Good Advice From Jonathan Franzen

It was December 2004 and I had decided I was going to be a writer. My birthday was coming up, and I had recently begun work on a collection of short stories for publication that would fail on all accounts shortly in the future. I was 18, it was my third semester at college and I was going out with this girl that would become my wife just two years later. The world was my oyster and I was overly arrogant and self-assured about everything I did. I was so sure I would be the youngest writer to win the Nobel Prize and an Oscar for a screenplay, and a Grammy for my soundtrack, and so on in the common tradition of twentysomething’s delusions of grandeur.

So picture this wide, blue-eyed, boy getting his chance to shake hands with a real writer, the same kind of person he wants to be some day. He’s so excited to see a real writer in the flesh, someone who’s won awards, and more specifically someone who had won the National Book Award. Of all places, the writer was coming to Fresno, and his name was Jonathan Franzen. The boy was ecstatic to get a glimpse of what his life might be like someday.

The boy and his girlfriend arrived early to get good seats. The boy clutched a brand new copy of The Corrections in his hands, the spine still stiff, the pages only skimmed.

Franzen came out and read one of his New Yorker pieces, which the boy enjoyed and knew this was someone he should listen to. After the reading, there was a Q and A with audience and throughout the Q and A, the boy went back and forth deciding whether or not he trusted Franzen’s opinions about being a writer.

At one point, Franzen spoke about how he hardly read anymore because he could usually anticipate the book’s plot-turns and storyline. At the time, the boy in the audience had read very little. He wondered if becoming a writer meant losing the motivation to read novels, books, poetry, etc. At another point, someone asked if he’d ever be interested in working on a graphic novel adaptation of his book, and whether he had any interest in the medium. Franzen responded saying that he had no interest in graphic novels and saw them as a passing fad with little substance. The boy was crushed. Had all those years spent reading comics, and Alan Moore, and Frank Miller been for naught? Were they trash?

At the end of the Q and A, the boy walked over to book signing line still deciding what to make of Jonathan Franzen. Was this what all serious writers became? Did they all lose interest reading new books? Did they all think comics were a passing fad? If he chose to be a writer, was this his fate? He wouldn’t find answers to those questions that night and certainly not before he came face to face with Jonathan Franzen. And when it was the boy’s turn to have his book signed he was so excited that all those questions that had been spinning around his mind fluttered away and he was overcome with that overflowing optimism, best shown in the picture from the University’s coverage of the event.

The boy blurted out the first thing that came to mind, “I’m going to be a writer. Do you have any advice for me?”

Franzen looked up and saw the boy’s earnestness and paused for a moment, considering his reply and said, “Don’t do it; once you become a writer you’ll have to write for the rest of your life, and you might be better off doing something else like becoming a doctor or a lawyer, or something. But if you do become a writer then I wish you the best of luck.” The boy perplexed, still mentally digesting everything, requested Franzen, “Could you write that down for me?”

Franzen chuckled, “The whole thing?”

“Yeah,” The boy laughed.

(Flash from camera to the left)

He paused, “How ‘bout…” Franzen speaking and writing simultaneously now: “Don’t. do. It. And, Good. Luck. Frowny face. Smiley face.”

“Thanks,” The boy said and shook the author’s hand, still not knowing what to make of the entire experience.

It’s been six years since then and like a zen koan, those words have echoed in the back of my mind. It wasn’t until after I had finished writing my first book that I began to understand a little of what Franzen’s advice to me meant. Don’t bother looking for the book; it doesn’t exist outside my office bookshelf. It was your typical first-novel that took six months and ran a little over a 150 pages. I pitched the book to every literary agent and publisher with an email address I could find, and every small press as well. And of the hundreds I pitched the novel to, 42 asked to see the first few pages, after which, all 42 said they were not interested.

I had spent six months of my life, and who knows how many hours, creating something that bore no financial-fruit whatsoever. And those delusions of grandeur faded with the book’s monumental failure. It wasn’t too long after receiving the last rejection for the book that I realized what it meant to me to be a writer. And I answered that question that all young writers ask themselves at one point or another, “How do you know if you’re a writer?”

My answer: “You know you’re a writer, when you spend half a year working every day on a book that’s rejected by every publisher on this earth, and after all that rejection, you can’t wait to start writing your next book, your next short story, or whatever. That’s when you’re a writer.”

And so despite all the circumstantial evidence that pointed to that fact that I was a lousy writer, it didn’t matter, I was going to write anyway. And I think that’s what Franzen was talking about too. Once you become a writer, it’s something you’ll be compelled to do for the rest of your life, whether you’re good at it or not. Franzen knows this because he’s a writer, and whether he likes it or not, he’ll be writing for the rest of his life, even if his later work isn’t successful or even published. It doesn’t make a difference to him.

For a long time when I reflected on Franzen’s words, all I could hear was him saying, “DON'T’ DO IT. You’re wasting your life kid.” But now that I’m a writer, I hear his “atta-boy” encouragement, “I wish you the best of luck.”

And so I pass Franzen’s good advice onto other young writers and authors, “Don’t do it, but if you do, I wish you the best of luck.”


Truth About An Author Trailer #2

A failed project in my mind, the goal was to make a trailer embodying Arnold Bennett's work "The Truth About An Author". Published for fun in hopes that some may find it entertaining in its attempt, however hacked and bizarre it feels, to create something unique and make something old, new and cool again.

Here's the trailer for the book that is now available in the store section and on Amazon. Enjoy.


I'm Officially A Pirated Commodity!

For some authors, seeing their name in print is when they know they’ve made it. For actors, it’s seeing their name in lights on Broadway. For the band “Nirvana”, it was an accolade to have your song parodied by “Weird Al”. And for me, it’s having my book pirated in the torrent and rapidshare communities.

All the achievements previously mentioned have a common thread for the artist: People like your stuff enough advertise it. And it means something particularly special in my mind, as an artist you’ve made something worth sharing. And this was why I didn’t distribute the book through torrent and pirate sites, because I knew that if the book was worth its salt it would end up there eventually. It was released November 2, 2009 for download, and now almost three months shy of its release anniversary, Learn To Speed Read, has been made available to the pirate communities. My book is now worth being stolen (not really since it’s free to download and share but some users might not know that). And it feels great.

I’d like to send out a big “THANK YOU” to all the pirates and their communities for supporting and distributing my book.

On another note, more updates to follow this week. I’m back from a long trip and have stock piled a lot of material to post. So stay tuned, because the best is yet to come.



Kris Madden


PS: If you want to download the book from one of the sites I've come upon. Here are some links:


The Magic Of Unboxing The iPad

If you are like me and not getting an iPad today, but still want to have that Christmas-Morning-Red-Bike-Under-The-Tree experience of unboxing a brand new iPad. Check out this video from bronxxxcharlie where he unboxes the iPad that he has been waiting for since mid-March. And please forgive him for not narrating the video too well, as he explains he's "just so exited!" Bronxxxcharlie adds his own sound effects for the unvailing of the iPad and brims with anticipation. The video concludes with a disappointed bronxxxcharlie, who after waiting so long, finds out he will have to wait a little bit longer.



Comic Strip from my Archives

Forgot about this strip I did a few months ago. It was never published, so thought I'd post it here today. (And do pardon language).



Wood Glue Gives New Life to Old Vinyl Records

After reading Use Wood Glue to Clean and Restore Old LPs, I just had to try it out on some of my unplayable records I've accumulated over time.

I started out with my Dad's old copy of Cream's Disraeli Gears, which I've cleaned thoroughly multiple times (with my special record cleaner recipe), repaired all the scratches manually by hand, and it still sounded pretty messy. I knew that even if this experiment didn't work out, it wouldn't have been that big of a loss.

The result was astounding. The record was playable for the first time in years, removing almost all noise generated from years of accumulating dust and debris in the record's crevices.

I moved on to something a little more treasured, which was the US Mono release of Jefferson Airplane's Surrealistic Pillow. While I've always loved the way "White Rabbit" sounds on this recording, at its peak on the record it is dissatisfying when shrouded in the static white noise cluttering the recording. After the wood glue treatment, it sounded perfect, beautiful, powerful, and all those other adjectives that express awesomeness.

I've started going through my Sinatra collection applying the glue in the evening and then peeling off the plasticized layer in the morning. It's the best record cleaning solution I've come across, for its thoroughness, time efficiency and cost efficiency. I highly recommend it to anyone out there looking to restore their LP collection. For more info on the process, watch the YouTube video with the Lifehacker post.


Find Free Books With Google

My previous post, “Why buy the milk, when you can get the milk for free?” looked at sites that are giving away content for free. This post looks at how to find books for free with Google using a simple search query.

Here it is:

intext:”[Title of Work]”+”[Author]” filetype:pdf

Like this:

I don’t know how long the link will be available after this is posted, but my guess is that plenty more will pop up, since that’s the nature of the internet-beast.

And when you need a textbook for a graduate class:

A little more digging, but anyone can find a pdf of the book in its entirety.

Why am I writing this?

To let modern day writers know that their work is being distributed around the internet in a million different ways, both known and unknown. I found myself in The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Pakistan Student Handbook, for the 09-10 school year. As a writer, I don't want to spend my days hunting down every last unpaid copy of my book, I'd rather be writing and reading, which is my book can be downloaded, shared, "pirated", transfered, read, etc. for free. But if you want something you can hold your hands, you got to buy a copy, which I think is pretty fair, and so do other popular authors, like Cory Doctorow and Seth Godin.

But everyone's different, so if you're a writer looking to find these circulating free copies of your work, this is one way to locate some of them.

And if you're out to find free stuff on the internet... well, you probably already know about this trick.



I do not endorse illegal activity. This post is meant for informational and educational purposes only to be used at your own discretion.


5 Reasons Why Rocks

It may be a little too early to call this one, but I think 750 Words is on to something great with their website. I’ve been using it for the past week, and the experience has been nothing but pure awesomeness (which was going to be the original phrase that Wednesday was holding, but it didn’t quite fit).


If you’ve ever read a “How to Write” book, chances are somewhere in there was something like this:

“If you want to be a writer, sit down at your computer and mash the keys until you have written 3 pages. Then tomorrow, rinse and repeat.”

You’re motivated and determined and this lasts a couple of days, two weeks max, before you trash the work, start over, give up all together, take a day to break, which becomes a year-long vacation, until you’re back to where you started. Sometimes writing becomes a chore, and it shows through, which only makes the editing process that more tedious and painful. So how do you make something that becomes a chore fun again?

Turn it into a game.

That’s one of the main reasons for the success behind Wii fitness, is that it takes the labor of working out and turns it into a video game. And that’s exactly what 750 Words has done, they’ve taken the labor and chore out of writing and made it fun again, and consistently.


For writing something down, you get 1 point. For writing 750 words, you get 2 points. But the key is consistency, because that’s how you unlock achievements like the first one I just got, the prized 3-days-in-a-row TURKEY. And I’m now heading toward the Penguin and learning about the various other status-creature achievements that can be obtained.

When you’re writing, this changes your whole mindset of what you’re working on. You stop worrying about whether or not, you should trash this section, because it doesn’t fit in with the rest of your book, or not counting a free write because it doesn’t contribute to the big project your working on, and on, and on. Instead, you sit down and write the 750 words, to put a big X in that empty square space at the top of your profile.

At the time of this writing, there are no bonus points, free vacation day passes, that give you points for not writing, which is great because the only way you can stay in the game is by consistently writing.


I was not aware of this feature before signing up, but to me, this is possibly one of the funnest parts of the website. At the end of your writing, there is a series of little graphs and charts that target what you’ve been writing about. Here’s some of mine:


Every month there’s a challenge to write everyday, all in row, without missing a single day. If you complete the challenge you unlock some awesome achievements, but if you fail, your name goes up on the Wall of Shame, to show everyone out there on the internet how much of a screw-up you are. I haven’t got the guts yet to sign up for April yet, but maybe in May. I think everyone likes being awarded for their hard-work, and awards for that daily, solitary, 3 page, writing routine rarely receives any… until now.


The clincher for bringing the whole thing together, is the user’s ability to customize their interface to their liking. Here are a list of the fonts you can currently use at 750 Words:

  • Arial
  • Courier New
  • Georgia
  • Meta
  • Obliqua
  • Palatino Linotype
  • Sharktooth
  • Tahoma
  • Times New Roman
  • Trebuchet
  • Verdana

For me, I use Google Chrome to use the website. I’ve found that when working in FireFox and IE8 that there’s a pause, when the website saves my work. So I’ll be writing… (A few seconds pass)… and then the rest of the words type themselves out in sequence after. I haven’t had this problem in Chrome. This issue may be mine alone, but if you experience something similar try Chrome.

I leave the rest of the settings the same, but type in “Georgia” with the font size being 16. It has a nice look and feel to it, and is easy on the eyes as well.

So if you still haven’t checked it out, do so, it rocks.


Have You Heard The New Hendrix Album?

Is that title correct? Didn't Jimi die? Oh, it's probably one of those junk, exploit-the-dead, releases where all the tracks are poorly mastered and they get sloppy musicians to play on top of Hendrix.

And Yes, these were some of my first thoughts as well, but on the contrary this collection of material is AWESOME! in every one of its tracks. Here's Why:

Sound Quality:

Clear. Significantly so. The album is almost an antithesis of "Electric Ladyland", where Hendrix was experimenting with so many different sounds that in some tracks, you longed for the time when it was just Hendrix and his guitar playing. The recordings themselves mirror that of The Beatles "Let it Be... Naked" album, a stripped down representation of the band playing together and jamming.

Track Selection:

If you're a die-hard Hendrix fan, there's really nothing new here. By now you've found all these tracks on bootlegged vinyl records, collector's boxsets, etc. So you'll probably pick this up, for anyone else looking to see another side of Hendrix I stornly urge you to take a look at picking this up.

Cover Design / Packaging:

Egh. Not really a big deal, not iconic like the earlier covers and packaging. Even the Woodstock and Live at the Filmore East covers surpass in design, aesthetic, coloring. Even the font choice is poor and makes the product feel cheap, but don't let this detract you from the quality of these recordings. And in time, I'm sure there will plenty of fan covers you use to replace this one in your iPod.


Don't listen to my opinion, I'm biased. I love Hendrix, and he is my vote for the best guitarist of all time. So if they released an album of Hendrix playing scales, practicing, I would probably pick it up. Instead I encourage you to listen to it for yourself and make your own decision about these recordings. At the very least you'll get a chance to hear Hendrix in new way, which is always a geat opportunity.


750 Words - Love The Idea, but I Can't Signup

What's 750 Words?

It's a website that gives you points for keeping up with your writing routine. You know, the one that you told yourself you were definitely going to keep up this time to finish your great American novel.Well, we know how that goes. Anyway, I love the idea behind this site, but signups are temporarily unavailable. Until they are, check out their FAQ and website.

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