Category Archives: Writing

Our Shortening Attention Span

As a wannabe novelist, I’m told I need to fill my pages with non-stop action. I need to keep the scenes moving to drive the story. I need to keep having horrible things happen to my protagonist so that my audience must continue turning the pages to find out what happens next to her.

But as a reader, I find myself getting panicky and exhausted with books written like the above. I keep buying them, but never in my life have I not finished as many books as are currently sitting in my “partially” read pile(s). I start reading them and after the first two chapters of non-stop angst-inducing episodes, I’m in need of a strong drink and a long nap.

I’ve been told the reason for this need of non-stop action and emotional appeal is because the attention span of the current American market demands it. Everyone believes our attention span is shrinking.

I tried to find studies proving it. So far I haven’t. I found a couple suggesting that the more adolescents watch TV and play video games, the more problems they have paying attention, but I’m coming up short on studies concerning the reading public’s ability to stop, look and listen for an extended period of time. Perhaps I got bored with my searching before I found them. And there was this comedian on TV . . .

The funny thing is there’s much banter about the attention span of goldfish. One of Snapple’s Real Facts claims the attention span of a goldfish is only three seconds. I got a little distracted from my search on the shrinking American attention span and tried to look up the proof behind Snapple’s claim.

I couldn’t find it, either. I did find plenty of blogs challenging the claim though. Many of the writers did so based on a study by the University of Plymouth that discovered the memory of a goldfish is three months. Perhaps those bloggers had something shiny catch their eye and forgot they were writing about attention and not memory?

Regardless, I can’t help but wonder what Kurt Vonnegut would have done with this lack of knowledge regarding American ADD versus goldfish ADD. Would he have changed the characters in his 1985 novel, Galapagos? Would they have evolved into goldfish-people who eventually kill themselves off because they kept getting distracted from mating?

And if our attention spans are so short, why don’t we ever get distracted from mating? Oh, look! There’s a butterfly out my window!

But then again, Vonnegut’s work isn’t filled him in urgent desperation to fill a perceived constant demand for entertainment. Galapagos, like most of his work, is an entertaining read, filled with a pleasant use of words, oh, and meaning.

Do we have to lose such beauty? What are we evolving into?

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Filed under Chaos, Commentary, Uncategorized, Writing

Can Rasta language save us?

Caveat: I do not claim to be an expert grammarian. Nor am I an expert Rastafarian.

I am, however, the owner of more language reference books than should be legal in the suburbs. I use them each month in a “Grammar Smarts” column in the newsletter I create for the NJ Writer’s Society where I tackle common grammar and usage mistakes. But this week, my books failed me.

A Society member emailed to ask if I could clarify the he/she/it issue. Her exact quote is: “Reading several articles in Writer’s Digest, I noticed some pronoun gender bending. Instead of the awkward coupling he/she when referring to a general audience, authors avoid the conventional use of the masculine pronoun (he) and defer to the feminine pronoun (she). Which is currently in fashion?”

I love that she asked what the current fashion is — not what is currently correct. Unfortunately, no one with the power to create rules for the rest of us to use will address the issue definitively. At least no one that I could find.

The inclusion of “she” came with the era of Political Correctness and is yet another issue the era brought to attention and neglected to actually do anything about. Not that I’m against PC completely. It does have it’s place. I just sometimes think it’s hard to say for sure where that place is.

I am old enough to remember when “he” was the pervasive pronoun and was insulted by it. (In fact, in desperation to get some kind of a paper done in time for a Modernist Poetry class, I even applied Feminist theory to Yeat’s poem “The Second Coming” to suggest that he would support everyone using “she” instead of “he.”) But I think I’ve relaxed a little since them.

It’s just too cumbersome to try and include everyone using the words he and she. It reads awkward doing the slash thing — “When the patient has his/her physical complete, he/she needs to have his/her physician provide commentary on whether or not he/she is able to fulfill his/her work duties.” And doing the alternating thing — i.e., using she for one part then he for the next and so on, is beyond tedious. I recently completed a 65,000-word work on cat nutrition and my publisher insisted on alternating between he and she with each section. Seemed easy enough, until the work was almost complete and new sections needed to be added in and old sections moved. It took more time going back and changing the sexes than it did to write the freaking book. And it was annoying as hell.

So what is a writer to do?

It will not do — there are too many negatives associated with it. We refer to unknown creatures as It and we call the kid in the mommy-and-me class who is unattractive, full of mucous, and overly aggressive, the It-child.

One will not do. Sounds too British and formal for us Americans. One works well for us only when we want to be goofy or sarcastic.

We need a word that has no negative undertones and that sounds relaxed and comfortable. Sounds like we need a word Bob Marley would use. Yes! That’s it! Perhaps we could take a cue from the Rastafarians.

See, Rastafarians created a language without using negative terms. They did it in order to confront and reject Colonialism. (Yes, they created a way to use positive words to rebel.) I won’t get into all the political stuff here — frankly, I don’t think I understand all the political stuff — but I will dabble in their language. Here’s the deal . . .

Rastafarians replaced the word “me” with “I,” because the word me tends to make the person sound like an object, not a human, whereas I celebrates the individual. “I and I” is used to replace “we” because, in their religion, we are all one united with Jah. Actually “I” before a word is often used in a similar vein (e.g., Ireator means creator), and Idren is used for peers (like brethren or sisteren). Which might be what we need.

Idren — pronounced with a long I.

Let’s revisit that sentence earlier with Idren: When the patient has Idren’s physical complete, Idren will need to have Idren’s physician provide commentary on whether or not Idren is able to fulfill Idren’s work duties.

Hmmm . . . might be a possibility.

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Filed under Chaos, Commentary, Definitions, TASFUIL, Writing

Social Networking

Not that I want to hound a theme to its grave, but I’m just not done with yesterday’s rant.

As a good little writer this morning, I finished skimming through a bunch of blogs from popular people in the publishing industry. One of my favorites is literary agent Nathan Bransford of Curtis Brown. This past Tuesday he asked the question: Does Social Media Help Sell Books? and took a poll. 51% of the respondents claim they do not rely on social media to encourage their book buying habits, 37% said yes, it does, and the rest were a joke answer.

There was plenty of anecdotal evidence for both sides of the poll in the comments, some of which was a little shaky — e.g., a woman who answered “yes” because she gets 30 to 45 hits a day on her site, so she feels it must be working. Does she think those are all different people each day? That none of them, not even good ‘ole mom and dad, visit her site more than once a year? And that each and every one of them are buying her book?

What I found heartening is that I’m not alone. Many others are where I am: overwhelmed by the immense amount of time and energy that goes into successful social networking (keyword: successful). Kelly Ann Jones made a comment here yesterday about how hard it is to find time to write because she’s too busy with her social networking. And I know of a YA author who has an extremely successful Facebook page, complete with competitions, etc., where she gets thousands of visitors — but she hasn’t even finished her first book yet. Perhaps if she’d been able to put that energy into the book, it’d be done (and then she’d be where I am, trying to figure out the damned query letter).

But let’s go back to Bransford’s post — think about it. Who responded to his comments? Mostly authors (published or still trying), i.e., people who are more likely to spend time on social media to begin with (after all, they must if they are to sell themselves, right?). So you’ve a bunch of book-minded internet-junkies answering a question about whether or not social media sells books. Hmmm . . . One would think all the answers would be “Yes! Yes! and Hell yes!” but it’s only half. I find that amazing! I mean if only half of them are buying books that way, what about the rest of the reading public — you know those people who just like to read and have absolutely no interest in writing, editing, publishing, or otherwise wall-papering their bathrooms with rejection slips.

I would love to see real, verifiable, survey results about how effective social media is at selling books. Does Joe Public rely on blogs, Facebook and Twitter to tell him what makes a great read? I don’t know a single person in my non-internet, non-social media life who has bought a book because it was hawked on Twitter. Nor have I bought one because of that. However, I do know several “normal people” who buy books because Amazon suggested it (because they bought a similar one on-line or via their Kindle) — or they continue to find new books in Barnes and Noble when it rains and they’re looking for shelter.

Granted, it could be a sign of my age and the age of the people I know. Maybe twenty-somethings do buy books because of Tweets. But, since the market does show that the majority of book buyers are women my age, (and my book is aimed at that target audience) I think that means Twitter is a waste of time for me (though I feel guilty saying that, as if I’m knowingly doing something wrong). Hail Mary . . .

Who has insight into this? Who thinks it’s worthwhile to spend hours, hours they cannot put back into their life, on social media networking in the hopes of selling a book? Hours not spent working writing books, short stories, essays, poems, etc. Is it effective? Do you have stats to prove it?

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