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Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Mormon Lit Blitz, Or How To Make The Most Of Four Minutes On The Internet



by Scott Hales (bio)


As many of you already know, the Church recently updated the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet. Among the many changes—none of which includes new guidelines on skinny jeans—is the addition of a section entitled “Work and Self-Reliance.”  Here’s an excerpt:

“The Lord has commanded us not to be idle. Idleness can lead to inappropriate behavior, damaged relationships, and sin. One form of idleness is spending excessive amounts of time in activities that keep you from productive work, such as using the Internet, playing video games, and watching television.”

This isn’t new counsel. Since the days of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, Mormons have been warned about the dangers of idleness and sloth. Still, it doesn’t hurt to get the occasional reminder, especially since guys like Al Gore and Steve Jobs (may he rest in peace) have made it so easy to slack off in recent years. I mean, think about it: what sort of productive activity are you putting off right now so you can read this post?

Not that I want you to stop reading. In fact, I’m actually about to give you another reason to spend more time on the internet.

But first: math!

According to Wikipedia, the average person reads 250 words a minute. If my basic math is correct, that means that it takes you and me about four minutes, or half the length of Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven, to read 1000 words. That’s not very long, about .00000009746178328553807% of the average American life. Give or take a zero.*

But we Mormons know that that’s also .00000009746178328553807% of our life we could be using to do something productive and useful. Like memorizing a scripture or learning how to conduct “Come, Come Ye Saints” without messing up on the first verse.

I bring this up because in a few weeks, Mormon Artist magazine is hosting the Mormon Lit Blitz, an online Mormon literary event organized by James Goldberg and me.  During the second half of February, the Mormon artist blog will feature one story, poem, or personal essay a day. At the end of the month, readers will then be invited to vote for the piece they like best. The author of the winning piece will get a fancy new Kindle loaded with books like Fire in the Pasture, Monsters and Mormons, and Dispensation: Latter-day Fiction.

Each piece in the competition is limited to 1000 words, so readers aren’t going to lose a chunk of their day on the Blitz.  Four minutes tops. And if YouTube and Angry Birds have taught us anything, it’s that most people can spare four minutes out of their day.

Of course, not a lot of people rush to fill those four minutes with fiction and poetry, especially Mormon fiction and poetry. So why bother? What does the Mormon Lit Blitz have to offer that Angry Birds and YouTube don’t? Or, for those of you who are worried about your daily idleness quota, what makes the Mormon Lit Blitz worth your time?

Five things:

1. Sophisticated Art for the Sacrament Meeting Crowd

Let’s face it: most of the literature quoted in Sacrament Meeting has more corn on it than a Brazilian hot dog. Which is not such a bad thing, I guess, since no one expects Sacrament Meeting to be a poetry slam. But it does leave Joe and Jane Mormon with the impression that all Mormon literature is A) anonymously written and B) on the same level as that birthday card you get every year from Aunt Myrtle.

The Mormon Lit Blitz is going to try to change that impression. We asked for stories, poems, and essays with an equal share of Ward House and Art House appeal. Out of the nearly two-hundred submissions (from four different countries), we narrowed it down to twelve finalists. We'll let you be the ultimate judges of their quality, but I've read them all and I think they're fantastic.

2. Great Writing from Writers You’ve Never Heard Of

Chances are, the writers featured in the Mormon Lit Blitz will be new to you. Some of them, in fact, are new to me. That’s part of what makes this contest exciting. Not only do we get half a month's worth of great writing, but we also get introduced to new writers as well.

In a sense, the Blitz will act as a kind of gateway (drug) to these writers' other works and the wider world of Mormon literature. I mean, if you read something you like in the Blitz, there's nothing stopping you from finding out where you can go to read more. In fact, good enablers that we are, we’ll do what we can to help you find it.

3. The Pay Off

Sometimes when I talk about a work of literature, I talk about its “pay-off,” or the good I take away from it. Crappy novels, for example, have little or no pay-off and leave me regretting ever turning the first page. Movies work the same way. The Dark Knight: big pay-off. Batman and Robin: not so much.**

Trust me, the four minutes you invest daily in the Mormon Lit Blitz will pay off. Much more than a game of Angry Birds or a planking video ever will.

4. A Mormon Cultural Experience

As my colleague James Goldberg has noted, we Mormons tend to get embarrassed about our culture, which we often boil down to strange Jello salads and BYU dating stories. And so we make excuses and jokes about it.

Our hope is that the Mormon Lit Blitz will show that Mormon culture is capable of being much more than Jello salads and Johnny Lingo. We hope it will give Mormon readers and writers something to be proud of.

5. Chuck Norris

Actually, Chuck Norris is not a part of the Mormon Lit Blitz. Mostly because no one blitzes Chuck Norris. But rumor has it Mitt Romney has entered the contest!

Anyway, if you are interested in the Mormon Lit Blitz, and want to stay updated on its progress, go ahead and "like" it on Facebook and "follow" it on Twitter. You can also subscribe to the Mormon Artist blog on Google Reader and let the Mormon Lit Blitz come to you.

So, friends, cease to be idle. Read the Mormon Lit Blitz.

(Also, if you are interested in promoting the Mormon Lit Blitz on your blog, email us at mormonlitblitz [at] gmail [dot] com.)

* DISCLAIMER: I haven’t taken math since high school. Feel free to challenge my math.

**Anytime you put nipples on the Bat-Suit the pay-off is going to be low. Just sayin’.

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