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Within reach of (or on) my desk, I have seven spiral notebooks, four notepads, 1 sketchpad, quite a lot of index cards, a stack of Post-Its, 4 Moleskine notebooks, and 13 Field Notes memobooks. I also have the computer I’m typing this on, my phone, and my tablet – all of which give me a place to write or type any possible thing I wish. I have absolutely far too many places with which to take notes.
There is no real reason for my packrat attitude when it comes to notebooks (and writing instruments, of which I also have plenty). Even if I had enough projects with which to put in all of these places, I would sooner just use EverNote or Microsoft One Note and throw it all there, spending some time each note transferring notes from paper to PC whenever I was able. I also have quite a bit of loose paper laying around, both plain for printing and punched & lined for binders which I also probably have a few scattered around. It’s silly, and I fully accept that.
GTD (Getting Things Done, copyright Davidco 2001) tells me to always write everything down – to get it out of my head where I don’t need it. The aforementioned Field Notes uses a very simple slogan – “I’m not writing it down to remember it later, I’m writing it down to remember it now” to further give a clue as to what exactly one needs to do with all of this <expletive deleted> paper that is laying around. I am sure you, my dear readers, also are quite fond of notebooks, notepads, and all other forms of note taking devices which are also no doubt clogging up some of your living and/or working space.
When I was in school, I generally have either a single-subject notebook for every class or I would arm myself with two (or maybe three) multi-subject notebooks to get me through my day. All you really need in school, for any class, is a place to write down important information – which just so happens to be almost everything. I was never good at note-taking in school. I assumed, like all apparently smart students, that I could just remember it and be able to recall it later when it was absolutely necessary. This did not always work, as I was not gifted with any sort of eidetic (re: photographic) memory that would help in this task. I just flew by the seat of my pants, usually ending with them on fire. Such is life.
Always carry a notebook. Yes, a smartphone will work – and can be quite helpful with things such as it’s camera and voice recording capabilities. I know that educators would see such devices as cheating, which I will accept, but that is why you carry the notebook. Do not, however, carry the notebook to help yourself cheat in similar fashion to just having a phone tucked down between your thighs. If you are willing to do enough work to create a cheating device, you should be more than capable of doing the work required to study and get good grades fair and square.
Don’t forget a pen. It sounds silly of me to say this, but you can’t use one without the other, unless you are a whizkid at incredibly expressive origami. Heck, just write that in big black marker on the front of your little pocket notebooks. Remember Pen! Simple, effective, smart.
Write Everything Down. Okay, maybe I’m not asking you to be Nicholas Felton, a guy who writes down literally everything he does, who he talks to, where he eats, where he goes, etc. and then makes a gigantic PDF annual report about himself (and puts it up both for sale and for free), but if you are even the tiniest bit absentminded or wish you could remember that one movie or that one thing or that one song or whatever one thing you have – just write it down. Using a computer to catalog your insanity is perfectly acceptable, as Merlin Mann has talked about one quite a few podcasts over the last few years. You would be amazed at how much you forget when you don’t remember to remember.
I’m thinking that if I write down everything thought I have, eventually maybe one of them will be good. Fingers crossed.
There has been a bit of a debate springing up over whether or not children should need to learn the fine art of cursive script. As of this writing, 45 states conform to what are known as the national ‘core standards’ of education, covering just about everything you can imagine in the range of math and language arts. Cursive is one of those standards. An NASBE report last fall tackled the issue in depth, noting all arguments for and against “handwriting” as a subject in elementary schools.
First, let me make it clear that I am not advocating a complete dismissal of all handwriting. I firmly believe that students should be able to write and be able to express their ideas in written form as well as they could speak it (if not more so). It is just that we may not need cursive script as a prerequisite to be exceptional writers. I, like many of this generation, tend to only use that sort of writing when it comes to signing a signature, and even that is going away as technology replaces the security of a written name with fingerprinting, retinal scanning, and all other manner of techniques to make sure you are who you say you are.
Maybe in a few generations it will be true that the only way we will be able to see human-wrote cursive is by going to a museum. I know perfectly well how to read such writing and I still tend to have trouble deciphering some of it as the way people were taught two hundred years ago is vastly different than it is now. Yes, we have computers, we have keyboarding and touch screens. Students can still read information just as well in Times New Roman as they could if they spent the hours necessary to get their brains wired for the oddities of cursive script. And that is not to say that it does not exist electronically either, as anyone who has spent time in any modern word processor’s font lists will tell you. However, typography is not a subject for the second and third graders of our schools.
Teach your children how to write, in some form that you know will be just as legible to you as it will be to anyone else, so long as they are literate. If that has to be simple print, then so be it. Writing is not, never has been, and never will be about the style of the letters. It is about the meaning of the words and the information you are conveying. You don’t need fancy loops and chained letters to do that. I did not learn standard keyboard typing until I was around the age of 16. I know for a fact that I can push out more words per minute with a keyboard than I ever could with a pencil and paper. Could this lead to RSI issues? Sure, but how often have you felt your hands cramping up after only a few minutes of solid handwriting in any form?
As technology, especially in the realm of security, advances to new heights and innovations, the idea of signing your name of the dotted line as any kind of proof will be a thing of the past. People will know you are and you will be able to get across all the information you need, whether it’s with a fingerprint, a picture on a printed ID, or heck, even a blood sample. We don’t know what is around the corner, but it is definitely going to leave cursive script behind.
Learn to express your own ideas and understand everyone else’s. How your text looks is no more important than the color of the ink you use. Just please, nobody write in Comic Sans.
There was a little something I forgot to mention in my earlier post, and that is about style. If one were to go back into the annals of our group and look over all of the winners and the losers, you would find yourself surrounded by styles of all sorts. Almost all of them had some measure of success. We had those that wrote in a more scripted style with those speech labeled as “NAME:”, we had those that wrote as though it was a true narrative, using quotation marks and more conventional delivery (our most popular by far), and we even had people whose style was to be, well, different as much as possible.
When I say that, though, I’m not so much talking about the writing style itself but instead by what their actual output was. It was normal for these five to seven thousand word behemoths to be beginning-middle-end third person perspective generalized fiction, but sometimes there would be, oh, say…things in the first person, things from the perspective of someone sitting in a crowd watching, from all sorts of angles and all manner of omniscience. The higher the word limits crawled, the more flamboyant people pushed. Then again, there were some that just took that extra few thousand words to simply just let. more. happen. ACTION. We had an unwritten rule (or I did anyway) that every 400 or so words was about a minute of real time action, give or take. A two minute long entrance, not uncommon in high stakes wrestling matches, would run you close to a thousand words. If you are only given three thousand to work with total, you best be getting those people down to the ring as fast as you possibly can.
Being able to self-edit (and line edit) was a skill quickly understood (though not always applied perfectly). That was why those limits mattered and why they were the bane of many a writer (and judge when they disappeared). It is like witnessing a robbery and being given only fifteen seconds to describe what happened rather than an hour. Style slipped away for concreteness and story, but still it slipped through. After a few sessions of reading winning works, it can be very easy to predict the winner just based on how the first few paragraphs have been written. That’s style, and it actually mattered quite a lot, especially when given much more leeway to use it. Rattling off a list of actions with the personality of dishwater does very little to impress anyone other than to show your mastery of the pro wrestling holds and maneuvers encyclopedia. Style can turn the same ten moves on person spouted off like a grocery list into something that made the hair stand up on your neck and take notice in the same way you might shiver watching one of those TV wrestlers doing it for real.
My style, if I had any, was probably best described as awfully egotistical and heavy on symbolism, wordplay, and red herrings. My personal rule was that if I was to win the match, anything my character tried to do that would be detrimental to someone else’s character (on top of the loss) was to absolutely blow up in my face. If I wrote in what seemed like Alan Clark was blatantly trying to injure his opponent, not only would it not happen but it would probably put him in his own world of pain shortly thereafter. Of course, it wouldn’t be enough to cost him the victory, but it would not leave some other writer trying to explain why his creation isn’t limping around a hospital on crutches for weeks. Granted, sometimes real life would intervene and injuries were a fantastic way to spare yourself the dishonor of just…not…writing and give you the time off you need to take care of things that actually matter rather than the pursuit of digital excellence that no one will care about five years down the road. It also helped build a greater story and a chance to continue that story when you are able to return. I personally knew that if I ever really, desperately, absolutely needed a story to run that I had a perfect foil waiting for me in a storyline that spanned love and hate across pretty much my entire writing career as part of the group. It was fantastic. He was a great writer (and he knows who he is) and while he pretty much always handed me my creative writing ass when we faced off competitively, I would never feel bad about losing to someone that was so very good at what he did with not only his own character but with everything that had affected his character over months and years.
Who needs a reset button or a retcon when you can do it all with STYLE?
Class (once again) dismissed.
I would like you to meet Alan Clark. Alan was a professional wrestler, on and off for quite a number of years (around eight or so). I am sure you have never heard of him. He cut his teeth wandering the gyms of the world and honed his craft before hitting the big time, spending a few years in and out of the ring before finally hanging it up for good. Yeah, this post is going to sort of be about wrestling. Read on if you dare.
Alan started off his career at the height of the pro wrestling boom in mainstream pop culture – the late 90s. At that time he was thrown into the niche of garbage wrestling, though not as intense as C4 explosions. He just bled. A lot. It was so bad that he adopted the name Bloodshed as his monikor and ran with it all the way to big events. It was only once he made it to a higher level that he realized he’d be a shell of himself if he continued his ways and dropped the nickname for his real name. He kept it that way until his retirement about five years ago. He won, he lost, he fought around the entire world. He headlined sold out stadiums, backyards, and everything that he possibly could in between.
Never heard of him, right?
That’s because I created him.
Okay, wait. Actually I didn’t create him. Alan Clark created Alan Clark, or at least he created Bloodshed – oooor at least I think he did. Okay, long story. I was and am a fan of professional wrestling. At the height of its popularity, I discovered groups of people on the internet who were creating their own wrestlers and doing a sort of roleplay with them. It was like this –> Once you had created your wrestler, you were booked against an opponent who was just some other person at a computer like yourself. You were then given a set number of days to write interview segments or whatever against your opponent basically running them into the ground verbally as wrestlers often do. After a specific deadline, a judge would declare one person victorious over the other based on quality of this creative writing. A written show would be shown to the entirety of the group (usually written by the judges or assigned helpers) wherein the winning wrestler would defeat the losing wrestler in a way that was usually not up to anyone but the writer.
My character was not Bloodshed. Instead I was using this crazy truck driving guy that eventually got paired up with Bloodshed as we had similar characters and they needed teams. From what I remember, Bloodshed’s creator was a person named Alan Clark who was a few years younger than me (so mid-teens at that point). After a serious of unfortunate events involving politics (yeah, even in online wrestling it happens) I left the group and lost touch with Alan. Eventually I found another group of people who were doing something much different in the way of writing about wrestling and characters on the internet.
In this group, winners and losers were determined by scheduling two people against each other, giving them a deadline and a maximum word limit they were allowed to use, and setting forth to them the task of writing a wrestling match wherein their character was to (usually) win. The judges would determine which match had the better quality and was thus declared the winner and their match was posted to show them as the victor to everyone else. This, for a lot of people, is a lot tougher than just writing silly interviews threatening other people (not that we didn’t also do those too…you know, for story purposes). Writing this way was such a task that new people coming in were grouped together, only being allowed to move ahead to tougher competition when they proved their worth to those in charge, which could take anywhere from months to years (depending on the writer’s abilities).
I decided that I did not want to write my crazy trucker character but thought I would enjoy using the Bloodshed character. After only a few months, I grew tired of the workload and burned out on the character and took one of my many breaks. It was during that time that I decided to tweak the character and make him just a normal (though quirky) person. He got a name, Alan’s name. It seemed like a good idea and I, coincidentally, wasn’t feeling creative at the time I decided to make my return. From there, stories happened, ebbs and flows occurred, people “retired” and moved from competing to judging to, well, just running the place over the course of a few years. Where as I had been in a few of the interview roleplay groups that seemed to wither and die within a few months to a year – this place ran for around eight or so years before finally shutting down due to a lack of interest and the fact that most of us had aged a few years and real life was starting to become more of a hassle without having to deal with churning out a few thousand words a week to continue the story of a make-believe character that we created when we were still young and wild and free.
While I was not a part of the group for the entire eight or so years of its existence, I was still around for more than fifty percent of it – if not an active competitor than still keeping tabs on what people were writing and doing with their characters. That was what drew me in. It was basically crowd-sourced storytelling that you might have zero control over if you weren’t good enough to ever win. Your character could be placed in a series of rampant humiliations wherein the only control you could assert is if your writing was good enough to beat the other guys. If it wasn’t, you lost. Again and again and again. You also lost if you didn’t bother writing at all, as everyone in the group did their fair share of times. Reality has a way of sneaking up on you and changing your priorities in a millisecond. If you were able to predict this issues, it was sometimes possible to work something out with your opponent to maybe postpone things or tell a certain story to not completely screw yourself other. On the other hand, it was also possible to see three words win a match for a person because all they wrote were three words against their opponents zero. This happened more frequently than it ever should have – and we accepted that and mocked it oh so very very much throughout the years. Non-canonical explosions, laser beam eyes, zombie attacks, random musical numbers, and loads more highlighted shows where one person decided to flex their creativity while their adversary did nothing. Always a hoot. As it was once told to me, all we were really doing was trying to write down an ordered list of interesting ways to fall that somehow told a story and made sense to the people that it needed to make sense to. Something like that…
Anyway, why am I rambling on and on about this? Because I had never seen anything like it before and I have not seen anything like it since. I am sure there may have been other groups doing similar things, but hell if I can find them. We built a universe for these characters and interwove them into storylines that we had as much control over as we allowed ourselves to (or our writing abilities allowed, at least). We had a written record of everything our characters ever did, leading to lots of flashbacks, continuity nods, and deeper characterizations than even soap operas could deliver. Not only did we build it, but we collectively built it and then passed it on to others when we needed to and (at least most of the time) not everything just fell apart. There was emotional and resonating glue of some kind holding all of us together as writers who were, at the very core of it, writing about hitting each other in the head and achieving victory that was no more real than the “sport” we echoed in our words.
You had to always be improving, evolving, and forcing yourself to put words from your keyboard to the screen. You got nowhere in the group if you couldn’t get somewhere in your own head and out into a story – and not just any story – but a story that was as well put together as any great american novel. Okay, maybe I’m stretching a bit, but as I said before — there was emotion there. When you heard about someone possibly retiring or you saw a storyline unfolding that you would have never thought possible before it was there before you on the screen scrolling past – it affected you. You wanted to see more. You wanted to find out how one your friends was going to give themselves the big send-off and ride off into the sunset. You wanted to see how the hero would retaliate again the villain and vice versa. The best part was being forced to use the machinations of someone else’s mind to tell your story. Your story was nothing without the stories of everyone else around you. It all had to work together, or it was worthless and never seen by anyone but you and the judge, aaaaand I guess everyone else if you decided to share it and be critiqued, which was usually a standard strategy for anyone that actually wanted to improve or, at the very least, thought they wrote some interesting bits but didn’t connect them well enough to fend off the vicious imagination of their foe. It was creative war, but you were never fighting alone. Everyone else was, hopefully, trying to craft something as good as it could possibly be. All for about, oh, two dozen others to gaze upon and enjoy.
Alan Clark’s story was just one of many dozens that twisted and turned through that universe. It may only truly be memorable to me, but as long as a story can be memorable to someone – even just the writer – then it succeeded. That is what really mattered through all of the thousands and thousands upon hundreds of thousands of words cranked out over those eight years. We entertained ourselves and our creations enthralled an imaginary world that would be wholly different in any of us was not there to add our creation to it. Next time you create something and put it into your world, think about that…
So around 18 months ago or so I started this blog in the hopes of spreading my random ideas out for the world to see. Thanks to various personal issues I can honestly say that I did not get very far. Now, with a renewed sense of energy, purpose, and hopefully ability I will try and craft something of much more substance and with a more refined subject matter.
I first thought of the title of this blog as sort of my own tongue-in-cheek look at my own ideas. I really had no clue as to how good or bad they were, just that I had them and wanted to share them. Do not misunderstand me here – that is still my goal with this project (obviously) but now I find myself staring head-long at something that I have always kept hovering in my brain cloud – Education.
Let’s be honest. There are problems. Small-scale, large-scale, and everything in between seems to have various degrees of brokenness. I’m not going to stand on a soapbox and wax political about teacher’s unions or educational funding (even if the latter is incredibly important). I am more in the realm of the classroom itself and what the student should be taking out of it to move along down the winding road of life. I have the highest of hopes that in my quest to discover why schools are how they are, why students behave as they do, and why the world sees our current educational system as the correct first step to a successful future that I will not simply flounder and fail. Just like the school system, I do not want to consider failure as an option nor will I simply grade myself a little higher to make me someone else’s problem. The first step to creating new standards is to follow them oneself.
Here goes nothing.
Class, for now, dismissed.