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

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Writing: How It Actually Works by Pramodh Anand Iyer

Photo Credit:
Writing: How It Actually Works
by Pramodh Anand Iyer 

12 years of actually writing goes into this post and I don’t really need  degree  in creative writing or English literature to learn any of this. All I had to do was...

What works:

  1. Writing: Cliche, but touche! If you don’t write, you can’t aspire or claim to be a writer. Write something every day other than what you do for social media. And remember that Mark Zuckerberg and the rest don’t pay or applaud you for ‘sharing’.
  2. Ignore your critics when they say that writing doesn’t work or pay you: It does and you’ll at least feel better than a slave of the 9-5 IT department, even if you don’t get paid as much initially.
  3. Read a fellow aspirant: A lot of fellow aspirants would want a beta reader and they may not be very sincere with their quality of work. It’s actually an opportunity to know how far you’ve come, what could go wrong if you don’t pay enough attention, and to encourage them to be a part of a writer’s cult (if you really aren’t judging their consistent abuse of slang and typos).
  1. Read a book: Our generation, especially in my country, India, find reading books repulsive, especially because we’re used to being forced to read atrocious academic textbooks which never really mattered or made sense to us. Reading a book, especially if it’s light and brief, could help break the inertia of not reading as well as the developed allergies. They have good samples for ideas you could steal… I mean, improvise on or S.C.A.M.P.E.R. [Ed note: SCAMPER]
  2. Blog: Blogging doesn’t always fetch you sufficient readership unless you write well AND get a hang of SEO technicalities. But, it’s a free platform to regularly express yourself. Wattpad and Wordpress are ways to find readers who you never thought would actually do even if your friends are busy being a bunch of dicks.
  3. Don’t stick to linearity: Go Christopher Nolan and mess around with the timeline. Start from the middle of the article/story/novel/poem and resume from any other point in the same if you don’t know how else to keep going. But KEEP GOING, FOR TOLKIEN’S SAKE!!!

What doesn’t seem to work (for me):

  1. Excessive swearing/political biases/gender biases/nihilism: I don’t get it but I don’t get much from any of this kind of writing. It’s probably a cultural issue with my geography, but it hasn’t fetched me much reaction.
  2. Expecting a considerable number of readership to motivate you into writing: If you’re going to write for cookies, please don’t. Write because it’s fun to express yourself and not because you want to impress your favorite dickheads. (The cookies have been stolen by the girl-scouts and eaten by your professors.)
  3. Writing for free: Are you nuts? I must ask myself this every time I offer to assist a pretty girl for content and deny that I require payment. Writers write and if they don’t pay us, they can go write for their-pretty-selves!
  4. Planning: If you were to be so organized and routine with your work, you’d be an effing Engineer or Doctor doing the boring but well-paid work.

Photo Credit:

“Just write like your life depends on it, for someday it will!” - I probably stole this from the Doctor Strange Movie, or probably not.

“Write like nobody is reading. Because they’re actually busy commenting on your crush’s last few Facebook updates.” - I stole a part of this too from some Facebook post about dancing.

Yeah, well sue me. But at least I’ll write about that too.

Freelance Writer at Mentoria
Editorial Intern at Indians 4 Social Change Forum
A Chief Editor of The Symphony of Insanity Magazine
Poet at The Equilibrium of Life
The Panda Publishing House

Monday, July 17, 2017

Falling Out of Warp (Personal Update)

Captain's Log Supplemental: Stardate Zero-seven-one-seven-one-seven-two-point-zero-three.

The Hyperbolize is currently travelling impulse speed in the Sel F'carian expanse while Chief Engineer Fordy LaGeorge takes the warp core offline to make badly needed maintenance repairs, including stress warping along the bulkheads and microfractures in the dilithium crystals which, were we to ignore, could leave us on little but thrusters and fusion power uncomfortably close to Driian space.

My own misgivings about this mission notwithstanding, The Federation's need for the assistance offered to us by the Ferengi is dire. Overextended along every front, we will be in trouble in less than a year without an infusion of fresh resources, and who knows how long we would last if one of our enemies took advantage of the situation. Fortunately the D'Kora-class Marauders are capable of high warp in battle circumstances, but not for extended periods. We are entering the fifth week of our six week trek across the Alpha quadrant at speed, delivering children to Nowligi.

While the crew being unaccustomed a heightened level of urgency for such an extended period, their general complaints about holodeck shutdowns and stellar cartography being useless at high velocities are easily assuaged, maintaining speeds over warp seven for such extended periods has caused stress to The Hyperbolize itself that cannot go unaddressed for two more weeks. I've ordered the Hyperbolize out of warp to make badly needed repairs.

Given the distances involved. my second officer, Deets, has calculated a sweet spot warp factor (8.7) that will allow us to bring the warp engines offline each day for long enough for Mr. LaGeorge to do the required maintenance while making up the time in transit without causing undue additional stresses. We will lose some routine productivity, and we will definitely need a loving refit and level one maintenance upon delivery, as well as some badly needed shore leave for the crew, when we are done. However we should be able to deliver on schedule.

I have allotted emergency power to the engineering teams that will be forced to do repairs through our impulse downtimes, that they might enjoy the holodeck themselves while the Hyperbolize is at warp as well as any other recreational activities they may wish to enjoy while off duty. However, for the rest of the crew, these periods of impulse "downtime" provide a splendid moment for a little bit of rest and relaxation. Or, a trip over to stellar cartography if that's more one's cup of tea....

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Best Modern Fantasy (Nominations and Seconds Needed)

I've still got two weeks left of summer school, so it's still jazz hands and "pledge drive" here at Writing About Writing. Therefore, tonight let me just take a moment to say that if the nominations are any indication, our latest poll of best fantasy written in the last 25 years is going to be a grudge match of titanic proportions.

While I will get the first of what will no doubt go into quarter finals up on Thursday of next week, for now we need you to bounce back and get up any last nominations as well as second anything you'd like to see going on to the poll itself.

Please go back to the original entry for both the rules and to drop a comment or second. If you place them here, they will not get counted (and probably not given the needed second).

Friday, July 14, 2017

Finding Feedback Readers (Mailbox)

Where should I go for feedback? 

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will try to 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, first initial only, or you would prefer to remain anonymous.  I'm still underwater from teaching summer school even though the pressure is off a bit, so I'm just going to do a pretty quick one today.]    

Alexa asks:

Are you still doing the mailbox thing? I wasn't sure, most of the mailboxes I've read are re-posts dated 2014.

If you are: I was wondering if you had any advice for finding good feedback readers. How do you find people who have the time, willingness, and skill-set to get the feedback you need on later drafts? 

So far I've had a mixed experience with workshops, irl and online. My friends are lovely and do read my work but are often reading outside of their preferred genres and lean towards being 100% supportive.


I've been really happy to find your facebook page and through that your blog. 

[Note: I added the link above to the question.]

My reply:

I'm absolutely still doing the mailbox thing. We're just on the back end of a (roughly) 18 month period of non-stop burnination where my life was playing the part of the thatched roof cottages. The reason there are are so many from 2014 was those were the halcyon days before it all went wrong when I was particularly good at getting a mailbox up once a week like clockwork. These last couple of years, I've been struggling to do one every other week or so. But they're still one of the most popular bits I do here at Writing About Writing, and if anything I'm going to step up the mailbox game a bit just as soon as I finish summer school.

But let me try to kick around your question. At least let's get to a quick and dirty answer of your question that will be woefully unsatisfying. I've had this series of posts about blogging that I've been pecking away at, and after that the next series I want to do is about how to find, give, and receive feedback because it's really this huge skill set unto itself including a lot of potential pitfalls if done haphazardly. But the silk sheets and candles are at least a couple of months out, so I'll try to do a "drop your pants, the lasagna will be microwaved in five" version in the meantime.

Unfortunately one of the main answers to this is that there are no good or easy answers to this. Finding good beta readers is a long shitty process of sifting through all the dross. People who are just there to get feedback and give it like it's a horrible chore (rather than perhaps the single best way to improve as a writer). People who don't like your style, genre, vocabulary. People who are pretentious as all fuck and really want to make sure everyone hears them say that your piece reminds them of late Dadaism with its "profound and paradoxical" chiasmi. And of course the legions of "I liked it," feedback that make you want to rip your hair out in tufts. And when you can get this motley crew to give you feedback you can use at all, sometimes it's basically contradictory to the point of being mutually exclusive. And that's if you can find feedback without huge disparities in writing skill that often mean one person is being mentored and the other is getting nothing out of the exchange.

There's a reason that peer reviewers who work well together often form lifelong friendships with each other. I still have a couple of people in my "rolodex" from my time getting a creative writing degree going on six years ago now, but what is perhaps more impressive is that my MOM still has people SHE can call from her Iowa writing program days in the early eighties. If you find someone you trust to give you useful feedback in a way that isn't too gentle or too brutal, who knows what you are doing with your writing and respects your artistic choices, and who you enjoy interacting with, hold onto them like you are going over a cliff in a mountain climbing movie (tears and "please don't let go" pleas included), for they are precious.

There's some good news: you only need a couple of these really solid readers that you trust–not some wellspring source you can rely on to provide an endless fountain of awesome peer review. Early in one's writing process it might be useful to get lots of criticism from lots of places like trying on many prom dresses, but eventually you narrow it down to the few you like and really bring out your broad shoulders. Pretty soon a writer is going to realize that a lot of criticism tries to make the writer do what the reader wants rather than help the writer's OWN vision be the best it can be. The latter is professional level feedback. (As in, you will have to pay money for it, and if you ARE getting it for free and you're not already banging them, you owe someone a lobster dinner and should always help them move. Like fucking always.)

Professional editing is what you're going to want when you start getting ready to write professional level work. So enjoy the "taste spoons" of all kinds of other feedback, but know that they're basically playing a long game of Survivor in your heart. And when you realize that their feedback isn't really helping you, extinguish their tiki torch with extreme prejudice. 

Further, you will always want feedback, but you will find that the time in which peer review is useful to you begins to narrow like the opening the heroes want to fly out of in any movie ever. Early on, a writer might have someone read their very first drafts and their very last drafts and all the drafts between trying to get a sense of what they're doing right (or not-so-right) at each step. And that's okay if that's where you are. (Christ I remember handing rough drafts to anyone who would read them, including my bosses when I worked in hospitality, and getting these weak ass smiles. "It was.....great. Listen I'm going to make you side dish tonight, and we will never speak of this again. Ever. Now go scoop a thousand garlic butters.") 

But the more a writer starts to trust their own vision and their own revision process, the smaller that window of feedback's usefulness becomes. Though the particulars of when they want that feedback are often different for each writer, they start to identify exactly when they most need and appreciate a little guidance from some fresh eyes.  For example, many writers know they don't want anybody to see what they're cooking until the third or fourth draft when it's got some definition and their vision is starting to be teased out, but after the fifth or sixth draft, they need to be confident about many of the choices they've made and get different kinds of feedback (the professional stuff that I mentioned earlier that really helps them to bring out their own vision rather than change it so late in the game). 

This is why you'll probably end up with only a small handful of very trusted readers...and of course your editor (also a relationship that will probably involve kissing a few frogs before you find one you work well with). 

Beta readers are a bit different. They are reading a mostly finished work. With them, a writer is looking for particular impressions and is at the point of fine tuning their work. The writer may only have one thing they want to find out is working or not. A beta reader suggesting big fixes needs to be someone a writer can cheerfully ignore, not have an existential crisis and go back to square one about. (Unless of course they're all saying the same thing, but that's a whole different kettle of cliches.) Also, beta readers usually enjoy their job though as the work is mostly finished and their feedback is much less demanding, so it is easier to rope larger numbers of them in. You can set up closed FB groups or email lists for beta reader feedback, and really just find anyone who is willing to read and give you feedback.

Peer review tends to be quite a lot of work–usually unpaid–which is why it's really obnoxious not to peer review back.

As for where you can look to find those one or two people you really like, that's harder. It's one of the benefits of writing programs, though I'm not quite sure a lead on a good peer review is worth the $25,000 price tag. There are some online services a lot of folks swear by like Scriblophile that have a really good system of getting and giving criticism, but you're still going to have to filter through the dross.  I put up a post on my page every few weeks but even with half a million followers, it usually doesn't get much response. ("I'm not bitter about that, considering ten thousand people said they really wanted it. NOT BITTER AT ALL!" he yelled knocking over a tray of shrimp puffs as he stormed out.) Of course there are all kinds of dedicated subreddits or FB groups for finding readers. And several blogs are set up specifically for peer reviewers to meet and greet.

I would generally encourage you to stick to online unless you can get into some structured workshops (like in a college setting or hosted by a third party who really knows what they're doing). The limitations of geography in all but the hugest cities and self selection of a typical writing group mean almost all of them have limited returns on effort that is....how to say this nicely....sub-optimal. If your writing group consists of six people, three of whom hate your genre, one of whom is trolling for their next ex and two who've been writing for a fraction of the time you have, you're already in trouble.

I hate to be so flip as to say keep doing what you're doing, but....keep doing what you're doing. There's no magic formula. Just a lot of trial and error. 

Oh and before I put this article in the can, let me give you one more piece of advice I can't underscore enough: trust your bad vibes about criticism.  Not everyone who is giving you bad advice or is doing it in a way that seems like it might be crueler than is necessary is doing either of those things because they don't know any better. The dream of being a writer is so strong that some people would rather see no one make it. Give yourself a break and don't try to worry about someone's internal motives in their heart of hearts or whether they're a good person. You just worry about you and your writing. If you feel like their criticism isn't helping you be a better writer, find other readers and don't look back. Because yes, maybe you just didn't mesh well. Maybe they were just too blunt or too soft. Maybe they were just not seeing your vision. Maybe they were genuinely good people. All true. But maybe–and I wish I could say this wasn't ever true, but it actually horrifyingly ubiquitous–maybe they saw something in you as a threat and tried to pull you down. 

Far too common in our little world.

Good luck, Alexa!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Great Comeback?

Can we make it to our next major goal in time? It's all up to you. With only two full weeks remaining it's not looking great, but it's still totally possible.

We are now 65% of the way to the major "You-can-make-it!" milestone, and crawling back from our last week's setback.  Today marks the fourth of six "pledge drive" Thursdays. Glad portents everyone! We're 2/3 of the way there.

That means only two weeks left of summer school after today.
That also means we're 2/3 of the way to trying to hit our major goal, and we still have 35% of it to go.

Normally this blog doesn't ask for money so explicitly more than once a month. But since budgets for the coming 12 months or so need to be finalized by early August, and summer school is currently what I'm doing with about half of my regular writing time, I thought I'd take these six weeks to try and hit a goal that isn't "making it" but is "enough progress to think making it might be possible."

This is a screenshot from MY PATREON.  I'm currently 65% to my third goal. My third goal is based on the Kickstarter I ran last year. That money is still ready to fund a few months of full time writing. The goal I'm trying to reach now will keep me from having to drive for Lyft or something once I run through those Kickstarter funds allotted for the novel and keep me writing instead.

Only 35%% to go!!!

We are struggling back from last week's setback. We got the big donor we lost back (it was just a credit card problem) but we lost another. These things happen. As much as I completely adore my big ticket patrons, I would really love to have a lot of smaller donor. You know it's too easy to imagine that folks who light their cigars with hundred dollar bills will just throw money they don't really need at Writing About Writing, but what's really happening is that real people who aren't rich by any means are reaching deep into their generosity and when life happens that's no longer money they can afford not to have.

I get emails from folks who feel terrible because they have to pull back their support, and I try to assuage them that there is no rational world in which they need to apologize for not handing me money. So what I would love is if more people made small donations they could afford and kept the dozen or so folks from having to do all the heavy lifting. Yes, I have bills to pay, but there's no need for anyone to handle all of them.

There's a fourth goal and a fifth goal. The goals go all the way up to eleven. (I may have done that on purpose.)

For example one goal coming up in the next year or two has to do with my nannying day job. It is on a long, slow phase out because the kid in question is growing up. Projections for this coming school year are less than half of the hours I was needed last year. And they'll probably go down again next year around this time. If I can't make up the income, I'm eventually going to have to find a clock to punch in order to not starve.

The goal that I'm 65% of the way to hitting is not enough to cover the loss of said job. It's not enough to be a full time writer–even if ate nothing but raman forever. However, I am counting the performance of this "pledge drive" as something of a bellwether. If I can make just this one, smaller goal, then I'll consider myself reasonably safe for what's coming in the next couple of years. Every dollar I make now will mean that much longer before I have to start hitting my Kickstarter money, and the longer it will last.

Besides it only costs $5 a month to get biweekly selfies.

Epic cuteness could be yours!
Tomorrow's goals involve more stable living situations and even my retirement need, but I can deal with them tomorrow. For now I just want to know it's plausible that I could get there.

Since this blog's inception, due to the breathtaking generosity of patrons and donations from readers like you, we have been able to:
  • Quit teaching night classes during the regular year and write instead
  • Bring you more content
  • Remove the annoying ads
  • Up the number of high quality posts each week. 
  • (Not to put too fine a point on it, but we've been able to keep bringing you content through what would otherwise have been some completely devastating life transitions that would have put most bloggers on hiatus.) 
  • Gone from five posts a week to six. 
  • And we've been able to take far fewer random days off. 

Here are some things I'd like to add if we continue to get more support:
  • Even more posts, and more high-quality posts (less jazz hands)
  • But also more and better jazz hands (on top of the less jazz hands) in the way of potpourris, plot arc posts, and guest bloggers.
  • A seventh and even eight post each week (or more?)
  • A greater number of carefully (perhaps even professionally) edited and revised posts
  • More fiction!!
  • Always and ever free longer fiction (books)
  • An always, forever, ad free experience on Writing About Writing
If I can't reach the goal of this pledge drive by the end of the six weeks [especially if I don't even come "frustratingly close"], I may have to return to hosting ads on Writing About Writing and possibly other ways to monetize my work.  Ads will actually limit the rage of certain kinds of content I can post, and will probably involve no small amount of cleaning out old posts of the same. [Copyright stuff is a little less strident if you're noncommercial.] And if I really can't hit this goal, I have to think about day jobs–day jobs which would see me pulling back from writing.

*ominus thunder rumble*

That doesn't have to happen though.  For the mere cost of twelve dollars a year–just ONE DOLLAR a month–you you in on backchannel conversations with other patrons, polls, and conversations about future projects including sometimes me trying to get your input about what you'd like to see. But perhaps, most importantly, you'll be supporting an artist to continue making art and entertainment.

So if you like what I do and want to see me do more of it. Or if you don't want to see me have to do less of it. Or if you want to continue to see me do it without ads, please consider a small pledge. We wouldn't have gotten this far without our patrons, and we can't go any further without you.

Again here is that link:  https://www.patreon.com/chrisbrecheen

And of course if committing to a monthly amount isn't feasible, you can always make a one-time donation through my Paypal (at the top left of the screen).

[Note: In a revised form, perhaps with more bells and whistles, a version of this post will be going up for three more Thursdays.]