conversation is an engine

A lot can happen in a conversation

Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

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

Listen to Your Story

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What I Learned from NaNoWriMo 2015

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Just do this to write a novel.

How much different is writing from life?

In both we make decisions that carry us forward. Sometimes those choices work out well. Sometimes they drop us in a dead end. Mostly it is not clear where the choice leads, and so we carry on.

Writing 1667 words a day through November’s National Novel Writing Month forced me to look at every scene and imagine how it might move the story forward. Within the first few days, every scene, every action, nearly every word seemed full of, well, pivot. The story could turn 180 degrees—except the commitments my characters held worked time and again as a rudder, pulling their choices along a true direction.

Choice after choice makes the story. Along the way we interact with characters who enter the story because of our choices. And these characters bring with them yet more choices. Our commitments impact how we choose, drawing us like a lodestar consistently one way or another. But even those long-term commitments enter the choice-making machinery of writing and life.

Do you agree that writing and life move forward in a similar way? One difference is that with writing you get to go back and change the story.

You can’t do that with life.

Or can you?

Producing my story brought to mind Parker Palmer’s book Let Your Life Speak, a book I’ve recommended to many friends. Palmer’s advice gets at the nub of both writing and living: peering into the facts so far and taking a courageous view on where those facts could lead. Palmer realized, in looking back over his life, that a particular commitment had been leading him in ways that did not fit with what was happening and where he was meant to be.

In writing you lop off a sentence (or paragraph or chapter) to move the story forward. In life you make tough but wise choices that put you on a better trajectory.

 

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Dumb Sketch: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

December 1, 2015 at 8:55 am

And we’re back

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As a big old winner, mind you.

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Written by kirkistan

November 30, 2015 at 8:25 am

The Naked Copywriter (NaNoWriMo)

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I’ll be absent for a month or so.

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November is National Novel Writing Month. Last year I wrote the 50,000 word Fresh Water Fetish. This year’s 50,000 words are dedicated to story and explication around what it means to live a creative life. This may be a novel. It may be creative non-fiction. But in 30 days and 50,000 words I’ll have a better idea.

If, in my absence, you wonder what “conversation is an engine” might say about any particular topic, just type your term in the search bar. There are more than 1130 posts here–feel free to browse.

Alternatively: write your own novel for NaNoWriMo!

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Written by kirkistan

November 1, 2015 at 5:00 am

First Person Tooter

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Let others pull philosophy out of your story

It turns out the story of a person’s life is interesting in a way that we have a hard time looking away from.

  • How they got to where they are.
  • Who were their influences?
  • What were the shaping forces that drove them: poverty as a child? Loneliness? Were they ostracized or bullied?
  • What was behind their particular quest?

All of this is story.

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We each tell our stories in different ways.

I’m reading Louis L’Amour’s Education of a Wandering Man despite myself.

I’m not a particular fan of L’Amour’s writing. I have no great interest in cowboys and western shoot-em-up stuff, still I cannot put down his biography. It’s how his personal story unfolds and his depiction of the times he lived that are so gripping. And because I know where it all leads—at least to some degree. L’Amour’s education consisted of working on migrant fields across the U.S., and the merchant marine, and boxing and in reading whatever little blue books he could lay his hands on. He listened to hobo stories and seamen stories and drinking stories and murder stories. He also wrote very clearly—so that I almost don’t even realize I am reading.

This strikes me because much of what I read calls attention to itself in thousands of ways, from pedantic language to detailed concepts that demand rapt attention to self-indulgent fluff to the simply boring. And I’ll confess to committing some of those very language sins myself on pages.

But what if a philosophy book told a story rather than parsing dry doctrines and tentative tenets? In fact, that is exactly what stories and novels and films do: package thought into a compelling narrative.

Story keeps pulling us back in.

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

October 15, 2015 at 9:33 am

Wait: Can we talk too much?

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Feed your existential intelligence

I’m gearing up to teach again: freelance copywriting and social media marketing. My understanding of communication and writing and the volunteer social-media tethering we do continues to evolve. I can talk and teach and speculate about what works for communication and how to provide what a client needs. I can talk about how we need to help our clients think—that is a piece of the value-add a smart copywriter brings to a relationship. But these days I’m seeing more limits and caveats—especially in the promises inherent in social media.

These are English students and communications and journalism. Some  business students. Juniors and seniors. Many are excellent writers. Many, if not most, have worked hard to develop an existential intelligence, as Howard Gardner puts it. I teach at a Christian college, and from very many discussions with students, I know they will seek a place for faith in their life and work and life-work balance. Many if not all are just as eager to make meaning as they are to find a job.

That pleases me.

That’s one of the reasons I like to teach there.

One thing I’ve learned is that work alone does not satisfy the meaning-making part of life. Nor does work itself feed the existential intelligence. Craft comes close. Especially when we grow in our craft as we seek to serve others. But work and craft and meaning-making must be purposefully-pursued.SelfPortrait-08262015

Intentional-like.

Because if we don’t pursue them, we fall prey to entertainment. We gradually anesthetize ourselves and starve the existential intelligence with the well-deserved zone-out time in front of the big screen TV. I’m starting to wonder if some of our social media habits also starve our existential intelligence.

I wonder because I wrestle with these impulses.

No. One does not fall into meaning-making. It takes work to make meaning.

I suppose that is the work of a lifetime.

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Dumb sketch: Kirk Livingston

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