Thursday, July 30, 2009

Finding your "Wayback":

I'm looking forward to showing off a number of "cool tools" for writers at Killer Nashville. For this post, I have a couple of neat sites for helping writers "find their way back".
Don't get the reference? Don't worry about it. We'll get there in a bit.

Is Historical Accuracy important to you?
Such a tool I have for you --

A friend, who shall remain nameless because he's bigger than me, faster than me, and Uncle Sam once taught him to use weapons, is writing this story about Chicago a hundred years or so ago. He's got a shootout in the stockyards and a rough and tumble along the docks and his historical details are important to him. So, he didn't like it when someone pointed out that a third of his story was impossible, because it would have had to have taken place under water. "No Way!", says he. "Yes, way," says.. um... somebody else.

If you go visit the wonderful Mister David Rumsey, at David Rumsey's Historical Map Collection and search his collection for Chicago, you can see what Chicago looked like more than 100 years ago. Compare it to a walk around today and it's pretty interesting. Overlay it on today's map and you'll see places that are dry now, that weren't so dry then. (Come see me at KillerNashville and I'll show you how!)

The Wayback Machine --

Ever found the most interesting informaton on a website, then tried to find it a year later and it's gone? The Wayback Machine, or, may be able to help. Just enter the site address and click "Take Me Back". You can get a look at what a website looked like years ago, sometimes even what it looked like back when it was just a name and some kind of "placeholder" ad. (Ok, a little boring at that point. Skip ahead a few years.) It's the internet... archived.

The Wayback Machine also has some interesting collections of archived websites from the dates surrounding historic events (like 9-11) & one showing some of the "roots" of the World Wide Web. They're working on more, I'm told.

Now, not every page of every website is there. Often it is just the front page of a site. For example, this is the earliest incarnation of the website. Which is probably only of interest to you if you want to know when tickets went on sale for the Carnegie Hall concert in 1999 (August 16th, how about that?)

And if you'd made the show, you'd have heard "Find Your Way Back". (If you're at work, turn the speakers down. It gets loud.)

Ok, the circle's complete and I've subjected you to an 80's pop song. My work here is done.

See you in Nashville!

-- Hugh Wilson

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

On Mentoring

The first thing you need to do is find out if you're any good. Writing is not as easily quantifiable as, say, pole-vaulting. A really long ruler will put a number to your abilities in a jiffy. Words on a screen (or on paper, if you've gone old school, or have enough confidence to risk the trees and ink) aren't strictly measurable.

The good news is that literary accomplishment comes in many flavors. The bad news is that literary accomplishment comes in many flavors. The difference between a crème brûlée and a cream-of-something-that-tastes-of-the-plastic-container-in-came-in is subject to opinion, at least to a degree. These opinions, if they were all written out, could fill many dozens of very dull libraries. You could always ask your mother, but in most cases, you'll just come back knowing that your mother loves you. If you're the sort of person who confuses maternal affection for valid currency, it could be a long road.

For me, I found a mentor and writing coach online on a writer's website. The two most important things to consider when trusting your ego and your words to another writer are these: that he (or she) be a better writer than you, and that he understands what you're trying to accomplish. In my case, it wouldn't have done much good to seek advice from a children's fantasty writer. But it's the first point that's crucial, and tricky. If you're lucky enough to find someone truly talented, who is willing and able to guide your writerly evolution, it can change your life.

Here's a quick rundown of the pros of electronic tutelage:

-contact with someone who knows what the hell you're talking about (This may seem terribly basic, but believe me, in a real life full of normal people, someone who understands the demands of constant day-dreaming is gold.)

-negative reinforcement (Go ahead, see how quickly you stop mistyping 'your' for 'you're' after being mocked for it a few hundred times. You'll still do it anyway, but you'll learn to be more careful.)

-a thick skin

-perspective (You always know what you meant. The test is, did it come across in the words you chose and the order you put them in? My mentor and I have a rule - if you have to justify a passage after criticism, it probably just needs to be rewritten.)

-patience (My writing advisor is 4,000 miles away and keeps ridiculous hours. As available as he makes himself and as generous as he's been with his time, I still have learned to better handle the itch of "did you read it yet?! How 'bout now?"

-the thrill of approval when you've gotten it right (There's nothing quite like applause from someone you deeply admire.)

The only downside, as I see it, is in the usual shortcomings of email. Specifically, tone can get lost. Electronic misunderstandings can really screw up a good day. Any frustration or hurt feelings sustained in the critique process would happen anyway, because inevitably, you'll get it wrong. A lot. And someone is going to point it out. Wiping the tears from your eyes while making rude gestures at your computer monitor in the privacy of your own home lets you keep your reputation of civility. So go ahead, get mad. He can't see or hear you.

But if you're becoming a better writer, then make sure you thank him where he can see it.