Writing: My Craft, Endangered

October 30, 2008

Note: I wrote this post a month ago as an exercise in therapeutic writing. I decided then that I wouldn’t publish it, but I believe it provides a valuable counterpoint to yesterday’s post. Before writing me off as a shameless snob for this post, make sure you read the preceding one, entitled “Writing: My Craft, Enlivened.”

I’ve been a bit frustrated lately. I had decided not to express it on the blog, however, because it would crush me if anyone I worked with, or anyone else for that matter, mistakenly took my frustrations as a negative comment about my job. I absolutely love my job, my team, my leaders, and everything else about the place. Seriously, that’s not an exaggeration. At this point in my life, the most exciting prospect for me would be to retire from there in 30 years or so. I can’t imagine wanting to leave.

Now, that said, I want to share some thoughts about what I do for a living. I’m a writer. I’m not a salesperson who writes. I’m not a schoolteacher who writes. I’m not an auto mechanic who writes. I’m not a park ranger or busboy or accountant or elephant trainer who writes. I am a writer. That’s what I do, that’s what I’ve done every day for eight years, and that’s what I want to do eight hours a day, forty hours a week.

I know where commas are supposed to go. I know what a split infinitive is. I know why one word works better than another in certain situations. I know how to pluck a single thought from the garden of ideas, nurture it, develop it, and then paint a picture with words so that others can see it just as I do. I also know when to let a good idea die, pruning out the “good” from the “great.” Moreover, I know how to lead others to do the same, coaching other writers to hone their skills just as my mentors have coached me.

It’s not magic nor guesswork, accident nor luck. It’s a skill that is one part natural talent and one bigger part opportunity and training. It is an ability refined in the fires of harsh edits, rejection letters, failed manuscripts, and shouting matches with bullish editors.

Driving a car doesn’t qualify me to repair transmissions on the weekends. Grilling a hamburger doesn’t qualify me to open a restaurant. Playing with my iPhone doesn’t qualify me to write programs for it, develop marketing campaigns to sell it, or design the next model or product line. Steve Jobs won’t take my calls, no matter how much I love the iPhone.

Writing is perceived as different, however. Writing seems to be the one occupation that everyone thinks they can do in addition to their own jobs. Of course, I mean professional, for-pay, mass-market writing here. I have nothing against writing hobbyists, bloggers, or those who craft an especially powerful letter. Writing as a hobby is a glorious, educational enterprise that expands the mind far more than an episode of Survivor ever could. The world is shrinking, and we could all use a new generation of brilliant communicators. And yet, writing a blog doesn’t qualify someone for professional writing any more than my occasional notebook doodling qualifies me to be a graphic designer.

And sadly, business leadership often gets involved, as well, further muddying the waters. If you are a working, professional writer—trained, tried, and true—then you probably know how to turn a phrase better than your accountant boss does. And yet, he or she may still demand their version. Nothing kills a writer’s creative spark faster than reviewing his own work in print—and seeing the dark shadow of another’s voice all over the page. (True story: The head of the magazine department at my first publishing job was the CFO.)

This is one of the downsides of professional writing, and it is a lesson that new writers should learn well. Writing as art is becoming a tough sell in today’s world. “Everyone can write” is becoming subtly synonymous with “Everyone is a writer.” It’s not.

This makes it especially difficult for those of us who actually have to hire writers for mass market work. As soon as I put a job posting up for a writing position, I just stand back and let the wave of garbage hit me in the face. I always put the disclaimer, “Previous publishing experience required,” but to no avail. As soon as the word “writer” hits the job board, waves of journal entries and blog posts fill my inbox as “writing samples” from plumbers, teachers, housewives, gardeners, and biologists. Seriously, I once posted a job for a Bible study writer and asked only for those with seminary and ministry experience; a working biologist with a Ph.D. and absolutely no published work applied and sent home-brew writing samples. He didn’t get the job.

Fellow writers, I fear that our craft is in danger. The only solution, in my opinion, is to make our work more outstanding, more excellent, more unique than ever before. The market, both in print and online, is flooded with pages and pages of text, where haphazard words and half thoughts are taking the place of worthy writing and valuable stories. So, make your work stand out. Be the tree among the weeds. Let good writing live on.


Writing: My Craft, Enlivened

October 29, 2008

We are truly living in a brave new world. Today, I was reminded that no generation has ever seen such a vast proliferation of talent. Even just 20 years ago, countless writers, artists, designers, storytellers, musicians, and songwriters had few outlets for their craft. However, that has changed, and changed drastically.

This morning, I had the opportunity to hear Jon, of the popular Stuff Christians Like blog, give his thoughts on open and honest writing and communication. He reminded me that yesterday’s bloggers only wrote in journals; yesterday’s musicians only played in their basements; yesterday’s artists only drew in their private art pads. Today, it’s a different story. Today, the internet has provided a global platform for every man, woman, and child to express any ounce of creativity that God has put at their disposal. And that’s awesome.

We are living in a creative renaissance in which everyone starts on a level playing field. Jon’s blog went from zero to a quarter million readers within a few months. Aspiring writers are shucking the constraints of traditional publishers and producing their own books through print-on-demand services like LuLu (and thereby making more money per book, I might add). Musicians are releasing original tracks digitally on MySpace and Facebook and personal websites. A new wave of talking heads is crashing the shores of iTunes through podcasting. The floodgates to the creative reservoir have swung wide open, and we’re swimming in the overflow of once-silent talent.

For me, blogging has become my own voice in the world. I have been writing professionally for eight years. In that time, I’ve had to “speak to the audience” of whatever publication I was writing for. In my ministry writing, my primary audience is older adults. That doesn’t provide a ripe field for the delicious  and occasionally bitter sarcasm that often flows so freely from my pen when I’m writing for myself. Here, I can forsake the constraints of “proper voice” and just talk. Like me. The way I talk inside the safety of my head. Sentence fragments and all.

Is every blogger, indy musician, or YouTube sensation worth my time? No. Heck no. But it doesn’t really matter, does it? The point is that someone, somewhere is exercising his voice, his beautiful, unique voice. The voice God gave him. The talent he was born with. The gift that he’s never had a chance to share with anyone. Until now.

I’ll be honest. Speaking as a professional writer and editor, this is creating some problems. I’ll deal with those tomorrow in a potentially snobby, likely indulgent counter-post to this one. For today, however, I’m relishing in the fact that I’m one voice among many. Yes, we are indeed living in a brave new creative world. And your voice is welcome.

Jon Favreau and Robert Downey, Jr. Suit Up for Avengers and Iron Man 2!

October 28, 2008

The Iron Man 2 news was expected, but the Avengers news was still up in the air. Today, Marvel announced that Robert Downey, Jr. will indeed play Tony Stark/Iron Man in the Avengers movie. Also, Favreau, who directed Iron Man with near-perfect success, will executive produce the Avengers movie. I’m glad he’s involved, but I honestly wish he was directing it. Iron Man was the best comic-to-film adaptation I can remember, and I’m excited to see Marvel build their team of heroes in the cinematic Marvel Universe.

From superherohype.com:

As part of his four picture deal with Marvel Studios, Robert Downey Jr. is appearing as Tony Stark in THE AVENGERS motion picture, as well as reprising his starring role as the larger-than-life leading character in IRON MAN 2. Jon Favreau will return to direct the sequel to the blockbuster IRON MAN, which to date has grossed over $578 million worldwide, as well as executive produce THE AVENGERS.

Photo Update

October 27, 2008

We just uploaded a new Baby Bump pic! Sorry it’s been a month since we updated that album!

Batman: The Brave and The Bold UPDATE

October 25, 2008

Some of you have asked for updates on the new upcoming Batman cartoon. I haven’t seen any since my last post until today. Now, I can say for sure that the show will start on November 14 on Cartoon Network. It’s a prime-time toon, not a Saturday morning time slot.

Mania.com just released an update, including character bios for Batman and the first slate of guest heroes. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Photo Update!

October 24, 2008

We just updated the Photo/Video section with some shots from our Big Canoe vacation, as well as some great pumpkin patch pics. Check ’em out!

Apple’s Marketing Machine

October 23, 2008

Poor Windows. I am not one of the countless Apple fanboy drones who incessantly bashes Windows. I actually like parts of it. Vista, although I initially had a bad experience with it, has grown into a pretty good operating system. My wife has it on her laptop, and it works well enough for her. No big problems in the past year; we haven’t even had a single blue screen of death on it.

That said, there is one area in which Apple simply gives Microsoft a pants-down spanking day after day after day. Of course, I’m talking about marketing. In 20 years, Microsoft has never been able to put together a successful ad campaign. Some of their attempts are down-right embarrassing. For example, take this re-post of the current CEO, Steve Ballmer, attempting to move Windows 1.0 with all the grace of a snake oil salesman:

Lately, of course, we’ve watched with wide eyes and gaping jaws the odd efforts of Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld, who did two commercials without ever mentioning the product name. That was quickly shelved, and Microsoft moved on to a defensive “I’m a PC” campaign to counter Apple’s wildly successful “I’m a Mac” ads. I thought this effort from Microsoft was okay, but it felt weird having the industry giant having to stoop down to swat the Apple gnat. It was almost as though they were admitting that the little upstart was causing a problem.

The $300 million that Microsoft famously dedicated toward marketing this year just makes this debacle even more painful to watch. It’s as though every time they stand up to speak, the Apple bully in the back of the room fires a laser-guided spitball right into the back of their heads. And destroys them.

In Apple’s latest ad, they do more to mock Microsoft in 30 seconds than should be allowed by law. It makes the whole notion of Microsoft’s $300 million effort look … well, sad. That’s a shame. Microsoft is a good company and they’ve changed the world in a lot of ways. Sadly, marketing is not one of them.