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You’re doing it wrong.

20 January 2011

I’m thinking there’s not so much a right and wrong way to do things anymore. There used to be, apparently, and some folks still cling to the belief that there is, but I’m not so sure.

The reason I bring this up is that last night I finished Douglas Coupland’s You Know Nothing Of My Work!, a fabulous biography of Marshall MacLuhan. It broke a lot of the rules of a biography — Coupland referenced himself several times in the book, made suppositions about what the subject of the book would have thought about current issues and technology, and used the footnotes to tell stories about himself watching a movie or using Wikipedia. About 20 years ago, this book wouldn’t have even been considered a biography. It’s also the best biography I’ve ever read.

What Coupland does there is makes a book feel like a conversation — like he’s a friend telling you the life story of another friend. Sure, there are occasional asides and side stories, but that happens when I’m recounting a story to a friend, too. His unconventional method of putting together the biography speaks directly to the reader, not at them like a lot of biographies tend to. It makes MacLuhan come alive, which I can only see as a good thing (well, unless it’s Zombie MacLuhan — then we’re all fucked).

I had a similar experience way back when I started the Twitter Novel Project and CNN’s iReport (or someone) picked up the story. By the time I saw it, people were already trashing me as a person for breaking the rules of writing — never write a book on Twitter — no one’s ever done that! never put your first draft out there on the Internet! No one will ever read it! People will steal it!

It wasn’t that these folks were overly concerned about the copyright status of my silly little books. They were upset because I was doing it wrong, because I wasn’t doing it the way they were taught in High School or college or whatever. Or worse, the way they heard from everyone else it was supposed to be done.

So, in the future, when someone tells you that you can’t or shouldn’t do something a certain way, I say do it anyway. What’s the worst that can happen?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Nate permalink
    20 January 2011 0701

    This entry reminds me of an old Jackson Pollock quote. “Technique is just a means of arriving at a statement.”

  2. 20 January 2011 1637

    As for the “people may steal it” idea, as someone who has been writing online for mass consumption since 1996…..that part is a valid point. If you don’t believe me go watch “Kick Ass” and you’ll believe.

    People tend only to hate ideas they don’t understand or didn’t come up with themselves šŸ˜‰

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