Welcome

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

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Fortune Cookie Wisdom XIX

You do not have to choose between supporting authors and using libraries. I love that you want to support authors, but I absolutely positively promise you that libraries are completely fucking AWESOME for authors. They buy actual copies. Then they lend them out. Then they replace them as needed, which includes buying more copies if the book is popular. Then they notify other libraries of what's getting checked out, and THOSE libraries start buying copies. And the whole while, anyone who is legitimately checking out those books might develop an interest in having a copy for their very own or exploring the author's backlist. Plus the librarian might be recommending your book to people who come in asking about "suchandsuch" a genre with "soandso" of a style. 


A really good literary argument could be made for the fact that the director is a play's "narrator," who does all the work ahead of time so that the story "tells itself," and in fiction there IS a narrator who is telling the story. So if you are willing to give up your narrator, you might want to write drama. If you are not, fiction. 


If all the factors are aligned against you and it seems like the hosts of heaven and hell themselves are trying to keep you from writing, and despite that, you just keep finding the time to do something, and you just keep pushing, and you just keep not giving up, when all those factors go away, THEN your productivity positively explodes. All that work and discipline during the hard times was like running across the beach with cement shoes. Suddenly you put on sneakers and get on solid pavement and the hard work and discipline muscles propel your unfettered feet like you have those little Hermes winged shoes or something.


Failure is the background radiation of most artists' existences. I can't think of a single artist I've ever personally known who's kept to a schedule for more than a little while or reached all their deadlines (external or self-imposed) or finished anything longer than a few-hour project––other than maybe freelance work––exactly when they thought they would. Certainly not any who I've read about (except maybe Stephen King on cocaine, and maybe we shouldn't get into that as a legit exception).


You are going to fail. You ARE. You have to get back up if you want to be an artist. You HAVE to get back up. 


Folks, I haven't been shy about the fact that I think NaNo puts galaxies of emphasis on only specific parts of writing, that what you end up with might be a phenomenal accomplishment of which you should be Luke-After-Star-Wars proud, but it is by no stretch of the imagination a novel that is ready for publication. Holding onto that discipline of daily writing instead of taking the next eleven months off may not definitely get you to your goals, but it is a capital idea.


You can't win em all. Some days you have to look at the clock after a longer shift than you thought at your second job, and two appointments and a nap that you WOKE UP FROM after 8pm, and just say "It's not happening today." 


Summoning creativity on demand requires one to control their muse instead of their muse controlling THEM. And that requires discipline.

 

The answer to the question of how to "make it" doesn't change. (I do try to get people to explain what they mean by "make it," although the answer is usually to be a comfortable working writer with a flourishing career.) There isn't a shortcut to this success. But folks will ask it over and over again like one day someone is going to say, "Look, actually, the answer is Omega 3s. It was never write every day. We were lying, and you finally broke us with the 7 billionth time you asked the question. Just eat more fish."

Even with clouds and triple redundant backups and USB thumb drives and everything else, you're probably going to lose some of your writing. And if the only reason you're writing is because you have put so much into it, that sunk cost moment is going to be a rough one. If the only reason you were slogging on is because you'd come so far, you will find yourself leaning over one heck of a psychic volcano. 

It's normal to be upset. To flip a table. To abandon a project. Maybe even to give up for a while. But what happens then will be the most interesting part. Did you write because you had all this effort sunk into it? Or did you write because not writing was terrible or because that story was desperate to get out? Have the reasons you write been obliterated, lost in some pixel (or ink) graveyard? Or will you come back to the page for the same reason you did before?


If you want to see who is mistreating authors, look at Amazon (and don't forget the publishers). Price fixing, denying authors their "commission" unless the Audible subscription came from a certain URL, slashing royalty rates, denying more and more money to the author whether you go big five or independent because the entire industry landscape is dotted by various distribution monopolies. They're Kaiju trying to smash each other's market share and authors get trampled underneath. 


Editors are your friends. They are the healer in your raid party. They are the medic in your platoon. You can't do it without them. (You technically might be able to, but you shouldn't. I mean you really really really shouldn't.) I can't stress enough how important they are for even a veteran writer. We all have ideas we could be expressing better.

A lot of writers have the problem that they don't have a platform. They write perfectly well and then they don't or won't self-promote. And even if they're still stuck in the last-generation model of traditional publishing, they aren't spending enough time having release parties, going to readings, or pounding the pavement to put their books on consignment in bookstores. (Usually because they have this mythical idea that good writing will sell itself and a true artiste never gets dirt under their fingernails. All bullshit, BTW.) So they have this really good ability, multiple novels, dozens or hundreds of short stories, often PUBLISHED work--occasionally even in prestigious venues--and no one knows about them.


The key to motivation is to need as little of it as possible. 

The key to THAT is to make it a habit.

Yes there are folks who deal with so much executive dysfunction that they can't brush their teeth, but you don't often run into those wanting to find the inspiration to keep doing it. 


Can't get enough fortune cookie wisdom?  There's years' worth here

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Facebook Compilation (Top of December)

Here is a collection of the best memes and statuses from my public Facebook page over the period of Dec-1st through Dec-16th. (You're welcome to follow me there but read up in the Facebook FAQ [last question] before you send me a friend request.) Technically when I catch up on these, I'll go back to taking Wednesdays off, but we're REALLY far behind, and I don't want to cannibalize our regular posting schedule, so until we're all caught up, that seems the best day to drop these. 

Most of these are not contextual on an event of the moment, but do remember that it was in December, so there's some holiday stuff in there.

~pulls over the bus~

~stops~

~turns off the engine~

OKAY REAL TALK, PEEPS!

LISTEN UP....

We have, in the tiniest way, beaten back the mainstreaming of open, naked, ostensibly fascist forces in a single political election cycle. And “Fuck Trump” may no longer be the glue that binds us all together. It’s been an awesome four years. Maybe the real PTSD are the friends we made along the way.

So now you have a choice.

You can accept the following two post-Trump facts about your writer friend Chris:

1- On the political spectrum, clock me to the left of Bernie Sanders. More in the AOC range. I’m not an authoritarian, so I might cheer a good “comrade” meme, but “socialism” is a more accurate description. I’m also not an anarchist because what works as a means would be disastrous as an end. If you are either of those things, I think we are basically on the same page and will be working to the same goals until my bones are dust, but I have significant issues with both too much and not enough centralized authority.

I also think a violent revolution wouldn't achieve what the left wants (historically it never has) and hurts mostly marginalized folks anyway, so while I laugh at a good guillotine meme, I'm not here to suggest we take on the greatest military of all time and those who do have probably watched Red Dawn too many times.

Tankies can just GTFO. 

I’m into radical liberation, radical equality, try to be as intersectional as possible, and I think most of the systems people want to work “within” have made the rules so only a certain group of people are treated fairly, and those systems need to be dismantled (NOT JUST TWEAKED). And I think if we don’t change things really, REALLY fast, our climate is going to do the kind of damage to humanity that will make Covid look like a gentle summer breeze in the park.

2- I’m going to be pragmatic about how much can be done in a single election, what happens if we get so into purity that we lose (the GOP gets to govern), and how useless yelling “bootlicker" AT the labor class for not loving our guillotine memes enough will ever EVER be. About how different (real world, people's lives, working-class outcomes DIFFERENT) the two parties are, even when they share certain harmful assumptions about things like neocolonialism, neo-imperialism, exceptionalism, and capitalism. About whose coattails we can ride to the next station towards democratic socialism and beyond, and who is throwing away political power on absolutely meaningless protest votes. About the long-term effectiveness a brand of radicalism that is so hard-core it gives people PTSD and ignores folks who would be mentally harmed by trying to keep up. And while I try not to judge people under circumstances I don’t claim to understand, I will advocate for things like voting and not for things like talking a big game about taking on the U.S. military or the extrajudicial murder and/or torture of those who "deserve it." And that there is always—fucking ALWAYS—a tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow to deal with even after a WILDLY successful protest movement. 

There are days when threading that needle is the hardest thing I do and at LEAST one of these two core tenets touches almost every aspect of human activity in some form or another, whether it’s the media I consume, the brand of candy I love but never eat, who I call out, who I call in, or how often I drag my really-don't-wanna introvert ass to a protest so I can stand and be counted. 

And while I am always open to persuasion and try to incorporate new facts instead of getting cognitive dissonanc-y, you’re not going to hector me out of these two core beliefs with the typical internet asshole-makes-right hyperbole. You can disagree and scroll on. You can communicate with me like I’m a human being with feelings. You can try to understand and share your own perspectives in return, knowing that we may both be “enriched” without being “converted.”

And you can accept these two facts....

**opens the door to the bus**

OR THIS IS YOUR STOP?


My tombstone is going to say, “He wasn’t really asking for advice, but he loved and appreciated the spirit in which he knew it was offered and all the people who cared enough about him to give it."


Conservatives when the federal government wants red states not to have codified bigotry as law: "States' rights! The gawddamned star-spangled awesome constitution gives us states' rights. STAAAAAATES' RIIIIIIIIIGHTS!"

Conservatives when they lose: "SCOTUS, tell these other states that they don't have rights if we don't like what they do with them—say if they use them to conduct elections in which we lose."

Conservatives when SCOTUS tells them to fuck off: "Welp. Guess it's time to take our states and go make our own country. With Trump and blackjack." 

It was NEVER about Federalism. It was never about patriotism. Never, never, never ever.


Leftists for the last 14 elections I’ve paid attention to (and one California recall election): Why should I learn to read the room? Those bootlickers are the ones that suck!

Me: OK, but we’re gonna lose.

Leftists: Not if people vote for us!  That's how voting works, donchaknow?

Me: Yeah, but they WON’T vote for us if we don’t learn to read the room. They are the people we need. They are the proletariat. They are the labor class. And you’re pissing them off and making fun of them instead of making your case.

Leftists: You’re not a real leftist…

Leftists: ~lose and don’t govern~ ~surprised pikachu~ ~every. single. election~

A screen shot from https://www.quora.com/


Dear Democrats: please begin rehearsing the following phrase now so that it’s second nature when the time comes:

“It didn’t seem to bother you when Trump did it.”

Thank you.


Having never been actually censored or systematically oppressed, privileged folks (cishet white men in particular) often can't perceive an appreciable difference between being challenged socially (say on Twitter by an angry person who uses all caps and tells them to deposit themselves in the nearest waste bin) and the governmental censure of free expression. If you besmirch the emotional labor they use to uphold the status quo (Status Quo Defenders--SQuiDs), even just a little––even when they claim to agree with the precepts of equality and you just want to challenge their perception of what that might actually LOOK like––they equate it with armed agents of the state dismantling a printing press or their being thrown in prison. 

Hence they invoke "free speech" when what they really want is "freedom from (all) consequence." (And if you don't mind pay them, and never criticize them either.)


Portions of the right: "There is a civil war coming and we are going to HUNT liberals. We are going to kill them in a blood-letting to take back this country for real (read: white) Americans. Let's go to a special social medium so we can talk about this without being censored." [Because lord knows how sensitive FB is to bigotry.]

The rest of the right: *conspicuous silence*

The left: "Wow. I'm sick of this. You don't even call that shit out in your own party? Y'all are fucked up."

The rest of the right (and moderates and even a few liberals): "Oh my god, are you serious with this rhetoric? When did you all become so incendiary? So much for tolerance, I guess. You need to get your far wing under control."

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Best Romance Book or Series [Nominations and Seconds Needed]

What is the best book (or series) in the Romance genre? Come join our conversation.

Remember there are no more polls. These days instead of a grudge match, we just have a conversation about some good books. ANY book can end up on our list with even as much as a single nomination. The only thing I do even remotely like "ranking" is to put the books in order by number of "seconds." 

I'm spending this week doing a lot of work behind the scenes for my Patrons. Newsletters, photoshoots, early access posts. I have something for a lot of the tiers. An admin day to get started on that was actually why there was no post yesterday. (I know. I know. No one but me was even paying attention.) You should start seeing the "payouts" soon if you're a patron.

But in the meantime, if you haven't already, please don't forget to pop over to the original page to drop that nomination, see what has been nominated, second (all) those you agree with, and brush up on the rules (there are a FEW after all). 

Keep in mind, as there have been some charming A/V media adaptations (and a few terrible ones), that this is a poll about BOOKS. If you loved the Outlander show, but feel the books read like Perils of Penelope, you should nominate something else. And PLEASE remember that since romance is a genre that does a lot of cross genre to nominate a ROMANCE genre book (or series), not a book in another genre that just has a strong romantic subplot. 

Again, please remember to go to the original page to drop your nomination (and familiarize yourself with the rules if you haven't yet). If you put it anywhere else (including a Facebook comment on this post) it will not be counted.

Thank you all for joining in our NOTpoll. I've really loved reading all your comments about the books you treasure and why.

Friday, February 19, 2021

20 Questions (Non-Writing Questions)

All our questions today are about blogging logistics, analytics, snack food, social media, paid ads, obvious pitfalls to avoid, crowdfunding, and the parts of writing that aren't ACTUALLY writing.

1- Preferred method of feeding yourself on writing-intensive days; Microwave, Crock/Instant-Pot, or food that doesn't require cooking? Favored recipe?

I'm a bad person to ask about this; I'm part snake. I don't do this three meals and two snacks a day thing. I rarely eat more than one big meal a day, and sometimes I will eat a huge meal and not feel really famished-hungry again until like 36 hours later. 

So usually my writing-intensive days involve tea by the gallon, maybe some light snacking on salty things, and I usually don't need a meal until I come up for air in the evening. Then I can cook for myself or not. I enjoy cooking but it's not always in the cards time-wise, so I keep an assortment of quick things on hand: premixed salads, pasta sauces I can just toss on some noodles, just-add-water bowls, and some microwavable frozen meals.


2- At what point should an author start a blog?

(I've seen several articles recommending all authors to start a blog. Beyond the initial thesis the reasons, whys, and whats are often different.)

If I have not had anything published yet, should I bother? 

ALL authors? No.

The only answer that really matters is that you should start a blog at the point that you WANT to start a blog. There's no other reason to do it. It's hard work. It will NOT get the results you want unless you do it very regularly (once a week is really a minimum) and for a long time, and that makes it almost a part time job. That can REALLY cut into your writing time, especially if you're not yet a working writer. If you can barely attend to the writing that you WANT to be doing, it's definitely not a good move to start up a blog.

Whether you're fully in traditional publishing, going the total self-publishing route, or a hybrid, an author blog is generally a good way to keep yourself somewhat more relevant (relavanter?) while you're in between releases, build up and maintain an audience who will then be aware of your release dates, and have a pre-generated audience when you do release something (traditionally or non). I got started for this very reason, and found that I really ENJOYED blogging. Now I would do the blogging even if I were a household name in fiction. But none of this is worth it if you don't actually enjoy blogging. It'll just feel like a time sink away from the writing you want to do for little to no payoff. 

Let me be blunt (Dad joke: "Hi Blunt!): you'd competing with a lot of content for the eyeballs of the Internet. It will take longer than you think and more steady, high-quality content than you realize, before people will start to notice your blog and before it would do anything to help the sales of a book release or something. Are you prepared to do it for years without getting the quick networking/marketing fix that you wanted for your work as a regular author?

And in that respect, I can at least answer one of your questions definitively instead of punting it back to you in "Only you can know for sure, Grasshopper," style. The best time to start your blog is YESTERDAY. But only if you want to be blogging.

In the clichénd, there are faster and easier ways to market your other work than by blogging. Even spending money to advertise it yourself may be more cost effective. (Will you spend 10 hours a week blogging or $100 to get five times as much reach?) So the circle is now complete. When I left you I was the but the learner. Now I am the master. It comes back to whether or not you WANT to.


3- How many non-exclusive contracts are too many? I've been working on a book since 2019, and here lately I've gotten contract offers every other month or so. It's not like it's much extra work to upload to extra sites, and there's a little bit of money coming in, but how many is too many?

I had an instinct about this, and I ran it past a colleague who is more on the traditional side of publishing, and found out I was pretty spot on.

Ultimately this is a very YOU choice, especially if these places want to keep paying you for stuff without demanding exclusivity. Nothing wrong with getting a little double dip exposure. As long as you find the effort to compensation ratio to be agreeable,  

But here's where you want to be careful. 

1- Make sure that non-exclusive part is explicit. You will save infinite headaches by double checking. Some places will assume, and their silence may protect you legally, but you don't want your name dragged. Publishing is a strangely tight little incestuous industry, and if you gain a reputation for not working and playing well with others, you can find your career stymied faster than Ted Cruz can be a hypocrite.

2- You might want to Google yourself. Make sure that the only hits you get aren't from this one thing. If someone trying to decide whether to take a chance on a book contract or something goes to look you up online, you might not want them to find just THIS over and over again. Pages and pages of that one thing. They may get the idea that you wrote One Good Thing™ and you've been resting on your laurels and coasting on its success ever since. (I'm not saying that's true, but you want to be aware of the picture a quick Google search will paint.) It's like the guy who can't stop reliving his glory days of high school football. 


4- How much time did you spend on social media building your platform? How much time is needed to maintain it now?

I spend about 15 hours a week on social media platform stuff each week. I'd say I do a little less than I used to, but probably not that much. (And I pay someone to help me with some of the busy work so it feels like less TO ME, even though it's still being "done" in a way that is pertinent to the answer of your question.) It tends to feel like less when I'm just throwing up memes and everything is running smoothly, but every week or two I spend an entire day dealing with a post that has turned into a trash fire or banning alt-right jackholes. Fifteen is probably a decent average.

So if you consider that I've been doing this for 9 years and have taken off so little time that I can count the weeks off on one hand, I've probably spent around 7000(ish) hours on social media platform building.

~does a double take~ Holy SHIT, that's a lot!

 

5- If there was one blog post you'd want a new reader to experience, which one would it be? 

Only one?? There are so many posts for so many different tastes. Social justice. Craft. Hate mail. It's really hard to choose. 

Actually, if I had absolutely no way to tailor the recommendation to something they'd like, I would direct them to The Reliquary. Although I badly need to clean things up in there (and will when this pandemic is over and I can nanny less), it has many of my main articles in categories that shouldn't be TOO difficult to figure out. Most people can find something there that tickles their pickle.


6- What are your least favorite parts of social media outreach? 

Well, at over a million followers, someone's always in a pissy mood.

I mean that's kind of a flip way to word it, but it's true. Someone is spoiling for a fight. Someone is reading in the worst possible faith. Someone just got dumped and wants to "kick the puppy." Someone hasn't had their meds/their lunch/a nap. Someone is going to assume that some general advice that doesn't work for them is more of a personal attack than just "N/A."

And it all gets dumped on me. 

That's what I hate. I don't even mind banning alt-right jackholelopes. That has its own sort of "take that!" catharsis, and I really do mean what I say when I say whatever it is that twists up their knickers, but getting yelled at for something I never intended and probably didn't really even say almost every time I hit "post" can be a drag. 


7- What sites do you visit when looking for inspiration?

I rarely visit sites LOOKING for inspiration, but from time to time I see something out in the wild and I think "I should write a W.A.W. version of that—put my own spin on it and add some threesome jokes." They are actually usually just those crappy content creation pages that you see all over the first page of Google. 

Those go into a little text file I have for posts I mean to write some day. If I stopped getting new ideas tomorrow, it would be about three years before I ran out of ideas in that text file. So generally when I sit down to write, the question is choosing from all the good ideas, not "What ever should I write about."

I rarely go OUT to get inspired. Writing is work. I sit down to work and if the inspiration finds me working, THEN it comes and guides my fingers.


8- How did you get your blog to look the way it does? I have tried different mediums for my blog, but they always look terrible to me.

This is just a Blogger theme. It's one of the first ones I saw, but I liked it. I picked it because of the books. Cause I'm a writer, yo. And…books….forget it. Personally I prefer the white text on black background themes, but I hear those are harder to read for some folks. The one before that was even simpler and also a premade theme that I picked and used for like 8 years. For a couple of months at the beginning, I had one that looked like a piece of paper. I always knew that was temporary though.

I had to learn to mess around with the widths of the columns so I could have "The Tip Jar" or Patreon widgets, but I decided when I began that I didn't want to spend time mucking around with HTML coding or blog design. I wanted to focus on writing, so I picked the easiest "Push button to go" blog I could. 

Honestly I'm like a Pakled. I'm going to be the one the Enterprise finds adrift saying "I look for things. Things to make my blog go."


9-  Do you pay for ads from Facebook to get more views? I know your blog is ad free, but I just wanted tips on how to get such a big following as you have. 

I don't. 

I have in the past, but it's not super useful. You pay way more per eyeball on your post than you might think. (Up to 25 cents if you want to limit yourself to places like the US and UK.) And they may have fixed this, but at the time it would get me followers who then wouldn't engage on subsequent posts. So sponsoring posts increased your numbers (especially for that one post) but would also fill your ranks with people who were less engaged and active. So it was like a guarantee that future unpaid posts would do just a little bit worse.

I tried everything to lesson this effect. Targeting ads really tightly. Setting it only to show existing followers. It never mattered. It would always end up hurting my unpaid performance in later posts. 

Eventually I knew I'd have to pay more and more to get the same result, so these days I get my following by trying to publish good content on the regular and Facebook can suck an elf. I make sure to put up meme every hour or two and no more than one or two blog posts a day so it doesn't get spammy. 



10-  How do you get the motivation to write nearly every day, and how do you just....well, come up with things to talk about? I feel like anything I try to blog about or write about will just ultimately fall flat.

The key to motivation is to need as little of it as possible. 

The key to THAT is to make it a habit.

Look, I have to tread lightly around this because there are absolutely folks who can't find the motivation to do things like shower or brush their teeth, and I don't want to dismiss serious and/or chronic illness, but when you approach writing with the same "Gotta get this done" as brushing your teeth, it's just a lot easier than if it's this huge….THING that you have to psych yourself up for just to do. If you want to find the motivation to write each day, I don't recommend motivational speakers or some font of motivational inspiration. I recommend lowering the "power output" it requires to write down to where it's something you just DO. Then you don't have to get in the mood at noon (or whenever), you just look up and think "Time to write."

And….writing is recursive. You cannot possibly write as fast as you think so during the process of writing, inspiration is likely to strike.


11- If I like a post/photo/whatever, what information do you get about me? Do you get any data/details? Do you see stuff about who we are that we may not realize is passed along?

About you personally? None.

I get metadata about certain things. Who's following me and I think I can figure out what percentage are from where on my blog. But I don't get an infodump about specific people and even if I were interested in rooting around on their pages (I'm not), I couldn't find anything they'd set to private.




12- If I share, is that better or worse for you than liking?

Always. 

I don't know (or care to try to spend lots of time trying to learn) all the ins and outs of various social media's algorithms, but a share is always going to go out to more people than any other kind of engagement. 

My understanding is that with FB it is sharing, commenting with a gif, commenting with a picture, commenting, heart reacts, and like reacts in descending order of further algorithmic proliferation, but honestly, I just try to write the best content I can and let that crap mostly attend to itself.


13- Are there any huge, glaring things to look to avoid when attempting to get published?

Existentially, I'd say trying to talk yourself into writing less. People who get published write a LOT, and they don't sit around waiting for it not to "feel like a chore." Even if they can't do it daily for some reason that is beyond their control, they tend to look for ways to write MORE, not rationalizations for writing less. 

But if you mean pragmatically, the most common glaring thing to avoid is submitting unedited shit. Writers who think they don't need content editing because they "thought a lot about it." Or who think they can revise those weird sentences that don't make sense out of their own writing. (None of us can.) Or writers who think that a publisher will simply assign them a copy editor for free and they can make no end grammatical mistakes since their story is so awesome. These make up 95% of the corpses in the rejected bin. 

And self-publishing is no way around this. Honestly if you just want to hit a button and "be published" you can do that with anything, but folks wanting to be read, and maybe even scratch out some money, will have to publish something of quality if they want to sell more than a few copies to family and close friends. 


14- Are there any really obvious things to you about getting published that wasn't obvious to you then? I'm talking process stuff here. Not the actual writing.

Keeping in mind that I'm not really in the traditional side of the publishing industry (and have vowed never to be), I would say that it is not the Rubicon most writers think it is going to be. You get published after a long, unforgiving period of NOT getting published (or self-publishing) and by the time it happens, it's often ten times more work than you imagined it would be just to get published in some venue that is hardly going to make you rich and famous. And then you start getting accepted here and there. And then you hit a bigger venue. These steps feel good, and I don't want to discount the euphoria, but it isn't like this "I HAVE ARRIVED!" moment you see in the movies for 99.999% of writers. It's baby steps and a LOT of grief and effort. It feels good, but the next day you get up, put your pants on one leg at a time, and keep working.


15- How many different social media sites do you use to drive people to your blog? Other than continuous posting on FB for instance, how else do you advertise and market your blog?

Officially, I think 3 1/2 is the right answer. Technically there's an Instagram, but I don't really use it to post links to the blog. But my presence on both Tumblr and Twitter is very low key. I drop my link of the day and my rerun (and in the case of Tumblr, the best meme of the day before) and that's it. My Facebook page and my Facebook public profile are really where most of the engagement happens. You can check everything out here. I have them all arranged by what I post and how often.



16- When you launch a blog, how much content did you have prepared when you went live?

I almost said none, although that's not technically true. I started with no plan other than to write about writing. I just knew I had a lot to say and I got to work saying it. Although in that first year I posted a couple of things I'd written as college papers and some old Livejournal posts. It took a while to find the groove that works for blogging, so some of those were wildly out of character for what works on a blog. However, I didn't think to myself "That would make good content" when I launched the blog. It was more like six weeks in I thought "I could post that and have a day off to deal with this busted plumbing pipe."


17- If a fan recognized you in an eating/drinking establishment, the thing to send your table is...

That's very kind. Maybe an appetizer. Savory—not sweet. No cheese/dairy, and nothing too greasy. Or just say a quick hello. Being recognized is still pretty novel and exciting since I'm really not actually famous. I totally come back and do a "OMG, you'll never believe what just happened!" post on Facebook. And as long as it doesn't turn into a weird gushing thing that puts me on a gods and masters pedestal or doesn't end, I'd love to meet you. 


18- What do you think is a good ratio of reading to writing, and how do you maintain that?

This is a great question because the answer changes. When you first start reading, 100/0. I mean…if you're in school you have to write a little, but you're not trying to craft your own fiction. For years you just consume….probably THOUSANDS of books. Then you start trying to work your own magic. Slowly at first, but then with more and more determination. As a hobbyist I probably got pretty close to 75/25. As a working writer, it's almost exactly 50/50. 

And just to be clear, that's "time spent," not output. I'm a fairly slow reader, but there's no way in hell I'm going to write a book a week or an article in five minutes. 

"How do you maintain that?" is a more existential answer. For the most part, I just do. I like reading! Even when I'm having trouble with longer works of fiction (like right now) I'm still reading most of WaPo's front page, plus an additional 30+ articles/blogs a day. [And I do still manage to grind through a book a month or so.] Writing and reading are inextricably joined. Writers can no more stop reading and only write than they can choose only to breath out (and never in). In fact—and let me be very clear about this—I think a lot of people who wish they were better/more successful writers are writing a lot more than they're reading, and that is a lot of the reason why they're not better/more successful writers. 

I don't claim to judge the lot, but when I talk to a lot of these folks, their rationalization is that they don't really NEED to read. But then they scratch their heads when folks find their prose stilted and confusing like the two have nothing to do with each other. In fact, they are two sides of the same coin; whenever I am writing more than I read, I can still conceptualize and visualize things but I begin to have a hard time putting those ideas into language.


19- Did you have a plan when you started out? Do you have a plan now?

Plans are fun. I especially like when global pandemics join fascist insurrections and do wrestling moves on them that require two-on-one to pull off. The powerbomb suplex combo is particularly devastating to my writing plans.

I had more of a plan when I started out. I was even going to do a quasi-fictional "plot arc" every year that resolved around December. Roughly around 2013, life started to Riverdance on said plans. At first it was a baby here, and some cancer there. (Clackity clackity) Then it was a break up, a move, and this whole thing about needing to work 60+ hours to pay the bills. (Click clack clack clackity clackity.) Then there were some deaths. But actually it looked like maybe after this one last move, things were going to be really great, and that's when the global pandemic dropped. All of a sudden it's been eight years and I still fully intend to finish that Skyrim article… 

My plans will be playing the part of The Floor this evening.


I still have plans. E-compilations. Fiction. Even specific articles I've been meaning to write forever (coughskyrimcough). But they're all on the back burner, and I'm just trying to hold on with both hands right now. When the pandemic (truly) ebbs, I'm looking forward to getting back to all those things. 


20- How much do you make crowdfunding instead of selling your work? Can a writer make enough to live on?

~Strongbad voice (because I'm nothing if not stuck in 2005)~ "I mean….I do. Check me out."

"No seriously, check me out."

I no longer share the specifics of my income because there are people who don't understand what living in this part of the U.S. is like. They hear a number and they think I live like a prince or "clearly make enough for an artist" when actually my writing income is still a fraction of HUD defined “Low Income Limits” for the area and by some metrics I live in poverty. (I'm just really good at living on a budget, and my current housing situation is a bit on the "miracle" end.) However, I'm fettered here, so there are reasons I can't go live out in Tracy or even leave California where my rent money would stretch.

Crowdfunding absolutely can support writers. I know a few who it does (including myself). I recently passed The Amount™, which is the income I would have to make from writing to never HAVE to do freelance work, pet sit, or nanny unless I basically wanted to. Now if I do any of those things, it'll be because I enjoy them 

I will say that it's probably harder now than five years ago. And much harder than ten years ago. Part of that is the pandemic and the global economy, of course. It's just a hard time right now for everyone. But also, a lot of folks have Patreons now, even if they're sort of not producing any real content and just kind of hope to get a few dollars for being them. Folks give less and spread out what they give to more artists. It is the nature of this business that as soon as something starts working, it kind of gets swarmed, and so we all (inadvertently) boobytrap the jungle behind us as we go.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Constrain Me, Baby!

Guest blogger Shadow talks about how to get a little kinky with your writing and spice it up by tying it down.


[Note: there are some formatting issues in this post. Unfortunately, this could not be helped. It is a regrettable side effect of a guest blog with a LOT of formatting. Normally I "paste and match style" (which drops the article in paragraph form) and then go back and make the format look like the author intended, but with a dozen links, multiple font and format changes, and eleven sections, I had to do a regular cut and paste and some of the formatting issues stuck around.]

Are things getting boring in the bedroom (or wherever you do your writing)? Finding yourself in a writing rut? Or perhaps you are a fellow “spoonie” and the normal challenges of sitting down to write are compounded by illness and variable daily capacity. Consider adding some kink to your writing relationship with constrained writing! It’s like a little light bondage for your writing practice (or heavy bondage if you swing that way!), and it can have incredible benefits for your creativity, motivation, and skills! 


Constrained writing means writing within prescribed parameters or under specific constraints or rules. All writing is done within constraints already.  Language use, grammar, punctuation, genre conventions, and more all shape a writer’s composition. But constrained writing is the kinky, swinger cousin that takes everything a bit beyond vanilla.


You are probably already familiar with some types of constrained writing. Poetry has many constrained forms. Haiku constrains the syllable count and lines, as do sonnets. Limericks are constrained in both beats and rhyme scheme. Acrostic poems must spell a word or phrase with the first letter of each line. Diamante poetry is constrained by both the number and relative length of the lines.


But, lo, I hear you cry, you are not a poet but a writer of prose or even narrative nonfiction. Never fear! Constrained writing has benefits for writers across the genre spectrum. Constrained writing pushes writers to sharpen their creativity, break out of habitual writing patterns, and stretch their skills in new directions. 


Constrained writing can help break writer’s block. It can support you in developing a daily writing practice (especially if you struggle with blank page paralysis). It can broaden your vocabulary and power up your revision. 


Forcing yourself to practice with constraints can break you from habitual writing patterns that we all risk overusing thus falling into a writing rut. 


Practicing constrained writing is like heavy lifting to bulk up your creative writing muscles. As Russian composer, Igor Stravinsky, said, “The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one's self. And the arbitrariness of the constraint serves only to obtain precision of execution.”  Kinky!


There are MANY different styles of constrained writing. (Maybe as many as there are styles of bondage!) To begin with, there are constraints that apply to letters (as in the alphabet). Let’s explore a few.




Lipogram and Reverse Lipogram


Lipogram comes from the Greek for “missing letter.” A lipogram constrains the writer by barring the use of words containing a particular letter or group of letters. A. Ross Eckler famously rewrote the nursery rhyme “Mary had a Little Lamb” as “Mary had a Lipogram” by omitting the letter E (and writing versions missing other letters and even groups of letters). Not only does this version contain no words with the letter E, Eckler amazingly also preserves the meter and rhyme scheme!


Mary had a tiny lamb,

It’s wool was pallid as snow,

And any spot that Mary did walk,

This lamb would always go.

This lamb did follow Mary to school,

Although against a law,

How boys and girls did laugh and play,

That lamb in class saw all.


Reverse lipograms require that every word contains a given letter rather than eliminating a letter. Lower the challenge by using commonly used letters like E or T, or ramp up the intensity with G, M, or P!


Both lipogram and reverse lipogram constrained writing are great ways to practice composing original works, as well as to convert already written pieces. Try rewriting nursery rhymes, Shakespeare quotes, or even sections of your own finished writing under a lipogrammatic or reverse lipogrammatic constraint. You may surprise yourself and find some good revision material in your experiments! In addition, rewriting already completed work with a lipogrammatic constraint can be a great way to get some writing practice done when creating new content feels overwhelming. (I see you depression and ADHD!)



Abecedarian


Similar to lipograms, this style of constrained writing requires each successive word, sentence, or stanza to begin with the corresponding letter of the alphabet.


You can apply this constraint at a sentence level, or as Walter Abish did in his 1974 Abecedarian novel, Alphabetical Africa, each chapter allowed an additional letter. Ie. Chapter 1 - every word began with A, Chapter 2 - every word began with A or B until Chapter 27 which was written without restraint. The following chapters each removed one letter of the alphabet in reverse order, so Chapter 28 was written without any words starting with Z and so on until the end of the book was back to only A again. Another example is Chaucer’s medieval composition “An ABC (The Prayer of our Lady)” where each stanza begins with the next letter of the alphabet.


Like lipograms and reverse lipograms, abecedarian writing can really push your vocabulary and broaden your lexical comfort zone! And like any constraint, you can apply it in so many different ways! Do what works best for you!



Rhopalism


Rhopalism is the constraint that in a given sentence, each word is successively a single letter longer than the previous word. For example: I do not know which animal savaged elephant scientist Strawberry Washington. 


In 1965 the linguist and author, Dmitri Borgmann, composed this magnificent example: “I do not know where family doctors acquired illegibly perplexing handwriting; nevertheless, extraordinary pharmaceutical intellectuality, counterbalancing indecipherability, transcendentalizes intercommunications’ incomprehensibleness.” Wow! Wasn’t he quite the cunning linguist?



Pilish (or Piems)


Similar to rhopalism, pilish (or piems - a portmanteau of pi and poems) constrains the writer to compose a text with succeeding words having the same number of letters as the digits of the number pi. Math kink anyone?


The letter count of each word in the mnemonic, “How I wish I could calculate pi,” matches pi to seven places (3.141592…). And yes, zero is accounted for, too! In pilish, the digit 0 is represented with a ten-letter word. 


In 1996, Mike Keith wrote a short story called “Cadaeic Cadenza” using the first 3,834 digits of pi. In 2010, he published Not a Wake, a 10,000 word book written entirely in pilish.


Since you should always play with a safeword, the website YouGoWords.com will find and list words by letter count, beginning or ending letter, syllables, and more! (I may have had to tap out and use their help more than once in my own constrained writing practice!)


If constraining letters is too constricting for you, there are many ways to constrain at the word level! The genre of flash fiction includes a number of word-count restricted styles within which an author must convey a complete story arc.



Dribbles/Mini-Sagas/Microfiction - exactly 50 words (+15 for the title)


Fifty-Word Stories



Drabbles - exactly 100 words


100-Word Stories



Twiction (Twitter Fiction) - exactly 140 characters (I know! But it fits here!)


You asked me to edit your memoir. It was much more satisfying after I replaced her name with mine.

-C.A. Chancellor, Nanoism Magazine, May 8, 2013



6-Word Memoirs  - exactly, well, six words


6-Word Memoirs



Flash fiction can present a writing challenge to compose incredibly tight and well structured writing to fit the length constraints. This is amazing practice, especially for writers like myself who tend to get carried away with their words. It also, ironically, can feel more accessible because it is such a contained task (you aren’t trying to plot an entire novel). 


Flash fiction isn’t the only way to constrain at the word level. If length restrictions aren’t your jam, consider restricting the types of words you can use!



Mandated Vocabulary


Mandated vocabulary encompasses a broad range of constraints about the number or type of words that can be used in a piece of writing. Perhaps the most well-known example of a mandated writing constraint is Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham which was written after Seuss’ publisher made a bet that Seuss couldn’t write an entire book using no more than 50 different words.


Paul Griffiths’ 2008 novel, let me tell you, was written using only the words spoken by Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Hamlet (483 different words). The 2004 novel, Never Again by Doug Nufer, did not use any word more than once. 


English-Prime, or E-Prime is a type of mandated vocabulary in which a writer cannot use any form of the verb “to be”. This is a fantastic constraint to practice revising sections of work, particularly if you are trying to do more showing and less telling. For example, the sentence, “He was old,” might become, “Time had etched deep lines onto his face.” 


You can choose any kind of word to constrain and push yourself out of your comfort zone. If you find yourself overusing adverbs, force yourself to rewrite a section without any. Try writing without adjectives. Even writing without nouns or verbs can spark creative and divergent thinking and use of language which you can carry over into your regular writing.


Mandated vocabulary can be a fantastic writing exercise, but if you are really struggling to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) you can even work your creative writing brain without actually writing a word.



Erasure


Erasure is blacking out all of the words on a printed text except the ones which tell a story or poem. This is a fantastic creative writing process for days when writing is too daunting a task. If you are inclined toward the visual arts, you can even make images or designs of the blacked out areas.





Aleatory


If you appreciate social interaction, this type of constraint may be for you. It’s kinky group writing! Aleatory is writing using words or phrases that are provided by the reader (think Mad Libs). 


Though originally applied to music in which random dice throws determined the music played, you can have friends generate words from which you will compose a piece of prose or poetry. 


You may constrain your friends (wink wink) by asking for words from particular parts of speech or particular character length or starting letter, or you may go big and take any words they offer. You may choose to use only their words like a kind of magnetic poetry challenge, or you may choose to fill in your own words around those provided to you. You may even choose to write the frame of a story without certain words and let your readers fill in the blanks themselves as they read - providing an interactive and unique experience each time your piece is read!



Exquisite Corpse


Similar to aleatory, Exquisite Corpse is truly a group-composed piece. Members of the group may write words or phases on pieces of paper which are put into a hat then drawn at random to compose a text (think those magnetic poetry kits again). Alternatively, you may have one person write a line, then the next person write another line that fits, and so on through the group. 


This can even be done on Facebook! To increase the constraint, post your prompt and set a limit on the number of responses you will take (ie. only the first ten) to ramp up the competition.


You can modify this in many ways. You may even like to have a group write a shared piece where only the last three words of the piece before it are shown to the next person in line. They must then use those words as their first three and so on. 


Exquisite Corpse and other group-writing activities can be a fun way to break out of the isolation of the writing process and get some friends to inspire and motivate you to keep writing!



There are so many flavors of constrained writing, you can truly choose your own kinky writing adventure! You may find that just adapting an already written piece to fit a constraint inspires you to work on that other piece of writing you started that’s been gathering dust. 


You may find that on those really difficult writing days, having a constraint to write to ironically feels more freeing than the uncontained potential of a blank page. 


You may do many pieces of constrained writing that live forever in your private journal, or you may find that bits and pieces of your constrained practice find themselves worked into your work-in-progress! 


You can try an established style or get extra kinky and create your own. Whatever you write and however you choose to use it, constrained writing can be an amazing lever to keep handy in your writer’s toolbox.


[Note from Chris: I have a writing prompt that follows the basic idea of constraining your writing here.]


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 38 years and discovered the power of narrative nonfiction writing 13 years ago. She writes in the intersections between mental illness, power exchange relationships, and social justice. 









If you would like to write a thinly veiled promo for your own work 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.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

That Which Will Never Come Again

Folks, the creative team here at Writing About Writing is not just me. I have an editor who, by their own request, works deeply behind the scenes and away from the spotlight, but they consistently help me spin my straw writing into gold. 

Avoiding as many details that are not mine to tell as possible, last night they lost someone very close to them suddenly and unexpectedly. 

I will be back to writing soon. My own grief is secondhand and empathetic. I never knew the person. I only knew how much they were loved and oft the subject of conversation. Mostly my heart breaks for my friend and teammate who now faces the unimaginable. 

I'm going to pause my Facebook Compilations for a time, as my Facebook thoughts are often "from the hip," and those require heavy editing. Which means that I'll be taking Wednesdays off. (I should have been taking them off all along, but I'm so behind on those posts that I was making an exception.) I have a guest post for Thursday. That should be enough for me. Friday's fare will depend on how the week goes. (I have a plan, but I also tend to face emotional challenges by thinking I'm fine and discovering I'm not only when I have total executive dysfunction.) By next week I'll be back full force. 

However, I'll be back alone, and I don't know for how long. If some commas go wayward or some sentences seem unusually clunky, that's because they are.  I'm down half a team and writing with a proverbial hand tied behind my back. 

Friday, February 12, 2021

I Did A Podcast. Come Listen

For everyone who has wondered what my speaking voice sounds like.

A couple of weeks ago I joined the Dangersplosion gang to talk about writing, politics, and lube, and today the results of that have gone live. Plus I (totally inadvertently) said the most badass thing in the fifty episode history of Dangersplosion. 

HERE IS THE EPISODE I DID

It's a good thing this went live when it did. I needed something to toss up and what I had planned for today was not going well. My water heater started just dumping water under my apartment recently, and the entire ordeal has been a nightmare of waiting on the maintenance crews, moving boxes of my landlord's stuff out of the closet so they could access the crawlspace (and just having to work around them filling the living room), and being here while repairs were going on. Along with the usual Wed/Thur nanny schedule that packs an entire week's worth of hours into two days. It's not been easy on my writing schedule.

[Also a quick reminder: We take bank holidays off here at WAW because no one's really reading blogs anyway, so we will see you again on TUESDAY.]