Little Red Riding Hood Selfies

This set of photos was taken with my webcam on March 28th, 2013.

I was 25 years old on that date.

My Top 3 Pieces of Writing Advice

Having just recently released a prequel to my 2010 debut memoir in Amazon’s Kindle Store, I’ve been spending a lot of time reflecting on the writing process and my own style and techniques, which I will warn you are very unconventional.

Over the years, I’ve been given so many different pieces of writing advice going back as far as grade school. Admittedly, reaching the age of twenty-five hardly qualifies me as being seasoned or experienced, especially as a writer.

However, I have managed to make myself write a fair amount over the past seven years or so and at this point in time, I have made several of my own discoveries and managed to arrive at a few of my own conclusions about all the writing advice I’ve received so far.

So today, I’m setting out to share my list of the top three pieces of writing advice I have to offer anyone who writes anything at all. Please keep in mind that these are highly personal tidbits of my own and they are not going to work for everyone out there.

They won’t make sense for everyone and you won’t agree with all of them, or perhaps any of them. None of that matters, so don’t forget that. Trying to correct me here is impossible, as this is all very subjective stuff we’re discussing.

Stories Are Told, Not Shown

I started to keep a journal in 2005, when I was just barely eighteen years old. It was just a personal project and I wasn’t at all disciplined about it. I only wrote when I wanted to, which was oftentimes very infrequently. I kept telling myself it was okay if I didn’t write in it every day, or even every week. Something is better than nothing.

Fast forward five years, and I’m not really adding to he journal anymore. It’s basically gone into a dormant state, left untouched since it was first written.

Then something very unexpected happened that changed my life in many ways. I received an email from a man. He lived in the same state as I do and he claimed to be a published non-fiction author who I’d never heard of.

I looked his name up online and found out that he was legit. But why was he reaching out to contact me?

Well back when I was keeping the journal, I would post the occasional entries on my old blog that no longer exists today. He had stumbled upon the writing I posted there, and he believed I had a collective story that was worth publishing.

He even went as far as offering to help me lead the project and find a publisher for a small percentage of whatever deal we could land.

My first reaction was disbelief. Was this guy crazy? Could he even read?

Several emails later, he did admit to me that the writing needed what he called “a lot of work,” in terms of editing. That was absolutely true, especially if we hoped to find a publisher who might be interested in my story.

But that’s not what ended up happening. I did take his advice and send out a shitload of query letters to various agencies, only to get two requests for a sample and a long list of rejections.

Then, he told me about another possibility. He told me I could self-publish the book on Amazon to sell it for the Kindle device. I knew nothing about this or how it worked. He went on to point me in the right direction of some basic information and I was honestly intrigued.

Personally, I prefer to have full control over my writing and the content. I doubt I’m the type of person who would have taken it well if a publisher or editor wanted to make changes I didn’t agree with. So this Kindle stuff was sounding like a much better idea.

During one of my phone conversations with this author (he wishes to remain anonymous due to the subject matter of my writing) he offered me some writing advice that I have since come to disagree with, as a matter of personal preference.

He recommended that I buy a copy of this book, which he said contained a piece of writing advice that I needed to use in my own writing: “Show, don’t tell.

Of course at first I figured I had better listen to this guy, as he probably knew much better than I did and had far more experience when it came to writing. I’m certainly not going to say that there is no value in this piece of advice, as I’m sure it has its place and is a rule worth following in many cases.

However, the way I have come to see things…they don’t call it storytelling for no reason. Stories are told, they are not shown.

I realized that my absolute favorite writing was written in a way that told me stuff, rather than trying to show it to me. I realize that there is a marked difference between the use of this in fiction and non-fiction. Maybe my preference is the result of favoring non-fiction and narrative style writing to fantasy or fiction novels.

Here is a great example of writing that I think is fucking awesome. This is one of my all time favorite blog posts from anywhere on the internet, and you’ll see it tells a very entertaining story without showing much (aside from the grotesque image, which you should be warned is NSFW).

There Are Absolutely No Fucking Rules

Lots of writers out there will strongly disagree with me for saying this, but I firmly stand my ground on this one.

What do I mean by this? Don’t there have to be at least some basic rules of writing to end up with something worth reading? In my own experience, no. Not really.

If you can put words together in a sequence that can at least be understood on some level by those who read them, then you can write. Very little else matters.

In my opinion, editing extremists and grammar gurus are way off base. Sure, editing does matter for some stuff like printed magazines or whatever the hell. But the level to which it is stressed to writers is a by-product of the snobbish attitude of many big name publishers.

 

For example, take this poem by e.e. cummings, shown below.

picture-3

As you can see, the man refuses to capitalize his I’s, adds dashes where they don’t really belong, uses periods at the ends of some lines but not others, for some inexplicable reason adds spaces on either side of his ellipses, uses commas erratically and perhaps too much and pretty much does whatever the fuck he wants to do here.

Some people are definitely going to argue that this is poetry and therefore, some special set of rules applies. Please! If Mr. Cummings can write poetry however the hell he wants with no regard whatsoever for well established rules of writing, then guess what?

You can write whatever you write however you want to write it. Period. 

There is no wrong way to write whatever you’re setting out to write. If anyone tells you there is, don’t listen. Block them out. It’s good to listen to suggestions from others, but never listen when people start trying to tell you the “right” way to write. There simply isn’t one.

Your Writing Has an Audience, No Matter What

I don’t care what anyone says. The subjectivity of certain types of writing, such as poetry, illustrate this point quite well. What one reader sees as beautiful art, another discards and treats like pure garbage. 

If I sent you on a mission to find a single author or writer who has no fans at all, you’d be hard pressed to find one. If you don’t believe me, go look for one. Can you find just one writer who no one has ever praised at least once somewhere?

My guess is probably not. The explanation is simple. Regardless of what you write or how you choose to write it, you DO have an audience and they WILL both read and appreciate your work. No exceptions. 

If you go hunting for the writer with no fans, you’ll find that even those who were considered the greatest craftsmen of the pen in their time are both loved and hated, often close to equally. 

This is getting long, so let’s wrap this up shall we?

My Proof

I have proof that all of this advice can be true for some people. I have proof that they are true with my own writing. I know that the first item is true because I’m all about telling a story, and rarely do I “show” my readers anything…other than how to TELL a story, which is usually my own story.

I know the second item is true because of a couple horrifying facts that will probably make you faint. First, I have never even gone back to read my own journal in its entirety since I first wrote it. I didn’t have anyone else proofread or edit it either. I published it almost completely as-is.

That’s right – just the way it was written originally. And yes, it IS somewhat of a mess because of that, which I’m perfectly fine with. All I did before publishing it on Amazon was run a simple spell checker.

And finally, I know the third item is true because since I published my “book” or “journal,” or whatever you want to call it, I have been contacted more times than I can count by a reader who found some meaning in those unedited pages and felt compelled to reach out either on Facebook, through email or some other platform.

Facebook Fans
A Facebook message from one reader.

Some of these people are now close friends of mine, in fact. They have shared their feedback and showed their support for my work, just the way it was written. So go write, people.

How I Made it Into The New York Times

This post is going to be difficult to keep brief, so bear with me.

Let’s start with the story, which appeared in the Sunday edition of the New York Times on August 26th, 2012.

The title was “The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy,” and it was written by Mr. David Streitfeld who is a reporter for the newspaper.

In order to understand my role in this story, we’ll have to back track a little so I can explain in as few words as possible.

Finding Reviewers for Self-Published Books

I self-published my memoir in November of 2010. In the search for publicity and book reviews, I stumbled upon a paid review service offered by Kirkus. They had a long history in the publishing industry and seemed reputable enough, so I figured their reviewers would be objective.

Alas, the price tag on their reviews for self-published books was upwards of $400 – a bit out of my budget at that time.

I figured there must be others like them at more reasonable prices, so I did a Google search. I must say that until that day, I’d NEVER clicked on a Google ad. Boy, did that turn out to be a mistake.

I saw a single ad on the right side of my screen for a site called GettingBookReviews.com. They offered reviews for $99 instead, which I decided to take a chance on.

Can Paid Reviews be Written Fairly?

That’s where it all started. The site was run by a guy named Todd Rutherford. He did what I refer to as “dicking around” for over a month, when the review was promised to be delivered in 7-10 days. That wasn’t my main issue with him, however. Upon further research, I learned that Mr. Rutherford’s company was recruiting freelance writers from Craigslist and only offering to pay them for five star reviews.

Being a freelance writer myself, that was a huge turn off for me. I was having second thoughts about this already. What troubled me most about it all was that I heard nothing from this guy after putting in my order. Every time I exchanged emails with him, it was because I took the initiative to contact him first. After a couple of weeks, he still had no update for me unless I bugged him about it. Not how you treat customers, in my opinion.

Finally, after all the unsavory things I discovered about Mr. Rutherford and after waiting several weeks, I simply wanted nothing to do with him. I asked him for a refund and wished to be done dealing with him. He responded by refusing to give me my money back, which pissed me off pretty bad. I didn’t want his review. I wouldn’t use it. I just wanted my money and hoped to never speak with this guy again.

The Power of One Pissed Off Customer

So I wrote a nasty rant about his service.

I informed him that I would be posting this letter on all the consumer complaint sites that I could find, which was a threat that I more than followed through with.

I spread it as far and wide as I possibly could. So far and wide, in fact, that on August 8th, 2011, I received an email from Mr. Streitfeld of the New York Times who said he wished to speak to me without telling me what the email was regarding.

I honestly wasn’t sure why I’d get an email from a reporter for the Times, but I was terribly curious and so I called the phone number he left in his email and once I had him on the phone, he told me that he had found my rant and explained that paid and fake reviews were topics he had been covering a great deal.

Meeting In Person

Nearly eight months passed and I was edited out of another story written on the same topic by Mr. Streitfeld. My part shrank until there was no room for me at all, he explained. I understood. But he did keep telling me that it would happen eventually.

Then on April 3rd, 2012 I received another email from him telling me that he would be visiting Portland soon and wanted to know if I could meet up with him in person to talk while he was in town. I said yes and we ended up meeting at a coffee shop near my house on the 10th of that same month.

We spoke for probably a couple of hours total. We talked more about paid reviews, the ethics involved and about writing books in general. It was a thought provoking discussion to say the least.

So after we parted ways, I waited some more. I next heard from him on July 19th. All he said was that he was still writing the story.

The Photo Shoot

Less than a week after that, they sent a freelance photographer named Leah Nash over to my house to shoot some photos of me. We took some of me on my couch in the living room and then moved outside to the deck. The one that was in the newspaper was from the second group, and wasn’t my favorite of all the ones taken at all. Oh well.

She was a very friendly and interesting lady and it was fun talking with her.

Check out the photos on her website.

Over A Year Later…

So it might have taken over a year until it finally happened, but the story was finally published in Sunday’s edition of the New York Times in August of 2012. I went downtown to buy a print copy and was surprised to see Mr. Rutherford’s face looking at me from the cover of the business section. The piece is very long for a story in the newspaper. But man did it shake people up!

On the New York Times website, the story has over 300 comments. Most of them express pretty strongly worded opinions about the whole concept, from both sides of the fence.

So what do you guys think about all this? Share in the comments.

Why Trash Talking Competitors is Lame

So earlier today, I somehow managed to accidentally click some link that took me to a rather hideous promotional page promoting Microsoft’s search engine – Bing.

Here is a screenshot (click the image for full-size if you can’t read the text):

trash talking competitors

Now, I don’t know anything about this legal case at all. In fact, this was the first I had heard about it. First sign that it’s not nearly as noteworthy as Microsoft would like for us to believe it was.

However, I don’t need to know the details to come to one clear conclusion: Microsoft is trash talking Google and in doing so is hoping that more people will use Bing when searching the web.

I don’t know about you, but this is pretty ineffective in my mind. And it really only backfires, especially when people who can think for themselves read this kind of crap.

Here are a few reasons why this kind of marketing sucks.

Name Calling Sucks

And sorry, but that’s exactly what this sounds like. It’s fine to use fear in marketing. In fact, I would argue that just about anything you’re trying to sell should be marketed with some amount of fear. Fear of something, whether it be an outcome or whatever else.

Basically the idea is to convince people that life without the product is so bad that they should be afraid of the very possibility and buy immediately.

All that is fine and good. Newspapers are masterful at this, just go grab one and read the headlines. Which ones are the most urgent and frightening? There you go.

BUT – this approach is totally ruined when you start name calling. Microsoft could easily have inspired fear regarding the invasion of privacy without pointing fingers at Google.

Honestly, if the court case was nearly as ground-breaking as they want us to think, then wouldn’t it stand to reason that most of the general public (who watch the News and shit) would pick up on the implied connection between the promo and the recent court ruling?

Mmm Hmm.

Appearing Desperate Sucks

Sorry, but my first thought after seeing this was that perhaps Microsoft is a bit SCARED themselves.

Could this screenshot have anything to do with their name calling strategy…?

I think it’s a good possibility.

Chrome has managed to grab more browser market share than Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. And Google has always had the most market share when it comes to their search engine.

I guess Microsoft is none too happy about this. They must think their only hope lies in bashing on Google and convincing people that they are bad guys.

The Odds Are Against You

When you’re setting out to position yourself above the competition, shouldn’t you, um, actually be better than them to begin with?

Sorry, but if the fact is that more people are choosing to use Google’s browser and their search engine, then that means they already have more people on their side, so to speak. Microsoft better hope that people are going to change their minds over a single court case that honestly affected like zero people in any real measurable way.

I doubt this.

Besides, Microsoft has been taken to court a few times throughout its history as well…as have many large corporations. This isn’t unusual.

You Piss off Fans of the Competition

Okay, this is the biggest reason why you should probably not trash talk your competitors for your own gain…you piss off passionate fans of said competition and they create a spoof like the one I couldn’t resist hacking together in GIMP after seeing this bull shit.

Here is my version (click on it to enlarge):

Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. But in all seriousness, what are your thoughts on using this type of strategy in your marketing? Yay, nay? Why is it or isn’t it cool? Share in the comments.

A Christian Woman’s Guide to Breaking Free From Pornography – W.T.F?

Okay, this is an all out rant. I can’t help myself. I don’t like attacking people for no reason, but when I feel like I DO have a reason, then all hell breaks loose.

So I opened up my Google+ account today, and the first thing that I see is a post for a new book entitled “A Christian Woman’s Guide to Breaking Free From Pornography: It’s not Just a Guy’s Problem.”

Overcome by sarcastic curiosity, I absolutely had to click it and check out the website.

First, before we continue with this very opinionated post, I would like to add a disclaimer: I HAVE NOT actually read this book.

I did, however, download the free sample offered on the website. I must say that glancing at the table of contents turned me off quite a bit. I struggled to make my way through the introduction, but couldn’t bring myself to finish even that much.

Okay, so here we go. I’m going to run down my list of very big personal issues I have with this entire concept, in no particular order.

Porn is Free, The Cure Will Cost You

Most porn on the internet is free, but curing yourself of your online porn addiction will cost you $3.99!

This is all that the authors of this book are going to charge their fellow Christian women who are “suffering from an addiction.” Seems pretty reasonable to me.

$3.99 is a nominal fee for getting God’s help on something like porn addiction, after all.

Strategically Priced

What pisses me off the most is how strategic the authors were in pricing this book on Amazon. Think they pulled the $3.99 price point out of their asses? Or maybe consulted with God on how much they should charge to do his job here?

Think again.

$3.99 is the minimum price required by Amazon for eligibility into their 70% royalty program for authors. That means that these people weren’t willing to settle for the 35% profit they would have made per book sale, had they priced it lower than this.

Claiming High Demand Doesn’t Add Up

Taking the last point a step further, the book claims that porn addiction is a widespread problem among the female Christian demographic. But if that’s really true, wouldn’t they expect to sell tons of copies? Wouldn’t it at least seem a likely possibility?

If they had expected tons of sales, I don’t see why they couldn’t have priced it at ninety-nine cents and taken the lower royalty percentage since they could bank on the fact that the book would sell in bulk.

I call bull shit again.

Where Are The Proceeds Going, Exactly?

Given the sensitive nature of this book’s subject matter, I would be very interested in where the profits are going on this product. Is the publisher/author donating the proceeds to the church, I hope?

I doubt it. My guess is the dollars are going straight into their pocket, which makes me slightly sick to my stomach.

Does Not Distinguish Normal Behavior From Addiction

Again, I haven’t read most of this book. However, from what little I did read and from scanning the table of contents, it does not seem to address one of the most important issues related to this entire topic.

As far as I can tell, it does not offer ANY sort of qualifying information to help the reader determine whether or not their consumption of pornography is in fact normal behavior, or if they are exhibiting the traits of a person suffering from an actual, legitimate addiction to said pornography.

Isn’t this, uh, like…KIND OF IMPORTANT?

Forgive me if I’m alone on this one, but I’d like to give the authors the benefit of the doubt here and assume that they are not trying to say that all viewing of porn can be explained by stating that the viewer suffers from an ailment, for fuck’s sake.

Isn’t This God’s Job, Not Yours?

And to wrap this up, my final issue with this entire concept is the fact that really at the end of the day, all these capitalist Christians are doing is chopping up the Bible and spewing out arbitrary quotations from what they claim is an already perfect text.

Why are they qualified to do this?

Is this something that God is even fucking cool with, honestly? Something tells me that the Bible was meant to speak for itself, and these people were not invited to reiterate it according to their own agenda.

But what do I know?

What do you guys think of all this absurdity? Share your reactions in the comments.