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Manifesto

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Aug. 28th, 2012 | 04:10 am

(This post has a ton of links - they are amplification if you have time, not mandatory detours.)
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notodette is a wonderful writer. She’s sharp and funny and brave. She’s willing to name her darkness and speak the unspeakable, to rummage in the family closet and sell out her co-workers, pairing the beautiful selfishness of an artist with the openness needed to tell her stories to the world.

My favorite of her stories: Sated, in which she graphically and hilariously describes sex before and after having kids.

My favorite of her characters: The Stepmother, who, it turns out, was trying her best to save Snow White.

And my favorite line: It's not the words that hurt, but the silences that form in their echo.

She’s amazing, and from my own selfish artist perspective, she’s been a terrific competitor, someone whose work inspires me to also do my best.

And as for me?

I have a secret.

I’ve been writing this post since I signed up. Making notes. Reading previous seasons. Figuring out what wins votes, what makes good writing. Every week focusing on an element of craft or structure or genre or voice, paying attention to something that will make me a better writer, a better artist, weekly self-assignments to get from “hello, here I am,” to Final Two.

And over the course of 39 weeks, those notes, this practice, has become a manifesto:

How to Win LJ Idol

Write with a plan. Decide what you want to improve about your work. Connect with new writers in the real world and the competition, every week. Choose friends outside Livejournal to share your work with. Get feedback from writers and co-workers and readers of every level from read a beer bottle once to “better writer than you are.

Put writing first. Stay up late. Get up early. Make it the top of the list, above laundry and getting paid and sometimes above lunch. Skip out on your other responsibilities. If you’re an overachiever, narrow your focus. Trust that your children will learn to feed themselves, your boyfriend will manage his socks, shaved legs are overrated.

Be honest. Make your motivations clear. Stay direct even when polite. Tell it like you see it, but tactfully.

Be generous. With your time, with your talent, with your encouragement and feedback. Read everything—strategically, you’ll know what you’re up against; competitively, you’ll be challenged and inspired. Beta-read as often as you can. Comment on everything. We all feel like we’re howling into the void, and even “Enjoyed reading!” is a lifeline from the dock of humanity we’re paddling so desperately toward. Being “popular” and being engaged in the community are the same behavior with different hats.

Be supportive. But when you think someone is ready for it, when you’ve built a relationship of encouragement and support, give the best feedback you can. There’s no joy in victory unless your opponents are strong. There’s no honor in winning unless you did your best to make the game as hard as possible.

Challenge yourself. Never take a bye without a major life event. Write when it’s not easy, when you’re not inspired, when you have nothing to say. Write when it isn’t fun, when it’s a slog up the mountain in the rain. Easy accomplishment is cheap; fighting for the words and winning—even barely, even when it’s not your best work—lets you know you can do it again.

Vary your style. Write work that stands alone. Write serial chapters so strong people want to read what they’re from. Write genres you’re not interested in—you may surprise yourself. Write short pieces to show the power of your brevity. Write long pieces to show your staying power. Remember that short attention spans can be your friend; standing among 300 can make you shout louder or whisper more piercingly.

Be ambitious. Be brave. Be ruthless. Be raw. Write about pomegranates and roller coasters and cement mixers. Write about your relationship and your relationship with your mother and your relationship with your depression. Write to honor your dead. If you are going to write about the zombie apocalypse you had better have something damn original to say.

So here I am. Final Two. Because I wrote good pieces and got my non-LJ friends engaged as readers and voters and made some friends in LJ and played my strategy cards reasonably well. But that’s not what makes me a writer. That’s not what makes any of us writers—artists—winners.

You write, you write, always you write, and in the end, you win because you show up.

Show up to the page. Show up to the community. Show up to your colleagues’ writing. Show up to the eliminated and the Home Gamers and the writers you know who aren’t even competing but still need to know they’re not alone. Show up with your voice. Show up with your style. Show up with what you love and why it matters, and lay it on the page, naked and alone and afraid, but showing up.

It will be terrifying.

You may feel like you are howling into the void. You are, but there are others in the void, howling back.

And as long as you keep howling, you win.

You win.

You win by being there, and you win by being able to write about it, and by writing about it even when you’re not able, when you are crippled and limping and the pen in your hand is running low on ink and all your paper is wet with tears.

You win.

And the cruelest joke the universe plays is that when you win, it’s not the end of the game. It’s getting bumped up to a higher level with harder obstacles, and you can never go back and be satisfied playing the level that you already beat.

I have one more secret. That when you show up, and you reach out with generosity, and you do your best work or your second-best work and summon up the bravery to share it, you create a community. You, a writer, the loneliest of artists, become part of a team. And even when you are home alone, sweating in the Louisiana heat and cursing things that buzz, or walking down 5th and wondering if there might be just one affordable place in this city of strangers and darkness while gearing up to freeze your ass off for the next four months, you are still playing as part of a team. They are in the shadows and they are on the other end of the internet and they are reading your words and saying,

me, too.

Me, too.


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After these 39 weeks, whipchick has realized she needs to write more, and is taking six months off to do just that.


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Comments {73}

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imafarmgirl

(no subject)

from: imafarmgirl
date: Aug. 28th, 2012 10:24 am (UTC)
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So well said. You really nail down what it takes to win this thing. Good luck. I can see how hard you've worked.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Aug. 29th, 2012 07:37 pm (UTC)
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Thank you! It's been a long slog, but a good one. Thanks for your good wishes, and for being an inspiration, too!

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Lose 10 Pounds of Ugly Fat...  Cut Off Your Head.

(no subject)

from: n3m3sis42
date: Aug. 28th, 2012 10:39 am (UTC)
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Thank you for the pure determination you have brought to this season. You are a force of nature.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Aug. 29th, 2012 07:40 pm (UTC)
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You're welcome, and thank you for all the support and encouragement!

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With grace in your heart and flowers in your hair

(no subject)

from: lilycobalt
date: Aug. 28th, 2012 12:11 pm (UTC)
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I knew you were a force to be reckoned with from the moment you had the first post on the first topic thread. I'm so glad to see you in the finals. You're a very hardworking writer, and you have been wonderful for the Idol community. I always looked forward to your comments on my writing, because I knew you'd go beyond "great entry," and discuss how I could improve. Most importantly, your words leave me with something to think about after I'm done reading.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Aug. 29th, 2012 07:41 pm (UTC)
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Thank you so much - it means a lot to have your good wishes, and I can't wait to see what else you write! I'm glad you found the comments helpful, and I'm so grateful to be a part of this writing community.

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Gardening at Night

(no subject)

from: cacophonesque
date: Aug. 28th, 2012 12:59 pm (UTC)
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I've been impressed with you from the start--and I'm all the more impressed with you now. You've managed to keep your writing foremost, all while "playing the game" with grace and integrity. It's so refreshing to see someone discussing playing the game in a manner that doesn't seem nasty or underhanded, but rather as a positive and affirming experience. You are truly a remarkable writer--you've managed to transport me to places I may never visit otherwise and you've invited me into experiences in such a way that my heart feels them. Instead of relying on novelty or empathy or the like, you rely on your words themselves.

Watching you while I've wandered in and out of this season has been an inspiration to me. It's a reminder that I do have words inside of me, I can use them, and if I work hard, they can be something wonderful. Thanks for that.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Aug. 29th, 2012 07:44 pm (UTC)
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Thank you! I'm so pleased you think so, and I've enjoyed playing with "strategy" as much as I've enjoyed being pushed to write every week. And in the end, "more voters" means "more readers" and that's what we all really want, anyway :)

This is such a lovely compliment, and I'm glad you're inspired to write more - can't wait to read!!!

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copyright1983

(no subject)

from: copyright1983
date: Aug. 28th, 2012 02:27 pm (UTC)
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I had you pegged for this three and a half months ago.

Nothing has happened in the interim to change my opinion.

This post (specifically), and your entire season (in general), should be required reading for all future LJ Idol participants. Brava.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Aug. 29th, 2012 07:52 pm (UTC)
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You sure did :)

Thank you, very very much! I've loved reading your work, too, and can't wait to see more - OK if I friend you?

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(Deleted comment)

whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Aug. 29th, 2012 07:47 pm (UTC)
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Thanks :) You've been an amazing writer and someone who's challenged me to do my very best work. I'm with you - this contest has changed who I am as a writer, and I'll always be grateful for that.

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notodette

(no subject)

from: notodette
date: Aug. 28th, 2012 03:35 pm (UTC)
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Me, too.

It's been an honor to be here with you.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Aug. 29th, 2012 07:48 pm (UTC)
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Likewise - you are a super writer and I'm inspired by you!

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Patty Cryan

(no subject)

from: p_m_cryan
date: Aug. 28th, 2012 03:46 pm (UTC)
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This has been a long and intense road trip for me, reading along with both you and notodette.

You're both part of the reason I'll be writing in Season 9.

This will be a difficult vote for many.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Aug. 29th, 2012 07:48 pm (UTC)
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I'm glad you'll be writing, and being part of the reason is such an honor. Can't wait to read!!

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Dan

(no subject)

from: muchtooarrogant
date: Aug. 28th, 2012 04:12 pm (UTC)
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This was such a great line, I'm going to requote it.
"Comment on everything. We all feel like we’re howling into the void, and even “Enjoyed reading!” is a lifeline from the dock of humanity we’re paddling so desperately toward."

Of course, I always try to requote something, so as to make the comment have something well written in it. *grin*

Thank you for all your comments over my course in Idol. You're absolutely right, no matter how long or short they were, I appreciated every last one of them.

I'm amazed by the time, the energy, the ALL you put into Idol this season, and it showed up in every one of your entries. I wish you all the best in your upcoming writing endeavor, and am certain that many amazing words will result from it.

Dan

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Aug. 29th, 2012 07:57 pm (UTC)
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Thanks - I shortchanged a lot of other stuff in my life and my work colleagues picked up a lot of slack, so I'm glad it's paid off - not just in being in the final two, but in having work I'm happy to have created, and met such a wonderful community of other writers!

Thanks for noticing :) And supporting, and being a pretty awesome writer yourself - can't wait to read more!!

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vaudy

(no subject)

from: vaudy
date: Aug. 28th, 2012 04:15 pm (UTC)
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Heh. I read this, and I think of all the hours I spent playing a video game instead of writing a Home Game entry--or reading contest entries. And I could say all sorts of things about my depression, and my crappy retail job that makes me exhausted and more depressed (that, too, with some perseverance, could change), but I know those are excuses. I had a choice, and I didn't choose writing.

Which is not to say that I'm not, essentially, a writer--but I must choose to be a writer, and I acknowledge that for a while, I was not making that choice. Still am not. (And yet, I found myself grateful to have that choice after my Idol run ended.)

This is not the first corner from which I've gotten this particular message. It is, I think, the third different spot I've seen this same message in the space of a few days--and it doesn't just apply to writing; it applies to anything that you want to be doing, or think you want to be doing, or are called to doing, but are not actually doing. And the message might finally be sinking in. Now it's time to figure out what to do about it.

Thank you, for your writing, for your devotion to reading and commenting on everything (I still don't know how you do it), for your contributions to Work Room discussions, and for your comments on my own work
(which meant an awful lot to me, even though I usually felt too awkward to reply).

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Aug. 30th, 2012 09:53 am (UTC)
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You're welcome - you're so very, very welcome. And thank you for reminding me that it's a choice, and I have to keep remembering to choose it every day.

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The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors

(no subject)

from: halfshellvenus
date: Aug. 28th, 2012 08:24 pm (UTC)
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This really is a manifesto, and it sums up not just the competition but writing in general. You have to be willing to expose yourself to judgment-- about your writing, your life-- and to show up and be ready to fight for the best within you every single time. Even if this week's "best" might pale in comparison to other weeks, it's still the most you can offer right now.

Looking at what you thought was your "uninspired" entry, which was a really eye-opening window into another culture, the adage about "Never let them see you sweat" comes to mind as well. You made it look effortless every single week, even if the "behind the scenes" version might have been a struggle. It never showed.

And the cruelest joke the universe plays is that when you win, it’s not the end of the game. It’s getting bumped up to a higher level with harder obstacles, and you can never go back and be satisfied playing the level that you already beat.
For any competitive person, in any arena, this is always true. You will never be satisfied with resting on your laurels.

I look at this list, and think, "Yes, I did all these things too." I didn't expect to, when I signed up for Idol, and I sacrified more than I might willingly have chosen to (back when I had perspective) and wrote about far more personal and unusual things than I ever intended to share with anyone.

But you did all of that more, and somehow managed it while circling the globe and trying to craft entries in airplanes and taxicabs when the only thing that was the "same" for your week to week was that there was a deadline and you would have to both write for it and find an Internet connection to upload the result, always hoping to finish both in time.

And you did. One spectacular week after another, you did. No byes, no excuses, no half-assed entries or complaints.

You amaze me. :)

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Aug. 30th, 2012 09:55 am (UTC)
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Thank you - I am part of the Mutual Amazement Club! Your thoughtful comments every week have become something I really look forward to.

And this - "Even if this week's "best" might pale in comparison to other weeks, it's still the most you can offer right now."

Yes, so much yes - and I love how that's a lot of what notodette is saying, too.

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LiveJournal

LJ Idol Season 8 Home Game Entry - Week 38: LJI Life Lessons

from: livejournal
date: Aug. 28th, 2012 09:05 pm (UTC)
Link

User alycewilson referenced to your post from LJ Idol Season 8 Home Game Entry - Week 38: LJI Life Lessons saying: [...] about their final showdown, based on their entries. Then I read 's thoughtful final entry, [...]

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alycewilson

(no subject)

from: alycewilson
date: Aug. 28th, 2012 09:06 pm (UTC)
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I couldn't have said it better myself. But you did inspire me to share some of my own thoughts about LJ Idol:

http://alycewilson.livejournal.com/482895.html

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Aug. 30th, 2012 09:57 am (UTC)
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I LOVE your piece! And I love how you, me and notodette all wrote different facets of the writer-mind/writer-life, and all three of us boil it down to determination - we have to decide to do it, even if we're not the best, even in the face of rejection, even in the face of obstacles.

Go, us!

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Laura, aka "Ro Arwen"

(no subject)

from: roina_arwen
date: Aug. 28th, 2012 09:21 pm (UTC)
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Wow. I will admit that although I often failed to read everything every week, I did my best, time permitting. I know I missed at least some of everyone's stuff, including yours, but what I've read of your work has almost always impressed me (maybe somewhat less with the poetry, but I find that poetry is much more hit-or-miss).

as long as you keep howling, you win.
Ow-ooooooOoooOh! =)

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Aug. 30th, 2012 09:57 am (UTC)
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Thanks for the howl! And all we can do is our best at the time :)

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Myrna

(no subject)

from: myrna_bird
date: Aug. 28th, 2012 10:16 pm (UTC)
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Stellar!

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Aug. 29th, 2012 07:49 pm (UTC)
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Thank you!!

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