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#annoying

hashtagI am not against change. I try to keep up with our language and how it evolves. One of the beauties of language is how it is ever-changing.

However, some trends are run into the ground and just plain annoying, IMO. The ubiquitous use of the “hashtag” has gotten out of control.  I hear it on TV, see it in print newspapers, on Twitter, movies, radio, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, Google+, etc. The list goes on.

Hashtags date back as early as 2007, but they have exploded as a means of communicating in the last couple of years. According to Wikipedia, it is a form of metadata. “This kind of metadata helps describe an item and allows it to be found again by browsing or searching. Tags are generally chosen informally and personally by the item’s creator or by its viewer, depending on the system.”

And herein, lies what I object to in using hashtags. The informal creation of ridiculously-named hashtags to voice opinions. #idontlikehashtagssodontusethembecausetheyarestupid would be a hashtag I create. Not elegant enough for me, I guess.

I googled “hashtag abuse” and came up with a lot of links! One article, in particular, states, “When anyone uses a hashtag (simply a way for people to search for tweets that have a common topic and to begin a conversation) on a website, text message, or anything that does not pertain to Twitter. This is quite annoying considering hashtagging only works on Twitter.”

Here’s an article from Chris Messina, an engineer generally considered the creator of hashtags, talking about abusers.

And here’s where 7 Hashtag Abusers are listed. I love the verbal hashtagger because I’ve heard so many celebrities do this.

Let me have it with both barrels. Do you use hashtags? Do you like them as a useful search tool?

 
13 Comments

Posted by on September 10, 2013 in Idaho, twitter

 

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Create Writing Connections

One of the best investments you can make in your own writing career to to attend conferences. Sure, they cost money, and I’m often the first to use no money as an excuse. But it’s money well spent. What business can prosper and survive without investing in it? If you are ready to take your writing seriously enough to invest in yourself, congratulations.

The conference I want to tell you about is our regional SCBWI (that stands for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conference in Boise, Idaho, April 27. You can register for it here. And even if you don’t write or illustrate for children, that’s okay. It will be an awesome conference. Here are a few highlights.

Sare Megibow

Sara Megibow, an agent with Nelson Literary in Denver, will be speaking on a number of topics, including Connecting with Ourselves as well as Choices in Publishing. These will cover flip sides of the coin: turning inward to connect with yourself as a writer, and turning outward to seek out the best route to publish your book.

Karl Jones, an assistant editor and jack of all trades with Grosset and Dunlap (a division of Penguin), will wow us with his techniques in how to pitch your story. Karl tells me he does this on a web channel, and it’s very popular, so I asked him to recreate the experience with us. He’s also got some other magic under wraps for the day.

Karl

In addition, we have Miriam Forster, whose debut novel, City of a Thousand Dolls, came out this past May. I’ve been in critique groups with Miriam, and she is a talented author and delightfully fun person. She will share two of her favorite topics. First, she’s going to wow us with the wonder of How to Connect to Your Reader with Social Media. Miriam is well acquainted with all kinds of social media, and you should be too. Her other talk will be about World Building. In Miriam’s book, she creates an amazing and realistic fantasy world with such subtle skill you hardly even realize it. Learn how to do this in your own writing.Miriam

Author Anne Osterland will be on hand to help us focus on creating awesome characters, plus she will be talking about the small stuff, the details that bring a story to life.

anne

Sherry Meidell, a picture book book illustrator, will offer her insights about what makes a good picture book. Beginners in the children’s lit world often set their sights on picture books, so we have asked Sherry to help answer all the usual questions about how picture books are made and how you write one. Since she’s an illustrator, she’ll have loads of slides to show. I love going to illustrator talks, because I am not a visual artist, and it always amazes me how they think of story in pictures.

sherry

So you have the opportunity, in one day, to learn about:

  • creating intriguing characters
  • building a fantasy world
  • how to use details to bring your writing alive
  • using social media to your advantage to connect with your readers
  • connecting with yourself
  • pitching your ideas
  • making picture books
  • multiple platforms for publishing

And, you’ll meet people with whom you might bounce around ideas or become critique partners. You might talk with Sara at lunch and realize she’s the agent for you. Or you might find out from Karl Jones that his company has work for hire gigs you might like.

For me, one of the best things I get out of conferences, and I’ve been going to them for more than 12 years, is the inspiration. Always, I come away with new ideas, new perspectives, and even new friends. Whether you are a beginning author or and old pro, you never stop needing inspiration and growth. I hope you’ll join us in April.

 

Winter Solstice Inspiration by Johanna Harness

Winter Solstice always makes me cry before it makes me happy.

I suppose I have my rural roots to blame. Somewhere in my evolutionary DNA is the knowledge that I must work hard at the equinoxes if I intend to live through the solstices.  Establish the crops before the heat of summer. Harvest and preserve food before the winter.  We talk of cycles and seasons, but in my heart I feel the panic.  Even though it’s no longer necessary, I still feel safer after putting up food in my cupboards and stacking wood in the barn. And I still feel relief when the earth tilts once again and the days grow longer.  The solstice always reminds me of the yearly near-miss of death. And the yearly near-miss of death reminds me that life is precious and work is meaningful.

So yes.  Every Winter Solstice, passing through the darkest day, I’m desperately thankful. I remember all we survived in the previous year and I let my heart go out in mourning for all the losses. Then I build a fire and burn my grief and cry.

And then the earth tilts.

And I begin again.

I wish you warmth and food and love this season. I wish you relief from sorrow and illness. I wish you all the things you need, including meaningful work that sustains you.

As you release last season into this, shifting your focus to the horizon of a new year, you might want to consider one of these challenges:

A River of Stones

Fiona Robyn, who began this micro-poetry movement, describes a small stone as “a very short piece of writing that precisely captures a fully-engaged moment.”  She encourages others to join her in writing a stone a day through January. Need more encouragement?  She offers a lovely ebook at no cost: How To Write Your Way Home. This is truly one of those inspired projects destined to grow.

As a side note:  I learned about River of Stones from Anne Stormont when she participated in 2011.  She is currently writing stones for advent and her descriptions are so beautiful. The River of Stones had slipped my mind in the past year but, because of Anne, I’m seriously considering participating in January.

100 Themes Challenge

The history of The 100 Themes Challenge is well-documented here.  It became really big when Deviant Art became involved.  Basically, it’s a list of themes (Introduction, Love, Light, Dark. . .) that serves as a jumping off point for artists.  I first heard of the challenge in the contexts of writing and photography, but you can apply the list to any creative endeavor.  To share your work, get involved with a community of others working on the same challenge. I know there are groups on DeviantArt.com, Fanfiction.net, and LiveJournal and I’m sure there are many more.

FridayFlash

This is a fantastic way to share short fiction in a supportive community. Although you don’t have to write a story every week, many of the authors do.

Here’s the brief description: “Friday Flash is an Internet meme designed to increase your visibility as a fiction writer. The idea is simple enough. Write a piece of flash fiction, defined as 1000 words or less, post it to your blog, and then on Friday announce it to the world via Twitter or some other social network along with the link to your post. If you use Twitter be sure to include the hashtag, #fridayflash.”  Find out more on the #fridayflash website:  http://fridayflash.org/press/about-fridayflash/

Flickr 365

You might consider joining any one of the Flickr 365 groups.  The idea?  You choose a theme. You take a photo every day.  The big one, Project 365, has nearly 25,000 members, but there are lots and lots of smaller groups (many of which still number in the hundreds).  Some photographers focus on self-portraiture.  Some focus on their kids.  Some are a bit more obscure.  One of my favorites is bench standing. (There are multiple groups devoted to this:  Bench Monday, Happy Original Bench, Bench Anyday, Bench Monday (Anything Benchlike), and for those not inclined to limit themselves to benches, we have Standing On Stuff.)  If you can imagine it, there very well may be a group devoted to it.

The point?  Creativity.  By looking at the same subject or theme on a daily basis, you begin to stretch.  It’s a gorgeous idea.

Make Something 365

Brought to you by Noah Scalin who made a skull a day for a year, the Make Something 365 website encourages you to pick your own subject and go with it.  One of my favorites is Librarian’s Daughter.

 

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Twitterpated

Twas the time of social media
And especially Twitter…
And all through this land
Many people were bitter.

One hundred forty characters
And much more to say
Can’t possibly do it
There’s just no way!

Other than the not-so-astonishing fact that I’m not a poet, let’s think about social media and the effect it has on our day-to-day communications.

Forbes staff contributor Alex Knapp writes about whether the popularity of the social medium Twitter is ruining the English language (http://onforb.es/v7XLCB). Individuals who believe this posit that the truncating of the language will lead to whole generations of young people not knowing their meaning. It’s a good point, in my opinion.

Mr. Knapp confesses to thinking the same until he started using Twitter regularly. Now, he says, “The 140 character restraint not only forces efficiency, but it also lends itself to some really, really fun wordplay.” As a writer who strives to “write tight” to ensure the best reading experience, that is also a good point.

Enter Mark Liberman, Professor of Linguistics from University of Pennsylvania, who wrote a program to compare the mean word length between 100 tweets from the student newsletter and some literary works. He adjusted the program to take out stage directions, character attributes, @s, and #s, etc.

The mean word length in Hamlet (in modern spelling) was 3.99 characters; in P. G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves stories, the mean word length was 4.05 characters; in the newsletter‘s tweets, the mean word length was 4.80 characters.

If you’re judging only by scientific length, words are not being overly shortened.

Then again, my degree is in English and as a language, I think the beauty of the language is more important than the length of the words. Languages evolve and change. That’s a good thing. I don’t think any of us want to be still speaking Shakespeare’s English (BTW-he made up words not common to English during his time).

I also don’t think anyone will mistake social media messages for literature. But, the “need for speed” does seem to apply here. Everyone wants things yesterday. Everyone’s in a hurry. Young readers may not want to wait for a story to develop. They are used to wanting and getting everything NOW. With the popularity of social media, they get instant gratification.

Editors and agents urge writers to start with blockbuster hooks. Get the excitement in. You only have a few paragraphs to sell your book or you’re out of luck. If you don’t get to the meat of your GMC, forget about it.

I want to read books where I get to immerse myself in the setting, be with the story as it develops, learn about the characters as I unwrap the story. I want the richness of the written word. I want to hold my breath reading the perfect sentence. I want passion, emotion, and beauty when I read. I want the time to wonder at the art of the story.

I think for many things, Twitter (and texting) are fast, efficient ways to communicate. As a writer, though, the written word is important and I do worry that young readers won’t bother to take the time to read stories that don’t get them the instant gratification they are used to in social media.

What do you think?

 
15 Comments

Posted by on November 7, 2011 in community, twitter

 

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Making Connections by Johanna Harness

Two years ago today I wrote the first tweet that sparked the #amwriting community into life on Twitter.  Today, the energy within this group continues to blow me away. To celebrate the hashtag’s birthday, more than 25 bloggers have signed on to post photos, essays, short stories, poetry—gifts for the community from the authors who participate there.  The idea of a blog party only came to me a few days ago. I posted the idea—with very short notice—and writers jumped in with enthusiasm.  (I say we have more than 25 writers because every time I attempt to get the number right, more writers join in.)  Today, as part of this blog party, I want to share with you one of the many reasons this community is vital to me as a writer in The Gem State.

Idaho is big.  There are not a lot of writers near my home.

If you live outside The West, you might not realize just how big Idaho is.  Heck, a lot of people who live here can’t quite grasp it.

Southeastern Idaho is full of farmland and small towns. The rivers chisel right through volcanic basalt and the waterfalls will take your breath away in the springtime.

The Sun Valley area boasts movie stars and resorts, but drive a few miles farther and you’ll find campgrounds filled with trailers and tents.  The lure of The Sawtooths crosses boundaries.

In Southwestern Idaho, we have mountain scenery to take your breath away. We also have deserts and sand dunes. We have sagebrush and evergreens, sometimes co-existing.

Central Idaho is farther north than many Southern Idahoans ever venture. When I was living in Lewiston, Idaho, we had a politician tell us he’d crawl all the way up Highway 55 to Lewiston to get our votes.  Yeah, funny, since Highway 55 doesn’t go north of New Meadows–and Lewiston is another 2.5 hours north from there.

There is no interstate connecting our state from North to South (or South to North, depending on your Idaho orientation).  But before you get cocky and think we’re backward yokels, I remind you that America’s deepest river gorge runs through the middle of our state:

And the prettiest drive you can imagine is the one between Lewiston, Idaho and Missoula, Montana.  Highway 12 is the kind of beauty that makes me use swear words as adverbs:  ____ beautiful.

And you want geothermal?  We do claim part of Yellowstone–and we have these great old hot springs resorts. (That’s not even counting the amazing undeveloped springs.)

But wait. Don’t start thinking Lewiston is North Idaho.  And don’t start feeling you’ve seen it all just because you’ve traveled Highway 12.  It’ll take another 2.5 hours to drive up to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho (where you’ll find Interstate 90 cutting up from Missoula, MT).

Now you think you can just cross over into Canada from there? Think again.   You want to zip up to Sandpoint, Idaho?  It will take another hour.  Of course, you have to see both Coeur d’Alene Lake and Lake Pend Oreille while you’re there, so you’re going to need more time.

From Sandpoint? You’ll still have to drive about an hour north to get to the Canadian border.

To drive the direct path through Idaho, from South to North (or vice versa, depending on your Idaho orientation), it will take over 14 hours.  That’s in the summertime, when roads are good. And on that route, you’ll miss that whole big, beautiful portion of the state near Yellowstone National Park. You’ll miss The Sawtooth Mountains. You’ll miss that gorgeous stretch of Highway 12. You’ll miss the wilderness, the rivers, the sand dunes, the boat trip up Hells Canyon. My heart breaks with all the things you’ll miss.

Idaho is my home.  I love it here.

And yet I need the community of other writers.

So every morning, I get up before dawn and switch on my computer.  By the time the Boise foothills glow with morning rays, I’ve chatted with authors all over the world.  By the time the sun sets over the Owyhee Mountains, I’ve finished a good day’s work in the presence of some of the smartest people anywhere. And I’ve managed it all in the gorgeous solitude of my home state.

Thank you, #Amwriting. Happy birthday.

If you’d like to continue on the blog party, the next stop is the blog of John Ross Barnes.  John is an integral part of the #amwriting community and I look for his tweets every day.  His blog is: “Love This Life, Onward Through the Fog.”

 
24 Comments

Posted by on August 3, 2011 in community, Idaho, twitter

 

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#YASaves by Johanna Harness

Life hasn’t been going well for me the last couple months.  It seems we’re in the middle of a rash of family illness and death and general bad luck.  It’s one of those extended times of doom that most of us experience eventually.  There’s not much to do but hang on and wait for it to end.

My friends have been reminding me to care for myself as I care for others in my life.  With that in mind, my teen daughter and I drove over to Boise for Monday night’s SCBWI meeting.  We settled into the comfy back room of Rediscovered Books, feeling a bit numb and battered.

Then our guest speaker, a local junior high school librarian, started talking about books.

“I’m in the middle of that one!” my daughter told him, pointing at Liar by Justine Larbalestier.  “No spoilers!”

“Isn’t it great?” he asked.  “Are you into part two yet?”

And somehow in those moments, our dark cloud vanished for a while.  For the next couple hours, we talked about YA books and the kids and adults who love them.  We came away with a dozen more books we want to read.

This past week, young adult writers and readers have been livid over a June 4th article in The Wall Street Journal.  In “Darkness Too Visible,” Meghan Cox Gurdon argues:  “If books show us the world, teen fiction can be like a hall of fun-house mirrors, constantly reflecting back hideously distorted portrayals of what life is.”

The element that most amazes me in Gurdon’s statement is her underlying sentiment that anything hideous about life is a distortion of reality.

I cannot do the mental gymnastics to deny the bad in the world, either for myself or for others.  Bad stuff happens. It happens all the time. I can offer friendship and comfort and an ear to listen. Thankfully, I can also offer books.

Monday night, that junior high school librarian didn’t know he was saving me from my pain.   He just offered books.  It was what I needed.  I’m sure he does the same for his students every day.

On Twitter this week, writers and readers embraced the tag #YASaves to react to the WSJ article, declaring over and over how much good comes from reading YA fiction.  #YASaves.  It’s true.  These authors deserve enormous credit for their bravery and honesty, but let’s not forget: teen librarians are often the ones putting those books into the hands of the readers who need them.  Many thanks to Gregory Taylor for speaking with our group.  I endorse my daughter’s assessment.  You do, indeed, rock.

 

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Virtual Value

I’ve read debates about whether following blogs, using Twitter, and joining lists bring value to users…or is just a vast time suck that takes away from actually writing. Can you learn from virtual content under impersonal conditions? Is the content accurate or trustworthy? How do you tell?

Before I answer the questions, because of course I know the answers, I’ll share my experience. :-)

The first blog I ever followed was www.arghink.com, written by Jennifer Crusie. I liked her books and she taught craft very well. Stir in her sense of humor and it was a great way to learn about writing. I still follow her blog. One day, she wrote about screenwriter Jane Espensen who’s written for television series such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, Gilmore Girls, Ellen, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Battlestar Galactica, and Dollhouse, to name several. I followed Jane’s blog, which dealt with screenwriting but was helpful on writing tight, plot, and character. She discontinued it a few years ago. Finally, I follow Lucy March’s blog because it’s built on a community of supportive encouragement and universal regard. Lucy is moving on, but the community will continue. I might stay with it. I might not.

Is blogging a vast time suck that takes away from your writing? Gem State Writers (GSW) is the first blog to which I’ve contributed. It’s been a valuable experience to me because it gives me a forum to voice my ideas, an opportunity to meet people all over the virtual ‘verse, and to learn from them via their comments. We are building a community of people who have similar interests. GSW has a generous schedule so I post a blog every two weeks. I support my fellow GSWs by reading their posts and posting comments. Answer: Not a time suck that infringes on my genre writing. At least, not in my case.

Can you learn content from impersonal sources? One of my critique partners is active on loops/lists. She is a treasure trove of information. She shares news about agents who are actively signing, contests with invaluable connections, publishers that are seeking what her partners are writing. You can’t buy that kind of info. Her connections with these groups keep her updated on the latest industry news. And while you might not know the people posting initially, friendships evolve over time on a list. Answer: Yes, you can learn without personally knowing the person sharing the information.

Is the content accurate or trustworthy? How do you tell? Seriously, we’re adults. It’s practical to verify information. Just do it with content on blogs and lists. For every inaccurate posting, there are at least four that are correct. That’s not a scientific number so don’t try to verify it. :-) For example, you read on a blog that a literary agency is looking for YA writers. Go to their website and check it out. Always practice your due diligence. Because, if what you found out from a list or blog is true, you might have a head start over those who didn’t read it. Answer: Maybe yes. Maybe no. Deal with it.

The key is balance. If you find yourself spending time on following blogs, Twitter, multiple loops, and you’re not carving out a schedule to write, you need to dial back the social media. If you’re able to do it all, still write regularly, and meet your writing goals, congratulations. Virtual value is yours for the taking if you handle it right.

 
13 Comments

Posted by on June 6, 2011 in Blogs, Jennifer Crusie, twitter, writing

 
 
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