Category Archives: Writing

Ask Me Anything About Bourbon

I just rewrote the entire website for an ultra-premium bourbon company. I wrote thousands of words and did a lot of research on bourbon, its history, and the proper way to drink it.

Now, I know a great deal more about bourbon–I’m even pedantic in my knowledge.

But now when I sip on Knob Creek, Booker’s, Michter’s, or Woodford (those would be my faves, but I also like many others), I’m much more appreciative of it.

I love a job that makes me love life just a little bit more.

Wordnik Likes My “Halter-Top”

I wrote a story called “Power Ballad” a while back. I wrote it as a joke, really: it’s about a guy trying to pick up a  heavily tattooed woman.  .  . in a haltertop. I’d spelled it, “haltertop,” but my editor changed it to “halter-top.”

That’s fine.

More than fine. . . Because Wordnik. the online dicitonary, chose my word usage for its entry, “halter-top.”

By the way, the story is meant to be a bit funny–it’s by no means a serious work.

I’m in the dictionary now!

Writing on Deadline, Using Google Maps

Under deadline, there just isn’t time to be uninspired. I’m writing a dynamic, online piece that’s about some 25 restaurants in six different cities. Aimed at the business traveler, it uses Flash and it’s all linked to Google Maps. When this thing is done, it should be amazing.

Now, back to Nexis, ProQuest, and Factiva (and my notes from my own travels).

By the way, Google Maps has a sharp picture of my backyard. I don’t have access to that yard (I only have the view). But from the satellite photo, I can see more of the yard than I can from my own window.

And I can also see my rooftop. I don’t have access to my New York City building’s roof. But I now know what it looks like. I now know that my neighbors have a garden on the top of theirs.

Thank you, satellite from outer space for telling me what’s next door.

Writing: Should You Outline First?

I just ran across this piece by Nancy Rawlinson (who is a contributing editor at Guernica ) on the outlining debate. She says that yes, you should. You should outline your fiction. I have to admit that I sometimes do, and sometimes don’t. If the piece is short, within the realm of flash fiction, then I don’t. If it’s long, then yes. Absolutely. But the outline itself is also a form of fiction, because I don’t follow it all that closely.

But I outline after I’ve done a bit of writing. I struggle to find my opening, then outline it if I think I’ve got a solid opening.

When I feel like there’s a firm foundation to build something upon, then I make sure that I’m going to build it right by outlining. But only then, because if I do it too early, the enormity of what I’m about to undergo disheartens me.

Right now I’m writing the beginnings of a novel or novella  (I’m not sure which). I’m writing 50 pages, first. If the first 50 look like they’re good, then I’ll decide what it is. Or even if it’s crap.

The hardest part of writing (for me) is remembering why I’m writing the piece in the first place, and even worse—staying in love with it. It’s so easy to decide that a piece of fiction in its early stages is terrible, boring, and unfixable. (A journalist I used to know once said fiction writers were weak, because they complained all of the time. She even wrote an article about it, mocking them. But this journalist was wrong: fiction writers aren’t weak complainers. Not at all—we’re inventing a whole world, which is a difficult thing. And the slightest bit of grounding for us—like an outline—is a godsend.)

Procrastination is:

Procrastination hits us in so many ways. Writers probably get hit with it worse than others. Or maybe we just worry about it more.

I’ve many deadlines today, so after watching this video, I’ll have to move on .  .  .

By the way, I don’t like inspirational writing books at all. Except for The War of Art.

I read it out of a sense of obligation. And ended up inspired. It’s the ultimate anti-procrastination book.

Buy it. And don’t put it off.

Advice: 10 Tips for Writers

Janet Fitch author of the novels White Oleander and Paint it Black has some advice for writers, whether they write fiction or nonfiction (although the advice is directed at fiction writers).  Many of these tips were already given to me by Jim Shepard (back when I studied with him), but they’re worth repeating here. I’ll give tip number one below. The rest is at The Los Angeles Times site.

1. Write the sentence, not just the story
Long ago I got a rejection from the editor of the Santa Monica Review, Jim Krusoe. It said: “Good enough story, but what’s unique about your sentences?” That was the best advice I ever got. . .

As far as copywriting goes, I thought this article in Website Magazine was equally good. And like Fitch’s advice, it’s all-purpose.

My Posted Clips

I have about a third of my clips up on this site: they’re broken into three categories: my recent Fiction, Editorial Clips and work I’ve done as a Copywriter. The Editorial Clips and Copywriter pages include a rundown of what I can do for my clients as a freelance writer, SEO copywriter, or ghostwriter.

Eventually, there will be slides and all sorts of stuff. Eventually. Right now, nothing’s too fancy around here. It’s like I’ve just moved into a large, messy house and the construction workers haven’t quite finished with the plumbing and painting.

Except I’m the guy doing the plumbing and the painting; I’m doing this thing myself.

It’s a fun thing to do: I’m learning WordPress more concretely (Guernica is on Movable Type, so I’d previously known that CMS better than this one)

Will Bad Newsgathering Outlast Good Papers?

Newsonomics has a piece on its blog comparing Patch.com news report with one in the Contra Costa Times. Contra Costa has better reporting. But Patch had more interaction with its readers. It also had better SEO and was listed higher in Google.

The start-ups will have to improve their reporting, because bad reporting is wallpaper. Boring wallpaper. But the news organizations are going to have to figure out this thing called SEO. Or they will die.

Ran across this posting: poor SEO may be what killed thelondonpaper.com (but as the comments to the posting say, that might be pushing it, as a thing to say. Ironically, the writer was going for some good SEO, and thereby misstated things).

Still Working on This Site

It’s a slow process, but I’m putting PDFs of my clips onto this site.

Click on “Editorial Clips” for my freelance writing/journalism and “Copywriter” for my ad-driven writing. Eventually, I’ll also have my all of my fiction up, and information on readings and events.

Right now, clips are also available here: http://www.mediabistro.com/MeakinArmstrong

Cinema’s Beautiful Blowhard

The Beautiful Blowhard

I wrote an essay recommending Samuel Fuller’s work. A portion of what I said:

“A Fuller film careers between drama and melodrama; it stars scene-chewing actors; is low budget, and has the subtlety of a machete. A Fuller film can start out being about one thing (such as in one of my favorites, Crimson Kimono , where it begins in a Noirish vein, with two cops investigating a crime in 1950s L.A.) only to veer off somewhere else (racism against Asians). Watching a Fuller film is seeing the unpredictable. It breaks the rules of “good” writing—and just goes for the jugular. Continue reading Cinema’s Beautiful Blowhard

Reading: Freerange Nonfiction, May 5th

I’ll be reading at the Freerange Nonfiction series this May 5th. I’ll be reading from something new: an essay about a particularly horrible event that happened to me when I was much younger: I interrupted a roommate who’d captured another, tied him down, and threatened to saw his head off with a chainsaw.

I dislike overly dramatic memoirs, so I’m going to try to make the piece about something larger: the nature of nonfiction in general. (But I’ll also try to give you the drama.)