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Writing finds its own audience

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Except: Even God had a hard time holding an audience for long

My cousin is a big cheese in the world of women’s studies. She’s published a number of books and teaches some pretty astute, high-level stuff to aspiring Ph.Ds. Once we talked about why anyone would write and what’s the point, after all, since fewer and fewer read. (By the way: I always say this to my classes, that even a paragraph of copy scares many of us. All those words, they’re just, well, so much work.)

My cousin said something to the effect that you’ve got to believe your writing will find its own audience. That is a perceptive statement and I’ve wrestled with it since. I think it is true. I hope it is true. And I know it is false—at least immediately.

Meh. Another Sunset.

Meh. Another Sunset.

Social technologies and search let more of us find our long-lost cousins and brothers and tribesmen—the ones we never knew existed. We find them because they speak our language, possibly with our own words. And we know them because they are passionate about our topics—the stuff we think on constantly. (“You write about garlic butter too? You are my brother!”)

It’s just that it may take a long, long time for that audience to co-locate to your web address or your part of the bookshelf. Of course we hear and read stories of the overnight success folks, who start a blog on Saturday and by Tuesday they are talking with Oprah. But for more of us, we tell our stories and organize our arguments and spin them out into silence. But we must continue on with diligence, continuing to tell the story, as if keeping the porch light on, waiting for that audience to show.

There’s an old story about God giving his words to a guy and telling him to say the words. But know that no one will listen—you’ll be banging your head against a brick wall most of the time. And it’s all going to end badly. But those words will take root. And those words will blossom.


And over time the audience did show up.

And we’re still reading those words today, lo, these thousands of years later.



Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

May 15, 2014 at 10:09 am

What happens when we say stuff?

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An Epistemology of Writing

I just realized I run my college writing courses in ways possibly dissimilar to how others do it. We have texts, of course, and readings. We have my dry lectures, which I try to turn to discussion (with limited success). We have examples of excellent copywriting and we talk about why they work and when they don’t. We have questions. We have answers (some from me, many from the class). We have cordial fights and the occasional snark (more remains unsaid, I think). We have yawns and longing looks at the clock.

And we have assignments.

You have my attention.

You have my attention.

A portfolio addition due ever Saturday night, five minutes before the stroke of midnight. Way to ruin a perfectly good weekend, right? (Ahem: for the record, one need not wait to start an assignment until 10pm on Saturday night).

It’s the assignments—these portfolio additions—that are the real teachers. I try to direct. I try to offer my small ways of thinking, but the real work of this education happens deep in a student’s brain pain: where sparks fly and catch the dry tinder of panic: “What do I say—and how?”

So it has always been with me: I learn as I write. I often don’t know what I think until I write it. Or say it. Just ask Mrs. Kirkistan. But when I research a topic and begin writing about it, all sorts of synapses fire and connections meet and angels sing and the sun shines on my keyboard, where doves and baby deer have collected. Especially after three cups of coffee.

And this is what I depend on in my class: that the threads of our discussion will come together in the doing thereof—the writing of copy. This capturing of a brand, or a dream. The useful words that direct and possibly encourage as they launch into a reader’s mind.

But this: just doing an assignment dampens the angels singing. This class is less about getting my grade and approval and more about creating something you will proudly show to Ms. Creative Director or Mr. Small Business Owner who can hire your magic for their capitalistic endeavors. I can already see those who get this concept. Their work shows it.

Bless them.

And bless all the rest of us, too.


Image credit: Kirk Livingston

What Pulls You In Again and Again?

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A Photo. A Paragraph. A Word That Helps You Understand.

07102013-tumblr_mpfpktAmbY1qzprlbo1_500I’ve stumbled at least twice over this useful blurb about writing. I’m not the only one to find and re-find it: a number of Twitterers keep tweeting this particular blog post. It’s from the Australian writer Charlotte Wood who wrote a guest blog back in 2011 for an Australian philosopher I enjoy: Damon Young (‘The Write Tools’ #32 – Charlotte Wood). Ms. Wood wrote about her process for producing novels and how at a certain point in the process she starts to take photos as a way of capturing detail. The entire post is worth your time, but I keep rereading this paragraph:

Iris Murdoch said that paying attention is in itself a moral act. I think this is true – it is hard to dismiss someone if you listen very carefully and watch them, and enter into what they truly believe. I think this is what my photographs and notebooks are telling me: remember not to skate over the surface of an imagined thing or person or act, but really sit, and go quiet, and listen. Pay attention to everything there in the frame, and then also perhaps wonder about what is not there, and why. I think a commitment to paying attention is perhaps as good a way as any to try to understand the world. And trying to understand the world is why I read, and why I write.

Ms. Wood’s attention to detail is a source of inspiration to me. And I like how reading, writing and observing are all helping serve her goal of understanding.


Image credit: Kateoplis via 2headedsnake

Written by kirkistan

July 10, 2013 at 9:58 am

When I get discouraged about writing, I think on Philip Glass

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Philip Glass is known for repetitive structures in his music, among other things. Mr. Glass is famous (ish) today and you hear his music most commonly on film soundtracks. But not everyone likes those minimalist, repetitive structures (some members of the politburo of Kirkistan will sit for only limited doses of Mr. Glass’ music).

The 2008 documentary about Philip Glass contained quite a few unguarded responses to his music. Watch the film for the exact quotes, but the general sense people communicated to Mr. Glass as he developed his unique style was something on the order of “Please go away” or “Please stop playing that” or  “I think we’ve heard enough of that. Can you do something different?”

In a 2009 Esquire interview, Mr. Glass, said this about his resolve:

When I struck out in my own music language, I took a step out of the world of serious music, according to most of my teachers. But I didn’t care. I could row the boat by myself, you know? I didn’t need to be on the big liner with everybody else.

I often think of Philip Glass when I get discouraged about writing.

Writing is difficult, so says anyone who writes. Just like with anything worth doing, there are all sorts of missteps and problems and wrong directions and mistakes involved with getting a thought on paper. And then there is the problem with the audience. I might call it the Glass Problem: prolific production of something no one wants.


But one continues forward. Despite responses. One must be just thick-headed enough to continue sorting out what it is one is trying to say. That’s what I understand when I think on Philip Glass: an infusion of courage to move forward despite all outward evidences that I really should stop.


Image credit: IMDB

Written by kirkistan

June 3, 2013 at 9:39 am

How I’m Writing Today: Palimpsest

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Here’s your close reading.

tumblr_lsqsh4Edin1qg39ewo1_500-01182013These days nearly all these posts grow out of a much larger manuscript I’m working on. It’s as I were on a teeter-totter: falling with the gravitas of this larger work but then buoyed by the thought of breaking my indulgent thoughts and sentences into smaller pieces and stripping away language. Or this: pushing forward with the larger more difficult manuscript  opens windows and doors in passing that frame tantalizing ideas that turn into posts.

Someone I recently read mentioned the notion of a palimpsest: an old manuscript that was erased and rewritten, because the parchment itself was valuable and endured. Modern techniques have allowed for the reading of the words that were erased.

Maybe the palimpsest is not that different with how we are with each other: our rewritten and redacted conversations help catalyze thoughts, actions and intentions with each other. Completely tangential words have the capacity to present a new and quite fruitful direction. Or waste lots of time.

Diversions present. I give chase. It’s neither a tidy nor effectual way of writing. And yet, the result is a fortuitous amount of blasting that clears away the surface…crap…and bores down toward the issue. Sometimes.


Image credit: gifmovie via 2headedsnake

Written by kirkistan

January 18, 2013 at 10:20 am

Transcripts tell a story. That story needs framing.

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Every story needs context.

Every story needs context.

Recently I applied for entry in an academic program. I had the opportunity to read my college transcripts from a couple decades ago. My shadowy recollection of college was that I started in electrical engineering, didn’t care about the classes (hated them, in fact) but soldiered on because that was the clear path toward economic security—or so I thought. Eventually, the engineering department and I sat down together and had a frank talk. Both of us felt there just might be a better place for me elsewhere at the UW-Madison. That’s when I made the switch to study philosophy and immediately felt like I had come home. Twenty years later, the cold hard facts on the transcript were much worse than I remembered. Yikes!

Subsequent experience and studies helped me understand there are some paths I am meant to walk down, and some I am not. Engineering was not one of those paths. Writing was and has been since. In applying to this particular academic program, I made the case that some of us learn what we’re about later in life. I tried hard not to say “slow learner.”

Whatever part of life we’re in, there’s a story that needs to be told. A story waiting for us to tell it. Where the story starts is not where it ends (I’m thankful for that). And even our retelling of the story makes it stronger, validates it, and causes growth in all sorts of ways in us and in our listeners. The guys who hung around Jesus the Christ told stories of what he did and who he was, especially after he died and came to life again. New Testament writers called them “apostles,” which means “ones sent to act on the authority of another.” (Donald K McKim, Dictionary of Theological Terms) Part of what these apostles did was tell stories. These stories gained traction as time went on and became cultural foundations (as well as personally life-altering for me).

Our communication is and always has been marked by the stories that help us understand our experience of life. Sharing our stories helps us grow.


Written by kirkistan

January 5, 2010 at 2:58 pm

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