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January 26, 2011

Combining NGrams and Worldle

Google recently came out with NGrams, causing a lot of excitement/stories in the media:
"Google used some of the data obtained from 15 million scanned books to build Google Books Ngram Viewer.

"'The dataset....weighing in at 500 billion words from 5.2 million books in Chinese, English, French, German, Russian, and Spanish. The Ngram Viewer lets you graph and compare phrases from these datasets over time, showing how their usage has waxed and waned over the years,'
says Jon Orwant, from the Google Books team."

I'm a huge fan of tools like these and this one immedietly made me think about Wordle, which I wrote up here.

But how would you use NGrams to improve your own writing? The answer is by combining it with Wordle.

Take the most common words from your manuscript and feed them into NGrams. I get something like this:


By looking at the Ngram results, you can basically see which of your words is more problematic than others--if a word is more common in the history of english fiction, you don't need to worry as much. The most common word here is 'like' so that means I don't need to worry about cutting down on its usage as much as I need to cut down on 'around,' 'turned', 'seemed,' and 'something.'

January 19, 2011

My Query Letter: The Typewriter

A few years ago I realized it was time to take writing seriously. I decided to buy something that would make me feel more like a writer. I bought an old Remington that actually worked.

I love the thing, and when I finished my first book I wanted to make my query letter unique. I decided to type them up on the Remington. It was a real act of dedication. Typos resulted in having to start from scratch, but the letters looked great.

When I eventually signed with my agency, I told them about the type-written query letters (I submitted to them via email so they never got one). They scratched their heads and finally said my brilliantly and painstakingly typed queries had probably resulted in a lot of people thinking I was a really old person who didn't know how to use a computer.

oops

January 12, 2011

You Only Get One Read

(or, in Zack Kaplan's words: "Save The Read.")

In the acknowledgments section of Steve Martin's amazing autobiography, 'Born Standing Up,' Martin thanks all the people who helped him--especially those who read his early drafts:

   

It's an important rule  you learn really quickly, in a very painful way. You show someone something, and then realize how bad it is. And there's no going back.

The implications for this on a career level are massive. You never want to show anyone in the industry something you aren't absolutely sure is ready. Because of this, it's very hard to justify partial submissions these days (ie sending an editor/publisher the first 100 pages of your manuscript). This used to work--especially for writers who had already published--but it's a bad idea these days. The industry responds to good material, but it has to be complete and it has to be ready. This month, when my agent told me it would be a  bad idea to submit a partial, I realized I had wanted to do it out of impatience--why else would I be breaking this sacred rule? It's gotta be perfect.


Save The Show
Jason Latimer
Steve Martin started out as a magician, so I think it's worth mentioning that "Save The Read" has a direct crossover with magic. When working on a new effect, you cannot bring it out until you are very, very confident performing it. When you first show it to a trusted friend before anonymous audience members, he or she watches your new material in the same way a trusted friend might read a new manuscript--you only get one shot, because next time they know what to expect. Ultimately, every audience member you encounter can only experience an effect once before it changes for them. As Jason Latimer says, "The first time you see it, it's magic. The second time you see it, it's education."

So Save It.

January 05, 2011

Rejected McSweeneys List #1

ON HOLDING THEIR KINDERGARTEN TEACHER HOSTAGE WITH SHARPENED CRAYONS, THE NOBLE TODDLERS LIST THEIR DEMANDS