Tag Archives: Mark Twain

Reading William Gibson

Was it only two days ago that William Gibson’s Distrust That Particular Flavor arrived in the mail? I am nearly done and enjoying his wonderful wordsmithing. His new book is really a collection of old articles and other nonfiction Gibson has written over the last couple decades.

I picked up Gibson’s Spook Country a couple years ago and enjoyed it immensely. In this newly published collection he explains what his books are about.

That might sound funny (it does to me), but he makes an interesting point about novels.

Novels require some explanation or at least some prerequisite knowledge in order to fully appreciate them.

They differ significantly from film in that way.

He recounts the very first time he went to see a film and how he understood the experience within an hour.

Ease of use is what I’ll call it.

That ease of use is why multitudes will go to the movies and not bother to read a book (or the book that inspired it).

We do miss something when we don’t read.

Mark Twain said it over a century ago.

[I just added the first name “Mark” because there are a number of people who might not know of a man simply “Twain”.]

“A person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t read.”

We must write in such a way that more people will want to read our work.

William Gibson does that for me.

Thanks to WordPress for reminding me:

“Easy reading is damn hard writing.”

Nathaniel Hawthorne


40,000 Words In 42 Days

If you want to write a book you can be encouraged by this: the median length of a book is between 64,000 and 65,000 words. I found the article that points that out here. Interestingly enough, “Brave New World” is right in the middle at 64,531 words.

At the rate I’m going in this blog, AOO, I can reach the same word count as “Brave New World” in 76 days. The next trick will be writing not just what comes out of my head, but stringing all those words together in a logical semblance of a story. I am very sincere here. This discipline is helping me immensely.

If you are just tuning in, I’ve been doing something that resembles Julia Cameron’s morning pages exercise for 42 days. Not exactly every day. I wrote 30 days in a row and then was spotty for about 5 or 6 days and now I’m in the first weeks of another 30 days. I’ve also been increasing the average number of words written in each session a little bit at a time.

I honestly believe that what is the biggest obstacle to doing this is the possibility or even likelihood that you will judge your efforts harshly. In fact, Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way” points out that you should not be judging yourself at all in this exercise.

Tonight after I finish my 1100 or so words I will then go to my new private blog and write more about a story that has been in my head for years.

Some of you reading this may have no trouble writing at all during the normal course of your day, week or month. That’s wonderful. Really. BUT, if you ever run into a block I highly recommend Julia Cameron’s book. You can also visit my blog posts here starting February 23rd, 2012 to see examples of what morning pages can look like.

I told my wife’s sister’s mother-in-law today that I had written 40,000 words and that I’m ready to write a novel. She was impressed and wished me luck in getting published.

After I get my first draft done I will certainly be open to criticism. I do believe I will get published. My goal is this year by December 30th.

It’s interesting how some folks in older generations don’t realize how their comments can be perceived as negative. I’m not letting her response get me down, but I don’t think she even realized that her good luck sounded pretty pessimistic. And I don’t think I took it wrong. Many people want to protect us from disappointment and think that if we stay “realistic” we won’t set ourselves up for that disappointment.

It’s important to look for the connections and resources you need to get you to the next level in your project – whatever it is.

Don’t focus on the advice of people who have never done what you are attempting to do or are in the process of doing.

Some others reading this are wondering how you could write 40,000 words anytime soon. One step at a time. One day at a time. One keystroke at a time. (Actually, if you’re a pretty good typist like me then you can probably pound out 60 words a minute or more.)

If you’ve been stuck or hesitating, remember this: WordPress is FREE in this format. You just go to WordPress.com and sign up for a blog.

You can write in Visual or HTML and I write in HTML because I know a tiny bit of code that lets me easily insert links like the one in the second sentence above. Visual is the same as “what you see is what you get” or WYSIWYG (Whizzy-wig). If you’ve seen those seven letters before and wondered what they meant, now you know.

I like very much that WordPress automatically saves my writing every so often and if you read my post the other day you know that even if it somehow logs you out you can log back in and then hit the back button to the page where you were typing and it should still be there.

So for me that means that everything that I have ever written with WordPress has not been lost. Unless I wanted it to be.

For me that has eliminated one of the most discouraging and frustrating things about working with computers and the internet – losing your work. Never happened to me fully with WordPress.

If you’ve been procrastinating and part of it was because you didn’t know exactly where to start, get started with WordPress right now. Really! You can go start a WordPress blog right this moment and come back and read this later. Go ahead. It’s ok. This will be right here when you get back. That goes for you writers who have written successfully, too. If you are stuck right now or if you ever get stuck. Start the WordPress blog now and when you need it, it will be there. If you don’t want it to be public for whatever reason, just make sure you check the private button when you create it. That’s what I did when I created this new one: TheNewWrittenWord.Wordpress.com. Nice humble title, eh? 😉

That’s where I’ll be writing next today and hopefully every day that I write here. These exercises here on AOO are for me to get the foam or the head off of the beer. I kind of like that image which I got from a philosophy professor not quite 30 years ago.

These morning pages are supposed to get you flowing. That’s another reason why you want to leave the judgement out of it. It gets in the way of your flow! You want to get to writing, writing and writing some more. Exercise those writing muscles.

I’ve even noticed a little bit of my style developing in just over a month. And I’m getting better at letting it flow. You will, too, if you give yourself a chance.

AND, if you are not a writer and you want to expand your creativity or exercise your creative muscles, morning pages are a great way to do it. However you want to be creative, start with this.

And if you don’t think of yourself as creative but would like to see if you can get there, do morning pages. Just remember that it’s ok if you don’t start out like Mark Twain. I’m guessing that no one would. And most of us will never be Mark Twain. And that’s ok. You want to be the best you. Right along the lines of Oprah telling us to “live your best life.” We can. We need practice.

We need to be humble enough to realize that there is room for improvement in what we do or whatever we want to do.

Are you ready to achieve more? I know I am. Finally!

Drawing The Audience In

That’s a big part of what a writer wants to do, right? Whether it’s television, screenplays, novels, poetry or even an advertisement aimed at a particular audience, you want to make sure that the reader is reading or the watcher is watching.

I’ve read that you want to have a compelling first page if you’re writing a book. Maybe even the first paragraph needs to enthrall the reader so that they keep reading. Whether we like it or not, the reader (audience) has other choices they can make with their time. So you are competing with other books and not just other books, but other activities. When television first came on to the scene radio saw some of it’s audience move to the new medium.

A few months ago I was reading Mark Twain’s autobiography which he made sure was released 100 years after his death. In it he talks about his public speaking and even back then there was competition. His big advantage was his fame and talent, which includes his perceived talent. I don’t mean to imply that he was less talented than so many people perceived him to be. He was a giant, in my opinion.

However, if you put yourself in the shoes of other speakers of that day, you would see Mark Twain as competition in some cases. Certainly this was true for public speaking engagements. When radio came to fruition there were public speakers who took advantage of radio to spread their fame and increase their income.

Many artists don’t like to talk about money and I believe that you don’t want it to be an overriding factor in what you create, but it’s not completely unimportant.

Mark Twain knew this when he negotiated how much he got paid per word or per speaking engagement. However, he wrote and spoke his truth to his audience. I doubt very much that he did any thinking about how he might change “Huckleberry Finn” so that more people would buy it.

You can also say that marketing was barely even in its infancy back then. So does that make a big difference today?

As far as artistic integrity goes, I would say no. But, it doesn’t hurt to begin to understand who you are writing for. Who are you writing for?

This isn’t a primer. Just some things to think about.

As far as money and Twain goes, he did his fair share of newspaper writing and I think he thought of his work as his job.

My head is aching right now so I’ve lost exactly where I’m going with this exercise.

Oh, yeah…drawing the audience in. I don’t purport to even suppose that what I’m writing to day is a great or even good example of this. Unfortunately for you, the reader, this is a writing exercise for me first. Hopefully there will be some nuggets among this detritus.

What I guess I’m saying is that drawing the audience in is so that they’ll be interested in your story. You want them interested so they’ll read more. You have a better chance of having a wider audience that way and therefore, more success monetarily.

But not everyone is Mark Twain. For one, there are writers who are scared to death of public speaking. For another, it’s a different world now with so many more choices.

Hollywood has found that out over the last 20 years or so. Did you know that video games are bigger than movies now? I don’t know the exact dollar amount of books sold, but I’ll bet that movies are bigger than books in terms of dollars and probably audience numbers.

When I was reading Joe Ezsterhas a couple years ago he mentioned how much more money you are paid for each word when you write a screenplay versus a novel. It’s an order of magnitude higher. Ten times the amount or more from Hollywood for a nice little 120 page screenplay versus a small book with the same number of words. Sometimes a hundred times as much, if memory serves.

No matter which you choose, you have to please or attract the audience to a certain extent.

Does this mean you have to compromise your art? I guess that depends on how strictly you define “compromising your art”.

If you are considering the type of reader you want to attract, is that in itself a type of compromise?

I don’t think so.

Consider young adult fiction like “The Hunger Games”. I read all three books and enjoyed them. I enjoyed them even more than I expected. What I found was that there were certain lines that they didn’t cross. There might have been descriptions of making out a little, but I don’t remember actual descriptions or even allusions to sexual intercourse. In my experience you will find that in novels (sometimes or oftentimes) that are aimed at adults as opposed to young adults.

I’ve even noticed that some people will be careful to say that young adult fiction is not aimed at a particular age group, but it’s a particular style of writing. My guess is that they want to widen the audience to someone like me. When I first heard of The Hunger Games I actually waited to see what my wife thought and then my teenage nephew and my 21 yr old son. After they all gave the books very high marks I decided to take the plunge and I don’t remember exactly how quickly I read them, but it seems like I was fairly busy and ended up reading all three books in four or five weeks. For me, during a busy time, that’s a lot of books.

So it seems that the young adult fiction writers would like to eat their cake and have it, too! (That’s actually the proper phrase – you can Google it!) They want to reach both “adults” and “young adults” if possible. If they write a book with extra elements like the aforementioned sexual intercourse scenes or even allusions, they cut out a potential part of the audience. If they don’t include those then more people feel comfortable recommending those books to young adults as well as their more mature friends.

Some people would call that selling out. Not me.

If you really feel that your content requires certain scenes that many would not be ok with for younger, less mature (possibly) readers, then I guess cutting them might be compromising your art. That’s your decision.

Some people felt that putting “The Sopranos” on A&E meant that they weren’t being true to the story. All I know is that I watched it on HBO. Game of Thrones might have been possible on some other network, but now that it’s on HBO, the sexual content is more explicit than I’m finding in the book. Of course, I’m just reading the first book now and that could change. There are definitely things that are mentioned in the book or implied and then there are much more explicit scenes on HBO. Was this so the book could more readily appeal to the HBO audience or the perceived likes of that audience? That’s not to say that there aren’t any explicit scenes in the book that were left out or cut down for HBO, but how much did HBO change the books to appeal to their audience? We shall see. It’s fair to say that I’m reading the books BECAUSE I watched the show.

Last summer I went to a panel at Comic-Con with George R.R. Martin on it. He wasn’t the only reason I went to that panel on immortality in fiction, but I did get a little more of a charge out of because I knew of some of his work. And that’s because of HBO. Believe it or not, I don’t think I had heard of him in a way that stuck prior to this show. I may have heard the name and not made a real connection to what he wrote some years before, but I wasn’t drawn in.

HBO did that initially and then Comic-Con and now his actual book.

Maybe drawing in a big audience is more complicated. But you have to get their attention somehow so that they will continue on. Are you still reading this?

(If you are using WordPress please beware. Even though it’s usually really great I am adding this to help you if you run into the problem that I did just now. Use your back button if you have to! I pressed publish and then all of a sudden it wanted me to login!! I did so and found that the draft that was saved was maybe a quarter of what I had written. I hit the back button a few times to get there and thank goodness, there it was. I published and for some reason it left out the title. So I’m adding this commentary and the title as I hit the final published version. Hopefully!)