This is basically my writing method now.
I’m trying to finish up an explainer on homelessness in Olympia, in spite of not writing anything substantial in a long time. Jack Hitt’s answer to the question below gives me solace since it looks like my method is, more or less, the same as his.
“Q. Once you’ve got a great story, by luck or pluck, how do you tell it? Given your successes, the answer will probably be of interest to folks who make their living as media professionals — I’ll certainly take note — but I imagine just about everyone could benefit from the storyteller’s skill set, whether the midcareer professional in a job interview, the best man preparing his wedding reception remarks, or the grandmother who loves nothing more than captivated grandchildren gathered at her feet. What does one do to get better at storytelling?
I have spent a long time looking for short cuts to the answer to this very question. But I haven’t found any. So, begin by over-reporting and over-researching everything. If the story involves talking to people, talk to them as long as they will stand to have you around and then talk to them some more. Keep reading. Outline a structure to the piece. Set that aside for now. Realize you don’t know enough. Go over all your interviews and research notes again, only this time, make a laundry list of all the great details, large and small, along with the best quotes. Look at that list a lot. Begin the process of re-reading all of your research. Bail out of re-reading all of your research by convincing yourself that what you really need is a long walk to think about “structure.” Walk toward your shoes and look at them. Blow off the walk altogether. Descend into a shame spiral. Now, catch up on your HBO tivo’d backlog. After several hours, take another ride on the shame spiral. Lumber over to the desk and go over the interviews again. Make notes of your notes in tiny scrawl so that they can fit on a single sheet of paper. Look at the details. Write down the big ideas that form the superstructure of the piece. Realize you are a pompous git for thinking that ideas have anything to do with it and go back to that list of details. Set it aside. Read some blogs.
The next day, re-read the single sheet of paper with the notes of your notes and wonder, what does this shit even mean? Then outline a structure. Indulge in a nice long afternoon of intense self-loathing. Start to write according to that outline. Throw that draft away. Write a new outline. Go over your notes. Re-interview a few people. Realize, as if you hadn’t realized this a thousand times before (most recently, a few minutes before) that your own big ideas about this story are pathetic, but this list of details and the more decent quotations from the interviews—there’s some pretty good stuff in there. Fiddle with writing a few more paragraphs. Microwave your cold cup of coffee for the third time. Go over your notes again. Yell irrationally at your spouse/child/dog/a bare wall. Now, kick the wall. Limp. Review all the transcribed interviews one more time from beginning to end. Paste a large sheet of paper to a wall and, standing up with a fresh cup of coffee in your hand, outline the piece in really big letters. Realize that you’ve misunderstood the point of the entire story all this time. Scream the word, “fuck” really loud in an empty room. Do this about 40 times. Wipe off the flopsweat. Look at the notes on the single sheet of paper and realize just how brilliant they are, or moronic. Espy the grime on your bike chain—it could use a good cleaning with some WD-40. Start writing the lead paragraph again. Set that aside. Find that single cartoon frame from “Peanuts” that you keep in a box somewhere, the one in which Snoopy is reading a publisher’s rejection letter for his novel that goes, “Has it ever occurred to you that you may be the worst writer in the history of the world?” Read it and laugh. Later that day, read it again and not laugh. Feel really, really sad. Go over your notes one more time. Look at earlier drafts and passages and realize that maybe this stuff here is the lead, actually, and then if you follow that outline from seven outlines ago, it just might work. Re-read the last couplet of the first strophe of Philip Sidney’s Astrophel and Stella. Look at those riffs in the earlier draft again and realize some are not that bad. Convince yourself that your bike chain really does need another good cleaning and what’s that gunk on the inside of the rear fender? Read the latest draft-like substance and think that, with a little work, maybe this won’t be too embarrassing. Feel mildly excited that there could actually be something here worth reading eventually. Look at the list of details again. Re-read the edited draft and start to feel better. Or, if not, set it aside and then repeat all of the above instructions, only this time, after each step, masturbate.”
From The Atlantic’s interview with Jack Hitt from 2009
November 11, 2012 at 7:18pm
These were fun. You should read them.
Seth Vincent, Carrie Ramsdell, and I used to get new video games and then stay up all night playing them. When one person wasn’t playing, the other person was expected to liveblog.
There needs to be more video game live blogging. Or, at least, funny video game liveblogging.
November 8, 2012 at 12:06am
Hey. BurlingtonWiki. This is it. This is why I’m doing it.
I was born in Olympia, Washington. I lived there for my entire life until about 2 months ago. I know Olympia. I know the Olympia city council, blogs about Olympia or by Olympians, the people, the best places to get food, the best coffee, the artists, the musicians, the concerns of a lot of its people (as well as my own concerns), what I like about it and what I don’t like about it. I felt I was an information source about the city that helped nurture me.
I don’t live in Olympia anymore. I live near Burlington, Vermont now. When I came to Vermont, I don’t think I’ve even thought about the state outside of geography trivia. So far, it’s great. It’s really like where I’m from. Unfortunately, I don’t know it. While the process of discovering Burlington has been fun, I want to pry into this city and get to know it as intimately as I know Olympia. I don’t really know about the Burlington government, what coffee shops have wi-fi, what kind of food a restaurant serves, the civic-minded blogs about Burlington, the history, and maybe something about that guy who does that show with all the chairs on the weekends on Church Street.
If only there were some sort of app that I could use to easily find out about this stuff, right?
So, BurlingtonWiki. This is a thing that would have helped me out two months ago when I moved here. So, really, as I do entries on the site it is really for my own benefit. This is a really self-absorbed way of approaching something that is, by definition, community driven. I am not a community. I’m just, you know, Brian; someone who just moved here with specific interests and wanting to report it back. Unfortunately, my interests are only video games, coffee shops with wireless internet, and beer.
Let’s, say, though, just a few hundred of the 40,000 or so people living in Burlington contribute; a few hundred people with all of their own specific interests and things they either know about or want to know about. That would be a crapload of information and a pretty good look at Burlington.
This is all, of course, what the people at LocalWiki intended when they developed the software. Given some of the other people who I want to take the LocalWiki platform and see how much it can carry before it breaks. Business listings? Ok. Maps? Yeah. Profiles of public figures? Sure, that’s expected. Random acts of journalism? Maybe. BurlingtonWiki as an artistic medium? YES. WE CAN DO THIS.
Does anyone remember ZomboCom? It was just a really long Flash Intro with a voice telling you could do anything you wanted. There was no actual content; just a flash intro. What if ZomboCom wasn’t just a joke making fun of flash intros to websites? What if it was just an incomplete civic app, waiting for the right software to catch up with it? What if it was just a beta version of LocalWiki?
Well, Burlington, welcome to BurlingtonWiki: the only limit is yourself.
It is called Put This In My Body. So far, I’ve received a gift and then, when I was introduced to someone, they said, “I read your blog.” Two other people said they wanted to contribute to it. Right now it’s just me and a new friend Jenny Montagne. She’s cool. I think you will like her.
Other than I thought it would be fun to collaborate with a neat person whom I share similar interests with, I felt it would be a neat challenge to write about something I don’t know too much about on a regular basis.
The few people who have read it seem to like it. With most positive remarks I get about the things I do, I don’t believe them and just get really argumentative.
This is more ambitious. It’s scary. It’s intimidating. It could be really freaking cool.
Using the LocalWiki, it’s basically a community curated and generated information resource for Burlington, Vermont (the largest city in the state). I would say it is like Wikipedia for Burlington, Vermont but that’s not entirely accurate. Yes, there is a Wikipedia page for Burlington. This only provides introductory knowledge of the city.
To someone who lives in Burlington or someone new to the area, this isn’t as helpful as business hours, places that have free wireless internet, context for local elections, or even a page about that one guy on Church Street with the chairs.
With BurlingtonWiki, the people who know about the area or live in the area can all develop our own editing policies that suit us and it can all be tailored more for the few thousand people who would find this useful, instead of the 2.7 billion people going to Wikipedia each month.
So, there’s the civic reason for that.
The other reason is I’m battling SeattleWiki by Seth Vincent. I am going to out Wiki him. I think of I win, I think I get Seattle.
And, for the sake of gratuitous competition, I submitted BurlingtonWiki to the Race for Reuse thing on Code for America. The idea is you submit your app by Election Day and Code for America will help boost tech-savvy civic engagement. There are rewards and stuff for hitting certain milestones.
Dungeons and Dragons
Preparing a 4th Edition D&D campaign with my roleplaying group. All I really know is, they’re going to be adventurers who kill other adventurers and I have some crazy ideas for encounters.
Starting in January, I will be a one-on-one mentor with someone from Essex High School in Essex, Vermont.
“It would be funny if journalists were more like musicians and got signed to labels.”
That’s what I was thinking earlier, and I kinda giggled at it.
But then realized that book publishing is already somewhat similar.
Big, corporate record labels and book publishers aren’t really the model I’m…
This picture makes me want a Childhood Redo, so I could have been more like this kid.
“In Event of Moon Disaster”, July 18, 1969.
White House speechwriter, William Safire, was asked to write a speech that President Nixon would make in case the Apollo 11 astronauts were stranded on the Moon.
It was never delivered, and this speech was quietly tucked away into Nixon’s records.
From - “American Originals” Treasures from the National Archives
Source: Nixon Library
It’s about good/silly tattoo ideas.
After all, we aren’t just voters anymore — we’re customers.
I can’t tell if this line says there’s a lack of engagement between the voter and the person they might be voting for., though.
Considering a lot of the campaigning is sort of selling an idea of someone instead of a real person (right?), the relationship between The People and the person they feel would be the best President is superficial on some level.
1. The image is really freaking huge.
2. Using Wikipedia, the author tracks how one writer/comedian/philosopher is influenced by or influences another writer/comedian/philosopher.
3. As the authors says, “The graph is obviously biased towards Western ideologies and culture – the people entering in the information are after all primarily English speakers. It must be said: There are a great many influential people missing from the graph.”
4. The author’s picture is really cool.
5. Via Flowing Data.