TV mysteries vs. book mysteries
I finished up Sharp Object
this week. I liked reading it a lot. I don’t get a lot of entertainment reading, which is my own fault. Having watched the TV show, it’s fun to contrast how each is structured to tell the same story.
Both are immersive environments, but the TV show can be a lot more spooky and elusive. Expositioning in a book seems fine, but in TV it’d be annoying: instead in TV you show explanations of things instead of describing them. There’s a certain tension that TV can drive with unexplained imagery and flashbacks, but the lack of being clear in a book makes the experience painful: it’s like the third wall being brought down.
Spoiler: there’s a long sub-story in the TV series that isn’t in the book, the main character’s time in a rehab center and her roommate killing herself. This is just mentioned off-hand in the book. That little story did seem to stand out and was odd - it was the only thing of its type in the story. That kind of story just takes me out of the immersion. I liked the book’s choice to keep it super-short.
Technology will save you
Chris Dancy’s book, Don’t Unplug
, came out this week, which I’d pre-ordered. Back when he was an IT Management Dude, I did some podcasts with Chris and would see him out and about. He’s a good person. His perspective on technology and mindfulness - and, really, overall just being happy with life - is one of the best. Normally, I don’t like suffering through autobiographical stuff in a non-fiction book, but it’s fun reading about him. I mean, the stuff isn’t always “fun,” but it’s interesting to learn more about him.
Kids don’t like the classics, dinosaurs always work, tho
My son and I continue to read The Rise and Fall of Dinosaurs
, and I’ve gotten my daughter to tolerate me reading to Alice in Wonderland
to her. I couldn’t get my son to do the same. I’ve been disappointed that my kids aren’t into the classic kid books, but little wonder when there’s more exciting things to read. I mean, the reason I want to read those classic books is because I didn’t (want to?) read them when I was a kid.
I’ve also been picking away at Wardley’s mapping book
. It’s published as a series of Medium posts
(perfect for sticking in Instapaper
), as you do. He’s a good writer. I’d like to see more examples and cases from other companies, but his photo sharing app is fine as anchor. Then again, littering your business book with cases can also turn out poorly: it gets distracting and the cases seem opportunistic. Shifting voice to another person’s writing is the worst; it’s what makes that OKR book
How to write
Meanwhile, I started listening to Bird by Bird
. So far it’s both entertaining as a memoir and useful for writing tips. As ever, the first lesson of writing is to accept that you’ll never be published or famous, that you’re a shit writer, and that you need to spend years just doing it and getting it better. That always rings a little big like the pro-bloggers telling you that you should just blog for the fun of it, not for money. Have you ever noticed that the people who tell you that you should just do writing as a “hobby” are already successful writers? Hmm…
The book’s focus is on fiction, but the same tricks apply to non-fiction. The best one (other than making sure to frequently sit down to write, more on that below) is to just pick a random topic to start writing about, if you’re stuck. You have to just start typing, no matter what you’re typing about. Eventually, you’ll find the thing you were looking for, or it’ll find you.
Of course, after a few years when you get better, you can immediately tackle the topic you’re writing about. The next level is taking lots of notes, constantly. Then you start with those chunks, maybe just arranging them and writing the transitions between them.
The trick of all of this is that once you start writing - if you have being a writer in your blood - you’ll keep writing until your family and friends remind you that they exist and pull yourself away from it. At that point, you need to follow the Hemingway tip: always stop right in the middle of an excellent idea, somewhere that you’re happy. That way, when you pick up again the next day, you’ll know exactly what needs to be written - you could literally finish a sentence, or just a paragraph - and you’ll have unscrewed the jar again and be off to the races.
All writing teachers tell you that you have to to sit down and just start writing. That’s true, and the best tip. It sounds stupid and obvious, but you’ll come up with numerous reasons to not just sit down and write. They’ll be good ones, like bills are due, you need to book some travel, or you’re kids have driven you crazy and you can’t concentrate.
Writers usually do this early in the morning before other people wake up. Other than getting the writing done, the other goal in writing every day is to get better. You can always be better at writing, and everyone starts as a terrible writer. Very few people become good, less great. It takes a long time to figure out writing well, a long time to figure out getting done writing, and a long time to build up an inner editor that you can apply to your own writing. In my experience, people are way to harsh about their writing. There’s a better place you get to where you understand your own writing style and what your readers want. Once you figure that out, your editor makes sure you keep doing that. If you want to be a “writer,” as with so many creative things, you have to stop writing for yourself and start writing for your readers, whatever they may be. This is probably why many writers work in different mediums and even use pen-names: it’s a way to find new readers so you can write in new styles and on new topics.
I mention this because in all the “how to write stuff” I consumed for about 20 years, I rarely heard anyone discuss discovering your style and then sticking to it. Defining “style” is ellusive. As a writer, you need to be reading constantly, all the time (welcome to that section of the commonplace book!). This exposes you to tricks, forms, and other technique. If you pay attention, and read enough from the same author, you’ll also start to understand their style, and this will let you figure out your style. Once you get sort of good at writing, pay close attention to your style as it evolves. Pay attention to parts of your text that people like.
As an example of all this, I’m often told that people love the cold opens I do, just starting right in the middle at the start. I do those on all my podcasts and frequently in my writing. That’s very much so a part of my style that I discovered and learned over time, so I do it a lot. Here’s a recent example
, and here’s a place where I goofed it up
(I should have just started with the dialog, then explained the scene a few sentences in). I learned that form somewhere along the way, it crystalized back when I listened to The Talk Show
, which often does with a cold open.
Anyhow, pay attention to style: others, and your'sen’.
- The advice to “sit down and write every day,” is actually “sit down and work on your text every day.” That may not be typing something new, but just editing and rewriting.
- Most of the time, other people are what keeps you from writing. Learn to shut them out, even if you’re sitting right next to them. “Other people.” Ugh.
Now, if all you do is write for a living, you should sit down every day to write. Maybe this is just to maintain my sanity and self-worth, but if writing is just part of what you do, perhaps you can back off from that. For example, I travel for meetings and conferences a lot. Those meetings and presentations need content, and that has to be worked on. That’s my “writing” often, rather than books or columns. I’m more or less OK with this…but I’d rather be just writing (see the intro at the top).
Anyhow, it’s a good book if you’re interested in writing.