Now Reading: 2013 writing advice, David O. Russell on film, Storyful and social media

‘Now Reading’ is a collection and sharing of online stories and is meant for minimal consumption by the few readers of this blog. Topics include books, food, culture, photography, media and technology … there are no rules. Have a story to add? Share it in the comments.

Atlantic’s year of advice from writers

If you’re a writer – of nonfiction, novels, short stories, essays, music, screenplays, anything – or care about writing, Joe Fassler of The Atlantic compiled bits of writing advice from conversations he had with people over the last year.

From Khaled Hosseini (“The Kite Runner”) to Elizabeth Gilbert (“Eat, Pray, Love”) to Stephen King (any number of novels), brilliant writers offer little insights into their writing processes and how they work. It’s a terrific collection.

It won’t all resonate with you, most likely, but the value here is that there’s something for everyone. Two things in particular stuck with me.

1) Andre Dubus III on what makes fiction come alive. You have to give up control of the narrative, he says, and just write. Don’t try to manipulate the ending.

As a writing teacher, if I say nothing else to my students, it’s this: I began to learn characters will come alive if you back the f— off.

Andre follows that up with a sort of “eureka” moment (well, at least in my view) for fiction writing:

Here’s the distinction: There’s a profound difference between making something up and imagining it.

That’s brilliant, isn’t it? Fiction grants the ability to make up a world, yes, but imagining that world brings with it a heavier responsibility – you actually, in a sense, have to live it. It’s at this point, Andre is saying, that the best fiction prevails because at least to the creator it is real.

2) I always get a kick of out Elizabeth Gilbert’s sense of humor and attitude toward writing. One of the most overplayed stereotypes in this business, I think, is of the “suffering writer.”

This isn’t to say writers don’t suffer or that creating great art, in whatever form, isn’t extremely difficult and mentally taxing – it is. But at some point, I think it becomes an excuse for not producing or finding another way to accomplish whatever it is you wish to in this business. You wouldn’t believe it, but there are many writers out there who do make a good living and don’t drink themselves into despair while doing it.

Elizabeth has a good attitude toward approaching this work, one founded in positivity and amusement rather than doom and treachery. Read this paragraph from her and read the final sentence a few times. It’s brilliant and practical wisdom.

We have this very German, romantic idea that if you’re not in pain, and if you’re not causing pain by making your art, then you’re not really doing it right. I’ve always questioned that … I mean, listen to the language we use to talk about creative process: ‘Open up your vein and bleed.’ ‘Kill your darlings.’

I always want to weep when people speak about a project and say: ‘I think I finally broke its back.’ That is a really f—ed-up relationship you have with your work! You’re trying to crack its spine? No wonder you’re so stressed out! You’ve made this into battlefield! We should know enough about the world to realize that anything that you fight fights you back.

NYT Mag Q&A with David O. Russell

I loved this Neal Gabler Q&A with filmmaker David O. Russell in the New York Times Magazine.

Russell made the new film “American Hustle,” which is viewed as a similar type of story to two of his more well known films – “Silver Linings Playbook” and “The Fighter.”

Russell talks about his love for finding the humanity in stories, and that’s why his most successful and recent films have all had that tie – a character with a very human struggle and attempt to overcome that. This sort of connection with his material is what Russell has clung to in his last few projects, and he says this finally feels like the type of film he’s supposed to be making.

What I got out of this piece wasn’t necessarily about movies or Russell’s work in particular, but rather how he approaches his work. Yes, it’s a bit romantic, but I don’t think it’s embellished. The passion Russell brings to filmmaking and the personal value he finds within the process of doing his work the best he can do it is a lesson that’s applicable to many endeavors.

It’s a good reminder of why you’re pursuing something specific or why you should think about doing something else.

Storyful and social media filters

Brian Stelter, CNN’s media man, writes today that News Corp has acquired Storyful, a company that gathers and verifies photos and videos from social sites, and will rely on the service to boost its newspaper brands online.

This is a fascinating development, because it’s placing a healthy bet on social journalism and is a smart way for valuable newspaper brands to forge its way into the digital future. In essence, Storyful views anybody as a content provider or reporter and creates an infrastructure to capitalize on that free flow of content.

Verifying the content is the critical first step, of course, and just the simple job of making sure something social is legitimate provides a valuable service to users. There’s no mention of whether Storyful will eventually include tweets – it’s just photos and videos for now – but I’d be curious to see if the company can apply the same verification methods to that space.

Twitter is brilliant in its ability to provide real-time information from anywhere in the world, but one of the most frustrating elements of the tool is that it becomes a cesspool of mistakes around massive events. There’s a rush to tweet anything, to be first with the next piece of information, that context is often lost and errors are rapidly disseminated.

The Boston Marathon bombings, for example, were a reporting debacle on social media (and on some credible media outlets, too). If you want to see just how damaging the reckless nature of real-time social reporting can be, read this Jay Caspian Kang piece in the NYT Mag on how social media framed an innocent person as one of the bombing suspects. Social media, at its deadliest, is the worst form of wildfire.

We don’t seem to learn, though. There’s a sense, I think, that because Twitter and other social media streams move so quickly, that nothing is relevant for long. If you report an inaccurate piece of information, well, it will probably be flushed away shortly by the next piece of guesswork, which itself will then be flushed out, and so on. And this is true, which makes social media scarier than hell when the world seems to be breaking at its spine and all you want to know is what’s really happening.

This is the opportunity for Storyful. I hope it’s a success. We could really use a fine-tuned social filter.

Twitter: @TMitrosilis Email: tmitrosilis@gmail.com

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