I could write an article about how I write Storming the Ivory Tower articles!
Because the average blog reading crowd just loves process notes, right?
Sure! (I lied shamelessly to myself) Nothing could be better for my blog! I get a chance to write an easy article, I can put off the longer articles I'm working on till later, when I can devote real attention to them, and the general public can see inside the mind of a professional (I lied again) writer!
And then I actually thought for a bit about my writing process and sank into a pit of despair.
Observe these Steps For Success:
Step 1: Come Up With An Idea!
For example, when you're ranting to someone about how wrong they are, stop and think to yourself, "Wouldn't it be more productive if I did this in the form of an article on a blog written by ten unrelated people on the internet?" Respond to yourself, "Yes, yes it would be!" Do not question this response.
The actual creation of such rants--and the ideas behind them--ultimately comes from thinking critically and creatively about different subjects. This doesn't mean just waiting for inspiration--it means taking other people's work and picking it apart, usually, or taking separate ideas and seeing how they fit together. It's this kind of creativity-through-fiddling-with-things that prompted me to analyze whether or not the sparklyness of Twilight vampires was an inherent non-starter of a concept, or what it would take to make "Manos" The Hands of Fate into an unironically good movie. It's also what prompted me to smash together concepts like "Poetry and Comics!" or "T.S. Eliot and DJ Earworm!"
Step 2: Begin Putting The Idea Down Logically!
This means taking the totally tripped out concepts from Step 1 and figuring out a way to describe them so that others will understand them.
Part of this is the way in which you explain the concept: would it be best to use an essay? A poem? A fan fiction? An ARG? A comic? There are all sorts of possibilities, and one of the things I've tried to do here is explore ideas via many different media.
Another part is how you structure your argument. Usually I find that coming into an essay with the assumption that the reader is at least somewhat new to the topic goes over well. From there it really comes down to clearly laying out how one idea leads to the next logically, and using compelling examples of the argument. You can look over some of my past articles for examples of where I think that did work well ("Iconic Color", "Modern Music, Modernist Poetry") and where I think I really dropped the ball ("Strange Speakers, Strange Subjects").
The question I always ask myself is, ultimately, am I tying this paragraph back into what I want to say? Is this an important building block for my argument? Or, at the very least, is it funny enough that I should keep it in? (See: Abraxas the Horrible Armrest Rat)
Step 3: Get Distracted by TV Tropes!
"Just five more minutes," you'll say, "then I'll get back to writing. Ooh, I wonder where this link leads!"
Step 4: Write A Separate Article To Introduce The Topic More Fully!
Sometimes I realize partway through writing an article that the ideas I'm grappling with are too huge for just one article. "Ways of Reading Gaga" started out as one article. It's expanded into three written, with two more on the way. "The Lure of the Night" articles were originally going to be one article, and they to some extent precede another article about monstrosity and its importance for culture and academia that I have yet to even write. I have another article half-written that I realized required a whole other article about the nature of shortened storytelling before I could delve into the specific genre I wanted to discuss. And then there's the grim hardboiled detective story that actually doubles as an allegorical analysis of the collapse of First Amendment Rights in America... that one is a nightmare.
Repeat to yourself, "Eventually I'll get to the original article. If I just keep going, I'll reach it eventually." Alternately, meditate upon Zeno's Paradox and its metaphorical application to your life.
Step 5: Get Distracted by TV Tropes Again!
Tell yourself that it is "research." Cry into your whiskey at midnight, all alone.
Step 6: Put In Multimedia!
This is, after all, The Blagotubes. ("The readers will understand that I mean 'Internet,'" you'll say confidently as your eyes unfocus slightly. "I mean, everyone has the entire backlog of XKCD comics memorized by now, surely.") And people on The Blogoblag require constant stimulants! ...Stimulation! Yes! With that in mind, pepper your articles with links to other articles, to other videos, to your own articles, to the article you're currently writing! Anything goes! Just make sure the reader doesn't get bored!
Step 7: Decide To Write Something Else Instead!
Do this at 10:00 at night, if at all possible. "This other article needs to be saved," you'll say, shaking as a madman shakes a dead geranium, "I'll just write about something I know really well, and pepper it with self referential jokes and T.S. Eliot jokes! It will be MASSIVELY POPULAR!"
Pass out at 1 AM, broken and defeated.
Step 8: Repeat, Wonder Why You Aren't More Popular
Whine about it in the form of an article about the writing process. Disguise it with sleep deprived attempts at cleverness.
Collapse yourself and your computer into a void of self reference.
Discover that God's plan was secretly to generate a universe that would give rise to funny cat pictures.
|Yo cat, I heard...|
Sometimes an article just runs straight off the rails. That's the point where you drag things back at the end with a half-baked explanation of why everything in the article ties together.
Here, for example, I could argue that ultimately the most interesting ideas will tend to get away from you, and to some extent all you can do as a writer is to follow them and try to pin them down in coherent and--hopefully--entertaining ways.1 And that even following a seemingly uninteresting idea can lead you to totally bizarre places of self-reference and insanity.
But ultimately I think what it shows is that good articles don't come from genius talent so much as a willingness to think in weird ways, experiment, practice a lot, and pray desperately that your sleep deprivation hasn't totally sapped your ability to write.
Heaven help us all.
As always, feel free to leave comments, complaints, or, best of all, your own interpretations, or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org . And, if you like what you've read here, share it on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Xanga, Netscape, or whatever else you crazy kids are using to surf the blogoblag these days.
1. My writer friend Addie adds: "Just make sure that when the idea drags you away, it's consensual." Always sound advice.