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

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Real Talk and Guest Bloggers (A Post in Bullet Points)

  • Well, it's eleven o'clock on a Tuesday night and this is the first moment I've had to sit down and write that wasn't lesson plans. 
  • And I get to do it all again in the morning!
  • I've known (since that first year) that summer school is going to be a rough time, but I never quite GET it until the second week starts.
  • Oh my God, what the hell am I thinking?
  • At least after the first three weeks I'll have the lesson plans and curriculum written for session two. That's probably about ten hours a week right now.
  • It has become apparent to me that I will not be able to really get guest posts up until I take an admin weekend to dig through and clean out my mailbox of current posts, pending requests, written posts that I've said "Absolutely I'll psot this," but have literally put into a folder and need to go through, and statements of interest. 
  • So I'm going to do that this weekend.
  • Oh yes. 
  • Boy howdy.
  • Thus, it's not too late to get in on this round of guest blogging submissions, but read the guidelines very, very, very carefully. I'll know if you don't, and I won't be able to hold your hand through the process this time round.
  • Seriously if you're going to submit your writing, you have to follow directions. I can be nice about this and hold your hand and send you back messages like "Oh, you seem to have drifted away from the topic of writing a bit," when I'm not working an extra 25-30 hours a week, but right now I have to just ignore folks who send me stuff that isn't playing by the rules. I apologize for that, but it's where I am right now.
  • If you've blogged for me before in any capacity, you might consider a second pass. I'm now making more like 5000-10,000 page views per day and about 1200 minimum on an article (for more self promotion) and make JUUUUUUUUST enough money to be able to pay writers a little bit per article (and a bit more if their article does well). 
  • Am I seriously trying to get a blog post up at 11:30? It's time to question my life choices.

Monday, June 26, 2017

March's Best (and a Quick Personal Update)

I woke up this morning at 11:30 after having slept about 30 hours in the last two days. No you read that right....and I might even be lowballing it. Sleeping in. Bed early. Even naps. I'm not sure what (specifically) kicked my ass so hard. I didn't get a sunburn or catch a cold or have hours of group sex or anything. Though in general I'm sure it's trying to add 15 hours a week of summer school to an impacted schedule, but when I woke up, I sure felt a hell of a lot better.

I usually wake up before 8am to get started on writing.  I don't know what happened, but I managed to sleep through two separate alarms. I guess I had just burnt the candle at both ends a little too long, but maybe incrementally instead of all at once, so I didn't realize it was happening. It's actually a pretty common experience for me, happening maybe once every couple of months especially when I'm really overdoing it and not QUITE getting enough me time. And I hear it's pretty ubiquitous among artists. We tend to just go until we fall over when we're on a tear.

Anyway, all that by way of saying that the ass kicking I was sure was coming has indeed arrived mightily.

Here are the three best of March's posts (and this weekend I will start up a new entry for this year's greatest hits):

Beginning Writers and Submission Guidelines-  When I put out the word, I notice that most submissions have not read the directions. This is a dreadful idea for anyone submitting to any gatekeeper. Ever.

Paying the Bills With Writing (A personal update from five years into this journey.)

Dialects Idioms and Intelligence(Mailbox) We got a question from a second language speaker about an idiom that is primarily used within AAVE.

Honorable(?) Mention- The Writer is Sick I was really sick in March, and I mean fever and bed-ridden sick. I had to take a couple of days off and for some reason that post did really, really well. It actually did better than all the others, but....it's not actually content.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Novels or Short Stories (Mailbox)

Should I write write novels or stick with short stories?

[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 or you would prefer to remain anonymous.  My comment policy also may mean one of your comments ends up in the mailbox. I am not Jonah Jameson by a long shot.]  

Hamish asks:


I'm new to writing seriously, and at the moment I've only been writing short stories. Whether this will change as I get more experienced I'm not sure, but it's telling that some of my favourite authors  (Edgar Allen Poe being my absolute favourite, along with HP Lovecraft when he wasn't being uncomfortably racist) mainly worked in this form. 

My question is in two parts: 

A. Should I be looking to expand my horizons and focus on longer works, or is working primarily in short stories still something other writers do in this day and age? 

B. Are there any differences in the way I should be approaching "The Process" - not that I think any of the steps will change, more a question of scale. Should I be using the same number of rewrites, should I be taking long gaps between each draft, etc?

Thank you very much.

My reply:

But really, was there any time Lovecraft wasn't being uncomfortably racist?

So let's take the first question because there's something very important that I think you're getting at here and it matters, but it also maybe shouldn't. Or maybe it shouldn't until later, when it's good to know, but might help you but then you may have to......


You know what. Why don't I just actually answer it.

Let's start simple. The answer to "What should I write" is, for the most part, always the same: Life is short. Death is forever. It's later than you think. Write what your soul burns to write and fuck the haters. Take what you can; give nothing back!

No wait...that last part is the pirate code.

The chances of some commercial breakthrough in this industry are shockingly small, but the number of people who put some idea of commercial viability over their personal enjoyment and passions are phenomenal. I'm teaching a class of middle schoolers creative writing. MIDDLE. SCHOOLERS. The oldest of them are going into 9th grade next year. When I tell them to write whatever they want, they ask me what I think will sell. Settle down turbo, you've got at least ten years yet before you need to sell out and have hipsters who liked your old shit better.

If ever there were a cart placed inauspiciously in front of a horse (where said horse would find it maximally inconvenient to move) this would be such a situation.

If you're enjoying writing short stories, write short stories. If you enjoy writing novels, write novels. Also Hamish if you get to the point where you need to change up what you write to reach a wider audience, you're going to see that coming miles away and have years to adjust to it. All KINDS of people will send you hate mail about how you went corporate and became a slave of "The Man." It'll be great!

This advice is especially true if you're not publishing. Writers will write for years churning out work that has no destiny greater than their own memory box under the Star Wars birthday cards and smutty handwritten letters from their first love interest as well as being a small piece of the "years of practice" they needed to develop the skills they needed to go forth. So really there's absolutely no reason to be writing any goddamned thing that doesn't bring you bliss.

Now the caveats:

If your goal is to "make it" as a writer–as soon as you figure out what that even means to you–you may want to be aware of industry trends. First of all, as you are foraging your writing skill in the fires of Mt. Doom, you should know that it's really good to write in a form you don't like, especially if that form is shorter than you're used to. It's good for writers to try their hand at all KINDS of writing they don't normally like to do, but boy fuck do most writers need to learn how to keep it short. I don't mean just Robert Jordan either.

(Bro, your slow sections are longer than War and Peace. Not cool, bro.)

Cut that scene. Get rid of that paragraph. That sentence isn't NEARLY as clever as you think it is, and if it's not doing something for your story, it's just masterbatory. You don't need four chapters to do the same thing. Practicing writing with more brevity and precision is great for writers who typically write longer. So you're off to a great start.

[One of the best exercises I ever did was to have a teacher give us a 6,000 word story prompt, and then when we were all super happy with our revised and completed stories that barely fit in the 6,000 word prompt (of which every single word was super-duper important, of course, and could never be cut in a gagillion years), they told us to trim it to 5,000 words for our final. I learned more about what is vital and what isn't in two days than in years prior.]

Does it go the other way?  Sure it does!

Long term character arcs, lots of minor characters, subplots, complications, these things aren't in your typical short story because there just isn't time, so it can be practice to kind of learn to slow down and take your time with the craft. Obviously if you're wrapping up your plot lines and your protagonist is dead by the end of chapter one, something has gone very wrong. Plus if you want to take a crack at a novel just to see what it feels like to develop the long term project chops, and get up and hack away at something every day for months, that might be a real learning experience. Kind of like going and deciding to build a house on a lark when what you usually build are sheds.

A lot like that actually. I might have to steal that one. Hashtag shedtohouse. Someone call the patent office. I want a quarter every time someone uses this. *puffs cigar*

Secondly there's this really weird paradox in the industry. Novels sell. Novels make money. Publishers want novels. You can make some sideline cash selling short stories, but if you want the big advances and the royalty checks, you probably have to write novels. HOWEVER, you will almost never ever EVER see someone get a book deal without a portfolio of short stories first. That's how writers get their name out and generate the accolades for a cover letter that an agent won't ignore.

You might also want to try a novella as a bridge between the two, but just know that those are an even harder sell in terms of industry demand. They're too long to fit in a periodical and too short to make money off of. Writers don't tend to make money with novellas until they are very well known.

So your proclivity for short stories is likely to not only be the bliss you should follow, but also to serve you well if you're trying to break into the publishing industry. Right up until you start to reach the point when someone's going to want to see a book from you. And believe me, Hamish, when that train pulls into the station, you will absolutely know it. It'll be subtle like a brick.

Here see if you can decode this subtext: "Hey, I'm an agent. When you're ready to start writing novels, give me a call. I'd love to represent you."  How was that? Did you catch that meaning beneath the layers of meaning?  Okay well then you'll know when it's time to shift to writing novels.

As far as scaling up for writing novels vs. writing short stories, it is a bit different. While a very well written novel will have loving time and meticulous attention given to its revision, it will probably not have the painstaking revision process of a short story. Short stories are dense and they are crafted with amazing precision. Some authors agonize over literally every single word choice. You can probably wait a little less time for that first short story revision than you would with a novel (a few days instead of a few weeks) but you might actually want to jack up the number of revisions.

Good luck Hamish!  Don't forget me when you're big-time. Especially if you use that shed thing.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Best YA for Young Women (Reminder to Vote)

What is the best book (or series) marketed to young women?  

Tomorrow I'm going to dig into this backlog of Mailbox questions and start rocking the kasbah, and last night I was up until 11:30 creating the post I'm going to be using for the next handful of Thursdays, so today I'm just going to remind everyone that there's only a little over a week left to vote for your favorite book or series marketed to young women. Come July, we will begin gathering nominations for a new poll and post results forthwith.

From your nominations and through quarter and semifinals, it all comes down to this last week.

Everyone has (3) votes, but remember that there is no ranking, so using as few votes as possible is better. 

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

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Future of Writing About Writing

Hi everyone. Today marks the first of six Thursdays where I'm going to try to do something a little like a pledge drive. (You know like those two weeks where NPR spends a few minutes between each show trying to convince you to donate? Like that....except six weeks.........and only on Thursdays.) Since I'm unable to maintain my current posting schedule because of teaching summer school, I thought that this would be a good time to do a sustained reminder that my ability to keep on writing (about writing) largely depends on all of you.

This is a screen shot from MY PATREON.  I'm currently 65% to my third goal, which will keep me from having to drive for Lyft or something once I run out of Kickstarter funds allotted for the novel and keep me writing instead.

So really the awesome part is we just started and we only have 35% to go.

If I can reach just that goal by the end of this six weeks, then I'll consider myself set up for what's coming. There are many more goals. Some because the funds allotted through Kickstarter are finite and will be used up. Some because part of my current income will eventually go away. (The kid I'm nannying needs less care each year.) Some to remove the need for jobs that take me away from writing, like teaching summer school. Some because my current living situation won't last forever. Some because I can only keep not contributing to some kind of retirement fund for so long before I have to do the responsible adult thing.

Since this blog's inception we have been able to quit teaching during the regular year, bring you more content, and up the number of high quality posts each week. (And 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.) We've been able to go 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)
  • A seventh post each week
  • A greater number of carefully (perhaps even professionally) edited and revised posts
  • More fiction
  • Always free longer fiction (books)
  • An always, forever, ad free experience on Writing About Writing

If I can't reach this goal by the end of the six weeks, I may have to return to hosting ads on Writing About Writing and I may have to consider other ways to monetize my work. It's not something I want to do, and it will actually limit the rage of certain kinds of content I can post, but I'll need to shore up that gap somehow.

Remember just twelve dollars a year–just ONE DOLLAR a month–gets you in on backchannel conversations with other patrons, polls, and conversations about future projects including sometimes even me trying to get your input. But perhaps, most importantly, you'll be supporting an artist who to continue making art that will always be free for everyone to enjoy.

So if you like what I do and want to see me do more of it, not do less of it, and continue to do it without ads and for free, please consider a small pledge.

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: I'll add to the bells and the whistles and the jazz hands to this appeal post each week as this six weeks of summer school goes on.]