Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Making It Interesting

by Chris McGinty (According To Whim .com)

Interesting. Very, very interesting.

What’s so interesting you ask? Well, I’m actually not sure. Sometimes I really have no idea what is going to be interesting to people. If I did, I would probably be a lot richer than I am now, and have more girlfriends. What? I hear that’s what being interesting gets you.

So why do I bring up the very uninteresting topic of interesting? I’ve become aware that my blog writing cohorts are not so much at loss for ideas as they are worried about whether what they write is interesting. I have an opinion on this. You shouldn’t be surprised that I do.

This first came to my attention when Nathan and I discussed a group goal of not only writing a blog post each day for 2011, but posting them on time. Nathan said that he would probably have to write a lot of reviews because he was having trouble thinking of anything to write, and then he clarified, “At least anything that people would be interested in reading.”

Then Miguel and I were chatting online about auto-tuning and the human voice. Miguel might write a post about that subject, but if he doesn’t, I will totally do it myself. As it turns out, Miguel has a number of ideas that he’s written notes about, but he hasn’t completed many of them because he doesn’t want to publish them unless they’re good enough to post. He made the comment that he could probably post more, but it would be blogging about what he ate that day. This is a round about way to say that he could write a lot, but most of it wouldn’t be very interesting.

I write a lot more than possibly both of them combined, not over the last couple of months, but typically. This isn’t meant as a boast, but rather just to give you a perspective on what I’m about to say. I think most of what I write isn’t very good for one reason or another. I write so much though that it’s easy to drop some stuff in lieu of a better piece of work. I’ve written well over 1,000 poems. If I handed you my ten best, you might think I’m some brilliant poet, unless you get hung up on rules of meter and crap like that. But I could hand you hundreds of poems and if you could sit through each of them you would think I’m terrible. The truth is that I don’t always know when the good stuff is going to come forth or when the bad stuff will. It’s usually that I try to run with a good idea and hope it works, or even run with a mediocre idea and hope. I never know whether it will be good until I’ve read back over it. And that’s why it confuses me that Miguel and Nathan second guess what others will find interesting. Until you write it, you won’t even know if it’s interesting.

In fairness to Nathan, he said that he wasn’t worried about whether he had anything interesting, but whether he had anything at all. Prior to the start of the ten-weeks, he had his three reserves ready, but he also wrote movie reviews, which he finds both a convenient way of having something to write as well as uncreative subject matter. I think once we’re working on goals and projects for the new year, he’ll have stuff to write.

But back to the subject of interesting. I read recently that 80% of new TV shows are cancelled in the first year. That’s right. If they create ten new shows, only two will be around for another season, on average. What this says to me is that the TV stations don’t actually know what people are going to enjoy. They just do their best, and see what sticks. This is why shows that are good sometimes get cancelled, and sometimes shows that suck somehow keep going. It’s not whether the shows are interesting, but whether the audience found it interesting at the time.

I also remember reading that the publishing industry releases a number of books each year that they don’t expect to make money off of. The low percentage of high sellers prop up those losses.

I don’t have many answers here. What I do is I write what I know and what I’m interested in, and I just hope that someone else finds it interesting. There are things we can do, like having the reserve articles, to increase the quality of our work. The more reserve articles we have ready, the more options we have when it’s time to post to the blog. If we really don’t like something we’ve written, we can simply post something else. If we don’t like all three of our reserves, and write a fourth we don’t like, we can increase to four reserves and try to write something good again.

As strange as this may sound, the other option is to write any ideas you have, even if they don’t seem to interesting to begin with. It may turn out interesting after all.

Also, always have more ideas than time. Stay focused on one idea at a time, but the more ideas you have, the more likely you are to have one that you find interesting enough to write. I would suggest to Nathan and Miguel to number a page from 1 to 10 and list ten possible ideas for the blog. Pick the one you like best and get to it. When you’re done look at the rest, find the other five you like best and put them on a new list. The next day, add ten items the new list. Out of the fifteen you have listed, pick the one you like best and get to it. When you’re done pick the other five you like best and keep at it. This almost insures that each day you will have at least one idea that interests you, and as you keep weeding out ideas you’re not entirely interested in from your list, your reserve five will eventually be just as interesting to you as well. When you get to this point, take a break for five days from listing if you’d like, and write those ideas. Go back to your older lists and find five that were at some point on you new list that got dropped and start over. It really can be as simple as that. If you still have nothing that interests you, you’re either very boring or your standards are too high. At that point, I don’t know what to say.

When you write your list, you can list all ten ideas at the same sitting. You can take the pressure off and instead populate the list throughout the day by writing down any thoughts you have, what activities you do, things people say to you, things you read, and so forth. You can even write down what you ate if you want. After all, there will be nine better subjects to write if you’re lucky. You can do a combination of brainstorm burst and casually writing ideas, and you don’t have to stop at ten ideas if you don’t want to.

Brainstorm before and after you write. See if there are any follow up points you could write about. For this article, I could follow up with: how does this apply to bigger projects like novels; an examination of industries that use good sales to prop up bad sales and why sometimes that’s necessary; auto-tuning; online chat pros and cons; how I wrote 365 poems in 2010 and what was good about the idea and what was bad; how this method is similar to prioritizing to do list activities; what if you saved one dollar for every ten you made like you write out one idea for every ten you think of; how this is similar to the three minutes of usable footage a day thought; TV shows that shouldn’t have been cancelled and shows that should have; and the plan to have two weeks of posts ready for our vacation at the end of next year. There are ten ideas, and I could easily pick the one I’m most interested in.

So in review if you write a daily blog and wish to make it interesting each day, here is a possible way to do so. Get a reserve going so you don’t have to post whatever is ready, but rather the best of what is ready. Write down at least ten ideas a day, write the one that interests you the most, and move the other five most interesting to a new list for tomorrow and list at least ten more. Brainstorm before and after. Always look to increase your reserve. Occasionally, clear the top five by writing them if they are all ideas you like.

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