Wednesday, March 23, 2016


The constant lament from writers on -- which was originally supposed to get people to write fabulous, innovative, eye-opening material which would make Medium rich -- is that the writers never had a writing or English class or that they have writer’s block.  Authorized by the years I put in as an English teacher (where I made kids diagram sentences, memorize the linking verbs, and other virtuous and helpful stuff), I’ll tell you now you wouldn’t even HAVE “writer’s block” if you’d never taken English.  (Or French or Tagalog.)  English classes will GIVE YOU writer’s block.  Because it will make you think it’s something you do according to some mysterious genius which is then governed by equally mysterious rules.

The Nineteenth Century, in spite of their love of descriptions and taxonomies, knew quite well that FIRST COMES THE EXPERIENCE, THE PHENOMENA, THE LIFE, and only after reflection comes THE CLASSIFICATIONS, THE NAMES, THE RULES of what was raw life.  If you have writer’s block, it’s not because of rules, it’s because you aren’t having a raw life.  Raw means uncooked.  Raw means outside the cultural recommends.

I don't know whether this is the proper Ryan McCready, but he's from County Derry, 
a Royal Irish soldier and I just like the looks of him.

So here comes Ryan McCready and his buddies to take a look at a piled up tabletop of writing that satisfies RULE NUMBER ONE on Medium:  get people to show they like the stuff by checking little heart shaped boxes or maybe writing on the same subject in the same way and then tagging it with the same tag.  Get all those words converted to numbers because numbers mean money and money means quality and success.

So here’s what they discovered, the characteristics of genius writing — these will get you high numbers:

To stand out on Medium we recommend you:
Write for a 6th-grade reading level.
Use a power words mixed with sentence case styling to make the title unique and memorable.
Write sentences that are concise and average 12–15 words.
Keep time to read around 6 to 7 minutes.
Never publish on Monday but instead shoot for Tuesdays or Saturdays.
Use a simple call to action to action to end all your articles for the most recommends.

"If anyone would like to see their chunk of data we pulled do not hesitate to reach out at! Each article was analyzed for tone, sentiment, word choice, sentence readability, and many other important measurables. Or even if you would like us to analyze a few of your other articles!"

Well, sod my bod!

If they had measured for naked people and dirty words, they probably would have found high numbers and recommended them.  I wouldn’t have minded because I don’t write stuff based on this kind of numbskull counting rules.  And I don’t read it either.  I read for content and adjust my reading mindset accordingly.  

Many things are indeed simple enough for a sixth grade reader.  But most of the ideas are beyond sixth graders’ comprehension because they don’t yet have enough RAW LIFE in their heads and muscles and guts to have anything under the writing.  Writing is DERIVED.  It’s not RAW LIFE.  (This is the place where some snotty college boy will say he just HATES people who capitalize for emphasis.  It interferes with his reading experience, his line of thought.)

The rules are in the pre-frontal cortex, just behind the forehead so a high bulging forehead is a requirement. (jokes)  Sixth grade will be about the limit.  As though sixth grade were anything but a made-up concept left over from the German Industrial Revolution so all the gears will fit.  There are some things that cannot be explained at a 6th grade level, so you’ll still need all the rest of the “grades” until you get to post-grad, when they finally give it up.

The RAW LIFE is back in the rest of the brain and a little way down the spine in the brain stem, and no one really knows how it works, except that the more we find out, the more we realize that an organic, evolved, reality-based, self-teaching and entirely unconscious part of the body, sheltered in a protective skull we do our best to smash in games, is what supports writing.  And reading.  

And identity — have you noticed how everyone is reading to figure out the identity of the writer?  They think that the main character in the story or article is BOUND to be the writer showing through a clever disguise it is their job to rip off.  Here and there someone will say, good writing is the product of doing things, not constant introspection.

On the other hand, some experiences are so confounding, so intense, so multiple, that the instrument (the brain and guts) is damaged and will need splinting, a brain cast, to get time, to knit up, to sort and find words.  That’s what all these other people are for: they remember who you are and can hold you tight when you really need it.  Books can work that way, too.  So there’s this level to writing between RAW LIFE and writing that’s called “talk.”  

Got the t-shirt?

Except that I don’t think you should talk about some things with sixth graders.  I don’t mean sex, by sixth they’re already sexy in the city.  Some people talk about the voices in their heads, the voices in books, one’s personal writing “voice” which is in WRITING.  The shrinks now are talking about “self-talk” meaning a little voice that says, “You’re okay.  This feels right.  If anyone is mean to you, it’s on them.”  Self-comforting.  Self-reassurance.  Talk about THAT with sixth graders and earlier.

What you’re really doing is managing your connectome, which is the stuff that lights up when they put you in an fMRI and show you photos or something.  The brain neurons are always re-plugging in patterns, but if something is blocking access to a function you need, you will get stuck until the brain finds a workaround, which it can do.  

Here are two connectome techniques I taught the 7th grade in Browning, MT, in 1962.

1.  Sit still.
2.  Close your eyes.  DO NOT WRITE FOR FIVE MINUTES.
3.  Think of a topic or maybe think about the topic I just gave you.
4.  Write a word anchor for it in the middle of a circle.  
5.  Now brainstorm stuff connected to it, write them in smaller circles and connect them to the big one.  Stare at them until you can sort of see what fits together.  Now your connectome should begin to pop and spark.

Here’s another alternative out of a textbook Wallace Stegner helped write:

1.  Sit still.
2.  Close your eyes.  DO NOT WRITE FOR FIVE MINUTES.
3.  Think of the topic and write it at the top.
4.  Down the side write the names of the five senses.  More if you want to and can think of them.
5.  Name and briefly describe each of the senses in terms of your topic.
6.  Organize that into a paragraph, adding enough action to justify them:
         Examples:  I walked into the room.
               I’d never been there before.
               I never imagined there was such a place.
7.  You can write either fact or fiction.

“Glom rolled himself painfully across the flat floor.  Why couldn’t this place have a conveyor belt?  Then some force, smelling not like hot machine oil but maybe more like bread baking, lifted him off the flatness with great gentleness and wafted him along like wind.  He heard a deep bell sound, reverberating and reverberating in the distance, and could taste — he was sure of it — cinnamon.  Light gradually increased around him until a six-fingered hand reached out to take his tentacle.  His two hearts began to syncopate.  The fibers of his connectome began to glow and bead up with images.”

This is a computer image simulating the actual connectome in the brain of a human.

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