Friday, May 25, 2007

Questions regarding my writing

For this blog entry, I will answer some questions regarding my writing that I have been asked from time to time. This is in no way meant to be comprehensive, but simply general answers to questions that tend to come in similar categories. I hope to take care of many of those questions here. I will start with the question followed by my answer. Hopefully in my responses, you will find the encouragement to take up writing yourself – at least in the form of blogging if nothing else.

What do you like to write about?

This blog pretty much covers the topics that I like to write about, which is mostly commentary on political and social issues; but I also discuss whatever else I may be in the mood for. I’ll also comment on something interesting or amusing, as when I found out that Shaggy’s real name is Norville. The beauty of a blog is that I don’t always have to discuss every topic in thorough detail.

How do you decide on what to write about?

It has to interest me, for one. I also have to be able to complete an idea or thought, whether that comes after one paragraph or several. Regardless of the length, I need to basically have a point in writing it. I have numerous Word files that are in various stages of incompleteness. Some are a good finishing sentence away from being ready to post while others may be only about halfway through. Often times, I will complete them once I have let them sit for a while. Sometimes an idea or point doesn’t come even after I’ve let it sit for a while, so I’ll delete the file. And other times I will notice after I started one topic that one of my old saved files can add to the current topic, so I’ll combine the two. Sometimes I have to think long and hard on what to write about, other times an idea drops into my lap. This leads to…

How do you come up with ideas on what to write about?

The main ingredient is practice, practice, practice. Having a blog is so handy for writing practice. You can practice to your heart’s content, and you get the added bonus of having an audience to read your stuff. Writing blocks will appear less frequently so long as you are in the habit of writing. Something else I do is read constantly. I read the newspaper and search Internet news sites for news articles. I will also scan headlines to see what news event is getting a lot of “press”. Some topics are easy to come by, such as the Iraq war. Sometimes I’ll spot an obscure news item that I find interesting, so I’ll discuss that.

With all the news sources that are out there, I could easily write about something every day. In fact, I think I just might make next month “Post something every day” month, just to see if I can do it. Some blog entries might be long, but most will be short, but I’m pretty certain that I could post every day. Okay folks, I’ll do it! June is going to be “Post every day month!” It might be 11:45 in the evening, but I’ll get something posted! Watch to see if I can do it!

A note on who I choose to talk about

And last is a note on how I make decisions on who to talk about. Back when I wrote columns for my college newspaper, they gave us pointers on who we can talk about without getting into potential legal situations. First, what I discuss has to be the truth. I can’t outright lie about who I talk about, no matter who the person is or how well they’re liked or disliked. Lying in print is called libel, and it’s a crime. Plus, nothing undermines the credibility of a writer faster than being caught lying. The truth is your friend, so be nice to your friend.

One thing that must be kept in mind when it comes to whom we can and can’t talk about is this: Is this person a public figure? A public figure is usually someone like a politician, prominent athlete, or celebrity. These people crave the spotlight and can often be found basking in it. They are, basically, fair game – so long as what you say about them is limited to what is known about them. And like I said above, lying about even recognized public figures is still libel, no matter how public they are.

Those that are not public figures are people that do not want the spotlight,nor are they doing anything to get it. For instance, I can't just write about my friend Joe Schmo just because I feel like it. I can't discuss his dating life or his poor choice of investments or anything of that nature, because it might damage him personally or financially; plus he would have no way to defend himself. I also can't air family "dirty laundry", because those family members wouldn't have a way to defend themselves on what I might say about them. I can't talk about how Uncle Ugamoo is a drunk or how Aunt Tia spends her husband's paycheck as soon as he brings it home. (by the way, the friend and the two family members I just mentioned are all fictional. Just thought that I'd let you know that.)

There are those who didn't choose to be in the spotlight, but were thrust there by circumstance. Paris Hilton is a classic example of this. She first gained attention from a video clip of her that got posted to the Internet. Afterwards, once she got the attention, she stayed in the spotlight by taking up shows like that reality show whose title escapes me right now. So while she didn’t start out as a public figure, she became one by opting to stay in the spotlight.

Another example of an inadvertent public figure is the so-called “runaway bride” who first drew attention to herself by reporting that she had been kidnapped as her way to explain why she didn’t show up for her wedding. This started a nationwide manhunt. What made her a public figure was the revelation that the kidnapping was a hoax. She caused many man-hours and public funds to be spent searching for her, and all for nothing. She had no intention in becoming a public figure, but her questionable judgment to avoid marriage drew attention to her. However, since the runaway bride hasn’t done anything since that time to draw attention to herself, then there’s no need to put her back in the spotlight – which is why I haven’t brought up her name here.

People like Terri Schaivo are public figures due to the circumstances that they happened to be in. Terri was at the center of a “right to die” debate that the nation happened to be embroiled in at the time. Both her husband and her parents chose to be in the spotlight to draw attention to their respective causes, and Terri happened to be at the center of it. People at the center of such contentious issues can fall under the category of a public figure.

Another group to mention here is the children of prominent public figures. For example, if a teenage or young adult child of a prominent politician was caught in the act of drunk driving, then this is news because of whom the child happens to be related to. There’s limits, of course, on what you can say about the incident, but it is worthy of reporting as news. Usually it will be the decision of editors to decide what and how much can be said.

And so, with that, I hope that I’ve answered most of the questions that tend to be asked of me regarding my writing. I was going to mention something about the importance of a free press in our society, but that’s probably a topic better suited for another time. Feel free to ask me anything else that might come to mind in regards to writing.

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