Monday, September 1, 2014

Crap you could buy

Consumerism: the great American hobby! The magazine Financial Times has a website called "How to Spend It," which I think is hilarious, because yes, there are people so rich they literally need help finding ways to spend all their money. Anyway, I haven't blogged in a month, or written a poem or anything like that, because I guess August is not a time for deep thoughts. So instead I'll show you some stuff that I've bought lately and recommend, in case you have no idea what to do with your paychecks (because you bought your house and cars and everything in cash, natch).

Let's start with fashion stuff.

Pilcro Superscript High-Rise Jeans


I bought these at Anthropologie when I was in Seattle for a few days this summer (#mozcon). I actually just grabbed them so I'd have something to try on with a top, but I liked them so much I bought them at full price ($128, not bad for jeans these days). They have a little bit of a "mom jeans" vibe so I'm surprised I like them so much, but they're like sexy '70s MILF mom jeans. They're also so, so comfortable, really soft and stretchy, but they don't lose their shape, which is key, because I literally never wash my jeans. And I feel like they make me look very skinny and long-legged, which is also key, because the trend in my 30s is that I tend to be a little chubbier during the summer months, which is backwards and wrong. Now that it's getting cooler I think I'm pretty much back to normal.

Dansko clog sandals


In the spring I picked up this pair of Dansko clog sandals at Nordstrom Rack, and they have been my best footwear purchase in a while. They're so comfortable! I love that the platform gives me a couple of inches in height, but I can still walk around in these all day. I wore them all summer and took them on all my trips, and they should last me another couple of years at least. (I view red as a neutral so yes, I wore these with everything, though I don't particularly like how they look when I'm wearing red.) Again, these are a little bit like mom sandals .. whatever. I'm 34, people, and not for long.

Madewell jewelry


I really like the jewelry at Madewell. It's more basic than the stuff they have at J. Crew and also actually seems to be "made well." Several jewelry items I've purchased from J. Crew have fallen apart after a few wears, but I've been wearing this stuff a lot and it feels pretty indestructible. Also I love this kind of brassy off-gold shade.

Now for some beauty stuff.

Trader Joe's Coconut Body Butter


I am very picky about coconut scents. I love coconut, but it can go wrong easily. Most commonly, it's either too buttery and ends up smelling like old movie theater popcorn, or there's too much vanilla and it's sickly-sweet. This body butter smells awesome (like an ice cream shop somehow) and also feels really rich and nice. I always have two or three of the Body Shop body butters around, but this is much cheaper ($4.99!). Look how luscious! It looks like frosting.

e.l.f. Long-Lasting Lustrous Shadow


I don't know what this shade is called; the container doesn't say, but it's like a bronzey gold. I found this at TJ Maxx, so it must have been like a dollar because e.l.f products are usually only $2.99 to start with. (Aside: I always feel like it's real redundant when someplace like H&M has a sale. I can't be bothered with those sale racks. If it didn't sell at $11.99, that's a sign.) Despite the name, this doesn't work as a base/primer on its own; I need to layer it over a long-lasting base like the Maybelline Color Tattoos or Benefit creaseless shadows. Then you can tap it over the top and it lasts a long time without creasing. Super shimmery and pretty, but not over-the-top glitzy like you can only wear it to the disco and feel appropriate. It has a cool, soft gel-like consistency, similar to the Dream Bouncy blush I mentioned here, still one of my day-to-day favorites. Also, speaking of Color Tattoos, I just bought two of the new matte "leather" shades at Target; one is a really nice taupe-y lavender, one of my favorite eye shadow shades.

Boots No 7 by Poppy King lipstick in History


This is from a collaboration that Poppy King did with Boots exclusively (I think?) for Target. This is one of my all-time favorite red lipsticks, and I recently repurchased after a disastrous parking mishap where John opened my car door and my bag tumbled out onto a sewer grate. I'm lucky that nothing super-valuable like my phone or keys fell down the grate, but I did have to watch like 5 lipsticks fall down there irretrievably (sob!). So far I think this is the only one I've repurchased, because I was afraid it would be discontinued. I haven't even worn it yet, though, because it's more of a fall/winter shade. These have such a nice, creamy formula and are a little sheer. They don't carry this in my store anymore, but you can order it online.

Everyday Coconut salt spray



I just can't bring myself to spend $20 or whatever on the Bumble & Bumble surf spray. It's mostly water and salt, right? And yet, I'm too lazy to make my own. I got this stuff on sale at Whole Foods (I think it was $5.99?) and I really like it. The below (heavily filtered) pic, which demonstrates its wave-ifying properties in action, is from before I cut my hair; now it's back to collarbone length. I kind of liked having it super-long and glamorous for a while, but it also felt semi-unnecessary and at times borderline ridiculous.


Surprisingly I don't really have any other makeup finds to share. I've bought plenty of stuff, but nothing I like better than stuff I already had. Oh wells.

And finally moving on to food.

Cucina Antica ketchup


Holy moly, this is some of the best ketchup I've ever had, and certainly the best packaged ketchup that normal people can actually afford. Homemade ketchup is one of my favorite things, and this really tastes homemade. I stock up when it goes on sale at Whole Foods (for a while it was 2 for $6). Amazing on breakfast potatoes.

Secco "vino frizzante"


A Trader Joe's opened up near us probably six months or so ago but for a while it was way too crowded to actually go. It's calmed way down, and I go every few weeks or so to buy wine and the funny little snacky foods they only sell there. It always makes me feel weird because I used to shop at TJ's in Boston all the time, and all the stuff is the same; it gives me those same kind of sad flashbacks as smelling the perfume that someone you used to know wore. Anyway, they carry this cheap prosecco (like the body butter above, $4.99!) and it's quite delightful and "quaffable." I just bought two bottles to bring to a picnic in the park, along with a liter of orange juice. NB: the boxed wine they carry is also totally decent. I think it's $11.99 and I like the white one more than some $30 boxes we've tried.

Unexpected Cheddar


Another TJ's find. This cheddar reminds me of aged gouda; it has that slightly grainy texture and hints of caramel. This would be great with sliced apples. (Boston people: Have you had the Farmer's Lunch sandwich from City Feed? Cheddar, green apples, grainy mustard, and pickled green tomatoes on a roll. So good.)

How have YOU supported capitalism lately?

Friday, August 1, 2014

Reading and writing (minimal arithmetic)


My review of Ben Lerner's second novel, 10:04, is up in the new Open Letters. Here's how it starts:
As a self-imposed pseudo-challenge, I recently decided to read T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” every day for 30 days. Though I left the tab open in my browser for a month, I failed to complete the challenge. Still, each time I re-read it, I was awed by the way Eliot posits a character and then projects on him a haughty, highbrow diction, creating ironic distance between author and speaker. Thus the poem unfolds like a kind of magic trick: Eliot manages to use “mock poetry voice” to write one of the most moving and beautiful poems in the English language. 
I suspect that Ben Lerner—who wrote three acclaimed books of poetry before his first novel, 2012’s excellent Leaving the Atocha Station—is also an admirer of Eliot. In his second novel, 10:04, Lerner has created a work of autobiographical metafiction that continually finds new ways to refer to itself as writing—“the author” is never quite the author, the narrative is always one or two steps removed. Lerner as author is a master manipulator, immersing you into the flow of a story and then pulling you back up to the surface at will. On the first page he tells us: “I am kidding and I am not kidding.”
I found it to be a fascinating but also frustrating book. For example:
10:04 is repetitive—recursive—by design, but people who are interested in repetition tend (guess what?) to overdo it, and while at first I found it clever when a simile or analogy would show up in both the novel proper and in one of the embedded stories or poems, I eventually grew tired of seeing the same metaphors and turns of phrase (literally verbatim) over and over, almost as though the book were creating its own system of clichés. When something unusual happens, it’s always for “whatever complex of reasons”; the warmth, whether in New York or Texas, is always unseasonable. (You can’t write a work of near-real-time autobiographical metafiction, or NRTAMF, without the undercurrent of global warming.)
Anyway, I hope you'll read the review, and the book! 

I also contributed to this month's "Title Menu" list feature, "10 Great 'Minor' Works by Major Writers" AKA in praise of b-sides. I wrote about U & I, Nicholson Baker's first nonfiction book:
It’s less about John Updike than it is about Baker’s weird obsession with Updike – weird not because Updike isn’t worthy but because Baker takes his fandom to such absurd, neurotic heights, approaching an imaginary rivalry: “Hardly a day has passed over the last thirteen years in which Updike has not occupied at least a thought or two,” he writes, then goes on to list all the Updike books he hasn’t read.
I also read Play It As It Lays, finally, then Alice Bolin on Joan Didion (coincidental timing), then a bunch of Didion essays I had never gotten around too. Then most of Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay (my favorite essay, oddly, had naught to do with feminism; it was the Scrabble essay; who knew Roxane Gay was a competitive Scrabble player?! Not I). (You can read the essay online, but it costs 99 cents.)

What have you been reading? 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Some Notes on Influence (inspired by Noah Eli Gordon)

I’m just getting around to reading Novel Pictorial Noise by Noah Eli Gordon, which was selected by John Ashbery for the National Poetry Series and published by Harper Perennial in 2007. It’s pretty remarkable. By stacking up big, vague, abstract Latinate terms, he creates complex sentences that appear to be rich with meaning and knowledge, but upon inspection, mean almost nothing, because none of the terms are well-defined. The near-meaninglessness of the prose poems on the recto pages is highlighted by the true meaninglessness of the fragments (erasures?) on the verso pages – each open page looks like this (click the image to enlarge):


As such the poems become pure syntax and vocabulary, sentences for the sake of sentences, with the ideas seemingly just beyond view, obscured by the foliage. For example: “What example doesn’t contain the blooming topography of its own terminology?” Or: “The grand narrative the end of narratives had had had had no grandiose ending.” This is very much how Ashbery’s poetics work. And, as in Ashbery, the fog will break and reveal the occasional moment of crisp truth. (“By definition, actors are interchangeable.” Or: "The world's not weirder than we think, but weirder than we can think.") In fact, reading Novel Pictorial Noise, I feel that I better understand Ashbery.

Here’s one in full, to better see their diagrammatic beauty:

If you see the straight highway before you is permanently closed, then a picture is conjured to fix ambiguity. Although a rope doesn’t ask for its knot, any expression is merely detour dressed with intention, a side road muddied from constant use. Why should a thread understand a carpet? Unimportant that my arrows point anywhere, accidental that an actual wind moves them. As always, this road ends behind us. Why should a machine be anything other than a picture of itself, when meaning and purpose read as vestments of design and one has the burden of officiating doubt on one’s mind?

(The poems usually end on a rhyme, a funny little “yes, this is poetry” flourish that reminds me of Bach.)

Funny story: I learned recently that Noah Eli Gordon has confused me for years with another person, namely a woman that John dated on and off before we met. Once, this woman, who was also blonde but otherwise looks nothing like me, met NEG at the Boston Poetry Festival and told him she was a fan of his work. A few months ago, he recounted this memory to me, and I had to admit he was thinking of someone else.

I wonder if this false memory had any influence on the way he read my poetry. In any case, NEG taught The Self Unstable in his class at UC Boulder last semester, and I visited the class to do a reading and Q&A. We had a few minutes to spare beforehand, so we hung out in his office, and he gave me copies of all his books. He remarked that he thought I’d find Novel Pictorial Noise to be similar in interesting ways to my book. And yes, of course, I do. I’ve remarked before that I often lament I can’t write more like Ashbery, or perhaps it’s just that I don’t; when I sit down to write, Ashbery is not what comes out. But in Novel Pictorial Noise, I see a link between my poetry and Ashbery’s, suggesting we have a common ancestor after all.

I’ve been thinking a lot about influence lately. The only real anxiety in my influence is that I don’t have (m)any influences, at least not intentionally – I’m not good at imitating my “heroes,” and I don’t really believe in heroes, literary or otherwise. People, even heroes, let you down. But who knows how these things work? I was reading a lot of Anne Carson in college and grad school, and would have loved to have someone compare me to her. Nobody did, with good reason. Instead they compared me to Frank O’Hara. Now that I’m not reading Carson, people are saying The Self Unstable reminds them of Short Talks. It’s like the “watched pot never boils” theory of literary influence: only when you’re not trying. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Sneak peek of Kate Colby's I Mean

Kate Colby's I Mean, forthcoming from Ugly Duckling next year, is going to blow your mind. I love love love this essay called "The Needle," which is about writing and art and monuments and memory and pain; here's an excerpt:
Does some pain mean more than other pain? 
A baby is born and left to die on an open plain. It has a name, but doesn’t know it. 
Pain is a fuzzy gray dot with definite dimensions that can’t be measured, except on a personal scale. Hospital nurses will ask you to rate your pain from one to ten before administering medication. This task is difficult for me. Am I ranking my pain against itself or against all other pain I’ve experienced? I’m fortunate to have only ever been hospitalized during and while recovering from childbirth. Both times I felt the pain of labor and childbirth itself to be very lonely, and I can’t explain why this is. It goes against my desolate sense that if pain has meaning, it has to do with the extent to which it is witnessed. Surely the experience of giving birth to a child is one of the most painful. Surely being born is another. But while mother and child simultaneously, symbiotically suffer and witness, neither knows nor thinks of the other’s pain, and maybe that’s what makes it so lonely—it’s a pain mutually witnessed and mutually unheeded by two entwined people, the physical part of whose attachment is but a taste of the crushing, comprehensive conjoinment to come. 
If witness makes pain mean, so might remembering—memory makes you your own ongoing witness. But one can neither remember the pain of one’s own birth nor call back the pain of childbirth. And while the pain of childbirth is to be dreaded, it does not matter so long as it’s behind you, even if you want it to. Why is it that the memory of one’s own physical suffering is not usually troubling, but the anticipation of future suffering is? And yet, knowing that a loved one has suffered before death is terrible. But knowing that a loved one has suffered and then survived is not very terrible at all. In any case, one is not suffering now. 
An unnamed baby is born and left to die on an open plain. (You little black hole.) (Shut up.)

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Some thoughts on the line in poetry

The importance of the "line break" in poetry is overstated. Yes, enjambment is a powerful tool, but all parts of the line are important. You can't turn any set of words into a great set of lines just by fussing with the breaks.

The beginnings and ends of lines are thresholds. Breaks are like exits, beginnings are entrances. Too many poets put all their focus on the exits.

The ambiguous line break (a break on a polysemous word, such that the meaning is unclear until you raster over to the next line) is one of the most overused tricks in all of poetry. Half the time the ambiguity doesn't even serve the poem; some poets seem to think this is what line breaks are for, to create cliffhangers and confusion.

I remember bringing a poem to a graduate workshop that included the line "stuck in a running-across shape" (poem about a dead squirrel, pretty cool) and someone (multiple someones?) advised me to change "a" to "the" and break on "running," like so:

the spot where it was last
alive, stuck in the running- 
across shape.

This emphasizes the phrase "in the running," creating an ambiguity, like the squirrel is still "in the running," on the side of the living, in the rat race. In retrospect this was terrible advice; what good is ambiguity based on a cliche?

A much more interesting kind of ambiguity through enjambment happens at the level of syntax, as in these Ashbery lines (I typed up the whole poem here; sorry if only seeing the closed end of the parentheses drives you bonkers):

Then later it's forget-me-not time, and rapturous
Clouds appear above the lawn, and the rose tells
The old old story, the pearl of the orient, occluded
And still apt to rise at times).

In the linked post above I was talking about the importance of obscurity in poetry, how lack of clarity, even incoherence allows meaning to bloom. Here's what I wrote about the break at "rapturous":
 
Another big thing that makes a poem a poem and not something else is the tension between the line and the sentence. "Then later it's forget-me-not time, and rapturous clouds appear above the lawn" is a fine sentence, but before you get to the clouds, you are forced to pause a moment and concentrate your thinking on the partial sentence: "Then later it's forget-me-not time, and rapturous." We don't yet know that the clouds are rapturous, and so we assign the adjective back to "time." In poem-space, "rapturous" does refer back to time, just as much as it refers forward. Ashbery's choice to break the line there makes the referent ambiguous, so it's a blooming moment.

See what I mean? The word itself is not ambiguous, it's not a homonym; the syntax is ambiguous.

There's another use of the line break that I've been interested in recently, where the break signals a sudden shift in voice, often a disagreement as though the poem were an argument with itself. For example, in this stanza from Ben Lerner's Mean Free Path:

A cry goes up for plain language
In identical cities. Zukofsky appears in my dreams
Selling knives. Each exhibit is a failed futurity
A star survived by its own light. Glass anthers
Confuse bees. Is that pornography? Yes, but
But nothing. Come to reference. A mode of undress
Equal to fascism becomes obligatory
In identical cities. Did I say that already? Did I say
The stranglehold of perspective must be shaken off

The break I refer to is "Yes, but / But nothing." In the tiny pause between lines, an about face. The break introduces a conflict. There's a lot of this going on also in Alice Notley's Culture of One. See "Cellulite":

The pretty cell of your womb presents you with the light of Eve Love.
She shoots heroin of course. Everything turns blue
I'm afraid when it wears off I'll want to do it again.

There, in the space between line 2 and line 3, "she" becomes "I." There is no signal of the shift except for the break. (Often in these breaks there is no punctuation, no period or dash as you would see in prose, which only heightens the abruptness of the interruption.) 

Perfect lines make you forget about the notion of the line break entirely. I never think about Wallace Stevens's "line breaks." Reading Stevens, you don't get the impression that he writes sentences and then breaks them into lines, you get the impression that he writes in lines. Or take these lines from "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," one of my favorite stanzas of all time: 

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.

One can't imagine these lines occurring otherwise. The only response is to lie down before it and play dead.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

State of the union

2013 was an extremely hard year. I spent the first half of 2014 feeling like I'd finally adjusted to the new reality. But suddenly whatever wisdom or peace of mind I had achieved is gone again. It's perhaps not that the struggle in itself is so bad, but that no one I know is struggling in a similar fashion; there's a perceptible struggle gap. They may have their own struggles but they're of an entirely different nature. I feel lonely and somehow cheated, like I arrived at the wrong ending of the Choose Your Own Adventure. Ugh, sorry so maudlin.

Anyway I realized I hadn't blogged yet this month. So I thought I'd check in and tell you what I've been up to.

Reading


In May I read Two Serious Ladies by Jane Bowles, which was fantastic, sort of literally in that it's not particularly realistic. The characters are outwardly irrational — their motivations unclear and unexplained — but this is what makes them so compelling, and in any case they seem to be operating under some self-imposed, opaque but internally consistent moral code (which has naught to do with the prevailing moral codes of the setting/s). The dialogue is very funny, but it leaves you shaken. It's somewhat like The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter in that the end is so unsatisfying as to be upsetting — meaning not that it's badly written, but that you hate what happens to the characters, hate watching their lives be ruined, which is like life I guess. (Bowles apparently considered Carson McCullers to be her literary rival, in the sense of a more commercially successful contemporary working in a similar grotesque style.)

Next I'm reading 10:04, Ben Lerner's newest, which reminds me a little of both Taipei and Open City so far. (Got that obligatory global warming reference in the first 20 pages.) See also my notes on Leaving the Atocha Station.

Watching

Rewatching the first four seasons of House on Netflix. The best episodes are the two 2-parters, the one where Foreman gets sick and the one where Amber dies.

Eating

Lots of salsa verde con aquacate. Here's the recipe:


Ignore that "3 hours" part at the end; it'll keep for a couple days in the fridge. But I usually split the tomatillo mixture into two batches and just make one avocado's worth at a time.

Thinking about

Moving. Our rent is going up pretty steeply when our lease renews, as it has every year since we've been here, and though I'm loathe to invite all the logistical nightmares of moving into my life right now, I want to stick it to these jerks and get out of here. I'm even considering buying, which may be a crazy idea. Is that a crazy idea? I need some stability in my life.

What's going on with you?

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Perfume in translation

John has been raving about this book Black Square by Tadeusz Dabrowski, translated from Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones. I am stuck in the middle of a poem I'm trying to write so I opened it up for some ideas. It is very cute; here is a sample poem (most do have titles, but this one is titled by asterisks):

* * *

I carried you unintentionally in my arms from a go-
go club straight into my bed and thoroughly
rubbed you into the bedclothes so now hardly do I awake
fall asleep or dream than without fail 
before my eyes stands a pastel image of quivering
breasts and every single time I feel a delicious
pain as if I don't give a sniff about conscience. I decided
to be done with it and sprayed the bedclothes with a perfume 
that's my mother's; despair came over me when
it turned out to be the very same scent (something
like apple). Ever since, when lying in bed
I feel at the same time both good and bad. 


In the Polish, the last phrase is "i dobry i zly."

Sunday, May 25, 2014

The TV World and the Word TV

Teju Cole has been tweeting a series of photographs and film stills involving TV, plus some lines of poems about television. I just yesterday reread this poem that Kathleen Rooney and I wrote several years ago. There's a pleasant, uncanny effect I get when reading old poems we wrote together; I don't know them as well as I know my own work; it's so easy to imagine they were written by someone else. Anyway, here it is, plus another one using a similar repetitive technique but with the word "recognition" rather than "TV."



RASTERIZATION


Words may not refer to anything, but if they do
they TV the objective world, white noising
over what might've been a nice view. On TV
membership has its privileges. In the library
I try to "get lost" in a "slender volume" but
the volume's too low. Sarcastic & bleak,
TV gets me. Even though TV doesn't know
how to love me. How I want it to watch me.
No one can keep track of my saccades,
but "Vide" can be used to direct a reader's
attention to what's on TV: basically
a forced obliteration of the landscape
w/ TV music. Allowing yourself to be used
is the best way to be used. Shibboleths
issue forth from the muted TV.




LACK OF RECOGNITION CAN ALSO BE ATTRIBUTED AS ALIENATION


I have a fear of getting stuck inside the recognition,
by myself, in the dark, after all the recognitions
are erased from cultural memory. No enclosed space
could contain more coldness or more strange noises.
Someone recognition in the back of the stacks---
and the sound is melancholy. Heartmelting.
I was seeking recognition on information but I found
isolation distills my recognition to its purest form,
a shapeless white. I was scanning the pages
when all the letters dropped off & hit the dusty
recognition, recognitioning down. It's not normal
for the slightest miscue to set me off, but there
in the air, a mote, a recognition. A light shines through,
illuminating my unreadiness. Astounding recognition,
that I could see my own breath.




*Both these poems are from our chapbook Don't ever stay the same; keep changing



Tuesday, May 20, 2014

I have a theory about low-fat diets and portion control

I have this theory about* low-fat diets and portion control. It goes like this: Eating food that's not dense in calories (i.e. low-fat, high-carbohydrate meals) means you need to eat a larger volume to feel full.

Proponents of low-fat diets would present this as a positive: You get to eat more for the same number of calories! The problem is that it resets your concept of what a normal portion is. Your brain is trained to think to you need more food to feel full, so when you do eat calorie-dense meals, you still want larger portions.

This would explain why the French can eat a much more calorie-dense diet than Americans and have much lower incidence of obesity and heart disease. (This is known as the French paradox, but it's only a paradox if you take for granted that fat, in particular saturated fat, is bad for you.) The portions in France are much smaller, so they eat fewer calories overall. Too, in the absence of a warped sense of portion size, more calorie-dense food is more satisfying.

Anecdotally, I think you can reset your sense of portion size by moving to a higher-fat diet (not low-carb per se, but not low-fat either).

*Yes, all my blog posts are going to start with the phrase "I have this theory about..." from now on.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

I have this theory about revision

First, let's talk briefly about conversion rate optimization, or CRO. If you have some kind of transactional website, like an e-commerce site where you sell your small-press poetry books, or a SaaS platform where you try to get people to sign up for a free trial of your software, the page where those transactions happen is called a landing page. And since your success as a business more or less depends on how many people you can get to "convert" on that landing page (i.e., buy the book or sign up for the free trial), businesses usually attempt to optimize their conversion rates through various tests. (Can you see where this is going?)

A lot of the "best practices" and received wisdom around conversion rate optimization have to do with little A/B tests that are basically trying to hack your potential customer's psychology. Some of these tests involve design elements, such as the shape, color, or size of the "Add to Cart" button, or where it is on the page. Others involve copy, like the main heading on the page and "call to action" (the words on the button, like "Start My Free Trial"). Is longer or shorter better? Do exclamation points help? Et cetera, et cetera. The idea is that you can eke a few more conversions out of the same number of visitors with these tricks that make your page more persuasive or frictionless.

Recently, my boss did this webinar with the sensationalist title "Everything You Know About Conversion Rate Optimization Is Wrong." There was a bunch of data and charts and some pictures of unicorns, for some reason, but the basic gist was, stop futzing around with the button color -- you can only make small incremental gains that way, and many of those apparent gains are illusory anyway. If you really want to improve your conversion rate, you need to make radical changes. For example, change the offer: Maybe it's not that people aren't buying that book because of poor landing page design, but because nobody wants that book. You might also need to change the whole flow of your signup process. You can mess around with button color and shape once you know for sure that people actually want what you're peddling.

Everything You Know About Revision Is Wrong

So here's my theory: Revision works the same way. For the same reason that most businesses fail slowly (by focusing on small details instead of big-picture stuff), most writers can't get their work better than a certain level of passable mediocrity because they're "optimizing" the small stuff before they hit on a project that's worth optimizing. They approach revision by thinking about word choice and commas and cuts and line breaks, but those things can only make a poem or a novel or whatever 1-5% better. A radical revision that completely rethinks the scope or the flow or what have you could make it twice as good.

If it sounds like I'm saying "Kill your darlings," I'm not. In fact, I most often approach revision by saving my darlings and killing the rest.