Writer’s Craft Q+A

Q: Do you think reading books on the page is better for writers than reading on electronic readers?

A: Truly, it depends on who you ask. I still read books on the page, but I’m also a big fan of e-readers, kindles, iPads, etc. their portability makes traveling as a writer easier that its ever been before. The most important thing is that we, as working writers, (no matter how we do it) make more time to READ. For us reading is NOT a luxury, it is a necessity.

Brick-books-2But I did see an interesting study today about the effects on the human brain of reading books on the page. You can see it online here, at this web link:

Science Has Great News For People Who Read Actual Books

The study found that reading in general, and especially reading books on the page, significantly decreases stress, keeps brain waves and brain function active, leads to greater retention and even decreases the chances of developing Alzheimers Disease. So regardless of HOW you read, make sure you are making enough time to do it. Reading before bed or while you are on the airplane is great, but experiment with making time to read during the day as well. Immersing yourself in a field of language will keep you in the world of words and ideas and get you closer to your own writing life.

Writer’s Craft Q + A

Facebook vs. Facing the Book

Q: I spend a lot of time on Facebook, am I wasting all the time I should be spending on my writing?

A: The short answer is: probably. But lets open it up. Facebook has become the major player in social media, which is at the center of our current media and technology-based culture. Writers use social media in two major ways, for two different purposes, personal and professional.

FBdrawingThe first way we use it is to connect personally to other individuals and companies. You might use Facebook to keep track of friends or family, to see what others are thinking, reading, watching and what they are doing. You might trade photos on Instagram or Pinterest or use Twitter to keep tabs on what your kids are up to. It is also worth noting that our interconnected technological culture has revealed a growing population of folks who suffer from isolation and/or loneliness, and social media can be a lifeline for those folks. But regardless of how you use it, connecting on social media is taking up startling and increasing amounts of our time. According to Businessweek, the average Facebook user spends anywhere from 40 mins to a few hours checking their Facebook feed, and as a culture we spend about 9hrs a day on electronic media (Including the internet, cell phones, tv, etc) So YES, we need to look carefully at how much time we are spending online and how much time we are NOT spending on our writing lives.

The second way we use social media is to build and maintain our professional profile and network as professional working writers. If you have public goals for your work as a writer (and not every writer does, which is fine) then creating and maintaining an Author Platform, which is a network of author website + social media+ public presence, will be important. Over 30 million businesses have a Facebook page and as a working writer you may eventually have to have one too, but we use social media tools very differently for our personal and public selves. If you have a big Facebook network and are comfortable using and maintaing social media tools then that will be a big advantage when its time to build your Author Platform.

But here is the catch: most folks DO use distractions to avoid their work as a writer. Sometimes these distractions are productive (I once painted an entire house to avoid finishing my Master’s Thesis) but they are still distractions. The 1.3 billion OTHER monthly Facebook users out there are a BIG distraction. So without judging your Facebook time, just take a minute and think about how much you might get done if you spent that same 40mins a day writing.

If you want to experiment, here are a few things to try. Keep a timer going and notice (but don’t judge) how much time you spend on social media in an average day. Now try a few days of spending an equal amount of time writing. Did it stress you out? Did it make you more productive? You might also try a app or tool for tracking and/or intentionally limiting your Facebook or social media time. For example, tools like Minutes Please, App Cap or Facebooklimiter can help you track how much time you are spending on these sites and even close the windows when your pre-selected amount of time is up. Just remember, there is nothing wrong with social media, but don’t let it take away your writing time, its too vital to your work as an author, and you will need discipline and dedication to protect it.

Writer’s Craft Q + A

Taking-the-plunge-next-to-a-waterfall-resizecrop--

Q: What is “up time” and “down time” in a story?

A: In any story that is driven or defined by plot, there is always “up time” (parts of the story that have a lot of action or activity) and “down time” (parts of the story that are more quiet or slow moving). For example, in a mystery novel the  “up time” might be the scene where the cops are chasing the suspect on foot through the back alleys of the city. The “down time” would be scene where the cop finally comes home after their long and stressful day, dropping their jacket on a chair, sitting down in the kitchen, taking a deep breath, telling their spouse about the day. But up time and down time are not just present in fiction. In narrative non-fiction stories, like memoir, there is also a balance between big, active dramatic action and quiet dramatic action. In “up time” your reader’s pulse speeds up, in “down time” your reader’s pulse slows down.  Which scenes in your story and plot are up time and which ones are down time? Which to you write most easily?

Writer’s Craft Q & A

Q: Can a Memoir be funny?

A: Hell yes! A good place to start is to make a distinction between Comedy and Humor. Comedy and Comedic Writing refers to text that are intentionally shaped with the goal of making the reader laugh. The writing is crafted towards this end, whether the text is a stand-up comedy joke, a SNL skit or a funny movie script. Comedy is very difficult to write well and even more difficult to perform well, it takes bravery, instinct, skill and timing. As John Ford so famously said “Dying is easy, comedy is hard.” Humor is different. Writing humor is a much more subtle and complex thing. In humor writing you write skillfully about something that made YOU laugh and the reader is allowed to laugh with (or at) you.

Truly funny memoirs are a great joy to read. Two of the best ones I know are Susan Jane Gilman’s “Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress” and blogger Jenny Lawson’s “Let’s Pretend This Never Happened”. Other funny creative non-fiction memoirists and essayists include David Sedaris, Anne Lamott, Jeanne Darst, Carrie Fisher and Tina Fey.