes well tells you that what you've written is crap or that they didn't like it. Even worse: when they don't write as a part of their job, as in, they're an accountant or something. Even worse than the even worse: when they say that the draft you took over from a somebody whose writing resembles scribbles on cave walls, and whose draft was so atrociously bad that you wanted to puke, and explode, and then rub their draft in the puke and explosion, was actually good. Then you want to really crawl in a hole.

In most situations, a good writer should be able to explain why the crappy edits were crappy, and sound reasonable intelligent doing so. But the damage is done: you've already been told you're no good and that you should look into mining salt because writing is going to end in tears for you.

It's really hard to keep up the confidence. It's really hard to write well, but it's even harder to write better than that. I think I have a good handle on what's what, so I can be honest with myself (except when discussing my weight with the bathroom scale, who is a rat-faced liar). I know I can write well enough, and I also know I don't write beautifully. I'm fairly sure that I've never moved anyone to tears. Someone I used to know once spoke of a writer we both personally knew and she said a letter he'd written to her once moved her to tears, it was so gorgeous and lovely. Naturally, that's stayed with me for years and years. I wish I could do that. I probably won't. I accept that and move on.

The most treacherous thing about writing in the business world, however, is that you think you've produced a nice piece--no, you think you've nailed it, and then someone (usually the intelligent accountant) says, "No, I found this very confusing. I had a problem with it. It's not that good." And you just want to shrivel up--not necessarily because your writing was bad, but because you'd deluded yourself so horribly!

Delusion is the worst part of writing. It's why there are query letters and agents and editors--to keep the deluded out. Are you deluded? Have you ever felt deluded about you writing, or is it just me?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


I was thinking about logic problems in writing recently, after uncovering a little one in my own story.

The More Novel by the Week blog has a great post about logic here and then I found the Encyclopedia of Logic Fallacies. Good stuff.

And finally:

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Publishing shouldn't be a popularity contest! No, I'm not bitter!

Time Magazine had an article this week about the future of publishing, and more specifically, its conflict with regarding e-books. Everyone knows that e-books are nigh, and it seems like only a few people know how to handle it. Full disclosure: before I got my Sony e-Reader, I pooh-poohed e-books for not being as tactile as real books, and thus less enjoyable. And I was right. However, I do like e-books. I think I like the instant gratification the most: I want a book. I buy the book. It downloads in one second. I read it. This makes up for the loss of the feel and smell of a book.

Anyway, back to the point: the Time article suggested that the publishing future for authors would go two ways: one, authors would go the I'm-a-genius-and-fantastical-wordsmith-who-wins-prizes route, or the promote-the-hell-out-of-yourself-shamelessly-in-order-to-sell-your-book route. The article inferred that those who couldn't use tools to promote themselves would be ass out of luck.

This brings me to my point. I highly, highly disagree and yes, even hate, the notion that in order to succeed, you must win a popularity contest. It's why I don't like Authonomy and why I think Linked In is run by demons. All of these things require others to boost you up to a level of being noticed, and they leave a huge gap for your friends or family, or former coworkers who you barely tolerated but are now "friends" with in order to up your professional network list on social networking sites, to storm the system. It's really lame because it means that your work won't be judged by its own merit, but rather by how many "friends" you can dig up out of your past to show as part of your entourage.

Don't get me wrong--please. You might be inclined to think I'm bitter, and that I have had challenges in getting people to stand up for me. You'd definitely be wrong. I just don't like the gap these schemes leave for people to fake it. Many employers advertise jobs on Linked In, and I've seen them where they say they require some amount of "friends" to "vett you." That's great--do you think they'll mind if my cat Max gets himself a Linked In account and befriends me? He can vouch for me--I do feed him everyday. Or how about a few coworkers from a former job whom I wouldn't trust as a reference or authoritative judge of my work quality, or with anything else, but I have them listed because I worked with them? Do you see where I'm headed with this?

One of my favorite blogs, The Intern, has a post about going and getting yourself noticed before submitting manuscripts. Don't just sit in your dank cave writing, she says. I think actually that most authors write in some professional capacity, but that kind of "rule" definitely edges out a lot of great books out there and leaves it to the savvy snake-charming bombasters, doesn't it? And where's the fun in that? It's a cold, dark world my friends. At least, it seems like it will be to those who don't get themselves promoted somehow--meaningfully or not.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Concerts and book signings: No thanks

There’s an Underworld concert in August at the Fox Theatre in Oakland and I’ve asked Mr. Sierra if we could go. I love Underworld, they are my most favorite band, so saying I want to go see them shows how much I love them. Because I abhor, absolutely abhor, concerts. They’re filled with the unmistakable and inevitable stink of marijuana and/or patchouli, and yelling people, and people with lots of acres of piercings and die-hard previous world-tour concert shirts and in general it’s just a sea of humanity that I could do without. And the getting there and back is always a hassle, and it costs a lot, and wouldn’t it be nicer to just crank up the CD in your car? Because the band members usually do something disappointing like yell in a weird way or do a cheesy wave or some other embarrassing body movement that you wish they hadn't done and which changes your perception of them and their musical skill forever. They say Underworld is fantastic to see live because they don’t have a set list, which means they just play, and it’s often improvised so essentially you’re hearing remixes of your favorite songs. But if that plus the thought of loads of lovely Underworld merchandise are the only good things about the show, then it might not be worth it.

It’s like book signings, which I hope to never attend again unless I’m the one doing the signing. The author in every case without fail talks to the fan in front of me at length, listening to them go on about how much they love them and then passing the fan their personal contact information because they’ve made such a connection. But then when I get up there, nice and tidy and ready with my book open, he or she signs it without so much as a single glance upward, and then flicks it away. Done. Next. Or worse, as has also happened several times, the author suddenly contorts in his or her seat to speak in low undertones to his or her handler, leaving me standing there in front of the table looking stupid.

It’s just never any good meeting your favorite author or musician because you want to be friends and have them round to your house for drinks and dinner but they don’t want that at all. You’re just cattle to them. Move along, please. And I understand that it’s not possible to be “on” at every second, or connect with fans. This is precisely why I don’t go to those things anymore.

Mr. Sierra said he would go to Underworld if I would go with him to Black Sabbath. I pictured myself at a Black Sabbath concert and really couldn’t see it. It would be twice the annoyance of people at Undeworld, maybe three times, and there’s not even the added bonus of liking any of the music. It’s probably for the best that we just have a quiet night in.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Holy Kittens!

A recent Dear Abby column:

"I have recently enjoyed the success of having my first book published. However, this achievement has begun to change my life in ways I hadn’t expected. I am a somewhat shy and reflective person by nature, preferring to live quietly rather than being in the spotlight. … However, since my books’ debut, I have felt myself pulled into a different sort of world… My in-box is inundated, and I am expected at speaking events and signings … I am becoming more and more uncomfortable and stressed. How can I be who I am without feeling like a disappointment to those who believe in me?
– Not what I expected in the Midwest."

Abby told her: “You are among the lucky few who has been published, and you now have a responsibility to yourself and to your publisher to promote your work and do public relations.”

Publishing is a BUSINESS. Writers are supposedly solitary beasts. I agree with this. I like to sit on my arse on my couch and write and not ever go out. However, this is simply not how life works.