On reading

So many books, so little time

Stephen King reads more than 80 books a year. I thought I was ahead of the game attempting to read 50 books a year. Since I started keeping track:

2010 – 10 books (It was a bad year in many ways) (9 fiction, 1 non-fiction)
2011 – 32 (14 fiction, 18 non-fiction)
2012 – 33 (24 fiction, 9 non-fiction)
2013 – 37 (24 fiction, 13 non-fiction).

I felt rather chastised after reading King’s book On Writing because he is reading all the time (even waiting in line at the post office, etc). His advice is basically that writers must immerse themselves in books in order to improve writing skills. I agree with this. And as I am writing fiction, I feel like I haven’t been reading enough fiction.

This year I decided to read more fiction, and I started the early months off wonderfully. I read 11 books by the first week in February. But I am not Stephen King, and there was a backlash…repercussions. Since that first week in February I have been reading strictly non-fiction (except for some of the blogs I keep up with). I went far too long without getting my dose of reality. My interests are far too varied to keep my nose buried in novels when there is so much I have to learn and know about everything.

And as far as the 50 books/year goes, well – I will keep that goal, just so that I am constantly moving forward and improving myself. And even though I feel bad sometimes that I haven’t made that goal yet, I don’t think that is a bad thing, considering that I don’t take into account the thousands of words of news I read daily, or my subscriptions to The Economist, YES!, Wired, Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, Entertainment Weekly, Family Handyman, Mother Jones, Urban Farm, Grit, Reason, and a couple of others I may have missed, plus my local newspaper. Yeah, I feel satisfied that I read the equivalent of at least 100 books a year, if not more.

So maybe I’m not learning as much about how fiction writers write fiction. But I’m sure that my varied interests and all of my learning will somehow reveal themselves in my own fiction, and even though my books may not become NYT bestsellers (although there’s always a chance), at least they will be unique, different, and mine. Stephen King* can read all the fiction he wants, I just can’t do it.

471px-Stephen_King,_Comicon*Before anyone gets the wrong idea, King is one of my all time great idols. And I only have a few all time great idols. He is a hero to me. It is because of my respect for him that his statement in the book bothered me enough that I had to write about it and justify, if only for myself, why I don’t follow in his footsteps in this area.


Analyze your writing with Expresso

glasses-272401_1920I have seen text analysis engines before, but these engines generally are used for text mining, or data mining of text. I have never seen an app that analyzed a writer’s style. Until today. I just found Expresso, and I am incredibly impressed.

Before I get into the details, I need to say that this is one of the cleanest, purest, uncluttered apps that I have ever seen. It is beautiful in its simplicity.

From the website:

Learn practical techniques to improve your writing style

QuoteWhile good writing style is hard to master, there are several simple yet powerful techniques which many writing guides and coaches focus on. They can quickly improve the quality of your texts. Expresso teaches these techniques by applying them directly to your writing.

I picked a random post from my blog, and copied a random paragraph from that post, and pasted it into Expresso.


Now as I click on each stylistic “problem” from the metrics on the right, it highlights the related portions of my text, and I am able to determine whether or not to make a change. I can also change the text in the app and analyze it again if I want to.

Here I have highlighted all instances of “passive voice” (green) and “modals” (blue):


Having just discovered this internet gem, I’m sure there is a lot more to discover, and if it proves to be a really helpful tool, there is no doubt you’ll be hearing more about it. But go ahead and give it a try. Just remember, it’s not a writing god, it’s just an app, so before you go ahead and change that beautiful sentence of yours, remember:

… don’t blindly optimize metrics in your texts


Writing metrics employed by Expresso can be powerful but they are not a “magic bullet”. They highly correlate with good writing but are not the cause of it, just like umbrellas correlate with rain but, of course, don’t trigger it. Therefore, there is no benefit in optimizing the metrics blindly. For example, constructing short nonsensical sentences out of several common short words — “it”, “get”, “all”, etc — will result in a low readability grade; however, the text will be unintelligible. Instead, use highlighted metrics to identify weak areas and to get ideas for possible edits.

Good writing style remains an art, not a science…

Kennedy, Lincoln, and Snopes oh my…


Every once in a while I wander over to Snopes.com and hit their randomizer button in order to see if I can learn anything new. A few days ago, I landed on the Lincoln/Kennedy Coincidences rebuttal, and I was entirely surprised at the demeanor of the unnamed author of the rebuttal. I have read hundreds of Snopes articles by now, and I have never seen one that seemed as distressed or as angry as the article on this urban legend. The author seems downright irritated that this particular legend persists. Usually Snopes has a good sense of humor about their mission, but there is a tone throughout the piece that is somewhat distressing, and it makes me wonder what set the writer off on the tangent. Below are some quotes, but it is the article in its entirety that has the underlying anger.

QuoteWe’re supposed to be amazed at minor happenstances such as the two men’s being elected exactly one hundred years apart, but we’re supposed to think nothing of the numerous non-coincidences

QuoteAnother non-surprise. Absent all other factors, the odds were already one in seven that both killings would have occurred on the same day of the week. (Don’t even think about writing to tell us that we’re wrong and the odds are really one in forty-nine. If you think we’re wrong, you don’t understand the question.)

QuoteThis is one of those coincidences thatisn’t a coincidence at all; it’s simply wrong.


QuoteCoincidence? Neither their first nor last names have the same number of letters. And why should it be significant that both assassins had the same number of letters in their full names when the same wasn’t true of Abraham Lincoln and John Fitzgerald Kennedy, or of Andrew Johnson and Lyndon Baines Johnson?

A side note!

I found it kind of humorous that in the rebuttal of coincidences, Snopes actually gave us one more coincidence to consider (underlined in quote):

QuoteThis “coincidence” is another one which is exceedingly trivial in nature. The only two types of shots which reasonably assure a dead victim are chest shots and head shots, so two assassinations committed by head shots aren’t the least bit coincidental — especially when one considers that since both Lincoln and Kennedy were shot from behind and while seated, so their assassins had no other practical choice of target.

A note to the author of this Snopes piece:

It’s all gonna be okay! It really is. Have some tea and enjoy the evening.

The best selfie ever – Selfie analysis.

The Selfie

best selfie ever

Toot Toot!
Toot Toot!

My sister sent me this picture, I’m not going to take any credit for it. She called this the best selfie ever. My brother-in-law is driving this train. He has maybe the coolest job ever, testing trains. He came around the bend, saw the mirror, and took the shot. I’m thinking about buying him an engineer cap for Christmas.

The Selfie-Analysis

On Voice

My friend MRS recently wrote a post about her voice. Not her singing voice, although I’m sure it’s lovely. Her voice as a writer. I thought it was a really good idea, and I’m the kinda guy who loves making lists to help organize the brain. So I thought I would try to make a list for myself and my readers to sort out just what is going on in my blog, my brain, and my life.

The Problem (aka Alien Blues)

I immediately ran into a problem. What is this blog about? (Ok, so I’ve said before and I’ll say it again, that I don’t like blogging about blogs.) What is my voice? I really have no idea. Most blogs are about something, and people seem to like to choose a topic. All of the advice on how to run a blog will tell you to choose a topic instead of writing random posts. Even in my own mind, if I wrote to gain readers and to get popular I would pick a niche topic and write about it. The narrower the topic the better, like Space alien musicians that play at blues bars in Seattle. That blog would gain readers.

What I want

That’s not what I want. I do this as an outlet – something that I can pour myself into. This is more of a journal. An interactive journal. I needed something to tie everything in my life together in a neat little package. When someone says “who are you?” I can answer, “go to Matthew Alan Bennett dot com and you’ll get a better picture.”

This is a place to post my thoughts, my art, my music, my magic, my writing. If I think of something funny or smart, my first reaction is often to write a post. I don’t do Facebook, I don’t do Twitter. I do WordPress.

I think my voice comes through – I think that people can get an idea of who I am based on what is here in this blog. And the more you dig (I’ve heard), the more you learn. I think everyone is like that though. If people keep writing down their thoughts for years and you look through them, no matter who is doing the writing you’ll see intelligent thoughts and stupid ones, you’ll see beautiful coherence and blatant contradiction. When people are honest with themselves, that’s what they will end up with. There’s no way around it.

A Catalog of Experiencing Life

I’ve always wondered how to categorize a life. Can you write down the essence of a human being? My answer is no. You just can’t do it. We are too complex, too emotional, too action oriented. I might not be able to categorize my life, but I can try. And I can try hard.

This website has done something different than I thought it would. It has inspired me to  move forward. The simple fact that I am posting, and people are reading, gives me the inspiration to keep trying new things. And in the end, I guess that’s what this is all about. That is my voice. I am writing about my taste-testing of life. Experiencing what it has to offer. I write about trying new things and getting better at old things. So you will see some good paintings and some bad ones. And hear some good songs and some bad ones. Because it’s not about impressing people, it’s about doing something, anything, every day to experience life as I want to experience it.

A haiku series on writing

photoI wrote these five poems for the WordPress’ Daily Post Weekly Writing Challenge. It is a haiku challenge, “you choose the topic”. I thought it was a pretty cool challenge for myself to see if I could actually do it. I had some fun 🙂

I chose “writing” for my topic, which made this exercise really interesting.

I like this first line
The second is not better
Just ‘cus it’s longer
Sometimes what you say
Is not quite as important
As what you don’t say
If you have the time
Be as real as you can be
Always have the time
 The masters of art
Always say the same darn thing
Be yourself and DO!
Being musical
Does not always help me think
Being honest does

—–And A Special Bonus Haiku——
Read between the lines
Make this haiku yours