Sunday, November 21, 2010

What IS this Blog? What ISN'T it?

You know, I had no idea until the latest responses to Atom's comments and mine to him/her, that so many people were confused about what this blog is all about.  Deb, for instance, says:

"Another way to get more feedback on posts is to have something in your post that can be commented on or discussed immediately. Some bloggers routinely add a question for discussion at the end of their post to get comments flowing.

Often your tips include assignments that take some time to complete, so people don't have a lot they can say immediately."

And Quenby says, 

I have to say I'm a little confused. I wasn't aware that the Minority Report posts were part of the project we signed up for. I wrote a long analysis for Jessica when she posted her work, and then I thought the project was on hold until you, Welwyn, got better. That makes me feel like I've epic failed. To be honest, I love Minority Report. 'Tis one of my favourite science fiction movies, but anything written by Philip K. Dick tends to be. Not to mention, I absolutely love analyzing popular culture, but couldn't find the time to devote to saying anything worthwhile.

Is it just me or do you see that we have major UNCLARITY here?  

Okay, straight for the clear!  Here's what this blog is about:

(a) it's about writing in general, and what I think you might want to know about it

(b) it's about writing in general, and what you tell me you want to know about it.

(c) it's about a Workshop, which is about your own specific writing and art, though mostly about your writing.  You write, we all read, your colleagues comment to me, I comment to you.  This worked very well, at least with Jessica's posted chapter.  The only thing that didn't happen was a public exchange of questions from Jessica and a public response from me, and (now that I know what you would and would not do to another writer), from anyone else who wanted to join in.  (I've run live fiction workshops where talented writers slice and dice each other to bloody shreds all over their manuscripts, and I end up being more of a lion tamer than workshop leader.  In writing only to me their responses to Jessica's work, I got a composite of opinion that connected strongly with what I believed Jessica would like to know about her work.  She knew it had been a painless way to get ten opinions.   I was really pleased with the level of writing and thinking I saw in the participants' private thoughts written to me, and their overall kindness.  Ideally, the next time at Question Period answers would include your colleagues' individual comments where they were pertinent to Jessica's questions, or you could have just answered her questions at the time, participating fully in the give and take of the workshop.  But we didn't get that far.  However, after I had to put the Workshop on temporary hold, I did exchange emails with Jessica myself, so she did get a chance to put forward questions and her own opinions.

(d) The Workshop was only ever supposed to be a small  part  of the blog.  I had been working on the blog  for more than a month before I even thought of the Workshop.  Even after we started, I made it clear that each new post would go up at the beginning of the month (except for Jessica, who volunteered).  Deb had volunteered to be next, but it hasn't happened yet, because  of that fateful doctor's appointment.

(e) The original plan was that it would be a full month between each of your posts.  Why?  Because I do have a life now and then; and because the Workshop is highly labour intensive for me (BTW, I'm going to be using Canadian spellings from now on, e.g. labour instead of labor); but mostly because there are only ten people in the Workshop, and my stats tell me there are still people visiting at least twice each from all over the world.  Nothing like Rettakat's amazing following, but still enough that I felt I should be doing something for them, and for you too, because let's face it, once you've sent me your email on Jessica's work, you basically would have had nothing to do until the next month.  I figured if you wanted to be in a workshop to improve your writing, you were serious writers, and that meant you would appreciate some tips on writing, and some suggestions about things to do. 

(f) So that's how it started.  While working on Jessica's Chapter, I would post something for you every few days.  Nothing I posted was ever called an assignment, or golly, I surely hope it wasn't.  I always meant to give it to you as something useful, if you wanted to do it.  The title of each blog usually contained the word "Tip".  In Great Britain a tip is a garbage dump; I hope my tips aren't that!  I give you what works for me, and you can do it or you can not do it.  It's all fine.  You won't learn as much if you don't do anything between workshop posts, but if you already think you know enough to finish your novel, that should be okay.  A  tip is just a pointer to a way to do a thing, if you happen to want to.  I picked topics out of the air, more or less, for reasons we've already discussed.  I thought that that too was going to have to stop after that stunning (literally) doctor's visit.  But then I felt I was letting you down, and that this blog which had begun so slowly and built up so nicely would be back down to zero when I was finally well enough to come back to it again.  I also missed you.   And I can't see the neurosurgeon for about ten months.  And that's why I'm posting fairly regularly again, and will, for a while.  

Questions from people like Karen were a godsend, but on the whole there weren't enough to use as a blog base.  And so I used some of my tried and true tips.  One was a set of exercises that would help you find your own style, your "voice" as a writer, by rewriting other peoples' work.  I suggested that you do it, but it wasn't an assignment.  It was really hard and frankly I expected most of the visitors to the blog wouldn't do it.  Those who did, wow,and I mean that, it's a real wow, and I'm amazed and proud of you.   I maybe didn't provide very many obvious things that could be commented on immediately.  I did wonder why no one ever asked: "Why do you want us to do this weird thing?"
So then I asked you to watch Minority Report.  It's a flawed movie, and I suggested you remind me to discuss what they might have done in the movie to prevent the flaw.  That was badly put.  What I should have said was, "If you'd been the director, how would you have prevented this flaw of having a major character introduced so late in the movie?" 
That would have helped provide some give and take.  

I do really cringe at the word "assignment", in the context of this blog.  I would so much rather see the word "suggestion".  But since you didn't know that's how I saw it, and it was so precise a series of activities, I can certainly see why you'd think of it as an assignment.  But Quenby, you haven't epic failed, or even failed at all.  You signed up for the workshop.  Only that was a commitment.  The rest, for a grad student with deadlines and so so much to do, (and for all of you, who are just as busy) are just things to do if you have the time and want to become a better writer.  They are just tips.

I thought you'd enjoy watching the Minority Report movie.  I think I told you to watch it twice.  I didn't tell you why.  (You could have asked, right?  I can't bite you through the ethernet.  *grin*  Ask.  Please ask.  Otherwise, I don't know if you want to do it, or need to have a reason to watch it twice.  I'm wordy enough.  I don't want to give you reasons for things if you don't need them.)

I knew what question I was going to ask about it, and I knew how hard it was to find the answer in that movie.  Once you get that answer, you know how to create something like it in every novel (and possibly short story) you write.  Once you know that, you can just figure out your whole novel.  Really.  You can.  And so if I actually did order you to watch it twice in a row, well, I did it for a good reason.

I appreciated the responses I got to the question.  I really did.  There could have been more of them, but I figured the reason there weren't was because people hadn't actually watched the movie twice in a row, which was their right. Who has four hours to sit through the same movie twice?  Who wants to? You already know the ending, right?

This is where we are now in the blog.  I got sidetracked by Atom's question, but it was a useful question because it made me remember why I was in this blog, and what I wanted from it that wasn't yet here. 

Here's what I wanted from it that isn't yet here.  An example.  Minority Report.  You say, "Hey Welwyn, why should I sit down and watch a movie twice in a row?"   I would answer, "Because I want you to find the one moment in the whole movie where things are the scariest/worst/seem the most impossible to solve for both main characters."  Then you'd say, "The two main characters?  Do you mean the girl in the pool, the one who didn't see a man about to murder his wife?"  (That would have been a hard question for me to answer.)  I'd likely have said something like this.  "She's important, in the way that she represents the PROBLEM that underlies this whole movie, but she's not the second major character."  "Why not?" you'd say.  And on it would go.  And so we both would learn.

I agree my form of leaving people things to think about isn't exactly like other bloggers' final questions.  My hope is that you will look deeply and feel free to ask why.  I do give you plenty of things to think about, but they are hidden in the "tip" instead of being stated clearly.  I tell you there are two main characters of the movie, and the questions are hidden.  Who are they?  Why are they the major characters?  I believe someone actually did ask something like that, though right now my brain is going to mush.  I think I answered that I meant the husband and the wife, because their separation from really the beginning of the movie is the flaw.  I think I was glad that I didn't have to explain why the girl in the pool wasn't. 

The thing is, I'm really not into giving out questions for people to think about.  If they don't think about them, they may not be ready for that kind of detail just yet.  There are plenty of things for you to ask me about, and it'd be great if you did.  People are sometimes uncertain about how much they're "allowed" to contradict or challenge or even just ask, in any given situation.  So here is my rule:
YOU ARE ALLOWED TO CONTRADICT ME, CHALLENGE ME, AND ASK ME ANY QUESTION THAT SEEMS TO YOU NOT TO MAKE SENSE, AT ANY TIME.  And I'm allowed to offer you advice that might seem stupid, because writers have to learn to think very deeply about everything, including why they are being asked to do seemingly stupid things.

It is the only way we can turn this blog into a diablog. 
Now I just want to end this on a little statement from Quenby, which is about why she, a student and not intending to be a writer, comes to the blog:

I find these discussions fascinating because reading and analysis are my bread and butter. How writers do what they do is so, well, freakin' awesome, and I love just reading through the posts to see how everyone comes to understand their talents, their strengths and weaknesses, and their capacity to grow.

Let's do it together, okay?  Let's find our capacity to grow!

Clarity (I hope) From Welwyn-on-books