How fascinating to a child are words: the shapes, sounds, textures and mysterious meanings of words; the way words link together into elastic patterns called “sentences.” And these sentences into paragraphs, and beyond. — Joyce Carol Oates (via writingquotes)
10 Essential Essays for Writers -
On Keeping a Notebook by Joan Didion - A great essay about making notes that gets to the very core of the writing process
Write Like a Motherfucker by Cheryl Strayed - Raw, emotional advice on the role of humility and surrender in the often tortured world of the writer
Thoughts on Writing by Elizabeth Gilbert - On disicpline, hard work, rejection and why it’s never too late to start
Write Till You Drop by Annie Dillard - “Do you think I could be a writer?” “I don’t know… . Do you like sentences?”
Why I Write by George Orwell - On egoism, a love of beauty, the quest for truth and the desire to change the world — Orwell’s ‘four great motive for writing’.
Despite Tough Guys, Life Is Not the Only School for Real Novelists by Kurt Vonnegut - A beautifully argued defence of the role of teaching in developing writers.
That Crafty Feeling by Zadie Smith - A lecture by a great essayist and novelist on the craft of writing.
A Place You All Know Well by Michael Chabon - On the central role of exporation in writing.
The Nature of Fun by David Foster Wallace (excerpt) - DFW on what drives writers to write
Uncanny the Singing That Comes from Certain Husks by Joy Williams - “Who cares if the writer is not whole? Of course the writer is not whole, or even particularly well…”
This Week in War. A Friday round-up of what happened and what’s been written in the world of war and military/security affairs this week. It’s a mix of news reports, policy briefs, blog posts and longform journalism.
- The United Nations took over the peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic, previously led by the African Union.
- Amnesty International has uncovered the extensive and horrifying torture practices of Nigerian security forces.
- 5 UN peacekeepers were killed by a roadside bomb in Mali.
- Egypt and Russia signed a preliminary arms deal worth $3.5 billion.
- Egyptian activist Alaa Abd El Fattah has been released on bail.
- Fighter jets from an unknown country carried out four airstrikes against militants near Libya’s capital.
- ISIS released its third beheading video - this time of British aid worker David Haines, an RAF veteran working for the aid group Nonviolent Peaceforce. Here’s a brief profile of his life and work. The video then threatened the life of another captive Briton, a taxi driver named Alan Henning who was taken captive on his second aid convoy trip to Syria.
- Congress authorized arming and training the (non-ISIS) Syrian rebels.
- President Obama and American military leadership show a split on ISIS strategy.
- The three beheadings have drawn into debate the zero-concession policies of the US and UK. James Foley’s family have been deeply critical of the US government’s handling of their son’s case and treatment of the families of ISIS kidnapping victims.
- A second ISIS propaganda video featured another captive, British photojournalist John Cantlie in a mock newscast setting, wearing a prison-style jumpsuit and saying there will be more “programs” to follow.
- The AFP will no longer accept work from freelance journalists in Syria.
- France has ditched reference to the Islamic State or ISIS, instead opting for “Daesh,” as the extremist group is often referred to by Arabic speakers.
- Australia claims to have thwarted an ISIS attack on their soil.
- Christian Caryl comments on the incredible and underestimated power of collective rage in driving violent acts like those committed by ISIS.
- "Al Qaeda denies decline, acknowledges ‘mistakes’ by its branches.”
- A series of Friday car bombings in Baghdad have killed at least 17 people. Baghdad’s Thursday death toll was at least 45.
- A new booming business in Baghdad defending people charged with terrorism offenses.
- Matthieu Aikins embeds with Syria’s first responders.
- 43 veteran members of the clandestine Israeli military intelligence Unit 8200 are refusing to participate in reserve duty on moral grounds, based on the country’s treatment of Palestinians.
- A deal has been reached between Israel and Palestine over reconstruction work in Gaza.
- Serious fighting is ongoing in Yemen after weeks of continued unrest between Houthi rebels and Sunni militias. The Houthi have pushed into the capital city Sana’a and besieged a university known for Sunni radicalism.
- Sharif Mobley, an American imprisoned in Yemen who has been missing inside the system for seven months, managed a phone call to his wife in which he alleged torture and said he feared for his life.
- Politico goes deep inside the US’ first armed drone mission, in October of 2001, and the failed attempt to take out Mullah Omar.
- Talks have stalled yet again between the sparring Afghan presidential candidates.
- Palwasha Tokhi is the seventh Afghan journalist to be killed this year.
- Muhammad Shakil Auj, the dean of Islamic Studies at the University of Karachi, was shot dead on his way to a reception at the Iranian Consulate.
- A South Asian wing of Al Qaeda has claimed responsibility for hijacking a Pakistani naval ship and attempting to use it to attack US ships.
- BBC journalists were attacked and had their equipment smashed while investigating the death of a Russian soldier.
- Popular Ukrainian football team Shakhtar Donetsk has been forced to relocate, along with other eastern teams, to Kiev for its matches because of fighting.
- Ukrainian rebels says that new self-rule laws are not enough.
- An intense border dispute at the India-China border in the Himalayas occurred while the two nation’s leaders met for a summit.
- The CIA released a set of newly-declassified articles from its in-house journal, Studies in Intelligence.
- The White House has said it sees legal justification for strikes against ISIS in both the 2001 authorization to fight Al Qaeda and the 2002 authorization of the Iraq War.
Photo: Zummar, Iraq. A Kurdish Peshmerga fighter launches mortar shells toward ISIS-controlled territory. Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters.
How to win friends by alienating people
The most harmful phrase you can use in search of a new idea is: ‘without alienating….’
Whoever introduced this (greedy) instruction into briefing is responsible for lots of business folk wasting loads of shareholder money. They have single-handedly - I’m certain unwittingly – given our world some of the blandest, ‘beigest’ ideas we have seen. Ideas that are incapable of moving anyone. Except perhaps to flee the scene, flee the channel, or whatever other activity the idea barely interrupted.
And then had to compensate by banging away with bigger budgets - trying to breathe life into something that had little chance of success in the first place.
Here’s my plea to you – and I hope you can infect other people with this thinking:
Please make sure your ideas alienate some people.
The truly great brands (and ideas) in our world stand for something distinctive. They have a point of view. A clear guiding philosophy. A very strong sense of what they believe in. That, in turn, informs how they do (and don’t do) things; what they choose to do and choose not to do.
Typically, great ideas and brands polarise. They have some people for them. And some people against them. Which is a darn side better than the alternative - having no one care much about them at all.
The great research companies are replete with cases proving this. Why, you only have to think of Apple, Nike and Google to realise that as much as their detractors dislike them so their fans love them to a corresponding degree.
My all-time favourite example is a wonderful campaign from the UK for the processed meat stick Peperami. The brief was reputed to be: ‘Piss off vegetarians’. And the resulting advertising was pure, joyful anarchy. See one of the ads here.
In my time on Meat & Livestock, the then CMO was the gutsy David Thomason. Brave enough to tell people that the difference between man and ape was the decision to eat Red Meat (or not). Brave enough to approve a brief that was essentially: ‘Take the piss out of Hare Krishnas’ (here). Did it work? You bet it did. It was part of a trilogy that won the Grand Prix of the Effectiveness awards. At the same time he encouraged a competing Agency to do the popular Sam Kekovich rants (here). Also an award winner.
Imagine what these brands and their fans would have been denied had someone - filled only with goodwill toward their fellow woman (better include ‘or man’ in order not to alienate anyone) had asked just that of their Agency - please don’t alienate anyone…
For me, the short story is not a character sketch, a mouse trap, an epiphany, a slice of suburban life. It is the flowering of a symbol center. It is a poem grafted onto sturdier stock. — William H. Gass (via writingquotes)
she was always smiling.
Never hire a research company again
Here are 2 blunt truths about marketing research (in all its forms):
People in research don’t say what they mean and don’t mean what they say.
Much of what passes for marketing research is simply pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo
Which, in turn, means you need to hire the absolute best researcher your money will buy. Unless the outcome’s not that important. In which case, bank the money and go with your gut – better than a charlatan doing something half-baked in the name of research.
It’s not that respondents are deliberately dishonest in research. Well, some actually are. But a good deal of the time, we – that’s you and me, and people just like you and me – have no real idea why we did what we did. Why we thought the way we thought. Why we felt the way we felt. Often it’s ‘just so’.
When pushed hard enough – in front of a group of strangers – who could be blamed for blurting out a complete untruth? Better that than look a fool. And have you noticed how rational our thinking becomes when among strangers (actually, even when we’re completely alone)? We hate admitting to being driven by forces we don’t quite understand. That most of our decisions are ‘feels right’ or ‘feels wrong’.
The very fact of talking about System 1 - where the bulk of our decision-making takes place - as our ‘primitive/reptilian brain’ makes it harder for us superior animals to admit that we avoid thinking wherever possible. That we rely on short cuts. That we’re anything but rational.
So it needs a darn good researcher. The best your money can buy. The good ones are highly talented folk. They’re open and able to discuss their way of working; their belief in what makes humans tick and respond the way they do. Truth is they’re in short supply. They aren’t everywhere. They’re pretty special.
They’re not companies. And not all companies have them. And they’re not ‘black box processes’ – no matter the amount of validation.
So please, pick the most talented person you can afford. And much as you might enjoy participating, observing, taking copious notes, drawing conclusions and making inferences please remember this (and I say this with utmost humility):
You’re likely paying a very different brain to yours to do something you probably can’t do well - work out what people really mean when they don’t mean what they say. When they, themselves, are not entirely sure what they mean.
At 19, I read a sentence that re-terraformed my head: “The level of matter in the universe has been constant since the Big Bang.”
In all the aeons we have lost nothing, we have gained nothing - not a speck, not a grain, not a breath. The universe is simply a sealed, twisting kaleidoscope that has reordered itself a trillion trillion trillion times over.
Each baby, then, is a unique collision - a cocktail, a remix - of all that has come before: made from molecules of Napoleon and stardust and comets and whale tooth; colloidal mercury and Cleopatra’s breath: and with the same darkness that is between the stars between, and inside, our own atoms.
When you know this, you suddenly see the crowded top deck of the bus, in the rain, as a miracle: this collection of people is by way of a starburst constellation. Families are bright, irregular-shaped nebulae. Finding a person you love is like galaxies colliding. We are all peculiar, unrepeatable, perambulating micro-universes - we have never been before and we will never be again. Oh God, the sheer exuberant, unlikely face of our existences. The honour of being alive. They will never be able to make you again. Don’t you dare waste a second of it thinking something better will happen when it ends. Don’t you dare. — Caitlin Moran (via scatteredandshining)
(Source: lustsandluxuries, via apoplecticskeptic)
This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals—sounds that say listen to this, it is important. —
Gary Provost (via tuongexists)
Holy crap, what just happened there… (via cyrusgabriel)
Words, man. Words.
(Source: qmsd, via majormitchmajor)
FireChat, An iOS App That Allows Users to Chat With Those Around Them Without Internet Access or Mobile Coverage
Writers are forgetful,
but they remember everything.
They forget appointments and anniversaries,
but remember what you wore,
how you smelled,
on your first date…
They remember every story you’ve ever told them -
but forget what you’ve just said.
They don’t remember to water the plants
or take out the trash,
but they don’t forget how
to make you laugh.
Writers are forgetful
the important things.
(Source: ofheightsandhollows, via phut)
Listen a hundred times; ponder a thousand times; speak once. —
(Source: heartofabeliever, via heytherewallflower)