Monday, March 6, 2006

Blurbhalla, ahoy!

Surprise, surprise… I’ve started another blog project: Blurbhalla.

Let’s count… there was the original legal marketing blog (that Larry’s now taken over), the now-defunct Indian legal outsourcing blog, my stint as a guest blogger at ChurchMarketingSucks, the (now defunct) SaneBlogs Project, a try at a blog/podcast about kids stories in the public doman, TinkerX… and now, Blurbhalla.

Apparently I get a kick out of starting new blogs. And, I mean… what the heck. I can register new domain names for $6/year with my web host, and blogging is free and wonderfully fun with the best Open Source blog engine in the world, WordPress. The latest version (2.0) is like butter and you can host a blog there for free, or build a multitude of them on your own web host with a minimum of fuss and muss. As long as you have a web host with FTP access and at least one SQL database, it literally takes about 5 minutes to launch a new WordPress blog. And you can have as many blogs on one database as there is room on your server, since WordPress supports multiple blogs per databse. And there are so many cool WordPress themes and plugins available for free, I can’t even begin to say. The new version also supports static pages (the "About," "Writing" and other pages on the bar at the top of this page are examples of static pages), so you can use WordPress as a basic web site builder (or CMS — Content Management System) as well as a blog engine. There’s a couple plugins that let you set up a static page as your home page, too, so that stuff stays put there as well, if that’s what you want. Folks would then navigate to posts by categories from your menus, or by clicking on embedded links; your call. Other plugins allow for multiple bloggers to have rights to managed categories, various permission levels, etc. There are plugins for wiki tasks, WYSIWYG editors, calendars, tags, spam prevention, all kinds of stuff. Funky, tasty, bloggy goodness.

Anyway… just a quick shout-out (or does that amount of fanfare count as heavy pimping?) to WordPress, because I love it so.

So… What the hey-nonny-nonny is Blurbhalla?

In brief, it’s brief descriptions of stories that don’t exist. It’s the "blurbs" from the backs of fictional books. That’s not "fiction books," or "books of fiction," but fictional books; i.e., books that are not.

How did this realtively odd idea for a blog come to pass? Well, you can either read the relatively odd about page on the site itself, or you can read more down below about the writer’s process that led to it. Or both. It’s your life to live.

If you’re a writer, you hopefully have some "writer buddies." Writer buddies read each other’s stuff, provide comments, and generally keep poking each other into writing more and better things. Without writer buddies, we write less. And writing less is bad. I think that one of the reasons blogs have been so popular is that they help people find audiences of writer buddies, or at least semi-buddies. If you're a writer, and don't have such a buddy, go get one. There are places for finding/connecting with such on the Internet. I like myself.

Anyway, Jen (such a buddy) and I were talking about why some books are popular. She went to the NYT Bestseller List and kind of boiled down the plot dribbles left there into, more or less, the following structure:

  • Something traumatic happens to the main character(s)

  • Based on that trauma, the main character(s) now have a stake in something

Of course you can complicate or complexify or add detail to that analysis. But the point of many writing exercises is to start simple. So, as a writing buddy, she hit me with this funky one:

Let’s plan a game called, "Spin this Story." Gimme 25 traumatic events (any scale, any translation of "traumatic" goes), 25 character names and 25 personal stakes.

25? That’s a lot. Right? Well… One of the problems with conditions like "writers block" or "creative constipation" or whatever you want to call it, is that you get fixated on finding THE ONE. You circle and come back and edit and re-edit and censor yourself and scribble out and write a little and start over and go days and weeks and months searching for the PERFECT… whatever. Story idea. Plot. Outline. Character name. Adverb.

Setting a number — and a pretty big one, at that — takes the curse off. If you’re going to come up with 25 plot ideas, you can’t afford to spend 2 weeks on each. You get, probably… what? 10 minutes for each? An hour? A day? The writing buddy must eventually stick a pen in your ribs and say, "Hey! It’s been a week… where are those 25 damn story ideas I asked you for? What number are you on? When do I get ‘em? Well?"

If, when that question comes down the pike, you’re only on number three… you’re in trouble with your buddy. So get to work, Mister!

I did 21 "blurbs" or "spins" or whatever you want to call them in about three days. Partly I was able to go that fast because, once I got started, I was excited about it. Partly it was because I was home, sick, from work. I stopped at 21 because I was anxious for Jen to see what I’d done, and because I started to really lock up on 22-25. And 21 is pretty close to 25. Really, it is. And a good writing buddy won’t get all Pharisitical on your ass about 16%. Those last four will get done, now… oh, yes they will. One of those four is already up and out there, eh?

When I got done with the 21 and sent them to Jen, her next task was to pick three that we’d then work on. Maybe as short stories or flash fiction or, who knows, a novel. I had "veto" power, in case she picked one I really didn’t like, or two that seemed too similar (which is what ended up happening). But what about the other 18?

Some of them were really, really cute. There were some neat story ideas in there. What to do with those.

Well, in this day and age (where nobody really says "day and age" anymore), there is no reason to waste words. Not when you can register a domain name for $6 and have a weekend’s worth of fun designing and posting a new blog for free using Open Source software as good as Word Press.

And so, Blurbhalla was born.

Is it a good idea to have a blog that’s dedicated to "teasing glimpses into stories that don’t exist"? I have no idea. Would it, at times, make me crazy to read a really compelling "blurb" for a story… only to find out that there is no story to go with the blurb? Hell, yes! But is it also a way to share story ideas with folks who might want to take them to the next level? Or people looking for a quick, funny read? Sure. That, too.

Mostly, to be frank, the whole idea just appeals to me on a number of "meta" levels. It cracks me up. And there’s really no better reason to blog that that, is there?

So if you’d like to read some blurbs, welcome. If you’d like to write some, let me know by email. If you think the whole idea is stupid… I’m not sure I entirely disagree with you. But stupid doesn’t necessarily mean "bad" or "not worth doing" or "unprofitable."

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