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Picking Yer Brains

Here's a little question for all of my friends but especially for those who were following my LJ Idol run (both this season and previous seasons). What sort of writing would you like to see more of from me? Now that I don't have a weekly deadline, I'd like to make sure that I keep my writing productivity up.

I've especially enjoyed writing fiction in recent years. What sort of fictional pieces would you like to see from me? I'd be interested in hearing what truly resonates from people.

Here's another, not quite unrelated question: when you're reading writing entries for LJ Idol, what makes you "turn your chair," to borrow a metaphor from "The Voice"? What sort of writing motivates you to vote for someone? What turns you off?

Comments

( 20 comments — Leave a comment )
notodette
Sep. 25th, 2012 03:05 am (UTC)
I have to be able to finish the whole thing without my eyes glazing over. I like to see originality. If a premise is borrowed, it has to be spot on for me to really appreciate it.

You won the whole hell week for me with your ridiculous what-the-hell-even-is-this piece. You nailed it. Had me completely enthralled.
alycewilson
Sep. 25th, 2012 03:32 am (UTC)
Thank you! I was really proud of that piece: the risks I took and what I felt was the payoff. Your pointing it out as a highlight of the season is a good reminder that it's worth taking risks.
(Deleted comment)
alycewilson
Sep. 25th, 2012 07:10 pm (UTC)
Length is something I've been highly conscious of lately, especially for online writing.

I hear you about the cutesy entries. Both of those were written because I was at an impasse for ideas, and I think it showed.

It's good to hear there's an interest in my poetry! I have two full-length manuscripts I've been lazy about sending out, but I'm thinking I really ought to start moving on that. I'll also share more poetry in friends-only posts (because then I can pretend they're unpublished), and if I participate in LJI Season 9, will do some poetic entries.

BTW, I really liked your poetry, as well. It was amazing and encouraging to me that at least three people who had written poetry made it into the Top 6 this year!
xo_kizzy_xo
Sep. 25th, 2012 03:42 am (UTC)
I too appreciate not having my eyes glaze over something.

Real life stories resonate with me more than anything else. That's not to say I don't appreciate fiction because I do, but the story has to resonate with me on some level, no matter the emotion it may invoke within me.

Originality? Of course! Don't make a linear piece linear, for example. Twist it in some way. Make me, the reader, see what you're saying in a light that I never would have considered.

ETA: I love your essays. I love your pieces about KFP. And I agree that you should perhaps explore poetry a bit more.





Edited at 2012-09-25 03:47 am (UTC)
alycewilson
Sep. 25th, 2012 07:20 pm (UTC)
Surprisingly, it was fiction that seemed to do especially well in LJI last season, which was one reason I expanded my repertoire. It's an area I'd like to explore further, both for my own personal growth and because I see a lot more opportunities out there for fiction than for poetry

I'm glad you like my essays, because it's something I pride myself on doing well. Nice to know I can trust my instincts.

KFP is very inspirational!

ecosopher
Sep. 25th, 2012 09:22 am (UTC)
I liked your nonfiction, and also the poetry.

In general, I like both nonfiction and fiction, but I probably go for the former, more. And I like humour. Anything too dramatic is... I guess I just like stuff to be light hearted a bit more.

I'm going to attempt to write more fiction this time. And also, I want to try and take more risks. As you mentioned above, taking risks is a good thing -- especially when there's really nothing to lose and everthing to gain by doing so.
alycewilson
Sep. 25th, 2012 07:23 pm (UTC)
I'm beginning to see a trend here! Sounds like I might be on the right path by working on another creative nonfiction book, although I'd like to see if I can get some fiction published somewhere.

Humor is my specialty, but I've discovered that it's better to aim for a gentle/subtle/wry sort of humor than to try for laugh-out-loud stuff. It's the same sort of thing we learned from improv class: if you just go for a joke, you end up leaving people flat. You've got to have the humor come from something more essential.

I'd like to see fiction from you, if only because I don't think you've done very much. I really love your parenting essays, and the way you always broaden them into more universal concerns.
whipchick
Sep. 25th, 2012 06:02 pm (UTC)
For Idol pieces (and writing in general) - fiction has to be better than non-fiction for me to enjoy it as much. That is, I will cut someone slack on voice or craft or structure if they are saying something brave or funny and true, because I think "bearing witness" elevates a non-fiction piece and means it may not need to be as sharp and well-crafted as a fiction piece.

Fiction, on the other hand, had better be well-crafted and an original idea and interesting! And I think with fiction, one also runs up against, "I don't like [insert genre], so this one better be really good."

With non-fiction, I think the biggest challenge is to bear witness while also being honest about one's faults and not automatically making oneself the hero (or worse, the victim--a writer has to be really fucking good to write themselves as a victim without sounding like an over-dramatic, self-aggrandizing whiner).

Your work in particular, I like best when you are ruefully or wryly funny, when you recognize the human condition and tell it through your personal experience, or when you are lyrical and lovely and musing.

Here's a backhanded compliment - I really like your pieces that are a Chicken Soup for the Soul structure (Something happened...it was good/bad...here's what I learned...larger lesson for the reader) except you're a lot smarter and write with more complexity than CSS.

Looking back at your Idol pieces, the weeks I didn't vote for you (and I voted for you most weeks) I had notes like, "Needs more structure" or "doesn't resolve." The pieces I loved best said something about the world, through your lens, and had a tight structure that felt like it resolved at the end, or left us wondering but felt deliberate, like the author was wondering, too.
alycewilson
Sep. 25th, 2012 07:33 pm (UTC)
I will cut someone slack on voice or craft or structure if they are saying something brave or funny and true

A big yes on this! It reminds me of something a freelance photographer taught me when I was working as a reporter for a small local newspaper. He said that sometimes, just getting the moment of "white light" is more important than having it be the perfect picture. Get people in a natural moment, or capture something as it's happening, and it will resonate.

In terms of LJI, there were a lot of fiction pieces I didn't vote for because of a host of reasons: too wordy, no progression, nothing really happens, too much dialogue, too many characters, confusing, or predictable. There were a number of essays I voted for that might have started out slow but then related an experience which had so much impact that I felt compelled.

When it comes to book-length works, I'm very selective when it comes to fiction. I like it to have some "literary" merit: whether through a more creative structure, or the use of language/voice, or exploring interesting concepts. As a result, I'm simply not interested in much of popular fiction! Imagine my surprise when I discovered that one of the biggest literary juggernauts of recent years -- the Harry Potter series -- met my strict criteria for being both readable and incorporating an almost esoteric knowledge of mythology (one of my favorite topics).

Oh, and I wholly agree with your assessment about the difficulty of telling stories where one is a victim without coming off as whiny. My own personal abbreviation for that is "TOW" -- Tale of Woe. Very seldom do TOWs get my LJI vote.

Your work in particular, I like best when you are ruefully or wryly funny, when you recognize the human condition and tell it through your personal experience, or when you are lyrical and lovely and musing.

This makes me immeasurably happy to hear, because it's what I like to think I do well.

Not to put you on the spot, but I'd appreciate it if you could share with me at least one piece that you felt lacked resolution or had structural issues. It would be interesting to see if it matched up with my own internal assessments. Though it didn't happen often, there were weeks that I submitted entries that I wasn't entirely happy with, simply because I didn't want to lose by default!
whipchick
Sep. 25th, 2012 08:34 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I totally get the "this wasn't the best I could do but it's the best I've got by deadline" feeling!

Once Upon a Time - which was the memories throughout life piece - felt more like a series of episodes or incidents.

I really liked the concept for How To Throw a Hawaiian Party, and how it tied into the fifties perfect housewife thing, but wanted more resolution.

The one about the husband leaving and the double rainbow puzzle had such a strong idea, but seemed like it could be told with more structure and drive.

Ones where I thought you really nailed it were the pregnancy piece for Appropriation and the epistolary piece about the Gobstoppers candy.
alycewilson
Oct. 1st, 2012 12:17 am (UTC)
Once Upon a Time - which was the memories throughout life piece - felt more like a series of episodes or incidents.

It was, and I was highly aware of it at the time. I wish there had been a better way of blending the idea of the mosaic with a written piece. If I had it to do again, I would probably go more lyrical with it and less literal.

I really liked the concept for How To Throw a Hawaiian Party, and how it tied into the fifties perfect housewife thing, but wanted more resolution.

This was the very thing that I was worried about that week: would it be strong enough as a stand-alone piece. Really, it was written to set up lawchicky's piece, and that's probably what happened.

The one about the husband leaving and the double rainbow puzzle had such a strong idea, but seemed like it could be told with more structure and drive.

I can see that. Again, that idea was primarily a visual one (the jigsaw puzzle), and I didn't spend as much time on the written component.

Ones where I thought you really nailed it were the pregnancy piece for Appropriation and the epistolary piece about the Gobstoppers candy.

Good to hear. The pregnancy piece is probably going to go in my book of parenting essays, "Belated Mommy." The Gobsmackers piece ended up being a real bonding moment for beldarzfixon, a.k.a. beldar and I, when we learned we'd both written about a fictional product called Gobsmackers.

Thanks for taking the time to give me specifics!
whipchick
Oct. 2nd, 2012 08:22 pm (UTC)
You're welcome, glad it was helpful :)

PS - Yes, I'm excited about sending in a submission for Wild Violet, but I'm waiting until I've read a few more issues so I have a sense of what's right for the magazine.
alycewilson
Oct. 2nd, 2012 08:27 pm (UTC)
You're smarter about it than many people! I'm certainly not going to discourage you from reading more.
kathrynrose
Sep. 29th, 2012 11:20 pm (UTC)
First, I think as far as non-Idol writing goes, write what sings in *your* heart. I understand the marketing research idea, but writing is also about connecting to ourselves, or connecting to something through ourselves (or maybe I'm going through a thing and that's just me). :)


As an Idol voter, I prefer non-fiction to fiction usually, though well-written fiction definitely trumps poorly written non-fiction or Tales of Woe.

As far as voting goes, (this is fiction in general, not yours specifically) long entries were more likely to lose my vote, because the writing, plot, characters, etc didn't hold my attention. If I stopped to scroll down to see how much longer this was going to last, I usually gave up. Dialog that didn't match characters' voices made me nuts. If all the characters have the same speech patterns, especially if they were mad scientists or some other kind of exaggerated character, I would give up. Also, I'm not good at keeping up with who wrote what, and since I didn't necessarily make it to the end of everything, most of the "if you haven't read *this* you should read it first" entries suffered. I don't like zombies or really dark fiction, so I quit reading when things skeeved me. Also people writing horrible situations without backing it up by evoking the emotion.

I'm not an expert, so I vote for things I enjoy or relate to, or things that make me think or feel something worth thinking or feeling.

I enjoy poetry when it is actually poetry. I love it when people can say something big in a small number of words. I don't think the larger Idol audience necessarily agrees with me about that.

As far as your entries, I like your non-fiction. I like your poetry. I like your sense of humor. My least favorite pieces of yours were the ones written from the perspective of KFP. I think that can be done well, with time to craft it, but I suspect those were written during weeks of fatigue and lack of time. Idol is a marathon. :) FWIW, you're one of my favorite Idol writers.
alycewilson
Sep. 30th, 2012 11:56 pm (UTC)
First, I think as far as non-Idol writing goes, write what sings in *your* heart.

So very true. Unless you're writing for a specific audience for a specific reason, I find it's best to write what you feel compelled to write and then look for a possible market.

I am completely on board with you on all of your remarks about what you vote for regarding fiction. There were some writers, though, who kept me reading despite long entries. But those were only the ones that started strong and didn't waste verbiage, throw too many characters out, etc.

Can you explain what you mean by "I enjoy poetry when it is actually poetry"? What falls into the category of "poetry" for you?

You're confirming what others have said about my writing and reinforced my own beliefs about it. It's no surprise that the pieces from KFP's perspective fell flat: you're right that they were last-minute pieces written in weeks when I had multiple pieces due.

As far as market research is concerned, I think it will help me moving forward as a writer if I listen to what people truly like about my work. It also helps me to think about areas where I might improve.
kathrynrose
Oct. 1st, 2012 05:48 am (UTC)
Can you explain what you mean by "I enjoy poetry when it is actually poetry"? What falls into the category of "poetry" for you?

Ok. Let me preface this with I'm not any kind of expert, and I acknowledge that there are probably styles of poetry that are actually poetry and I don't recognize it, just like there are kinds of music that I don't recognize as music because I'm crochety. :)

But
sometimes
people think that
if they
write a sentence
like this
on different lines
it is
poetry.

And maybe they're counting syllables (I actually enjoy haiku when it's done well) and I know that not all poetry rhymes and I'm down with that, but there should be some kind of rhythm or meter.

And (this may be completely my own personal bias) to me poetry is the calligraphy of writing. The words should be crafted, and because there are so few of them, each one should be rich and full and carry the spirit of the piece.

And it should evoke something or say something clever or beautiful or lonely or joyous. Basically, if you could delete all the line breaks and read it like prose, it's either really freaking beautiful prose or it's just not poetry.

Like I said. I'm probably full of it. :)
whipchick
Oct. 2nd, 2012 06:33 am (UTC)
I agree - there has to be something lyrical about poetry, more than just prose arranged in a different format. I don't write much (any?) rhyming poetry, though I enjoy experimenting with traditional forms, but there's gotta be something in the mood or the lyricism or the way the images are juxtaposed that makes it a poem. Ooooo--maybe this is what I'm stabbing towards: prose is where the words are doing the work all together on a primarily macro level, where the voice and the craft and the structure are creating a flow that reveals what's happening/feeling in a piece, whereas poetry has a lot more to do with how the words are rubbing up against each other on the micro level??

alycewilson
Oct. 2nd, 2012 08:36 pm (UTC)
prose is where the words are doing the work all together on a primarily macro level, where the voice and the craft and the structure are creating a flow that reveals what's happening/feeling in a piece, whereas poetry has a lot more to do with how the words are rubbing up against each other on the micro level??

I think of poetry on the "micro" level as well: as if poetry is one of those extreme close-up photos, where you see the stitching of the blanket. Prose is the entire picture of the sofa, with the blanket on it, and whatever else is nearby.

Lately, I was trying to enter a poetry contest and read through the winners from previous years. Turns out the judges preferred long, narrative verse with very little lyricism about it. I had almost nothing to submit! Finally, I took a prose piece I'd written and broke it into lines. We'll see what happens.
alycewilson
Oct. 2nd, 2012 08:30 pm (UTC)
I absolutely agree with you about this. Just wanted to find out if you were one of the people who believed that poetry had to rhyme. There still are a few of them out there.

But yes, poetry should involve an elevated form of language. Simply breaking prose into lines isn't enough: and it's especially not enough when you don't pay attention to where you break those lines. I think there's a lot of misunderstanding about what "free verse" means, mainly by people who haven't read a lot of poetry.

I'm hoping that you felt my poetry entries fell into the "poetry" category. :)
i_smell_apples
Oct. 6th, 2012 12:08 pm (UTC)
I'm going to add in another, if very belated, vote for non-fiction. I really enjoy reading about *you* and your experiences :)
( 20 comments — Leave a comment )

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