According To Whim

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Arbitrary Word Count

(Chris McGinty's Column)

April 19th, 2010

Weekly Article for the Month of April

Strong Starts

 So I had this idea. I would write a weekly article to post to the web site. This went strong for two weeks, and then I ran out of Farmville material. I’m not sure what happened after that. I have plenty to write about. I just didn’t sit down and start writing, which is probably the thing that always confuses me the most.

 I write all the time. I say this a lot, and it’s the truth. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t write something creative, even if it’s just ideas for later sent from my phone to my email. I just can never find the focus to work on one thing, or even multiple things on schedule. I’m not one of these artists that run around claiming to be a free spirit, and yet I seem to be.


 I’ve wanted to discuss this for a while now. Hmmm, if only I had a forum where I could discuss things. The name “Arbitrary Word Count” was not my first choice for this column, sort of. Yep, you guessed it. I wanted to call it “Increments.” Not really.

 Long ago I worked on an e-zine. Wow. Is that even still valid English? It was called “Two Dogs Somewhat Monthly.” It was also called “Two Dogs.” Both of these were official names. I kept “Two Dogs Somewhat Monthly” handy in case I ever had issues with branding as there were a lot of hits on Yahoo! (even back in 2000) that came up with Two Dogs as the brand name. I doubted there would be issues since there were no magazines or other similar media with the name.

 During the time that I had this site, I wrote what was supposed to be a monthly column called “Randomalities.” As the name almost gets around to suggesting, it was a collection of random thoughts divided into sections. Sometimes I had thoughts that didn’t require whole articles to express. I had two ways to work with these thoughts. One was to incorporate them into longer focused works either with a good segue or not. The other was to write them in a file and each month post that file to the website as a Randomalities article. It was incremental writing, and it worked pretty well.

Nathan didn’t think that “Chris’s Weekly Article” was catchy enough, and it’s not really accurate as we’ve discovered, which is why I should probably get him to change the link from “Weekly Article” to “Chris’s Column.” Or I could actually meet my deadlines. Eh, no need to get drastic.

I needed a name, and I thought of Randomalities. I told Nathan that I wasn’t even sure if I created the word, or if I’d heard it some place. I’m still not sure, but even if I “created” something that already existed, the fact is that I found a blog called “Randomalities” when I did a quick search.

It’s not as though I had trademarked the name, or been consistently using it this whole time. It wasn’t worth the hassle to me to try to take it back. This still left me needing a name. I told Nathan I’d think about it and let him know when I had a title I liked that wasn’t being used. Arbitrary Word Count wasn’t being used, and I kind of liked it. I’ll tell you the truth. There is nothing arbitrary about the word count of this column. In fact, it was the overuse of the Word Count feature on my word processor that had the term “Word Count” fresh in my mind while I was thinking. The word arbitrary was hanging out in my mind at that moment because no matter what people will tell you about names being the most important thing, it’s only really true from a marketing standpoint.

Don’t get me wrong. I love names. I love naming things that I work on. The problem is that sometimes people name things based on what has come before it. That’s why most of Steven Segall’s movies were able to be included in sentences. Steven Segall is “Hard to Kill.” Steven Segall is “Under Siege”, between the sheets. Those “sound like” action movie titles. The truth is that there are probably a dozen names that would do just as good of a job. There are times when a title is probably the best title there is “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” or “The Hunt for Red October” both come to mind, because both tell you what you will find in the book.

My thought that day was that a title for my column was kind of arbitrary. I mean we call our daily blog According To Whim just like the audio show and the TV show and our future fragrance and clothes line. It seemed to me that it was According To Whim: Chris’s Weekly Article. Nothing more, less, or separate. But I liked the way Arbitrary Word Count sounded thrown together like that.

Dragging this back to “Randomalities: Two Dogs” (like that? It’s like when Stargate or CSI or Law & Order have 38 spin off shows each year.) I could benefit from the way that column was put together each month, because it was done in increments. I just seem to write better like that, well, sometimes. If I set myself to writing about 500 to 600 words daily for this column I would always meet deadline, and I would eventually have articles sitting at the ready. Well ready except for adjusting words to reach the not so arbitrary word count. That would be easy enough though during editing. It would also allow me choose the better material I write to publish.

Format and Structure

I know I’m not saying anything amazing here by discussing writing in increments. It doesn’t take a mathematician to realize that if you’re writing a book that’s 180 pages that writing one page a day will complete it in six months and writing six pages a day will complete it in a month. That’s not the point here though.

It’s more that having a plan, schedule, outline, format, structure, or anything of that nature, tends to make writing go better. The 180 page book in the example above won’t get completed if you write one page a day but they’re the first page of 180 different projects.

That’s my problem. I’m writing plenty, but not on these articles. It suggests that I need some sort of schedule. It also suggests that I need some sort of format for the articles I do write. The Farmville articles came about because I would occasionally write something in my notes about the game, like an observation, or something I found funny. Eventually all of these notes were enough to write a whole article, or maybe more.

An idea I had recently is to take all of the ideas I’ve had that started with a thought like, “If I ran a TV production company I would…” or “If I ran a major record label I would…” or “If I had high levels of power in Hollywood I would…” and turn them into one of these articles. This would certainly work better if I stockpiled the ideas until I had a whole article worth. Structure. Theme. Increments.

I also had an idea when I was checking the weather each day to figure out when to finish up a flier job. The idea was simply to make an entry everyday that started out with a basic weather description for the day and a quick synopsis of my day, all of this totaling about 100 words for the entry. I don’t know if it would make for a good article, but 12 of the 52 articles I would write each year would be sort of automatically taken care of if every night around 10 or 11, I wrote about 100 words that just said what happened that day, like yesterday.

April 16, 2010: Warm most of the day. Sunny. Rain in late evening. At work I was mainly distracted. I watched the original The Taking of Pelham 123. It’s nice to have a good battery in my laptop again. Talked to woman about the Mercury Sable I’m trying to buy. Check has to hold until Tuesday. Went to dinner with my dad and sister. Finished up the “One Hundred and Counting” post for the daily blog. Think I’m going to take the trip to Texarkana with The Crazy Ivans tomorrow. Oh, and The Pentagon Missiles want to practice Sunday.

That’s 99 words, and it only took me a few minutes. I doubt it would ever be exciting reading. It would simply work as small increments to build a larger whole. And you know what? It would be a handy tool for journaling. I would actually love it if I had something like that for my entire life. And it could be done by sending four text messages to my email each day too.

When I was still active on My Space, and so were other people, I would write a blog every so often, and I would post bulletins with a higher frequency. I had a thought at one point that I should actually compile my bulletins into blogs since they disappeared after 14 days. It’s just another example of something bigger writing itself because of smaller contributions.

Further, one of my favourite blog formats was what I called “Survey Blogs.” These came about because I filled out one survey in my meager existence on My Space (two sort of) because it was an adult themed survey and it didn’t have very many questions. I truthfully couldn’t resist it because the first question was “Have you ever been to a bar?” It was clearly written by a teenager who had at least a tiny notion of what good adult questions would be, but totally raised the lack of experience flag with that question. It reminded me in a strange way of the “Wink Wink Nudge Nudge” sketch from Monty Python.

I didn’t give quick 1 to 5 word answers either. I actually answered the questions. This is probably why I didn’t fill anymore out. Some of them were crazy long, and I don’t know how to be brief. But it gave me an idea. Since I would try to go through each bulletin that was posted by my “friends” I gave myself a secondary task while going through the bulletins. Anytime I found a survey, I would read through the survey and find one question to answer. Each blog post I would do 20 questions.

This did take a little work, because on my add everyone account when My Space was the more popular social site, there were a lot of bulletins. Some bulletins were skip-able, and I quickly figured out which those were, but sometimes I would actually find a lot of surveys and clear a whole blog in a week or less. I have many that I never posted up for one reason or another. But it was a clear starting point for an article and a clear stopping point, and it worked incrementally while doing something that I was already doing anyway, which was reading other people’s bulletins. I rarely read through a whole survey though. Again they were long.


What This Means

April 17, 2010: Rainy all day. Worked six hours at guard post. Slept very briefly in the morning then met up with The Crazy Ivans for the trip to Texarkana. Rode with Kristen which was fun, particularly when she missed the exit, but refused to turn around and get to the venue last. She whipped through the streets like she delivered pizza in that area, and we made it first. Enjoyed The Beer Gnomes, and of course The Crazy Ivans. The venue (Hoskins Ice House) fed us on the house which was nice of them, very nice people working there.

Sorry just thought I’d get that down real quick. I’m at work now, and technically I should be doing one for today in an hour or so.

I don’t know if I’m going to actually do those, but I figure that I’ll lean into it and see whether it holds my interest. The thing is that I need to do something. When I started this I had a lot of notes, and even a somewhat complete article about Guitar Hero 5 that’s not too dissimilar to the Farmville articles in how they read. The only reason I didn’t keep up with the weekly articles is because I didn’t get my mind engaged and ready for the task. I never sat down and thought you need to write so much each day, you need subjects to write articles about, and you need to be ready to reconcile this with everything else you have to do.

You see, with the daily blog I write a few times a week, and it’s hard enough to keep up with what I have to write about there. I always seem to be running out of ideas. I know this isn’t true by any means, but it feels like it. Meanwhile, I have a few thoughts for this column, but each day it feels more like what do I need to be doing here, what do I need to be doing there, and that by the end of the week I’m looking at this article and thinking I’m going to have to spend a few hours writing and editing in order to get it done. Then I have to hope I have a few hours and the proper motivation to do it.

I’m not a fan of this article. It’s really just a long explanation of why I haven’t been writing. Sure I gave some thoughts that not only help me get my brain on task, but may help other writers with a viewpoint on writing. Still it’s not very entertaining, and the word space could have been used for far more interesting thoughts. I’ll do my best not to write another article like it, unless I find myself genuinely inspired by some sort of writing subject that makes for a good article. 

Brainstorm Exercise

What I don’t give myself credit for is that while I’ve not been writing these articles weekly I have been thinking about how to write the articles weekly. It was the fact that many of my thoughts involved incremental writing that got me thinking about writing this article. One thing I did as an exercise for coming up with topics for both this column and the daily blog was writing down as many possible subjects as I could think of.

I don’t remember where I read this, because I read a lot of self help and creativity kind of things, but I read something that suggested that when you brainstorm using lists that the longer the list the better. The idea is that you’ll write all the obvious stuff first, so a list of five or ten items won’t really get you anything new or interesting. But if you go 50 or 100, you start having to use your imagination.

I listed every letter of the alphabet in a notebook (pairing Y and Z together) and wrote five possible subjects under each letter. Then I wrote five more possible subjects under each letter. Then I listed them again and started doing the exercise again not using anything from the first list of 250 subjects.

I took one of the subjects (television) and wrote five ideas of what I would write about if I had to write five articles on the subject of television. Then I listed five more. Like with the other part of this exercise you can keep going as long as you want. This is where the idea I described earlier came from.

Another thing you can do with this is to combine two or more subjects and list as though you had to write five articles on the combined subjects. All this is meant to do is to allow you to see what wide range of ideas you may have. Use the ones that are good and ignore the ones that aren’t.

You can take this as far as you want. Ask yourself: If I wrote this article and it was five paragraphs long what would the paragraphs discuss? What if I added five paragraphs? Just remember to eventually sit down and write. That’s the point of any writing based brainstorming exercise. 


April 18, 2010: Been raining all day again. Cold. We left Texarkana around 12:30 am. Kristen was exhausted, so I drove back. Listened to The Beer Gnomes CD three times. Very good. Got home around 4:20 am, and went to sleep an hour or so later. Slept until I had to get up for work. Got here at 6:00 pm. I talked to Nathan a little bit, and then finished up this article. Two hours left at work, unless they neglected to schedule me a relief again, in which case eight hours left at work.

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