Monday, September 24, 2012

Kickass Title Goes Here

Blue Like Jazz: The Movie
I’ve written at least twice (here and here) about my (extremely limited) involvement in the Blue Like Jazz: The Movie, a February release that earned a whopping B-minus in the paper that we subscribe to. (Yes, we still subscribe to not one, but TWO papers.) The same grade, I might add, that Tim Burton’s comedy/horror film Dark Shadows, which came out about the same time, received. 

Blue Like Jazz:
the book
Blue Like Jazz: The Movie started out as a book called Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality, by Donald Miller. His casual, easy way with words, his struggles with faith, faithlessness and fatherlessness, laid out plainly for all to ruminate over, spoke to many, many readers. I’m guessing that’s why they were able to have the movie financed, not by fancy Hollywood producers, but by people like me. The book was that good. Anyway, Donald Miller has written plenty of other books as well, so I would consider him pretty knowledgeable about a thing like how to write a book. 

by Donald Miller, who is
more than qualified to
advise fellow writers.
However... according to the September 20th post on Miller’s blog The 5 Steps to Writing a Book, he struggles with writing just like the rest of us. His list includes vital tips like, “Look at other books on Amazon and study their covers. Print one of the covers and cross the author’s name out to write yours.” And “Obsess about who is and isn’t following you on Twitter for half the first day. Get angry at yourself for being distracted and throw your phone into the woods as a sacrifice to your craft.” 

Since in addition to my meager writing,  I am doing a hundred other things that are – or should be – my primary concerns – graphic designing, mom-ing, concerts, watching TV, cooking, (I would say cleaning, but that would be a lie), – I would not describe myself as a Writer, as Donald Miller is a Writer... but I will say that his list rings pretty true to the messy business of marshaling thoughts into something fit for others to read. 

And while my lazy little blog is nothing like the books he churns out, I do have my own method. Here’s how I do it:

1. Think and think and think until you come up with a topic. If nothing comes, stream the latest episode of Grimm, or listen to Who’s Next or Face Dances. Even though pop culture gives me a lot of ideas, this may or may not help, but you’ll enjoy yourself in the meantime.

2. When something to say comes to you, you will probably be on the john or in bed, or driving or something. Repeat it over and over in your head so you won’t forget. Jot it down when you get the chance.

3. The ball is rolling. If you’re lucky, more ideas will come to your mind to elaborate on it. Songs, movies, books, Bible quotes... 
If you're stuck, watch
something fun...

4. If a window of time opens up for you to do some actual banging away on your keyboard, bang it out. It doesn’t matter where you start. Just start. Hopefully, you haven’t forgotten your topic and all the other things you thought of to decorate it with.

5. Write everything you can think of, then edit, arrange and rearrange until it makes sense to you. Pray that it also makes sense to someone else. 

6. Read through and find appropriate photos to kick it up a notch. Humorous pics or snaps of great looking guys are always good. Add the photos, write captions – either informative or amusing. Both if possible. Apparently, lots of people read the photo captions on a web page. In Blogger, the first photo inserted shows up on your Facebook link, so I try to make the top pic something that will really draw people in. 

7. Italicize all the song, movie, book titles.

8. Search for good song videos on YouTube to link to the song references. I like artist performing song live best – if the lyrics are intelligible. Official video, also good.

9. Think of a kickass title. Or settle for the best you can think of.

10. Do the spell check. 

11. Hit “Publish” and “Share” on FB and Twitter! Tag people you might have mentioned or who you think will especially "get it." Pray that they do, and that other people give it the time of day.

12. Read it over again after it’s posted and go back and tweak it, hoping that not many people have read it yet...
...or listen to something good.

13. Worry that you offended someone. That it was “too Christian” or “not Christian enough.”

14. Go back every now and then – okay, repeatedly – to check if anyone has read it. 

This is my regular way. Another thing I do, less frequently, is... sit down in front of the computer when I have a block of time with the idea that I should be writing, since I have time. Some of the less organized posts I’ve come up have resulted in this... like the one about Eric Montross, or several posts about writer’s block. There are fewer of these because I have very few chunks of time to just sit down and hammer something out. No, more frequently, I finally come up with a topic, no matter how tenuous, and am scrambling to find the time to get it to you. And by frequently, I mean about once a week. Yes, it’s actually saying something to say that I have more ideas than time, because Lord knows my store of ideas is alarmingly bare...

Writing is hard. But look at my 
bitchin' ring! (Thanks, Tom!)
Both methods are painful.... because writing is hard. However, I repeatedly choose to take to heart the encouragement that Donald Miller gives in the blog entry I referred to earlier: “By writing, you are saying to God I agree with you, you gave me a voice and the gift was not in vain. By writing, you are showing up on the stage of life rather than sitting in the comfortable theater seats (there is a time for both) and are casting your voice out toward an audience who is looking for a character to identify with, somebody to guide them through their own loneliness, no matter how transparent or hidden that loneliness is.”

On the one hand, that’s a bit of pressure on a person who undertakes to write regularly: God gave you that gift. Don’t waste it. On the other hand, Donald Miller has just told us that he’s here to guide us through the loneliness that comes from being alone with our thoughts and held accountable for sharing them. He definitely knows what it is to struggle to put words on a page.  He’s a Writer, after all.

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