Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Guide To Creative Writing

(For Someone Who Doesn't Have The Fucking Time For Any of This Hippy Bullshit)

As my regular readers already know, I don't update this blog often enough to have any regular readers. I'm currently working a full time job (I4U) and a part-time job (Cracked) while also writing for Cracked as regularly as possible. That's a good 60-70 hours of work/week, right there. As you can imagine, my schedule leaves very little time for private projects.

This is an issue everyone who manages to make a living writing runs into at one point or another. When you're still in that "starving artist" phase, every moment of your free time can be devoted towards the goal of adding to your blog, working on those short stories or compiling the Great American Novel (With Dick Jokes). Once money is on the line though, these private projects suddenly become things you do instead of paying work.

Paradoxically, the employed writer often has less time to spend on the writing he really wants to do. It's a story I've heard time and time again, and lived for the last two years. There's no easy solution to it either.

Private projects, works of fiction and book pitches and experimental writing, are how we grow as artists. If you can't make the time to create something that is wholly you, meaningful professional progress becomes much more difficult. You'll find your career, even your life, stalling in mid-air.

And it isn't as simple as "write more". Time is a fixed resource, and creative writing requires reserves of creative energy. Those are too often drained at the end of a long day of writing-to-prompts. So far, I've come across two methods for dealing with this issue.

1. Parcel your private work out in small snippets throughout the day. Work for an hour or two, break for twenty minutes of fiction, get back to it for another couple of hours, break for a half hour, etc.

2. Start your day with creative writing. Ten minutes, a half hour, forty-five minutes...whatever time you can spare in the morning, spend it on something personal. This may mean waking up early and sacrificing some sleep.

Neither of these methods are perfect. #1 often leads to missed deadlines for paying work. You may also find that switching your brain from Work to Pure Creativity causes your train of thought to jump the tracks. If that happens, hundreds will burn to death. Or you won't get anything done.

#2 doesn't work for some people. If your brain isn't active in the morning, it may be best to spend that time pushing through some of your more menial work. You could try setting aside time before bed to write, but that can make getting to sleep on time problematic.

The key is to ensure that some time every day is devoted to Pure Art. We all have a set amount of Creative Endurance each day. The only way to increase the size of your "tank" is to get your brain used to that sort of flow.

Writing is a lot like running or weightlifting. The more of it you do, the more of it you will be able to do. Your brain gets better at translating thoughts to words. You get better at identifying good ideas and dissecting bad ones. And, most importantly, your endurance increases.

If you want to run a marathon, you don't start by running 26.2 miles. You run a mile or two a day, every day, until you can do more.

The same is true of writing a novel. You can't jump into it expecting to shove out 5 pages a day and be done in a year. But, if you start writing off 2-3 paragraphs a day, and push out more when the flow is strong, you'll be surprised at just how quickly you arrive at that (mostly symbolic) 50,000 word mark.

Coming Soon: The Importance of Writing While Horny.

Monday, May 17, 2010

How To Write (For Cash)

Being a professional writer means endlessly wrestling with the suspicion that you are getting away with something. 'Writer' is one of those stereotypical vague hipster dream jobs. Right now, hundreds of fedora-sporting yahoos are setting up their laptops in coffee shops across the land. Each of them waits with bated breath for someone to ask about their novel.

Writers have a Hollywood-planted reputation for being suave, debonair charmers with just the right amount of 'torment' to justify some TV-friendly alcoholism. Californication is the worst perpetrator here.

The one thing TV/movie “writers” don't seem to do very much of is write. Sure, every now and then on Castle we'll see Nathan Fillion pecking at a laptop or David Duchoveny sitting at a typewriter. Those scenes are few and far between, though, and inevitably short. There is a very good reason for this.

Writing is boring as hell.

I say this as someone who regularly writes 5-6,000 words a day. Even creative writing is only interesting in spurts. Inspiration on its own is useless. It only achieves some sort of value when backed up by hours and hours of tedium. This is as true for journalists as it is for playwrights, novelists, and whatever the fuck James Patterson is.

Writing has a reputation as a terrifyingly difficult field to succeed in. The vast majority of aspiring wordsmiths drop out of the running before they ever make a dime. There's a reason “angry failed writer” is such a stereotypical character (Brian from Family Guy, Roman from Party Down). Is it actually that hard to make a living with your words?

Yes and no.

If your whole career plan consists of “publish novel and become wildly famous and sleep with the black chick from Firefly” you'll probably end up running into some road blocks. But if what you want, at least right now, is just to make a living as a writer, you can probably swing it.

If you are willing to do the work.

Working writers don't get to lounge around all day, slam out half a page, and retire to a swimming pool filled with jello and nubile 18-year-olds. But, if you play your cards right, you can spend every day high as a kite, huddled around your computer and writing in the dark.

It ain't exactly glamorous, but it beats the balls out of retail. Any job you don't have to wear pants to is a good one.

The Point Of All This Bullshit:
Writing for a living is easier than you think. To get started though, you will need one difficult-to-acquire item; a resume.

Your normal one probably won't do. Potential writing employers won't be as concerned with your 3 years working as a fluffer as they will be with the essay you wrote to win that scholarship contest. Your writing experience here is what matters most.

If you don't have any published material, don't worry. The Internet is full of small comedy sites and newsletters and news blogs that are looking for any quality material they can get their hands on. It doesn't matter if they don't pay, they can give you something far more valuable than the pittance that sort of writing pays; a history.

At this stage in your career, “bending” is the name of the game. A lot of writers balk at bending to a publication's “voice”, but in doing so they sell themselves short. Some of the challenge of writing in a collective voice comes from finding ways to make your own style shine through.

I'm coming to the end of this entry-we'll delve into the particulars of life as a working writer next, but I'll leave you with two great links; Here is Cracked's thread for aspiring writers. Not much looks better on a resume than an article read by millions. This is the single most useful resource for a working writer I have ever found. It's gotten me two temporary gigs, and one full-time job that I've worked for the last year-and-change. I can't recommend it enough.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Gizmodo: Fighting The Good Fight, Badly

At this point, it's probably safe to say that most of the Internet knows about the ridiculous fracas brewing over the leak of the iPhone 4G. For those of you who somehow managed to miss the story, here is the Cliff's Notes version.

An Apple engineer got drunk on his birthday and left a next-gen iPhone sitting in a bar. Some savvy boozehound found it, tried to return it, failed, and decided to cash in on his good fortune. Gizmodo paid 5 grand for the phone and promptly stuck it up online. Millions of readers later, Apple responded by calling in the man.

A police task force (which Apple is on the steering committee for) raided Gizmodo Editor Jason Chen's house and stole all of his computers and data. Media-defenders gave a roar of outrage and now a legal brouhaha of epic proportions seems imminent.

One of the chief areas of contention lies around the unnamed individual who found the lost iPhone in the first place. Apple wants to know who he is, while Gizmodo believes it is their journalistic duty to protect his identity.

This is bad. Worse than it seems. I won't deny that Chen and his ilk have laudable goals, the expansion and protection of journalist's rights, but they have picked exactly the wrong way to fight for their ideals.

Apple has attacked online journalists before. A few years back they went apeshit on Jason O'Grady for leaking a much less interesting story. Apple lost that fight, which is probably why Chen and his compatriots are so optimistic about their chances of winning now.

Unfortunately, the circumstances behind both suits couldn't be different. O'Grady was given leaked information from a source. All he did was report on the information freely handed to him, which gave him a strong standing in his fight against Apple. Gawker Media, and by extension Chen, broke the law.

Both federal and state law in California protect journalists from having their offices searched or their sources exposed by government action. However, these protections are only active while the journalist obeys the law. California state shield laws do not protect journalists from being forced to reveal their sources if they are guilty of criminal activity.

Wired, Engadget, and an elite cadre of other tech journalists turned down the chance to buy the iPhone HD. Journalism does not extend to purchasing stolen goods.

The real problem here is less about what Gizmodo did and more about what they are actively doing to the institution of journalism. If this lawsuit goes against Chen, and all signs point to that as the most likely outcome, we (journalists) could end up losing quite a lot.

Apple has tens of billions of dollars in their war chest and an infamous hard-on for fucking with the First Amendment. Online journalism as an industry has a terrible amount to lose in rising to this fight. What exactly do we stand to gain?