Friday, March 5, 2010

Scooped: New NY Times All-Nighter Blog caused All-Nighter

For my Nonfiction M.F.A. thesis, written between 2007 and 2008, I put together a multi-genre piece called "The Insomniac's Almanac," which as it sounds, was meant to be a pamphlet styled as an almanac, but with articles, stories, and information that would be particularly interesting to insomniacs (such as myself). I figured I'd get to learn about a chronic ailment that had been affecting me for many years, as well as have a product that a publisher might be interested in. Almanac-style books such as John Hodgman's The Areas of My Expertise, Amy Krouse Rosenthal's Encyclopedia of a Modern Life, and Ben Schott's Schott's Miscellany were selling like hot cakes. At the same time pharmaceutical solutions for insomnia like Ambien and Lunesta were making tons of money. It seemed like the perfect combination.

My thesis, like many others, was both a success and failure in many ways. I learned over the course of writing it that I didn't have the design [or perhaps research]skills I needed to follow through on my idea in exactly the way I'd originally conceived.

I'm the sort of writer who loves computers. While most of my writing starts on tiny memo pads that fit in my back pocket, my handwriting is cramped and approaches sloth-like slowness. Without a keyboard I would get little done. But despite considering myself pretty savvy with some creative computer programs like ProTools and Adobe Audition, I'm just learning to use Adobe In-Design after years of becoming frustrated at not knowing how to turn off auto-functions (like numbering, or capitalization) in Microsoft Word. I still use the most basic word processor, Notepad, for most of my drafts and only put something into Word when I want to know how long something really is, or get spacing right.

Whenever I set out to make a graph for my thesis, or some other interesting and friendly presentation of information, I'd find myself thinking, "...maybe I can get the same message across by writing a story or a poem," and then, without wasting much more time that's what I did.

A friend sent me a link to a new NY Times online feature last night: All-Nighters.

I scrolled down to find out who was in charge of bringing these thoughts together and there it was: Ben Schott seems to have decided that an Almanac for Insomniac's is a pretty good idea too. But where as I wasn't ready, Schott has the experience and skills to pull this off beautifully.

I did have one sleepless night, or a all-nighter (har! har!) over this: if only idea known how to do a little bit more a little bit faster, if only my follow-through could have been better.

In fairness, I'm also excited: I look forward to seeing his (and my) idea unfold in his blog. The pieces in it are really quite thoughtful and interesting.

Meanwhile, I'm not throwing the baby out with the bathwater; I'm still pleased with the pieces in my thesis and many have been published. This has just made clear what I knew already: getting an M.F.A. isn't the pinnacle or capstone of a writer's creative journey. It's another clarifying step. At least this proves that I had a good idea, and fortunately, I think I've still have some pretty good ideas I've just begun to explore. There are skills I need to tend to if I want future ideas to be able to blossom properly, and I will.

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