Tips for the Modern Language Association

In the spirit of my fake advice for National Novel Writing Month, last month I began posting “tips” on Twitter for the upcoming Modern Language Association conference, an annual exercise in masochism for literature professors and graduate students the world over. This year’s conference was held in Philadelphia, from December 27 to December 30, and it was most notable for the bleak prospects of job candidates, hoping to score interviews at a time when English Departments were hiring for fewer positions than ever before. My tips — and I imagine the tips from the others who joined in — were all attempts to lighten the mood and make fun of something we usually take far too seriously: ourselves.

Here are the complete tips, in chronological order:

  1. #MLA09 tip for novices: Upon arrival, locate the following: coffeeshop, drugstore, liquor store. Acquire supplies. Repeat as necessary. Posted at 11:38 AM on 12/8/2009 by profsyn
  2. #MLA09 Tip: Always preface your question to a panelist with “I know your paper was about X, but let me tell you about MY work…” Posted at 1:20 PM on 12/13/2009 by samplereality
  3. #MLA09 Tip: Be sure to rewatch Sharon Stone in “Basic Instinct” for interview tips on poise and posture. Posted at 3:04 PM on 12/13/2009 by samplereality
  4. #MLA09 tip for novices: The cool kids will always be outside smoking. At the *other* entrance to the hotel. Posted at 9:37 AM on 12/15/2009 by profsyn
  5. #MLA09 tip for novices: No one at the convention is as glad to see each other as they pretend to be. Posted at 12:03 PM on 12/20/2009 by profsyn
  6. #MLA09 tip: MLA is in the City of Brotherly Love this year, so you may recline fraternally on the hotel room bed during your job interview. Posted at 2:42 PM on 12/21/2009 by amandafrench
  7. #MLA09 tip: Watch Watch and learn. Posted at 2:51 PM on 12/21/2009 by briancroxall
  8. #MLA09 Tip: Nothing says “promising job candidate” like an acappella performance of “She Bangs” in the interview suite. Posted at 4:12 PM on 12/21/2009 by samplereality
  9. #MLA09 Tip: Figure out which of your interviewers is the Paula Abdul of the bunch, and get her drunk alone. Posted at 4:15 PM on 12/21/2009 by briancroxall
  10. #MLA09 Tip: Jargon. No one understood Derrida, and he had a job. Impenetrability is your best defense. Posted at 4:17 PM on 12/21/2009 by briancroxall
  11. #MLA09 Tip: Failing impenetrable jargon in your interview, speak with a heavy foreign accent, preferably Slovenian. Posted at 4:23 PM on 12/21/2009 by samplereality
  12. #MLA09 Tip: Speakers used to say “quote” & “end quote” to indicate a quotation. In the digital age, you need merely spell out the URL. Posted at 4:31 PM on 12/21/2009 by amandafrench
  13. #MLA09 Tip: Drink big glass of water right before interview. You write better w/deadline pressure.Your mind works better w/bladder pressure. Posted at 4:32 PM on 12/21/2009 by briancroxall
  14. #MLA09 Tip: An accent will not work for Comp Lit positions. Comp Litters should smoke during the interview, punctuating points with exhales. Posted at 4:34 PM on 12/21/2009 by samplereality
  15. #MLA09 Tip: Make deliberate use of split infinitives during your presentation to edgily show your edginess. Posted at 4:48 PM on 12/21/2009 by amandafrench
  16. #MLA09 Tip: If you see your interview committee later, ideally in the elevator, ask them if they have made a decision yet. Follow up is key. Posted at 4:50 PM on 12/21/2009 by academicdave
  17. #MLA09 Tip: In your job interview, argue that you’d make a really good literature Professor because you really, really, really love to read. Posted at 5:04 PM on 12/21/2009 by amandafrench
  18. #MLA09 Tip: Be sure to seek out journal editors who’ve rejected your essays. Explaining their mistake in person = badass networking skillz. Posted at 5:05 PM on 12/21/2009 by seabright
  19. #MLA09 Tip: Explain you’re going “carbon neutral” and insist the hiring committee pay for carbon offsets before you answer their questions. Posted at 5:14 PM on 12/21/2009 by samplereality
  20. #MLA09 Tip:If you should run into a candidate exiting an interview as you walk in,offer to settle the matter via a duel.Pistols at 30 paces. Posted at 5:15 PM on 12/21/2009 by academicdave
  21. #MLA09 Tip: Registration, $125. Hotel, $300. Dinner and drinks, $65. Finding Stanley Fish’s room and stealing his dry cleaning, priceless. Posted at 5:19 PM on 12/21/2009 by briancroxall
  22. #MLA09 Tip: Every time you pass up an open bar at a public reception, a puppy dies. Posted at 5:29 PM on 12/21/2009 by samplereality
  23. #MLA09 Tip: There’ll be a whole salmon at the Princeton cash bar. Put it down your pants. They’ll know it’s an allusion to The Corrections. Posted at 5:33 PM on 12/21/2009 by amandafrench
  24. #MLA09 Tip: What to say when job search committee asks if you have questions: “How strict a policy on sleeping with students do you have?” Posted at 8:26 PM on 12/21/2009 by georgeonline
  25. #MLA09 Tip: During your job interview always use air quotes when using the words “service” or “teaching.” Posted at 8:28 PM on 12/21/2009 by georgeonline
  26. #MLA09 Tip: First time at MLA? Understand that you shd begin every post-panel question with “This is more of a comment than a question…” Posted at 8:31 PM on 12/21/2009 by georgeonline
  27. #MLA09 Tip: Pay homage to Benjamin Franklin while in Philadelphia by sneaking your bastard children into MLA governance committees. Posted at 9:02 PM on 12/21/2009 by samplereality
  28. #MLA09 Tip: Interview committees find it endearing if you giggle every time you say “phallus.” Posted at 9:15 PM on 12/21/2009 by samplereality
  29. #MLA09 Tip: Everyone knows Philly is famous for its cheesesteaks. But be sure to sample our fab cornhole ballers du jour too. Posted at 10:16 PM on 12/21/2009 by samplereality
  30. #MLA09 Tip: In the hotel lobby will be seated many nervous, dowdy people in black suits looking at papers or laptops. These are FBI agents. Posted at 9:00 AM on 12/22/2009 by amandafrench
  31. #MLA09 Tip: Dude, they’re TOTALLY gonna ask you to define “clinamen.” Seriously. Yes way. Posted at 9:10 AM on 12/22/2009 by amandafrench
  32. #MLA09 Tip: It’s considered bad form to live tweet the annual cage match between Terry Eagleton and Gayatri Spivak. Wagers are fine though. Posted at 10:02 AM on 12/22/2009 by samplereality
  33. #MLA09 Tip: If you can find an outfit in a color darker than black, wear it. Posted at 10:23 AM on 12/22/2009 by mlaconvention
  34. #MLA09 Tip: If the panelist keeps not quite answering your question in Q&A, keep pressing. They must be made to submit. Posted at 12:24 PM on 12/22/2009 by briancroxall
  35. #MLA09 Tip: Make your research and pedagogy sound more impressive by adding “e-” and “cyber-” prefixes to everything you say. Posted at 12:34 PM on 12/22/2009 by georgeonline
  36. #MLA09 Tip: There won’t be wifi connectivity in the panels. Unless you bring that 30-foot antenna with you. Posted at 12:41 PM on 12/22/2009 by briancroxall
  37. #MLA09 tip: if you’re talking to someone more junior/less famous than you, keep scanning the room over her head – someone better’s coming! Posted at 12:41 PM on 12/22/2009 by kfitz
  38. #MLA09 Tip: if you’re talking to someone more senior/more famous than you, don’t look them in the eye. Aim for the lapel. Try to blush. Posted at 12:43 PM on 12/22/2009 by briancroxall
  39. #MLA09 Tip: Don’t acknowledge the presence of “colleagues” from schools with a 4/4 (or higher!) course load. It just encourages ’em. Posted at 12:50 PM on 12/22/2009 by jbj
  40. #MLA09 Tip: why drink coffee from the beverage stations? You’ll make a much stronger impression if you whip out a flask & take a few belts. Posted at 12:50 PM on 12/22/2009 by seabright
  41. #MLA09 Tip: conferences are an alternate dimension where time behaves differently. No need to cut that talk from 40 minutes down to 20. Posted at 12:52 PM on 12/22/2009 by amndw2
  42. #MLA09 Tip: When grabbing handsful of free chocolate at booths (insidehighered is known for the cocoa stash), pretend to look @ offerings. Posted at 12:53 PM on 12/22/2009 by mlaconvention
  43. #MLA09 Tip: If you see interview candidates, beam them a silent meditation (“may you do well, may you interview with ease”). Posted at 12:55 PM on 12/22/2009 by mlaconvention
  44. #MLA09 Tip: If you see other interview candidates, HUG IT OUT, BITCH! Posted at 12:56 PM on 12/22/2009 by briancroxall
  45. #MLA09 Tip: If you see search cte mbrs, beam them a silent meditation (“may you be kind to all, may you convince dean to hire 3 candidates”) Posted at 12:57 PM on 12/22/2009 by mlaconvention
  46. #MLA09 Tip: Be sure your author name adjectives are correct, e.g., Kafkaesque, Dickensian, Shakespearean, Yeatsy, Austeniferous, DeLilloid. Posted at 1:36 PM on 12/22/2009 by amandafrench
  47. #MLA09 Tip: French maid outfits are almost never appropriate attire for job interviews. Take it from someone who knows. Posted at 1:39 PM on 12/22/2009 by samplereality
  48. #MLA09 Tip: If your interview doesn’t begin with hugs all around, leave the room. You wouldn’t want to work with people like that anyway. Posted at 1:40 PM on 12/22/2009 by samplereality
  49. #MLA09 Tip: Don’t take it personally if nobody shows up at your 8:30am panel. It just means nobody finds your life’s work interesting. Posted at 1:41 PM on 12/22/2009 by samplereality
  50. #MLA09 Tip: Everyone knows that academics are critical thinkers. Not bound by convention. That’s why you should *only* use Apple products. Posted at 1:44 PM on 12/22/2009 by briancroxall
  51. #MLA09 Tip: Happily, the 20-minute paper limit doesn’t apply to the formulation of a question from an audience member. Posted at 1:45 PM on 12/22/2009 by samplereality
  52. #MLA09 Tip: If the audience outnumbers your panel, your session is “well-attended.” (A moderator counts as half a panelist.) Posted at 1:45 PM on 12/22/2009 by RichardMenke
  53. #MLA09 Tip: Everything you say on your flight or train to and from Philly will be overheard by someone who knows who you are talking about. Posted at 1:49 PM on 12/22/2009 by mlaconvention
  54. #MLA09 Tip: You’ll be able to spot me at the convention because I look just like my @mlaconvention avatar. Posted at 2:04 PM on 12/22/2009 by mlaconvention
  55. #MLA09 Tip: If people appear to be tweeting during your presentation, don’t worry, most of them are playing Bejeweled. Posted at 2:18 PM on 12/22/2009 by warnick
  56. #MLA09 Tip: Need guidance? Every year, the Gideons’ Bibles in all convention hotels are replaced with copies of *Of Grammatology*. Posted at 2:18 PM on 12/22/2009 by RichardMenke
  57. #MLA09 Tip (for real): You should still tip your server even if it’s an open bar. Posted at 2:24 PM on 12/22/2009 by georgeonline
  58. #MLA09 Tip: nail, cigar, pen, Q, stock, cue, of the hat, O’neill, (per) Gore… enough tips for ya? Posted at 2:59 PM on 12/22/2009 by mlaconvention
  59. #MLA09 Tip: Hang out with ODH’s @jasonrhody. He’s a real mensch & can tell you tales of the internets. Posted at 3:49 PM on 12/22/2009 by brettbobley
  60. #MLA09 Tip: Try to work a few “whatevs” into any conversation you have, especially with prominent scholars and or hiring committee members. Posted at 4:27 PM on 12/22/2009 by georgeonline
  61. #MLA09 Tip: Good, cheap, Chinese BYOB restaurant? Ask me Lee HOW fook. Posted at 4:58 PM on 12/22/2009 by mlaconvention
  62. #MLA09 Tip: Insomnia? Forgot to eat during the day? Little Pete’s, 219 S. 17th St is open around the clock. It’s a greasy spoon, nttawwt. Posted at 5:03 PM on 12/22/2009 by mlaconvention
  63. #MLA09 Tip for panelists: Don’t know how to answer aud. member’s question? Respond with “That’s what *she* said!” and hi-5 fellow panelists. Posted at 5:05 PM on 12/22/2009 by georgeonline
  64. #MLA09 Tip: Mention this tip during your interview for a free campus visit. Guaranteed! (Disclaimer: Not Guaranteed) Posted at 8:45 PM on 12/22/2009 by samplereality
  65. #MLA09 Tip: To get away from it all, pretend the #MLA09 hashtag is actually for the Medical Library Association ’09 meeting in Honolulu. Posted at 9:11 PM on 12/22/2009 by dancohen
  66. #MLA09 Tip: Scooter rentals are only for people with disabilities. Being on the job market inexplicably does not count as a disability. Posted at 9:42 PM on 12/22/2009 by samplereality
  67. #MLA09 Tip: Don’t be fooled by the smiles and bonhomie. People are devastated about leaving behind their families for all that free booze. Posted at 12:30 AM on 12/23/2009 by samplereality
  68. #MLA09 Tip: Your field is French medieval lyric. His is the postmodern novel in English. I don’t care how cute he is: IT’LL NEVER WORK OUT. Posted at 8:55 AM on 12/23/2009 by amandafrench
  69. #MLA09 Tip: Don’t even joke in the interview about calling a lifeline. That reference from 2000 will be too current for committees to get. Posted at 9:12 AM on 12/23/2009 by samplereality
  70. #MLA09 Tip: The theme of Judith Butler’s annual cosplay event is “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Yeah, I know. We were disappointed too. Posted at 10:23 AM on 12/23/2009 by samplereality
  71. #MLA09 Tip: MLA guidelines state that candidates should not have to sit on a bed during interviews. But come on, you know you want to. Posted at 12:27 PM on 12/23/2009 by samplereality
  72. #MLA09 Tip: It’s considered rude to leave the room after the “star” speaker has talked. Instead, stay and heckle the other panelists. Posted at 12:32 PM on 12/23/2009 by samplereality
  73. #MLA09 Tip: Search committees are always flattered to hear you’ve been stalking them. Be sure to mention that pic of their kid on Facebook. Posted at 1:54 PM on 12/23/2009 by samplereality
  74. #MLA09 Tip: Every year the work of a new theorist dominates the conference: Agamben, Badiou, Hardt & Negri. This year make it Tom Colicchio. Posted at 7:45 PM on 12/23/2009 by samplereality
  75. #MLA09 Tip: If you’re not spending Christmas Eve either practicing your talk or rehearsing for interviews, you really are a Scrooge. Posted at 11:42 AM on 12/24/2009 by samplereality
  76. #MLA09 Tip: Mix family and work on Christmas Day. Tell dear old Aunt Stella how Moby Dick signifies both a phallus AND a vagina dentata. Posted at 7:24 AM on 12/25/2009 by samplereality
  77. #MLA09 Tip: An interview is the perfect time for Modernists to admit they think the last lines of “The Dead” are pure and utter bullshit. Posted at 9:00 AM on 12/25/2009 by samplereality
  78. #MLA09 tip: Find free conference parking on the street! Look for trash cans/lawn chairs in shoveled-out spots. All yours! Posted at 4:39 PM on 12/25/2009 by mkgold
  79. #MLA09 tip: If you find yourself “interviewing” on a bed at the Marriott, just close your eyes and think of tenure. Posted at 4:53 PM on 12/25/2009 by DrGnosis
  80. #MLA09 Tip: Let the search committee know how technogically sophisticated you are by texting during the interview. Posted at 8:48 PM on 12/25/2009 by samplereality
  81. #MLA09 Tip: It is considered good luck in Philly to run up the “Rocky Steps” just minutes before any endeavor, like a talk or interview. Posted at 8:51 PM on 12/25/2009 by samplereality
  82. #MLA09 Tip: Don’t forget that a prize for “Best Zombie Costume” will be awarded at Monday night’s Presidential Address. Posted at 9:56 PM on 12/25/2009 by samplereality
  83. #MLA09 Tip: Bring leftover Xmas cookies, rum cake, and bûche de Noël to give your interviewers. Also eggnog. And whiskey. Posted at 7:57 AM on 12/26/2009 by amandafrench
  84. #MLA09 Tip: Always begin your talk by thanking “The Academy.” Sure it’s a cliché, but everyone expects you to say it. Posted at 1:34 PM on 12/26/2009 by samplereality
  85. #MLA09 Tip: Not enough room on your credit card to pay the hotel bill? Your advisor will happily expiate survivor guilt by lending you $$. Posted at 2:04 PM on 12/26/2009 by amandafrench
  86. #MLA09 Tip: Not enough room on your credit card to pay the hotel bill? Your advisees will happily curry favor by lending you $$. Posted at 2:05 PM on 12/26/2009 by amandafrench
  87. #MLA09 Tip: Bentham’s Panopticon inspired Philly’s Eastern State Penitentiary. Dante’s Inferno inspired the Convention Center’s Ballroom B. Posted at 3:07 PM on 12/26/2009 by samplereality
  88. #MLA09 tip: if a speaker goes over the allowed time it is perfectly acceptable to tackle them. Terry Tate Office Linebacker style. Posted at 6:23 PM on 12/26/2009 by academicdave
  89. #MLA09 Tip: Afraid the theorist whose work you’re criticizing is in the audience? Groucho glasses and mustaches are available in gift shop. Posted at 6:34 PM on 12/26/2009 by samplereality
  90. #MLA09 Tip: Forget Zizek. For real street/theory cred, tell the committee how you’ve been inspired by the work of Zinedine Zidane. Posted at 6:49 PM on 12/26/2009 by briancroxall
  91. #MLA09 Tip: Kate Hayles isn’t actually a robot. I know: I was disappointed too. Posted at 6:54 PM on 12/26/2009 by briancroxall
  92. #MLA09 Tip: Use the phrase “In conclusion” so that audiences know you only have 15 minutes left to go in your talk. Posted at 8:56 PM on 12/26/2009 by samplereality
  93. #MLA09 Tip: No pain, no gain! When the going gets tough, the tough get going! Take no prisoners! RRRAAWWGHHH!! Posted at 9:02 AM on 12/27/2009 by amandafrench
  94. #MLA09 Tip: You could do worse than drinking a Yuengling in Philly, and by Wednesday night, you probably will. Posted at 9:07 AM on 12/27/2009 by samplereality
  95. #MLA09 Tip: Nobody uses business cards to exchange contact info. Either use the Bump app or a cocktail napkin written in lipstick. Or both. Posted at 9:21 AM on 12/27/2009 by samplereality
  96. #MLA09 tip: when choosing a plane pcik one without a smoking cockpit. Posted at 12:24 PM on 12/27/2009 by academicdave
  97. #MLA09 Tip (Serious one): You are one block from awesome and cheap food. Scads of it at the Reading Terminal Market: Posted at 4:22 PM on 12/27/2009 by briancroxall
  98. #MLA09 Tip: The horrible nightmare that you forgot your interview suit probably just means you forgot your interview suit. Posted at 5:15 PM on 12/27/2009 by samplereality
  99. #MLA09 Tip: Four 20-minute papers is too much for a single panel. Russian roulette is not a viable option until healthcare reform is passed. Posted at 5:33 PM on 12/27/2009 by samplereality
  100. #MLA09 Tip: Looking for your soul in the hotel lobby costs valuable hotel whirlpool time. Posted at 7:43 PM on 12/27/2009 by mirk79
  101. #MLA09 Tip: For all happiness and that eternity promised by our ever-living poet, conclusively establish the identity of “Mr. W. H.”. Posted at 9:39 PM on 12/27/2009 by amandafrench
  102. #MLA09 Tip: Your goal for Monday morning: Achieve enlightenment. Failing that, settle for achieving consciousness. Posted at 10:34 PM on 12/27/2009 by samplereality
  103. #MLA09 Tip: It’s 1:30am. You’re in a bar. You have a necktie around your forehead. You can take off your MLA badge now. Posted at 1:30 AM on 12/28/2009 by samplereality
  104. #MLA09 Tip: That delightful dream about wood nymphs just means you’ve overslept your panel and will be blacklisted from the MLA forever. Posted at 7:14 AM on 12/28/2009 by samplereality
  105. #MLA09 Tip: Despite the practice of the high priests of our profession, death by PowerPoint is not a noble way to die. Posted at 10:03 AM on 12/28/2009 by samplereality
  106. #MLA09 Tip: Are your ideas too good to share with the rest of the room? Sit in the front row and ask your four-minute question sotto voce. Posted at 2:56 PM on 12/28/2009 by warnick
  107. #MLA09 Tip: The upside to the depressing job market is that blackmail and bribery are almost pointless anymore. Posted at 11:12 PM on 12/28/2009 by samplereality

It was great to see Rosemary Feal, the Executive Director of the MLA, join into the fun. And thanks especially to Amanda French and Brian Croxall, who contributed greatly to the list, even while absent from the conference itself (a true loss, by the way, and the conference — and profession — was poorer for it).

National Novel Writing Month Tips

November has been decreed National Novel Writing Month by some wise guy in California. The idea is that you have 30 days to write a 50,000 word novel. A noble endeavor to be sure, but one that seems doomed to not succeed on any satisfying level. I imagine it’s like running a marathon, but without the cheering crowd at the finish line. Or the fans handing out water bottles along the route. Or the actual route. And you probably don’t have running shoes either. Not to mention the earth has imploded and you’ve been sucked into an infinite abyss of unfathomable existential despair.

Sounds fun, right?

Back on November 1, the first day of National Novel Writing Month, one of my students who was participating in NaNoWriMo (the event’s official lovely, beckoning acronym) posted on Twitter that she was already stuck. As I am want to do in position of having written many novels in my head but never having put a single word to paper, I proceeded to post to Twitter a small piece of writerly advice (“If you’re stuck on your novel, the sudden appearance of a killer robot can really whip things into shape.”). I had such fun writing this tip that I began to post other mock suggestions to Twitter. I could not handle a 50,000 word novel, but I could manage, occasionally, 140-characters of satire. I ended up posting a least one tip every day, and often three or four tips. It’s probably the most sustained, laser-beam focused writing I’ve done in a long time, even if it was never more than 25 words at once.

Over 166,7000 writers signed up for NaNoWriMo, and while it’s too soon to say how many actually finished, I want to share here, in their entirety, all of my fake NaNoWriMo tips. In all but a few instances, these tips appear exactly as they did on Twitter (I removed the #NaNoWriMo hashtag on all of them and edited a few for clarity).

Some are funny. Some are very funny. Some are obviously trying too hard to be funny, and failing. But all of them, I like to think, hint at some underlying truth or untruth about the process of writing and publishing fiction, and of writing in general.

Please, take some time to read them, and vote for your favorite in the comments!

November 1, 2009

(1) If you’re stuck on your novel, the sudden appearance of a killer robot can really whip things into shape.

(2) Omniscient first person narration is woefully neglected. As are talking cars, pets, and buildings.

(3) You can always pad your word count by having a character in your novel rewrite Don Quixote word-for-word.

November 2, 2009

(4) Never underestimate the plot twists the sudden appearance of a lost identical twin can provide.

(5) End every chapter with a cliffhanger. Literally. End with characters dangling on a precipice. Preferably in the Alps.

(6) Take advantage of the symbolism of colors. For example, red means passion, danger, and the face of a drunken Irishman.

(7) Base your characters on instantly recognizable archetypes. Failing that, base them on the Baldwin Brothers.

(8) Falling behind on today’s word count? Each Elven Rune counts as an entire sentence! (You do have an Elf in your novel, right?)

November 3, 2009

(9) Introduce a Spanish Marquis and milk his name for word count: Don Carlos Jimenez Sanchez Sanchez y Lucientes de las Cabras.

(10) The arrival of a mysterious telegram works for all genres and time periods. Nothing spells intrigue in 1371 like Morse Code.

(11) Ayn Rand wrote “The Fountainhead” fueled by copious meth. But you, you should just stick to coffee and cigarettes.

(12) Sometimes a pipe is just a pipe. Other times, it can be a murder weapon. Be sure to clarify which it is for your reader.

November 4, 2009

(13) Writer’s Block? Introduce a character who speaks in tongues and then let your cat type for you. (Requires a cat.)

(14) Use a minute timer to stay focused on manageable goals. For example, give yourself 43,800 minutes to write 50,000 words.

(15) Great Art is the product of repression and oppression. So try to forget that time your cousin kissed you and get yourself arrested.

November 5, 2009

(16) Writing a western or romance? Having good guys in white and bad in black is a cliché. Make good guys ninjas and bad guys cannibals.

(17) Novelists should dress for success just like everyone else. Failing that, novelists should at least dress.

November 6, 2009

(18) The cursed monkey paw plot device has ruined many a novel. But man, when it works, IT WORKS.

(19) A pleasant work area is key to a writer’s success. Get Starbucks all to yourself by chasing everyone out with your farts.

November 7, 2009

(20) Add a note of elegance and sophistication to your novel by using British spelling, e.g. colour, honour, bloody arsehole.

(21) Don’t forget that if you run out of things to write about, you can write about how you’ve run out of things to write about.

(22) RT @wshspeare: Take advantage of the rich tradition of stealing other writers’ ideas and words when you run out of your own.

November 8, 2009

(23) “Write about what you know” is good advice, unless you’re OJ Simpson.

(24) Remember mystery novels can be set anywhere: horse tracks, babysitter clubs, monasteries, call centers, Sesame St., rectums.

(25) Sarcasm is difficult to pull off in a novel. Oh, but I’m sure YOU can do it.

(26) It’s never too early to start counting on that first royalty check. In fact, you should quit your day job, right now.

(27) Writing a spy novel? The enemy can’t be Russian, Arab, or Cuban anymore. You’re left with the Amish. Double Secret Amish.

(28) Writing about a brilliant professor who solves 1,000-year-old mysteries? This tip is for you. Why does my cat puke in my shoes?

November 9, 2009

(29) Tap into the avantgarde market. Publish your novel on Twitter. 50,000 words = 2,000 tweets. That’s only 67 tweets per day.

(30) Add tension by making the gender of your narrator indeterminate. This works for race too. And age. And number of nipples.

(31) Rehearse for your imminent book tour by showing up drunk at a Borders and telling everyone “I’m here to sign my books.”

(32) Your post-apocalyptic sci-fi novel is incomplete without at least one mention of T.G.I. Fridays. Chili’s will do in a pinch.

November 10, 2009

(33) If a latchhook needle shows up in chapter 1, you damn well better have a latchhook bath mat show up by the end of your novel.

(34) Is your book a triumph of human spirit or horrific descent into abjection? The former if you have elves. Clowns, the latter.

(35) Reenergize your writing by changing your workspace. Move out of your parents’ basement.

(36) Seek inspiration from the natural world, like gardens, flowers, butterflies, doves, and sulphurous pools of molten rock.

(37) The hero’s journey is a universal plot structure. So is Smokey and the Bandit. In either case, a redneck sheriff is crucial.

(38) An unresolved ending creates demand for a sequel. Smokey & the Bandit only whets our appetites for Smokey & the Bandit II.

November 11, 2009

(39) Good writers evoke the 5 senses. Great writers evoke the 6th Sense. Reveal at the end the protagonist was DEAD ALL ALONG.

(40) Remember to “show not tell.” This means your narrator should be mute, with x-ray vision. In other words, a supervillain.

(41) Already finished your 50,000 word novel? Get a head start on December’s National Totally Made Up Memoir Writing Month.

(42) If you are writing a Novel of Ideas, be sure to include either a misunderstood rebel or a talking bear. But please not both.

(43) If you haven’t already written in a xenophobic blowhard character, the likeness of Lou Dobbs is now available.

November 12, 2009

(44) Realism is all about details. For example, the USA never converted to the metric system. We measure chicken by the bucket.

(45) Know your audience. Are you writing for soccer moms, Nascar dads, or horny teenagers who fantasize about hunky vampires?

(46) Pacing is everything in a novel. If you’re not pacing round the room, you’re not suffering enough and don’t deserve to write.

(47) Remember the 4 types of conflicts that underlie all novels: Man v. Man, Man v. Nature, Man v. Himself, and Man v. MS Word.

(48) Use evocative metaphors. A good metaphor is like a, hell, I don’t know, it’s like a simile, I guess.

(49) Unreliable narrators are a big problem. Since we figured out that waterboarding doesn’t work, I suggest you just humor them.

(50) Comic novels are hard to write. But come on, you have it easy. Comic tweets are even harder.

November 13, 2009

(51) Don’t think about audience. You’re only writing for one person. His name is Frank J. Smalley and he comes from St. Louis.

(52) Love scenes are tricky to write, but necessary. A novel without a love scene is like a monkey without a rocketship.

(53) Love scenes may be tricky to write, but take it from one who knows, they’re even trickier to film, what with the lighting, the music, etc.

November 14, 2009

(54) Using dialect in a character’s dialogue isn’t politically correct. Unless it’s a Swedish chef. Swedish chefs are always allowed to sound like Swedish chefs.

(55) Sure, vampires and zombies are hot right now. But look to the future. The next big literary gimmick is giant land krakens.

(56) I don’t care what you may have heard, you cannot write a novel wrapped in a Snuggie, holding a cup of tea, a cat on your lap.

(57) Yes, Glenn Beck wore a slanket while writing his bestseller. But it’s technically not a novel, though it is fiction.

(58) If you go to a coffee shop to work on your novel, yes, you really have us all fooled that you’re there to write.

November 15, 2009

(59) The hero’s quest is a classic plot, most fully realized in the Harold & Kumar films. Seek inspiration from repeat viewings.

(60) November is halfway over, which must mean that every single novel being written anywhere in the world is now half finished.

(61) Remember, writers may have tax-deductible non-reimbursed job expenses: paper, coffee, NOS, prescription pills, therapy, etc.

(62) Those who can write novels, do. Those who can’t, tweet about it.

November 16, 2009

(63) Within every LOLCat meme lurks the backstory to a novel. Except Three Wolf Moon. That one is mine, bitch.

(64) Fan mail can be a huge distraction. Do what I do: hire an assistant who deals with everything but the naughty letters.

(65) Restraining orders can be especially burdensome during the research phase of your novel. You know what I’m talking about.

(66) Scandinavians are great literary innovators we could all learn something from. Case in point: glögg.

(67) The arc of the moral universe is long and it bends toward slutty vampire novels.

November 17, 2009

(68) Writing a novel where machines become self-aware and enslave humankind? Congratulations! That’s never been done. You rock.

(69) Only 20,000 words to go! Get cracking now on the longest car chase in the history of the novel.

(70) Download I Am D-Brown from the app store to autotune your novel.

(71) Inspiration from the muses is a myth. We all know creativity comes from randomly generated time-homogenous Markovian chains.

November 18, 2009

(72) 50,000 words is nothing. Shoot for 250,000 words. Write a novel that is Too Big To Fail.

(73) A character’s name can reveal his inner self. Consider examples from Dickens: Gradgrind, Murdstone, Wackford, Darth Vader.

(74) A tip for the aspiring horror author: Politics makes strange bedfellows. So does zombie erotica.

(75) Remember the 4 basic elements found in every great novel: setting, character, conflict, and goatse.

(76) The right title is crucial for your success. Stephen King’s “It” wouldn’t be the same with the title “Scary Killer Clown.”

November 19, 2009

(77) Tempted to use a nursery rhyme for the title of your thriller? We’ve all been there. Don’t do it. Stick with palindromes.

(78) Don’t tell your doctor about your writer’s block. Most insurance companies now count it as a pre-existing condition.

(79) Create suspense by ending each chapter mid-sente

November 20, 2009

(80) We’ve all heard about indie filmmakers maxing out their credit cards to make films. Feel free to max out yours this month.

(81) Writing a novel is about expressing yourself. That, and playing Freecell.

(82) Every picture tells a story, don’t it? Well, no. You’re not Rod Stewart, thank God, and it’s not 1971.

(83) Only 10 days left, and what? You still don’t have a pirate in your novel?? Heed the call of the scourge of the seven seas.

(84) Remember the Authors Guild ruling that you are legally obligated to include one ninja for every pirate in your novel.

November 21, 2009

(85) Hit a block in your writing? Uh, sorry. I got nothing.

(86) Remember the literal meaning of the word “novel”: An antiquated form of expression which discourages experimentation and originality.

November 22, 2009

(87) A writer once advised me, “Follow your obsession.” Of course, he had just finished a book on the breast in German literature.

(88) Bored by the challenge of writing a 50,000 word novel? Raise the bar by writing a 50,000 word PALINDROME.

November 23, 2009

(89) Look to Shakespeare for plot ideas, like the mad prince, the spurned lover, and the flesh-eating virus that devours Hoboken.

(90) Remember that the DEL button on your keyboard stands for deliverance. Press it often.

(91) The SYSRQ key is obviously the most essential button on your keyboard when you’re writing a novel. Its uses are endless.

(92) Of course, if you’re on a Mac, then you don’t have the SYSRQ key. This does not bode well for your novel.

November 24, 2009

(93) Very, very, very good writers use intensifiers really, really, really sparingly.

(94) The difference between a good novelist and a great one is measured in fluid ounces.

(95) The best novels start with a mysterious stranger coming to town. Like a gunfighter with a secret past. Or a killer monkey.

(96) Does your novel re-imagine the story of D.B. Cooper from the point of view of a bag of money? You win. The rest of us quit.

November 25, 2009

(97) Drink appropriately when you write: Beaujolais for a romance, martini for a spy novel, MGD for a working class hero, and Tang for scifi.

(98) Remember that the only holiday officially recognized by novelists is Administrative Assistants’ Day.

November 26, 2009

(99) Now that your novel is almost finished, start thinking about the trilogy. Standalone novels are for wusses.

November 27, 2009

(100) It’s too bad you weren’t up at 4am writing. I had a bunch of doorbuster NaNoWriMo tips, but they’re all gone now.

November 28, 2009

(101) Not sure how to end your 50,000 word masterpiece? Might I suggest a car crash? Or perhaps a train wreck? The Rapture is also good. All three FTW.

(102) Joss Whedon and J.J. Abrams are in a bidding war for the screen rights to your novel. Don’t give in. Hold out for Emmerich.

(103) Only on page 5 and 48 hours left? No problem. Wrap it up with a comet strike and have a 195 page index.

(104) Official NaNoWriMo guidelines say that novel titles count toward word count. The semicolon and colon are your friends.

November 29, 2009

(105) Acknowledgments don’t count toward your word count. Therefore, don’t waste your time thanking anybody but me.

November 30, 2009

(106) The Great American Novel MUST end with an epic kick-ass Boss Battle. Might I suggest giant ectoplasmic zombie robots?

(107) Studies show that most accidents happen within 5 pages from the conclusion. Safety first! Startling plot reversals later!

(108) If none of my tips / Have helped your book this dark fall / Write haikus instead.

(109) You’re bragging how you “wrote” a “novel” this month? Shut your pie-hole. Nora Roberts wrote FOUR, plus a made-for-TV movie.

(110) If you’re on the East Coast, 20 minutes to wrap it up. If you’re on the West Coast, well la-di-da. Your time is gonna come.

(111) I dare you to end your novel with an exclamation point. I dare you!

(112) A deathbed confession on the final page is all well and good, but nothing closes down the place like waking up from a dream.

(113) Edgar Allan Poe said it best: “All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream. And to hell with Microsoft Word.”

(114) It’s ten till midnight. Do you know where your narrator is?

(115) Some novels, like grandma’s freezer-burned cookies from 1986, are best left unfinished.

(116) It is finished. My microwave popcorn, that is. Who the hell knows about your novel.

(117) Nevermore

Thanks for reading, and see you in March, when I’ll return with tips for National Coke and Vodka Rock Bottom Memoir Writing Month (NaCoVoRoBoMeWriMo)! In the meantime, look for me on Twitter.

Twitter is a Snark Valve

Last week I described the intensive role of social networking in my teaching. Although I explained how I track and archive my students’ Twitter activity, I didn’t describe what they actually do on Twitter.

That’s because I wasn’t sure myself what they do.

I mean, of course I’ve reading their tweets and sending my own, but I hadn’t considered in a systematic way how my students use Twitter. That lack of reflection on my part echoes my initial guidelines to the students: my instructions were only that students should tweet several times a week at a minimum. I was deliberately vague about what they should tweet about. I didn’t want overly specific guidelines to constrain what might be possible with Twitter. I wanted my students’ Twitter use to evolve organically.

Now, six weeks into the semester, clear patterns are discernible and I can begin to analyze the value of Twitter as a pedagogical tool.

My most surprising find? Twitter is a snark valve.

Let me step back and explain.

I began with a Twitter Adoption Matrix, originally sketched out in late August by Rick Reo. Rick is an instructional designer at George Mason University, and he’d been keeping tabs on the different ways instructors have been using Twitter in their teaching. Rick sent a draft of this adoption matrix to the university’s Teaching with Technology listserv, and I soon began trying to situate my own Twitter use on the chart. In the process, I adapted Rick’s original matrix, re-imagining the vertical axis as a spectrum ranging from monologic to dialogic, and redefining the horizontal axis as a measurement of student activity, ranging from passive to active. After some other changes based on my experience with Twitter, I ended up with this revised Twitter Adoption Matrix (larger image):

Twitter Adoption Matrix (click image for full size)
Twitter Adoption Matrix (click image for full size)

You can also find a downloadable version of my revised matrix on Scribd.

Right now, I’m mostly thinking about the In-Class Back Channel and Outside of Class Discussion matrices. When I look closely at what my students write in and outside of class, I find that their tweets fall into one of three categories:

  1. Posting news and sharing resources relevant to the class
  2. Asking questions and responding with clarifications about the readings
  3. Writing sarcastic, irreverent comments about the readings or my teaching

In other words, one of the most common uses of Twitter among my students is snark.

And that is a good, powerful thing.

I know critics like David Denby have come down hard on snark as a pervasive, degraded, unproductive form of discourse. I couldn’t disagree more. Snark is, I argue, a legitimate way to engage culture. It’s involved, it’s witty, and most importantly, it takes an oppositional stance — a welcome reprieve from the majority of student writing, which avoids taking any stance at all.

[pullquote align=”right”]Back-of-the-classroom tittering has turned into backchannel Twittering[/pullquote]Judging by the high level of discourse and analysis in my classes, Twitter is a snark valve. By having a systematic, constrained outlet for the snipe and snark and sarcasm that smart twenty-year-olds might otherwise direct towards more civil discourse, or unleash outside of the classroom, or worse, bottle up, the Twitter snark valve frees up both class and the class blog for more “serious” dialog. And I’m putting “serious” in scare quotes because I believe even sardonic comments provide insight — insight into the topic under discussion, but also insight into how it’s being received by students.

I allow — and even encourage — students to Twitter during class. One outcome of this freedom is that back-of-the-classroom tittering has turned into backchannel Twittering. Even more interesting, though unmeasurable without further analysis, is the performative aspect of the backchannel. The tweets are unfiltered, in effect, the same comment somebody might mutter under his or her breath, uncensored, no-holds-barred opining. Yet the students know classmates are following the course hashtag and at the very least that I am listening (and contributing) as well.  The backchannel assumes a Bakhtinian double-voiced discourse — using sarcasm both to show a kind of too-cool-for-school attitude but also to demonstrate that the student is in fact earnestly engaged with the material.

As the semester goes on and tweets accumulate, I should have more data to work with. But even at this early stage, I am certain that I have stumbled upon a complicated rhetorical dynamic I never would have imagined going just from the Twitter Adoption Matrix, a dynamic that illustrates how students find their own uses for technology, racing far ahead of our pedagogical intentions.

Southern States Web Expo and Exchange

While it seems like Web 2.0 outfits are dying left and right and venture capital for dot coms has all but dried up, I’ve noticed that there is still a market in Web 2.0 events: demos, expos, workshops, summits, conferences and so on, with tickets running $200/head. There may be no money in perpetually beta products, but there’s plenty of money in events about these beta products.

So I think I am going into the event organizing business. And I even see a niche that needs to be filled: the tech industry of the southern states. So many conferences and workshops are either West Coast or East Coast-based, but what about the south? Surely there are entrepreneurs and start-ups in the south, brewing important and innovative Web 2.0 products?

I therefore propose a Southern States Web Expo and Exchange (SSWExEx, pronounced “Swequex”). There’ll be plenty of swag, live blogging, and backchanneling. It will be fun. Techcrunch, Gizmodo, and Xeni Jardin will be there. Your name tags will be wacky colors.

If you can’t tell whether I’m joking or not, that’s okay. I can’t either.

Seriously, is somebody interested in getting this off the ground with me?

Facebook, Intellectual Property, and Why am I not richer than I am?

I am glad to see that Facebook relented and reverted back to its old Terms of Service. Having had my likeness used without my permission (you know who you are, Kirk Cameron), my songs stolen from me repeatedly (yes, I’m looking at you Beyoncé), and even movie ideas ripped off (see below), I was appalled that Facebook would own my intellectual property in perpetuity. Now I may rest easy and continue to pour my abundant creative energies into the production of easily digestible and ransackable culture.

Leaves of Clover
Click picture for larger image