Why Writing is like Drawing

I'm working on becoming a better observer.

Generally, I go about my business, I travel, I write in my journal about my experiences, and those jottings are too often self-absorbed treatises on what I'm feeling.  I like this, I don't like that, I feel so fabulous this morning or life sucks, blah, blah, blah, endless variations on an emotional theme.

But lately I've been writing a bit differently in my journal.  Instead of the endless scribblings that are all about me, I'm into an objective reporting vein–attempting to capture the essence of what its like to hang out in the Pasadena neighborhood where my friend lives, or documenting the unique aura of Ventura Boulevard, where I have appointments.

Its not that I haven't done this in the past, because I have.  But what has happened before is that all of my experiences have gone directly into the alchemical pot of fiction, to come out the other side the same base thing yet somehow different.   My new practice feels much more like a non-fiction, documentary approach.

And it requires careful observation, noting specific details.  It reminds me of my brief career in drawing.  Everyone in my family–all three of my older sisters got the art gene.  (And the thin gene.  Is this fair?  I ask you, where's the fairness here?) One of my sisters even makes her living at it. 

Okay, okay, so I got the writing gene–I'm not complaining.  But I did once go off on a wild hair and decide I would start drawing.  There's something so appealing about taking your journal with you everywhere you go and recording everything you see.   And what I learned from drawing is that you truly, truly learn to look at the world and see it when you are drawing it.

And of course, that is what we do with words, whether they are arranged into fiction or non-fiction.  I'm a wordsmith, not a visual artist, that's all there is to it.  What I'm learning from my new documentary approach is how insight grows out of careful observation and objective reporting.  By observing and seeing you really begin to get the gist of the situation.

The good news is that this kind of documentary writing can then be alchemized into whatever form you like–fiction, creative non-fiction, memoir, poetry.  So I'm finding its an excellent writing practice.  And may I just point out that this is why writing never gets boring?  There's always something new to discover.

Keyword Research for Writing

In my ongoing attempts to takeover secure a spot for myself in the writing corner of the internet, I’ve been researching keywords.    This fun little endeavor is part of my effort to find out what y’all want when it comes to writing and writing coaching.

(Brief, but very important aside:  Tomorrow is the LAST day to take part in the survey I posted last week.  Here’s the link: Another Contest: What Are Your Writing Problems?  I had a flurry of activity when I first posted the contest, but since then nada.  Zip. Zilch.  Its depressing me, people.  I’m looking for a last minute surge in entries here, so help me out.  The prize is a free coaching session.)

Anybody who has ever done SEO (Search Engine Optimized) writing for the web is familiar with keywords.   You’ll get a list of words which are usually very similar, like this:

Kitchen Sink
kitchen sink
Kitchen sinks
Porcelain kitchen sinks
porcelain kitchen sinks
stainless steel kitchen sinks
steel kitchen sink

Usually there would be 10 or more, but enough already, you get the idea.  Note the very subtle differences, for instance, kitchen is sometimes capitalized and sink is sometimes plural.  This is because some intrepid soul has been going through and trying to figure out what the top search terms are for kitchen sinks.

This is a tedious process.  I know because I spent last week doing it (in and around the ghostwriting).  The best place to go for keyword research is Wordtracker. They are pretty cool–they give you a free seven-day trial and they make it really easy to cancel if you don’t want to pay them $59 a month to keep the service. 

Amazingly enough, I was not researching kitchen sink words, but writing and coaching words.  After about the 5,000th time I fed a word through I began to see some similar themes, mostly that people put really strange phrases into the search engines. 

For instance, "novel writing priest."  Does this mean anything to anyone?  I actually googled it myself to see if there was some famous novel writing priest that I hadn’t heard about.  But not as far as I could tell.  However, "novel writing priest" has a KEI of 200, which is very good.  (The KEI is the number of searches compared to websites the word appears on.  You can get a word that has a ton of searches but also has a ton of websites devoted to it, and then its not a good keyword.  The KEI uses some arcane formula to figure this out.)

Besides getting me mildly upset about the state of knowledge in this country ("tips for writing fiction novels," is one of my favorites–um, last time I checked all novels were fiction) this process also makes me feel like I’m missing out on stuff that everyone else knows.  For instance, "101 very funny short stories," comes up very high.  As does "nifty stories" and "exotic short stories."  Is there some popular short story series that I’ve missed?

(And do not even get me started on sex stories.  I finally gave up putting anything remotely related to the word story in the search engine because it only returned 50 thousand variations on searches for sex stories.)

But the cool thing about it is that you really can start to get a sense of what kind of information people are looking for.  They seem to be desperate for info on writing feature stories, for instance.  And there is great clamoring for advice on writing outlines for plot.

So, you’ll be seeing more basic articles on this blog in the near future, as I attempt to stake out my corner of the writing world. 

I promise, though, I will not write an article about a novel writing priest.  Unless someone wants to introduce me to one.  The phrase has an awfully high KEI.