Earlier this summer, I had the good fortune to have an article published in the first edition of 48 Hour Magazine, a really cool project that used new media tools to produce a magazine in just two days. My piece, How to Lie Better, ran in issue zero of the magazine this May.
Since then, I’ve been inspired by the 48-hour logs that writers who participated have written. With 48 Hour Magazine (now called Longshot, after a legal fight with CBS) putting together a second issue at the end of this month, I figure that now wouldn’t be a bad time to share a few notes from my experience.
So here it is, my 48 Hour stream-of-consciousness log:
Around 3 PM EST
I get the theme–hustle.
Immediately, the lyrics from The People by Common pop into my head.
By 6 PM
I have a half-dozen or so ideas half-started. One is about product placement in rap, one is a last-minute interview with Cut Chemist, another is a feature on Colton Harris-Moore, the Barefoot Bandit.
Cut Chemist’s publicist is on a business trip, and I decide that the Colt idea won’t cut it. Not all criminals are hustlers.
It occurs to me that hustling isn’t about being an outlaw or committing outlandish crimes. Hustlers live off their brains, not their brawn, and they’re all about making money.
I’ve settled on writing about product placement in rap. I start my research by finding a couple of articles in Advertising Age and on MTV’s website.
I move on to the lyrics from the top rap singles on the Billboard chart, and soon discover that Caddies, Henny and Patron aren’t the only things that rappers push. Hefty bags show up in one song.
I hit gold when I discover the song Zoosk Girl, by Flo-Rida. Have to double-check that it isn’t some terribly ironic joke. Nope, he’s serious.
Is there anything that rappers won’t try to sell? I pick a couple of products from Stuff White People Like. I quickly discover that khakis, North Face, and New Balance each show up in at least one popular rap song.
I submit my first piece. Have been in front of the computer for what feels like days. Am almost not conscious.
Looking at the 48 Mag blog, I see a note that catches my attention: a lot of people have been submitting essays and fiction about prostitution and life on the street.
I have a pretty good idea of what’s happening: feature fever. Everyone wants to write the big, glamorous pieces, but no one pays any attention to the short, front-of-book-style bits. I write a lot of these for Matador. I figure I have an in here.
I remember a recent article in the Boston Phoenix about Karen Keester, a notorious identity thief and con artist from Boston. Con artists are perfect for this theme–all about know-how and street smarts, and we have a certain sympathy for the smart ones. I think of Anansi, and Loki, and tricksters in general.
I’m willing to bet that, based on the blog, the editors would love to get their hands on some short, on-theme pieces. This is a lesson I’ve learned from working as a writer and editor: think about what the publication needs, not what you’d like to write.
My first thought is to do a list: 10 Most Cunning Cons.
Then, a better idea: why not write a how-to? I remember that how-tos don’t necessarily have to give practical instructions on how to do something, they can just as easily be vehicles for telling interesting stories.
I make a list of the cons I know something about–Keester, Frank Abignale, that dude from Six Degrees of Separation–and look up more. I decide I need cons with good stories; Ponzi schemers won’t cut it.
Around 5:30 AM
I finish drafting my second piece, a how-to on lying like a con artist, and give it a once-over before sending it in. The sun’s coming up. I’m so tired, I’m all but incapable of coherent thought.