Monthly Archives: August 2014

The Psychology of Writing and the Cognitive Science of the Perfect Daily Routine

31 August 2014

From Brain Pickings:

Reflecting on the ritualization of creativity, Bukowski famously scoffed that “air and light and time and space have nothing to do with.” Samuel Johnson similarly contended that “a man may write at any time, if he will set himself doggedly to it.” And yet some of history’s most successful and prolific writers were women and men of religious daily routines and odd creative rituals. (Even Buk himself ended up sticking to a peculiar daily routine.)

Such strategies, it turns out, may be psychologically sound and cognitively fruitful. In the altogether illuminating 1994 volume The Psychology of Writing (public library), cognitive psychologist Roland T. Kellogg explores how work schedules, behavioral rituals, and writing environments affect the amount of time invested in trying to write and the degree to which that time is spent in a state of boredom, anxiety, or creative flow. Kellogg writes:

[There is] evidence that environments, schedules, and rituals restructure the writing process and amplify performance… The principles of memory retrieval suggest that certain practices should amplify performance. These practices encourage a state of flow rather than one of anxiety or boredom. Like strategies, these other aspects of a writer’s method may alleviate the difficulty of attentional overload. The room, time of day, or ritual selected for working may enable or even induce intense concentration or a favorable motivational or emotional state. Moreover, in accordance with encoding specificity, each of these aspects of method may trigger retrieval of ideas, facts, plans, and other relevant knowledge associated with the place, time, or frame of mind selected by the writer for work.

. . . .

Kellogg surmises that writers more afflicted with the modern epidemic of anxiety tend to be more disconcerted by noisy environments. Proust and Carlyle appear to have been among those writers — the former wrote in a cork-lined room to eliminate obtrusive sounds and the latter in a noiseproof chamber to ensure absolute silence — whereas Allen Ginsberg was known for being able to write anywhere, from trains to planes to parks. What matters, Kellogg points out, are each writer’s highly subjective requirements for preserving the state of flow:

The lack of interruption in trains of thought may be the critical ingredient in an environment that enables creative flow. As long as a writer can tune out background noise, the decibel level per se may be unimportant. For some writers, the dripping of a faucet may be more disruptive than the bustle of a cafe in the heart of a city.

. . . .

He also cites a 1985 study of circadian rhythms — something scientists have since explored with swelling rigor — which found that performance on intellectual tasks peaks during morning hours, whereas perceptual-motor tasks fare better in the afternoon and evening. Hemingway, in fact, intuited this from his own experience, telling George Plimpton in a rare 1989 interview:

When I am working on a book or a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write. You read what you have written and, as you always stop when you know what is going to happen next, you go from there. You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until morning when you hit it again. You have started at six in the morning, say, and may go on until noon or be through before that.

Link to the rest at Brain Pickings

On Crime Fiction

31 August 2014

On Crime Fiction:

What greater prestige can a man like me have than to have taken a cheap, shoddy, and utterly lost kind of writing, and have made it something that intellectuals claw each other about?

Raymond Chandler and thanks to Bill for the tip.

The Joys and Sorrows of Teaching Literature

31 August 2014

From BookRiot:

Like many who become English majors in college and train to become teachers, I started out on the road to professor-dom simply because I LOVED READING SO SO VERY VERY MUCH. I read at the dinner table, I read during family get-togethers, I read in the car, I read under the covers with a flashlight when I was supposed to be sleeping. Reading was and is my addiction.

From middle school until college, I devoted myself to reading as many “classic” authors as I could: Dickens, Austen, Fielding, Flaubert, Dostoyevsky, Twain, Wharton, Ellison, Melville, etc.

. . . .

And my mom enabled me. During the summer before college, we were throwing around ideas for my future profession, and I declared that I would be a Writer of Novels. We decided that I couldn’t really count on that for a stable income (since I wasn’t exactly churning out the prose like a prodigy or anything). I came up with a brilliant solution: I would become a Professaaahhhh of Literachaaaah to support my real passion for writing. Perfect. Great plan. What could go wrong.

. . . .

Because I went to a small college, I never had any TAs (teaching assistants), so when I became one myself during grad school…well…shock, fear, disappointment, panic: you get the picture.

. . . .

Of course, we had received some TA training, and I had sat in on other TA sections, but still. It was me versus them, and I finally had my opportunity to unleash my love of words and ideas on students whose minds were supposed to be open. To say my first couple semesters of teaching were a bit rocky would be an understatement. And by “rocky,” I mean uninspired, dull, frustrating, and anxiety-inducing, streaked here and there with interesting after-class discussions and a few interested kids.

It wasn’t the literature’s fault, or the students’ fault. It was up to me to make these kids see the beauty of Henry James’s sentences, or the twisted brilliance of Gilman’s famous story. But all I wanted to do was rant (as I used to to my family and friends) about my love of such-and-such a character, or my admiration of this or that writer. Gushing, though, didn’t move my students. And only then did I understand that reading a book and teaching it are not necessarily connected. The teacher must make connections. She must reach her students…somehow. Even if they are of different generations and have wildly different interests and outlooks on life.

. . . .

So it took a while, but I learned from my colleagues and from experience something that everyone eventually learns: that just because you love to read, doesn’t mean teaching literature is simply an extension of it. If you’re meant to be a teacher, that’s what you’ll do. But no one makes it easy for you. You don’t just live in a world of ideas and words- you have to deal with all of the administrative stuff that goes with it. You have to perform, entertain, excite, and grade grade grade and hold office hours and also read all those books you assigned.

I will always love the idea of teaching, and I’d like to teach again at some point in the future. But thankfully I was introduced to other literary spheres: publishing, blogging, reviewing. Working at a press, writing for Book Riot, and starting my own bookish blog have shown me that there’s a whole other world out there where you can express your love for this author or that book and other people will feel the same way.

Link to the rest at BookRiot

France’s anti-Amazon minister goes

31 August 2014

From TeleRead:

In the latest of a series of ministerial exits from the deeply unpopular government of French President François Hollande, minister for culture Aurélie Filippetti has quit during a ministerial reshuffle, ostensibly over Hollande’s new austerity policies.

. . . .

Filippetti has been at the forefront of France’s cultural offensive against Amazon and in favor of its own bookstores and publishing industry. The campaign’s significant lack of success is not listed as a major reason for her departure, but it hardly adds to her list of achievements. As recently as mid-August, Filippetti was publicly castigating Amazon again as a destroyer of literary diversity, and pledging her support for the Authors United anti-Amazon campaign.

Link to the rest at TeleRead

Amazon Vs. Hachette: Fewer Middlemen Equals A Better World

31 August 2014

From TechCrunch:

By now everyone is well aware of the ongoing battle between Amazon and publisher Hachette. The thing is, we all know how this story ends; we just don’t know when it will be over. This one does not have a David vs. Goliath ending. Goliath is going to win — and that is a good thing for the world.

An investor in oDesk once said, “Two middlemen seems like one too many.” It was a pivotal statement that solidified the early focus on providing direct connections between employers and freelancers anywhere in the world. Everything we did in the early days of oDesk to support and benefit these direct connections paid off. Everything we did to accommodate other middlemen in the process was a waste of time.

. . . .

Hachette is a middleman. So is Amazon. There should be only one.

The arguments for Hachette go something like this: without great publishers, there will be fewer great writers, and emerging talents will have a harder time establishing themselves. For at least 900 authors, this is a scary proposition. Publishers do provide valuable services of talent discovery, quality control and distribution. But let’s look at each one of these points and see how things could be better with fewer middlemen.

. . . .

Take a look at Apple’s App Store. They’ve effectively destroyed the old guard of video game publishers. It’s only in the last few years that an independent game developer from Vietnam could end up with the No. 1 game in the world. That developer probably never would have been discovered by EA. Platforms like the App Store or Amazon can do a better job of talent discovery than the status quo, because they lower the barriers to entry for aspiring app developers or authors. They give everyone a chance. I don’t hear consumers complaining about the lack of good games available. On the contrary, mobile gaming is hotter than ever.

A platform like Amazon will get data about user conversion rates and user ratings much faster than anyone else and can let the cream rise to the top. Granted, they will not discover authors before they ever write a book, but as soon as a title is available for sale, Amazon can take care of the rest. An aspiring author that self-publishes a title that resonates with readers will rise to the top of the charts in a meritocratic platform like Amazon. We should be embracing meritocratic platforms.

. . . .

The bonus for the world is that eliminating middlemen makes the world more economically efficient and maybe even more educated. Prices come down and the amount of reading goes up.

The lessons for other marketplaces here are straightforward. Align the incentives of the buyer and supplier and, if possible, ignore the incentives of other middlemen.

Link to the rest at TechCrunch and thanks to Joshua for the tip.

When does giving the reader what they want turn into clickbait?

31 August 2014

From GigaOm:

The conventional wisdom is that clickbait is the bane of internet journalism, a kind of desperate pandering by revenue-challenged media companies aimed at racking up eyeballs — driven by the relentless economics of pageview-driven advertising. But what is it really? Everyone thinks they know it when they see it, and Facebook is even trying to ban it from the network, but defining it is harder than it seems. In fact, the dividing line between clickbait and serving the interests of the reader is a lot more blurry than the conventional wisdom suggests.

. . . .

Many argue that an obsession with metrics has put journalists on a “hamster wheel” and driven the quality of online journalism to new depths (an argument I’ve tried to refute a number of times), to the point where some media outlets don’t even allow their writers to see the metrics related to their work, for fear of distorting their motives. But in many ways, “clickbait” is just a natural outgrowth of the evolution in journalism from a one-way broadcast approach to a two-way model — in other words, from push to pull, or from supply-driven to demand-driven.

. . . .

In her piece, Christin quotes Richard Darnton, who was a reporter for the New York Times in the 1960s, and wrote about what the news business was like before the internet: in those days, he says, “We really wrote for one another.” As Christin puts it:

Darnton reminds us that, in the printed world, the quality of one’s articles was mostly assessed by one’s peers and superiors. Journalists had somewhat abstract representations of their reading public. The letters to the editor were often left unread. Then came the Internet.

What Darnton describes is an almost completely one-way approach to media — in the old days, news stories and other content were produced because an editor or editors decided they should be, either because they were trying to appeal to certain readers, or because they believed an issue was important and their audience should know about it, or some combination of those two factors. For the most part, what readers were actually interested in, or what they were actually reading (as opposed to what they said they were reading in focus-group surveys) had little or nothing to do with what appeared in a newspaper or magazine.

The ability to see every click, every page load — even the “scroll depth,” or how far down a reader has made it in every story — has completely up-ended that traditional model, not to mention data on where readers come from (increasingly social platforms such as Twitter and Facebook rather than search) and what they choose to share. And that in turn has completely changed how media outlets produce content.

Link to the rest at GigaOm

The Opposite of Legacy

30 August 2014

From Joe Konrath:

So I just read the latest drivel from The Guardian which completely misrepresents self-publishing. There’s no need for me to fisk it–Howey, Eisler, Gaughran, and others already shredded the stupid in the comments. And there was a lot of stupid. It makes me ponder how the mainstream media keeps getting so much wrong.

It also makes me ponder why self-pubbed authors care.

As far as mainstream media, I can point to lazy reporting, willful ignorance, nepotism, and not-so-hidden agendas. This blog has a long history of pointing out why legacy publishers do what they do, and their priorities often coincide with those of the legacy media.

. . . .

Years ago, Eisler used “legacy” to describe traditional publishing, and I’ve played a small part in popularizing the term on this blog. Indeed, the paper publishing industry is a legacy system. There are now faster, cheaper, and less-restrictive ways to get words to consumers than the antiquated method of acquiring, printing, and shipping.

The legacy publishing world knows this, and they have been putting up a continuous, united front to preserve this status quo while doing their best to inhibit the widespread adoption of ebooks. They’re so single-minded in this pursuit, that they are missing opportunities to capitalize as much as they can on this new tech, instead trading potentially higher profits to retain a paper oligopoly.

I call self-publishing a shadow industry because the mainstream has steadfastly refused to understand its scope and power. Self-publishing is the most serious threat that legacy publishers must face, but legacy publishers don’t realize it is a threat. They don’t see the money being generated. They don’t see the scale of authors adopting it. They haven’t been hurt enough to acknowledge that a revolution is even taking place.

. . . .

If the mainstream news is just as antiquated, biased, self-interested, and increasingly obsolete as mainstream publishing, isn’t it also a legacy system? Hachette isn’t reading my posts and admitting I’m right, then following my advice. Why would The Guardian or the NYT or PW listen to me or any other self-pubbed author? The legacy media are facing the same problems as legacy publishing; digital replacing paper, readers going elsewhere for information and entertainment, talent creating content without them and building their own followings and fanbases.

As a writer, I once craved the validation that came with a legacy publishing contract. I felt it legitimized me. Once I was accepted, I experienced a sense of fulfillment. Getting a PW starred review was a victory. Seeing my book on a library shelf was its own reward.

Now I realize how empty those feelings were. Getting paid well and being treated fairly is much more fulfilling that the approval of a clique. Having power and control over my career trumps seeing my book in Wal-Mart. I don’t care what the legacy publishing industry thinks of me, or of self-publishing. We’re going to outlast them.

. . . .

What is happening is an echo chamber on both sides. Legacy authors, and those who want a chance to be legacy authors, continue to defend the status quo. Indie authors continue to point out the stupidity exhibited by legacy authors, publishers, and media. The only time anyone will change their mind is when they have direct experience of one, the other, or both.

. . . .

Evolution isn’t about choosing sides. It’s about slowly adapting to new environments. The Guardian doesn’t want to adapt? They’ll be forced to deal with the consequences of their actions. Click bait and concern trolling isn’t going to pay their shareholders. Like the Big 5, the days of Big Media in its current form are numbered. There is still some money to be squeezed out of it, but status quo bias is an indicator of desperation, not growth.

Self-publishing may always be a shadow industry. The media may not ever discuss it. The Big 5 will continue to ignore it. And that’s okay.

As writers, we can continue to inform one another, share data, and point out stupidity. This is helpful.

But it isn’t vital. Change will come even if we all remain silent.

Link to the rest at Joe Konrath

Here’s a link to Joe Konrath’s books

As usual, Joe makes some excellent points.

It doesn’t matter what the Guardian or the Times say. It doesn’t matter what a group of rich tradpub authors say. The PR strategies of Hachette and other large publishers will have no effect on the ultimate outcome of the disruptive change that is taking place in the way books are created and consumed.

Technology disruption is based upon some iron laws, some of which are relevant to the book business:

1. Cheap beats expensive.

2. Even if cheap isn’t as good as expensive at the beginning, it will catch up.

3. Bits always beat atoms for the dissemination and consumption of information.

The contents of books are information. Bits – the basis of digital representations of information – are virtually free. Yes, the infrastructure required to distribute and consume bits isn’t free, but once it’s in place, sending trillions of additional bits through that infrastructure is virtually costless.

Nobody charges you any more money when you download hundreds of ebooks from Project Gutenberg instead of just one book. It costs Amazon almost nothing to make and distribute 100 copies of an ebook file to sell to 100 different customers. Credit cart fees are probably the largest per-ebook cost for each incremental sale.

Traditional publishers are primarily focused on the atoms business – hard copy books. Traditional bookstores require a lot of atoms – bricks, bookshelves, etc. – to remain in business. Atoms cost money. The atoms for two bookstores cost more than the atoms for one bookstore.

The value-add of traditional publishers is all on the atoms side. Creation of physical books is an industrial-age process involving paper mills and printing presses and ships and trains and trucks moving boxes of books around, ultimately delivering them to those big stacks of atoms called bookstores.

Success in the industrial, mass-production world of atoms requires scale. Huge publishers dealing with millions of physical books have a substantial financial advantage over individual authors in a world where mass quantities of atoms are cheaper to create and deal with on a per-atom basis than smaller quantities of atoms.

Life is much different in the post-industrial world of bits. An author sitting at a personal computer can create all the bits necessary for an ebook without any assistance from any third party or any incremental cost. A personal computer costs as much if you use it for surfing the web as it does if you use it for writing a book.

Once an author creates the bits for an ebook, the author can send those bits to a dozen ebookstores for no additional incremental cost. An internet connection costs as much if you use it for surfing the web, etc., etc.

Once the bits arrive at the ebookstore, those bits can be offered for sale at an infinitesimally small incremental cost to the ebookstore.

The ebook monetization process includes no industrial-era components and no industrial-era advantages for Big Publishing. Not only is the author is the most important part of ebook commerce, the author is the only necessary part of that process other than an ebookstore.

At the moment, the atoms-world publishers are leeching off the bits-world of ebooks and ecommerce, but their ability to continue to do so is entirely dependent upon the willingness of authors to be hosts to which the leeches attach.

As Joe implies, the enthusiasm tradpub authors express for the legacy publishing business is in direct proportion to their ignorance of what is happening in self-publishing. To put it very directly, the dumber the author is about self-publishing, the more likely he/she is to be an ardent supporter of Big Publishing.

I write in a sort of broken-down patois

30 August 2014

By the way, would you convey my compliments to the purist who reads your proofs and tell him or her that I write in a sort of broken-down patois which is something like the way a Swiss waiter talks, and that when I split an infinitive, God damn it, I split it so it will remain split, and when I interrupt the velvety smoothness of my more or less literate syntax with a few sudden words of barroom vernacular, this is done with the eyes wide open and the mind relaxed and attentive. The method may not be perfect, but it is all I have.

Raymond Chandler

A service that boils popular non-fiction books down to their most formative and salient points

30 August 2014

From Android Police:

Let’s be honest, busy people don’t have time to trudge through long books made of mostly filler. Unfortunately, publishers know they can’t put a high price on a 40-page book. In the end, authors are stuck building a lavish sea of meaningless words around the simple concepts they want to convey. That’s where Blinkist comes in. It’s a service that boils popular non-fiction books down to their most formative and salient points. Think of it like Cliffs Notes, but even shorter and not funded entirely by high school students.

. . . .

Blinkist suggests you can fly through Guy Kawasaki’s The Art of the Start in 18 minutes and Phil Rosenzweig’s The Halo Effect in just 13. Each book has a brief description and hints about who might want to read it, and all of the content is laid out in simple sections with just enough text to get the point without a bunch of repetition or unnecessary examples. There are currently over 400 books in the catalog, with about 40 new books added each month.

Link to the rest at Android Police

To answer an obvious question, copyright protects the expression of ideas, not the ideas themselves.

17 U.S. Code s102 (b) states:

In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.

The distinction between an idea and the expression of an idea may not always be clear but, for example, the idea of a young man going off to a boarding school where magic is taught and magical creatures are kept is not protected by copyright law while Harry, Hermione, Hogwarts and the particular world created by Rowling is protected..

Keeping it Fresh

30 August 2014

From author Dave Farland:

When you’re writing a long novel, sometimes as a writer you feel that you are getting stuck in a rut, that your prose has become repetitious, so it is important to find little ways to vary your work.

Most often, writing teachers will suggest that authors write sentences or paragraphs (or even chapters) of varying lengths.

For example, Ernest Hemingway is often considered the “master of the short sentence,” but in every story that he writes, when he gets up to the place where a thematic climax comes in, he will suddenly write long sentences—as long as three or four hundred words even.

. . . .

Anyone who has ever suffered through bipolar disorder knows that even a single protagonist can suffer through violent mood swings that seem to have nothing to do with what life throws at them. Thus, a character may be on top of the world one day and suicidal the next. So the emotional tone in a novel can vary widely, too.

I’ve seen authors who struggle to put in characters who are wildly different, so that each person is highly individual, and that can be fun, since it pushes you to really delve deeply in order to create interesting characters. Thus, you can look at the works of Arthur Conan Doyle in Sherlock Holmes, and find many interesting characters with odd habits, unusual costumes, and so on.

Sometimes you can simply alter your style in small ways to good effect. In John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, the author will go for fifty pages of dialog where the beats—the character’s internal thoughts and the descriptions of the external settings and character actions—are all skillfully interwoven through the dialog.

Link to the rest at David Farland and thanks to Eric for the tip.

Here’s a link to David Farland’s books

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