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

Friday, December 6, 2019

The Last Four Boilers (Personal Update, Meta, and a Dollop of Didactic)

 Twentieth Century Fox,
Paramount Pictures,
Lightstorm Entertainment 
True story aside: the title of this post is an oldish pop culture reference (as I am wont to make), and in the course of looking up exactly how old, I may have shocked even myself. 

I have a shiny new schedule with more time for writing, but for the first time in my life, I'm not going to immediately set about stuffing it beyond its maximum capacity with all the good intentions in the world. That way lies teeth in advanced states of gnashed and hands arthritic from being wrung.

Okay. But you have been hearing me talk for weeks about the new schedule. You know I'm back. Well then just how "back" are we?

Well.....let's unpack that. And along the way, since I don't want to write an entire post just gazing at my navel about why it's best that I take it slow, I'll try to awkwardly pair it with some generic advice for everyone who wants to be a writer.

You see, normally, this is the part where I would be updating the Update Schedule* with absolutely the most ambitious regimen I could conceive of. ("Hello. folks. I'll be updating 34 times a week now, but I'm only going to do six posts on Sunday because that's a day of rest. Be SURE to check in on Fridays when no fewer than four of the posts will be six to ten pages. Book should be done by mid-January. I'm also going to start working out again, and see two movies a week for self-care. And I bought a monitor lizard.....who is pregnant.")

(*Aaaaaand now I notice that this has not been updated in over six months.)

One of the reasons I'm not the biggest fan of NaNoWriMo (particularly for the uninitiated writer) is that it is roughly analogous with someone who's never done or hasn't really been doing it for a while suddenly signing on for two or three hours a day. ("I'm going to start herding lemurs after work EVERY DAY from six until eight-thirty! I'll be the best lemur herder outside of Madagascar by year's end!")

Oh. I get the appeal. I get it so hard. There's this visceral allure in making something just almost as difficult as you can possibly handle––in saying that you're going to do it SO FUCKING HARD that you will get better right away. It proves you really want it, right? If you fill every moment with it, then you really care. And those wide expanses of unspoken-for schedule beckon like untrodden snow to be filled with "productivity" and not "wasted."

Trust me. I get it. Truuuuuuuuust me. 

You're reading a blog by the guy who decided to create an "event" called the Megathlon. It's like a triathlon except it uses every piece of cardio-vascular equipment at the gym, and the five mile run on the treadmill is the SHORTEST of those distances. The entire thing would have taken about 15 hours to finish. I was spending five hours a day in the gym "training." You're reading a blog by the guy who once signed up for 21 units in a single semester because I wanted to knock out the general education classes as fast as possible. You're reading a blog by the guy who created a checklist of minimum times for writing "training" that included things like "Three hours a day reading" and "30 minutes studying grammar." It was like NINE hours a day of this brutal regimen. I've spent most of my life basically operating under the slogan that if it's worth doing, it's worth overdoing. I get this impetus to dive into something overwhelming. In a lot of ways, NaNoWriMo is not even particularly notable compared to some of the daily productivity demands I've made of myself. It's kind of on the low end of the ridiculous scale.

Now for fifty points, control of the board, and a chance at the Cuisinart and the trip to Barbados, see if you can guess how many of those regimens I actually stuck to.

Okay, plot twist. The answer isn't zero.

It's actually one.

Oh, I never stuck to the nine-hour checklist or the Megathlon or "2500 words a day," and I dropped nine units from my 21 unit semester by week three. Those were absurd. But what I did stick to was a much less ambitious goal: to write every day. (Or almost every day.) Some days it is little more than a Facebook post and a couple of emails. Some days it's eight hours before hunger pulls me out of the zone. And from there I go up, adding posts when I have the time to write them, fiction when I find a dedicated few hours, and other projects as I can.

Do I overdo it? All the fucking time. This entire blog is a MONUMENT to me overdoing it. My "I can't keep this up" posts are so frequent that they ought to be a series with their own Reliquary menu. I should legally change my middle name to "Overdoinit." And usually I'm the only one who cares when I can't meet my self-imposed deadlines.

So if you want a universal lesson, oh Writer, let it be this: set reasonable goals. You're just going to feel like a failure if you set some outrageous goal and then can't hit it. Better (in many ways) to find your sweet spot and limits by working up to them.

[In the interest of keeping it real, let me hit the pause button for a second. There's like this WHOLE other side of this. I talk about it all the time but I would be remiss not to mention it here. 99% of aspiring writers who want to be paid and published and whatever else they think "success" is aren't overdoing it. They are underdoing it. They have all the excuses (which I don't judge for legitimacy, so let's not even go there) about why they can't write. From what I know of almost every working writer who ever was, I'm in great company. Almost all of them are perpetually committing themselves to writing "MORE!" And so while I own that I screw this up (royally on occasion), it's also worth mentioning that the folks who are the best in their fields at ANYTHING are probably pushing themselves just a little beyond the "design specs."]

So this time––THIS ONE TIME––I'm going to try to ramp up slowly instead of hitting the ground running. I'm going to recognize that there's a lot of life happening right now, and that if I light the last four boilers, I might run full speed into an iceberg. And I'm going to stop letting my reckless ambition write checks that my temporal inability to time loop can't cash. While it's probably safe to assume that Monday posts will return shortly, I'm really going to trickle ALL that stuff in.
  • It always takes a week or so for a new schedule to really make a difference. (That's why so many people think they've got things handled for that first week when they are, in fact, really completely overwhelmed.) I should wait until then; I expect I'm going to have a more realistic sense of the impact next week and beyond. 
  • So far, I've only really added about three hours to my schedule. 45 minutes a day makes a big perception difference in how rushed I feel getting to work, and it's often the little changes that add up rather than some big "waiting for my ship to come in" moment, but 3 hours a week is not going to give me time to finish my novel by next year. I still need to be better about more often saying no to my clients when they ask me to do a little extra work.
  • Some of this time needs to go to things other than writing. My room is a mess. I need to get to the dentist. I have fallen behind on my hiking. I would love to catch a movie. I can't fall into the trap where "All your freetime base are belong to us."
  • The holidays are coming up and they are brutal on schedules. I may need some extra time, and it's just going to be better not to have something new going before the holidays.
  • While I want to bring what's happening "on stage" back up to speed, a whole lot of what's going on right now in my writing life is "behind the scenes." Fiction. E-books. A merchandise project. I don't want to overcommit to what folks are going to "see," and then not have time for the things I have to quietly work on out of sight. 
So just in general, I think the best play is to move forward cautiously and do lots of self diagnostics so the staff down at logistics have plenty of status reports. Like a gravy, I will slowly add the writing as things thicken.

I think I'm out of metaphors, so I better wrap this up. Push yourself if you want to chase this spurious "making it" thing. But also don't overdo it if you don't want to crash into walls. And if you think I don't know how hard that fjord is to navigate, trust me. I know.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Pointer Quests (Mailbox)

Whitewashed Publishing.
How to just DO it.
Editing/critiquing?
What if I have no talent?
Are MFAs really that bad? 
Can Netflix shows count as reading?
[Insert question about the publishing industry here]
What to do about all the poseurs?

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer one or two of them every week or so. I will use your first name ONLY, unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous.  My comment policy also may mean one of your comments ends up in the mailbox. I don't often answer redundant questions unless I have a new take on the answer, but occasionally, I'll make a post like this one.]   

In many online role-playing games (especially the massively multiplayer kind) at some point, you will be assigned a quest that is pretty much to just go to another area and talk to another person. ("Go deliver these books to Twizzlefizzlepop in the Desiccated Woods and tell him I sent you. He has need of an adventurer of your skill.")

These are called pointer quests, and you usually get them when you are too über for the area that you're in and the game is trying to tell you to stop slumming it and go find a real challenge.

Today's post is all about the pointer quests.

Not that I'm telling you to go find a real challenge....but...um....okay look, the metaphor breaks down a little the more you deconstruct it. Yesterday around 1pm, as I tackled what I thought was going to be today's mailbox, I realized I wasn't even close. I wasn't even KIND OF close. I had written two pages and I was really just hitting the Tootsie Roll center of the Tootsie Pop. I knew I was going to be working a long night last night (got tagged out after 11pm), and that I was going to have to change tack and make that NEXT week's mailbox. (It's about how to deal with your internal critic. Stay tuned!) So instead I decided to answer some of this mail that doesn't need a whole new post, but maybe just a pointer quest.


Persephone writes:
You often call the publishing industry whitewashed. I know WHAT it means, but why do you say that?

Because it is. Oh, it's not JUST the publishing industry. All the institutions in the English-speaking world are dominated by white men. Journalism. Academia. Politics. Law enforcement. Publishing is just one more place where the gatekeepers are usually white men, and even if they're not themselves, they're often using the yardsticks of what is "high art" that have been established by white men. But you can read more about what I mean here: Why Is the Publishing Industry So Whitewashed? (Mailbox)


Alex asks:

I sit down at my computer and I just stare at it. I just can't write. How do you do it?


I might need to slip this one into the FAQ. I seem to be getting the question more and more these days. It kind of depends on what's blocking you, but I would start HERE. That's kind of the whole toolbox, so just throw it at the wall and see what sticks.


Many write:

Will you read/critique/edit my writing and/or tutor me? 

Yes, but I'm a professional writer with a very busy schedule and my time is valuable, so I charge $50-$75 an hour. This question is answered (with further details) at #10 in my Facebook FAQ (along with a LOT of other questions that I usually only get on or through Facebook).


Sawson writes: 

I'm worried that I don't have talent, and that all this work will be for nothing. Is there any way to tell?

Would that there were. I write a lot about talent, and while most people come around to what I mean when I unpack the entire bag, it really makes a lot of people's heads itch when I tell them that I don't really think it exists....at least not in the way they're using the word. Read my thoughts on it or don't, but the bottom line, Sawson, is going to be this: what are you doing "all this work" for? If it is because you love writing, then it's already worth it. Writing is worth it all on its own. The milestones beyond "for the love of the game" involve, luck, privilege, gumption, and a whole fucking shit ton of work (about ten years of which will probably be unpaid). You'll notice you can only really control about half of those things. I hate to be so blunt, but writing is a piss-poor way to be famous or rich (or even pay the bills without what amounts to a multi-year unpaid apprenticeship), so you'd better find the intrinsic rewards.


Dan writes:

Are MFAs really that bad? Why do you hate them so much?


I don't. They're not BAD. I don't hate them. What I've said, and will say again is that they are time consuming, very expensive, and privilege a certain small set of voices within a very narrow aesthetic, and if it's not exactly the kind of prose-aesthetic that a writer wants to be creating, it is NOT a good move for someone with ambitions who does not know what to do next. The kinds of careers most writers want (particularly hopeful genre novelists) would be better served by using that time to just get started. In fact, I have been very clear that there are a lot of good things about MFAs.


Mike asks:

I don't really read that much, but I want to be a writer. I love Netflix shows and stuff though, and a good story is a good story, right? 


Yes! (And that's about as far as this answer is going to go the way you want it to, Mike. I'm sorry.) 

However, it might be worth considering if what you really want to do is be in TV or film or video games?  I think writing is considered this "accessible" way into what is essentially people's love of ANOTHER art form because most people can write and the starting tools are relatively cheap. By contrast the stories about how difficult it is to break into Hollywood are the subjects of their own legend. But if you break down the numbers, it is just as unusual for a writer to "break in" to movies as it is for someone who starts out doing movies.

TV shows and movies will absolutely instill in someone certain skills that are also useful in writing. Things like pacing, dialogue, plot construction. However, the tools film uses to tell a story are totally different. At the end of the day, a writer doesn't have an actor. They don't have a set. They can't use a lens flare. There are no special effects. They can't have a soundtrack.

Writers have words. That's it. And that's why writers tend to love books. That's why writers are (with so shockingly few exceptions as to be statistically zero) always always ALWAYS into reading....a lot.

And if a writer is not reading enough, they will not have the skill to metabolize the thoughts in their head into language. Their prose will be stilted and clunky. I write more about that here: The Value of TV/Movies/AV Media to a Writer


Every few days someone asks:

[Insert question about the publishing industry here]


Fortunately I did a 20 Questions last summer that covered most of the basic questions about the publishing industry. I will mention this here, though. Most people ask this WAY before it's time to be worried about it. The vast majority of questions like "How do I find an agent?" can be easily tackled in an afternoon of online research. What really needs to happen first is for the book to be finished. And when people ask this question, they are usually putting the cliché before the horse.


Chad writes [Swear to god, the name on the email was Chad]:

Everyone thinks they're a fucking writer these days. They're just clogging up the system with their shitty self published books and Nano drafts. How can someone who's actually serious deal with it?

Oh, Chad. Dear, sweet Chad. I'm not sure where you thought this was going to go, but if you haven't realized it yet, I'm the Chef Gusteau of writing. ("Anyone can cook write.") And while I know there is technically some nuance there when it comes to the actual capability of "anyone" to write, I think a lot more people can and should be writing more often because writing is awesome.

I'm pretty sure the chip on your shoulder doesn't make you any more "serious." (Or any other adjective you try to slide in there to mean basically that you are a really real writer and they aren't.) People have tried before to get me to renounce my "populist writing philosophy," but it hasn't gone very well for them.

Are there people who are self-publishing books before they're ready, who then only sell a few copies to their friends and family and go right back to being frustrated about their writing careers? Sure. But they're not "clogging up" anything. If your book is better, it will stand out. Do agents and publishers refuse to touch anything they even think might be a Nano draft from about Dec 1st to early summer? Yep. That's true. But if your book is not strangely close to exactly 100 pages with a distinct "first-draft-feel" to the first few pages you've got nothing to worry about....right? Right?

Worry about you, Chad. This isn't the fierce competition of a sylvan glade. No one is going to steal your sunlight. We can all make it.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Best Modern Science Fiction Book (Or Series) [Come vote!]

What is the very best sci-fi book (or series) written between 1976 and 2000*?  

Our latest poll is live!  Come vote!

[Note: I'm getting some reports that the voting "widget" isn't visible to everyone. The place where I make my polls recently underwent some changes (I think they got bought out by a parent company), and they've been having some growing pains. Here is a direct link 

https://poll.fm/10472241 ]

Our poll was pulled from your nominations, and now you get to decide which one wins. This was a popular topic for nominating so not only did no titles make the poll that didn't get a second, but no titles made the poll that didn't get TWO seconds (a third?) 

Let me just make ONE caveat. This poll is about BOOKS. It's about writing. If you loved watching Alan Rickman play Marvin, but found The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy book to be trite and boring plot driven drivel with sophomoric humor, please vote for something else.

The actual poll is on the left hand side at the bottom, beneath the "About The Author" section. Mobile viewers will have to go aaaaaaall to the very bottom of their page and switch to "Webview" in order to access the poll.

Everyone will get three (3) votes. 

There is no way to do ranked choice voting, so please consider that every vote beyond the first "dilutes" the power of your initial vote and use as few as you can stand to use.

I will probably run this poll through December and post results early in January, but that's a pretty busy time of year and it might go longer if it's still picking up new votes when I remind people about it.

[*There are separate polls for other time periods, including "contemporary" (2001-present). I had to break them down because the field was just to busy.]

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Best Modern Sci Fi (Last Chance for Nominations--SECONDS NEEDED)

What is the best science fiction book (or series) written between 1976 and 2000?  

As I work a pair of 12+ hour days (and pull down 40 hours by Thursday––long before the first potatoes even get mashed), I will remind everyone to nominate their favorite science fiction, but not before checking the publication date because some of these books are too NEW to be on this poll (we'll have a contemporary sci fi poll separately). Running this poll is about all I've got the energy for this week, and I'm sure as fuck not going to crawl out of my warm bed and my carbohydrate coma on a perfectly good almost-bank-holiday-except-for-poor-unfortunate-retail-souls in order to post something that 90% of folks won't see because they're out suffering in some way or another from the symptoms of late stage capitalism.

So for any of you who have ever said "How can this poll not have SOANDSO?!?", now is your very last chance. Get that fucker on the poll and get it some fucking seconds.

Remember, I don't do that endless quarterfinals shit anymore.  At most, I will do ONE round of semifinals. So the 8-20 with the most seconds get on the poll. And if those "seconds" are technically thirds, fourths, or fifths, then that's what I'm doing. So get over there and second anything you want to see on the page.

So please pop over to the original page (very important), read the rules if you haven't yet, and drop a nomination or an undersung hero. 

I'll be putting this poll together on Friday. That'll be my big day. Come back next week for the good shit.

Remember, go to the original page or it won't count. Not a comment here. Not a comment on the Facebook post. Not Tumblr. THE ORIGINAL PAGE.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Hi Folks!

Two recent events mean that we are no longer able to avoid a few big changes here at Writing About Writing, but let me tell you what's about to happen.

For the past four months, I've been "working for the weekend," so to speak. I've been knowingly overdoing it on nanny hours and letting my writing suffer a bit (though obviously not entirely). My clients were telling me that come January, the baby would be off to preschool, and there would simply not be as many hours. There would still be SOME, but it would be much closer to "the edge" of my budget. And this has been the plan for months now. I've been socking away money for that moment when the winds of fate shifted and brought the financially lean times, but a lot more opportunity for writing.

Then two things happened.

1) My October appeal went quite well. You may have noticed that I didn't do a round of direct-to-social-media, which is my usual wont on the alternative fortnight to a post like this. Things had gone SO well, and I was updating only three times a week––I felt like it was probably better to just skip it that one time. My writing income still wouldn't pay all the bills, but after October's appeal, I'd be a lot less nervous about being cut from 30 nanny hours down to 10 or 15.

2) I found out that The Smol didn't get into preschool for spring semester. Bringing the new estimate to August (as in ten months from now).

That means more income than for at least an additional nine months, but it also means almost more hours than I can handle and not enough writing time for those same nine months. I was okay to run my engines over factory specifications for a few months, but not for an entire year. That's falling right back into problems that I've spent too damned much in therapy to keep repeating.

So...I've set about making those scheduling changes happen anyway.

I'm giving up an hour a day to the morning Nanny, and I'm working out with my clients how to shave off some of the hours that end up happening on weekends and evenings, so that 20 hours/week on paper looks more like 20 hours/week in reality.

This is going to mean more writing starting December, but it's also going to mean that all of your help is more important than ever before. As with every other moment I've been able to drop the teaching of a night class or make a decision to stop a side gig to devote to writing, this is a decision and an opportunity that would not have been possible without my wonderful, generous, and generally ass-kicking patrons.

Once I'm down to the lower hours, I may need to dip into my savings to get through any greater-than-average expense months. And if that starts happening, I'm going to get nervous and pick up freelance work, side gigs, maybe even pet sitting jobs if it gets bad.

This is where all of you come in.

I would much prefer to do my appeals post when I am crunching out two or three heavy hitting posts a week, but I hope that you can see that we're still committed to a steady update schedule even though writing time is a bit hard to find right now, you can glance through the archive and see that over time, I serve up some pretty good writing about writing, and can trust me that it's going to get more robust again real soon.

Today is the first of two times a month (once a month directly to social media and once a month here on the blog) that I humbly ask you to help me keep the rent paid, the lights on, and the crisper full of vegetables instead of "backup Raman packs." Right now I can't quite make all the ends meet with just writing alone (I won't die, but things like dental plans, my cell phone, and food with cellulose take a little extra).

Remember, you don't just get Writing About Writing. There are some personal and political thoughts along with media reviews over at NOT Writing About Writing, and I often use my personal Facebook page for bite-sized thoughts and proto-versions of bigger posts that are still in the "thinking" stage. And there's "the show" on the Writing About Writing Facebook Page––where I share memes, humor, articles about everything writing, and puns all day. And anything else I write for other venues will end up here as well. Always free as well as ad free (as long as I can keep it so) but it takes 20+ hours a week to keep it all going and is a full time job if I really want to do it right.

At this time, I depend completely on donations and patrons for my writing income. As with most donation-based media, the tiniest handful of folks (less than .1%) are creating the experience the other 99.9% get to enjoy. I know it's a tough time right now. Anywhere one looks on social media, there is someone trying to crowdfund an unexpected expense.

However, if even 1% of everyone who stopped by gave a dollar, I would be able to write full time without a side gig for years to come.

If a couple dozen people pledged at the $3 level, I'd be heading into 2020 to give writing an even more robust full-time schedule without needing to worry about oncoming recessions, nanny hours, or dipping into my savings. I know that most people will ignore these appeals. But if you like my work and want it to keep seeing it (and more OF it), please take a moment and see if you can't spare a couple of dollars.

There are two ways to help.

I prefer if you become a Patron through Patreon. Even a small donation goes a long way, and with Patreon, I can budget and plan for the future. Plus, it doesn't take much to get in on some of the most active and robust reward tiers. Our monthly newsletter of behind-the-scenes updates and previews of upcoming attractions is the $3 tier because a foundation of many, smaller donors is so important.

Or if an ongoing donation is not in your cards, of course you can always make the one-time kind through Paypal. Or Venmo (at chris.brecheen@gmail.com)

Lastly, these posts will never do particularly well organically, and it is the nature of social media that I cannot reach everyone who wants to see my content. If you don't have the financial means to support us financially, but still want to help (or would like to help doubly), please engage with this post. (Shares and GIF comments are particularly good for the algorithm.)

Thank you all so much,

Chris