Pivoting into the real world

Writing this last blog post feels a bit like a victory lap, and yet it also coincides with the final realization that I’ll be leaving Ann Arbor and the university, a place where I not only discovered myself but also found fulfillment. Just two days ago, I found out that I will be moving to New York City to write for Business Insider’s tech section as a reporter. It’s a big deal for me, for beyond the security of having a job when I graduate (which I never really expected), living in NYC has always been the goal, specifically for its creative environment. And yet, I don’t want to leave this little creative environment found in Ann Arbor. Who knows, maybe I’m crazy. I swear I’m not ungrateful, just afraid to leave a place that values and encourages writing to the extent that Michigan does.

I’ve done a good deal of creative writing in the past few months: I’ve written two short stories for my English 423 workshop and I’ve finally penned the first chapter to the novel that I’ve been working on for the capstone. Writing has always brought a deep and satisfying fulfillment, but I’ve found that even this creative pleasure has been tainted to some extent by the thought of leaving Ann Arbor. Stereotypical “I’ve-changed-so-much” college talk aside, I can wholeheartedly say that I am almost the opposite of the person that first moved into his UM dorm four years ago. I feel better off for it, but the transformation (both of character, writing ability, beliefs, and habits) was so condensed and drastic that it still leaves me wondering and worrying, for I’m still a bit unsure in my new skin. So much of my happiness seems to be tied to Ann Arbor, so much so that even with the promise of a similar culture and energy in Manhattan (or likely Brooklyn since I’ll be living on a budget), I’m still worried that I’ll fall out of love with writing, or even more worrisome, that I’ll let the sizable competition and disarray of the publishing industry scare me off from after a few rejection letters. This cannot be the case.

My writer’s evolution essay touched on how I’ve come to realize that professional writing and creative writing can both exist without one eliminating the other, but there’s nothing like the feeling that, “Well, it’s time to prove it.”

Don’t get me wrong, I spent the last summer in NYC and I absolutely loved it, but I always had the comforting thought that I could return to Ann Arbor in the fall and enjoy another year where I truly felt at home. At the end of the day, I know that I’m simply experiencing the growing pains that everyone gets when they make a big life transition, but I can’t help but realize that the last big transition (moving from high school to college), transformed me and fundamentally changed my personality as well as how I glean fulfillment from the world. I guess this could all be boiled down to say: I don’t know if I want to change anymore at this moment, and I’m afraid of what will be discarded after this next transition.

Thankfully, while I’m still thinking through such troubling questions, I also feel far more assured in myself than I did when I set out for UM. I also realize that many people grow into themselves through college, and much of the change happens during those four years, and perhaps a slower rate of change occurs in the years following graduation. Even though that I fear that I could somehow lose my drive to leave a creative imprint in some way, another part of me feels like that is a core desire that should follow me for the foreseeable future. Being prudent, I also have set out to figure out a way to make sure I don’t lose that drive. I started by looking at what structures were in place these last four years that will help me stay motivated and thinking/writing creatively.

Free time. So it’s no secret that as long as you’re not working a full-time job during college, you’re probably going to have a decent amount of free time on your hands. Discounting the hours of Netflix and wasted revelry, a lot of that free time allowed me to think through some of the bigger questions such as the path I wanted to take in life, the mark I wanted to leave, the people I wanted to surround myself with. My takeaway from this realization is that for creativity to be fostered, and especially for the imagination to be set free, human beings need downtime to let their minds wonder (and isn’t that when the good ideas hit?). Some of that is tied to some of my weirder habits, such as putting on some headphones and walking around at night, letting my mind wander as I think through different stories or characters or settings. Luckily, I did a good amount of that last summer in NYC, so I should be good there.

I also have come to realize that I, like many writers, much prefer thinking about writing rather than actually writing. It’s been my classes that have forced me to turn thought into story, and those deadlines are certainly a blessing in disguise. So, I’ll be in New York, and what deadlines creatively will I have? Sure, I’ll have work deadlines requiring a very different style of writing, but I won’t have a professor telling me when he needs my short story by. One way to combat this is by realizing that I’ll never have more time to write than I do now. I don’t have a family, I don’t have a girlfriend, my work hours aren’t that crazy, and there’s really no excuse.

Further mulling this problem over, I’ve also decided to stay in touch with one of my best friends here at Michigan, John, who has read every story I’ve written while here…and even more valuable, he gives me a no-nonsense, no-fluff critique of every work. I’ve always know this is valuable, but for anyone looking to pursue any sort of success in creative writing, I’ve found his bluntness so incredibly helpful that I’d encourage everyone to find a friend-editor with a similar honesty. Hopefully, by staying in contact with John, who will be pursuing his own writing in his remaining years here, I’ll be reminded to keep writing. If not, I know John, and he’ll nag me about it, which is just what I need.

Finally, I’ve also come to realize that creativity deserves the same sleep-deprived treatment we give to other things in life (such as enjoying ourselves and hitting the town or cramming to meet a deadline). Without a firm writing deadline for my fiction in place, I still plan on keeping the boldness of the college attitude towards late-nights and furious typing…if I’m feeling creative, the sleep can wait. There’s something special about those moments when the ideas are tumbling forth faster than you can keep track, and you take another drag of coffee or whatever else you consume to stay awake. That kind of lifestyle almost feels immature, but how many fun creative works were created in a boring, mature fashion? Looking back, those were the moments when the best stories came forth, and I don’t plan on letting some job get in the way of that—that’s what personal days are for, aren’t they?

I think that’s the answer to maintaining the creative spirit I discovered here in Ann Arbor: keep the same creative habits. Sure, there’s going to be many more distractions in New York, and I look forward to many of those distractions, but I think even planning ahead just a little for the drastic change that will likely take place will help me retain that drive and continue to grow creatively. It won’t hurt that I’ll probably see or hear about others pursuing their passions, and I plan to use any jealousy as further motivation. There also has to be some sort of fiction workshops that exist in the city, and I plan on hunting them down and finding some other like-minded people to keep me on my toes.

Things are changing, and at the close of this chapter, my main goal is to make sure that my love of writing is something that will not change, regardless of environment or commercial success. Otherwise, my transformation here will feel like it was for nothing, and I know that there’s no way that’s really the case. I guess it’s time to stop worrying and just go do something, and at the end of the day I’m excited about that.

My Top Ten Books List

I think I might be the kind of person that would give you a different answer or different list depending on the day you asked me, but here it goes. Like Andrew’s list, there is no particular order here, and I’d say these are the books that have impacted me significantly (though their purely literary merit may differ greatly…but that’s not everything, is it?)

1) Ender’s Game

2) Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (and the entire series)

3) The Giver

4) The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander

5) Xenocide (in the Ender’s Game series)

6) Redwall series

7) The Secret Garden

8) The Hobbit

9) My Side of the Mountain

10) The Mars Diaries (going back to elementary school, but hey…)

A long-overdue response to Maria Cotera’s Literati talk

Literati talk

 

Back in February, I attended Maria Cotera’s talk at Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor. This also happened to coincide with my first visit to Literati, and the bookstore’s cozy atmosphere seemed perfect for such author and writer talks.

Maria Cotera spent a good deal of time talking about her newest book and the thought-process behind the story, and while academic and non-fictional writing is not one of my interests, it was helpful to learn how heavy the burden of research weighs on many of these writers. Cotera touched briefly on the idea that as she learned more about the story she was trying to tell, the overall narrative and angle of the story changed as more information revealed itself. Interestingly enough, Cotera said that the result of letting the research shape the narrative and not sticking to a preconceived narrative transformed her story into something far more intriguing.

One of the most interesting questions of the evening was about academic and creative writing’s changing form. Maria Cotera seemed quite interested in the power of blogging…and this seemed, well, off. I felt like I was hearing someone in 2004 talk about blogging, and I must admit she failed to sway me into her proclamations that student blogging was the new work space and epicenter of innovation. I would argue that while blogging platforms offer a niche of the internet for easy storage and an easy-to-use format…this does not mean that the quality of these blogs is anything special…it’s now just public. In Ray’s class, we’ve discussed how blogging has quickly faded from relevancy, and I can’t say that any of Cotera’s points did a good enough job of lending credence to the blog supporters camp.

Still a very interesting talk, and I absolutely loved the atmosphere of Literati…I spent a few minutes browsing upstairs and plan on returning!

Question for anyone reading: Did you attend to the talk (I saw a few familiar faces)…if so, what did you think of Cotera’s thoughts on student blogging?

It’s Working! It’s Working!


My E-Portfolio is finally done and working! And for those of you uncultured people, this is Anakin from Star Wars: Episode 1. Not that great of a movie. But my E-Portfolio makes up for it. I ended up changing my theme last minute, as I felt like it added to the professionalism of the entire thing.

I’m extremely excited to have completed such a large project, while at the same time learning so much about the good and bad of WordPress. I tried to achieve a professional-looking eport with some personality behind it all, which I think I was able to do with the inclusion of a “Motivations” tab, which talks about my more personal “Why I Write”. I like the balance that I struck.

Thanks everyone for a fantastic semester!

http://steventweedie.wordpress.com/

 

A Quick Post on 2nd “How I Write” Event

Hi everyone,

I didn’t really know where to put my response to the second “How I Write” event, so I thought I’d put it here!

I went to the event thinking that I would have very little in common with anybody that wrote non-fiction, but I was pleasantly surprised. Thomas Hager was very charismatic and I really liked the adventurous aspect to his research. The personal aside where he talked about visiting a chain of islands just get a sense for a few sentences in his book really spoke volumes to his dedication and meticulous methods. That being said, I think that he questions raised (one guy in particular seemed out to “get” Hager) about how much liberty an author can take with his conversations and plot lines in a non-fictional setting were very valid. It’s tough to pick up something billed as non-fiction and realize that there could be entire conversations that were created in the spirit of the character, and to many it would leave a bad taste.

Though I liked how Hager approached this delicate subject, I still think that he could have likened his work to a movie director making a biopic such as Lincoln. I haven’t seen the film (don’t kill me), but I am sure that he director includes interactions and scenes that aren’t strictly backed by fact, and yet people don’t come out of a film like that feeling like they’ve been duped. There’s an understanding of sorts that the director did his very best to get as close to the truth as possible, and obviously included lots of facts as well, but there might be a few conversations that were not entirely historically-based.

Overall, I really liked Thomas Hager and the way he presented himself, and I really admire his research methods. I do, however, think that I will stick to reading either fiction or non-fiction, but that’s just out of personal preference. What did you guys think?

Pride and Writing

Hey everyone. So, as mentioned briefly in class, I had the amazing opportunity this week to interview Jake and Amir from CollegeHumor.com, and write an article for the Michigan Daily about it. The two are coming to campus to perform a live show Friday night, so they were trying to generate some interest.

I’ve only written one other piece for the Daily that required me to actually go to an event and interview people, so I was still kinda new to it all. Luckily, I just jumped right in, though not without its complications.

I was up all Wednesday night listening to the shitty quality of the audio recordings, trying to get some quotes down. I was also studying for a lovely econ exam, but that’s not really the point. Basically, I structured the article around the interview questions, and I did a Q & A format, and I think it really showed Jake and Amir’s back-and-forth joking during the interview.

However, after a hellish day yesterday including sleeping past this class and sprinting to class, I glance at my email and my editor says that she doesn’t like the Q&A formats, and thinks I should switch it up. What.

Apparently, she says the Daily doesn’t usually post articles in Q & A format, even though I modeled my article after one that I found on the website. Furthermore, she says that is has just been her personal preference the last year.

At this point, I am noticeably angry and pissed off, but I realized that this was part of the job, she had much more experience than I did, and it was time to stifle my pride and just get it done. The final product did turn out great (still debating in my mind which would have been better), but this was really one of the first times that I felt, or even had the opportunity, passionate enough about a piece of writing that I wanted to scream at someone. I figure that can’t be all bad, as it shows that I really put my all into the article. It’s just something that you don’t face when trying to write a book or report on technology that your editor can’t really contradict you on, since it’s out of their knowledge-sphere.

Anyways, here’s the article, it made the front page of the daily both print and online today, so that’s pretty awesome considering I’ve only been with them a month and a half. http://michigandaily.com/arts/12jake-and-amir-talk-live-show7

Let me know what you all think, and realize that my editor edited out “shit” and inserted “pooped” which grinds my gears again because I sound like I’m five years old…oh well. Poop.

 

Books with Music?

Hi everybody, I hope everyone’s weekend has been great. I was just curious as to people’s thoughts on books with music. I don’t really know if the idea has ever been implemented  but I am sure it has to have been talked about before. I’m not sure quite how it would work, but I had a decent idea of how to incorporate it in the ebook age. I’m guessing the technology to bring it to fruition wont’ exist for a few more years, but here’s my idea.

Music really affects how and what I write, and it also is one of the most moving aspects/benefits to watching a movie that you don’t quite get while reading a book. I am NOT saying that books can’t be as emotionally gripping as movies, or vice-versa, I am JUST pointing out that film has music, books do not. So, what would happen if you could listen to perfectly-timed music while you read? Just imagine a slowly building crescendo as the protagonist in a book makes his way into a “forbidden tower” or something, the music accenting the mood. I think it would be pretty neat, but there is always the chance that it is distracting or that it works against immersion. Let’s pretend it doesn’t. So how could we make this idea work?

Lots of people read books on their computer monitor (a horrible idea), their iPad (not horrible, but not optimal), or their Kindle (best option by far–that e-ink screen!). But what I mean to say is that many of these devices such as the iPad already have a camera in them, while the others like the Kindle could fairly easily implement a front-facing camera. I propose that it would be awesome if some simple eye-tracking software was installed, allowing the front-facing camera on an iPad to track the eye movement of the reader. Of course, it would have to be very precise, but in a few years time I think it could be possible. Then, it could loop “background” music or a musical score that wasn’t too powerful in the background while you read, and once it registers that your eyes are on the “building climax” portion of the story, it could seamlessly start to get a bit more stressful, the music building, etch. With headphones on, I think this would rock my socks off, and quite possibly the rest of my clothes as well. Think of how moving a character’s death could be if your iPad recognized that you have just read he was dead so it smoothly transitioned into a mournful score, similar to the moving move scores during death scenes.

The cost would not be cheap, because you often take much longer to read a book than you do watch a film, so there’s that hole in my plan. Plus, you’d have to get a composer who could create a soundtrack that could loop indefinitely if you were a slow reader, and yet quickly-yet-seamlessly transition to more upbeat music and so forth, so it wasn’t too distracting. Maybe John Williams or James Horner would be up to the challenge?

So what do you think? Would something like this annoy the hell out of you, break immersion, and make you hate reading? Would you be interested in trying it out? Something in between? I say, why does reading need to be a silent experience? In the meantime, why can’t authors include soundtrack playlist with their books, with a legend that says what chapter to play which song, etc. Could be pretty cool.

Talk by David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas

Hi everyone,

A couple of weeks ago I made the best impulse decision of my life, choosing to forgo a nap and instead go listen to David Mitchell, the author of Cloud Atlas , give a little lecture. I brought my copy of the book with me thinking I might have the opportunity to get him to sign it, and thankfully he did. I was expecting it to be a little souvenir of the experience, perhaps the talk would be slightly engaging, who knew? I was very wrong. The talk was fairly life changing, and I do not say that lightly.

First off, the guy has the mannerisms and appearance of Martin Freeman, the British chap in the BBC’s Sherlock, and the actor playing Bilbo in the upcoming Hobbit movie. Mitchell was delightful to listen to, he was very charming and witty, and the introduction went by incredibly quick. Then he got into the meaty stuff, talking about “How to animate the beast that is the novel”, looking at the different “organs” essential to making a novel great. This was exactly what I was hoping to hear, and he touched on some ideas for character developmenet that really hit home for me and gave me newfound inspiration.

When discussing character development, Mitchell talked about how he creates a full-bodied character that still has a glint in their eye, something that makes them believably real. His method for creating a good character was new to me. He said that before he write he sits down and just writes these long entries from the character’s point of view, touching on every subject that he can think of, writing through the character and giving their thoughts on God, love, sex, family, politics, etc. . He then edits it, of course, but then he does something really interesting. He thinks of and notes an area or circumstance where the character will deviate from their written “code”, or an inconsistency. He called this the character having “an unedited inconsistency within their edited self”. At this point, I was sitting in the audience as if struck by Hagrid himself, just dumbfounded and trying to put the pieces of my blown mind back together.

Afterwards, I was able to briefly meet Mitchell and shake his hand, thanking him for giving me such good ideas on how to make a full-bodied, believable character that I wouldn’t worry about “not liking” later on. I told him that I was trying to write a novel, and he gave me some words of encouragement and wrote the amazing note you see below. Either way, the talk and whole experience was life-changing because it really confirmed that writing novels was something I really wanted to do full-time in the future (though I plan to ease into that by writing about tech/earning money to live. But this talk gave me an example of the very unique and exciting happiness that can be obtained through writing novels, and how it is a very different sense of accomplishment than making a certain amount of money each year. For someone who has been interested in making good money for most of my life (so I can afford my toys), this whole experience altered how I view what happiness is, and has really pushed me towards the “let’s give writing a shot and see what happens” mindset. So yeah, a pretty good use of 2 hours if you ask me.

What topics or areas of interest do you have? (help me prepare for my tech presentation by listing an interest or two)

Hey everyone,

Tomorrow/today (one of those nights again), I’ll be presenting on Reddit, and I thought it would be pretty cool if I could tailor the presentation to some of the interests of the class. This would make some of the examples a little more applicable and interesting for those of you there, so I’m turning to you. Also, I am very aware that this is incredibly last minute, so DO NO FEEL BAD IF YOU DON’T READ THE BLOG AT 5AM.

I just thought that a few of you might check it randomly this morning or before class. If you do, just comment in like one or two words with a topic of interest (like fitness or cars), and I’ll do the rest. If not, I’m just going to shoot for the average classmate’s interests, and lord knows I am most likely going to be off.

See you in a few hours,

-Steve

J.K. Rowling: The Details Matter

 

After watching an interview with J.K. Rowing talking through her writing process, I am incredibly comforted. I say this because she touched on many aspects of writing a novel that scare me, and she talks about how she worked her way through it. First off, she shares my love for details. That really was the largest takeaway from the interview, that Rowling really loves details, but that they have to all “check out”. Talking about what pisses her off, Rowling talked about authors who leave glaring plot holes. When I heard this, I wanted to give her a high five through the computer screen. I fervently believe that obviously the author should be the most knowledgeable person on the world they create, and should be good caretakers of its parameters. This requires a lot of work, and most authors aren’t perfect, but Rowling comes across as someone who genuinely strives to fact check and eliminate any inconsistencies or glaring issues. She had a great quote where she mentions that the first five years of writing Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, a large portion of that time was just establishing what could and couldn’t happen in Harry’s world. Parameters is the perfect world, and it is something I am struggling to create for my own novel.

It really makes sense that the parameters should be set up first, because it gives a bit of purpose and linearity to one’s story. Rowling mentions that she made sure to establish that anything conjured out of thin air didn’t last, thus the need for currency (some economics professor poked a bunch of holes in the economy of Harry Potter since, but at least she tried). Rules such as this seem to be the knitty gritty details that lack the glamour of finally writing, but a necessity nonetheless. For example, I’ve had to look up altitudes that are easily breathable for humans for my story, as well as other random facts such as the average dimensions of hotels, all so that I can begin to establish an environment that is logical and thus “believable.” For an insane interactive diagram showing the connections in Harry Potter, check out this map. http://www.muckety.com/Harry-Potter/5013979.muckety

Rowling also mentioned how she amassed details that were not directly related to the plot, but were important for her in establishing her almost biblical knowledge of the world she was creating. In many ways, these details ended up being incorporated into her novels, but she didn’t know it at the time. This disjointed brainstorming process is similar to my own. I struggle to create a complete story arc, but I have enough character details and environmental details to fill, well hopefully, a book. She also made a great point on names. Rowling “collects” names, simply writing notebooks full of names until she hits the one that just feel right. I love this technique, and think that I will incorporate it myself. I struggle to find names for characters and places in my book, because I really feel the urge to get it right.

One last note was Rowling’s responses about target audiences. She says that she wasn’t aware of writing to any specific audience besides herself. She didn’t want to be influenced by what she thought a certain type of reader would be expecting, she wanted to keep her writing consistent with what she thought was great. I found this fascinating, because I feel like nowadays it is expected that you write to your audience (young adult books aren’t overly complicated or descriptive mostly, etc). Lots to think about.

Much more was covered in Rowling’s interview, but these were the highlights for me.