Let the boring girls get lucky for once

buffy-homecomingI read an article recently on the topic of luck. More specifically, how we tend to under-represent the influence of luck on our own successes, tending to attribute them wholly to our own hard work and perseverance and downplaying the factors over which we have no control.

Then, when watching a dancing movie, High Strung, I was caught up in this topic again.

You see, dancing movies (and other similar feel-good sports or competition movies) often follow the tale of an underdog, overlooked because of socioeconomic factors or other constraining demographics, who gets the chance to have all of his/her dreams come true (and, of course, find love). How lucky the leads are.

But today I wasn’t focusing on the bitchy prima ballerina (why can’t the best dancer be nice for once… or at least vaguely polite), or the POC best friend (who could be amazing if she just tried a little harder and dropped her attitude/stopped partying), or even the innocent, girl-next-door beauty overwhelmed by the “big city” and the higher expectations of her demanding (but secretly supportive) teachers. No. Today I was thinking about the other dozen girls in that ballet class. The ones who’ve been at the ballet school for years, who are always on time for class, who are never kicked out of class, who don’t sleep with their choreographers or party on the eve of significant auditions, who choose healthy, supportive relationships, and who work hard every day for their dreams and thus have never needed a redemptive montage. You know. The unlucky girls.

Where are their moments in the spotlight? Where are their kisses on stage? Where are their contracts and scholarships and standing ovations?

Look, I know their stories are boring. But a part of me craves their successes instead. In the Buffy vs. Cordelia Homecoming episode, where there was a tie for homecoming queen, and **spoilers** neither Buffy nor Cordelia were the winners… that was somehow satisfying. Thinking, “those other girls must’ve run excellent campaigns; good for them.” It’s so believable. And hopeful.

Sometimes the hard-working actors in the background should win, whether or not we’re cheering for them. Let’s let the boring girls get lucky for once.

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Top 10 things to have in your writer’s toolkit

Jack Kerouac's typewriter
Jack Kerouac’s typewriter

1. A way to write things down

Whether it’s using a word processor, notebook with (many!) pens and (sharpened!) pencils, or a typewriter, the point of writing is to… umm… write things down. So you need a way to do this.

2. Ample light

Take care of your eyes and your sanity by writing in a well-lit location.

3. An inspirational statement posted somewhere you can see

Don't panic - on my office bookshelf.

“Don’t panic!” – on my office bookshelf.

Here’s mine. Those of you who have read Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy will recognize the reference, but this particular sign has more meaning. I took this from the independent bookstore I worked at… on the last day it was open before it closed and we all got laid off. It’s too bad that the internet gobbled up the majority of inksplAt, my former blog, because it held a lot of the memories of my (wonderful, precious, special, amazing) time as a bookseller. Excuse me for a moment as I go sob in to my pillow…

4. A collection of writing prompts

Don’t let “writer’s block” be an excuse. Forestall it by finding a site with writing prompts (Poets & Writers – The Time is Now, Writing Prompts That Don’t Suck, etc.). Or create your own writing prompts. Write out a bunch of scenarios like: “and then a zombie walked in” or “he was craving Kool-Aid in a way he hadn’t since the day of the” or “and then he died.” The point of this exercise is not to necessarily write something that makes sense, but rather to just get you writing about anything until you can re-focus on your original storyline.

5. A bottle of water

I’m willing to bet you don’t drink enough. Water is essential for life, including optimal brain function. Plus it will make you feel fuller to cut down on the inevitable snacking.

6. Food made of food

As tempting as it is to fuel your writing binges with absolute junk, keep food on hand that has actual nutritional value.

7. Music (or silence)

If you are the type of writer who requires a soundtrack, make sure your playlist is ready to roll and your music device is fully charged. Personally, I write better in silence, but I do like to have a peppy song or two on hand to cheer me up if I’m having a rough writing day. If I need to switch it up, I like the Songza playlist “Conversation Pieces” for some weird mood music.

8. A clock with an alarm

Useful for a number of reasons including writing challenges (1k30min anyone?) and reminders to eat, shower, sleep, and just get up for a bit.

9. Proper posture

Future you will be thankful if current you can take five minutes to read this wikiHow article about how to sit at a computer (it has pictures!).

10. A good book

For inspiration, writing prompts, a brain break, or the comfort of nesting in a space, a good book should be a constant writing companion.

Did I miss anything that is essential in your toolkit? Let me know!

S.E. Lund

Because grammar.

Is it odd that I am a lover of grammar rules, but I also appreciate creativity, evolution, and innovation in language use? 

I think there is a difference in saying something like “Will you borrow me a pencil?” (my personal #1 pet peeve) and denominalizing words (as in the article “You’ve Been Verbed“).

The first example is giving a word its exact opposite meaning. It’s not creative. It’s lazy. The speaker knows that they mean lend, but don’t use it because… I don’t know. The kindest explanation I can think of is a kind of Jedi-mind-trick idea of framing the question as if the action has already taken place (because nothing can be borrowed until it is first lent). Or maybe some folks really do think that “borrow” and “lend” are synonymous. Regardless, I prefer innovations in language to come from more deliberate consideration. Innovation can make things simpler without being lazier, if new meanings are extrapolated from the original definition of the word.

One of my favourite positive examples of this is highlighted in The Atlantic’s article “English Has a New Preposition. Because Internet.

It discusses how because, traditionally a subordinating conjunction, has developed a new prepositional meaning. A highlight of the article (other than the hilarious tweet at Donnie Whalberg) is, “[…]the usage of “because-noun” (and of “because-adjective” and “because-gerund”) is one of those distinctly of-the-Internet, by-the-Internet movements of language. It conveys focus […] But it also conveys a certain universality. When I say, for example, “The talks broke down because politics,” I’m not just describing a circumstance. I’m also describing a category. I’m making grand and yet ironized claims, announcing a situation and commenting on that situation at the same time. I’m offering an explanation and rolling my eyes—and I’m able to do it with one little word. Because variety. Because Internet. Because language. “

Now go write something. Or read something. Or clean under the bed because you and I both know it’s been a while.

S.E. Lund

How 10,000 hours is a useless goal for writers

Today I read an article on Forbes.com, in which the author assesses Malcolm Gladwell’s “10,000 hours of dedicated practice” to become an expert in the frame of becoming an expert writer and finds it… well, ludicrous.

Despite the name and driving inspiration of this blog. I agree with the article.

The central argument is basically this: if you’re writing about 216 words an hour – as the author of the article does – applying Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule, means that your first 2.16 million words (equivalent to about 21 novels of 100,000 words each) are basically, um, trash. And if you haven’t figured out how to write a good book after 21 novels… then you will probably never figure it out.

For me, however, it’s not as literal of a goal as all that. The number is aspirational, and (as the author of the article concedes), being a novelist is about more than putting words on a page. The purpose of this blog is to experience hours upon hours upon hours of writing, whether that’s through reading, writing, editing, research, discussion about words, or whatever else might fall within the blog’s loosely defined raison d’être.

Also I’m not keeping track of hours. Let’s be honest here. That sort of eye-on-the-clock attention makes everything way less fun.

Why you should be blogging right now!

Hello readers,

Blogging is an incredible way to get into the habit of long-form writing. Authors like Anne Lamott – sidenote: Please read her honest and entertaining book about writing, Bird by Bird. If I know you, I’ll even lend it to you. – understand that half the battle is training yourself to sit down and write every day. Putting something down on (screen)paper is essential. Only if you write many many many things will you be able to dig out the gold among the detritus in the (digital) trash. Having a blog is a great way to get into this habit.

Why else should you be blogging right now? Because almost as much as you want to be an extraordinary creative writer, you want a job. According to the Society of Digital Agencies’ annual outlook survey, “blog writing, editing, and copywriting were named an increased 2012 priority by 61% of organizations, and an ongoing priority for 37%” (“Wanted: People who can actually write . . . and edit”). This makes being a good blogger the #1 digital talent an employer is looking for. Demonstrating strong long-form writing and editing skills, creating engaging content, and being able to attract readers are prized skills to hiring organizations.

Your blogging encourager and career advisor,

S.E. Lund

Erotica e-books: pleasure and privacy

Happy Monday!

I came across an article (Discreetly Digital, Erotic Novel Sets American Women Abuzz) in the NY Times Books section online, and thought it was topical. This book started as online fan fiction, and morphed into something marketable. More intriguingly, the article got me thinking about the e-book format and erotica. As someone who used to be a bookseller, I’ve seen first-hand how uncomfortable some people are buying erotic novels and other books about sex. The digital age has provided people who cherish their privacy to get the information that they want discreetly. No wonder Fifty Shades of Grey is “no.1 on the New York Times e-book fiction best-seller list for sales in the week ending March 3 and No. 3 position on Amazon’s best-seller list.”

Privately yours,

S.E. Lund