ˈvər-chə-wəlˈdā-vəs Serial storyteller, poetry pusher, digital doodler, flâneur.

Blog Out Loud with Les Miserables

I’ve been thinking a lot about theater lately. Even more than usual. A leadership transition at our Depot Theatre (@DepotTheatre) and a recent debate with Porter Anderson and Viki Noe about the relevance and roll of live theater in the digital age primed me to appreciate Susan Silver‘s post, “12 Most Fabulous Blogging Lessons from Les Miserables”. She’s distilled a dozen tips for better blogging from Victor Hugo‘s novel-turned-musical.

I want you to learn how to blog out loud by following conventions drawn from musical theater. Open up and sing with the 12 most fabulous lessons from Les Miserables. (12 Most)

Here are my favorites from Ms. Silver’s list:

  • Think globally: Just like Les Miserables, “your blog also has an international audience you can accommodate.”
  • Sing it: Find your blog’s unique first-person voice and sweep us up in your song.
  • Diversify: “To give longevity to your content utilize multi-media. Speak in the voices of all the platforms you have available; print, video, blogs & more.”
  • Be thematic: Discover, define and refine your blog’s narrative threads.
  • Epicosity: Like Les Miserables’ epic song “One Day More”, “every once in awhile it is fun to write a piece with a grand scope.”
  • “Heart Full of Love”: Court a niche/topic/theme that you are genuinely passionate about.
  • Write for longevity: Les Miserables’ endurance is inspiring. The novel is 150 years old, and the musical has been performed for a quarter century. Aim for nothing less!
  • Bring down the curtain: My bride frequently reminds me about this one! “We need to take off our blogging hats at the end of the day. Make unplugging from the computer a routine. Enjoy the time you have with friends and family.”

Great tips! And I’d like to add one slightly less obvious, but no less important lesson that bloggers should learn from Les Miserables: Not everyone will love your blog! That’s okay. Despite Les Miserables’ storied success, it doesn’t appeal to everyone no matter how well it is produced, performed or attended. Know and grow your audience, but don’t get discouraged by those who neglect your niche or criticize your song. Sing better, sing louder, sing louder. And before long your audience will be humming along with you.

Memoir Darts and Regurgitation

Like many writers and readers I’ve been chewing on Neil Genzlinger’s “Problem With Memoirs” and swinging back and forth between reproach and praise. It’s a provocative piece that continues to provoke dramatic responses.

There was a time when you had to earn the right to draft a memoir, by accomplishing something noteworthy or having an extremely unusual experience or being such a brilliant writer that you could turn relatively ordinary occur­rences into a snapshot of a broader historical moment. (

My reactions are complicated by the fact that Rosslyn Redux, my current work-in-progress, is a memoir. Besides, I agree with Genzlinger that an awful lot the whiny, angry drivel masquerading as memoir should still be standing vertical in forests.

Over the last few months that I’ve been chasing publishing answers and advice I’ve often heard that the best selling memoirs are born of strong platforms, not strong writing or stories. Celebrity memoirs are the obvious example. Publishers apparently love them because they sell, sell, sell. Makes sense. But doesn’t exactly fuel the sort of mighty memoir creation that Genzlinger craves. He acknowledges that there’s plenty of quality memoir being produced, but it’s swamped by forgettable, regrettable spamoir!

Sure, the resulting list has authors who would be memoir-eligible under the old rules. But they are lost in a sea of people you’ve never heard of, writing uninterestingly about the unexceptional, apparently not realizing how commonplace their little wrinkle is or how many other people have already written about it. (

That he lumps unheard-of memoirists with porridge producers continues to bug me. He seems to suggest, albeit obliquely, that memoir writing should be limited to writer’s sitting atop successful publishing careers. Or celebrities? Maybe this is like the agents and publishers and editors drumming the “Platform, Platform, Platform” chant. Or maybe he genuinely believes that  memoirs will be better if written by widely known/read authors. In any case, I don’t understand. And — as a newbie — I’m annoyed to be categorically dismissed. Porridge producers, be damned. But I’m confident that newbies can dish up delicacies too.

Am I being thin skinned? Sure. And this is the complexity of Genzlinger’s piece. I credit that he’s intentionally pushing buttons, intentionally chastising and provocative. And the brunt of his thinking is spot on. He closes with advice:

If you didn’t feel you were discovering something as you wrote your memoir, don’t publish it. Instead hit the delete key… (

Sure, he’s posturing and fanning the flames, but he’s right. But who decides? Writing and storytelling and memoir are subjective. And the marketplace often veers wildly from the literary merits of work published. Obviously the authors have a tough time typing “The End” and then condemning the preceding 180k words to the dustbin. And publishers are altogether too happy to pass the porridge along to starving readers with deep pockets. So who decides? Perhaps his point lies elsewhere; perhaps he’s simply trying to redefine what makes a good memoir.

That’s what makes a good memoir — it’s not a regurgitation of ordinariness or ordeal, not a dart thrown desperately at a trendy topic, but a shared discovery.(

This sings, soars, then arcs toward the target. Bulls eye! Bravo, Gun-slinger. This is what he’s after, the recipe for a meaningful memoir. And I want to stand and pump my fists in the air as I cheer and bellow, “Hurrah!”Memoir is discovery.

I differ with Penny Jar who’s response to “the great wack-a-doo in the memoir world” unleashed by Genzlinger’s piece concludes that a manifesto to brilliance is at work.

I don’t see the article as being the snobby, dodgy, shut-your-pie-hole critique it may have been served up as. I think it’s a call to brilliance. (Penny Jar)

Brilliance and excellence, yes, but this is always the case in great writing. What sets memoir apart? Discovery. I’m reading Vivian Gornick’s The Situation and the Storywhich breaks down this discovery even further into the narrator’s discovery of self through a larger, more plot-driven discovery. (I’ll tackle this idea again soon in another post.)

Absent the discovery, memoir is a pointless chronicle, a panful traipse through the wasteland of experience. So what? Who cares? If the reader is to become invested in the story, the author must share their discovery openly, honestly, artistically.

In “Writing Memoir: Art vs. Confessional” Susan Cushman develops this last idea further by referencing a comment made by Scott Morris (Waiting for April and The Total View of Taftly) a couple of years ago during a manuscript critique workshop she attended in Oxford, Mississippi:

A memoir must be artful and not just real. Yes, you’ve lived it—the abuse, the loss, the suffering—now you have to get up and above it, distance yourself, and spin a good yarn. You’ve got to create art from what you lived. (There Are No Rules)

So, where does this leave us? I’m still swimming upstream, trying to distill 400k of regurgitation into a tidy story. I’m enjoying the journey, but the discovery is still unraveling. As for art, though I’m courting her night and day, she’s an elusive soul. Not giving up yet…

Are some memoirs better as fiction?

Vonnegut Short Story Tips


Kurt Vonnegut on short story writing (video via

“Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.” ~ Kurt Vonnegut

Do you ever find yourself wishing you could shoot Ernest Hemingway a quick email to ask for a few tips? Or Jack London? Stephen King? Well, Kurt Vonnegut’s not such a bad fall back, so listen. Then re-listen. Then get to work!

One Question Writers Should Never Ask

Did I like the book?

Full stop! Do you ever find yourself asking this question after finishing a new book?

A Labrador Retriever in the snow.

Image via Wikipedia

I’m not sure I’d go so far as Nathan Bransford because it’s natural, almost instinctual to size up a read according to your own personal like/dislike criteria. But don’t stop there. My sub-four year old nieces are accomplished like/dislike experts. So is my Labrador Retriever, Griffin. It’s pretty well ingrained in the DNA of humans and those critters who mingle amongst us. But it’s not the most valuable assesment tool. Probe deeper, Bransford reminds us. Especially if you’re an aspiring writer — essaying to leap from unpublished, unread obscurity to scribbling fandom — you must learn to asses books, especially widely purchased and read books with more useful metric.

“X sucks.” … [If] this is all an aspiring writer is taking from a book, they missed the main point of reading it. All they figured out is whether they liked the book or not… the one question that aspiring writers should never ask themselves when reading a book is, “Do I like this?” … Who is that question about? Well, it’s about you. It’s about your taste, and whether the book fit in with your likes and dislikes. It’s not about the book. It’s about you and whether the book spoke to you… but plumbing the depths of our likes and dislikes is about entertainment, it’s not knowledge that is overly helpful as a writer. Knowing your likes and dislikes will help you imitate, but it won’t help you learn tools you can really use.

The real question aspiring writers should ask is not whether they liked a book, but whether they think the author accomplished what they set out to accomplish. How good is the book at what it is trying to do? … Once you start looking at an author’s intent, you’ll start to see where they succeeded and didn’t succeed at what they were trying to accomplish. And you’ll also start seeing that what most megabestsellers have in common is that the authors were phenomenal at delivering the thing(s) they set out to accomplish and at giving readers the experiences they wanted to give them. You’ll start absorbing the positive attributes of books you might not even like all that much.

Asking this question and really thinking about it is the place where nuanced reading starts, and where writers will start noticing craft, technique, and things they can actually use when they write. (Nathan Bransfor’s Blog)

“Knowing your likes and dislikes will help you imitate, but it won’t help you learn tools you can really use.” Great observation! And the intent/accomplishment metric offers plenty of value to the aspiring writer even when the the like/dislike metric offers nil. So chock up another valuable lesson to Nathan Bransford. If you missed them first go-round, here are several others:

Economics of Self-Publishing

Lately the blogosphere is busy dissecting the merits and demerits of self-publishing. Though diverse concerns and hopes abound, the economics of self-publishing is a popular point of debate. Can authors earn a living by self-publishing?

Frankly, it’s still too early in this revolution to answer the question definitively. But as the economics of the publishing industry begin to shift rapidly and radically as they’ve already done in the music business, writers, agents and publishers need to study the financial viability of their occupations. On Thursday author Joe Konrath posted, “How to Make Money on eBooks” offering advice to writers in our post-Gutenberg era. His seven recommendations and Q&A are not groundbreaking news perhaps, but they are straightforward, important and timely for authors (and agents and publishers!)

  1. Write a damn good book.
  2. Price it right.
  3. Format it correctly.
  4. Design a professional book cover.
  5. Write a great product description.
  6. Choose your platform.
  7. Publicize your ebook.

I’m going with numbers one and seven as the most obvious but most important reminders. And I’m learning that platform, platform, platform (above and beyond deciding on whether you want to publish your digital book with Kindle or iBookstore…) is rapidly becoming the Holy Grail of the publishing world. So number eight, or maybe seven point five, should be build, improve, expand, support, and LOVE your platform.

Konrath’s Q&A section covers critical territory about agents and the pros and cons of traditional versus self publishing, and he circles around to the question on everyone’s mind: Can authors earn a living by self-publishing?

“I don’t know many people who make a living being traditionally published. Most of my peers have day jobs.That said, I’m making a living self publishing. I’m sure others can and will. But whether you can or not involves a lot of factors, some within your control, some not. But, in my humble opinion, a dedicated writer who turns out good material on a consistent basis will be able to, on average, earn more money self publishing than traditional publishing. I say this having done both.”

This might be the most hopeful publishing industry perspective in months!Read the full post here…


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The Goal Is a Great Story

I agonized over lines, phrases, even single word choices. Chapters were shifted, characters reworked. I climbed into dark places that hit me so hard I took showers after writing certain chapters. But it was only afterward that I realized that what I was doing was getting the manuscript in the shape it needed to be in. While it was happening, I was simply in pursuit of authenticity—a story that only I could tell and tell it in a way that only I could do it.(

Heath Gibson’s guest blog post is titled, “If it hurts, you’re doing something right“, and he focuses on his personal experience getting his debut novel, Gigged, out of the gate on onto shelves. I’m especially drawn to the last assertion above: a great story is an authentic story, a story that can and will ONLY be told by you.

Read the full post at

Cut Through the Social Media Noise

Once you find time for social media and move from social chatter to using social media for a purpose, you’ll see firsthand how difficult it can be to get noticed… How do you cut through all the social media noise and get people to notice what you have to say? Fact is, it’s not always easy.  To help you, here are 10 ways to make your message more likely to get noticed:

  1. Simplify Your Message
  2. Find Your Space
  3. Use Appropriate Channels
  4. Spread Your Message
  5. Get Help
  6. Appeal to Ego
  7. Cut the Clutter
  8. Appeal to Primitive Instincts
  9. Use Keywords
  10. Stick to One Point

Getting your message out there is not always about what you say but as much how you say it. Don’t just shovel your messages out into your social media channels. Think carefully about your audience, what they like and react to, and what else is going on within those services and networks.

Most of all… It’s not what you say that matters, but what your readers hear!

It’s your job to keep crafting and honing your message until you get it right. If people don’t “get it,” keep working until they do!

Chris Garrett‘s post is a good reminder to everyone using social networking for anything more than mere entertainment. If you have a message that you’re trying to spread, these ten steps are a good starting point! Read the full post on via Social Media Examiner.

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10 Useful Usability Findings and Guidelines

Users Focus on Faces:

People instinctively notice other people right away when they come into view. On Web pages, we tend to focus on people’s faces and eyes, which gives marketers a good technique for attracting attention. But our attraction to people’s faces and eyes is only the beginning; it turns out we actually glance in the direction the person in the image is looking in.


This post over at Smashing Magazine shares insightful website usability guidelines for designers and developers.

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The Digital Advantages for Small Publishers

“I always like to stress the following rather obvious point. The paper book is a marvelous combination of two quite distinct products: a story (or body of information), and a crafted, physical object. Once you can separate these two things in your mind, it becomes much easier to see how stories can be shared and sold distinct from their traditional, physical bodies. And, comfortingly, it’s easier to see how printed books will always be highly valued for their physical beauty. In consequence, the digital world both enables a rapid increase in story-telling, free from the costs of physical production, and increases the value of well-crafted physical books. Any successful publisher will find a way to make the most of this.” (digitalbookworld)

Arthur Attwell, co-founder and CEO of Electric Book Works, offers seven tips for small publishers adding digital titles to their inventory:

1. Don’t think ebooks are only for technical folk
2. Don’t worry about digital rights management (DRM)
3. Convert books to ebooks with free online services
4. Distribute and sell ebooks with free online services
5. Don’t limit yourself to ebooks; get more from their content
6. Think of your print books as a value-added version of your ebooks
7. Read and learn about digital publishing

Read Arthur Attwell’s full post at digitalbookworld

How to Get Traffic for Your Blog

Seth Godin (author of Tribes which is captivating me at present) offers an epic list as “a partial answer” to the question, “How can I drive more traffic to my blog?” Here are my “Top 10” favorites from his list:

  1. Share your expertise generously so people recognize it and depend on you.
  2. Encourage your readers to help you manipulate the technorati top blog list.
  3. Tag your posts. Use
  4. Do email interviews with the well-known.
  5. Encourage your readers to digg your posts. (and to use furl and reddit). Do it with every post.
  6. Post your photos on flickr.
  7. Highlight your best posts on your Squidoo lens.
  8. Point to useful but little-known resources.
  9. Ping technorati. Or have someone smarter than me tell you how to do it automatically.
  10. Write stuff that people want to read and share.

Posted by Seth Godin on June 03, 2006 | Permalink

Read the full post here:

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