Monday, June 20, 2011

Six Twitter Surprises

What's Twitter, I asked?  A Social Media site.  You must be active on Twitter to sell your book, I heard in reply.  I posted here a while back about finding out how to forget trying to read the whole stream of Twitter and get in.  Go ahead and follow me/follow you in excess.  The stream of Twitter is a lot like a real water stream.  It is constant, it has molecules of every dead king and live star, it is always moving and never the same, and there is no way you can experience it all.  That was my first surprise.  The second one was hearing things before they officially happened.  In the Arab spring we all know this now.  Tweet before news even after repression.  But that's a surprise we all got at about the same time.  Here's something else I, who thought of Twitter as an outgoing publicity machine, never expected: moments of transcendent beauty.  Instant poems that transfix me as the stream rushes by.  Referrals to lightning storms set to gorgeous music.  Images of volcanos erupting.  Moons covered with frost flowers from a winter window.  And moments of connection with people I really don't know were another surprise.  A young woman whose cat died.  A man whose father never hugged him even once.  Simple, direct appeals to the open universe for support by these tweets.  And fifth is the #ww and #ff system.  These symbols are for lists of people (tweeps) you recommend for others to follow.  If they like you, they might like them too.  And it's a good way to reward people who follow you and put you on their #ww and #ff lists.  Last, but by no means least, there are hashtags.  Want to find authors?  Go to #writers or #authors.  Want to work with working writers?  Go to #amwriting.  There you can even go to the associated web site and post a bio.  Want to read writing tips?  Go to #writingtips.  Writing memoir?  Go to #memoir.  You can even make up your own hashtag and start including that in your tweets.  If you're irresistible, others will follow and you can manage the hashtag list.  There is a heck of a lot more to Twitter than I thought!  Enjoy.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The mystery of voice

For one of my classes last semester, a class in British Literature (modernism), the professor let me do a creative writing paper rather than a research paper.  After he read my draft, he said, "Wow.  The first three pages are very poetic.  You really got into the landscape of the area where you grew up.  But then, it's like you feel off a cliff.  It's not in the same voice at all."  I knew exactly what he meant.  I almost never have "flow" when I'm writing, but those three pages jumped from my brain to the page almost effortlessly, with joy and purpose, with writerly thoughts, with a sense I knew what I was doing.  But then, I didn't know how to go on.  I had a setting and a main character, but although I wrote about 27 more pages around the setting and character to turn in for my professor, working on and off for a period of weeks, I never found that voice again.  I hope very much that I can, in some quiet moments in natural settings this summer, reread the three pages, meditate, and reconnect that cord to the source of the voice.  I don't know if it will be possible, but with every fiber of my being, I want to make it work.  I only hope wanting it that much won't get it the way.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Braiding Storylines

I don't know if you can discover braiding storylines without writing something long, like a novel or a novella, and then rewriting.  I had no idea about how exciting this method could be until I began to rewrite my novel, The Bad Project.  I had a straight-through story, involving what happened to two women during their first semester in college, more or less chronologically.  The strands I braided into it came from the question, "What else did they do?  Just go to class?"  Of course not.  The roommates began to meet with a writing outreach group for high school girls, and that helped Marianne call her resistance to Chinese culture into question.  Marianne took on a co-editorship for the college literary magazine with a gay black man, helping her to mine the prejudices of Mandy, the student representative on the panel judging Crystal's application for the Forscher premed scholarship for "students of good character." Also, Marianne had to put her writing out there to be judged by older students, some of whom were none too gentle with her.  These strands of extra-curricular activities seemed to be side issues, but when I began adding them, they made strong connections and big contributions to the main themes of the book.  Crystal sang in the Gospel Choir, and her concert broke open some of her inhibitions about relationships with men and also allowed Marianne to relax from excessive studying.  So, the fact of writing a longer story gave me the room and the freedom to develop some related activities for the two women, thinking they might prove to be distractions, only to find that they often led me right to the heart of the story.  That is why I thought of it as braiding; in braiding you take an outward path, but then it curves back to the center and connects.  I found this process highly enjoyable and surprising, and when I reread the novel now, I cannot imagine the story without these braided elements.