Edits and Revisions

My least favorite part of the writing process is revising. I’m someone who doesn’t like to do anything halfway. My rough drafts aren’t just vague ideas thrown at a page in hopes that something readable will eventually emerge. I like to revise even my very initial drafts to try and make them as good as they can be. And when I submit something for peer review, it means that work is something that I’m proud of. So when it comes time to get that work deconstructed and rebuilt with the help of my peers, it’s hard for me. I get instinctively defensive of my work, and I don’t want people to dismiss my effort without giving it enough time or thought. In short, I’m distrustful of other people’s edits and revisions.

I understand that this is a flaw. Every piece of writing, no matter how good or how bad, needs a fresh pair of eyes and a little bit of revision. It’s important to be able to sit back and let others tell you what your piece needs to improve on, no matter how difficult that is to do. Something that I’ve been trying to do in an effort to fix this problem is to make sure I find peer editors and reviewers who I really trust and whose opinions I value. I think having that ethos behind the reviewers gives them an extra level of credibility to the point that I’m willing to take their advice at face value. I need reviewers whose revisions I will react to with interest rather than instinctive defensiveness. And I think I’m in the process of making that work. Revisions are definitely important, and it’s time I give them the attention they deserve.

Endings

Something that I’ve been struggling with in regards to my Capstone project is how to end it! This is my first experience delving into fiction, so this challenge is rather novel to me. Normally when I write my stories I focus on non-fiction, so the ending is pretty much taken care of already. However, with the fiction genre, I have a lot more agency in terms of how I can conclude the story. I want it to be emotionally powerful, a big climax that sums up the events that have preceded it and leaves the reader with an empty feeling. I want to make the reader think. To do that, I can’t really draw from my own experiences like I’ve been able to for the rest of my project. Who’s going to be emotionally impacted by an ending consisting of the characters graduating and going to college? In addition to being boring and rather emotionless, that ending is also the cliche to end all cliches. So an issue that I’ve run into that, I suppose, is more of a compounding of the initial problem rather than a new challenge itself, is how dramatic to make my ending without being either unrealistic or over the top.

It’s not really possible for me to address this challenge by looking at my old work because this really is uncharted territory for me. However, I’m attempting to ameliorate this problem by looking at the works that inspired me to take on this capstone project. Namely, I’ve been re-reading Bret Easton Ellis’ Less Than Zero, I’m taking note of how he addresses the dramatic parts of the story, and I will try and emulate some of those steps in my ending as well. Here’s hoping it works!

How Real is Too Real?

Creative non-fiction seems to have no real definition. What’s true (and how true it is) is left up to the discretion of the author, with some choosing to prioritize factuality while others are willing to cut corners with regards to veracity if that means the reader gets a better story. A struggle that I have been encountering is how real I am making my characters. The narrative I’m writing is, at least on the surface, fiction. However, it is based off of real events that I have either partaken in, witnessed, or heard of. And the characters, while again not entirely real, are based off of people I know. The trouble I’m dealing with comes from the fact that I cannot, in good conscience, write a capstone project that involves the hundreds of people I went to high school with who are all involved (in some way) with my perception of Los Angeles and the characters I’ve created. It’s simply not possible. So I need to create characters that portray the things I don’t like about LA while also making them human enough such that the reader won’t be disturbed that the narrator (me) is friends with them. It’s a fine line to walk. And that’s without dealing with the issue of realism.

Something that I’ve returned to in trying to rectify this problem is the story I wrote sophomore year about my brother coming out. I was worried about turning my father into an unlikable villain, but in the end I chose to characterize him as honestly as possible. To my surprise, the response to his character was rather positive. Sugarcoating things in an attempt to be nice doesn’t make anyone happy. You’re left with a fake, less satisfying story filled with characters who are either unrelatable or, worse, forgettable (or both). I’m going to make this story as honestly as I can. If people like the characters, that’s great. If they don’t, I’ll get over it. What matters is writing something that I’m proud of and that makes me happy. And that’s what I’m going to try to do.

For Your Consideration

I was a very superstitious baseball player. Every time I stepped into the batter’s box I would tap both my left and right cleat three times, touch each of the five points of home plate, and then practice my swing twice. I was also arguably the worst hitter on my team^1. So, depending on your outlook, either my superstition didn’t work that well or it was the only thing keeping me from striking out every at bat. When it comes to writing, however, I don’t consider myself to be overly ritualistic. I have some habits, sure, but nothing that would qualify as a ritual, at least in my eyes. I don’t tap my left and right shoes three times, touch each of the corners of my computer, and pretend to type for two minutes before I can work. With that being said, I think that a habit that I would like to get into is the ability to actually use feedback to improve my papers.

I’m very protective over my work. George Orwell once said that writing is the ultimate form of ego fulfillment, which works really well for me because when it comes to writing I have an ego that could fill St. Peter’s Basilica. I tend to instinctively reject suggestions for improvement without really considering whether or not it would actually improve my writing. A routine I would like to start is taking each suggestion, closing my eyes for a second to fully consider it, and then deciding whether or not to implement it rather than rejecting it out of pure ego. I think this would allow me to improve my work as well as give people a little bit more freedom to critique my work.

 

 

^1 Arguably here means the same as it does in the sentence “Sam is arguably correct when he asserts that the Sun will rise in the East tomorrow.” I was an abomination at the plate.

Customer Centric.

An example of boilerplate language I found was Amazon’s mission statement. In it they claim to want to be “Earth’s most customer centric company.” What the hell does that mean? Is that opposed to not catering to your customers? You know, the people who keep your business afloat? Isn’t every company inherently customer centric? Or is there some company out there that slices your hand off after they deliver your pizza or something? Also how can one gauge customer centrism? There’s no scale. Being the ‘most customer centric company’ is totally subjective. Some people might already consider Amazon.com the most customer centric company on the planet. They’d be wrong but I’m sure they exist! In which case mission accomplished right? Pack it up, let’s go home, we’re customer centric.

Amazon’s mission statement can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/Amazon/info?tab=page_info

I almost feel as though my example of cliche is cheating because I am using a Skip Bayless quote. Bayless makes his living off of saying incendiary things and waiting for someone to react. In a conversation with Mark Cuban in 2012, Bayless credits the Miami Heat’s championship win over the Oklahoma City Thunder to the fact that “Lebron played harder than Kevin Durant did four straight games.” I hate whenever commentators say that one athlete plays harder or wants it more than another, especially when it comes to championship games. Do you really think that a professional athlete whose entire life has revolved around one sport isn’t putting 100% in on the biggest stage? Do you really think that Kevin Durant walked off the court thinking “man if only I tried harder?” It’s lazy arguing. Rather than actually analyzing the game or producing some insight of actual substance, analysts like Bayless hide behind buzzwords and generalities with no real meaning. They are not customer centric.

The transcript from the interview is here: https://priceofdata.wordpress.com/mark-cuban-skip-bayless-debate-transcript-june-22-2012/

Words words words

A word that we discussed in class and that I (supposedly) represent is the word “bro.” Bro, the male version of basic. What is a bro? Well, stereotypically, a bro is someone who flaunts tank tops, ray bans, salmon shorts and, most importantly, a sense of superiority, wealth, and/or entitlement. A bro, in short, is a douche. Everybody has had a bad experience with a bro.

However, a bro can be a good thing. In some circles, a bro can be substituted for brother, someone who you can rely on in any circumstances. Someone who is there for you through thick and thin is a bro. Someone who has your back always is a bro. The issue at hand may not be the word bro, or the people who embody the definition but rather the people who use (and overuse) the word. The Ray ban guys. However by simply beating the word into the ground don’t these people disqualify themselves from being true bros?

Which brings us to the importance of context and the issue of perception of reality. Many people view bros as intolerant, shallow, and judgemental. But isn’t assuming one embodies this attributes due to one word that they identify with (either willingly or unwillingly) just as intolerant and shallow? Additionally, the word bro has become a tongue in cheek term used by those who many would view as “bros.” Some use the word bro so others won’t or can’t.

So am I a bro? I guess I don’t know. In some ways I’d like to think that I am, however, society’s definition probably veers away from mine. I guess if you want to define me as a bro there is nothing I can do to stop you. Just know that I can’t see your hate from behind my Ray bans.

 

Are You Not Entertained?

George Orwell talks about writing as a form of sheer egoism. Writing is one’s desire to seem clever or to be remembered or to share experiences that they have convinced themselves that others must take part in.

So why do I write? Is it because I’m that self-centered? Ever since I was a little kid, I enjoyed being the center of attention. When we played follow the leader I always wanted to be the leader. When we played basketball I wanted to be the point guard. When we played football I wanted to be the quarterback. The examples go on and on. The writer is the equivalent of the point guard, the quarterback, the leader in part because there is no competition and in part because they are expressing their personal opinions, stories, anecdotes and telling themselves the reader cares. You are the always center of attention. Writing is the ultimate form of ego fulfillment.

I often find that people are bad at listening; that people, when they are supposed to be listening, are instead just waiting for their turn to talk again. That doesn’t happen with writing. Writing is something where people pay (either through money or time) to hear your thoughts or stories. Readers sit down and dedicate their time just to hear what you have to say. There’s no ulterior motive. They’re not pushing an agenda. They’re just listening to you. And that’s kind of cool isn’t it? That people are that interested in what you’re saying?

I write because I think I have something worth saying or a story worth telling. I write because I think that it’s a way to make somebody laugh while also making them think and grow. I also like to think (or hope or pray since I’m minoring) that I’m pretty good at it. And maybe that’s just another example of the six year old kid whose ego is too big to play a position other than point guard. Who thinks he has something to say or a story worth sharing and has convinced himself that you want to read it. I hope I’m right.

Remediation

I have to admit I’m pretty stumped on this whole remediation idea. My piece is a narrative which has a pretty one dimensional format. So here’s what I’ve got.

1) Do a podcast with my brother. We can compare our notes on the events that transpired and get his perspective on the narrative.

2) Turn the narrative into a screenplay of some sort? I feel like if I further develop the characters I could turn this story into somewhat of a short movie.

3) Instead of a podcast I could do an interview with my brother (similar to the Errol Morris piece we read earlier this year). I’ll have him read my piece and then we will discuss it. What he likes/doesn’t like, his grievances, etc.

Passwords

One thing that immediately stood out to me when I cleared my history in order to better examine my browsing habits was that I have no idea what my passwords are to anything. In today’s age, all you have to do is check a box next to “Remember me” and you’re done, you’re remembered, the passwords are irrelevant. That is, until you have to clear your history and log out of everything for a writing assignment.

Over this weekend I reset my passwords for Facebook, Groupme and twitter, which also happen to be my three most frequently visited sites. This is especially impressive considering I use about two or three of the same passwords for everything. Whether this says more about my apathy or lack of memory is yet to be seen.

Another thing I noticed about my internet patterns is how boring I am. The beauty of the internet, in theory, is that it is a world of endless opportunities. There are over a billion websites on the internet. That kind of choice is unsurpassed by pretty much any other medium. And yet, I visited about 30 of those websites over the weekend, with the vast majority of my browsing time spent on just three or four. While it is true that I use websites like Facebook and Twitter as ‘jumping off points’ to other websites, the fact remains that, if you gave me the choice between losing ten choice websites or the other billion websites on the internet, losing my top ten would probably be significantly more devastating to me.

The Sandlot

From ages 5-12 my favorite movie was The Sandlot.  There was no second place.  If I had to rank a top 10 movies for me they would all be The Sandlot with maybe Blades of Glory sneaking it at 9 or something just because it was the only PG-13 movie I was allowed to watch at 11.  So when one of my favorite writers, Shea Serrano, wrote a piece titled “You’re Killing Us, Smalls: The Only ‘The Sandlot’ Character Rankings You’ll Ever Need,” I knew I was in for something special.

The piece captures everything I love about both The Sandlot and Serrano’s writing style.  Serrano’s range is apparent in this piece; he covers everything from the importance of Benny ‘The Jet’ Rodriguez being the Latino leader of an otherwise (Kenny DeNunez notwithstanding) homogenous, white group to the subtle nod by the movie that Bertram was undone by drugs in sixties (the foreshadowing being that Bertram is the member of the team to steal chewing tobacco for the rest of the boys.)  Serrano also uses other pop culture comparisons to make his point.  He defends his high rating of Smalls due to potential by comparing it to when Shaq was included as a top 50 NBA player in 1996 “even though at that time everyone knew he wasn’t one of the 50 greatest players yet.”  Serrano doesn’t only use sports metaphors, but includes scenes from other movies to justify his rankings of Sandlot characters.  For example, he juxtaposes Michael “Squints” Palledorous unflappable confidence with a scene from the movie Moneyball where scouts dismiss a prospect due to the fact that his ugly girlfriend means he has no self-esteem.  These comparisons not only keep the reader entertained but also enforce Serrano’s points in a unique and effective way.

Beyond simply serving as a medium for Serrano’s style to flourish, this piece also serves as a fantastic ode to The Sandlot.  The movie has many famous moments (“YOU PLAY BALL LIKE A GIRL”), but the beauty of the movie is the relatability of the characters as well as the small things in the movie that make the viewer smile.  Sure, Benny Rodriguez can hit a baseball 200 feet into a 4 x 4 piece of leather.  Why wouldn’t he be able to?  Serrano highlights many of the movie’s underappreciated scenes, and his piece succeeded in bringing back that feeling of contentment and satisfaction that The Sandlot gave me throughout my childhood.

The piece: https://grantland.com/hollywood-prospectus/youre-killing-us-smalls-the-only-the-sandlot-character-rankings-youll-ever-need/