Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Posts Tagged ‘Freshly Pressed

Thoughts of an accidental blogger

with 4 comments

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. When I started this blog in November 2010, I wasn’t sure how often I’d be posting, or even if the site would survive more than a couple of months. I’d spent several years blogging with my roommates after college, often writing multiple posts per day, but gradually the well went dry—mostly after we all all got girlfriends—and the site hasn’t been updated in a long time. At best, I thought, this blog would serve as my author page, with information about my novels and other works, a bio that I’d occasionally update, and news about readings and other events. The idea that the blog would become a major part of my writing life frankly never occurred to me. Yet that’s pretty much what happened: almost two years later, I’ve posted something every day, sometimes just a quote or a picture, but more often a fairly involved think piece that takes up a good chunk of my morning. And while I don’t think I can maintain this pace forever, at this point, it’s hard to imagine my life without it.

So what happened? In some ways, it’s an illustration of one of my favorite truisms about writing: the power of habit. By now, my blog routine has become deeply ingrained: after my wife heads out for work, I pour myself a cup of green tea and start the day’s blog post, which usually takes about an hour before I move on to other things—and it would feel strange not to spend the morning like this. I’ve also developed the usual tricks and mechanisms to keep going, even on days when I don’t particularly feel like writing, and although I no longer maintain a formal list of potential topics, I’m always thinking about what the next day’s post will be. In short, it’s just like any other kind of writing, which often comes down to muscle memory. And while the amount of work involved every day is relatively small, as in everything else, the effects can be large: at this point, I’ve written enough on this blog to fill two novel-length books. And while my readership has never been huge, the fact that many of you drop by on a regular basis has been enormously gratifying.

I’ve also been lucky enough to have two of my posts on Freshly Pressed over the past twelve months. There are a number of other sites that discuss various strategies to get featured there—the one on the WordPress site itself is especially useful, as is this post—but even now, I’m a little mystified by the process. My first such post, on the tenth anniversary of The Fellowship of the Ring, benefited from being on a four-quadrant topic, but last week’s post on Breaking Bad and the bottle episode was pretty narrow in its appeal even by the standards of this site. The moral, I guess, is that you really only need to appeal to one person, the editor who happens to be making selections that day, and that person’s tastes can be hard to predict. Once your blog is past a certain level of readability and accessibility, it often comes down to the luck of the draw, and the fact that I’ve done it before doesn’t make it any more likely that I’ll do it again. (Incidentally, the resulting bump in traffic is generally only temporary—although those of you who stuck around are now my new best friends.)

But it’s also worth noting that I’ve never posted anything on this site with the thought of attracting the maximum number of readers, or with an eye to getting Freshly Pressed. (Well, almost never: I secretly hoped that my post on The Hunger Games and the changing face of the box office would get picked up, but I don’t think anyone even saw it.) I’m happy enough when I can come up with something to write five hundred words about on any given day, regardless of whether or not anyone else will care—although it’s important to note that once I come up with a topic, I go through all the steps of correction and revision that I would for any piece of work that I expect to see in print. As a result, looking back on the posts from the past two years, I find that I’ve revealed more about myself than I ever thought I would, giving me a record of my thoughts and experiences over this interesting time that I’m profoundly grateful to have. Along with the skills that you naturally develop by writing like this every day, that’s really all anyone can ask of a blog like this. And I’m glad that so many of you have followed along this far.

Written by nevalalee

August 21, 2012 at 9:43 am

Posted in Writing

Tagged with , ,

J.R.R. Tolkien and the why of world-building

with 5 comments

One writes such a story not out of the leaves of trees still to be observed, nor by means of botany and soil-science; but it grows like a seed in the dark out of the leaf-mould of the mind: out of all that has been seen or thought or read, that has long ago been forgotten, descending into the deeps.

—J.R.R. Tolkien, quoted by Humphrey Carpenter

Yesterday, I was at Barnes and Noble in Union Square when, apparently, the earth shook. I didn’t notice it, possibly because I was slightly more preoccupied by another, rather smaller earthquake taking place on this blog. I had been in New York for the past few days, away from my desk, so I wasn’t aware that anything unusual was happening until the comments started flooding my cell phone. I’d like to start, then, by saying what a thrill it was to be featured on Freshly Pressed, and how gratifying it is to see so many new readers and visitors. You never know what to expect when a blog is opened to radically increased traffic, so it’s been heartening to see how universally positive and insightful the comments have been. Thanks so much for coming, and I do hope you stick around!

That said, I suspect that much of the response was due less to the quality of the writing than to the subject of the post itself. The Fellowship of the Ring is, to put it mildly, a movie that unites people. I could feel it last week at Ravinia, and I’ve felt it again over the last twenty-four hours as readers shared their thoughts and memories. We heard from fans who think of movies as The Lord of the Rings and everything else; from viewers for whom the films, and their special features, changed the way they saw filmmaking; and from those whom the trilogy helped through difficult times in their lives. Few other movies can say as much, or inspire such universal good feeling. (I imagine that the response wouldn’t have been quite as positive if I’d posted a rave about, say, Eyes Wide Shut.) And it all comes down to the fact that J.R.R. Tolkien and Peter Jackson have created a world we want to live in and revisit.

This, it seems to me, is the real point of world-building, which has become such an established convention of fantasy fiction that its original purpose is sometimes forgotten. Invented languages, cultures, and geographies are all very well and good, but they’re a means, not an end. The true goal is to create stories and characters so vivid that we can’t help applying them to our own lives. I’ve certainly felt this myself. Last year, when I was hiking the Lares Valley in Peru, lungs and feet aching, what kept me going—and this is a real nerd confession here—was the thought of Frodo and Samwise trudging through Mordor. Similarly, after seeing Fellowship again last week, I was seized by the urge to write an alternate universe fanfiction epic that would begin with Galadriel taking the ring. Since such a project would probably require 50,000 words and three months of work, it doesn’t seem like a great use of my time. But I’d still like to read it. (Oddly enough, I don’t think such a story exists, although if anybody out there has seen one, please let me know!)

And it’s important to remember that both Tolkien and, to a lesser extent, Jackson and his collaborators were creating worlds out of their own personal compulsions. Tolkien was a linguist and philologist whose work arose from his interest in invented languages; Jackson was a fan of the books who began planning his monumental project long before the current cinematic vogue for epic fantasy. Neither knew if there would be an audience for what he was doing—which was how each of them ended up finding such vast audiences. And at a time when fantasy series sprout appendices, maps, and extra volumes just because Tolkien’s example says they should, and when Hollywood sees fantasy primarily as a lucrative revenue stream, it’s worth recalling that it all began with a solitary professor furnishing a world for his own amusement. And as the past couple of days have made clear, there are still plenty of us who want to follow him there.

Written by nevalalee

August 24, 2011 at 10:22 am

%d bloggers like this: