© ℗ © 2016 Geoffrey Neill
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Part 2 of DX's conversation with Slug covers how things have changed and stayed the same since "Overcast!" dropped in 1997.
Across the country, high school students are feverishly working on their college applications and today, more than ever, the personal essay is the one element that can sway an admissions board. Below are some valuable tips and essay examples for anyone with hopes of getting into Yale University.
1. Make your first sentence grab a reader’s attention.
“I spit at the person who dared to challenge me, a thick, perfect loogie filled with mucous, righteousness, and flax seeds.”
“O, stinking injustice, tremble at how vigorously I shake my fist at thee!”
“The blog I wrote about gender-neutral pronouns took me all night to compose and was worth it.”
2. Focus on a life-changing event that expresses your worldview.
I was flipping through The Great Gatsby when I got to Chapter Seven. Gatsby and Daisy are in a hotel room suite where Tom Buchanan tells them, ‘Nowadays people begin by sneering at family life and family institutions and next they’ll throw everything overboard and have intermarriage between black and white.’ For a few moments I couldn’t believe what I just read. In a book, regarded as a classic! I couldn’t breathe. My stomach hurt. I threw up, then fell to the floor and rolled around in the middle of my own sick. Then I blacked out. I awoke in the hospital, where I remained for a week, Fitzgerald’s racist, horrible words pounding in my head. It was then that I made a vow only to read articles on Salon.
3. Describe what makes you you.
“I walk inside my bubble, safe from harm, breathing the glorious air that radiates from my own being, that nurtures, sustains, and validates me.”
“At protests, I scream the loudest because my voice is that of Justice and it demands to be heard and obeyed.”
“Each morning, my pillow is drenched with the bitter tears of my own non-inclusiveness. I am ashamed.”
4. Choose an anecdote which reveals your character.
I turned sixteen and my parents felt it was time to allow me to cross the street all by myself. We practiced for several days in our backyard, using traffic cones to represent the sidewalk, while my father dressed up as an Infiniti Hybrid. The day came and I walked to the corner of Drake and Elmster, a block away from my house. My parents stood behind me as I waited for the right moment. Cars passed by the 20-mile speed limit sign. I waited. And waited…but, I couldn’t do it. I ran to my parents, upset that I had failed, but my Mom took my hand and said, ‘You will never fail. And when you are ready, the street will always be here.’ I still haven’t crossed that street. Maybe I never will. And I’m okay with that.
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A 2005 live video for the Sleater-Kinney song “Modern Girl” opens with a shot of guitarist Carrie Brownstein, gritting her teeth, clenching her jaw, and launching into the track’s singsong-y melody in a voice that ripples with discontent. “My baby loves me/I’m so happy,” she spits, looking quite the opposite. At some point Brownstein whispers to bandmate Corin Tucker, and Tucker smiles. It’s the only moment of sunniness in a song that repeats and ends with the (seemingly ironic) assertion: “My whole life/looks like a picture of a sunny day.” As her words trail off, the shot holds on a stormy-looking Brownstein, shifting in front of the camera defiantly, waiting for the inevitable fade to black.
On the one hand, this was kind of Sleater-Kinney’s shtick: “So much of my intention with songs is to voice a continual dissatisfaction, or at least to claw my way out of it,” Brownstein writes early in her soul-searching, self-deprecating new memoir, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, which takes its title from another lyric in the same song.
On the other hand, it was telling. “Modern Girl” was the fifth track on Sleater-Kinney’s 2005 album, The Woods, their seventh studio release and their first after leaving their longtime label Kill Rock Stars to sign with Sub Pop. Soon after this video was filmed, Brownstein, as she relates in the prologue to her book, would find herself on tour in Brussels, Belgium, miserable, lonely, homesick, and contemplating breaking her own fingers, willing a fade to black on the band she’d spent her entire adult life nurturing.
Brownstein is now best known to many as the cocreator of Portlandia, and probably to some as the woman whom Taylor Schilling may or may not be dating. But for 12 years in the ’90s and early aughts, she was one-third (with Tucker and drummer Janet Weiss) of one of the most righteous and renowned indie rock bands of its day. And that’s the experience Brownstein hones in on in her memoir, which takes her from her hyper childhood in the Seattle suburb of Redmond, Washington, to the demise of the band that had thus far defined her. (Then there’s an epilogue that flashes forward to Sleater-Kinney’s surprise reunion last year.)
“Modern Girl” is a perfect reference for a book about its author’s long, arduous journey toward building a life that works, one that’s genuinely, not just superficially, happy. And the line Brownstein uses for her title resonates in particular, given the circumstances she was born into, the daughter of two parents suppressing and repressing two very different kinds of hunger: her father a closeted gay man; her mother an anorexic who eventually starved herself into the hospital and out of the lives of her family for a time.
“She was retreating from the world, a slow-motion magic trick,” writes Brownstein of her mother. “Meanwhile, I was getting louder, angrier, wilder. I experimented with early forms of my own amplification—of self, of voice, of fury—while my mother’s volume was turned down lower and lower.” Self-abnegating parents bred a daughter of appetites—for music, for attention, for experience (though not, until later, for sex). In high school, Brownstein began to consume the records made by riot grrrl bands like Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, and Heavens to Betsy, in whose wake Sleater-Kinney would soon follow. When it came time for college, Brownstein swiftly dropped out of Western Washington University to enroll at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, ground zero for the music scene she desperately wanted to join. “Everyone, it seemed, was not in one band, but in two or three” in Olympia in the early ’90s. “It would have been easier to count the people not in bands.” Brownstein formed her own, a threesome called Excuse 17, who eventually booked a tour opening for Heavens to Betsy, helmed by Corin Tucker.
Tucker and Brownstein, who is bisexual, soon became involved both musically and romantically. And though the romance ultimately imploded—one of the band’s best songs, “One More Hour,” off their third album, Dig Me Out, is famously about the breakup—the pair’s crackling chemistry helped differentiate Sleater-Kinney from the scores of Olympia bands who never made it out of the Pacific Northwest.
Two records in, their sound cohered further when Tucker and Brownstein finally found in Janet Weiss a drummer who could keep pace. The albums kept coming. Their stars were on the rise. Greil Marcus declared Sleater-Kinney the best rock band in America. Touring was a constant way of life—and a growing problem for Brownstein. Her mental and physical health began to fray. The road became a nightmarish fever dream, each tour diminished or derailed by an array of new afflictions: back troubles, dangerous allergic reactions, panic attacks, and finally the shingles incident that Brownstein revisits toward the end of the book, and which concludes differently, though equally violently, from how the prologue portends.
The question for Brownstein was always just how much of her life should belong to Sleater-Kinney, and her Renaissance woman–like success in the near 10 years since the band’s breakup makes clear that music was never going to be the whole story for her. But after more than a decade on the road, the problem wasn’t only the intensity of touring life, it was also the shapelessness and aimlessness of life at home. During breaks in the band’s schedule, Brownstein flailed, trying on different identities: substitute teacher; research assistant to a sociolinguist; film production assistant; MFA candidate. Her romantic relationships, territory where she treads lightly and vaguely, failed for any number of reasons. When Sleater-Kinney was officially over, Brownstein threw her energy into volunteering at Portland’s Humane Society. The lives of animals offered something like a beginner’s manual to being a normal human being, or so she thought. “They lived in the moment, grateful for the interaction, and so was I. I had a purpose, even if part of that purpose was hosing down feces-covered kennels. The dogs’ needs seemed simple, and I required simple needs: to have somewhere to be. It’s easy to feel sated when all you’re asking for in life is food, water, and some gentle petting.”
She eventually adopted a menagerie of cats and dogs, “one for each of my limbs. Enough of them so that I could evenly disperse my worries and obsessions among them. . . . They were my family.” It was only when the fragility of that animal cocoon became clear that Brownstein was forced to face the depth of her own sadness, a darkness, often tempered by humor, that afflicts the entirety of Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl. One day she returned home to discover that the dogs had turned on the cats, killing Hector, her oldest and most beloved companion. “Now finally I was sad,” she writes. “Here it was, that shadow that forms on your insides, a dark pooling, the grief. Everything I had was gone.”
But tearing her life down to its foundation offered the opportunity to rebuild. Anyone who’s followed Carrie Brownstein’s career knows how things worked out. Five years after the end of Sleater-Kinney, Brownstein and her platonic soul mate, Fred Armisen, came out with Portlandia, their hilarious Emmy-winning sketch comedy show. Brownstein has also written a culture blog for NPR, scored a major role in Transparent, and started another band, the currently on-hiatus Wild Flag. And last year, Sleater-Kinney reunited, releasing an eighth album, No Cities to Love, to another critical standing ovation.
So perhaps it should come as little surprise to see that Brownstein is as nimble, articulate, and honest a writer of literary nonfiction as she is a musician, actress, and cultural critic. She got on the phone with Vogue.com to talk about writing, reading, pets, and living in Los Angeles.
This is a such a personal project, and quite dark. Does it make you nervous to have it out? Or are you purely psyched?
I should go back and think how many times in my life I’ve been purely psyched about anything. [laughs] I don’t think my excitement is tempered per se. But I have gone through multiple stages of fear and anxiety, which I think at this point have passed. Enough people have read it and I sense a general fondness and enthusiasm for the book, which of course is not the only thing that matters. But with something so tied to myself, it would be difficult to have even just people close to me not like it. So I feel like I’ve come out the other side of that stage of fear and now am looking forward to it being out in the world, and going on the book tour and reading and being interviewed in front of audiences. I think that will be quite enjoyable actually.
I’m interested in the incident you open with, this story about the prelude to your lowest moment on tour and the breakup of the band, when you discovered you had shingles. I can relate! I’ve had shingles twice. It’s horrible!
I assume you’re not 60 or 80 years old. Supposedly this is a fairly new phenomenon, that young people are getting stress-related shingles. It used to be an illness pretty much just relegated to the elderly. So congratulations to you and me!
I feel so honored. Maybe we have old souls.
Yes, I hope that’s what it was.
Why start there, in your lowest moment? Did you write that first?
It was actually one of the last things that I wrote. I wanted to start the book in a way that was suspenseful, just in terms of the structure and story. It felt like a good way to start the book; it kind of leaves the reader seeking the second half, the conclusion to that moment. Originally the book started with the line, “I’ve always felt unclaimed,” which is also, I thought, a fine start. But it really had to do with making the narrative more suspenseful. I wrote that scene in one sitting, and then split it up, putting the second half where it fit chronologically in the story. Thematically the book has to do with the instability of structures and families, so I think it was a better decision to do it like that.
There’s an even darker moment that happened in Brussels that you don’t reveal until the end, so I won’t give it away. You write in the book that you haven’t discussed it with your bandmates since it happened. Now that you’ve written about it, has it sparked conversation?
Not yet! I mean, in a technical sense we haven’t talked about that incident. We have talked about many things, otherwise we wouldn’t be a band today. The three of us are very close friends, and it’s such a familial-like relationship, that certainly the underlying causes have been discussed. Collectively, of course, we talk about our fears and anxieties or our happiness. It’s all sort of on the table. But we really haven’t . . . It was a very dark night.
Was it cathartic to write about? Tough to write about?
Yes and no. As you know, as a writer, you’re often thinking more about the architecture than you are about the emotional tenor of something. It really sometimes is boiling down to syntax, tempo, tone. Only later, when I was taping my audio book, did the collective emotional landscape of the book become more cohesive and clear to me. I wrote it in sections. It was so much about writing and editing and restructuring and retooling, the craft of it. It wasn’t like writing a diary entry, where it is just all emotion. It’s so much more intentional.
Well then, reading the audio book, was there a moment where you took a step back and thought, Oh, man, this is sad!
Yeah. I mean, I don’t want to sound like a sociopath, because obviously I read the book many times in my own rewriting process. But reading it as a whole and reading it out loud, it’s a different way of hearing material and internalizing it. That can heighten the senses. It was a retelling of the book for me, and yeah, that was intense.
In my experience, any distance from your writing reveals it to be a completely different thing than what you thought it was when you were immersed in it.
A friend of mine is a creative writing professor, so she brings authors to her university all the time. She says she’s seen well-renowned published authors changing things that are already published before they get up and read them. It’s hard not to continually want to edit and fix and tinker. When you read something out loud, you are aware. Some things are better served by orality. I remember my editor just said, “That’s it! No more!” I don’t know how much you do that with your articles. It can get very obsessive.
I try not to reread them.
Per your Instagram it seems you’ve been reading a lot of memoirs. Were there any in particular that helped you through this, that were particularly instructive, or that helped you escape your own story?
Structurally, I was most inspired by Steve Martin’s Born Standing Up, which is a slim memoir that chronicles his life and creative journey up until Saturday Night Live. So it sort of leads you to this precipice upon which we are already familiar with him. He’s filling in what’s beneath the surface. I really liked that. So I thought, Okay, I’ll go up until Sleater-Kinney. The story of Sleater-Kinney served the themes better. I loved Just Kids by Patti Smith. I love James Baldwin’s autobiographical writing. Maxine Hong Kingston wrote this book called The Woman Warrior. Jill Ker Conway’s The Road from Coorain.
I guess I probably read a memoir once a year. A lot of time I was not reading memoirs. I love Joy Williams, Lorrie Moore, such great short-story writers. Miranda July, who’s a friend of mine, but I’ve always been so admiring of her writing. Trying to have moments of humor, too. Balancing out the seriousness is always good.
I loved Miranda July’s novel [The First Bad Man].
Me too. I thought it was her best piece of writing.
So you mentioned that your book charts your course up until the end of Sleater-Kinney. But then, at the end, you offer this very violent story about your pets that takes place after the breakup of the band. There’s so many places you don’t go. Why did you go there?
In a story that has a lot to do with substitution in terms of family and intimacy, I liked it as a part of that. It also served to encompass the ways I felt lost and aimless after the breakup of the band. That story helped elucidate how tenuous these structures, this shoddy amalgamation of family and steadiness, really was. And so I liked it as a companion to grief and loss. It seemed to just be this searing example of chaos and crumbling. It was in some ways the easiest way to describe what it felt like for the band to break up without writing about what it felt like to have the band break up. It functioned metaphorically.
Were you able to forgive your dogs in the aftermath?
Well, one of the dogs I had to put down, because she had terrible epilepsy. She was having five grand mal seizures a week, despite being on a lot of medication to suppress them. It wasn’t working. She was gone. But pets are animals, and we forget that all the time. Animals don’t exist in a world of apologies and forgiveness. Of course I forgave them for their own nature and instinct. Between that and working and volunteering at the humane society, it kind of lessens the tendency toward anthropomorphizing behavior. Which we all do all the time. Nature is very brutal. It was a stark reminder. So I forgave them. But weirdly, the one that actually killed the cat, she’s the one that’s not around. So maybe in some ways that’s easier?
You write a lot about how you were flailing during breaks the band took over the years. And obviously when the band broke up, it was tough to figure out what your life was going to look like. But now, from very afar, it looks like you’ve really figured it out!
When did things start to coalesce for you?
Definitely after Sleater-Kinney went on hiatus. I was able to sort of reconfigure my life in a way that wasn’t dependent on touring, which was a difficult lifestyle for me. But I think I just have a better sense of balance and fulfillment. It started with Portlandia, having a different outlet for my creativity, a new partner with whom to work. Now I feel great. I have a wonderful balance and work life. And I’ve figured out ways of managing and mitigating anxiety, not letting it be permeating and obfuscating, which it can be, you know? And debilitating. It removes the color from any situation. So even though Sleater-Kinney is playing again, it’s part of a bigger landscape and picture. It feels more integrated. It doesn’t feel like something that’s monolithic, that’s blocking my view to the rest of my life.
Was any part of your decision to end the book where you do leaving room for your next memoir?
No. I want to do more writing. It will likely be nonfiction or creative nonfiction. But I don’t know if it will be autobiographical. I also need to give myself some time to live more of my life. And you know, to me, Portlandia is so in the subtext of this book. When I recount moments from Olympia, and indie rock, that have so much to do with exclusion versus inclusion, codified rules that are labyrinthine and difficult to follow and somewhat contrarian—I see the seeds to Portlandia. All over this book.
You write a little bit about how in the ’90s, the Pacific Northwest felt heavy—the fact that people went there to disappear, the weather, the buildings, it didn’t reflect much optimism or wealth. I’ve been recently, and it feels quite different to me. Do you like the way it’s changed?
Portland to me is like the embodiment of a shrug. There’s this casualness, and casualness and cynicism sort of don’t go together. There’s this unwavering optimism that I think is embodied in both Seattle and Portland. Certainly the tech industry has transformed the cities and brought an influx of people. It does feel different. The economics have changed drastically. That’s good and bad. The only thing I don’t like about it is that the version of newness that is taking over Portland, there’s this homogeneity to newness, the way that these multiuse buildings all look the same. It starts to feel like a replica of another city. There is something generic about gentrification, the way it supplants a community, it sometimes takes away a lot of the uniqueness. But there’s a lot of great food in Portland now! I guess the quickest way for me to answer this is that I’m living in Los Angeles now. There used to be such a differentiation between the cities on the West Coast, in this almost antagonistic, maybe faux-antagonistic way. For me, Portland, Seattle, L.A., San Francisco—they are so similar now. The things people used to malign about Los Angeles, they exist everywhere now. That’s interesting to me.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
The post Carrie Brownstein on Writing Her Beautiful New Memoir appeared first on Vogue.
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Carrie Brownstein, in her New York hotel room, is working on a Saturday. But she’s had her coffee and is running on West Coast time, so she’s wide-eyed, clear-headed, and ready to dive into conversation with the same enthusiasm most reserve for a plate of eggs at noon on a weekend. The Sleater-Kinney guitarist, writer, and Portlandia and Transparent actress has always been curiously eloquent. That quality has become obvious …
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Joe Walsh has revealed that he is currently working on his memoir. “I’ve been working on it for about a year,” Walsh told Billboard. “Some of it’s really funny. Some of it is what happened. Some of it is other people telling me what I did and some of it is just plain my humor. When it’s done it will come out. It’s kind of a big undertaking.”
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Webcam Performers Wanted – Earn $ 100,000 per year!
It was hard to believe you could do a musical set under the ocean until The Little Mermaid hit the boards on Broadway in 2008.
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At about 11 PM last night, I was locking my doors and turning out the lights to go to bed. It had been a long day, mostly work. My mind was everywhere, as usual, flitting from one topic to another, as my body, operating mostly on habit, went through its evening routine.
Suddenly, and for no particular reason that I can identify, a thought started forming in my head. It wasn’t a normal one. I knew that right away. I had an almost tactile sensation of the thought trying to birth itself by collecting language around it to form a sentence. It felt as if I heard the sentence – in the way you hear yourself think – before I had a sense of its meaning.
All of this lasted three seconds, at most. The thought was born fully-formed, which is rare for me. Most thoughts start raw and need refinement. Not this one. There was something different about it from the start. But what? I could almost feel it trying to get out of my body.
I pulled out my phone and tweeted it. By then my body was vibrating.
And then I went to bed.
I woke up to find that my tweet might be among the most viral things I have ever written (although it is still early). And I don’t know where the thought came from. It simply appeared in my head. Or at least that is my experience of it.
When people ask me where I get my ideas, I have lots of writerly answers for that. I usually talk about inhaling stimulation from the environment and exhaling some of it back with a creative flare. Sometimes I say I copy other art, but do it so poorly that it looks original. Sometimes I say people send me ideas by email, but those are only broad topic suggestions. Sometimes I say I was born with the right wiring for creativity. Sometimes I say creativity is like a muscle that you can exercise, and I exercise it every day for my job, so that must help, I would think.
But all of that blah, blah really speaks to the craft part of creativity. Creativity is the part you do intentionally. Art is the part you discover. Or in this case, it discovered me.
The experience I described from last night is uncommon for me, but only because of the high wattage. When I write, I am running a program in my mind that checks the logic and grammar of my writing, of course. But I am also monitoring all of my thoughts for their visceral impact. In other words, I tune my physical body to feel words and ideas. My body is the instrument that identifies the x-factor, not my mind. If you don’t feel an idea in your body, no one else will either.
If you want to inform, write with your mind. If you want to move people, write with your body.
Follow me on Twitter at: @ScottAdamsSays
Note: Yes, I know all the “feeling” happens in my head. But you know what I meant. And that is your bonus writing tip for the day: Sometimes writing it wrong is writing it better.
If you want to see a book that has plenty of body-writing, see my book on systems versus goals. A book of this sort is only useful if it moves people to action, so I went heavy on the body-writing.
By Daniel Dockery Published: August 18th, 2015
WASHINGTON—Sternly reminded that it was inappropriate to pursue personal interests at the office, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was reprimanded Thursday for writing his corn blog during a cabinet meeting, sources told reporters. “Welcome back, corn lovers! Tom here with a quick update,” Vilsack wrote in the latest entry for “Corn On The Blog,” which he had reportedly updated eight times this week with recipes and various images of corn. “It’s the best time of year for sweet corn, and that means everything from earlivee to bicolor fleet is in season and ready for your plate! Keep an eye on the Corn Citchen. (I’ve got a great fritter up my sleeve!) Check back soon for more updates and pics, and don’t forget to comment below with what’s getting you excited about corn these days!” According to witnesses, Vilsack had been compiling a list of his favorite …
By Robert Evans,Peter Hayward Published: June 28th, 2015
A concert tour is coming to the Hollywood Bowl.
Music News Headlines – Yahoo News
George R.R. Martin: “I’ll Get To Writ…
George R.R. Martin recently announced that he won’t write the script for one of the episodes of the sixth season of the HBO television series Game Of Thrones based on his books, but will instead focus on finishing the sixth book in the series, “The Winds Of Winter.”
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Motivated LeBron, Cavs: ‘People writing us off’
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There is such a lot of conflicting advice out there on how to write your online dating profile. And let’s be honest, it is important to get it right. I’ve found it helpful to think about your profile rather like a cross between a CV and a great piece of PR. Does that sound tough? Well, if you want to stand out from everyone else online then it’s well worth spending some time thinking about what you want to say and how you want to come across to potential dates. It’s not about making things up but it is about thinking creatively. It’s about showing rather than telling. Nobody wants to read yet another profile about loving country walks, watching films curled up on the sofa, having a good sense of humor …. yawn!
With a good few years dating experience behind me and now with the wonderful job of helping people create an Irresistible Dating Profile these are the dos and don’ts of profile writing that I’ve learned.
- Facts not fiction — if you are a couch potato don’t talk about your fitness schedule … unless you’re looking for someone to help you off the couch.
- Do be happy to stand out — celebrate your unique qualities.
- Be interesting — what’s the most interesting thing about you?
- Be succinct — not quite Twitter-like but make your profile snappy.
- Be specific — instead of saying ‘enjoy Friday nights out in the bar’ say ‘Friday evenings I can be found enjoying Cabernet Sauvignon with my oldest friends, catching up on each other’s latest adventures.’
- Paint a picture of your life — fitness might be important to you (and 2 million others) so say more — you get your annual skiing fix in Boulder Colorado, you’re working towards the next Ironman.
- Be different — share your unique hobbies or leisure activities. Stand out. Free diving, growing bonsai trees or burlesque dancing … share it!
- Be playful with your username and headline — create a hook. You want possible matches curious to know more.
- Do share some of your values — talk about those things that are important to you in life, you’re more likely to attract those who are compatible.
- Make sure you’re in a great frame of mind before you write your profile — play your happy music and wear your lucky t-shirt.
- Give details — If you say you love music, say which band and when you last saw them. If you love cooking say why and who inspires you. If you love gardening say how it makes you feel … You get the picture?
- Don’t be shy and uncertain about yourself. Go easy on the self deprecation.
- Don’t tell lies, however minor because you will be found out! And a relationship that begins with a lie will not recover. If you’re 43 don’t say you’re 38. Just don’t.
- Don’t make demands on the type of person you’re looking for … this is not a shopping list. Don’t start a sentence with, “you must be…” or, “I’ll only date someone who is…” Get over yourself!
- Don’t be a victim. Don’t badmouth your ex and don’t talk about dating disasters. It’s not nice.
- Don’t TELL what a cool person you are. Instead SHOW by sharing some great stories of adventures or a snapshot of your life.
- Don’t start each sentence with “I” … that’s boring. Mix it up a little. Instead of “I love cycling and went to Paris to watch the final stage of the Tour de France. It was brilliant” How about, “Standing on the Champs Elysée for the final stage of the Tour de France was a dream come true for the avid cyclist I am. Being surrounded by so many likeminded people was inspiring.”
- Don’t go on about things you dislike. It’s not attractive
- Don’t go overboard on exclamation marks, emoticons. You’re not a teenager.
- Don’t be afraid to say what you want. Looking for a life partner? Say it.
- Don’t be lame — ‘my friends made me sign up’, ‘I don’t know what to write’, ‘my character? Don’t know really but my friends say I’m fun to be around’ … pleease…just don’t do it!
If you use these as pointers when you’re writing your profile you will stand out … that’s a promise! I love that I now get time with amazing people guiding them to creating a stand out dating profile. If you’d like some one-to-one support take a look and see how I could help you.
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Paul McCartney says writing songs with Kanye West reminded him of the way he and John Lennon used to work together. Morgan Manousos (@MorganManousos) explains why.
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Anna Kendrick has signed a book deal that will (probably) turn her Twitter skills into a must-read bestseller.
How hard is it to write three sentences for my experimental web comic Robots Read News?
Probably harder than it looks.
I think of the writing process as having about eighteen layers. And one of those layers has six dimensions. If you get any of it wrong, your writing lays on the side of the road like a squirrel that had a bad day last week.
How much technique is involved in writing versus, say, instinct? Natural talent? If I know my readers, you will be interested in the answers to those questions because you might pick up some useful tips. So here is a quick tutorial on humor writing.
Humor Diversification Rule
One of the many blind spots we have as humans is the notion that people are similar in their senses of humor. Sure, some folks are more uptight than others, but we think humor is somewhat universal.
It is not even close.
My best guess is that a third of the public doesn’t possess an appreciation for humor of any type. I would go so far as to say they probably have to fake it when other people are watching. I mean that in a literal sense.
Another subset of people are only amused when something socially awkward happens to someone else in real life. For that group, professional comedians are just noise, but a restaurant server dropping a tray is hilarious.
For some people, humor only happens when there is a violation of societal standards. For this crowd, anything that would make a priest uncomfortable is comedy gold no matter how poorly executed.
For some folks, humor lies only in cleverness. This group likes puns and jokes with out-of-box solutions to problems. And they like some complexity and timing in their humor.
And nearly everyone enjoys humor about subjects and people that are close to them. Nothing interests you more than yourself. And when you see a version of yourself or someone you know played out in comedy it triggers a laugh reflex. This is the only form of humor that everyone enjoys. Even the folks with no humor gene whatsoever find pleasure in being the topic of a good joke. But since we all have different experiences, it is hard to find a topic that works for everyone.
So what do you do when there are so many types of people and your humor can’t please them all?
You do what any economist would do. You add quantity and variety, also known as diversifying. Instead of telling one joke, tell twenty. Make some of them clever, some naughty, and so on. If you spray enough types of humor into the universe, everyone has a chance to find one they can enjoy.
But is being funny 20% of the time good enough?
The Humor False-Memory Rule
My experience as a professional humorist is that if you are funny one time out of five, people will remember you as being funny all the time. So make sure you produce enough volume, and enough different types of humor, so diversification works for you. (Unless you are intentionally targeting a narrow audience.)
Some years ago I developed a formula for humor. I call it the Six Dimensions of Humor. My observation was that you have to use at least two of the six dimensions to be recognized as humor. You can use more than two dimensions for even better results, but two is the minimum. And it does not matter which dimensions you combine. I have written extensively on this topic, so today I will just list the six dimensions and tell you that you need two of them.
Six Dimensions of Humor
Humor is only one layer that a writer must consider. To produce good writing you need to simultaneously balance about… oh, eighteen layers of technique at the same time. Luckily, most of this happens as an automatic process.
- Messenger matches message
- Reading level
- Conversational style
- Branding (of the author)
- Intelligence (write slightly smarter than the reader)
- Tense (past, current, future)
- Whose point of view?
- Editing (grammar, spelling, vocabulary)
- Hypnosis layer (this is just me)
Most of the layers are self-explanatory. The most interesting layer is what I call the musicality layer. Do your words form a beat? Are they smooth and silky? Does the musicality of the sentence match the tone of the piece? How would the sentence sound if read aloud?
Compare these sentences for musicality:
A big kid kicked a milk can. (Yuck. I sprained my brain reading it.)
Now read one line from a Keisha song: Are you dancing on the dance floor or drinking by the bar? (Perfect rhythm.)
Consider one of my popular tweets this week: “Repurpose the shattered pieces of your past. That stuff is useful.” I used a beat in the first sentence and none in the second, for the musicality.
How to Layer
You probably can’t hold eighteen layers of technique in your mind while forming coherent sentences. Writers can’t do that either. That’s why I write a few layers at a time, then add other layers in subsequent passes.
A lot of the work of writing involves picking a topic that will interest your audience. If humor is the goal, 90% of the job involves picking a topic that lends itself to laughs. If the topic makes you smile before you write the joke, that’s a winner. And if a topic is interesting before you add your twist, that is a winner too. Compounding the problem is that all writers are looking for the same gems, so you often end up in picked-over territory. Don’t stay there unless you came with something special.
I start my writing by laying out the logic of what I want to say, often in bullet points or short paragraphs that I can arrange on the page to discover the best order of presentation. If humor is part of the plan, I make sure the logic supports that future humor layer, like scaffolding.
A lot of the writing process is automatic once you have practiced enough. For example, I am typing this sentence without thinking of my hands. I just look at the screen and the words appear. Nor do I think much about vocabulary or grammar. That stuff is mostly automatic now, and I will fix any typos and sloppy wording in subsequent passes. The number one rule of writing is write something.
The last three writing layers (emotion, hypnosis, musicality) are where most of the magic in writing happens. Amateur writers are not aware that those levels even exist. Most folks stop writing as soon as they make their point. For professional writers, that is when the real writing starts.
I included hypnosis on my list of writing layers because I have a background in the practice. Most writers would not have a layer by that name. A close substitute is a basic understanding of the psychology of persuasion.
A quick way to understand the power of the hypnosis layer is to consider how words carry their own emotional weight independent of the sentence. For example, the word “gun” puts your mind in an emotional state that “pillow” does not. The hypnotist puts greater weight on the emotional content of individual words than a normal writer might. As a reader, you will never be aware of this layer; all you will know is that you are having a positive reaction while you read.
That was your mini writing lesson for today. Please let me know if this topic interests you.
Imagine how hard it is for a book editor to evaluate my first drafts. At that point in the process I have not fully layered on the humor, hypnosis, musicality, timing, or emotion. Editing a first draft means divorcing yourself from the question of how good it is. Normal humans can’t do that. The best editors can smell good writing before they see it.
Do you think local law enforcement can monitor all of your smartphone communications in real time? They can if they have this device. Scary.
And now Ford has technology for reading speed limit signs and adjusting your speed automatically. Other companies have auto-driving technology that keeps you between the lines on a road and away from the back bumper of the car ahead. Human driving skills are becoming less necessary by the minute.
And if you dislike touching germ-covered objects, relief might be coming with this technology.
@ScottAdamsSays (my dangerous tweets)
@Dilbert_Daily (Dilbert-related tweets)
My book on success: “I’m only about halfway through but can definitely highly recommend it to anyone, young and old. It’s a quick read…but who would have guessed that I’d be highlighting so much that I want to go back to?!“ – Sarah (Amazon 5-star review March 14, 2015)
Tom Petty, Sam Smith (Getty)
Music Rights conglomerate BMI will host invited guests Rick Ross, Mannie Fresh and others in a panel deemed “How I Wrote That Song,” which will examine the process of writing, producing and performing hit songs.
The discussion is a part of the looming Grammy festivities in February.
BMI Writer/Publisher Relations Catherine Brewton will host the chat that expects participation from scribe Ester Dean, Grammy award-winning songwriter/producer David Hodges, and Natalie Hemby, a popular songwriter.
BMI’s “How I Wrote That Song®” is open to members of the public, ages 18 years old and up (with photo ID). Tickets are $ 20 in advance; $ 25 day-of-show. Tickets can be purchased at https://bmihiwts.eventbrite.com.
Saturday, February 7, 2015
Doors open at 11:30 a.m.
Panel discussion will be held from 12:30 – 2:30 p.m.
The legendary composer says he turned down the chance out of respect for Sergio Leone
Music News Headlines – Yahoo News