Saturday, October 18, 2014

Revising Creative Nonfiction


Preliminary revision in five passes.

After your reporting and writing is finished, it is time for revision. H/T Susan Orlean's Skillshare class on creative nonfiction.

Pass 1. Revise dialogue.
Never deliver information via dialogue, instead use dialogue to illustrate character.
Pass 2. Revise description.
Cut description to absolute minimum, make all descriptions vivid and memorable.
Pass 3. Revise expert opinion.
Avoid literal quotations by experts. Don't say "Professor Foghead says 85% of studies show that peas are demonstrably good for most people..."  Instead, speak in writers voice and say: "Peas are good for you."
Pass 4. Revise the conclusion.
Avoid the 'recap.' Instead of summarizing information, communicate a feeling. When reporting, look for anecdotes you can 'hoard' for the conclusion.
5. Revise the pacing. 
Aim for an engaging mix of dialogue, description, expert opinion and commentary. In terms of filmmaking: dialogue=closeup, description=medium shot, expert opinion and commentary=long shot.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Revising '70 backbends?' -- Dialogue

Looks like the actual writing of 70 Backbends? is only the first step.
The next step is to go through the piece and revise the piece's use of dialogue, description, expert opinion, and conclusion.

First pass is for dialogue.
(Urk. It looks like I am using dialogue to deliver simple facts.)

A few notes on revising dialogue from Susan Orlean's Skillshare class on Creative Nonfiction:
1. Dialogue is one of the basic building blocks of Creative Nonfiction.  
2. A few rules for revision:
- Never use dialogue to deliver a simple fact.
      - Use dialogue to extend the reader’s understanding of a character.
- Use dialogue to reveal the language that people use when they are speaking to each other.
- Use dialogue to give a sense of who the character is, instead of just delivering facts.
- To evaluate a quotation, look for the *way* it is expressed.   What makes it worth quoting?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

70 Backbends?



Master yoga teacher Tony Briggs


 Tony Briggs decided to hold a 70 backbend workshop for his 70th birthday. He posted an announcement on his website, and sent out an email.
The response was terrible. A week before the workshop he was teaching his regular Sunday morning class. He stopped the 22 students.

“Next week is my 70th birthday and workshop, for which almost NONE OF YOU HAVE SIGNED UP! Silly me. I thought, ‘I've been teaching for 25 years. I'm 70 years old. Somebody's going to come!”
Then he laughed.
“I swore I wasn't going to say that, and I went and said it. Did you ever do that?”

“He has the ability to show up honestly,” said Barbara Murphy.

Even advanced yoga students are afraid of backbends. There is no good reason for this. Apparently, human beings just do not want to bend backwards. B.K.S. Iyengar, Tony’s root teacher for 37 years, believed backbends are increasingly important as we age. In his yoga tradition, the ideal is to do one backbend for each year of your age on your birthday.

Tony had reserved the training hall at Petaluma Orthopedic and Sports Therapy (POST) near his home in Petaluma. Large windows at the end of the converted warehouse overlook the Petaluma River and the theater district.  That morning the sky was bright blue, and the air had the fresh coolness of early autumn.

The parking lot was empty when Mr. Briggs arrived a half-hour before class. He parked, unlocked the red sliding barn doors and went inside.

Soon, students began to arrive. The parking lot filled quickly. People parked next door. Inside, laughing friends surrounded Mr. Briggs. They piled coats, sweaters, scarves, shoes, yoga bags, birthday presents, cards, flowers, and a lopsided homemade chocolate cake with a single candle on the benches near the door.

By 9:00, yoga mats filled the room. Mr. Briggs opened the class by thanking everyone for showing up. He introduced his partner, a tall, graceful gray haired woman with a gentle smile. He confessed that they honestly did not expect so many people to show up. He said if there was not enough ice cream after class, to blame his partner. “She was in charge of ice cream!”

Mr. Briggs began by leading the class through a brisk half hour of standard poses. Then he began a series of increasingly difficult backbends. Finally, it was time for the most advanced backbend, dropback into bridge pose.  In a bridge pose, your hands and feet are on the floor and you push yourself up so your back arches like a bridge. It takes strength, determination and flexibility to do this pose.

“If you want to be dropped back, make two rows... and give me about three feet of space in between. If you don't want to be dropped back, go do something else and we'll catch up with you.”

About half the class lined up in two facing rows in the middle of the room. Mr. Briggs stepped close to the first student, placed one hand on her back, and the other on her stomach.
“I got you.” 

She leaned back until her hands touched the floor. He released her and immediately stepped to the next student and repeated the process.

When everyone had done three dropbacks, Mr. Briggs gave a speech.

“I didn't rehearse except for one thing. I want to acknowledge Mr. Iyengar.” He pointed to small table in front of the open glass doors facing the river.  A small bouquet of flowers and a picture of Mr. Iyengar sat on the table.

“His teaching is everywhere. They'll be reading about this guy for hundreds of years, and he was my teacher. He died on the afternoon—our time—of the 19th. Today is the 13th day (after his death), the last day of the mourning period. So I want you to do 13 back bends of some kind. Dedicate them to any person or situation, which helped you to learn and grow, which has now passed out of your life. Do 13 and we will have done 69 backbends.”

When everyone was finished, Mr. Briggs said,

“The last one's for me. You are going to do your (70th) backbend and sing me happy birthday before you get to come down.  Up you go!”

When all 60 people were into a backbend, the room erupted into a cheerful happy birthday song.

“That's for you, as much as for me. Some of you guys thought you could never do 70, and you can!  You don't have to be afraid of that anymore.”

After leading the class through a 40 minute cool down, Mr. Briggs said,
“Now, the fun stuff. The ice cream truck just pulled up outside. Just go out there ... tell him what you want he'll give it to you... you can even have seconds!”

I was sitting with several students having ice cream when Annette shared her backbend story. Several years earlier, she had just returned to class after giving birth.

“I gained forty or fifty pounds – with the pregnancy and the breast feeding. I was struggling to get into a bridge pose when Tony walked by. He said, “Struggle some more.”
“I could have wrung his neck! Struggle some more!” she repeated indignantly.
“I am very determined person, and after he said that…”
Within a year, she lost forty pounds and was doing bridge poses.

Briggs is the teacher that other yoga teachers send their students to. His classes are extraordinarily demanding and effective. I finally decided that a combination of things makes him unique.

He is male and 70, in a field where most practitioners are women and younger.

There is absolutely no sentimentality in his teaching. He once said ‘I teach reverence. But not here. Class is a place to work hard and laugh a lot.’

He knows all aspects of yoga intimately—physical, mental, psychological and spiritual.

Like his root teacher, Mr. Iyengar, he constantly tinkers, experiments and learns.


Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Forest Dalton interviews. If you are going to an intensive, or thinking of going to an intensive, you might want to listen to these short talks.


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A test of Soundcloud

I am in the process of editing several audio interviews with Forest Dalton, the originator of  the "Love Intensive".

I am thinking of using Soundcloud to put the files online. This page is a test of embedding the links in a blog. What I want to know is:

- can I easily embed a soundcloud on a website or blog? (yes)
- how easy is it to share an embedded soundcloud link? (yes)
- what does the embedded link look like? (see below)

Here is embed test #1:


Here is embed test #2

Thursday, August 22, 2013

12 blogging tools from Erica Reitman (re-posted Aug. 2013)



Erica Reitman is the founder and owner of the blog Fucked in Park Slope. She started her blog from scratch, posting irreverent comments about her Brooklyn neighborhood. Fucked In Park Slope now gets 500,000 page views a day and employs 14 writers and a full time managing editor.

This list is taken from notes I made during a talk Reitman gave to a social media marketing boot camp I attended last year.

Reitman says the first thing to understand about blogging is that it is a huge time-sink. One of the keys to coping with the work load is having the right tools. She recommended these:

1) Skitch
A screengrab and lightweight picture editing program. Use it to do quick edits (crop, add callouts, etc) to make photos fun and interesting. Mac only. For the PC she suggested Jing.

2) Evernote
Evernote is a powerful online notebook for everything you find online. You can tag stuff as you capture it. She uses it to keep story ideas, information for the blog, and links to useful tools. With a $5 Premium account you can share notebooks with others. (Highly recommended.)

3) Pinterest
A visual notebook. Pinterest is a cross between photo album and notebook. It is a great space to save ideas. It is also a social network. She uses it to save images for blog posts, and as an image search tool. When she needs a quick idea for a post on her blog, she browses the images for inspiration. Pinterest is a good place to
search for images because the photos are curated. It is also a good way to discover neat blogs and people.

4) Morgue file
A source of royalty and credit free photos you can use on your blog.Moguefile is a public image archive "by creatives, for creatives." Reitman says she is a "super fascist" about having a picture with EVERY SINGLE POST. So... I went to morguefile, searched for "Brooklyn diner" and found this attractive image.



(Morguefile also has a "paid" side to their website where for a small fee you can buy rights to even more images. And if you are going to publish the photo for money, check the rights.)

5) Flickr pool
Once you build a following on your blog, you can ask your readers take photos and post them in a Flikr pool. You can start a group (pool) around any topic you want. Fliker pool can also be a good source of royalty free images.

6) Disqus (prounounced discuss)
A social media commenting system. People can add photos, text, etc. Discus helps you build a community on your blog site. Strangers who are passing by cannot see the comments.

7) An editorial calendar
Reitman said "You must have an editorial calendar!" On the calendar write a schedule of what you plan to post, and when. The calendar gets more important the bigger you get.

8) SMO Books
Nifty little pocket-size log books with a few concise how-to pages in each book. They help keep you on track for making regular and effective blog posts. (SMO books were suggested by one of the class members.)

9) Kapost
Kapost is a way to manage content when you have more than one writer on your blog. When you have several people working on columns and stories, managing everything quickly becomes a second job.
Update: 8/24/2013. A friend who is starting an online magazine tells me that Kapost is a heavyweight product (Reitman's blog gets over 500,000 hits a day) and minimum service is $1200 a month. My friend chose Binfire instead, which is suitable for  her website, at $30 a month.

10) isocket
An easy way to sell ads on your site. Allows you to manage your own ad sales. With isocket you can set up a self-service area on your blog for people to set up their own ads and check stats, etc. The system is super easy from a publisher standpoint. Good way to get exposed to people who want to buy ad space on your site.

11) Outbrain
Outbrain is a tool that ensures none of your site's content is dead. All posts link back to other related posts on blog. Site visitors have access to content even after it has cycled off page. (Outbrain has tools to increase revenue, but I have not used them. -tl)

12) Zinio
Keeping up with your reading is important, and Zinio can help. Zinio is a mobile reading app so you can read all your magazines online. Transfer all your existing subscriptions to Zinio and you have your magazines with you at all times. Works with iPad, iPhone, Android, Mac & PC.

Topics vs ideas -- from "Follow the Story"

When you have to use the word "about"  to describe your idea--for a book, film or story--you are in trouble.
Image of James B. Stewart
On page 28 of his excellent book on how to write nonfiction, "Follow the Story," James B. Stewart describes the difference between a topic and an idea:

 "...a topic is not an idea. I have had to make this point to students and writers on countless occasions. Topics are inherently boring, because they pose no questions and incite no curiosity. They are like encyclopedia entries; interesting only if it happens to be what you want to look up. "Women in law" is a topic. "Welfare cheats" is a topic. "South Africa" is a topic. Reporters would come to me with the most earnest demeanors and say something like "I want to do a story about how oil companies are causing explosions at natural gas facilities."  When I stifled a yawn, their outrage would be apparent: "How can you not care about something so important?" The answer was simple: anytime someone had to use the word "about" I knew we were discussing a topic, not a story. I would urge the reporter to come back with something more specific: What company? What explosion? Some topics are more interesting than others, but they should never be mistaken for ideas."