Games Writers Play

The Snark Zone: Letters from the Editors
Theryn “Beaver” Fleming


I’m addicted to Bloglines.

Believe it or not, this is a good thing. Pre-Bloglines, I had a Favorites folder where I kept all the blogs I read and I spent way too much time clicking through it, checking for new posts, multiple times per day. Now, I just check Bloglines. And if I don’t have time to read new posts right away, that’s okay, too. They’ll be there waiting for me when I do have time.

It’s been liberating.

At the same time, it means that I keep adding feeds to my account—there’s just so much good stuff out there that I can’t pass up. I think I’m over 90 now. I know! But just as when I first got online and discovered that I had no clue what a true obsession was, I’ve realized that no matter how bad you think you’ve got it, there’s always someone who’s taken it a step further: a while ago I talked to someone who subscribes to over 200 feeds.

Two hundred! And one of them is BoingBoing! (I unsubscribed to BoingBoing because I couldn’t keep up. They post too much.) Immediately I felt better about my crazy habit.

My main blog-addiction is to the genre known as “lit blogs”—blogs that focus on writing and/or reading. Unlike the frivolity that is TWoP or Gawker, I consider reading lit blogs a necessity.

Lit blogs keep me up-to-date on what’s happening in the publishing industry. I edit a literary journal. I write. I read (books, that is). Gotta keep myself informed! That’s where Bookslut, Bookninja, Maud Newton et al. come in.

They introduce me to writers I might otherwise never have heard of—Tayari Jones and Laila Lalami, for instance. Those who think writers should never “give their writing away” should think again. Blogs are brilliant marketing tools—and not just for those who’ve turned a blog directly into a book. They introduce readers to a writer’s style and, in many cases, build up a rabidly loyal audience who will snap up anything those writers produce. You think if Dooce or Miss Snark wrote books they wouldn’t sell? (Honestly, how does Heather Armstrong not have a book deal yet? Hmm, maybe she does and she’s just not saying…)

But most importantly, they let me see that most other writers play silly games with themselves too. You know what I mean. The memes. The lists. The writing challenges. The lists/challenges. The contests. The entries themselves. The writing or writing-related stuff writers do instead of working on whatever it is they think they “should” be working on.

Last year the buzz was all about The 50 Book Challenge. Everyone was doing it. The premise is simple: read 50 books in one year. Want to add a writing element? Write a review of each one.

Ooh, so tempting. It’s clearly doable. And so easily justifiable. A writer needs to read, right? But just think of the excuses: Can’t write! Falling behind on my book quota! Yeah, I better not let myself get caught up in that one. I already have enough to read (You do want me to read those Toasted Cheese submissions, don’t you?).

So far this year, it seems to be a toss-up between Library Thing (where you can catalog the books in your personal library) and 43 Things, which encourages people to make a list of goals. 43 Things, of course, is a riff on the old “Things to do before I die” list (a much more delightful title, in my opinion). Since it also gives people the option of listing things they’ve already done, it could also be considered a spin-off of the ubiquitous “50/100 Things About Me” lists.

Again, so easy to justify. Organizing your books—seems admirable. Making a “To Do” list—what could be wrong with that?

Then I checked out the “All-Time Most Popular Goals” at 43 Things. The top three?

  1. lose weight 7032 people
  2. stop procrastinating 6688 people
  3. write a book 5346 people

Hmm. Perhaps these are roads down which a person who used to put off studying for final exams until she had cleaned the oven and defrosted the fridge shouldn’t travel. Fortunately, I already made a “Things to do before I die” list (about ten years ago—I know, I’m so ahead of the curve), so I don’t feel a great desire to jump on that bandwagon. Though it did make me curious about what I put on my list back then. I think it’s in one of my old writing notebooks. Maybe I should go look for it…

Okay, so I’m easily distracted. But the games we play aren’t all about procrastination. Think about NaNoWriMo. On one level, yes, it works because it addresses both procrastination and perfectionism, but on another level it works because if you successfully complete the challenge, you are left with a concrete product that you can tell people about. Neither of my NaNovels are actually complete—50,000 words doesn’t seem to be adequate—yet I’m still able to say, “I won NaNoWriMo,” instead of “I’m working on a novel.” And I’ve found instead of that “Oh, right, sure” look you get to know so well as a writer, people will actually give you props! It’s like magic.

This is what the games are about I think. A book is a long-term proposition. It can be discouraging to be in the middle of a project for a really long time. Completing something—even just a list of 43 things—gives you a little ego boost, a sense of accomplishment. It gives you something that you can share. It’s not time wasted from your main project; it’s what keeps you going on your main project.

Just make sure you get back to your novel before you start cleaning the oven.

pencil

Beaver posts sporadically about writing and reading. E-mail: beaver[at]toasted-cheese.com.

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