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Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

I want to write. Am I doomed to be a barista?

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Check out my post at the University of Northwestern.

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Written by kirkistan

April 28, 2017 at 4:13 pm

Louis L’Amour and Writing for Life from Life

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My new dead friend teaches on knowing

I do not read westerns, typically.

But Mrs. Kirkistan, with her eclectic tastes, put L’Amour’s autobiography into my [sweaty] hand. Education of a Wandering Man is a revelation.

Two things right away:

  1. L’Amour was an autodidact like few others. He had little formal education—he quit school at 15 to travel. His real education started with knocking about as merchant marine, going to war, wrangling cattle, going hungry between jobs, boxing—and reading. Especially reading. L’Amour’s hunger to know is infectious.
  2. L’Amour’s hard-knocks education contributed to his readable writing. That’s my hypothesis: life experience makes for more readable writing. And vice versa.

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L’Amour’s life (1908-1988) seems a rebuke to the supposed schism between “academic” and “practical.” If you read Education of a Wandering Man (and I hope you will) you will find an articulate man who read widely and used very approachable language to package his thoughts. But it wasn’t just easy-to-read language that was his genius; it was the layering of language into a story. L’Amour is a storyteller who is hard to resist.

His is not academic writing, of course. But it is thoughtful writing—especially when you find out what he was reading when he wrote. His simple stories start to go deep.

In his autobiography L’Amour named the books that had been influential for him. There are scores of them—73-120 books per year, from 1930 to 1937—and he named them one by one. But these are not the books listed on a college syllabus (though some are, to be sure). From Voltaire to Nietzsche to Schopenhauer to Mann to O’Neill to Joseph Conrad And lots and lots of fiction These are the books that piqued his interest as he lived his life. And that is how his autobiography is organized: the books he read while he was living this or that particular chapter. Reading about the West as he worked on cattle ranches Reading Nietzsche and Schopenhauer as he boxed. Reading ancient myths and stories as he sailed. Reading about the West later as he wrote frontier stories. (I may be off in the details about when he read what—there were so many mentions and so many chapters in the guy’s life).

 

Education Not a Given

One thing that stands out is the focus of his education. It was not to acquire a degree. It was to move forward with what he was intended to do—as best he understood.

Stay with me here: L’Amour read to see how stories worked.

Yes, he got lost in books. Yes, he loved learning. But his learning was always aimed at assembling an image of how the world worked. He was of a time when many readers were doing the same thing, because education was not as available as it is today. But there were books.

Here’s the point: L’Amour told stories, and all his philosophical thinking about life is bound up in the stories. He is not pedantic (at least in this book), but thoughts about life roll out of the characters in the stories. This is a revelation because much of our education (and my education) are all about pedantics: laying lesson out in neat arguments. One could memorize these arguments. In fact, you have to memorize them because they slip away the moment you turn your eyes. That’s because they are not moored in the emotion of real life.

L’Amour, on the other hand, had stories pop out of him of all sort of real (ish) people doing real things in life because of their underlying beliefs.

 

Oral and Writing Should Talk

The big revelation that L’Amour gave me was that precisely because he was educated by stories and for stories (he had to captivate audiences again and again in the different chapters of his life), his writing fit quite naturally into an oral rhythm. No big words. No long sentences. Ideas were easy to remember because he wrote them with stories, and we remember what that philosophy looks like without the pedantics.

Because of L’Amour’s example, and because of my own failures (plus a few minor successes) with communicating and expressing detail, I’m starting to move toward copy that can be said. I’ve always advised copywriting students to read their sentences aloud to see if they make sense. In the end, it’s quite possible that what we hear and what we gather from what we hear, is the standard for engaging another person, as well as the standard for knowing anything.

Knowing seems to pass through our mouths, in particular.

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Would you read this book?

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The Tale of the Naked Copywriter

WouldYouReadThis-2-20160905

Written by kirkistan

September 5, 2016 at 3:34 pm

The Joys and Sorrows of NeuroMarketing

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My Will be Done—in Shops as it is in SpreadsheetsNeuroMarketing-2-20160705

If you wonder why the prolonged absence from posting, it’s because I’ve been trying to write and submit articles and short stories to various markets. Since last year’s NaNoWriMo, I’ve fallen into the great fun of writing stories.

I’m currently writing “The Joys and Sorrows of NeuroMarketing™” in less than 2000 words. I’ve also been writing to find out what happened to the neurosurgeon, the failed theologian and the copywriter in The Naked Copywriter. Sadly, a medical device marketer in that story has gone rogue to develop a neuromarketing app.

In case you wondered.

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Dumb Sketch: Kirk Livingston

On Creating: “Hello Problem, Please Sit with Me”

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From Distraction to Focus

We stare at the problem until we can’t think straight. And when blood runs from our ears, then we have just begun.

This quote from a Minneapolis copywriter describes the creative process that drives his role in the industry. What does it take to come up with a creative solution that is beyond the first 5, 10 or 20 thoughts that pop into anyone’s head? What is creativity, anyway, and why should I care?

  • First the bad news: creativity requires deep focus.
  • And now the good news: you are capable of deep focus.
"Look Again: Expanding Feminist Possibilities," Groot Gallery, St. Olaf College

“Look Again: Expanding Feminist Possibilities,” Groot Gallery, St. Olaf College

In our age of near constant distraction, how does anyone slip into the focus-cave? How does anyone keep distraction at bay, apply sustained attention, and lose track of time in the process? It turns out there are solid answers to those questions. Those answers arrive from a mix of personal experience from people who create regularly, from a bit of theory, and then from experimentation with what works for you.

One thing is certain about focus: it can bring a healing wholeness with it. Just ask any person who regularly creates, and hear them talk about “flow” or the zone or getting into that space of just doing it.

Creating is not for the faint of heart. Because to create is to dwell with ambiguity: could be this. Could be that. If you change this piece—or flip the entire story or image—everything looks different and maybe even makes more sense. Very little is defined when creating and, in fact, you are doing your own defining

A group of students and I have turned a corner this week. We’ve gone from feeding the internet with content that builds communities to feeding creativity that can solve real-world problems. And just like when we work different muscles with cardiovascular versus weight training, this move from rapid creation to deep problem-solving wants a different set of brainwaves. We’re moving from intense listening and rapid creation to sitting with a problem and iterating our way out.

One of our bigger tasks is to train ourselves not be satisfied with the first, easy solution. We’ll learn how to bend time and write fast while you still know nothing, and how to lift and separate and how to map your way around a problem and how to start at the top again and again. And how to grind through to get to a better solution.

But all that needs focus.

And focus means not picking your phone up for 60 minutes.

And that is a struggle.

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Writing Through and To

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Rinse and Repeat.

Today's Writing Task

Today’s Writing Task

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Dumb sketch: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

January 13, 2016 at 11:52 am

How to Go Out of Your Mind

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Hint: It’s a crazy idea that just might work

Can you ever see from someone else’s point of view?

“No,” some say. We are entirely bound by our own way of seeing. All the world lays before us—all the friends and enemies and acquaintances and mobs, the institutions, the physical world, all the influences, everything that is, was and ever will be (amen)—all of which we perceive from our own vantage point. We fill our brain pan using our eyes, our ears, our sense of touch, our taste buds, our sense of smell.

It’s always me looking out at you.

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There are manufactured instances, though. Huge numbers have already bought Star Wars: The Force Awakens tickets for the very experience of looking out at a favorite world through JJ Abram’s eyes, who happens to be channeling George Lucas’ story-brain. We reread Harry Potter or Tom Sawyer for the joy of seeing from someone else’s perspective.

Stories get us close to seeing from someone else’s eyes.

A primary challenge in teaching copywriting to English students is asking them to see from someone else’s perspective. It’s an invitation to awaken the force (as it were) of caring about someone else’s issues and feeling the weight they feel. And though we see and feel imperfectly, it is enough to begin to engage our imagination. And it is precisely the imagination-engaged that produces satisfying, potentially useful copy that has a chance of meeting some human need.

I want to think that as we age, we become better able to see from someone else’s perspective. But my experience says otherwise: it is all too easy to let my world close in to include only what impacts me directly.

Hard work, it is, to begin to see from someone else’s perspective.

And good work.

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Dumb Sketch: Kirk Livingston

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