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

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

The Patron Muses (2020 and Endless Gratitude)

There are a few supporters of Writing About Writing who have supported us in ways that are hard to fully express. They act not only as patrons of the arts (well, at least THIS artist) but as my muse as well.

This sobriquet is not hyperbole. There are days I want to take off, give up, go do anything but apply ass to chair and write, and I think of them. I think of their unswerving support that has made it possible to keep doing what I do, and I can try to sing their praises, but it will never quite be enough. When my going gets tough, it's them I think of as I'm pulling myself out of the mud and standing up to keep going.

The most common way folks have become patron/muses is through a sizable ongoing donation through Patreon. While I love and deeply value the foundation of folks giving a dollar or five a month, it is a small handful of folks who have opened up opportunities to quit day jobs, then second jobs, then side gigs all to keep writing more and more. A few patron/muses have come forward with huge one-time donations that have made my mouth go dry. However, financial support is not the only thing the patron muses have contributed. Some have show up to social events with their entire family dressed in Writing About Writing t-shirts, some help my posts proliferate despite the ever tightening Facebook algorithm, by engaging with almost every post in the most algorithmically beneficial way, and in at least one case, hundreds and even thousands of hours of uncompensated time helping me be a better writer than I am with editing.

Right now there are 15 patron muses (but always room for one more). Julia, Margaret, John
, Pol
, D, Ginger, Kelly
, Alisha, Hélène, TM Caldwell, S, Alex, another––more different––Alex and two Anonymouses.

I can't say enough good things. Without these folks, I'd be lost. Thank you so much.

Monday, January 27, 2020

"The 'Writing About Writing' Guy"

Having been introduced more times than I'd care to admit as "The Writing About Writing guy," I vacillate between being thrilled that my work precedes me and mortified that no one knows who I am. 

I'm Chris Brecheen. This is my blog.

While I no longer feel quite the same need to justify my presence in the blogging world as I did when I first started or to defend what business I have telling other people how to write, occasionally someone still whips out the ol' "Why should I listen to you?" Usually they don't realize I'm a working writer, and on at least one occasion they insisted that if I really wanted to write, I should check out Chris Brecheen's blog.

I really need to remember to get screenshots if that happens again.

But perhaps a FEW accolades won't go amiss. Just so you don't think I showed up last week, dropped into the world on a whirlwind of rainbow sprinkles, started writing for a living, and BAM, was paying the bills later the next day.  I've been writing for thirty-five years. My average writing "day" has gone up from perhaps twenty minutes as a kid, to an hour as a hobbyist, to between three and five hours as an aspiring [working] writer, to around eight to ten hours, these days, as a working writer. So I’ve logged in my “ten thousand hours” writing, and at this point I’ve clocked in a second ten thousand just to be on the safe side. I think I'm working on about my fourth or fifth set, honestly. That doesn't mean I'm perfect. I’m not above error. My first drafts are shitty. I use myriad as a noun. I will use the wrong your if I'm not paying attention. Occasionally I write a Facebook post and half my friends find some eldritch multi-clause sentence I tried to write as confusing as all hell.

And apparently, I'm a big fan of writing sentences where I leave out.

Still....it’s pretty safe to assume I know what I’m doing when I start stringing words together.

I have a degree in Creative Writing. (Technically that's English with emphasis in CW, so I did my share of literary analysis.) I graduated Summa Cum Laude from SFSU in Spring 2012. Though it's  their MFA program well regarded, I sat in many of the same classes, came to all the same panels, and a lot of my friends were graduate students who wished that they could be in the more structured undergrad workshops.

I know some people take Creative Writing for an easy degree, but I looked for the professors who demanded excellence and had a reputation for eating undergrads. When I found them, I took everything they taught. I didn’t get a 3.94 because I was coasting. I also didn’t eke out my degree as fast as possible and then wave good-bye with a hearty "Smell ya later." In fact, I was 21 creative writing units over what I needed to graduate and my dean was basically shooing me out the door with narrowed eyes since I was on a Pell Grant. ("Sure, Detective Fiction can fill in for your Poetry or Drama requirement. Go fucking graduate already!") The point is, I was there to learn, and learn I did.

Plus, I actually got the “Ethan Frome damage” joke from Grosse Point Blanke.

This is like UBERwhite fiction.
It's the Wonder Bread of fiction.

I’ve been a managing editor of a literary magazine. It wasn't the happiest time of my life, I had the director bait and switch me to cover a position I didn't want with the promise of something she NEVER intended to consider me for, and I'm pretty sure my EIC was actively trying to make me cry, but I learned a lot, especially about the business of publishing.

I've also taught ESL and Developmental English for years (and only recently gave it up when writing started paying the bills). It might seem like that wouldn't overlap much with writing, but being worried sick about grammar is SUCH a powerful force in the lives of would-be writers. So many unpublished writers think of grammar as their white whale when really it's just something they mostly already know, and will get better at with practice and not some class or book.

I actually am published. Technically. It’s not anything you could pick up at a Barnes and Noble, and most of it (that isn’t blogging) happened before the ubiquity of having an e-version of nearly everything, but it’s out there. It exists in a few different dark and hidden corners. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that the Rubicon of almighty “publication” can be technically passed with a whimper in a way that feels like it doesn’t “count.”

This will be my eighth year blogging. I make money. It covers the bills, though I need a side gig to keep and maintain a car. I've tried to break down the mystique, but a lot of people still don't want to hear that they need to work hard every day for several years.

When I was ten and in fourth grade, we got a writing prompt that was a paragraph start to a story. It was up to us to end it. I wrote twenty-one pages. It was the best feeling I’d ever had. I knew then what I wanted to do with my life. That day, I decided that I wanted to be a writer.

And I never looked back. I've been writing ever since.


So very, very badly.

I "wrote books" between the ages of nine and twelve, but they were usually about twenty pages long, and often bore a striking resemblance to the last movie I'd seen that I really enjoyed.

I tried to be Stephen King when I was 12, writing stories of self-willed big rigs chasing little kids all over pastoral New England towns only to viscerally describe them being run over with as much Kingian attention to the crunching sound and color of brains as my limited skills could muster. It was crap of course, but if you've met the average Creative Writing program student at SFSU, you would know that it is actually probably a really good thing I worked my "I'm going to be the next Stephen King" phase out of my system before I hit a college-level "Short Story" workshop.

I started writing works of 100+ pages in seventh grade. These were not, by any stretch of the imagination, good stories, but looking back on them, I'm actually a little impressed at how well I had picked up on narrative arcs. I finished my first real manuscript in eighth grade. It was a little 120-page high-fantasy "novel" with a bunch of characters, based (with painful obviousness), on my friends.

In high school, my friends started wanting to read my writing. I was pestered over whether or not I had written any more. My work was passed around and giggled at. By my junior year, I hit another bellwether: a 100-page TYPED manuscript. A friend of mine read the chapters serial-style as I was writing it, but when I was done he asked for the whole thing so he could read it...again. "I want to make sure I didn’t miss anything," he said.

I wouldn't know it for years, but that feeling was better than sex.

Despite a number of signs that I could be a pretty good writer when I worked at it (like winning the UCLA Comm board awards against a bunch of junior and senior UC journalism students.....without actually having gone to UCLA....or at that point, even college yet), I still bought into too many cultural myths of how to find happiness. I took the (bad) advice that writing wouldn’t pay the bills and struggled through one unhappy “fallback, safety-net” job after another. I married for all the wrong reasons (and divorced some years later for at least a couple of the right ones).

I played the game by society’s happiness playbook, and it made me miserable.

So in my thirties, I burned that playbook. I let the Joneses pull WAY out ahead and dedicated myself to the things that bring me a whole frikton more meaning in life than big screen TVs and slick-ass cars. I change diapers and write whenever I can.

Now I'm writing the writing advice!

So I may not know every last detail of the publishing industry or where you should personally go with your Gothichopepunk Vampire Love Triangle story, and I certainly don't seem to be able to write the OKCupid profile that brings all the milkshakes to the yard, but here's what I do know:

I know how to be an unsuccessful writer.

I know how to not make it.

I know how to write day after day and not make a damned dime. Or to make a pittance.

I know how to keep going for nearly thirty years, and never even consider throwing in the towel.

I know how to write because not writing feels wrong, and that the parts of writing that are cathartic and meaningful and wonderful come in the act of writing itself, not in the acquisition of an agent or the painful negotiation of a book deal.

I know how to be artistic and creative for its own sake and to never let the world tell me that I “need” a white picket fence and a sensible car even as the sweet siren song insists upon it over and over again.

I know how to set up my life to feed my art addiction, without dejection over the unfulfilled fantasies of writing the Great American Novel and fat royalty checks and travelling the talk show circuit.

I know what it means to write when there is no incentive to do so except the sheer love of transforming twenty-six letters and fourteen pieces of punctuation into meaning.

I know how to crawl slowly from making no money to paying the bills with writing. I know how frustrating and breathtaking that can feel.

I’m going to keep right on writing. I'm going to do it with forty thousand followers or four or four million and with ten page views or ten zillion. I'll do it if I make no money or enough to quit all my side gigs and be a sustaining member of NPR. I can do MORE of it with your help, but I'll never stop.

So come along if you want. Join us. The one thing I can say is that it's never been boring.

Even more about me

The Buy-Me-Lunch Answer About My Gender
The Buy-Me-Lunch Answer About My Sexuality

Friday, January 24, 2020

Ikea Furniture Assembly, Writing, and You

"I should just go become a bestselling author,
then hire someone to do this."
Image description: A guy looking confused and
holding a hammer and instructions in front of
a couple of boards. A thought bubble has
a question mark in it.
Like college kids and divorced men, I headed to Ikea after I wound up on my own. We’d grabbed the occasional thing there when I still lived with my family, but when I suddenly needed shelves and drawers and desks and bedside tables (and could no longer stomach looking at those configurable wire-mesh-space-saver things from Costco that I’d thought were so dang nifty in my early twenties), but definitely couldn’t go buy a Baxter bedroom set or anything with hand-carved English oak, Ikea was the next step up.

And let me tell you, my experience with Ikea furniture was almost always exactly the same. I would open the box, look at the collection of a few little screws and a few long ones, some slats of wood of various sizes, and an instruction manual of some 87 steps and I would immediately become overwhelmed. How in the motherforking shirtballs was this ever going to become a bookshelf/chest of drawers.

I would sit there, completely overwhelmed, questioning my life choices. It was too much––entirely too much to try to turn these slats and this-time-I’m-sure-they-messed-up-and-didn’t-give-us-enough number of screws into a functioning piece of furniture.

And I would let myself feel that overwhelmed feeling for a minute.

But only for a minute.

Then I would stop flipping through the impossible-looking steps in the mid-seventies or low-eighties, and stop looking from the raw materials to the picture of the finished product, take a deep breath (and maybe a small leap of faith), and I would open up to the first page. Just that first piece of wood, that first screw, and a little tiny allen wrench they included. And I would tell myself I wasn’t building a desk or a set of cubbyhole bookshelves. I was just doing that ONE STEP. And then the next step. And then the next one. And not only did I manage to build a functioning piece of furniture, but at some point in the process (usually well before the mid-seventies) I could SEE how it was all going to come together.

I think we tend to get Ikea-finished-product overwhelmed when we think about our writing as a finished product and look at what we’ve got to work with. How are we possibly going to take our middling ability and this half-baked idea, and turn it into something that another human being neither related to us, our good friend, nor who wants to sleep with us would take time out of their day to read (to say NOTHING of spend money on if that’s the goal). 

There’s so much to do. So much writing. So much revision. So much editing. So much figuring out the middle part. So much rewriting. So much finding beta readers (who don’t suck). So many steps. So much to learn about the publishing industry. Query letters. Finding agents. Shopping publishers. OMFG it’s too much!

It can be overwhelming.

The trick is to only let it be for a minute.

Then you take a deep breath (and maybe a small leap of faith), and take the first step. Don’t worry about writing a great novel (yet). Just write one good sentence. 



Don’t even worry about THAT. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Just write one sentence (regardless of quality).

Then do the next one. Then you have a paragraph. Then another. Then you have a page. Then a chapter. Eventually you’re done with your draft. Now you have something to revise and all the questions about HOW you revise become much easier to see and understand. Now go back and make those sentences GOOD. It doesn’t look don’t look quite so incomprehensible now. (“How could I possibly cut out an entire chapter” becomes “Oh…this chapter really isn’t doing much. If I moved this one part over here….”) So you revise. Now you have a good draft. Do another draft and make it even better. Now you can see exactly WHY the number of drafts you write depends on the quality of writing you’re going for, and why even though you make fewer and fewer changes, sometimes the difference in a single word choice makes a difference between “adequately conveyed the idea” and “POP!” Then you take the next step (the various steps of editing/peer review). Then you have a draft and you can craft a query letter. Then you go find which agents specialize in what you’re writing and are taking on new clients.

Not all at once. Not all tomorrow. One step at a time.

Starting with the first step: write a sentence. When you’re done with that, you can worry about the next step.

When you’re on step one, step 33 looks impossibly far. It looks unfathomably complicated. You may look at it and not have one damned clue how the fuck these six screws and five slats are supposed to turn into THAT. When you’re on step 32, step 33 probably looks a lot like step ONE did. Just one more “next step.”

And even if it doesn’t––even if you’re looking at step 33 and trying to figure out what in the name of Apollo’s right testicle part of the drawers you could possibly be building––you’re in the right place and time to have the best chance to figure it out with some time and attention. (Back at step one, you would have had almost no chance.) You now have the context you need to glance ahead a couple of steps and see what's coming. (Or if you really want to stretch this metaphor, give a call to customer assistance.) And even it feels like you’re spinning your wheels and you're confused as all fuck, no one can take the first 31 steps away from you. And you can always just go right on doing one more step until it makes more sense.

I think “Becoming A Bestselling Author” or even “Write, revise, and sell a novel” would probably feel like an overwhelming task to ANYONE sitting down to their first blank page. But writing a sentence is not that hard.

Then one more.

I think this is part of the reason working writers get asked so often how to find a publisher or an agent or how to write a query letter. It’s someone looking at a mid-seventies step and thinking, “How the fuck would this even work?” The truth is, by the time you get to that point, you’ll be mostly ready.

If you have your manuscript finished, fully revised and edited, writing a query letter (even if you skip the Writing About Writing primer and do your own research) will only take you a couple of hours to learn how to do, and maybe a day or two to write until you’re happy with it.  Once you’ve written a query letter, it’ll only take you a few hours of research to figure out how to query an agent and which ones are accepting new clients. (Even in the pre-Internet days, this only involved a trip to the bookstore to pick up a copy of The Writer’s Market. Now it’s even easier.) Folks get fixated on those later steps because it just seems unfathomable for the same reason when you’re looking at a bag of metal shafts and plastic wheels that you don’t know how you’re going to end up getting “soft-shut” drawers on the rollers. By the time you have mounted the runners and the wheels, that step will seem manageable. As will agents and query letters and all the stuff that seems overwhelming now.

There may be a few times you need to check the instruction manual to find out what the next couple of steps are going to be, but that’s okay. And just as you don’t randomly buy just ANYTHING from Ikea and start building it, it will REALLY help you to have a careful and exact sense of what you want to accomplish.

And not to put too fine a point on it, but if you decide that part of the process is unimportant, your finished product is likely to reflect that. I mean you wouldn't want drawers that aren't on runners, would you?

When it all feels overwhelming, take a deep breath. Remind yourself that last step always looks impossible and the 78th step never makes any fucking sense. For now though, you don’t have to worry about either of those. Just figure out what the ONE next step is.

It’s good advice for writing.

And life.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Frequently Asked Questions

[This post is an exact replica of the FAQ tab that I cut and pasted to be today's article. It perfectly combines the fact that Thursdays are the day I answer questions people send in with the fact that I have to update all these posts for 2020. I've removed a couple of questions that people have stopped asking me. (Having an editor means I don't get cranky missives about my spelling and grammar two or three times a week.)

You'll notice two of the questions are not yet links. The "official FAQ answer pages" still need to be written, and I am working post haste on them. I would guess you'll see at least one, if not both this weekend. However, you'll see that each has a link to the Mailbox post where I've answered it before. Likely the official FAQ answer will have about 90% overlap. ]

Frequently Asked Questions  

Q- Question: Do You Really Have to Write Every Day to Be A Writer?

Q- Did [X-event] really happen to you?

Q-Why do you/How can you hate NaNoWriMo?

Q-Why won't you answer my question for the Mailbox?

Q- Will you do freelance writing/editing for me?

Q-How can I get your kind of numbers on MY blog?

Q-Is talent important to a writer?

Q-How do you ACTUALLY start writing? LINK

Q-I want to write a book and not be told that I needed to have been writing every day for the last ten years. Is there advice that ISN'T "Write every day."  LINK

Q- How can I support Writing About Writing and it's struggling, yet devilishly cute and cuddly author? If I add up all the time spent being marvelously entertained, all the laughter, all the tears, and all the inspiration–as well as having my life and understanding of writing enriched–it would be longer than a directors cut of the Lord of The Rings trilogy....which I paid $39.99 for (even during a sale) at Costco.  How can I give back for all this joy?

Q-Will you post more of your fiction?

Also check out our F.A.Q. specifically for Facebook questions like "Will I promote YOUR work on FB?" "Will I read your story (sent to me through FB)?" or "Can I follow you on social media?" or "Why am I always so political?"

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Business Crap

Business Crap

All posts on this blog are copyrighted. If you would like to use any of my material, please quote a paragraph or two and link back to the URL, or contact me if you want to use a more extensive quote or cross post something (I'll probably say yes if it's not a new post). I consider any more than this a breach of copyright law.  

Pay the Writer- Do you want to get some money to the writer? My income is entirely donation based.

Disclaimery Stuff-  Am I using an image that belongs to you?  Did you find a grammar mistake?  Do you hate my computer-illiterate layout and formatting errors?

Update Schedule- How often can you expect an update? What gets posted on which days? Why was there no Wednesday post and just Chris doing Jazz fingers?

Comment Policy- Please check ahead of time what the policy is on comments--both why I may simply delete them and why I may put feature them in a future article. And why mean abusive comments get mocked more than mean signed ones.

Mission Statement- Why is Writing About Writing even here?  What am I hoping to accomplish. And why am I so generous about giving all this free advice?

Financial Pledge- Why don't I post my financial numbers each month anymore? Am I giving money to charity? How much? Which charity?