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Despite being up shit-creek financially, I went shopping today. I need furniture for my new apartment. I got a kitchen table, coffee table, and dresser for $170, including delivery. The appointed day for delivery is next Saturday. I also went up to Parc-Ex to see a futon. It looked a good deal to me for $60. Sold! Then another happy circumstance prevailed when I was in another furniture store on Notre Dame and got talking to the manager. He is selling his own queen-sized bed and for a good price too. If it all checks out, this means I can have a bed for me as well as a bed for my living room slash guest bedroom.

To pull all this off, I’m going to have to do some clever juggling from credit line to credit line. I am not a good money manager, make no mistake. The only thing I can really be proud of is that I’ve managed to weather unemployment, moving city, returning to school, and traveling, all without ever actually running out of cash entirely. I’ve never had to grovel at the familial table for some scraps. Maybe my luck is going to run out this summer, I dunno. All I know is that sometimes it makes me very anxious indeed.

Anyway, change of subject. Money sucks donkey’s balls!

This week, I successfully wrote a minimum of 1,000 words every day — from Saturday through to Thursday. It was a personal challenge to myself to try and create six new stories, and I guess I pulled it off. I can’t say all of the stories are good, but some of them might become good eventually. I prematurely fired off a couple of them, and as I should have expected, the reviews were not emphatically positive!

I keep having to remind myself: you cannot write a good first draft. You just cannot. Maybe some people can, but I cannot. I need at least a week to go away and forget about a story entirely, then come back to it, and at that point, I can gauge whether the idea has merit or not.

All right, now I’m going to post what I’ve been meaning to post for a while.

Writing for the Web

“…the web is actually changing all our reading habits. Short, concise web text, well laid out, has an impact we don’t get over. When we go back to print on paper, we’re too impatient to put up with long sentences and long paragraphs.”
Crawford Killian

“I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages.”
Is Google Making Us Stupid? Atlantic

Forgive me if my blog is about to go all serious, but I’m been increasingly fascinated by writing on the web recently. Is it true that the web might be shrinking our attention spans?

Attention span is a key issue for the web. Another one – and I haven’t coined a good term for this (suggestions are welcome) – is the web’s effect on “what you’re looking for.”

What you’re looking for
Surfing the web is like grazing… people are forever searching for something, trying to find the tastiest morsels. Some morsels are good – an informative news article, for example. But in grazing, we’ll often get sidetracked – and that is not always so good. For example, you’ll be looking at your favourite news site, reading about Obama, when suddenly you notice a link to hot new pictures of a celebrity baby. Click!

But getting sidetracked is also half the fun – and the point – of the web. You might get sidetracked to something trashy, or you might find get sidetracked to something edifying. In either case, the reader has a huge amount of control in where she chooses to focus her attention.

This is not the case with many traditional media – especially the longer forms such as the film or the novel. Yes, we could choose to start a book at page 236, skip to the end, flip back to the beginning – but everyone knows that is not the point of the experience. The point of traditional media is that we surrender control to an outsider – typically, a narrator. The narrator takes us on a journey.

Powerful and successful storytellers achieve an effect in the reader that the reader would not be able to create on her own. They move the reader through a succession of events, told in a particular order, to reach a conclusion that is satisfying. There is an inherent logic and rationality to how the narrative is constructed.

My own belief is that the best narratives are so well told as to be almost scientifically persuasive. They have an air of inevitability about them. The reader feels that the components of the story fit so well together that they could not be told in any other way.

Susan Sontag said in her final book that narrative is not like anything else; it is the best way for humans to build a moral universe and convey meaning on life. By choosing what is or isn’t important in telling a story, an author makes the same argument about life. If there is no such thing as narrative – no such thing as making choices, inclusion and exclusion, focus, purpose – then there is no morality.

After all, the very concept of morality, according to the Judeo-Christian tradition, is based on choice. To eat or not to eat the apple? Once endowed with such powers of decision-making, humankind is liberated to either sin or be virtuous.

Without narrative – in other words, in the world of much of the Internet – moments do not crystallize into decisions. It’s no longer to eat or not eat the apple, it’s, oh look – there’s a banana, oh wait, there’s a plum, hold on, I think that peach over there looks tasty. It’s an amoral mess, in other words.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that!

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