Tag Archives: memoir

Write This Way, Condensed: Top Writing and Editing Links for July 24, 2013

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Photo courtesy of Mateusz Stachowski via SXC.

How To Write A Second Draft
Scott Berkun, author of Confessions of a Public Speaker and Myths of Innovation, provides a concise battle plan for how he was going to revise his forthcoming book, A Year Without Pants. It’s a great glimpse into one way to integrate line and structural edits with feedback from others. So much ink is given to producing first and final drafts, it was a real treat to see a post about the work that must be done in the middle.

Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox | Write Articles, Not Blog Postings

I ordinarily wouldn’t post a story from 2007, but much of what’s been written by Nielsen, whom some would call the godfather of web usability, is still highly relevant.
In an era when content marketing is the hot trend, his reasoned assertion that quality rules over quantity is more true than ever:

Blog postings will always be commodity content: there’s a limit to the value you can provide with a short comment on somebody else’s work. Such postings are good for generating controversy and short-term traffic, and they’re definitely easy to write. But they don’t build sustainable value. Think of how disappointing it feels when you’re searching for something and get directed to short postings in the middle of a debate that occurred years before, and is thus irrelevant.

He goes onto note that it’s not the fault of blogging platforms – it’s the focus on cheap, uninformed “me-too” content that degrades it to commodity status.

How Memoirists Mold The Truth

André Aciman, who teaches comparative literature at the CUNY Graduate Center, writes a dangerous and provocative essay about how memoirists create multiple versions of their past. I say “dangerous” because this piece will mess with you preconceived notions about memoir as a work of nonfiction. Here’s a sample of what I’m talking about …

Writing the past is never a neutral act. Writing always asks the past to justify itself, to give its reasons… provided we can live with the reasons. What we want is a narrative, not a log; a tale, not a trial. This is why most people write memoirs using the conventions not of history, but of fiction. It’s their revenge against facts that won’t go away.

5 Tips For Transmedia Storytelling
Margaret Looney, writing on the PBS MediaShift blog, provides common sense advice for tackling a story that’s going to be deployed across multiple platforms. Each tip comes with several tantalizing examples.

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Write This Way, Condensed: Top Writing and Editing Links for September 9, 2012

Photo courtesy of SXC.

How I Write About Science | Wellcome Trust Blog

An interesting blog series that ran earlier this year on the blog for the Wellcome Trust, which funds health research, in which talented science writers (mostly from the United Kingdom) discuss how they report on complex scientific research topics.

When Should You Write Your Memoir? | Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent Rachelle Gardner reflects on her reading of Cheryl Strayed’s recently released memoir “Wild.” She notes that Strayed experienced most of what’s in her book in the 1990s, but did not finish the memoir until years later. Gardner asserts that perspective is important to writing a good autobiographical account:

In order for your story to resonate with deeper truth, you should have enough distance from it that you’ve gained perspective. When you’re still too close to it, you won’t be able to write it well.

Rex Sorgatz: What the New York Times Should Do Next – Membership

Sorgatz, a digital media consultant, provides a detailed proposal for how the Times can survive the post-print, post-advertising business model. Using the NYT’s existing assets, he points out how they could be tweaked to form part of a compelling membership-oriented business.

Here’s what he has to say about how the newspaper could exploit their events division as part of a membership-driven model:

Access to Times events. As part of your membership, you get access to upcoming events with Paul Krugman, Yoko Ono, and Nathan Myhrvold. Did you see that David Carr did a live interview with Robert Pattinson and David Cronenberg the other day? Did you know they do these events all the time? Why isn’t this franchise — TimesTalks — as big as TED? NYT has the clout, the curatorial insight, and an awesome physical location, but TimesTalks is treated like a fringe product that isn’t even respected enough to get on the nytimes.com domain. Awareness isn’t even the primary problem — product integration is. It’s so obvious that these events should be bundled with digital memberships to propel overall growth.

Coders Can’t Put Writers Out of a Job Yet, But We’d Better Watch Our Backs | TechCrunch

Klint Finley reports on the wild, weird world of companies trying to develop applications that can find high-interest, low-coverage topics for editors to assign to writers, how “bots” are taking over some basic research duties from cub reporters, and the rise of Narrative Science, a business that is already having computers generate newspaper reports on Little League games and corporate earnings statements. If you didn’t think nonfiction writing could get outsourced to a robot, think again! And read this piece.

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Write This Way: Top Writing and Editing Links for September 6, 2011

Photo courtesy SXC.

Memoir’s truthy obligations: a handy how-to guide | Nieman Storyboard

English Professor Ben Yagoda and Dan DeLorenzo, a journalist, address the sticky question of accuracy in memoir writing and offer a rating system for “truthiness” and charts evaluating the honesty and readability of a number of modern and classic memoirs – everyone from St. Augustine to the reviled James Frey’s “A Million Little Pieces.”

Quote and Comment | Realities and appearances, arguments and facts: Scheme for better political news.

Jay Rosen of NYU provides a handy way for reporters to sort out political news and commentary. Starting with honest-to-goodness facts and ending with phony arguments, the chart cuts through invective and is a superb head-clearer for anyone involved in covering politics.

Brainstorming strategies to combat writer’s block | PR Daily

A guest post from Mark Nichol of DailyWritingTips blog, which provides several great time-tested ways to get started or moving on writing assignments, including cubing, freewriting, listing and mapping.

Podcast Interview — Latest changes to the Associated Press Stylebook | Copyediting Blog

Grant Barrett, contributing editor for Copyediting blog (and newsletter) had a conversation with Associated Press contributing editor Darrell Christian about all the changes to the 2011 AP Stylebook. Here’s your chance to catch up on the finer points of style without getting your hands dirty!

Secrets to a Successful Fake Twitter Character | Fast Company

Adam Penenberg interviews the anonymous satirists behind @TheBillWalton, @FakeAPStylebook, and @NotBurtReynolds to find out how they have managed to garner a quarter-million followers between the three accounts.

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Write This Way, Condensed: Top Writing and Editing Links for February 26, 2010

Photo courtesy of Patryk Buchcik via SXC.

Audience Development: Critical to Every Writer’s Future
From Writer Unboxed blog. An informative post on why fiction writers must concern themselves with developing and audience for their work. Lots of relevance for nonfiction writers, too.

Access of Mobile News Rises 500%
A brief tidbit from Editor & Publisher about new statistics that indicate a huge year-over-year increase in the number of people accessing news from their mobile device–almost 8 million people total. Local news and national headline stories are the most popular items.

Stop The Presses: Writing Careers are Difficult
An interesting short post about the publishing industry’s participation in the make-it-big-or-go-home mentality, and the writers who buy into this idea. From BREVITY’s Creative Nonfiction Blog.

Five Perspectives on Storytelling in Social Media
Kathy Hansen of A Storied Career blog provides a nice roundup of links related to how modern storytelling (of all sorts) is being impacted by social media.

Why the Blackberry Kindle App May Be More Important Than the Kindle 3
Kit Eaton writing in Fast Company’s Technomix column. The decision to create an app for BlackBerry devices may create a perfect storm for the e-reader.

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Begin at the Beginning: Thoughts on autobiographical material and story structure

30 years worth of diaries, 1979-2009

30 years of diaries, 1979-2009

A dear friend of mine, Rachel Hile, contributed a very insightful essay to the inaugural issue of The Revolving Floor last month—one that touches upon a number of issues that writers of nonfiction, particularly those who write about their own lives, deal with when working on a story.

The article, “Ab Ovo, or, How Not to Begin a Story,” is worth reading in full. Rachel has an interesting perspective on the personal-writing topic, as she works as an assistant professor in the Department of English & Linguistics at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. She’s also has edited a collection of essays, Parenting and Professing: Balancing Family Work with an Academic Career, which, by their very nature, touch on autobiographical topics.

In her Revolving Floor essay, she begins by challenging the storytelling advice that first-century BCE poet Horace famously gave to begin in media res, in the middle of the action. For Rachel, this can present a problem, as she has a sharp interest in finding out what happened at the start (ab ovo, Latin for “from the egg”), or even before the start, a given story.

“Horace seems not even to consider that someone inquisitive like me, someone more interested in excavating beginnings than weaving an action-packed plot …

“I’m surely not alone in finding value in all this egg and pre-egg business, in believing that examining origins leads to worthwhile insights about motivations, people, as well as the ways people use religion to explain the inexplicable.”

She discusses the different literary formats and their structures in regards to how they view story beginnings.

“In what sort of alternate literary universe would starting at the beginning be prized, and what values would it express? … It didn’t take a new world, but a new genre, which Michel de Montaigne kindly invented for us at the very moment that some historians have dated as the genesis of the private self. The essai—an attempt, an effort at understanding that uses a different kind of thinking than plot-driven narratives, is well-suited to the practice of going back to the egg to try to understand oneself.”

I asked Rachel to share a couple of thoughts about autobiographical writing after the “Ab Ovo” story came out. Here’s the transcript of our (electronic) conversation.

Rachel Hile

Rachel Hile

Write Livelihood: You’ve kept your journals from the past 30 years and in your essay you address the concept of self-shame and its role in writers destroying their letters/journals. How does shame about past attempts at self-expression inhibit finding one’s narrative?
Hile: I distrust personal narratives with a triumphalist arc, and that’s what you get when you steer clear of the memories and events that give you that feeling of shame. On the other hand, I also distrust personal narratives that try to excise pride and always instead take an ironic, deprecatory stance toward the actions, thoughts, and motivations of the self.
I don’t think that the answer is for writers to attack moments of shame head-on, self-consciously and for their own sake, because memoir is not just about rehab, rock bottom, etc. I think that if you discover a memory that fills you with shame while you’re in the process of working out your ideas in writing, if you work around that memory, a note of falseness will enter the piece.
Easy to say, hard to do. This week I abandoned an essay I was writing because I remembered something that was key to the point I was trying to make, but that I am still not ready to write about publicly.

Write Livelihood: One of the things that I found interesting about “Ab Ovo” was that both your parents had a dream before you were born about who you would be. Do you think a parent’s prenatal dream about their child, if communicated to the child, shapes the young one’s narrative in the same way a culture’s “creation myth” shapes the way a society conceptualizes its beginnings?
Hile: Yes—not just dreams, but birth stories, stories from infancy, etc. My children love to hear the stories of their births, stories of how I knew (without sonograms) their genders before they were born (and I use the word “gender” advisedly, because it really was a sense of gender), stories of what I noticed first about them. I think children are hungry for details and stories that will make them feel that they know who they are. I think children need stories about identity from adults who love them. The power to shape a child’s sense of self is, of course, a responsibility that should inspire caution.

Write Livelihood: Any thoughts on the best way to mine one’s journals and letters for autobiographical  or memoir-related material to write about?
Hile:
I only sat down with my diaries one time with the idea of writing a memoir, and it was a non-starter. I was going to write about my experiences with depression, (yet) a little voice was asking me, “Don’t we have enough serious, introspective memoirs already about ‘Times When My Life Sucked’?”
I have found my diaries most helpful when I am writing about an idea, not an experience, and a memory or personal anecdote seems like it will be effective in illustrating that idea. Then I go back to read what I wrote at the time in order to strengthen my memory and create a more vivid impression.

Write Livelihood: What advice would you give to a writer interested in writing memoir?
Hile:
I myself feel more comfortable writing essays that draw upon autobiographical material than writing actual memoir, and that’s because of a basic distrust of self-revelation for the sake of self-revelation.
The memoirs I most enjoy reading are the ones in which I believe that self-revelation is in the service of illuminating important ideas that are broadly relevant: I’m thinking of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love and Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home as memoirs I’ve read recently that did a great job of finding this balance.

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