A hunger artist

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Cristian Mihai

hunger“Worry destroys the ability to write.”Ernest Hemingway

Maybe you’re familiar with Franz Kafka’s short story, A Hunger Artist, maybe you’re not. It doesn’t really matter. One of the main themes of the story (the way I see it) is the fact that artists most often feel misunderstood by their audience. And they’re furious because of that.

That’s a myth.

Most often than not it’s the artist’s inability to show people what he wants to show them that gets in the way.

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A Cool Sci-Fi Short Story, A Question That Sprouted From It

I just read an awesome short story and I wanted to share it with you. It’s titled Zugzwang and it came from Daily Science Fiction yesterday, which emails you sci-fi stories under 1000 word every day. If you aren’t subscribed to DSF, I highly recommend it. Think about it. You read boring e-mails every day, right? Why not add a short story in your reading list as well?

Anyway, this story is about an alien encounter and it hooked me in right from the beginning. Its writer’s name is Curtis M. Chen. As a big fan of Ted Chiang and Ken Liu (if you haven’t heard of them, you’re missing out on some awesome stories!), I was curious to see another Chinese American name.

And I wasn’t disappointed. The story was excellently crafted. The plot had tension and several layers of things going on, yet no word seemed redundant and all of the sentences were simple-yet-varied.

If you haven’t read it already, I ask you to go ahead and read it here. When you’re done, come back and let’s talk about it.

Are you done? Good. How’d you like it? I know, right? Well, on the topic of alien chess, there has been an awesome novella series called “Championship B’tok” by Edward M.Lerner on September, 2014 issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact Magazine. If you liked Zugzwang, your mind will be blown to smithereens at B’tok, I guarantee. (Sadly, though, it’s a series and ends with a cliffhanger… the show still goes on.)

Anyway, a little bio of Curtis Chen said that he was a software engineer in Silicon Valley (whoa!), AND he is a Clarion West graduate (double-rainbow-whoa!). So we should expect to read more awesome stories from him. As you probably know, Clarion is an intensive and competitive sci-fi workshop, many contemporary sci-fi and fantasy authors are alumni.

Both Chiang and Liu have computer science background and I got really accustomed to their easy reading, thought provoking stories. So this might get you wondering, “Would I succeed as a sci-fi author if I pursued IT?”

I would argue that it doesn’t have to be IT, but any science degree helps. Robert Heinlein had a naval engineering degree, Isaac Asimov was a professor of biochemistry and Arthur C. Clark had a degree in math and physics, among his experience in other things.

Should You Read Blogs? – Cons

“You can’t just turn on creativity like a faucet. You have to be in the right mood. What mood is that? Last-minute panic.” — Bill Watterson

So, yesterday’s Blogging 101 assignment was to write about your Ideal Reader. It got me thinking if reading blogs were worth our time at all. Of course, I wrote about the pros yesterday, but reading blogs, especially too much, is not always a good idea. And here’s why:

1. Blogs Can Complement Books and Press, Not Replace Them

I can’t find the exact link, but there was an article in either Forbes or Inc that went like this. Value of information between a column article and a book can be compared by the amount of time spent in researching them. A columnist in a respected magazine spends almost a month to publish an article, whereas it takes at least a year to write a book. So the information you get from reading an article is worth a month’s research and book is at least a year’s research and labor condensed into few hundred pages. How does blog posts compare to that? I can’t say a definitive answer, but definitely lower. For instance, I have been writing one article for Cracked.com for the last month and a half. (On that note, Yeah baby!) Even the images require a lot of research. But I’ve been known to write one post in one morning, drafting, image research, editing and everything. Which is why…

2. Not All Blogs Are Professional

Including this one. We live in a world of information overload, almost to the point of becoming several degree of autistic. (I think this is where you laugh now. Or cry, I don’t know.) With this predicament, it’s hard to spend time–let alone commit to follow–blogs that have:

a) poor spelling and design,

b) uninteresting content,

c) awfully lot TMI about their personal life, and

d) disorganized writing that doesn’t always reach the standard of journalism or content writing.

Sorry, folks. I’m also guilty of these. But we’re all learning, am I right?

3. Most Blogs Have No Strategy (Ideally They Should Either Go Pro or Evangelic)

When I think about good blogs that accumulated regular followers, only Seth Godin and Maria Popova comes to mind. The dude was an idea machine and a marketing genius. I recommend his TED talk video on what makes ideas go viral. What he did was go full throttle in giving marketing and blogging advice and becoming an expert in that field. Maria Popova, on the other hand, collected inspiring quotes and information bits on her blogs Brain Pickings. She spread out any new discovery about authors (some of which she uncovered herself) and passionately advocated the importance of following famous author’s advices on life, writing and happiness. These people are well-renowned now, because what they provided have been good values that readers mostly expect from a blog: either to be a pro, and if not, relay good information like an evangelist.

4. Unfettered Reading Yields Less Productivity

While reading other people’s blogs and getting touch is vital, (trust me, it makes all the difference) few people have told me that they spend too much time reading other people’s blogs and not writing anything on their own. Let’s face it, you’re probably reading this because you’re a word nerd and you dig reading AND writing. So make sure to balance the two and write as much as you read. I for one use the WordPress mobile app on my smartphone and the Reader is pretty efficient–it shows previews of the posts from the blogs you are subscribed to. I think I should structure my time to keep tabs on the people I follow, get inspired, leave a few comments and get back to my own writing. I’m still working on this one, so anyone’s tips will be appreciated.

So these are four cons I have came up with. If you looked for Blogging101 exercises, today’s assignments were to experiment with the themes of my blog. Don’t freak out if the visual appearance of this blog changes suddenly.

Disclaimer: I’m neither an expert, nor a newbie. What’s stated above are purely my thoughts–my sloppy morning thoughts. So critical thinking and commenting is advised. In other words, call out my bullshits, if you find any, deal?

Should You Read Blogs? – Pros

image

Question: For a $9.99, would you prefer to buy a book or subscribe to a newspaper for 3-months?

There is no right choice in this and it depends a lot on what kind of infromation you are looking to get. But the value is same–you want information and you want to look smart.

Hey, hold on, then. What about blogs? Would you spend any time on reading these things? I think you do, chief. And here’s why:

1. Blogs show individual perspectives.
If you browse around, almost every blog has an About Me section. The authors introduce and express themselves to connect with readers. Stephen King wrote writing is “telepathy, of course”. So the advantage of blogs is that the authors not only do telepathy with you and show their perspectives, they do it with extensive visual aids and other media.

2. Blog Authors Are Available to Engage
Remember when you read that cool book and you wrote to the author, but he didn’t reply back in the last five years? Well, it happens. As Neal Stephenson puts it, authors need isolation to produce their work*. (Also apparently, they are not as smart as they seem in the book-telepathy because the books are a result of countless reiterations and redactions. But I know Neal is just being modest :)) Well, with blog authors, you can totally ask questions and get answers. Why did you write this? OMG, my interest is [INSERT POINTLESS HOBBY], too. We should totes hang out. Etc etc.

3. Free Info / Entertainment
You knew this–ye ain’t gotta pay a dime. And while some blogs–present company included–are amateurs, there are tons of dedicated and high-quality blogs out there. Basically, the line between blogs and online magazines are blurring. So you have that free information coming out from passionate people. (They might apply ad-based revenue model, though.) And because of the who’d give a damn about your blog environment, many bloggers have taken a comedic attitude. Their blogs are humorous, because that’s how you distinguish yourself from countless other ‘About Me’s. It’s a tough world out there–but hey, the result is free entertainment for readers!

4. It’s Basically a Twitter With No Limit
Frustrated at squeezing your idea into 140 characters onTwitter? WordPress has become (or it always was) just like Twitter, just with no limit. You can follow, favorite and even retweet reblog someone. So the world is yours, go crazy. Found interesting people? Follow them. Like someone’s post? “Like” it. Jealous of someone’s post? Reblog it. Always on the go? Get a mobile app, like me.

5. You Can Join / Create a Community
The best part of blogging is that, while reading and following other blogs, you can have your own blog, too. The real reason our ancestors invented writing is to contact others. (Don’t eat the cowberries, and Ugg’s an asshole. Hahaha.) Now the technology has sophisticated it to extreme, we can not only leave long notes and hope someone reads it, but also find other people’s notes and ask them about it. This leads to dialogues that help form a community. Finally, you can find people with common interest, be it scuba diving, emo poetry or self-deprecating humor.

* – It’s a lot easier to stalk follow authors now, though. Stephen King now has a Twitter. But I for one follow my favorites on Goodreads.

5 Blogs I’m Following from Today

“Did you know Sherlock Holmes’ original name was Sherrinford?” I learned this and many other things when I followed these five new blogs from today.

1. Interesting Literature

This blog looks professional and indeed ‘interesting’. One of the top articles of this blog was Ten Facts about Sherlock Holmes.

2. Morenomad

I came across this blog while keying in Mongolia in WordPress Reader. This guy is a nomad at heart and he has discovered a secret cinema in Bayan-Ulgii province.

3. HARSH REALITY by A Opinionated Man

This is not your average goody two shoes blog. This is tell it as it is, start-a-discussion kind of blog with just the right amount of ranting. At least that’s the impression I had when I checked it out. The article that hit home for me was You Aren’t Special. Maybe it’s because he mentioned the LinkedIn CEOs from companies he’s never heard of. Ouch!

4. Notes Tied on the Sagebrush

I came across this blog because the owner was the first person to follow and comment on me when I started blogging! (We make sense of the world through the things and people we interact with. That’s the way it works.) Her tagline is simple–writing about life. She had written about travels, cook recipes and thoughts about pop culture, too. Also, if you’re curious about the title, check this out.

5. Dream, Play, Write!

Last but not the least is this blog by Timothy Pike. The simplistic style of his blog and informational content piqued my interest. Top pick of the articles: The 12-Month Author Challenge. I am so glad I found out about this, and I hope this helps you, too.

OK, peeps. I’ll try to follow as much people as I can, especially those who are following me. It’s just that I’m squeezing in this time into a tight schedule, so I haven’t gotten much chance to write a longer post.

Toodle-doo.

My Blog Title, Tagline and UVP

So I thought I’d give a little background on why this blog is titled Natso’s Not So Personal Blog. Yeah, it’s today’s assignment, but I am already satisfied with my title, so I’ll go ahead and publish a post. I haven’t found my angle of writing yet. So far, I know it’s going to be not so personal things, like reading, writing and NGO stuff. I guess I like this title because Natso sounds like not so, and it’s like one of those cheesy puns.

Except there’s something I should tell you about the word Natso. Ladies and gentlemen… (drum roll) the truth of the matter is… Natso is not my real name (gasp!).

My real name has eleven letters and seven of them are consonants. Yep, just about your typical Mongolian name. I won’t write my real name, because, like a lego piece, it poses a choking hazard for the unitiated to pronounce. Talk about mystic spell(ing)s.

So Natso is basically a contraction of my real name. I actually created a blog titled Natso Personal on Blogger a long time ago, but then focused on blogging about books or other things, so I changed it. Basically I don’t like to come across as someone pouring out their personal information  for everyone to see. But when you’re blogging for a long time, and you want to build a relationship with your readers, you might have tendency to write TMI things.

About the tagline: lives in Mongolia, writes in English. As you can see, very simple tagline. What I’m hoping right now is that it becomes my Unique Value Proposition–you know, something that sets me apart from other blogs. I also have seen a lot of short story authors’ bio include “lives in [Insert city and state] with [Insert significant other and obligatory pet]” sentence a lot, so I tried to emulate that.

Speaking of UVP and pets, there was an example in a Coursera class called Foundation for Business Strategy that’s bothering me now. It goes like this.

During the dot-com in the 90s, there was a site called Pets.com. It had a simple brand, simple domain, simple logo (stuffed puppy puppet) and a simple business model–sell pet supplies. It had a good branding and even featured their puppy ad during Super Bowl. Then, it went bust.

Why?

Its Unique Value Proposition was not so unique. Everybody wanted in on the pet supplies and chomped from their market share. It was not unique enough.

So that’s what I am afraid of. That my tagline is simple to the point of being ripped off and spawning several more blogs. In the domain of blogging, especially in Mongolia, I’d see this as a compliment that I’m impacting, if not inspiring, people. But I’ve seen people take and build on my idea to my expense so many times now. For example, my NGO’s UVP is that its trying to build a cluster of creative industries. I talked about this to several crowds, pitching and trying to recruit co-founders for a year now. But this August, a crowdfunding NGO had used an exact word cluster poster basically translating our creative content poster into Mongolian. Worst thing is the folks had even scored an interview in Bloomberg, while I was only getting featured in a newspaper. Granted, the business models are different, but they have taken our UVP!

In most cases, I’m glad when people build in my idea. It gives me the sense I’m making a change. In 2010, I think, there was Startup Weekend 3 in UB, and I pitched my ride-sharing web idea, unaahuvaa. Soon after, the startup show car pool pitch was running. I mean they took the angle, not my pitch, plus I didn’t deliver what I promised, so fair game. But it still brings an awkward situation and makes you think if all the effort you took and someone else getting credit for that makes you feel powerless.
OK. Enough personal information.
I guess the takeaway is that competition is inevitable, and you should focus on building an identity that other people can’t imitate that easily. Some people accomplish it by getting specialized in the least explored market or embracing their weirdest side.

Who I Am and Why I’m Here

OK. You might be wondering, “What is this blog? And who is this guy?”

Hi, I am Natso. I live in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. I have been trying to commit to writing for a while and only recently am I joining a Daily Post 30 day challenge called Blogging 101. That’s right. For the next 30 days, you’re going to see a new post every morning.

What would I write about?
Well, I think I ‘ll write for the sake of writing mostly, but I also became a Co-CEO of an NGO, so you can read about my experience of setting up a “legal entity” in Mongolia. Note how I am not saying a “startup”. That’s because I am not much of an entrepreneur, that thing is risky.
I also have been trying to write stories in English. Yeah, I only have few short stories and I already got few rejections. Let’s see, from Buzzy Mag, Orson Scott Card’ Intergalactic Medicine Show and Far East Enough. I think I’m missing a place. But I have some projects going on that might fare better.

I also like to read, so I’ll write about some interesting things I find out. For instance, I am in the middle of two books, Hemingway’s Farewell to Arms and Account of James Gilmore’s Mission in Mongolia.
While reading Farewell to Arms, I realized I would understand the book better if I had visited Italy. Because the book had a lot of Italian words about wines, breads and stuff. Also, this is my first book by Hemingway, and I’m not sure if I like his style. It sure is punchy though.

On the next book, Gilmore’s a Scottish Christian missionary who lived in Mongolia during the dawn of the 20th century. I found the book while scouting Gutenberg for anything related to Mongolia. It’s basically a tribute to the missionary, but the passing mentions of Mongolians gives me ideas about life in 1900s.

That’s about it, I guess. Writing, heading an NGO and reading. If you want to ask me questions, criticize or commend me, go ahead and leave a comment. I’ll take it all with thick skin. (Ah, who am I kidding, I’ll mope about it all day) If you want to follow me or whatever, I guess hit on the follow button. And I’m writing this from my phone in the morning with no editing so apologies on formatting and sloppy writing.

Have a nice day, I guess.