Welcome

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

Monday, March 18, 2019

Vera's Sick, No Summer School, Molasses, and What Now? (Personal Update)

Ker-ack!
Seriously though this is what a broken
black back piece looks like.
Hi everybody,

There was going to be a guest blog today, but the author is taking some time on...uh kickstarting their Kickstarter and so their promotion tour is pushed back a little. We'll still get it (and I think it's going to be awesome), but it might be a couple more weeks.
That left me hanging a little, but it makes for good timing. Because I have some news....

THERE IS NOT GOING TO BE A "PLEDGE DRIVE" this year.

If you've been around Writing About Writing for a while, you may know that every year in the past, I went and taught summer school for six weeks because I needed the money. It was an extra thirty hours or more added to an already overcooked schedule and my posting here usually broke down around week two. There may have even been some sobbing during that period.

In the past couple of years since I added Patreon, I have used the six weeks to run a full court press of asking for donations and patrons. Each week for the six weeks, I cannibalized a post and instead made an increasingly intricate plea for financial support. There were plans for future income and all the bellwethers we'd past so far and a little thermometer showing how close we were to hitting a goal.

Not this year. I'm not teaching there anymore. I kind of don't need that money (though it'll be a little tight without). But really the reason is more petty. My boss used "Think of the poor children to whom we give scholarships" to try and shame teachers into not asking for their agreed-upon raises or any materials budgets, (plus they were cutting more and more corners every year), and I wasn't really okay with that. So I'll be writing a regular update schedule during that time when this summer rolls around.

HOWEVER, we do have a fundraiser.

I need to cover the increased tax burden of a freelancer who can't write off anything this year, and the cost of repairing and replacing some of the things I moved out with three years ago are starting to break down. Many of these things I can just learn to live without (Apple watches are fun, but entirely too expensive to try to replace on my salary), but the computer that I write on needs to be fixed.

It's been SLOW going on Patreon. Almost every month involves the TINIEST of net gain , but the needle moves glacially slow. Usually before the month ends I end up with a couple of dollar raise, but not before a bunch of people cancel or modify their pledges down and then a slow crawl back to where I was and maybe a little more. March has been particularly hard. It doesn't take much backsliding to wipe out such incremental change.


We've been moving like molasses to our next set of goals––the very next one that was supposed to cover the increased price of health insurance and the fact that my income counts as freelance and I can no longer write anything off. (Yep, basically covering the cost of life under Trump.) I'm still over $100 shy––well $121, now.) Given how my friends who've filed THEIR taxes have been howling, I'm not optimistic. After the insurance/taxes goal, the NEXT goal was supposed to be to start helping with all the little things that have begun to to break and need replacing. A cost I didn't have to deal with when I first moved out with all new stuff, but which eventually catches up to you when you live in a system that depends on engineered obsolescence.

Right now my overall life is okay. I can still make a budget stretch with the best of them, and starting in April there are nanny hours that will help give me a few more years to hit those Patron goals before I have to decide whether to add advertising revenue or renig on my commitment to keep everything available for free. 

And, of course, what I would REALLY love is more Patrons. (Even a dollar or three a month helps create a firm "ecosystem" of small patrons so that I don't lose 10% of my income if one of my big patrons can't keep paying––not that I don't love my big patrons to bits.)

But in the meantime, I'm trying to fix my computer and get my 2018 taxes covered.


So every one-time donation helps. paypal.me/WritingAboutWriting

The back plastic of Vera, my writing laptop, has a crack in it, which means the hinge has stopped working and the monitor part sort of "flops" back. Right now I have some Trader Joe's Pita Bite Cracker boxes keeping it at a 90 degree angle so that I can work.  Unfortunately, like everything with Macs, it's some laser-precision cut piece, and my research suggests I'm looking at $380 to replace it. Between that and taxes, I'm hoping to raise about $600. Every dollar helps.

And then hopefully before next tax season or the next thing breaks, I will have molasses-on-a-glacer crawled to the next Patron goal with my actual INCOME, and won't need to do this again.

Note: AS ALWAYS these posts do not do particularly well on their own merits in social media proliferation. If you want to help me, this blog, and my writing, and do not have the money to spare (or do have the money to spare but want to help me twice), please consider liking, commenting, or sharing this post so that it can be seen by more people who might have a dollar or five to spare.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Forewarning

Hi folks.

Just a quick post that won't be going up on social media. For those of you who see posts directly through blogger updates or email notifications or a subscription service like Feedly, I wanted to warn you of some updates coming that I won't be putting on social media, but that you'll see through those various updates.

This post: 25 Narratives We Hear After Every Mass Shooting (And Why They're Total Bullshit) is about to get a new look (and a polish). Each of the 25 arguments is going to become a link to its own section, and those I'll be writing on WAW's off days, probably one or at most two a week. It'll take a while to get it all done, and I just wanted to let everyone know it was coming.

-Chris

Thursday, March 14, 2019

BioShock Infinite: Your Argument Is Invalid (Conclusion)

Two quick reminders:

1- This is part 6 (and the conclusion) of a multipart article, and I’m jumping in with no recap. You can go back to Part 5 or all the way back to The Beginning

2- While I’m not decoding the end or discussing the plot directly, there will be spoilers.

And so…here we are…at the end. The Art Snobs are electrocuting Video Games with force lightning of elitism, but what they don’t realize is that the “dark lord” standing next to them is a geek with a degree in humanities who is going to use what he learned to turn on them.

Time to toss this “video-games-can’t-be-art" argument down a strangely placed bottomless shaft.

Okay.
Someone needs to stop throwing a tantrum about who gets to be special.
It's time for your nap and a baba.

There is so much more I could analyze about BioShock Infinite. More themes, more subtext, more elements that work to reinforce the vision, more failed topical social justice attempts. Each one of the parts of this could be telescoped out into ten more articles of examples. One could write a masters thesis on nothing but the idea of redemption as a driving motivation for nearly every character, or fill fifteen articles with careful analysis of all the symbolism without even breaking a sweat. I suspect a PhD dissertation arguing the inclusion of video games into the annals of art could be made with nothing but this one game.

However, my point was never to do an exhaustive critical analysis, but simply to show that it CAN be done. I don’t need to show all the symbols to prove that at least one exists. I don’t need to examine each element of video game design to show a couple that are working with the themes. I don’t need to examine every theme to show how they play into B.I.’s overall experience as art. I don’t need to unpack every critical review to demonstrate that the analytical tools being used to analyze B.I. are the same ones we bring to the table when we’re talking about film or literature (both “real” art forms).

I actually have the easy job here. I need only ONE solid example to disprove the claim that video games can't be art. I can kick my feet up, chomp some bonbons and write a (relatively) short article that illustrates my point. That is because I merely need to get the artistry of ONE video game on record. You don’t even have to agree that B.I. is “real art,” you just have to agree that it had the ability to be, so even the opinion that they fell short is, in and of itself, a success.

You see, in the final analysis, BioShock Infinite’s gestalt as legitimate art echoes its sociopolitical shortcomings. If the worst criticism leveled against it is that it failed in its ambition, then the medium’s potential must be acknowledged. A piece of art that has failed to live up to its potential must have had the potential to be art.

Checkmate, dillhole art professors.

No...
NOOOOOOOOOOO!
The position that video games can’t be art is quagmired from nearly three decades ago in the medium’s technological infancy when it literally did not have the ability to be artistic. (At least not in a way recognized by the ivory tower. A case could be made for the tension between impact and intent existing from the moment two rectangles and a circle were meant to be a game of ping pong.) And every moment since the 90’s has seen that claim become more and more absurd. Sure, there are disposable entertainment games, and no one is arguing that Modern Combat 27 is “real art” or that Navy Seals Commando 23 has engaging character arcs, no matter how breathtaking their graphics become. But the same continuum of artistic quality exists in every medium—there are literary books and throw-away books. There are engaging shows and mind-numbing shows. There are great films and Adam Sandler movies.

We can still be hard on games that are shallow, vapid, and unconsidered. Twitch-oriented offerings to the “hard core gamer” are seldom interested in symbolism or themes. But some games—some games—are rising above.

BioShock Infinite has a quadruple layering of almost every scene. The ostensible moment, the foreshadowing within the plot of the fact that Booker is actually in an infinite loop and everything is happening exactly as it has before, the sociopolitical implication of the cycle of violence (flawed as it may have been portrayed), and the thematic exploration of free will and the idea that we have any true moral decisions.

In parting, consider two moments:

One— half way through the game, Booker can be made to pick up a guitar and start strumming it. Elizabeth immediately begins to sing “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” Think about how much subtext is bursting out of that moment. In the song itself the “circle” is suffering and the question posed by the singer is if there is really a paradise in which there will be no more suffering.  (The fact that it is sung in the basement of a ratty bar in a shanty town right next to a kid living under the stairs is no coincidence.) However, the “circle” can also refer to the Delphian fate of Booker's 123 loops in which he has done the same thing over and over again. But it can also refer to the cycle of violence that perpetuates violence and the fact that Columbia is a city founded by—as well as entered through—acts of violence. But it can ALSO refer to the free will of the characters and their ability to do anything other than their nature and their circumstances predetermine.

And if that isn’t real art, I don’t know what is.

Two— I’ll let you do the analysis for this one on your own. Let the implications seep in (and a chill crawl up your spine) as I leave with the QUADRUPLE layers of artistic meaning in one of the game’s more popular moments—four (see what they did there?) white men standing on a floating platform (at exactly the time Booker gets there), singing in perfectly integrated harmony that God only knows what they’d be without....you.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Chris's Fortune Cookie Wisdom for Writers XVII

Editors are like therapists. Some people need to hit an unforgiving wall of heavy-hitting feedback. Some need to find one who knows how to aikido their bullshit. Some are ready for "This totally doesn't work" and some need "I'm not sure what you're trying to do here..." If they're too mean, you shut down. And if they're too nice, your shit doesn't get EDITED––you just feel better about it. Trust me that you can pay a lot less per hour to just get validating compliments. Shop your editors!  

To get those amazing themes that work with the other elements of the story, tease OUT what you find  in revision, don't shoehorn them IN right away trying to be hella deep. 

It's an incredibly frustrating thing to want to be a writer and be told to read more. Unfortunately, it is like doing scales in music or warming up before sports practice. It's a fundamental part of the process. What feedbackers usually mean when they suggest going back and reading a lot more is that there are LOTS of fundamental, core problems in one's writing and it indicates that one has a very difficult time intuiting the difference between bad and good writing.

If you think of a writer's career trajectory as similar to a doctor's for time-to-viable trajectory, you will be in good shape for how much effort it's going to take. You can substitute reading and hard practice for undergrad degrees and MFA's but you have to be The Punisher Season Two brutal with yourself about if you're putting in full-time caliber effort or diddling while you play Total War games until 3am. Four years of undergrad.  Four years of medical school. Three to seven years as an intern/resident years as an intern/resident. That tracks with the five years of solid effort at writing before you're making more than a pittance and three to seven more before you can pay the bills.

You have to read all the time. Trying to just write is like trying to only breathe OUT.

This isn't writing advice, but maybe it's communication advice. If someone's asking about best dates, you should really check and see if they mean best FIRST dates. Because they probably didn't want to know about the threesome and the MDMA even though that's deffo the one.

If you want to dream, dream. Have fun. If you want to reach your objectives, the trick is setting goals that are realistic, within your control and measurable.

You have a relationship with your writing that needs as much emotional labor as a real one to flourish. Although unlike most relationships with people, writing will still be there after you leave for five years, have a spring/fall romance, and buy a convertible. 

You know writing every day doesn't have to mean six grueling hours on your work in progress. Add some sparkle to an email. Make a Facebook post. Write in a journal. Knock out thirty minutes. Just keep your craft sharp for the days when you CAN give it more.

When Facebook throttles your content (and they will), just remember how well you did when people actually saw your stuff out there and had the option to click on it. Facebook wasn't making them click your link. It was just ACTUALLY showing your link to more people. They chose to read it. You're doing better than you think. 

No one will ever give you the permission you seek to go be a writer. You just have to do it.


Human beings tell stories. In really, really real ways, human beings ARE stories. History is a story of how we got here. Politics is a story of who gets what and when. Polemics is a story of what we ought to find important. Most human beings exist as the main character in a story about their lives. Everyone has a story about you they tell other people. When you die, the only thing left...is a story about who you were. Everything is stories. The words that will stay are written down. Writers are some of the most powerful people to ever exist. 

When you see advice you don't like, instead of saying no, unpack WHY your saying no and what you feel like you're risking to give that advice a good-faith try. You often discover something about yourself and what you most need to be doing by considering what you are avoiding.
The seep of culture has some powerful messages that are pretty rough on artists. And that's before the STEM cheerleaders come out and act like the humanities are soft and for losers. Most artists have a day job or three, and the art they do make has its own messages of value (or lack thereof) even if it does not profit them with a monetary value that is easily expressed by how much someone would give them to possess their creations. 


Keep reading. Keep writing. Don't give up. You got this.

MORE FORTUNE COOKIE WISDOM

Friday, March 8, 2019

I've Lost That Loving Feeling! 15 Ways to Spice Up Your Writing (Mailbox)

I don't enjoy writing anymore! What should I do? 

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer a couple each week.  I will use your first name ONLY unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous. Warning: I will certainly make decades-old pop culture references as if I genuinely believe they are fresh to death.]  

Brendon asks:

Hi Chris

Let me just thank you upfront for the years of encouragement, guidance, and entertainment I've gotten out of your website/Facebook page. I don't believe in muses, but you're the closest thing I've seen to one in real life. So here's my question:

For the past five years, I've been a semi-professional playwright, which, in my case, means getting plays produced by professional theaters and getting paid, but mainly living off the money from writing classes I teach part time. I write every day. I'm pretty sure I've hit 10,000 hours by now. I don't know if I'll ever get to a point where I can pay my bills with writing and I don't care; the act is its own reward, or so I've told myself for a long time now. But in the past year, I've started to feel less and less enjoyment in what I'm doing. Moments of intellectual or emotional stimulation are becoming increasingly rare. I seldom excite myself, and I flat-out cannot make myself laugh anymore (which is unenviable when your writing typically falls into the category of comedy). I've always been willing to slog through the more laborious parts of the process for these occasional moments of joy they yield, but I feel like I'm experiencing those moments far less than I used to. In particular, the last play I wrote was just a total grind. Audiences and critics seemed to enjoy it, but I didn't, and now I'm wondering what the fuck is wrong with me? Am I an addict who has overused his drug to the point of total desensitization? Am I in a marriage that's lost its spark? Is this just temporary burnout, or will it pass? There's a voice in my head that says "if you don't enjoy writing, no one's making you keep going. You could try your hand at one of the billion other, less difficult, ways to live." But if I just didn't have the passion for it, how did I get this far in the first place? I have to believe there's some way to restore whatever it is I've lost here, but I don't know what that is. Any ideas?

My reply:

Me? A muse? That is SPECTACULAR! I've always wanted to be a muse. Well, minus having Zeus for a father, of course. THAT sounds like a special kind of hell. But I never actually talked to my father, so that part doesn't really have to change. And I could probably hook up more threesomes if I were technically a demigod.

Wait....what? 
No. NOOOO!!!
This has all gone so very wrong.
Image: Muse (the band). 
Joking aside...you're very, very, very welcome. This is kind of why I do this, and it's really nice to hear the good stuff once in a while. You won't BE-fucking-LIEVE how toxic the comments can get over on the Facebook page. It's almost like a million people with Internet anonymity are not always the kindest, sincerest, best faith people that Mr. Rogers knows they could be.

I can really sympathize with the "magic" being gone. People who love writing when the inspiration strikes and stop writing when it goes away may not ever get much published, be famous, make money, etc, but they do get to live in a magical land of unicorn rainbow jizz where they believe it will feel like that forever. For those of us pulling down a paycheck, it's work. And we can love our jobs, but some days we'd rather be doing almost anything else.

Now there's part of me that's always going to be very Kung Fu Master Po about this because no one can tell you how you feel, Grasshopper. But since you're writing me, I'm guessing there's some conflict and confusion and I can at least offer you some signposts to guide you on your own journey.

Drugs and marriage might be better metaphors than you intended, although drugs is going to be making me do my best super stretchy yoga poses by the end, as you'll see. Both suggest that you start out "high" or in the throes of "new energy," but after a while, writing can begin to feel normal and comfortable, even banal at times, and may not give you the exhilaration that it did at first. Oh, you still need it to feel normal and will go into "withdrawal" without it, but some days can begin to feel like work. Worth it maybe, but still work. You settle into a more comfortable groove. You have moments but they are far apart and sometimes require more emotional labor to get there than just showing up or sending a nude selfie of your O face.

Too specific?

What to do when you've lost that loving feeling for writing, though? Well...honestly it's not that much different than the marriage gone stale.

So let's just fucking do this thing ALL THE WAY. Let's make it weird.


I've looked up half a dozen or so real marriage articles, created a composite list of a few different actual heteropatriarchal, gender essentialist and not a little bit sexist listicles to come up with 15 Ways to Spice Up Your Marriage Writing.
  1. Distance Makes the Heart Grow Fonder- Unlike a real marriage, if you "take a break" that isn't code for one of you is TOTALLY cheating, and you're not ready to admit how over things are yet. Have you tried taking some time off? Maybe a week or more? Do you miss it when it's gone or is it a sick relief? If you miss it think hard about WHAT has become a grind about your current writing. Maybe it's the deadlines and not the writing itself. Or the content. Or responsibility.
  2. Maintain a Family Calendar- You and your writing have a relationship that is going to work best when everything else is taken care of. If you're cramming it in because of a feeling of obligation, it's going to feel like an obligation.
  3. Make Little Gestures- Add things into your writing that really make it feel special. If it doesn't make you laugh, think about what does and try adding that or something like it to your writing.
  4. Do Unexpected Things- Have you tried writing something that wasn't what was on the agenda? Maybe a short story or a poem. Try writing for yourself instead of your work. Just do some free writing for fun. Journal. Start a blog. But still put 110% into it. 
  5. Take a Snow (or Rain) Day- Spend a day when you would normally write doing something else, at the very least not your normal work writing. Break out from your chore-like routine. You may even find by relaxing, you find some new ideas.
  6. Adjust Your Mindset. Make Sex a Priority in Your Mindset- Uh.....well....um. Okay, DON'T have sex with your writing (unless that's your thing––I don't want to kink-shame).  Um....but what you can do is to....uh....forget about everything else and just write one scene that's been in your mind. Write the one moment you're dying to write. Learn to kind of make love to the words again. Yeah, that's the ticket.
  7. Take a Week Without the Kids- What kind of privileged ass fuckery is....? Who gets to actually DO this? Okay, okay. I'm cool. I can make this work. By "kids," of course, we mean all the obligations that have come out of your love of writing that make it more obligationy and less running-through-the-fields-in-slow-motion-towards-each-other-y. Try taking a break from those obligations. In your case, Brendon, maybe stop writing plays for a week or so.
  8. Create Intimate Moments- A lot of our feeling of the magic being gone isn't because anything is objectively different, and it's not because (like drugs) we actually develop a physical tolerance. It's because we start taking the good shit for granted. ("Oh ho hum. I wrote for two hours straight. Big whooptie dealio.") Take a moment when you're on a tear and see if you really feel dead inside or if you feel pretty darn good and you've just gotten used to how that feels. 
  9. Try Hotel Sex- Uh......oh no wait, I got this. YES! A change of scene is really good especially if you are trying to break your routine. Go someplace new. You might even try pounding out some love in public if you're feeling daring. Um.....anywho. "Hotel" might be a metaphor for a coffee shop, library, just out on a park bench, or any change of pace or scenery, but the change could do you good.
  10. Never Stop Courting Each Other- You can probably make words do what you want them to pretty easily without much effort. But give writing some effort. Bring your A game. Give it the ol razzle-dazzle. Try extra hard, and when you really fucking NAIL it (uh...your wordsmithing, I mean), you will probably feel some of that old energy come back.
  11. Focus on the Rights, Not the Wrongs- Take a moment and think about the good things writing is providing you. Sometimes reframing is just as easy as realizing what you've got BEFORE they pave paradise and put up a parking lot.
  12. Try a new position- Uh.....maybe it might help if you wrote in a new chair or standing (or sitting if you normally stand) or in bed. Or doggystyle where you're pulling your writing's hair and giving it that smack in the ass that sends it right over the edge...um....*clears throat.* Or on an exercise ball! Or rather than just the position of your body, try a new position of writing. What would your play be like from someone else's perspective? What's something you haven't written about before? If you don't need the money, maybe try something completely different, like writing a novel.
  13. Try Something New- Remember the end of The Nightmare Before Christmas when Jack has all these new ideas for how to be scary because of having experienced Christmas. He was in this shitty rut and then found out that all he really needed was to see snow or some shit. Well, without seeming like I'm endorsing incredibly harmful appropriation of another culture and the inevitable fallout and redemption arc, that's noooooooot a bad idea. Get out of your head. Completely fuck your routine for a bit. Go see someone else's funny play. Watch some theater from another culture completely. Watch some films. Check out some other art. Go freshen up the landscape of your brain with some new fodder for ideas. Preferably while on a break. ("What's this? What's this? This blogger's making jokes! What's this? He's entertaining folks. What's this? I can't believe my eyes he's kind of pervy. Wake up, me. My inspiration stokes. What's this?")
  14. Remain on the Same Team- Erm....so if you are working AGAINST your writing, you're going to feel that in a loss of catharsis, pleasure, and joy. Take a moment to realize that your writing is only a thing you should do if you want to do it. It's not going to make 99.999% of us rich or famous. The only reason most of us do it is because even the worst days writing are better than the best days without. If writing no longer makes you happy, you shouldn't struggle against that. (But be brutally honest with yourself about getting nothing from it because there are always going to be tough periods.) There's something called The Sunk Cost fallacy––where you don't give up on something because of how much you've already put in. (Like how you totally won't hang up on customer service, even after three hours of a robot telling you how important your call is.) Maybe you shouldn't be writing so much, so often, for money, or possibly at all for a while, or possibly at all permanently. Here's the beauty of it: unlike most people with relationships, you decide your level of involvement and you can try doing it less or taking a break without having to go ride-or-die. In relationships, the other person usually has a few opinions about such things. But it's really okay not to write.
  15. Give It a Full Body Sensual Massage With a Happy Ending- I can't. I'm sorry. I can't do this one. Maybe I could have worked with just the "happy ending" for fiction, but come ON! COME OOOON!!!!

Brendon, I know that losing the spark is hard, and I've slogged for longer periods than one year, but I didn't doubt that it would come roaring back, and it seems like you do. So it's kind of hard to tell someone else for sure if they should stick with it or maybe take a break....or a slowdown.....or shift gears to something more fun.  If I knew more details about what's going on in your life and what writing isn't fulfilling, I could maybe make better armchair pop-psyche recommendations, but in your case I think just doing some real soul searching and keeping in mind that writing absolutely IS like a relationship that you can take for granted and just sort of exist in (rather than appreciating and enjoying) may help your decisions going forth––or not––to at least be deliberate and considered.

And here's the best part Brendon. Doing this with drugs would be ill-advised. And doing it with a relationship would be selfish, manipulative, and a little bit abusive if a partner ever put up with it at all. But with writing...you can leave it, discover you miss it, and come trotting back. Perhaps you'll be a little rusty with your craft, if you've taken months or years off, but you can blow the cobwebs off and get back the sparkle. The point is, writing isn't a person who will go marry and have kids with someone else if you reject it. It'll be RIGHT. THERE. WAITING. FOR. YOU.

Just where you left it.