How I Met Kendra’s Challenge

Matilda Butler, ABC's of Writing #2


Last week, Kendra issued a challenge in her Getting Read post on this blog. She wrote about the importance of creating videos that are short and just how hard that is. Well, actually, she said it was damned hard. As many of you know, Kendra and I are finishing our book, Writing Alchemy. Because we’ve found so much advice for writers in the books we’ve researched, we decided to produce videos.

Now Kendra is great with names and suggested we call our series Writing in Five. These would be five minute videos, each with a single tip from a published author. How hard could that be? Somehow, my first video had to be done while on the road. This meant that in a hotel room I had to figure out how to:

— print the script I’d written

— create my own version of a teleprompter, 

— get the video taken.  


The hotel's business office seemed an obvious place to print the script, but the printer wasn't working. Fortunately, the manager took my thumb drive back to her computer and brought me the pages. The outrageous teleprompter involved a hangar. I taped the script (with tape begged from the front desk) so that it hung like a Japanese scroll and then held it in place with the skirt clips. My partner had to hold the hangar at the same time that he used the camera. Pretty funny. It took multiple takes and a lot of laughter before we got it right.

All was fine until I finished the production steps, by then the middle of the night, and tried to upload the video to YouTube. I  kept getting a rejection message. After I Googled the problem, I found that my video was too long. Gad, it was something like 12 minutes. 

With some judicious cutting, I got the video down to just under 10 without having to get out the camera again. The next day I told Kendra that perhaps we should call these Writing in Ten. “No,” she insisted, “we’ll just need to write shorter scripts.” Week after week, we worked on making our scripts shorter, but we’ve never been able to break the five minute mark.

UNTIL THIS TIME. I know. A writer isn’t supposed to use all caps. However, it is my way of saying that I not only took Kendra’s challenge, I made a Writing in Five video that is 2 minutes and 33 seconds. How did I do that? 

Here’s what I didn’t do. 

First, I didn’t change the type of topics we want to cover. I began with one of the rules of writing from Elmore Leonard. This one has to do with finding where your story starts. Many of us struggle with that aspect of writing so it seemed like a good point to investigate.

Second, I didn’t skimp on showing an application of Leonard’s tip. With some additional research, I found a Hemingway example that illustrated the point Leonard made. 

Here’s what I did.

I realized I had to change my approach. Rather than writing my typical script and then cutting some words and sentences, I needed a fresh look at creating a brief writing tip that still conveyed valuable information. 

It turns out that Kendra both issued the challenge and then gave me a hint how to do this. She didn’t intend to give me the idea but she did in her blog about creating book trailers. After discussing the importance of short videos, around two minutes, she put four video book trailers in the blog. I analyzed each of them. Although it’s possible to have a short script, I realized that this week I’d try to create a video that told everything on the screen. No spoken words from me.    


If there wasn’t going to be a voice, then there needed to be music. I spent time looking for royalty-free music I could use and once I found a site, I spent hours listening to music so that I'd have something that would go with this particular video. Since Leonard’s early books were westerns and then his later books were mysteries, I thought I could be quite clever and segue from music appropriate for one genre and then the next. However, there wasn’t enough time in two minutes to manage that. One piece of music would have to do. And finally, I needed to do the easy stuff — deciding exactly what I wanted to convey and creating the slides. It wasn’t really easy to be brief, but I was determined.

As Kendra wrote last week: "In fact, Matilda will be doing the next Writing in Five. I'll let you in on a little secret–she's very competitive. She's going to do everything she can to turn in a stellar video performance in under five minutes. " 

Kendra's statement calls for True Confessions. I am competitive. Let me share a little story about the first time I realized I had this character flaw. I was in graduate school at Northwestern University. My older son (I had two at the time) was competitive rather than cooperative in his preschool and that bothered me. I voiced my concern  to a colleague, Tom, saying that I just couldn’t understand why he was like that. Tom looked at me and said, “Well. It’s obvious. He gets it from you.” That gave me a start. It was like passing a mirror in the dark when someone suddenly turns on the light.

So here I am, almost 45 years later, still competitive. The insight now is that in 1965 women weren’t supposed to be competitive. I suppose that’s why I was so shocked by Tom’s statement. Fortunately, the Civil Rights Act and Title IX and other changes in the 60s and 70s began to expand the range of acceptable roles for women. Today I’m comfortable in my skin.

Help me be competitive. Please go see my new video and let me know what you think of this short format. You can put your comments on this post or just beneath the video. Do you need more context for the writing tip from Elmore Leonard? This is the first time I’ve added a writing prompt to these Writing in Five videos. Do you like that or should I just stop with the writing tip from Leonard? Your ideas help move us forward. I’m already contemplating my next video and your thoughts can help shape what we do. 

What would Elmore Leonard think of this post? He’d say I didn’t pay attention to the writing rule I’m sharing in the video. In other words, I’m giving a lot of context and back story before getting to the point. It seems to me that blogs, at least in 2010, can still be part-journaling, part-storytelling, part-information/part-opinion sharing. How would I find the start to this blog if I viewed it as a story? Click here to see Elmore Leonard’s advice.

One response to “How I Met Kendra’s Challenge

  1. I left a comment at, but encourage all of you to check out the video. It’s a good example for those of us who are new to video creation as a social networking and teaching tool.

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