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cap, captain miss america
I love to talk about writing.

Last year and this year, I've found that the most interesting thing about LJ Idol are the "meta" discussions that crop up around writing, reading, commenting, critiquing, and all related subjects. Which is why I've been writing these home game entries about...said subjects!

I've said this before, but LJ Idol (and LJ in general) is about getting to know people better. There is a lot you can learn from someone's writing, but sometimes it's hard to tell if you're learning something about them, or just reading something into what they're saying, especially if they're writing fiction. You only have this very limited window into someone's life and way of thinking, and while, to me, it's totally valid to read meaning into a work an author didn't intend when you are reading for yourself, it's not necessarily the best way to go about making friends.

Sometimes, I get to the end of a piece before I realize it's fiction. This is usually, to me, a compliment to the author's ability, that they wrote something so believable that I think it is reflective of their own life. But sometimes, I get to the end of a piece before I realize it's non-fiction. I don't think that this is complimentary OR non-complimentary: it just is, and whether it has to do with the writing style, a detached tone, whatever: it happens. But I do think it is interesting, when I discover that something I've read is actually true when I was reading it through the lens of a fictive piece, and I often don't even know it unless it's mentioned in the comments.

Every act of writing is also an act of learning about writing, especially when you are writing in an interactive medium such as a blog or LiveJournal, where people can write back to you. And every act of writing in an interactive medium is also an act of learning about people.

One of my favorite things to see in posts where someone is experimenting with writing, or writing a piece of fiction, is not necessarily the piece itself. I love to read people's process notes, or author's notes, or other ruminations on the act of writing the piece.

It's a much-hated question for authors and artists alike, that is asked nearly every time the floor is opened to questions at a panel discussion or a lecture or master class:

"Where do you get your ideas?"

Those of us who write know that every idea comes from a different place. One might be from a dream. One might be from an interaction we had on the street. Another might be from reading someone else's story. Sometimes, they just pop into our heads fully-formed. The question that is exciting, that prompts the story that is exciting is not:

"Where do you get your ideas?"


"Where did you get this idea?"

Where did you get this idea?
How did you decide to express it in this way: in fiction, in narrative essay, in poetry?
How did you choose the particular voice with which to express it: a humorous one, a lyrical one, an ominous one?
What were the steps you took along the way, that got you from the idea to the act (apologies to TS Eliot)?

I have said myself, and seen other people say, that when we read fiction, it's hard to get to know the person behind it in the same way we do when we read nonfiction. But even with nonfiction, there is always a space to reveal something about yourself as a writer.

Author's notes can be incredibly fun to write, and can let you drop your narrative voice, free yourself from the restrictions you've put upon yourself while writing the meat of the piece, and provide a handy little peek into your own thoughts and your own identity as a writer. They can say things about you that even a tearful memoir can't say; they can provide insight into that tearful memoir that is deeply personal in a different way from baring your emotional soul. They can deepen the complexity of what might seem to be a simple and casual piece of writing; they can add a note of gravity to a humorous story or essay.

I also love when I see authors reply with comments that reveal a little more of their thinking than what they originally set out to tell. It's neat when someone comments on a particular detail of a story, and the writer takes a moment to reveal a little more about that detail, where it came from, how they decided to include it. I like it because it seems more interesting than a simple "thank you!" but it also helps me get to know the writer behind the words a little better, to peel another proverbial onion layer away from their writing process. And it helps me get to know them as a person, too!

I love to talk about writing, which I said when I started this post. So I love it when I see that other people love to talk about writing, too.

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And it [writing] is just so much fun TO talk about. There's all the angles and perspectives and pet peeves and the like. It's really awesome.

I agree. I think that often, talking about writing is more interesting than reading the writing in the first place, even if it is good writing.

This is super-true. I enjoy the heck out of discussing the process. Which is good 'cause my outcomes are rarely as great as I feel my process should produce.

But, then, I think highly of my processes.

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I used to leave "author notes" on my writing but for some reason, Gary always seemed to discourage it. I don't know if you remember last season when he critiqued some "free topics"?

I have seen many other people say they don't like author notes so I am glad to see someone who does because I used to like to leave them on my entries.

I also just love to hear where someone got an idea. To me, it adds to the piece.

Fiction is fiction but I can always see a little thread, when I look back, as to parts of different things of me or people I knew that I threaded in, often not thinking about it.

I don't like when people put meta at the beginning of a piece-- it doesn't belong there, and to me it is like telling the reader what to think.

At the end of the piece, if it is clearly labeled and not written in the same voice as the entry itself, I find it to be extremely useful and helps me get to know the writer better.

What I thought was funny was that when I wrote a non-fiction piece, I got a lot more comments, which tended to be heartfelt, or inquistive than my fiction pieces. It doesn't make me want to write non-fiction, but it was interesting, because I feel like I'm more restrained with my non-fiction (how I want to be seen, etc) than with fiction.

I think it is a lot because it's easier to identify with the author when you're reading non-fiction, you know? You get a better sense of their feelings and the way they think. Even if you don't like the writing style or the pacing or things like that, you might still like the person!

I'm not a fan of including the meta as part of the piece- even at the end, though I do enjoying reading about the writer's thought process in either a separate entry or a comment.

I wrote a short fiction piece this week, but I think that it reveals a lot about my subconscious at the moment!

I don't think meta should ever be perceived as part of the piece-- unless it's specifically noted as otherwise-- even if it's posted in the entry. I don't like it when people actually behave as if their commentary is part of their piece or organize their piece that way. But I do like getting notes on writing; sometimes it can help elucidate something that changes the way I see what's been written.

I can't help but think asking where people got their idea is kind of silly within the constraints of something like LJI. But maybe I'm being egocentric in assuming everyone uses the prompts as a jumping-off point.

Talking about writing, and seeing how differently people can interpret words and prompts like that, are some of the best parts of Idol.


No, I think there's still quite a broad variety of places from which people get their ideas, and having someone explain how they got from the topic to their concept for how they intepreted the topic can be fascinating.

For example, I'll bring up my Week 20 "Playing House" post from last season: there is a long stretch from "Playing House" as a single sentence to a story about a demon that lives in a coffee can and possesses people.

My first intent was to write a story based on "The House of the Rising Sun," about a whorehouse full of demons. But I decided it was too complex an idea, and I wanted to be careful about exoticizing New Orleans and Creole culture, so I decided that that idea could be seen as being in poor taste, and chose not to do it. I thought back to a series of pencil sketches I did in college that involved an old house and a woman with a coffee can, that were inspired by the lyrics to "I Seen What I Saw" by 16 Horsepower. Once I got there, I started thinking about the other lyrics to the song, and combined it with ideas from another 16 Horsepower song, "Cinder Alley," which is about a girl named Carol Sue that has a lot of possession imagery in it. So I took those two ideas and then needed to invoke a spirit of "play" back into the piece, so I centered it on two children playing a typical dare game.

I think for every single piece that someone writes, there is a story about how they got from the prompt to that piece, and every one is going to be different and unique. I think the most interesting entries are the ones where someone clearly thought deeply, re-interpreted, and personalized the prompt, but that doesn't mean we know how they got there.

Interesting piece. I'm glad to see others writing Home Game entries (Here's mine.).

Sometimes the question of "where do you get your ideas" is a desperate attempt by the asker to find that well that others go to -- this is so good and I want a piece of that, where did you find it? I think that the revised question works better. But then there's that possibility that where you got *this* idea might be somewhere the asker can't or won't go. Safer to ask the more vague question.

Thanks for the link; that was really good! Really powerful.

I agree with you; I think people think that writers have some magic path to the idea well that other people don't have-- but in fact, I think it's more that writers are better at noticing ideas when they see them.

You talk well about writing.

I have more ideas than I have time to write. The trick is determining which ones are worth writing about.

Me, too! That is always my problem!

Thank you! I love talking about writing. It's so much fun.

"Where did you get this idea?" is the best question EVER. If someone asks where I get my ideas I'm like, um... I live and breathe and they just happen? But relating to specific stories, I can answer. And often it's really dumb and simple, like my last HG entry where I was just reading and eating a bagel and I looked out the window and could see all the trees and then this distant wisp of smoke from a chimney and that was enough! Usually it's the cosy feeling of curling up with a book and a hot drink that gives me ideas. And of course there's things based on fact too. It's also nice when people ask, and actually show an interest beyond what they've read!

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