My drug of choice is writing--writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Monday, June 18, 2018

The Great and Terrible Storm (Personal Update)

Every year, right around this time, my life gets it's-not-actually-a-Chinese-curse "interesting." This has been going on as long as I've been blogging. Actually EXACTLY as long as I've been blogging. In 2012, I was offered the opportunity to teach a study skills class during the summer at the campus I worked at during the year. Since my regular position didn't come with summer work, this was a dream come true.

The first couple of times it happened I got caught flat footed and spiraled out of control pretty hard, and the first year with a baby was pretty wild. Last year had some challenges I won't have to face this year (I had to write two curricula on the fly), but even so it was better than the year before and I've been getting better at at least knowing to expect that I'm going to drown a bit.

But it still sucks and it's hard and it is 12+ hours a week stacked on top of what is already a pretty.....let's say "robust" schedule.

What happens at this time of year.

First of all for six weeks I teach summer school. It's only three days a week. It's only four hours a day. But it's 12 hours on top of all the other plates I'm always spinning. And it's not like my usual schedule has a lot of beach and umbrella drinks time worked into it.

This is also when everyone goes on vacations. My pet sitting side gig is abuzz. I'm steadfastly refusing to double book myself while I'm teaching (and so far no weaponized guilt trips have crumbled the walls of that boundary), but the entire six weeks has already been Tetris'ed up so that I'm on a job the entire time.

What that means for all of you

I'm going to be less awesome at keeping up with blogging stuff until late July. I hate to have this come on the heels of being sick and that week of a thousand horrors. I would always rather my known periods of crappier productivity come after I show you all exactly what I can do (especially when I start asking for money), but sometimes we don't get to pick when the bullshit meteors crash into the unsuspecting villages of our lives.

Last year I ran a "pledge drive" in the style of National Public Radio or other broadcasting charities. It seemed to work pretty well and most people weren't jerks about seeing a post every week because they knew it was going to end. This year I'm a tiny bit less panicked about trying to hit a specific number because the side gigs are actually more than I can handle most of the time, and all of them show signs of growing rather than tapering off. Money's kind of fine in a weirdly uncomfortable way that I'm not used to. However, I would LOVE to be able to hang up my pet sitting business. And it looks like insurance and taxes are going to go up. It's a thirty kinds of blessings and a privilege to have a little gig that doesn't interfere too badly with writing, but I'm still running around the bay area way more than I'd like.

I'm going to write less. I'm going to jazz hands more. And I'm going to be asking for money.

What you probably won't notice (because I seem to be the only one who ever really does)
  • Getting a little more done on weekends.
  • Posting less.
  • A lot more jazz hands posts. Particularly I'm going to be cleaning up a number of menus and adding to a few ever-growing lists. 
  • A skipped post some days because I just literally can't even.
  • I'm going to take Thursdays off. I'll try to post on the weekends instead, but sometimes that depends on how much of my other jobs I'm doing as well. But by Thursday I am a frazzled little crisp of a man, and trying to write a post on top of everything else never goes well. Best I just write that one off and try to get something decent cooked up on Friday.

What you probably will notice
  • Me apologizing for posting less.
  • Me talking about how busy I am.
  • Me pointing out that I'm failing you even though you wouldn't have even noticed if I hadn't said anything.
  • I'm going to run a series of posts while I'm in school called "20 Questions about [Subject]" I have two subjects for each week I'm teaching. I hope they are entertaining, and if I do them right, they'll put a LITTLE bit more of the heavy lifting for the post on the questioners. (I'm hoping mostly for the short answer kind of questions.)
  • Some guest posts if I can get some guest bloggers to step up.
  • And you will certainly notice that while I'm teaching, each week on Wednesday, I'm going to run a fundraising post–basically of the type I do every month here during the rest of the year. I know by the end folks are a little sick of them, so please remember that it's only six weeks a year, and I can't do this without your support.

The Folksy Homespun Writerly Take Away Wisdom Moment

*me with a shaft of wheat between my teeth*

Howdy. Folks please notice that my super busy times involve me writing less and moving things around and even knowing I'm going to need a day off that I don't normally take, but when folks scratch their heads and say "How does he make money doing this thing I've dreamed of making money doing all my life," I would like to point out that part of the reason is that I never stop writing. No matter how harried I get. No matter how impacted my schedule becomes. I make time for writing. I keep doing it. I don't put the blog on hiatus. I don't take a break that could turn into a LONG break. I don't walk away. I fiddle with the knobs, and I keep writing.

And if you want to be a capital W writer, when your life turns up to eleven, you should keep writing too.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Best Classic SciFi Not Written by a Cis Het White Man (Poll Results)

Please check out this post if you wonder why we have particular limitations.

Yesterday I spiked a fever, fell into bed, didn't get a post up, and had fever dreams though like 13 hours of sleeping. Today I seem be able to get a little bit of work done from bed, at least.

Hope you enjoyed the extra day to vote.

Regardless, I'm still dealing with a mild headache and don't want to press my luck, so just a quick post of the results from our latest poll. I would have loved to wait until that third place tie resolved or even that the spreads weren't quite so close, but we need to move on to the next poll. I was actually shocked to see the 11th hour slip of The Handmaid's Tale from second place to tied for third, so never let it be said that the last call for votes doesn't matter.

I secretly wonder how many people voted for Frankenstein have actually READ Frankenstein, rather than just knowing they were supposed to like it, but I don't presume.

For our next poll, fire up your thoughts on HORROR.
Text results below.

Frankenstein- M. Shelly 65 23.3%
Dragonflight & Dragonquest- A. McCaffrey 42 15.05%
The Dispossessed-U.K. LeGuin 39 13.98%
The Handmaid's Tale- M. Atwood 39 13.98%
The Giver- L. Lowry 29 10.39%
Xenogenesis Series- O. Butler 21 7.53%
The Ship Who Sang- A. McCaffrey 20 7.17%
Parable of the Sower- O. Butler 16 5.73%
Hunting Party- E. Moon 8 2.87%

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Best Classic SciFi Not Written by a Cis Het White Man (Last Chance to Vote)

What is the best science fiction from 1998 or earlier written by a woman or POC or member of the LGBTQIA+ community? 

Please follow this link if you're wondering why this poll has some particular limitations.

While some front runners are definitely pulling out, second place is practically a tie, and I've seen bigger leads fall apart in the eleventh hour.

I got tapped for emergency child care today, and I'm trying desperately to get my Early Access Patrons a post that I intend to make live on Friday. So today I'm just going to give everyone a heads up that I'll be posting the results of this poll tomorrow, so it's your very very last chance to vote!

Everyone gets three [3] votes, but as there is no way to "rank" votes, you should use as few as you can stand.

The poll itself is in the lower left at the bottom of the side menus.

If you're on mobile you can scroll ALLLLLL the way to the bottom and click on"webpage view" to see the side menus and get to the polls.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Leela Bruce Fights ALL the Dialogue Attribution Advice

Every once in a while a martial artist like me has to pull a Yojimbo. Because both sides of some particular form of advice are just asking for it.

I came into the Dialogue Attribution Town, and found there were two factions warring for everything from style guide attention the way children were taught. Passions ran hot and almost no one in town hadn't sworn allegiance to one faction or the other.

At first I joined up with the Saids. They seemed a simple people, not prone to ostentation and flashy displays. They almost blended into the background, they were sometimes so subtle it was difficult even to notice them. I assisted them in their struggles against the bombastic Neversaids, a group that couldn't utter a word without making a fucking production out of it, drawing attention to their every remark. Emboldened by my presence, they dealt a critical blow to the Neversaids, and it seemed they might be about to win the ongoing struggle for the town.

However, soon after that fateful battle, I left the Saids and joined the Neversaids. The Saids were simple and unobtrusive, but they were also passionless and boring, and after a while their inability to convey the slightest emotional resonance when they spoke began to grate. Soon their attempts to be subtle and unnoticed became the very thing that made them stand out. At least I knew where the Neversaids stood and what their emotional state was. The Neversaids, happy to have me, delivered a terrible attack to the Saids.

Then with both groups weakened, I tipped my hand. I wasn't with either of them. I was here to defeat them both. They both were ridiculous and prescriptive and annoying. In a climactic battle in the lightning flecked rain, I defeated the leaders of both, dealing the final strike to the leader of the Saids.

"We had a deal," he said. "Why?"

"Because you're bad advice," I explained. "Maybe not as bad as the Neversaids, but still bad. And I'm really here for the people you're trying to control."

"This is a goddamned fucking travesty!" he said.

"See what I mean," I pointed out.

When it was all over, I stood before the citizens of the city who didn't quite know how to handle the new freedom they'd been given. I spoke:

"The Saids were right. You can't "gush," "sputter," and "ejaculate" every time someone is speaking. It's comical. It's distracting. It'll pull a reader right out of a moment. Using 'said' tends to blend in with the dialogue itself, and most readers glance over it without even fully registering it.

"But the Saids were not free of sin. The Neversaids were right as well. After a while you want something more than said. You want a snip or a sneer or a scoff. Not everyone speaks in the same modulation with everything they say, and the worst thing they would do is add a clunky adverb like 'said condescendingly' instead of just sneering. We have emotion, and that is what words are made to convey.

"You should be a Said most of the time. Go through the world and let your words draw attention to themselves, not their attribution tag draw attention to HOW they are spoken. But every once in a while, you've got to mix it up. You have to break that uniformity with variety in the same way you would any motif within art. You need to throw a word in there that shows a line isn't just being 'said.' And sometimes you might even describe action in a separate sentence for variety. Humans do not just...'SAY' everything. Neither of these factions was right. Both tried to control you. But now it is time for you to learn...moderation. Now it is time for all of you....to control yourselves."

And then I turned and left the town, never to return. I walked into the setting sun amidst a flurry of late summer abscission by the local flora. For reasons that will defy explanation, someone in the town put Shadow's Theme (from Final Fantasy 3) on the town's PA as I walked away forever.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

How do I fricken START? (Mailbox)

How do I just. Fricken. START?

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer a couple each week.  I will use your first name ONLY unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous. Minor surgery may be done to sensitive questions so that my FB page commenters aren't invited to give harmful advice.]   

Ben asks

I have a story I want to write. It's epic in nature, and stems from a series of delusions I had (for which I'm now taking meds), where I believed I was part of a greater purpose to create, or become (that is the question), infinite beings, that started at the dawn of man. It comes from a basis of "what if all mankind was an evolution that was the source of 'purpose'".

That being said, I follow your page for the sole purpose of motivating me to start, but to be honest my ego, which I need to do this, is dwarfed by the extreme talent of the great successes of our lifetime.

So what I would ask is, how do I start? Mind you, I've started numerous times. At least 20 beginnings to my story have been deleted in my absolute disgust. So I think maybe a new strategy is needed. Should I create characters first? Bullet point story trajectories? What should I do?

My reply:

I'm going to do a slightly reworded version of your question for the preview text of my social media just because a lot of folks start giving advice without reading the article, and sometimes it's really bad advice. Which is fairly low stakes when they're advising someone not to write every day or that there's no need to read that much. Particularly I don't want anyone giving you unlicensed medical advice regarding your psych meds. 

Let me bust out my thick Austrian accent and cigar. "Tell me about your mother...."

Writing is so intrinsically tied to thinking and the troubles we have with writing so often troubles we are having with the way we think that if I had the opportunity, Ben, I would actually sit down with you for a few minutes and ask you a handful of questions, not unlike a therapy session, to try and narrow down what it might be.

So often our writers blocks can be health problems, sleeping issues, malnutrition, and all manner of psychological blocks. While I can sit and write almost regardless of circumstance (because I've been doing this a very long time), the difference in word count when life is relatively hunky dory and when, say, I think someone I love is really angry with me is almost a factor of ten. I experienced one of my worst writing times in the early 2000's when I was in a relationship that I didn't know at the time was emotionally abusive and involved a coercive sexual dynamic (where I was having sex to avoid the tearful fights that would inevitably happen if I didn't have the sex). It was only weeks after our break up that the words began to flow again. Since I've gone professional with writing, one of the most profound difficulties I've had writing more than just a blog post (often with a mighty heaping spoonful of jazz hands) has been because of the intense anxiety over our current political climate.  Certainly not every psychological problem causes a block (indeed, some seem to facilitate writing prolifically), but almost every block has a psychological source.

“All writing problems are psychological problems. Blocks usually stem from the fear of being judged. If you imagine the world listening, you'll never write a line. That's why privacy is so important. You should write first drafts as if they will never be shown to anyone.”  ― Erica Jong
However I think you've let a couple of things through in your question that I can pin down and work with. I honestly think you nailed it in one when you mentioned your ego's role in this. I might have gotten it from the clue of you starting over so many times or the worry of the greats that came before you, but most of the Blues Clues in your letter are pointing in that same direction. And I brought my big blue magnifying glass.

You're afraid that it's not going to be good enough. Which is not to sound flip or dismissive. That's a reasonable fear for any writer. It's one we have to get over, of course, but it is reasonable.

While we all need monstrous planetoid-sized egos to do anything so self congratulatory as write and then turn around and put that writing out in the world like it might have value to other people, I think you've got your ego on the wrong side of the equation. Ego might be important for you to keep going and it's absolutely vital when it's time to blow off the stack of rejections and keep submitting because you know your work is good enough, but I also think ego is what's holding you back. Because when you see your own efforts as not good enough compared to others, you quit and start over. Over and over and over again. That's ego flying like a bird into a pane glass door over and over again.

It can be so intimidating to have really good writers out there doing their really good writer thing. And it can be so seductive to compare yourself to those writers and feel that you're coming up lacking. And it's so much worse with fiction. I'd rather do fifty listicles called "Why MFA's, Nano, and everything you love sucks!" and get raked for days by commenters on every continent than post one short story and have someone say "I liked this but the middle seemed a little stilted."

So let me start with a couple of good news/pep talk points:

1) You're comparing your first drafts with their final copies. The writing you're admiring has been through draft after draft after draft and then an editor and then beta readers and then a final editor and then a proofreader, and it is super polished. Yours is just a draft. The first draft. The APTLY named "rough" draft. It will not sound as good and that's just the facts of revision and why professional authors spend probably as much or more of their time RE-writing their work.

2) Every writer is a little bit bored of their own voice and finds others refreshing and exciting. That's half the reason to read prolifically. Other writers do things differently and you want to infuse some of that good Juju McGumbo into your prose as often as possible. But in the meantime, don't forget that they are probably a little tired of their tricks and will find your fresh turns of phrase and favorite words delightful.

Okay, now our Good News Network moment is over. Feeling light and fluffy? Got some rainbows and smily faces? Maybe a couple of unicorn companions who think your name is Charlie and seem overbearingly optimistic?

Great. May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.

So now I'm going to put this a little differently and it may sound a tiny bit....hmmm....ass kicky(?).  Meanish? Not super nice and fluffy? Like your physical trainer who takes no shit and calls you Cupcake?

Ben, you're letting your ego drive. It is your ego that expects to be great on the first draft. It's your ego that expects to write something as great as the masters in one shot and I'm-going-to-quit-if-I-don't. It is your ego that gives up (and starts again....and gives up again) when it's not insta-genius. It is your ego that thinks that there is some perfect start that will, with one ├╝ber effort, stand on even footing with the most polished writing of the best writers of our age.

Fundamentally, it means you're not trusting the process––the process says that whatever you wrote is going to go through a dozen revisions anyway and it's not going to look anything like this first page(s) you have now.

You aren't trusting that right now, Ben. You aren't trusting that your story will likely undergo huge tectonic upheaval, that you might not even begin the story in the same place. You aren't trusting that everything is going to change and you will end up revising the first page(s) at least a dozen times. There is humility in understanding how flawed the work is going to be in a starting draft, and a certain level of ego in expecting it to be perfect. Right now, you are trying to get it right in one draft because somewhere in your head you believe that if you get it JUST right, that's that, and until you have that breakthrough moment that it's going to be messy, you're just going to keep sitting paralyzed trying to get it perfect in one shot like you're trying to paint the Mona Lisa in one stroke.

That's not how writing works...not the kind of writing that ends on strangers' shelves, anyway. You could probably get away with it on a listicle if you have 20-30 years of practice.....

You can try bullet point story trajectories and character sketches first, and if those work, the golden rule is always always always to do what works. However, what I suspect is going to happen is that you will start to get more and more pre-writing work done and more and more ornate sketches and outlines, but will still have the same trouble when you sit down to actually do the writing. Here are my suggestions:

1) Stop trying to write something good––something as epic in nature as you once felt. The language can do that.....eventually, but it won't be easy, and it won't happen without several revisions, and in the meantime you have to deal with sort of a four-year-olds crayon version of the picture you're trying to draw. But once you have something (anything) down, you can start revising, so TRY to write something mediocre. Something that just gets the crappiest brushstrokes. You can make almost a game of how mediocre you let it get. Just make progress writing.

2) Quit starting. Forget the beginning, and jump in at Chapter Two. Just get in and put some rubber on the road. You can come back and do the beginning and spend all the time you need making it perfect. You might even find that the beginning you envisioned isn't exactly the place where the story should begin.

And punching nazis.

3) Officially declare your last attempt your rough draft and write forward from that point by one page per day for two weeks. Forget about the fact that it isn't perfect. Just go forth with your story.

4) If you find even these steps eluding you, I would check in that the habit of writing IN GENERAL is strong.  It's possible you may need to go back to more fundamental basics. A lot of problems with folks starting "Their Novel™" is that they don't really have a habit of daily writing to begin with.

I will say one more thing. It is extremely common for creative folks to have a harder time on psych meds. I am in no way, shape, or form suggesting that you stop taking them, but just know that you're in good company (including me). You may have to pedal a little harder and faster to cover the same ground, but obviously the mental health is worth it.