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

Friday, October 19, 2018

7 Writerly Things No One is Going to Give You (But We All Need) [Part 1]

In the world of writers, we ask for a lot of things from other people––book deals, money, a few more minutes of WiFi and power outlet riding before the barista demands we buy another cup of coffee....  But there are are things no one can ever give us, things no one ever WILL give us, and things the world will do its very best to take away from us if we let it. We writers always and forever have to find these things, make these things, create these things from sheer force of will, forage for these things from the blistering fires of our own determination, and hunt down these things, wound them, track them until they collapse from exhaustion, pounce on them, and bury our teeth in their jugular, worrying them until they....uh.....

Um....proverbially of course.

So here are a few things that no one is ever going to give you.

Permission-

No one is going to give you permission to be a writer, to write, to declare yourself a writer, to give up your day job and go for it even if you need fifty-three side gigs to keep the electricity on. No one is ever going to say "Lo [insert your name here], thou art now a writer." There is no cabal that you will stand in the middle of and they will use force lightning to sear your flesh with The Mark of the Writer™.

No teacher. No mentor. No parent. No other writer. No Facebook page. A million people could give you encouragement, but no one will ever give you permission. You have to take it for yourself.

Yeah, you might have to check in on yourself with some brutal honesty and make sure you're not trying to fake it until you make it in a self-deceptive way if you're trying to BE a writer more than you actually write, but even that is between you and you. You are never going to find anyone else who will decide that you have done enough and usher you into the VIP lounge.


Validation- 

You can get validation, but let me let you in on a little secret: it'll never be enough.

Unless….

Unless you forge that shit One-Ring-to-Rule-Them-All-Style and just decide for yourself that you are valid enough to rock rock on like the magnificent Cheat Commando you really are.

 Most writers deal with impostor syndrome at some point and many deal with it a lot. It doesn’t matter if they scribble furiously in journals that they systematically burn when full, if they just tossed off their first anonymous fanfic, or if they are New York Times best sellers.

Even at the other end of the scale where you have those arrogant snots who strut around and say “genius can’t be taught” are really just insecure and expressing it in a different way. The truly self-confident have (perhaps temporarily) found the way to validate themselves. 

No one can do it for them.

Time- 

People will only do one thing when it comes to your time.

Take it.

No matter how much they love you. No matter how supportive they are. No matter how much they relate to your artistic eccentricities. 

Don’t worry. It’s not their fault. That’s the way the universe unfolds according to physics. You will never walk away from an encounter with another human having GAINED time. Unless they flit through your life like a shade, they can only ever take your time. Though the rare benevolent angel might find ways to free up some time commitment on a writer’s plate, all will take somehow from somewhere.


The real shit sundae of it is that most are not so kind. They take without consideration. The blunt and odious may say shitty things like “But you don’t have a real job,” as they demand your help with airport rides or call in the middle of your writing time, but even the best intentioned will likely wonder if writing can’t be moved around. They will act as if because your schedule is flexible, your time isn't important. 



It gets even shitacularer-er! The true demon here is not another person. It lives in the beating hearts writers themselves and fills their days with activities that push their writing to inconvenient or implausible times, assuring folks that it’s no big deal and they can take a few minutes (or a few hours) to do something “just this once.” Surely I can do five hours of writing from 8p.m. until 1a.m. (even though I go to bed at 11 and my brain checks out for any task more involved than watching The Walking Dead after 9p.m.).

No one will give a writer time. Writers have to take it. They have to hoard it. And they have to guard it with ferocity oft reserved for Black Friday sales.

Which is why you have to go out and look for that shit in the backwoods like the world's most motivated truffle pig, gather it into tight bundles, put on woad paint, and bare your teeth and set up Aliens-style motion sensor auto-firing machine gun turrets at anyone who comes close. Time may very well be a writer’s single most precious resource and the one most people feel most entitled to take in bits they think are no big deal. No one can give you time. It marches on no matter what you do. So fight for it.


The Advice That Will MAKE You Write-

No one can give you this because it doesn’t exist.

It. Does. Not. Exist.

Writers quest for this advice like it is The Holy Grail. Some go on great expeditions, seeking the knowledge of the writers who have come before. That somewhere, some writer, some motivational speaker, some creative will have that one gem of insight that will blow away all the excuses, all the rationales, all the distractions and the angels will sing out in an immaculate chorus, and sitting down to write will never be hard again.

They nod sagely when every single one of them says some variant of "Put your ass in a chair, and write daily." And then they go to find the next writer and ask them the secret.

There IS no advice that will make you write. You have to treat it like a job (and you may have to do this for years before it actually is a job). You get up. You write. You get better at it. You keep going.

PART 2 Coming Soon!

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Best Classic YA not by a Cis Het White Man (Reminder to Vote)

What is the best young adult book (or series) written by a woman or POC or member of the LGBTQIA+ community from before 2000?  

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

I'm doing a shit ton of work this week behind the scenes with Patrons (and their various reward tiers) as well as trying to work out the logistics of some big changes on the horizon with them. (They're basically my 200 "bosses" so I want to run things past them.) I know that means there's a little less going on "On Stage" but it'll cost you at least a dollar a month, if you want in on the backchannel stuff. Plus, I have a weird week of several [though short] Sidegig #3 shifts, so today I'd just like to remind people to vote if they haven't yet, AND (as if that weren't enough) I am recording a podcast this week––the deets of which I will get you as soon as I know. So....today I'm just going to remind you all to vote in this poll (and if you wanted to ensure that Rowling doesn't spank Cisneros, I'd really be okay with that), and get right back to it.

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.

Monday, October 15, 2018

The Vagaries of Experience (The Renown Margin)

Reminder: I'm not famous. But because of having such a big Facebook page, and several viral articles, my life is starting to bend towards some level of kinda, sorta Internet fame, and (as this blog exists in part to share in real time my experiences of writing with the very deliberate attempt to find an audience and make a living) one of the experiences I will share with you is my foray into the liminal space between complete unknown and some Q-list celebrity status. 

One of the most interesting experiences, as I push against this membrane of quasi-fame, is having a dawning realization of why actually famous people do (or don't do) certain things. ("OH. THAT'S WHY!") I realize why they don't open themselves up to random criticism from strangers (there's way too much of it), why they accept a revolving door of their fans (too many to try to please), and why they compartmentalize their private lives (some people's obsession can be harmful).

I've stumbled on another one: the reason people in a spotlight so rarely mention products by name unless they are getting paid endorsement. They often speak in vague terms of A store or A restaurant or AN online company run by the richest human on Earth, even when they're being quite specific about some level of criticism or some level of enjoyment. It's not that they never name names, but it's much more calculated. Usually they describe their experiences with carefully curated vagaries.

I started noticing it innocuously enough, but even at my not-quite-Q-list status, it's gotten to the point where I want to back off on the casual. If I'm going to drop a name, it needs to be worth it. I'm ticking off too many people just by telling them how my day was at that level of specificity.

See, the good words are basically low-key commercials. Point at something and gush, it's basically unpaid advertising, and folks who have begun to understand what their social capital can command may not wish to do this over something trivial or to essentially use that social capital to lift up capitalism and be a commercial.

But where it really gets hairy is the less than stellar thoughts. That's where the shit really goes down. I have enough friends, followers, fans, and people generally watching "The Show™" that if I talk even casually about my experience with some company or product that has let me down, I'm going to make SOMEONE's head itch. Maybe they work for that company, have a lot of brand loyalty, or just generally have some vested interest in not letting it stand, and suddenly you feel like you're arguing over whether how and why you're not really having a good customer experiences with someone.

And I get it. I do. Personally I find memes about how teachers never teach anything important annoying because I'm a teacher. And it's just not that simple. We are teaching you that the blue curtains represent sadness for a reason (often several reasons). So if I've eaten my Wheaties and I see someone post about how teachers never teach anything useful, I try to add some informative nuance about being pinioned between district curriculum and rising class sizes and so sorry that you were personally reading two years beyond the rest of the class and this wasn't a useful lesson.....blah blah blah (you get the idea). So when you realize that someone in your audience probably works for or loves to bits the company or thing you are about to share a not-so-hot story of (and may have had THEIR Wheaties), you begin to question whether you need to actually include the product name. Is it really that important that it be Cold Stone™ and not just "we went out for ice cream...." Is it vital in the story you want to share, that you name the phone you are frustrated with (and thereby invoking the Apple vs. Android battle royale in the comments of your post.

I've even had people who MADE something grief me before. Who knew?

You can kind of see how this would telescope out as fame levels rise. Chances go way up something's going to get back to someone who cares about what you've said. Add in the perception of an attack to a peripheral issue (like say an indictment of the focus of US education on white men) and you get all kinds of pushback ("My school wasn't like that!" to "Teachers have no choice!" to "What about the whitemenz??") Quickly you wonder if it's even worth it. Particularly the more specificity the story has.

It's not that I won't still say these things or call out some shitty company for a bad decision, but I've come to understand that it is a trade off. This is directly launching a bee into SOME bonnet and the more bonnets are out there, the bigger the chance of it happening. You have to weigh your interest in having that caliber of encounter, and if you just weren't that happy but whatever, it's not worth it.

I'm just a little guy with a little following, but suddenly I understand why so many celebrities speak in such vague terms and often feel a little "above it all." It's because of what happens if they're not.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Broken Mirror (by Shadow)

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Every public conversation I've ever seen or engaged in around representation of minority populations in literature and other media has drawn at least one (if not many) dissenters with arguments that range from, "It doesn't matter. It's not that big of a deal," to rabid defense of the status quo.

Well, it does matter.  It is a big deal.  And new voices and perspectives aren't erasing the ones that already exist.  Diversity doesn't devalue the majority, it adds to the richness of our collective fabric.

I have been writing stories since I was five years old. I grew up reading "classic" science fiction. My imaginary friends were Asimov's robots. My dream was to become an astronaut and discover Rama. I wrote stories about Star Wars characters and Heinlein's Puppet Masters and undiscovered aspects of the Ringworld.

But I also wrote other stories. Stories I understood from a very young age that I had to keep secret. I wrote about power and punishment. I wrote about spanking and obedience. I wrote about love and surrender.

I didn't understand at the time exactly why these things had to stay hidden, but I knew that they did. Those kinds of stories weren't on TV or in movies. There weren't characters like me in the books I read... not any of them. Not even in the most distant speculative worlds did I see characters who had the feelings I had, had relationships like I had dreamed about and written about since childhood. So, I kept my stories secret. I burned each piece of my writing as soon as I finished it. I lived constantly under a shadow of fear of being discovered. But still I was compelled to write.

As I got older, I began to understand that there was an "underworld" of people who were, ostensibly, similar to me. I saw it in police procedurals, in medical dramas, in horror stories - sadism, torture, perversion. I saw myself but as if in a broken mirror, distorted and grimy. I saw myself through a haze of shame and perversion. I saw myself in characters written as outcasts, as criminals, as psychopaths without empathy or morality. I saw myself in characters slanted to "loose" values, and questionable morals, at best, outsiders, at worst, killers.

I got even older and began to understand the politics of sexuality. I saw Matthew Shepard tortured and strung on a fence post for being different. My own father sneered at two men holding hands (just holding hands!) on the street. "Disgusting!" he would say. I watched the way the world treated people who were gay and I recoiled. But despite the hate, there were gay and lesbian authors telling their stories. There were movies and TV shows that were changing the narratives around what it meant to be gay. They were in places where I could see them, see the reflections they offered.  The narratives grew slowly, painfully, imperfectly, but they were there… trying...emerging through the hate.

Hopeful, I waited for stories about me. I searched for them. I snatched at false hopes only to be disappointed by stereotypes, false equivalencies, and clich├ęs. There were no authors I saw who shared my identity. No TV shows changing the narrative of what it meant to be like me. I feared what it meant for me, about me, a person whose public stories still centered entirely around caricatures of sexuality, and none of them positive. I feared what would happen to me if anyone, fed steadily on these false representations, discovered who I was. To save myself, I tried to exorcise the part of me that was different. I tried to bury it and forget it existed. I tried to be normal, to be vanilla, to pass.

I failed. I kept coming back to writing, compelled to spit out the secrets inside of me. Compelled to see myself clearly even if only in my own words. I turned thousands of pages to ash and berated myself for my weakness and cloaked myself in shame.

Then I came upon a piece of advice about writing. It was from an author whose name I can't remember, but it resonated so deeply I cried. She said, "Write the stories you want to read. Especially the ones no one else has told."

I realized that, while the rest of the world didn't see me, didn't understand me, discriminated against, pathologized, and even criminalized people like me, I could write the stories no one else had written. I could write the stories of people like me. If I had never seen myself in the stories of others, maybe others could see themselves in mine.

I stopped burning my writing.

I was young. My writing was horrible (dear God, so horrible), poorly crafted and full of immature  angst and drama. But it was the first writing anywhere that I'd ever seen that told a true story of people like me. It was the only mirror that didn't show me broken and dirty in its reflection.

I kept writing.  I kept refining my craft and my mirror. Eventually, it wasn’t enough for me to write only for myself.  Eventually, I began a blog and started sharing my stories with the world.

Now, I write about my Sir and my Sub Brother and our life together. I write about our relationship and our dynamics. I write about power and punishment. I write about spanking and obedience. I write about love and surrender.

I also write about cooking dinner, and living with depression and PTSD, and navigating a triad, and buying groceries, and staggering under crippling anxiety. I write about being a human being who was born out of the mainstream.

I write about being more than a caricature of who or how I fuck.

I write the stories I wish someone had written for me. I create the mirror I wish I could have looked into growing up.

Because I have to keep this part of myself compartmentalized, very few people who know me in real life can know I write these stories. I lie to my family, my coworkers, and my friends. I censor everything I say on social media. It gets lonely. It gets depressing. It feels thankless and pointless at times to keep going. To keep forging this path through untamed land, without guides, or even footsteps to follow in. Sometimes it feels like too much and I want to give it all up.

Then, every so often I go into my analytics and I look at my visitors and I see the visits... sometimes one person in one night reads 30 or 40 or 50 of my posts. I see people visiting again and again from India, from Saudi Arabia, from Singapore, from Egypt, from Brazil, from all over Europe and North America. I never hear from these people, they don't leave comments or any mark of their presence. But they visit. And they visit again. And many of them will revisit certain posts again and again. And I realize that, even never knowing who they are, what their stories are, mine have resonated with them. The stories I write, about people like me. The stories that didn't exist for me. The stories that largely still don't exist for me. I'm making them exist for other people.

And maybe, just maybe, someone who grew up like me, seeing themselves reflected in that broken mirror through a film of shame and discrimination will find my writing and realize they are not alone, that their stories matter, their lives matter, the way they love matters, is seen, and is real.

When authors write the stories of the people who have been made invisible, when the people themselves who have been made invisible write their own stories, when the stories of the invisible people become visible, we take another step toward visibility ourselves.

It matters that we can see ourselves in the stories of our world. It matters that we can see ourselves in the authors of those stories. We have a long way to go as collective humanity to bring us all into the light. As of today, the laws of my state still make my partner legally vulnerable to prosecution for spanking me. Race and gender and all of the axes of identity and intersection still push people deep into the shadows, press people down into the darkness, make people invisible, even to themselves.

So I write my stories and send them out from the shadows. I leave my footprints for others like me to follow. I reach out for the ones forging their own paths, creating their own mirrors, and I reach down to lift up the voices rising from deeper than me in the darkness.

It matters that we tell our stories. It matters that we lift up each others' voices. It matters that we support each other, particularly those reaching out from the deepest shadows.

Representation matters. Visibility matters. We matter. Our stories are the mirrors, unbroken and untarnished, that we all so very much need to be able to see ourselves in.

- Shadow


Shadow is a writer and blogger at https://sanctumia.com/.  She maintains a “vanilla” blog as well which must remain nameless for purposes of mystery and intrigue and because discrimination is still a thing.  She has been writing fiction for 35 years and discovered the power of narrative nonfiction writing 10 years ago.  She writes in the intersections between mental illness, power exchange relationships, and social justice.  


If you would like to guest blog for Writing About Writing we would love to have an excuse to take a day off a wonderful diaspora of voices. Take a look at our guest post guidelines, and drop me a line at chris.brecheen@gmail.com.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

The Buy-Me-Lunch Answer About My Gender

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Writer looking just ridonkulously cute.
I wasn't going to write this post. Honestly. I had a totally different plan for today. But then it was National Coming Out Day and I sat down and before I knew it I had used up three hours of my writing time and written a post about gender. So rather than just beat myself up about how shlub I'd been on the writing front today, I took one of those deep cleansing breaths, and Upper Forebrain Supervisor me reminded my inner taskmaster, "Hey, Chris just spent about 3 hours on a 750 word post about gender and some political thoughts over on Facebook, so Leave Artist Chris alone! LEAVE HIM ALONE!"
If you're wondering why I'm POSTING the "buy-me-lunch" answer, it is simply because so many people who touch my life are far away and will never get the chance to buy me lunch. And then it fit so well when I shaped it into language that I went more public with it. And then I realized I had spent all day writing it, so instead of what I planned I will add this as an addendum to my bio page. And we'll do the guest post I was thinking of tomorrow.

This first part is easy:

Imagine you live in a world with a gender binary that is rather rigidly defined. (I know. Tough to do, right?) And imagine that there are lists of what men are like and what women are like. And some people cleave to the list, but everyone knows them. And even people who think the lists are crap still work off of them for a lot of things.

(So far you don't really have to "imagine" this so much as simply NOTICE it.)

Now imagine that without dysphoria or major identity crisis you've spent your entire life noticing that your list of traits and attributes is the WRONG LIST. You are compassionate, kind, nurturing, good with kids, introspective, emotional, accommodating, passive in matters of courtship––flirty so they come to you but rarely making the first move, easily connected with people, loyal, pliant, enjoy cleaning (and what little cooking you can do), like jobs such as teaching, and love doing emotional labor for loved ones. You kind of like jewelry and feeling "cute."

You eschew much of list that you are supposed to take on. Tough, powerful, "rational," competitive, unemotional, afraid of committment, unattached, aggressive (or "assertive"). Blech. Get that bullshit away from you.

You even find your own quiet, inward-focused way to be ambitious.

Yes these are stereotypes, particularly at their extremes, but enough people buy into them directly, and those that don't do so directly ("You're a house husband? When are you going to man up?") do it unconsciously. ("Women would like you if you got yourself a real job*, and were more assertive.") It's literally inescapable no matter how many "Very Open Minded People™" you surround yourself with.

[A "real job*." Cleaning and chasing diapers all day is not real--and certainly not for a man.]

Imagine that your entire life, even your most intimate partners have said things like "He's the woman in this relationship." or "Oh you're pretty much a chick." They said it in jest, but they said it in jest a LOT. It didn't bother you....but it did make you wonder about that list. And they're not wrong. That was ALWAYS you. You wanted an easy bake oven so you could have food ready for mommy when she got home from work. You were the househusband for the two families you were a part of in your adult life.

Imagine your step-dad hated that about you and constantly told you to stop being prissy and stop being girly and quit talking about your feelings and quit being a momma's boy. And he made fun of those parts of you––mocked them ruthlessly–– in favor of cultivating, within you, his own version of stoicism and masculinity.

Now imagine that you're about 38ish and you've had it up to your eyebrows with basically every assumption of the society you live in and are cheerfully blazing your own trail with everything from abandoning "proper" work to write to non-monogamy. Fuck everything they told you about what would make you happy––"they" haven't been right yet even once. (And frankly some of that shit is built on millenia of oppression.) About this time when you're throwing out every single assumption you ever had, the community around you starts to confront the social constructs of gender.

A lot.

Not just its performative nature in general, but many of them reject the binary outright and begin embracing genders that are no gender or all genders or different genders on different days or different genders than they were assigned at birth. They make you think long and hard (I mean REALLY long and REALLY hard about this list and what it means to you...and about what it means at ALL.)

Imagine that your long hair gets you misgendered four or five times a week and this not only doesn't bother you, but kind of connects you to the list you DID get. You find yourself quietly pleased that there's an outward expression of this ambiguity.

And somewhere in your early forties you realize "SOD the list." "Fuck what "men" are supposed to be!" You're not feeling that shit anyway, and you never have. So you just GO with it. You just go with all that "wrong list" energy you've been doubting and fighting all your life and suddenly you feel like coming home after a long and frustrating vacation.

THIS is who you are. THIS is who you've always been. What is it? I don't know but that list sure is wrong. And the other one is way more accurate.

So I don't have a label, and I'm not shopping for one (so feel free to share your experiences, but you don't have to suggest anything). You can still use he/him or any other pronouns if you wish and really it's all good. And I will NEVER fail to acknowledge the privilege I carry when I pass as a man or even the tremendous privilege of not experiencing gender dysphoria, but I'm really becoming more and more aware that unless this whole society upends ITS concepts of gender, that "man" thing really doesn't quite fit, does it? It just doesn't quite FIT.

So there's the buy-me-lunch answer...lunch optional.