Tag Archives: Writing Wednesday

Writing Wednesday: When Two Words Become One

11 Dec

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Welcome back to Aristophanes week!

Yesterday I mentioned that fun bit of trivia that Aristophanes is the creator of the longest word in literature that I gleaned from Oliver Tearle’s Huffington Post article “12 Fascinating Facts About Famous Literature.” Like any dutiful Greek scholar, I read some of Aristophanes’ plays when I was in college. They were strange and wild reads.

What I don’t remember learning back then and which I found while I was reading up on him this week was that Aristophanes had a knack for heaping words together, creating long, tongue-twisting compound words. It’s no wonder he’s the king of the longest word in literature!

Take a look at that last word in this stanza from The Acharnians:

How many are the things that vex my heart!
Pleasures are few, so very few — just four –
But stressful things are manysandthousandsandheaps!

The word Aristophanes used there in Greek was the made-up word ψαμμακοσιογάργαρα, which actually meant “sandhundredheaps.”

Meanwhile, in The Birds (no relation to Hitchcock’s film!), Aristophanes coined the word Νεφελοκοκκυγία, which translated is the compound word Cloudcuckooland. Genius, right?!

Okay, so when writing about the longest word in literature Tearle mentioned runner up James Joyce:

Some may think that James Joyce is responsible for the longest word in all of literature, but the longest he managed was 101 letters long, in Finnegans Wake. (This word, for those who are interested, was Bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntrovarrhoun-awnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk, referring to the thunderclap associated with the Fall of Adam and Eve.)

You word nerds won’t find it too surprising that Joyce appropriated Aristophanes’ penchant for inventing new words since he was more than mildly inspired by Greek literature. You already know that Joyce’s Ulysses parallels Homer‘s The Odyssey. In Ulysses, he created made up and compound words like “scrotumtightening” and “endlessnessnessness.”

Now, I’ve made the point before about the connection between the Greek Classics, James Joyce and Jack Kerouac, and here is another instance in which we see the influence in that Kerouac used compound words as well. He used words like “hangjawed,” “redhot,” and “sicksicksick.”

Through the course of literary history, many authors have used compound words for effect and have coined their own words.

Can’t find the right word? Make up your own!

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Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” is now available as an ebook and paperback!

Writing Wednesday: Five Tips for How to Promote without Selling Out

6 Nov

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One of my anxieties about going to Lowell Celebrates Kerouac this year was that people might think I was there just to hawk my recently published Beat Generation book, Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road.”

That was not the case! Now, I’m not going to lie. Of course I wanted people to find out about the book and purchase it. Not only am I proud of the book, but more so if I were someone interested in Jack Kerouac’s literature and literary development I’d want to know about the book. Therefore, I want people to know about the book because I honestly think they’d actually want to hear about it and get value from it.

But I didn’t go to the festival to push the book on anyone. Truth be told, if I’m not into something, it’s really obvious. Sorry, Lady Gaga, I have no poker face. I would probably turn people off from buying my book, if I went somewhere just to sell it.

I’ve been to Lowell Celebrates Kerouac before I ever had a book deal, and I went again this year because I was excited about the festival. I was excited to attend the events. I was excited to catch up with friends. I was excited to reencounter a town that I’ve been reading about for years and that has come to be familiar to me. I was excited to escape the hustle and bustle of New York City for a long weekend.

At the festival, I was happy to talk about my book when anyone asked, but I didn’t shove postcards for it in people’s faces the way one author did one year I was at the festival.

I’m by no means an expert, but these are my top 5 tips on how to promote your book without selling out:

1. Believe in your product. – If you don’t think your book has worth, you shouldn’t be selling it or even giving it away for free. If you honestly believe your book is great, then it’s only natural that you’ll think others will want to hear about it too. People will hear the excitement in your voice. They’ll want to know more, and you’ll be able to tell people about the book without sounding like you’re giving a sales pitch.

2. Be genuinely interested in others. – One of the great lessons I learned while teaching a writing workshop at the Festival of Faith & Writing is that as much as people pay big bucks to learn, the time they spend actually engaging in conversation and talking about their own work and interests often feels more powerful to them. I’ve gotten to spend some time with some of the people that have “Liked” Burning Furiously Beautiful on Facebook, and it’s been so rewarding hearing their stories.

3. Don’t look at people as if they have dollar signs over their heads. – Not everyone is a potential customer. Some people may not be interested in your subject matter—gasp!—and that’s okay. They’re probably still great people. Engage them about themselves and enjoy the conversation. Maybe you’ll even become friends. It’s good to have friends with varied interests. And who knows, maybe they’ll end up being your biggest promoter simply because they have a large network and are enthusiastic about the conversation they had with you. Even if that’s not the case, there’s more value in relationships than money.

4. Enjoy the event. – If you’re just going to work the room at a festival or conference, you’re not going to have any fun and no one’s going to want to talk to you or buy your book. Don’t bother going to events that you’re not actually interested in. It’s just not worth it. Mingle with people, attend readings and tours, let your guard down.

5. Be prepared. – Don’t feel anxious about promoting your book. If it’s something people are interested in knowing more about, you should be able to talk about it in a natural way without droning on and on. If you don’t have the book on hand to sell, have postcards, flyers, or business cards to give. Nothing’s more annoying that finding out about a great book and then not remembering the name of it later on. Also, some people are prone to losing things or not remembering what the business card is for, so it’s good to also get their contact info and follow up with them.

What are your tips for promoting yourself without selling out?

You may also enjoy:

 

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Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” is now available as an ebook and paperback!

Friday Links: …Punctuation!

27 Sep

In honor of it being National Punctuation Day earlier this week (the 24th, to be exact), here are some punctuation-related links:::

Mary Norris’ delightful piece on National Punctuation Day in The New Yorker

Literary agent Sterling Lord talks about how deeply Jack Kerouac thought about punctuation in his recent memoir Lord of Publishing

“Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition,” said Kerouac in his “30 Beliefs and Techniques for Prose and Life

Alexis C. Madrigal gets to the bottom of William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac duking it out over the Oxford comma in The Atlantic

I suggest The Atlantic is creating their own fauxlore in their beatnik punctuation story

Thoughts on punctuation in haiku, with references to Ezra Pound, Amy Lowell, Jack Kerouac, R. H. Blyth, Sora, Yaha, Richard Wright, James Hackett, Choshu, Hashin, L. A. Davison, David Coomler, and e. e. cummings

e. e. cumming’s liked to play with punctuation in poems like r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r

Roi Tartakovsky considers this topic in E. E. Cumming’s Parentheses: Punctuation as Poetic Device

“There are some punctuations that are interesting and there are some punctuations that are not,” says Gertrude Stein in Poetry and Grammar

Poet Bob Holman explains how to read a crossed out word out loud in The Brooklyn Rail

David Foster Wallace used endnotes to capture fractured reality

Check out “the greatest literary project of all time“: The punctuation-named lit journal The Ampersand Review

Punctuation impacts how readers perceive a work, I argue in this Writing Wednesday post

Which punctuation tattoo would you get?

Grammar Girl is the best go-to guide for “quick and dirty tips” on punctuation

Want exclamations in bed?! Check out the punctuation pillows from PB Teen

Writing Wednesday: Choosing the Right Writing Tools

25 Sep

Alison Nastasi recently posted a great article on Flavorwire entitled “The Writing Tools of 20 Famous Authors.” Critics have long had a disproportionate fascination with Jack Kerouac’s implementation of the typewriter, and I commend Nastasi for noting Kerouac’s use of notebooks.

A Columbia friend of Kerouac’s used to always carry along a little notebook, and Kerouac picked up the practice from him. In fact, his notebooks became so important to him that one of his girlfriends accused him of caring more about taking notes on what was happening around him than actually living life. When I interviewed Kerouac’s Lowell friend Billy Koumantzelis, he mused that Kerouac was always jotting down notes in his hometown bars. As he told me this, the intonation suggested he thought Kerouac was a bit eccentric in his writing habit. In Burning Furiously Beautiful, Paul and I go into more detail about Kerouac’s use of notebooks because it’s an important aspect of his development as a writer.

Truman Capote famously quipped that Kerouac was merely typing, and indeed typewriters are important to understanding Kerouac’s editorial process. His father was a printer so Kerouac grew up accustomed to printing technologies and was a masterful typist. His L.C. Smith and Underwood typewriters allowed him to spill out a mad rush of words, capturing the speed of the highway. These words and ideas, however, were culled from his notebooks.

It’s important for writers to find the right tools for them. Some authors commit their best works directly into their laptops. They are used to composing emails, and typing on the computer is more natural than writing longhand. Other writers, however, find that starting their first draft in a Word document only results in stilted text, as they are too quick to rely on shorthand, thanks to all the time they spend on Twitter. For many writers, a combination of different media work best, as they find the ease of cutting and pasting helpful to their editing process once they’ve gotten a first draft done in a notebook.

For me, personally, it depends on what type of writing I’m doing. If I’m writing a blog post, I indefinitely type it directly into the computer. Blogging isn’t my best writing. I care more about the content than the style when I blog.

If I’m writing research-heavy nonfiction, even then I will often write the majority of it on the computer, as I find it helpful to be able to keep my notes together and play with the placement of quotes. If I hit a wall, I’ll print out the work and mark it up with pen.

For memoir writing, though, I enjoy writing with ink in a notebook or even just a loose-leaf piece of paper. It feels more intimate to me, like I’m writing in my diary or writing a letter to a friend. I do a lot of my editing even with paper and pen.

When I was a teenager, I sometimes wrote on an electric typewriter. I think there was a part of me that had romantic literary notions associated with typewriters. I loved the click-clack of the keys. As an adult, I still see the value of writing on a typewriter. It is too easy to hit the delete key and to play with the order of paragraphs on the computer when starting a draft. Good drafts are often the ones where we don’t censor ourselves, where we commit words to the paper for a good long while before we look at them again and decide what stays and what goes.

Every writer needs to find what works best for them. Sometimes it’s a matter of trial and error. Sometimes it helps to shake up the routine every once in a while.

What are your favorite writing tools?

 

You may also be interested in:

Overarching Writing Tips from Writers from Big Sur: Don’t Censor Your First Draft

I Just Give Myself Permission to Suck

If You Miss a Beat, Create Another

Today’s the Day

 

Writing Wednesday: There Will Be Twerking at Brooklyn Book Festival

4 Sep

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It may not be the VMAs, but the Brooklyn Book Festival isn’t your mother’s book club. The festival announced its schedule of events last week, and, yes, there will be twerking … or rather, the author of TwERK, LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs, will be on the panel Poetry in Performance. Here’s TwERK‘s overview, in case you aren’t familiar with it:

TWERK unveils an identity shaped by popular media and history, code switching and cultural inclusivity. The poems, songs, and myths in this long-awaited first book are as rooted in lyric as in innovation, in Black music as in macaronic satire. TWERK evokes paradox, humor, and vulnerability, and it offers myriad avenues fueled by language, idiom, and vernacular. This book asks only that we imagine America as it has always existed, an Americana beyond the English language.

“Here it is: a dope jam of dictions; a remixed, multicultural, polyphonic dance of vocabularies; a language of high stakes, hi-jinx, and hybridity. TWERK is subversive, vulnerable, and volatile. TwERK twists tongues. TwERK tweaks speech. Reading these amazing poems mostly makes me say, Wow! Open your ears to take this music in, open your mouth to say it out loud. And: Wow!”—Terrance Hayes

The Poetry in Performance panel will also feature Tyehimba Jess (leadbelly), Taylor Mali (The Last Time As We Are), and Quincy Troupe (ErranCities) and is moderated by Mary Gannon of the Academy of American Poets.

Performance has long been an essential part of poetry. The great ancient epics were told through oral storytelling or sung. It’s believed that Homer’s The Odyssey, for example, was brought to life by a professional performer known as a rhapsode, who improvised according to his audience.

Readings expose works to new audiences. They can make the words on a page feel more personal as the audience hears the intonation of the author’s voice and connects with him or her.

Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” stands on its own as a great poem, but hearing him read it aloud makes it that much more powerful.

It’s sometimes been said, though, that writers are their own worst readers. This is because writing and performing are two very different skill sets.

Some poets love open mics and performing their works, but not all do. Many introspective writers envisioned a life of sitting alone in a room with a cup of steaming hot coffee as their fingers flew over a typewriter; not a life shuttling from bookstore to coffeehouses to give readings to bored patrons. Yet, many authors today are told to give readings, appear on radio shows, and sell their work.

The blogs have been abuzz about Miley Cyrus’ twerking at the VMAs, and some, like Pakalert Press, have blamed her handlers, like her father, Billy Ray Cyrus, did a few years ago. We like to think of poetry performance as being on a higher plane, but, to play devil’s advocate, is it always so different? Isn’t performance just another form of marketing?

Is the proliferation of burlesque poetry an example of literary twerking? Are these female poets subverting expectations or unwittingly playing into them? Does slam improve one’s improvisation and literary techniques or has it simply become its own cliche style? Must a writer give into the agent/publicist/handler’s pressure to perform his or her work to succeed in today’s literary landscape?

 

More Writing Wednesday posts here.

 

 

 

 

Writing Wednesday: 10 Reasons Memoirists Should Make Time to Keep a Diary

28 Aug

I wrote recently about how Jack Kerouac kept a dream journal and have been blogging a lot about social media. In a recent Salon article, Michele Filgate wonders “Will social media kill writers’ diaries?: Now Facebook and Twitter are business necessities, they may be losing writers’ journals. Is something lost?”

Filgate writes that authors’ personal diaries offer a key into their literary development and intentions. She says authors’ social media posts can do the same thing, but that it’s not as authentic:

Even if there is a level of acting involved in authors who use social media, it isn’t anything new. Brian Morton (author of “Starting Out in the Evening” points out: “I’ve read that Tolstoy used to keep two diaries, one that he left lying around for other people to read, the other a more intimate record for himself alone. I think self-exposure on social media is probably like the diary we leave out for others. There’s probably always an element of performance in it, even when it seems most naked.”

The pressure to build a platform and use social media is real for authors. Finding time to write isn’t always easy to begin with, but not it’s a constant juggle between writing (and researching, editing, and pitching) and social media (blogging, tweeting, facebook-ing, and pinterest-ing). In addition to big writing projects, many writers are also taking on small projects, like writing articles for various lit mags.

Diary keeping is last on my literary to-do list, and I miss it! Not only do I miss it for personal reasons, but I miss having a record of what I was going through and what I was feeling at various points in my life. Especially as a memoirist, I think it’s essential to keep a diary.

Here are

  1. It is a log for when and where we were on exact days
  2. It reminds us of precise events in our life
  3. It reminds us of little details that we forget over time
  4. It is a more accurate record of our emotions than our social media entries
  5. It is a raw space to create
  6. It’s a reminder of our growth in life
  7. It’s a reminder of our literary accomplishments
  8. It’s a place to dream and make goals
  9. It’s a good way to warm up our writing muscles
  10. Technology changes over time, so having a tangible diary preserves our day-to-day thoughts

How do you juggle journal-keeping with your other writing and social media? How has keeping a diary helped your writing?

 

Writing Wednesday: Writing from a Brothel

6 Feb

Dear Mom and Dad,

I’m going to go live in a brothel now. Don’t worry — just as the landlord. William Faulkner told me to.

PS: Sorry for robbing you and drinking all your whiskey. I’m just trying to be a good writer.

xoxo.

 

Note: This is completely fictional. But, Faulkner’s 1956 interview poses an interesting question: What is the best type of job for a writer to hold to earn some income while working on a book?

Overarching Writing Tip from Big Sur Writers: Don’t Censor Your First Draft

17 Oct

If you’re a frequent visitor to this site, you’re probably a fan of the Beat Generation, which means you’ve probably read Jack Kerouac’s Rules for Spontaneous Prose.  In a recent fit of procrastination, I stumbled upon Henry Miller’s Commandments while browsing the blog a lovely being.  Then through a rabbit hole that began on Poets & Writers, I discovered John Steinbeck’s writing rules on brain pickings.

As I scoured their tips for jewels of wisdom, I considered whether there were any repeating schemes amongst the three authors, who each lived at various points in their career in the Monterey area of Northern California.  The theme that emerges is one of writing with the force of one of the ferocious waves in Big Sur—quickly, spontaneously, wildly, freely, bravely, deeply, purely.

John Steinbeck: Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.

Henry Miller: Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.

Jack Kerouac: Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better

In other words, while you’re composing, just get it all out there on the page.  Don’t concern yourself with censoring your thoughts, diction, or punctuation.  You can always go back and fix things later, but for the first draft, at least, it’s better to let the story take shape naturally.

I’m generally not the type of person who subscribes to a set of writing rules, mainly because I believe everyone has their own technique and process, but I am a huge fan of lists.

Through Poets & Writers, I also discovered Kyle Minor’s “Advice to My Younger Self” and Margaret Atwood’s advice to writers, through which I consequently found similar lists by Zadie SmithElmore LeonardKurt Vonnegut, and David Ogilvy.

What are your tips for writing?

Writing Wednesday: Building Your Book Before You Even Begin Writing It

5 Sep

David Krell’s article “From Book to . . . Blog? Inspiration for the Aspiring Nonfiction Author,” published in Publishing Perspectives is jam-packed with great advice for nonfiction writers.  To sum it up succinctly: start garnering interest in your nonfiction book before you even publish it.

Krell offers five tips on how to build your author platform before you’ve even published books.  He advises that you can score interviews and forewords for your book as well as lectures at conferences before you’ve even finished writing your book.  This, in turn, will improve your chances of writing a well-informed book, obtaining a reputable agent, and selling your book successfully because you’ll have taken the time to build up your reputation as an authority on the subject and gotten other authorities on the subject to contribute to your book.  You should read his tips on Publishing Perspectives for more insight on how to begin building your platform and become a successful author now, even before you’ve written a book.

In relation to Krell’s advice, here are a few questions I think a nonfiction writer should start thinking about as early as possible:

Who is your target audience?

What are the sub-themes of your book?  What are the various angles you can use to market your book?  (Krell’s book is about the Brooklyn Dodgers, but his friend suggests it’s also about urban history.  One of my books is a memoir about growing up Greek American in New Jersey.  It touches on family dynamics, coming-of-age stories, New Jersey, Greece, identity, and the immigrant experience.  Another of the books I’m working on is about Jack Kerouac.  Looking at it through a broader lens, it could appeal to anyone interested in the Beat Generation, the 1940s and 1950s, travelogues, and American history.)

Who would you like to interview?  (Approach them now.)

Who would you like to write your foreword?  (Approach them now.)

Who would you like to blurb your book?  (A blurb is the endorsement on the back of a book.  Approach people now.)

What associations are there for your subject?  (Sign up for the mailing list, get to know its leaders, volunteer to help with an event or to write a guest blog entry.)

What conferences are held on your subject—or on your sub-theme?  (Begin attending, meeting people, speaking.)

What websites are about your subject or sub-theme?  (Sign up for their newsletter, leave comments on their posts, offer to guest blog.)

What books are similar to yours?  (Read them to get ideas.  Also, read the acknowledgements to find out who their agent is.  Begin following the agent’s work to see if you’re interested in signing with them.)

Are there any other questions you would add to the list?

By thinking about these questions now, you’ll have a clearer vision of where you’re headed.  You’ll also be more motivated to continue writing because you’ll have people who are already invested in your success.

Happy writing!

Writing Wednesday: The Art of Discovering What You Believe

11 Apr

The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe.

— Gustave Flaubert

I love this quote on so many levels. As I struggle with writing my book(s), I realize that sometimes you have to write a whole lot in order to figure out what it is you’re really trying to say, because sometimes the idea you go in to write about isn’t really the true heart of your story. It’s there. You’re onto it. It’s just buried deep inside your original idea. Sometimes, as you write, you learn something about yourself, about who you are and what you believe.

I think this is true even for those who don’t write for a living, but who enjoy keeping a diary or blogging. There have been many times I’ve scribbled into my journal and come to some revelation or at least clarity on something that had been on my heart.