Welcome to Writing the Wrong Way!
My name is Jonathan Ball, and I am a writer, editor, and teacher with a PhD in English. I help serious writers experiment and innovate so they can develop their skills, learn to love their desks, and break through their blocks.
While I also use this site to keep fans up-to-date on my doings, its core audience is non-beginner writers who seek high-level instruction on writing and the writing life.
I live in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, where I teach writing, literature, and film at the University of Manitoba and the University of Winnipeg. In 2014, I won a Manitoba Book Award for Most Promising Manitoba Writer.
About This Site
As writers grow, they stagnate. They get stuck, they write in circles, they grow bored. They may have “writer’s block,” or they may have something else: malaise. They can write, but they feel like they’re repeating themselves. They wilt without sun.
They want sun. They want to develop their skills and their artistry. They’ve worked hard to get to where they are, and they don’t want to give up.
But they cannot see the sun. And they do not know where else to look.
Because everywhere they look, wherever people speak of writing, they speak in generalities. They discuss basics. You can find tens of thousands of books on writing. How many say anything you haven’t heard before?
The problem is that most writing instructors aim at the largest market, but the largest market is beginning writers. If you aren’t a beginner — or are just a quick learner — there is very little out there for you. Most everything is targeted either at someone who just starting writing ten minutes ago, or who already has three degrees in the subject.
You can pick up a book by Syd Field, or you can pick up a book by Derrida. But you won’t catch Syd Field writing about Derrida.
Instead of detailed analyses and explanations, you get checklists masquerading as articles, and articles masquerading as books. Instead of being pushed to experiment, you get pushed towards cheap formula. Instead of complex engagement with new ideas, you get Aristotle’s reheated leftovers.
I don’t know about you, but I’m sick of all this nonsense. I’m a creative writing instructor that can hardly find a decent textbook to use in my courses, in an age when a new book on writing is probably published every week. They are all too conservative, too basic, or too abstract.
So, I’m focusing my writing instruction in this new direction: a radical, complex, detailed focus. I want to help serious writers — non-beginners, whether published authors or serious students — experiment, in order to develop their skills and artistry.
Let’s clear away these clouds, all the nonsense about “how to write right.” It doesn’t get us anywhere that someone else hasn’t already gone.
Instead, let’s try writing the wrong way.
I am the author of a number of books in different genres:
- Ex Machina (BookThug, 2009) considers the relationship between humans, books, and machines.
- Clockfire (Coach House Books, 2010) consists of 77 plays that would be impossible to produce.
- The Politics of Knives (Coach House Books, 2012), which won a Manitoba Book Award, explores the violence of language, narrative, and spectatorship.
- John Paizs’s Crime Wave (University of Toronto Press, 2014), which also won a Manitoba Book Award, examines the 1985 cult film classic as an important example of early postmodern Canadian cinema.
- Why Poetry Sucks: An Anthology of Humorous Experimental English Canadian Poetry (Insomniac, 2014), co-edited with Ryan Fitzpatrick, scrutinizes Canada’s poetic avant-gardes for signs of humorous life.
- This eBook is otherwise provided to you as-is (The Martian Press, 2014) is an experimental novella sculpted entirely from passages from out-of-copyright novels transcribed by Project Gutenberg that were e-mailed to me by spambots.
My poetry books are published under Creative Commons licenses, to allow for education copying and so that you can remix their contents.
The Structure of This Site
This site focuses on five main topics:
- Writing. My posts about writing range between theory and practice, but focus on experimental techniques and on tips to improve your skills as a writer.
- Editing. My posts about editing focus on revising both for style and structure, with an emphasis on how writing can develop through multiple drafts.
- Reading. My posts on reading often take the form of recommendations or reviews. I read at least #95books each year. Sometimes I post poems or fiction or work in progress, “reading material” for you.
- Working. My posts on working focus on the actual, practical process of writing. I aim to demystify writing. I don’t believe in inspiration and object to how writing is often discussed in quasi-mystical ways. I walk through my own writing systems in detail, and discuss the tools I use.
- Film. I am a screenwriter and have also directed films, worked in film crews, and am a film scholar. My writings on film range from essays and reviews to film-related discussions of the other four categories.
Some articles fit into more than one category. In addition to articles, this site features three other types of posts:
- Interviews. I often interview writers and other artists. These interviews are focused around specific, narrow topics. They include print, audio, and video interviews.
- Remixes. Readers sometimes send me artistic work they have created from my poetry books, which are published under Creative Commons licenses. This is where I post remixes. Make your own!
- Stuff. These are “mini-posts” that include past media appearances, links to my publications on other sites, event notices, announcements, books I recommend, quotes, videos I thought were cool … a whole bunch of random things that don’t have the depth of my articles, but may still be of interest or use.
Disclosure of Material Connection
Around the site you’ll notice the following disclosure:
Some of the links on this website are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Also, most books reviewed have been provided free of charge by the publishers, which doesn’t affect my opinion. Thanks for your support.
This is a legal disclaimer. Every website that reviews books, which receives these books for free (basically, everyone) is supposed to post a disclosure like this. As you can tell, almost nobody does. They should.
I also, as noted in the disclaimer, sometimes post affiliate links. For example, here is an affiliate link to buy a course on Scrivener. What an “affiliate link” means is that if you click on that link, and then buy that course, I will be paid a commission for referring you. Again, using these links is something a lot of sites do, and they are supposed to also post a legal disclaimer of some nature, like the one I post.
Since it costs me money to run this site, and takes a lot of time, I have decided to try to support this site through affiliate links rather than advertising. I routinely turn down requests to run ads on this site, and this is my alternative. I have three simple rules regarding these affiliate links:
- I only recommend things I love and use. For example, I actually bought that Scrivener course myself. It blew my mind. It was worth 10 times as much as it costs. It changed my entire writing life. If it hadn’t, I wouldn’t recommend it.
- I post links to McNally Robinson before links to Amazon on purpose. I have mixed feelings about Amazon, but I am not conflicted about my love for McNally Robinson, my local bookseller, and an independent Canadian company! So I try to focus on my affiliate relationship to them.
- My opinion about the books I receive is not affected by my relationships with the publishers. You get to know these publishers, some of whom have published me, especially in a country as small as Canada. That doesn’t matter to me, as a reviewer. I praise when I think things deserve praise, but I can also be pretty ruthless. I’m not here to make friends. That said, since I only review books I finish reading (I stop reading a lot of books partway through), I typically am positive in reviews.
My master list of affiliates (and also, non-affiliates that I just think are super-cool) is my Resources page.
On this site, I interview other writers, review books by other writers, and promote other writers. I publish poems by other writers, and otherwise try to be an upstanding member of the community of writers, insofar as that phrase makes any sense online.
Are you another writer? If you want to have yourself or your work featured on this site in some way, please read through my FAQ and then contact me.