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Work Room - Week 16

It's strange to me that traditionally people have the most problems with Open Topic weeks. http://community.livejournal.com/therealljidol/435280.html

The world of ideas to choose from, and they freeze.

Then again, maybe it shouldn't. After all, there are a lot of folks who come to Idol in search of a regular schedule and a structure for their work, and to suddenly have that ripped away can be jarring.

Fortunately, I knew just the person to ask to stop in to be a Guest Mentor. Someone with a history of marching to that drummer somewhere off in the distance who may or may not actually own a drum.

Unfortunately, she was busy competing.

And then - she wasn't.

The universe gave me an opening, and I took it.

Please welcome your Guest Mentor for the week - intrepia!!


Hi everyone! This weekend, I emailed Gary to tell him I was bowing out of LJ Idol.

"Terrific!" he said. "I was just looking for a mentor for this week!"

So you see, he really is as evil as all the rumors say (*feeds Gary a cookie through the slats of the locked wooden crate in the corner of the room*). And since I still haven't learned how to say "no" to him (*mutters something about that gatekeeper round two seasons ago*), here I am, already back again.

I'm Connie, by the way. I'm here to bring you all sorts of wisdom from the three seasons of this thing I have under my belt. For example, you CAN write poetry in the top ten, but you can't write Harry Potter fanfiction. At least, if you're me.

Who knows what you can do if you're you?

That's one of the things I admire in Idol. People are able to take this experience and make it their own, to use it as an instrument for their own writerly growth.

For me, part of it has been an exercise in taking my background in poetry and suffusing it into my prose. The parts of writing that particularly interest me are the ways to make art from words. I like to focus on interesting usages, juxtapositions, musicality, and spareness. I think a lot about making sure that every word in a sentence -- or a stanza -- carries its weight.

Anyway, like the other mentors before me, I'm here, humbly, to field your questions, discuss ideas with you, and give you feedback. I am here to help you, as Nabokov exhorts us, to "caress the details."


( 83 comments — Leave a comment )
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Mar. 2nd, 2011 03:00 am (UTC)
Just because I want to scare everyone even more, last season open topics typically coincided with gatekeeper voting, or at least something that wasn't a poll ;)
Mar. 2nd, 2011 03:07 am (UTC)
Yep. I just told java_fiend the same thing...

But Gary is never predictable like that :)
(no subject) - comedychick - Mar. 2nd, 2011 03:15 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - pixiebelle - Mar. 2nd, 2011 03:21 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - comedychick - Mar. 2nd, 2011 03:26 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - pixiebelle - Mar. 2nd, 2011 03:32 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - comedychick - Mar. 2nd, 2011 03:35 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - intrepia - Mar. 2nd, 2011 03:42 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - comedychick - Mar. 2nd, 2011 03:44 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - drjeff - Mar. 2nd, 2011 04:36 am (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - comedychick - Mar. 4th, 2011 01:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - beeker121 - Mar. 3rd, 2011 03:36 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - comedychick - Mar. 3rd, 2011 05:48 am (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 2nd, 2011 03:06 am (UTC)
Awwww it's intrepia! :)

I'm not sure where to start... I like open topics more than most others think. But it always starts out the same where I'm completely blank. This week is no different. So where do I go from here? Usually inspiration finds me when I least expect it. One time a quote from my niece set me up for an entry I'm rather proud of. Who knows when (or if) it'll find me this week... Any brainstorming tips?

So umm I never know what to ask for here. Feedback? Tips? I'm willing to learn almost anything to improve.
Mar. 2nd, 2011 03:14 am (UTC)

I usually start by looking for inspiration where I usually do: in the world around me. I'll read the news and see if any stories catch my eye. I'll read writing I like, because I find that being surrounded by voices I like inspires me to make use of my own. And I'll try to take inventory of what I'm thinking about anyway -- what's important to me that week -- and see if I can make use of it somehow.
(no subject) - pixiebelle - Mar. 2nd, 2011 03:24 am (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 2nd, 2011 03:07 am (UTC)
What is your strategy for approaching open topics?

They always seem harder than prompts to me - its like when people come up to me and say "Hey! You do comedy! Say something funny!"
Mar. 2nd, 2011 03:19 am (UTC)
Hey, Joey! You do comedy! Write something funny!

As you saw in my journal, this season my approach was write the present, so if I were still in the competition and had to write for this week, I'd probably take stock of what thoughts and ideas I had percolating in my brain already and see if I can make use of one of those. But here's another thought: open topics are a great chance to stretch your comfort zone, to open yourself to new writing experiences, to take on a subject or genre that you usually wouldn't. My favorite open topic entry I ever wrote was one in which I made a fortune teller (like the origami ones) and used that as the structure for my story.
Mar. 2nd, 2011 03:16 am (UTC)
I have been keeping a list of topics to use in case appropriate things come up. Of course, I took one look at this list and turned away, because absolutely nothing was saying "write me."

Now I have two new topics for the list: one is a personal story about my inner child (did I have one?), and one is a character study. I think that they both have potential. On the one hand, I lean toward the character study because I haven't written any fiction since Week 2; on the other hand, I almost got voted out in Week 2. I think the story about the inner child might be what I need to inspire myself in my non-computerized life, though.

Maybe I'll try my method of writing them both and seeing what happens. Or I could give in to my impulse to try stream-of-consciousness. That would be an even bigger risk, but, well, it is a free topic...
Mar. 2nd, 2011 03:32 am (UTC)
These both sound like interesting and meaningful ideas, and if you're able to write both before deciding which to use, all the better! You'll probably get a better sense of which piece you like better once you have them in words, and if nothing else, you'll have two more pieces of writing under your belt.

I would encourage you not to shy away from any particular genre based on one week's poll results, especially since your audience may simply not have found you yet as early as week two. Fiction has done very well in the polls in the last season or two, and I'm always a fan of people trying out different genres and formats.

On the other hand, I'm also a huge fan of writing Idol entries that relate to, help you in, or inspire your non-Idol life, so this sounds like a win-win either way.

I find that stream-of-consciousness entries are great for brainstorming and for stumbling upon gems of ideas of phrasing. But I would take especial care to go back and carefully edit a stream-of-consciousness entry, so that it'll be easier for readers to follow along.

Good luck!
(no subject) - lilycobalt - Mar. 2nd, 2011 09:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Mar. 2nd, 2011 03:41 am (UTC)
Aww, thank you!

You're right that posting the first chapter of your thesis might not be the best idea ;), but I do like the idea of taking advantage of an open topic to experiment with form, genre, or topic. It's nice sometimes to be without limitations!

On the other hand, much as I enjoy variety, I think that it's much easier for us to think of ourselves as "one-trick ponies" than for other people to spot the same patterns, just because we're so much more conscious of ourselves and our own writing. Last season, without particularly meaning to, I wrote entry after entry that had to do with death and eventually consciously made sure that there were weeks when death wasn't a part of my entries. But for all my effort, I don't think anyone else noticed either way!

This is probably the answer you were expecting, but there isn't a "usually" for what people write for open topics. I've found that the range of subject matters and forms tend to range every bit as much as usual for open topics as for more directed topics. Your ideas all sound interesting, and I would go with whichever one inspires you most, rather than which one fits best within a category.
(no subject) - comedychick - Mar. 2nd, 2011 04:08 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - intrepia - Mar. 2nd, 2011 04:12 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - comedychick - Mar. 2nd, 2011 04:15 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - intrepia - Mar. 2nd, 2011 03:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - comedychick - Mar. 2nd, 2011 08:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - comedychick - Mar. 2nd, 2011 04:02 am (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 2nd, 2011 03:23 am (UTC)
Here's an idea if you're stuck: try making up a prompt yourself! Toward the end of last season, we got to submit ideas we had for topics to Gary, and it was really fun trying to come up with them. Try to think of it as a completely separate exercise from writing your entry. Then, once you have a list of ideas for topics, pick one that strikes your fancy, and try to write something in response to that!
Mar. 2nd, 2011 03:25 am (UTC)
This idea is great! I might try that!
(no subject) - i_17bingo - Mar. 2nd, 2011 10:58 am (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 2nd, 2011 03:29 am (UTC)
Ooh, now I'm feeling torn. This round my entry was a semi-speculative fiction from a much-longer piece. Several people seemed to enjoy it and asked if there was any more to it. I told them that if future topics permitted, I might end up writing the ending of it after all.

Well, the topic definitely permits, but I am aware that speculative fiction really isn't everyone's cuppa. Also I had a second idea that I think people would find fun. Help me, St. intrepia!

Mar. 2nd, 2011 03:49 am (UTC)
Well, I don't think there's anything off-putting about speculative fiction! I would caution you, though, to make sure that any sequel or continuation you write is clear, accessible, and meaningful to someone who hasn't read the original. You never know when someone new is going to read you for the first time!

I'd say that if you're already in a good rhythm for writing your speculative piece, you might as well treat this as a convenient opportunity to work on it further. But if you're in the mood for a change of pace, then your second idea is worth considering -- especially if it'll be as fun for you as for your readers!

Edited at 2011-03-02 03:49 am (UTC)
(no subject) - beeker121 - Mar. 3rd, 2011 03:28 am (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 2nd, 2011 04:20 am (UTC)
I see this "Open" week as an opportunity to Bring It, but I have to decide what "It" is.

The most recent vote I found myself actually in danger of elimination, so I have to think carefully. What did and didn't capture the readers' attention so far.

Looking through the entries so far, I noticed that I got a lot of feedback in my Second Chance Idol entry "Going Solo" which was very personal and reflected a painful time in my life.
Scored some good comments and votes on "My Little Mountain" as I had managed to bring across how special this place was to me. In my baseball entry (Some Days Are Diamonds) at the last minute I decided to conclude the essay with an unlikely moment of personal triumph. That part was what practically all the comments zeroed in on.
I had personal stories in the ones that followed, on maps, then clouds that have been lighter in tone. The feedback was still steady, but as the votes have borne out, the appeal was not as strong.

So taking this all into consideration, I have to make it personal, and make you feel it. And judging by this, and the entries I've seen from others, I should go dark. *nervous breath*

So I'm considering an idea in this vein, but it's gonna take a lot of thought and careful writing. Is it possible in this contest to go too dark? And am I capable of that?
Mar. 2nd, 2011 05:59 am (UTC)
I think 'personal' and 'make the reader connect' are always good things to go for, whether fiction or non-fiction, writing about magic or one's own children. I wouldn't always judge by one week's polls, though, because things tend to be relative and skewed for different reasons on different weeks. If you see a trend with genres or topics though, that's probably better evidence.

Aside from that, I think it is possible to go too dark — writing 'shock' pieces, as far as I can tell, isn't something that people will go for. At least, I don't go for it, and the one person that I clearly recall writing extremely dark and depressing, with no seemingly real reason except to shock people, didn't make it far.
(no subject) - theafaye - Mar. 2nd, 2011 10:06 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - intrepia - Mar. 2nd, 2011 03:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - beldar - Mar. 2nd, 2011 06:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - intrepia - Mar. 2nd, 2011 11:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 2nd, 2011 05:07 am (UTC)


-takes a deep breath-

Okay. Just... Oh, man.
Mar. 2nd, 2011 05:40 am (UTC)
(no subject) - hellboy - Mar. 2nd, 2011 05:51 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - intrepia - Mar. 2nd, 2011 03:04 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - beldar - Mar. 2nd, 2011 06:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - intrepia - Mar. 2nd, 2011 06:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 2nd, 2011 08:09 am (UTC)
Simply because I am curious, I am going to ask you the same thing I asked Alyce: simply your opinion on first person vs. third? I'm hearing my entry for this week being narrated both ways in my head!
Mar. 2nd, 2011 03:03 pm (UTC)
Hmm, my intuition is that it's harder to pull off third-person nonfiction (about yourself, I mean; writing first-person non-fiction as/about someone else seems harder still) and harder to pull off first-person in fiction.

In non-fiction about oneself, I feel like the narrator needs to have some reason for using "she" instead of "I"; and of course good reasons exist, but it would feel like an artificial and strange disconnect if I were to write a journal entry about my day and say "Today, she was about to cook bacon and scrambled eggs for breakfast when she discovered that she had run out of eggs. She dashed to the grocery to pick up a carton, and while there, found the sweetest, coldest fresh-squeezed orange juice to complete her meal." Or maybe that would just be an exceptionally uninteresting topic anyway. ;)

If fiction is set in a world that isn't the one I'm familiar with, having an omniscient point of view can be helpful in providing information about the world that would be breaking out of character for a first-person limited narrator to mention. A first-person narrator in fiction has to be more concrete: who is this person? what part do they play in this story? why are they telling it -- why are they the one telling it -- and who are they telling it to?

That said, just because something is harder to do well doesn't mean it can't be done, and I think with enough skill any story can be told in any voice, from any perspective. You were one of the first examples that came to mind when I thought of someone who excels as stylized, fictionalized nonfiction, as someone who can turn her life into stories. Your voice has struck me as authentic and lovely in both first- and third- person narratives in the past.
(no subject) - comedychick - Mar. 2nd, 2011 08:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - intrepia - Mar. 2nd, 2011 11:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mstrobel - Mar. 4th, 2011 05:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 2nd, 2011 11:04 am (UTC)
I can't decide if Open Topic™ is the greatest or worst thing to happen to my creativity this week.
Mar. 2nd, 2011 02:39 pm (UTC)
"Open" is almost like the beginning of "opportunity"!

... oh man, that sounds cheesy! ;)
(no subject) - i_17bingo - Mar. 2nd, 2011 03:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 2nd, 2011 03:28 pm (UTC)
Dear Work Roomers,

If you are really, really stuck, I am also willing to make up topics! However, no guarantees that they will be any good or make much sense. You might groan the way I do when I see some of Gary's prompts! ;)

Comment here if you want one!

Mar. 2nd, 2011 10:00 pm (UTC)
I may not actually take your topic, but I'll ask for one just to see what direction it spins me off in. :-) (Plus, I admire your brain and what it comes up with so this could be very cool!)
(no subject) - intrepia - Mar. 2nd, 2011 11:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - joyfulfeather - Mar. 3rd, 2011 10:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - intrepia - Mar. 4th, 2011 01:04 am (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - intrepia - Mar. 4th, 2011 08:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 2nd, 2011 04:03 pm (UTC)
For me, part of it has been an exercise in taking my background in poetry and suffusing it into my prose.
This made me smile, because I am, in part, using LJ idol as an exercise in taking my background in playwriting and suffusing it into poetry, and poetry-based visual art. Basically it's forcing me to learn structure in ways that I previously hadn't considered, and in ways that are much more interesting than, "you must have a beginning and a middle and an end," because that makes me want to jump on someone.
I was very perplexed in the beginning that I had a lot of comments in the vein of "this is for blog-writing only, you shouldn't do videos/poetry/fiction" - and I'm glad now that this isn't the case because I've seen so much experimental writing here. Experimenting is what creative writing should be about.
As a side note, I wonder if being voted out for writing fanfiction was because people want to read your world, not the world of someone else? It strikes me that LJI is about "making it new" and some people might switch off from fanfiction because it isn't "new"? If that makes sense?

Also, I have NO IDEA what I'm going to do this week, but I might go back to the fake-documentary thing that I started out with in Children of the Birds, which was made a year ago. But I don't know. I like not knowing. It's fun.
Mar. 2nd, 2011 08:21 pm (UTC)
I am completely flabbergasted that you got comments telling you to stop doing what you're doing. It's always been explicitly clear right from the start that whatever you choose to do with your weekly entry is perfect and fine if that's what you want. No matter the form or media.

(Also, am amused that I've never got a similar comment, but that's probably because if someone said that to me I'd gut them right then and there. With an oversized fishhook.)
(no subject) - mstrobel - Mar. 2nd, 2011 08:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - intrepia - Mar. 3rd, 2011 12:02 am (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 2nd, 2011 09:02 pm (UTC)
Hi intrepia!

Would you mind taking a look at my proposed entry? https://docs.google.com/Doc?docid=0AXR3tGb5yEISZGR0Nno0dzdfMTZmcGdrZHR2eA&hl=en

It's something that's on my mind lately as well as something that a few people have expressed curiosity in hearing more about.

What are your thoughts on it? Comments? Criticism? Thank you so much for putting up with us even though you're not in the competition anymore.
Mar. 3rd, 2011 05:27 am (UTC)
Hi Shadow!

Reading this entry, I got the sense I would get from watching a group of friends get together and chat -- that is, I think these stories would be interesting for your friends and acquaintances, but there isn't a particular part that jumps out to grab those who might not know you.

Part of it might be that this isn't a single story, but a series of condensed stories. Each tale follows a similar structure, so by the third or fourth example, I can already predict what you're about to tell me. More than hearing that this keeps happening to you, I want to see you tie it all together in a way that shows me why it is important, and I want the stories to individually grab me and not just because they're all part of a pattern. I want you to show me these things happening instead of just telling me about them.

I think you start trying to summarize why this all matters so much to you in the last paragraph, but as it's written, those thoughts feel a little disorganized to me, and not fully developed, which lessens their impact. I wonder if you could expand on these thoughts and include some of them earlier in the piece.

Finally, I think there is quite a bit of room for you to tighten your language in this piece a little. Just as an example, let's take a look at your first paragraph:

So I have this habit of falling into relationships. I have never actively looked for love or anything. Yes, I have an account on OkCupid but it was mostly just for a friend to see what I'd put on my profile. So all of my relationships have been pure happenstance.

Two of those sentences start with the word "so," but they would sound more declarative without it. "or anything" in the second sentence also dilutes that sentence. I know that you mention it again at the end of the piece, but the comment about OkCupid feels more like a distracting side note than an important point to include in your opening. And you seem to be stating the same idea several times over in different words. Here's one idea for a one-sentence rewrite of this paragraph:

I have a habit of falling into relationships without ever actively looking for love.

This is just a very short example, but I think it captures all of the salient points of the paragraph in far fewer words. I'm a pretty ruthless editor, but hopefully it gives you a more concrete idea of what I mean about tightening up your language!
(no subject) - shadowwolf13 - Mar. 3rd, 2011 08:10 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - intrepia - Mar. 3rd, 2011 08:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - shadowwolf13 - Mar. 3rd, 2011 09:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - intrepia - Mar. 3rd, 2011 09:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 3rd, 2011 03:37 am (UTC)
I have a list of stories I want to tell in Idol someday, and I think I may dip into that well this week.

The other thing I'm debating is to use "open" as the topic and write something to that. Hmmm.
Mar. 3rd, 2011 05:39 am (UTC)
I have to admit, I always get a kick out of the entries that decide to use "open" as the topic!

Then again, if you've been waiting for a chance to write a particular story, then take it! Maybe one of your story ideas is about "open" in some way? ;)
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