The Fnord Project

Today, I learned what a Fnord was from my friend Chris Bachmann who is somewhat of a sci-fi geek. He referred to it in a discussion and went on to refer to this Wikipedia entry that describes a Fnord in greater detail.

A Fnord is a literary reference made famous by The Illuminatus Trilogy where subjects were trained from an early age, as part of a greater conspiracy, to not be able to consciously see the word fnord. According to Wikipedia, “for the rest of their lives, every appearance of the word subconsciously generates a feeling of uneasiness and confusion, and prevents rational consideration of the subject.”

The Wikipedia article goes on to describe other places where the word fnord has been used, including in hacker and programmer circles (who knew?!) and other counter-culture subgroups.

The concept is hypnotic and speaks to people doing things without understanding and without really seeing why?

Along this line of reasoning, the concept of a fnord can be seen in every aspect of life, from politics to business; in parenting to religion; from how we behave psychologically to how we drive our cars.

This is a writing project and I would love it if we could award a prize, so if you have something to give away, send me an email to aaron@technosailor.com and I’ll update this entry accordingly.

Here’s the deal: write a 400-600 word entry around the concept of fnord. It is okay to mention the word, fnord but try to minimize it’s use. You should stay within your niche, whatever that niche. Feel free to link back to this entry if you’d like. I don’t approve trackbacks, but I’ll certainly see your post. More importantly, tag your article fnordproject (#fnordproject).

The writing project will go until next Sunday, July 13 at midnight Eastern time. I’ll certainly write a roundup post linking all of the entries together and decide on a winner at that time, if we have any giveaways (and I think we will!)

Good luck to you!

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Western Style Writing vs. Eastern Style Writing

I have never been an english major, nor do I claim to be an expert in the topic of good, solid writing form. However, I’ve had some observations on how posts are written. On one side, most people will say, “I don’t really care if my posts conform to a certain writing style.” That’s perfectly okay. I’d argue that writing styles, though, have more impact on an audience when the psychology or philosophy of the style is considered.

From my perspective, there is a western and an eastern-style writing system. I think most literature experts would agree with this and heck, they may even teach this in school. I don’t know. I’ve personally used both styles and will give some examples.

Western Style Writing

A Western style post typically has the thesis up front. What does the writer want to say. Grab the audience right from the start. The, “You had me at hello” sentiment.

In Western style writing, readers don’t want to sit around and wait for the punchline. We want to know right now what your point is. It is from this psychology that the art of the headline comes in. Brian Clark over at Copyblogger covers this kind of stuff in great depth and, sometimes, ad nauseum. In Journalism, the headline may be the most important part of an article and realistically, the search engines are setup with this assumption.

In my post the other day entitled Indeti.ca and the Art of the Launch, I conveyed a western lit style. My subject line was strong in relating the content of the post. My thesis is in the very first paragraph:

Ask any startup. The most difficult decision leading up to a public release is when and what? Some might argue that getting funding is the most difficult but a good startup avoids funding until later, if at all. Others might argue that the difficult part is getting the right mix of people and hitting milestones. That also is important, but not as important as the when and how.

See that? Startups and launch. The most important part is the when and how.

This statement clearly defines the scope of the rest of the article. As I progress through the article, I build on that thesis by providing supporting evidence (other companies who are just starting and had to deal with the same issues) and then solidly land a right hook on the company in question by bringing the point home. At the end of it all, I bring it all home in the larger context of the thesis.

Eastern Style Writing

The eastern style of writing is all about Zen. It’s very Buddhist in that sense. It understands that good things come to those who wait and that, in general, an article is an entire piece instead of a logical, and linear progression. An article written in an eastern style generally has the thesis statement in the middle of the piece. Everything, like the the planets in the solar system, revolves as a whole around it.

Take my recent essay for the Fourth of July. It is very much an Eastern Lit piece.

The thesis of the essay does not arrive until halfway through the article:

Patriotism is a love of country. Patriotism is not an act demonstrating a love of country. Patriotism is respect and honor. Patriotism is not a shallow public display of affection. Patriotism is the ability to stand back and say, “œWow, I’m blessed to be an American”. Patriotism is not “œAmerica and no one else.” Patriotism is recognizing that, at the end of the day, despite disagreement we can all stand shoulder to shoulder in defense of the freedom to disagree.

Leading up to this thesis statement was a story and supporting details: Katherine Lee Bates, Pikes Peak, America the Beautiful. The end wraps up the whole idea. Patriotism as demonstrated by politicians, quotes from other bloggers, etc.

Even the headline wasn’t overly compelling: America the Beautiful. What does that headline convey about the article? Not a whole lot, if I’m honest. (For what it’s worth, you probably should use more descriptive headlines simply because search engines are designed with the assumption that the headline will be very important to the rest of the content.)

It’s okay to use neither of these writing style or both, as I do. In my mind, the key is understanding the demographics of your audience and recognizing that how they think should reflect how you write. If your audience is largely a North American audience, you probably will be better off with a Western writing style unless you want to challenge them outside of their norms. For me, I find it more natural to write in an eastern style. It’s a more satisfying thought and writing process as it forces me to think long before I actually sit down to write.

How do you write?

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