Tag Archives: worth

Wherein Cereal Makes Me A Better Writer

Image by kasiya @ Flickr

Image by kasiya

I just had a funny thought: “I really want a bowl of cereal.  Surely some Lucky Charms will make me a better writer.”

Mostly, I think my brain is craving cereal.  And yet.

When I was a kid, I held the unshakeable belief that a pair of new shoes made me run faster, jump higher, and altogether much cooler.  As if, during the manufacturing process, they put some kind of mojo in between the layers of leather and rubber.  Or perhaps some fairy godmother or wizard on loan from fantasy epics blessed each pair as they rolled by on the conveyor.  Heck, I don’t even know that I had a reason why it was so.  It just was.  Unquestioned.  Pure, iron-clad, unshakeable kid-logic truth.  And when I laced those suckers up–or tightened up the velcro straps (yeah, I was that cool)–the world knew to watch out.

As we age, we lose the strength of our convictions, invariably replacing ours with those on loan from people who feel they know better than us.  Since when is it unnecessary or uncool to believe in ourselves?  Marketing, too, is driven by this idea: use their product, and we’ll be better/sexier/whatever. And, oftentimes, the marketing and products work.  We feel better/sexier/whatever.  But the magic isn’t in whatever doodad they’ve sold us: the magic is in belief.  And so if we can separate belief from money, and remind ourselves that the latter does not beget or validate the former, then we can recapture some of that kid-logic.  Putting on a lucky shirt, a flattering pair of pants, morning affirmations in front of the mirror, and other daily rituals tap into whatever shreds of our childhood remain.

If we believe something enough, does it become true?

When it comes to things like science and politics, absolutely not (despite what various organizations say).

But in the realm of the internal?  For sure.

Internally, belief is a fuel to create all kinds of realities.  It freezes ambiguous intentions into the solid form of truth and helps you figure out what the heck you want.  In the landscape of the mind, if you believe it, writing enough stories will make you successful, that new haircut does make you look better, five minutes a day spent in reflection does make you a better person, cereal does make me a better writer, and new shoes do make the young version of myself run faster.

Be Ruthless In Pursuing Your Goals

When it comes to accomplishments, life seems to work against us.  Obstacles will always pop up in our way. Even more so when there are no deadlines and the desire is solely internal, like often happens with creative work.  It’s easy to let it slip another day, another day, and another day.

You must be ruthless in pursuing your goals.  This means two things.

  1. You will have to push past the laziness, the “meh,” the “I already worked 8 hours today and made dinner, what more do you want?”, the “I’ll start tomorrow,” and all the other excuses that will come up when it comes time to get to work.  This is pretty common stuff here.  Stuff that most “x help,” where x is whatever activity you’re trying to do, will talk about and help you beat.
  2. You will have to make sacrifices–and only you can deem what is an acceptable sacrifice and what isn’t.  This could mean cutting your TV time.  Or it could mean not going out with friends.  Or not taking on another commitment during the week.  It’s easy for us to get too involved in too many things and then find that we have no time for ourselves.  To yoink a phrase from Stephen King (with apologies), commitments are like dandelions: if you don’t keep them under control, you’ll soon find your lawn covered in them.  Note that the sacrifices could also be your other projects (see my post, “Murder Your Darlings“).

The hardest part of number 2 is the ability to say “no.”  I don’t enjoy telling friends that I can’t make it on a particular night or have to drop my commitment. But I have to be ruthless in ensuring I have the time necessary to get my work done.

“Isn’t that pretty self-centric?” some might ask.  To which I say: “Absolutely.”  You have to be.  The world will take whatever you give it and ask for more unless you put the brakes on.  Just like we don’t give away all our money so that we can pay rent/mortgage and so forth, don’t give away all your time.  Keep some for yourself and don’t feel guilty about it.

Life will encroach and the excuses will let it.  Stomp out the distractions without pity.  This is even more important at the beginning of any habit/process.  Later on, it’s easier to ease up a bit, but always be on the lookout for those stray commitments that pop up.  Don’t automatically say “yes” to them.

Be ruthless, and you’ll find that your goals are closer than you think.

On The Fate of Paper Stories

Readers are passionate people who care about what they love. As such, the proliferation of ebook readers and ebooks has stirred up the readership side of the publishing industry as well.  People seem fairly divided along the spectrum: some have adopted ebooks whole-heartedly, others mix them in, and still others have drawn a line.  With the latter, the implication is that you can have their paperware books when you pry them from their cold, dead hands.

But what these people I think are missing–and like I’ve explained to people who have asked me about my Kindle and what I think of it–is that paper isn’t going anywhere. For some books, I read them and forget them, and they stay on my shelf, sometimes shoved into the back or with other, newer books stacked on top of them.  These are the books that I can’t remember when I read it last, only somewhat remember what the story was about, and can’t see myself reading again any time soon.  This is one of the sweet spots for ebooks: the joy of reading it, immediately and at hopefully lower cost (here’s looking at you, publishing industry), and then it doesn’t clog up your shelves.

Then there are the books that I remember very well:  those old friends who I’ve read time and time again.  These are the books that ebooks will never replace, the ones with dog-ears, underlined passages, scuffs and scrapes, and so on, memories of buying it in high school or as a gift from a college romance, books where I’ve taped up the spines just in hopes that they’ll last longer.

As the future grinds on, bookshelves will become a showcase.  Not like the ones like Michael Nye mentions (bookshelves for show, to project a cultivated image), but rather an honest showcase of the stories and authors we hold most dear.  Our homes are full of the things that matter to us and the space we give to our books no less so.  The same drive that motivates readers to drive hours to visit an author signing or to locate and buy an old first-edition copy is the same drive that will ensure the acquisition of a paper copy of our favorites.  I have books that I would never consider an ebook copy “enough” and will always keep a paper copy.  There will always be a market for these paper stories, and where there’s a market, there’s a profit to be made and a company to fill it.  Papers books might just be tomorrow’s collector’s edition.

After all, I don’t own every single movie I’ve ever watched.  But I do own a copy of my favorites.

Online News Paywalls: Will a Subscription Model Work?

Just read an article about the Sunday Times (A UK newspaper) justifying its paywall.  The link to the article doing said justifying is of course behind the paywall, but you can find another link here (put up by the original author, I believe; remember this for later): http://www.dianestormont.com/jmscbackup/?p=229

The driving argument is this:  good journalism costs money.  Barring the celebrity crap, it costs time for research and digging and it costs money for airfare and other such expenses.

In truth, I hadn’t thought about that part much. I agree.  It makes sense.

But nothing is ever that easy or cut-and-dry.  If I start paying for news, what assurance do I have that more journalists will be hired?  Or that existing ones will get a raise?  or that Mr/Mrs. journalist ABC will finally get an expense check to cover the digging s/he’s doing?  How do I know that that money just isn’t going toward the CEO’s bonus check or to the board of directors or whatever sort of structure sits at the top?  Look at the owners of some of our newspapers and news organizations and you see money.

So it’s not just about quality journalism.  It’s about money, too.  It’s a business.

And that’s where the waters get muddy.  Furthermore, what about the incestuous nature of online news these days?  With stuff like the Associated Press, RSS syndication and suchlike, many news organizations don’t even write or originate the news they write about in the first place.  So you want me to pay you to read what other people worked on?  Why should I bother paying a local paper when I can pay for the Chronicle or the NYT or some bigger paper with more pull (local news is likely available elsewhere)?  Why should I pay the Chronicle or the NYT when maybe I can pay the Associated Press and get my news from the source?

How about the ads that many newspapers show?  One large criteria I’d have for whether I paid or not would be the assurance that they would no longer appear.

Another problem is of course the paywall itself.  When I went to read the original article, I wasn’t even allowed to read a snippet or a summary:  instead, to get my “free preview”, they requested I sign up and log in.  Just for the preview.  In addition, the paywall makes it difficult to handle any kind of discussion or openness about the information contained in the article itself.  If I want to link my friend to a really awesome piece, I can’t.  Not unless they subscribe.

So what do I do?  Likely I copy and paste the article for them.  Or print it out.

So I can’t help but draw paralells between DRM controls and paywalls-as-DRM.  I just don’t think it will work.  People will just circumvent the restriction.  Remeber the opening paragraph, where the article author himself reposted the content somewhere else so that people could read it?  News versus money.  Right there.

Plus, I see the emergence of aggregator services that take that behind-the-paywall stuff, aggregate it together, and then charge people for reading it.  It’s not much of a longshot, especially inside of niche areas like business or tech.  How do you slice up that journalistic pie?

These are the more concrete issues.  I haven’t even touched on the whole bit of how do you innovate and foster open exchange when everything is locked behind an account and a credit card? The stickier, bigger-picture images come down to news versus money and which has priority, and I don’t think the world in general is ready to answer that yet.

Like books, music, and other content, I’ll gladly pay for quality.  but I need to know where my money is going and that my money is directly related to the quality that I receive.  I need to know where it goes.  An example: there’s plenty of free fiction available online.  It spans the quality spectrum from terrible to publish-able quality.  But if I buy a book, I know where my money is going (author, publisher [who pays editors, artists, etc]) and I can expect a generic level of quality (such as basic editing, minimal formatting errors, etc).  But with fiction, the act of handing over money does NOT guarantee quality writing or storytelling, just as handing over money won’t automatically increase the quality of journalism that results.

Perhaps a microtransaction model would be better than a subscription model.  For instance: I find an interesting article to read, I sign in to my 3rd party account and authorize a transaction for 5 cents or 25 cents or whatever it would be, and then I get access to that article.  It would then behoove that news organization (and all the others) to make snippets available for free without registration in the hopes of enticing me to click-and-pay for another article.

These paywalls and the discussions that result from them are an important step, but we still have a long way to go.

THE SITUATION – In Washington , DC…

lee:

suitep:

lyrac:pamilya:

THE SITUATION – In Washington , DC , at a Metro Station, on a cold January morning in 2007, this man with a violin played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, approximately 2,000 people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.
After about 3 minutes, a middle-aged man noticed that there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds, and then he hurried on to meet his schedule.

About 4 minutes later:
The violinist received his first dollar. A woman threw money in the hat and, without stopping, continued to walk.

At 6 minutes:
A young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.

At 10 minutes:
A 3-year old boy stopped, but his mother tugged him along hurriedly. The kid stopped to look at the violinist again, but the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head the whole time. This action was repeated by several other children, but every parent – without exception – forced their children to move on quickly.

At 45 minutes: The musician played continuously. Only 6 people stopped and listened for a short while.
About 20 gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace. The man collected a total of $32.

After 1 hour:
He finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed and no one applauded. There was no recognition at all.

No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days before, Joshua Bell sold-out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100 each to sit and listen to him play the same music.

This is a true story. Joshua Bell, playing incognito in the D.C. Metro Station, was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and people’s priorities.

This experiment raised several questions:
*In a common-place environment, at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty?
*If so, do we stop to appreciate it?

*Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?

One possible conclusion reached from this experiment could be this:
If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world, playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments ever made …
How many other things are we missing as we rush through life?

Click here to see the footage.