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

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

We Now Return You To Our Regularly Scheduled — *sounds of screaming*

 *Masterpiece Theater Introduction*

*Chris, smoking a pipe, looks up from a leather bound books* 

"Oh, hello there. You found me catching up on my Proust. Welcome to Writing About Writing. Today we're going to talk about the subtle but powerful ways in which literary authors utilize setting as kinetic landscape, and the––"

*sound of screaming offscreen/Chris's eyes flick left*

"––dare I say, transcendental ways in which the skilled writer brings the setting ITSELF to life as a character in the story."

*sound of a gunshot/Chris's eyes go wide and flick left again*

"If....um...the rich tapestry woven by the author functions in conjunction with the work's themes, what emerges is an altogether....uh.....more powerful......"

Voice from off camera: "Everybody stay calm, and no one will get hurt. Now, I just found out my retirement plan is nothing but Arby's coupons and those necklaces they give out at Mardi Gras, so I was already in a bad mood. But then I discover that I'm a patron of Chris, and here on December 2nd we still haven't gotten the November newsletter, so until I get my FUCKING NEWSLETTER or some answers we're all just going to hang tight and eat these roast beef sandwiches I brought for everyone. No one has to get hurt."

Chris: "Uh.....so that would be my fault. Bit of an emergency yesterday. The big cheese upstairs was supposed to have a day off, but got called away to deal with some emergency in.....uh......some retirement plans or something, so we're running a little behind on some of the behind-the-scenes mojo we're supposed to be doing. It's kind of funny really. Just because of the way the Thanksgiving holiday went down, apparently no one here has had a day off in––"

Voice from off camera: "And you just thought you could wait until, what, December third or fourth to do the November newsletter? Do you know how absurd that sounds? It's like DaVinci demanding more time to paint the Cistern Chapel.

Chris: "There's actually a LOT to unpack about what you just said––"

Voice: "Shut up! You know I pay the rent here. I keep the lights on. I'm the reason you have food. I mean like vegetables and stuff. Not just these really good roast beef sandwiches."

Chris: "Well, yes. You and almost three hundred other Patrons."

*sound of gun cocking*

Chris: (*looking back at the camera*) "Well, folks, I'm afraid we'll have to wait on that kinetic landscape thing. I just remembered some important work I have to do backstage for my beloved patrons."

Voice: "And I'm going to leave all my bead necklaces if you don't get me my early access post as well. ALL of them."

Chris: (*still looking at the camera*) Aaaaand we might have to settle for some jazz hands too over the next couple-a. We'll get you something, though. Because that's just how we roll here at––"


Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Best Standalone Fantasy Novel (NOTpoll)

What is the best Fantasy novel not a part of any larger series?

While I (really this time) work behind the scenes on the November Newsletter for my patrons, a first of the month seems like a good day to kick off our new NOTpolls. 

If you recall (or even if you don't), I recently ran into enough trouble with free polling programs––and the prohibitive price of the paid ones given that I only ever ran one every month or two. Instead, I decided to change up our entire "poll-like" experience here on Writing About Writing. Rather than of nominations and polls with winners and losers, we're just going to do a comment thread of gushing recommendations. 

There are still rules (below). But instead of trying to figure out what more people think is the BEST (which usually turns into which book has the coolest movie adaptation anyway), we're just going to have a good chat about good books and all come away with some suggestions for our To Be Read Pile™. We'll still have the system of seconds (and "thirds" and "fourths"), but all that will determine is which goes to the top of the list when I post the results. And I'll link out the original nomination post for folks who want to go see what people are actually saying about the book. Eventually these posts listing the results will be compiled in a massive "book recommendation" post.

It's going to be pretty fucking dope.

The Rules

  1. Make two recommendations. Obviously, I can't stop anyone from making fifteen, but nothing beyond the first two will make it onto the master list.
  2. TALK ABOUT WHY YOU LIKE THE BOOK (but without spoilers)! Obviously if you just drop a title name and it gets all the seconds, I'm still going to list it, but the whole point of this is to gush a little about the books you think are great, exciting, well written, or unforgettable. 
  3. For each recommendation, let us know if you're nominating it more as a BEST book in the genre or an UNDERSUNG HERO in the genre. Basically "undersung hero" is for books you think are great, tragically overlooked, NEED to be read by everyone yesterday, but are maybe not necessarily the besty bestest best. They'll all end up in the list I compile, but I'll put them in different places.
  4. As always, I leave the niggling over the definition of genres to your best judgement because I'd rather be inclusive. If you want to nominate Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom (though it is pretty clearly science fiction), you should show your work if you desire those sweet, sweet seconds (or thirds....or fourths) and there might be a discussion thread after your comment with a lot of people writing out the "Uh...." 
  5. Your book must not be part of a series or more than tangentially related to a fictional universe. If it makes a reference to another book like once or is clearly taking place in the world of another book without being a sequel, prequel, or grand unified series, that's fine, but if it takes place in Discworld, that's not "stand alone."
  6. You get to mention two (2) books. That's it. Two. You can do one BEST and one UNDERSUNG HERO. Or you can do two BESTS. Or you can do two UNDERSUNG HEROES. But two is the total. If you nominate three or more, I will NOT take any nominations beyond the second that you suggest. I'm sorry that I'm a stickler on this, but it's just lil ol' me compiling this list by myself and it's a pain when people drop a megalodon list of every decent book they can remember in the entire genre. If you list more than two books and your third or later choice gets a second, I'll consider the SECOND the first mention of the book "officially." (Even though that matters a lot less than it did when I was counting seconds to see which titles made the poll––see below.)
  7. Did I mention two?
  8. You may (and absolutely should) second AS MANY nominations of others as you wish. There is no more poll, so this will not be a cutthroat competition to see who makes it to the semifinals. It will simply dictate which titles I list first, and it may influence which books someone considers a good recommendation. ("This one got six seconds, and that one only got two, so I think I'll start with this one.")
  9. Put your nominations HERE. I will take nominations only as comments and only on this post. (No comments on FB posts or G+ will be considered nominations.) If you can't comment for some reason because of Blogger, send me an email (chris.brecheen@gmail.com) stating exactly that and what your nomination is, and I will personally put your comment up. I am not likely to see a comment on social media even if it says you were unable to leave a comment here. 
  10. You are nominating WRITTEN fiction, not their movie portrayals. If you thought Stardust was a spectacular movie, but never really could get through Gaiman's written version, please nominate something else. (I love films, but they're a different medium.)
  11. Have a conversation, but check the typical internet assholery at the door. If someone likes something you think is terrible, it's okay to let them enjoy it. And if someone has one tight and polite bit of criticism about your recommendation ("I was not a fan of the X plot arc or the way that author writes women."), it's okay that they didn't care for it and there's no need to defend it like they have impugned you personally.  I **WILL** delete shitty comments, and I absolutely know that's highly subjective, so better to err on the side of nice. 
  12. TWO!
Hopefully, we all get some great book recommendations (and maybe a few fewer "not winners") out of this new format. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Bottom of September (Facebook Compilation)

A collection of the best memes and statuses from Facebook over the period of Sept. 16st-Sept. 30th. Also, as a small reminder to everyone, I was doing a lot of writing on my public Facebook profile in the months before the election. (You're welcome to follow me there.) Since the election––or more accurately since the results became increasingly obvious––I have been able to focus again, and I'm getting back on track. I'm going to blow through these compilation posts over the next handful of weeks (both to catch up and to give me something a little lower key to post during the holiday season). 

After that, maybe I'll do more like one a month instead of every two weeks.

Note: Some of these are very topical, so I've put notes about what was going on when they were written.

There are a number of "we don't need no stinking government" ideologies that depend on the
decency of fellow humans that I think might want to look at the pandemic as a data point.

“The American people must have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president."

-Mitch McConnell 2016 (after Scalia's death--a vote he SINGLE HANDEDLY BLOCKED from even coming to the floor for a vote for nearly a year). 

“President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.” 

-McConnell 2020 (after Ginsberg's death with 46 days to go until the election)

Tell me again how unfair it is to say they will wrap pretense around whatever the fuck they want; lie, cheat, and steal to enact their agendas; and are not interested in a free and fair democracy or pluralistic governance if it even provides so much as a speed bump to what they view as a moral imperative. 

Tell me all about how uncharitable I'm being to say EXACTLY that.

Why come up with a complicated system of epicycles when a heliocentric model explains the data much more accurately and without increasing absurdity? Occam's razor.

Can you imagine if you actually did *MEAN* "stand down," and then you reviewed the tape to find that you had said "Stand back and stand BY."  

Like, anyone who actually meant "stand down" would be falling ALL OVER themselves, clamoring to assemble a press conference, or find a journalist, or grab the nearest bullhorn or sharpie or SOMETHING to set the record straight.

They. Would. Be. MORTIFIED. 

The convoluted explanations for why he hasn't corrected himself, made such a profound mistake that happens to exactly match his oft-repeated behavior, and has NEVER successfully disavowed white supremacy until maybe days later (and only in a kind of wishy washy way) are ludicrous. We will look back on these ridiculous rationalizations like epicycles and those who defended them like the Catholic astronomers who refused to acknowledge the much simpler and painfully obvious truth. 

He is a white supremacist. Full stop.

[This was written shortly after Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death.]

I'm definitely angry right now, and I'm not the best version of myself, and maybe tonight isn't my "final answer," or I'll find some pocket of nuance that I just can't ignore, but right now I want to just write off every "I art lefter than thou" type with a hearty "Let me know how that fucking goes for you."

LET ME KNOW how it goes, as we keep drifting to the right, first with W and then with Trump, because Gore or Clinton or now Biden aren't perfect enough and you'd rather "send a message to Democrats" than make the world a marginally better place for the people the GOP likes to hurt. 

How'd that one go, by the way? It's 20 years later. Did Nader and the Green party bring you the liberal reforms you wanted? Did Dems start taking the far left seriously? Did the Dems learn their lesson? (Or did they just learn who they couldn't count on?) Did climate change top the issues in 2004....2008.....2012? Did the DNC and the Democratic leadership come around? Or did they just learn that the far left couldn't be counted on in a general election and was less risky to sacrifice, with its write-ins and abstentions, than a center who might actually flip a vote for an opponent who mattered. Did they learn their "lesson," or did they just learn that the center was where they could find the money and votes from a country MOSTLY made up of people whose hearts and minds were never won because, instead of winning them, we only deign to involve ourselves in one part of mainstream civic engagement, and THEN we toss away our own influence on protest votes and spend the next three and a half years glutting social media with guillotine and bootlicker memes that don't win the hearts and minds of the same the same mainstream, working-class folks we are counting on to back our vaunted "revolution" next time around.

Whatever lurching, sporadic, three-steps forward-two-steps-back, Republicans-being-dragged-kicking-and-screaming-the-entire-way gains we have made on the left (anywhere bigger than the community level) in my entire life have come from the executive branch in the form of a campaign promise like the A.C.A. or the  O.B.R.A in '93 (since rolled back because "Clinton was just as bad as Trump") or the results of S.C.O.T.U.S. rulings in the form of civil rights and liberties like Obergefell v. Hodges. 

And the greatest HARMS came from those two as well. 

I'm a non-monogamous, gender variant, pansexual crowdfunded working writer who gets paid for nannying my ex's kids primarily in groceries, emergency computer replacements, and health insurance. Believe me that if you present me with two options in life, I'm very likely going to find the third that you didn't list, but that works better for me and go my own way. And even I can tell you that our current political choices are bad and MUCH MUCH MUCH WORSE.....and that's IT. It's all there is. More's the pity, but it is. You either do harm reduction and keep doing the work come Nov. 4th or someone else decides for you that fascism is okay and people die.

Dems aren't going to make it all better, but the last four years should be an abject lesson that it can always always ALWAYS get worse. 

Democrats keep waiting for voters to be shocked and appalled enough to vote out the group openly cheating, and liberals keep waiting for Democrats to be the "adult in the room," and that's bad enough that they're waiting on each other. And I certainly have the nuance to understand why an individual just....can't.  (Getting people to vote for their own oppression is a tall order.) But the leftist purity politics stuff just makes everything worse for its existence.

It’s really quite simple.

Trump lies about everything. He lies even when he doesn’t have to lie. He lies when no one will care. He lies when there’s tape of him from a live broadcast on national television of the truth. And he’s so committed to his lies he’ll do shit like take a Sharpie and draw on weather forecast maps.

So it’s piss obvious when he suddenly loses the plot like a ten year old who’s gotten caught (“Wait....who did you want me to condemn?”). He could just lie. ("Yep. Totally condemn them.") Every OTHER thing out of his mouth is an effortless lie. Why all the sudden does he stumble? Why he won’t just simply do what he does best—or at least most often—and causally LIE that he denounces white supremacy (even though he doesn't). 

Because far from simply being an ongoing series of unrelated misspeaks and confused reactions he conspicuously has around ONLY this issue (that just happens every single time to reinforce a careless-but-unintended message), he knows exactly what he’s doing and who’s listening.

If the National Association of Hurricane Deniers loved him, hurricane denialism was a core part of his message that helped him win his first election, and there was a list as long as Suleiman Ali Nashnush’ leg that suggested he was a hurricane denier, he wouldn’t have touched that sharpie.

White supremacy protects itself, so intellectuals out there looking for zebras because of hoof prints are playing right into those boiler plate scripts. Occam’s razor suggests an elegant solution that explains everything quite simply. He won’t condemn white supremacy because he’s a white supremacist. Acting like we don’t “truly” know because he doesn’t show up to the debates in Klan robes is getting pretty silly.

If you've never seen anyone stand up to a gaslighting abuser, the first Trump/Biden debate is pretty much what it looks like. It's messy, and they claw and scratch and bite and try to drag you down to the ground with them the whole time.

It's only spectacular and cathartic in the movies. 

That's why it's so hard to do, and you usually have to settle for ESCAPE. (Not so much of an option in a presidential debate.)

[This post was in response to the first Biden/Trump debate (the one where Trump just interrupted and insulted everyone for two hours) and some of the mainstream reactions.]

They're both being awful. They both suck. They're both being terrible. No winners; only losers.

I know this is a popular frame, particularly from those who want to seem erudite about matters of policy and forensic debate and to show off their political acumen (or who are just a little bit gleeful for whatever reason about tearing down Biden), but I also know that this is exactly what abusers go for. This is what they want when their abuse is being called out. They want to point at their victims and say, "They started it!" or "What about them?" Anywhere the blame can go––even "both"––that takes the focus off of their abuse.

Every. Single. Time. I called out my abusers' behavior, I would be "punished" for doing so. The form of the punishment was like a whirlwind attack of anything and everything that might stick. Everything I'd EVER done, no matter how off topic. (And don't even try to return to the subject at hand.) Every detail challenged, no matter how irrelevant. (Was it six months ago or seven? Let's start a sub-fight about this.) I couldn't even finish a sentence. And they would keep going until I disassociated enough that they "had the floor" and would talk and talk and talk, spinning out this word salad about how terrible I was being to THEM

They push their victims and rattle them and get them into a moment when they are defending themselves against something preposterous, and when the person reacts in a way that they are NOT their best, the abuser has ammunition forever for how THEY were the aggrieved party.  How many times have you thought, "Boy, those two are just TERRIBLE to each other" and later on, you learned that one of them was actually being far far terrible-er? 

We're seeing this play out at the macro level as "the left" is being blamed for all the violence. As if there were never an inciting incident or fifty. 

It's called DARVO. (Deny, attack, reverse victim and offender). It's the reason a lot of victims of abuse couldn't even watch the debates last night and are having an almost-as-difficult-time this morning as people claim that Biden was just as bad. Because when you stand up to an abuser instead of leaving (maybe because they've created a "captive audience" space like, oh, say, a debate), that's pretty much what it looks like. It's not like the movies where you get the great zingers and the rocking catharsis. It turns into a grudge match of lastwordism and whataboutism. 

Only one candidate walked onto that stage with absolutely no intention of talking about policy and politics. Only one couldn't for one second let another person have the narrative or the attention. Only one person was talking about how awful everyone was being to him instead of the country. One was determined to derail the entire train rather than deal with the thought of losing. The other tried to talk to the audience and keep a train of thought and debate in good faith. He just couldn't. It was like debating a screaming goat. Because that's how abusers work. They can't allow you to make your full points. Then they might have to deal with them, and not everyone will take their side. 

If you fall/fell for it, don't feel too bad. You're in good company. Our culture is a mess when it comes to trust and verify. We almost always either don't trust at all, decide based on other things who we will believe within seconds and never get around to the verify part, or exercise our reasonable-sounding muscles by assuming "both sides" must be behaving badly for identical reasons, and that intellectual morality is in total emotionlessness. That there is something fundamentally "wrong" with a person's rationality if they are capable of being provoked. (Which is part of the reason we end up blaming the victim so often.) 

What I saw last night was someone standing up to the mind games of an abuser.

And from a side of politics that claims it is entirely tired of being told to "go high" in the face of so much abuse, it might be worth considering which narrative we're playing into.

Don't despair.

No one ever THOUGHT Trump's cult followers were going to toss their MAGA hats to the ground with a "You mean he's not what we thought he was? You mean he doesn't have the business acumen we elected him for having?  Well, this just changes EVERYTHING!"

We never thought that was going to happen. MAGAts have cast their lots and committed to their moral path. And a certain number of folks will find it nihilistic-chic to point it out at every opportunity how "they won't care."

Of course they won't. Of COURSE! That was never our ambition. They are lost, and if they're coming back at all, it's not going to be because of anything we did to convince them. 

Remember why we share these stories and point out the hypocrisy and lies. It's for the tiny few who might listen (in a world where the margins of victory for swing states are less than 1% and sometimes less than half of one percent, you only need to get through to one person in a couple of hundred.) That one Republican in Michigan or Ohio who really HAS had enough. 

It's for the moderate who thinks maybe the left just really HATES DJT based on nothing substantive.

But mostly it's for us. Because WE'RE the goddamned frogs in a pot and in this mixed metaphor the burner is social gaslighting. We do it to remind each other that we're not crazy. THIS IS NOT NORMAL!

Imagination time!

You live in a small town in rural Indiana. As small as it is, it has organized crime. "Boffo" runs the town. Boffo is the mayor and police chief, but he also controls the city council and has the local judge in his pocket. The state won't mess with him. 

Boffo has enemies, but they don't have the power to stop him, and in order to even TRY, they have to go through federal jurisdictions which usually ends up with an FBI task force showing up but being told they can ask questions but no one is going to cooperate. 

Boffo breaks laws all the time. He jay walks, runs red lights, speeds, and parks everywhere just as a matter of course, but he also funnels city money into his bank account, rigs the mayoral elections, accepts bribes, rips off insurance agencies, cooks the books, and several people in town have credible stories of larceny. Boffo even brags about how he orders big meals at restaurants and then walks out before paying the check.

Your roommate has spent YEARS telling you, "Boffo can't do that! It's illegal." (Your roommate fancies themselves a very legal savvy expert.) Every time your roommate says Boffo can't do something, Boffo does it anyway, and there's no one to stop him. So not only does Boffo "do that," but he gets away with it. If it's really, really bad, the FBI comes down like six weeks later and leaves empty-handed a few days afterward.

One day your phone rings. It's Boffo. He tells you that he's going to murder you. Naturally, you are terrified. 

"Pfffffft. Relax. Boffo can't do that!" your roommate insists, dismissing your concern, and even mocking it a little. "Murder is illegal. You'll be just fine."


Recently on NPR I heard about this group called the Transition Integrity Project that was set up to try to ensure a peaceful transition of power (one of the cornerstones of a democracy). This group played a series of "war games" about the transition of power and found that in only one scenario did Trump concede power without tapping every agency, commission, state, and local government, and even the military and/or openly encouraging mob violence and stochastic terrorism. 

A total blowout. 

That's the only scenario. In every other scenario, the group playing Trump was able to block mail votes, mobilize the national guard, sow chaos, tap law enforcement, and even weaponize his people to fight for him in the streets. In every other scenario (even a RESPECTABLE Biden victory––to say nothing of a narrow one), we end up counting on a guy who basically *dared* Congress to do ANYTHING about Ukraine, regularly encourages violence, has openly said he wants more than EIGHT years, and can't handle his anything being smaller than Obama's.....  

We're counting on THAT guy to have a sudden crisis of integrity. There isn't a particle of grace in the man. He's not going to be a good loser. 

It turns out that an executive branch that is uninterested in a smooth democratic transition of power has an AWFUL lot of ability to make it very, very unsmooth. 

A total blowout. 

That's why we need to make this election about collective action. Because this may be the last collective action we get to take that doesn't involve blood in the streets and us or our loved ones dead, injured, or imprisoned. 

We can't just win. Trump decided he won the popular vote when he lost it by four million in 2016 because of "fraud' that didn't exist (and he brought the far right narrative right along with him). We have to absolutely pulverize him. Otherwise this could drag on for months, and a whole lot of "yeehaw leftists" who think crowd suppression is as bad as it gets are going to be divested of their romantic notions of the cost/benefit of civil uprisings. 

A total blowout.

[Postscript note: We straddle that line between "respectable Biden victory" and "total blowout" and look how much damage Trump has done denying the results.]

[This was written after Amy Coney Barrett was nominated to the Supreme Court and it became piss obvious that she was going to be rushed through (even if that meant no Covid relief package).]

This is exactly, entirely, precisely why you fucking VOTE! Even if the person isn't exciting. Even if they don't promise you every legislation you wish they would. Even if you don't like them as a person. Even if you wish there were more than two viable parties. Even if they make you feel a little dirty. 

Because it's not just them you're voting for. It’s not just their politics and your protest or purity. It's NEVER just them you're voting for. It's the shape of every commission they form. It's the philosophy of the entire Cabinet. It's the character of every lifetime appointee they nominate. It's the AG and their prosecutors. It's the heads of agencies. It's the regulations they gut (or don't). It's the way they instruct law enforcement to ignore white supremacy and blame everything on Antifa in a transparent effort to make everything you think you're doing "instead of voting" a criminal act. It's which laws they will enforce and how they will enforce them. It is which groups they will take off the terrorist watch lists. And of course it is the flavor of the judiciary. 

There's now a damn fine chance that everything from Roe v. Wade to Obergefell v. Hodges get overturned and the next THIRTY years of rulings will be so spectacularly pro-business and anti-immigrant/poor/civil rights/body autonomy that we really will be back to fighting for the things we won in the 60's. We're going to be dealing with this for the next 30+ years.  Really.

It's never just about that one person. Their ripples will echo on for DECADES.

You know....just to acknowledge some nuance directly:

I'm pretty precise with my language. That's literally my job. When I say "yeehaw leftist" or "I art lefter than thou" leftist, that's who I mean. I don't mean everyone ever who calls themselves a leftist. That's just too much for one generalization to support.

People have reasons to not vote that isn't my lane to judge. A lot of indigenous folks don't vote; you haven't seen me give them so much as a sideways glance. I can't decide for a marginalized group whether being thrown under the bus by the DNC is a dealbreaker, or whether they recognize that it'll get WORSE under the GOP. If that argument is to be thrashed out, it will be within those communities and it's not my place. And I'm not ABOUT to tell someone who is a survivor of S.A. to suck it up if they just CAN'T vote for Biden, or that they are not "allowed" to consider his accusations credible. (And as a survivor myself, that IS my lane.)

I'm giving this shit to a very specific group of people who are expending their political capital trying to get OTHER people not to vote (or cast "protest" votes) but who, generally speaking, don't have the skin in the game to be good judges of who is "just as bad." I'm talking about jilted Sanders supporters, proponents of accelerationism, and people who are dank memeing themselves into such a dither (backed by Russian psyops and false flags the whole way) that they honestly can't see stopping fascism and preserving some vestige of a flawed democracy as harm reduction (to say nothing of the ACA vs. nothing or foot-dragging climate change policy vs. still just calling it a hoax). Folks who demand peggicorn ponies that are actually (to brazenly metaphor mix like a mad scientist of writers) the third rails of mainstream U.S. politics, and if they don't get exactly what they want and THIS election cycle, "Screw you guys, I'm going home."

If that's not you, I'm not talking to you. But I do hope you're taking a good, hard look in the mirror before you usher in four more years of EVEN WORSE THAN THE LAST FOUR by ceding power (through inaction) to Trump. 

The self-righteousness of the primary season is a hell of a drug.

Monday, November 23, 2020


Hello everyone, 

Today, I'm sequestered away from our regular blog updates to write the monthly Newsletter for my Patrons. A lot has happened! You can probably expect that in your email tomorrow or Wednesday.

I promised myself I wasn't going to do an official appeals post until I had knocked out at least a couple of weeks of on-schedule updates, but I will say that our newsletter is one of our lowest tier rewards (only $3/month) on Patreon if you'd like to see monthly behind-the-scenes updates. I have two different types of newsletters, and they are really the only thing I write that could be considered "exclusive content." All the rest of my articles and fiction are and will always be free in some form.

The global economy has been hard on everyone and crowdfunding artists is one of the first thing to go when budgets start getting cut. A lot of patrons have had to cancel or reduce their contribution in the last year. While I love my huge contributors to bits, my ideal subscription profile would be many smaller donations that folks can maintain, so that I don't lose 5-10% of my income because one person gets laid off. That's why I make one of my most tangible rewards––the monthly newsletter––active at only the $3 tier. It's my small way of saying thanks for keeping the lights on and keeping me writing. So if you've got a few extra dollars a month you can spare, and you like what I'm doing and want to see me keep going/do more, helping me pay rent and buy groceries would be a splendid way to do so.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Nine Bits of Advice for Week 4 of NaNoWriMo

If you've been reading this blog for any length of time––especially if you've been around at least a year––you've probably noticed I have an....um....conflicted relationship with NaNoWriMo. I try to talk most starting writers out of it, I firmly believe that what we really need is a more reasonable daily word count goal and about, oh, eleven months more of effort, and watching writers who burn out doubt they are real writers if they don't "win" makes me want to go to Ikea's table section and just start flipping. But once November 1st hits and the dice are cast, you stay away from my precious cinnamon rolls who are doing their best unless you want full Mama Writer Bear coming after you!

But don't take it from me. I'll turn it over to the version of me with the black hair and the goatee.

Hello, everyone! Evil Chris here. 

At this point you've rounded the last bend and the finish line is in sight. Things are looking good. You're probably realizing what a mess your manuscript is, but somewhere between the NaNo goal, your dogged belief in your own ability, and perhaps a sprig of sunken cost, you're plowing onward. You may have even reached the point where it's getting easier. You know roughly how long it's going to hit your daily goals.

Whether you make it or not, you've done something amazing. Just a little further. And here's a listicle to help!

1- You are probably going to make it!

I bring glad tidings. Statistically speaking, if you've gotten this far, you're probably going to make it, unless something weird goes wrong. (And you couldn't have foreseen that sort of thing anyway.) It's week two where the pixie dust inspiration really has to give way to the slog of "Fuck, this is actually WORK," and if you didn't get that message in week two, week THREE surely hammered it home. At this point, you're just cranking out the work every day.

In fact, somewhere in week three, things may have started getting easier. (That's the habit of daily writing kicking in.) Now, week four, you're on the downslide. You're getting close. You just have to keep doing what you're doing. 

1667 words a day.

2- Don't think. Just write.

You are probably off the rails. Maybe completely. And I don't mean like you can see where the train hopped off the track and slid down the embankment. I mean the train lifted off and flew away from your Nov 1st idea while giving you the finger.

This is what I think of your outline, pal.

You might be wondering how to get back to your planned end by the 50k word count. You might be as surprised as anyone at the shit the characters are pulling. You might be making up details about 14th century Constantinople's public bathroom infrastructure for a fight scene. But the important thing is that you just keep writing. You might be trying to edit as you go. DON'T!  Don't do any of that stuff. Don't worry about it. Don't get distracted with research. Don't edit. Don't stop writing.

(I'm not necessarily weighing in on the "edit as you go" process of regular writing. That tends to be a personal choice. [I do it as kind of a "recap," and it helps me immensely to reframe.] But it's no way to write 50,000 words in a month.)

As for wrapping it all up on Nov 30th? You know....even in the extra official NaNo rules (which most would do well to augment or ignore anyway), there's nothing that says the 49,999th word has to be "The" and the 50,000th word has to be "End. You can win this thing, and still take another 10k words to wrap it up. All the computer program does when you upload your manuscript is count your words. It doesn't judge if you have a good denouement. 

3- Take a moment to appreciate this feeling.

You've now been writing every day for 21 days. How does it feel? Is it starting to feel easier? Is it starting to feel like a habit? Do you come to the page with ideas? Is it starting to feel like the words come before you actually sit down?

Of course, this is exactly what I try to tell people over and over again about the writing process. Naturally, not every single brain works exactly the same way, but this is such a predictable result of writing daily that it can't be underscored enough. Perhaps you might take a moment to realize that THIS feeling of routine and regimen is what I'm advocating for––this moment where many start to push through the resistance and turn what is a scattershot of sporadic fits and starts into a sustained pace. 

I mean, it's possible that for you, day twenty-one is as hard as day seven or eight when the initial enthusiasm starts to wear off, but for most people, that's just not the case. 

4- Make allowances for Thanksgiving.

If you're here in the U.S., Thanksgiving is somewhere in the fourth week. (It's literally the fourth Thursday in November for those who don't know, so the date floats around from the 22nd to the 28th.) You've probably got a busier day planned than most of the rest of the month (even if it's just "busy" with food comas, brining turkeys, and football games), so either figure out early when you're going to duck away to do that writing, or make sure you have a plan for a few hundred extra words in each of the days before and after. 

5- Take a breath if you're deep in word debt. 

Listen, if you've been doing this for 20 days, you've already accomplished something spectacular. If you haven't managed to hit 1667 words per day or you missed a couple of days and you're running behind, just take a breath. 50,000 words in only a month is an OUTRAGEOUS pace. Most professional novelists don't average this. The vast majority of folks can't (and DON'T) keep up with it. You have a lot to be proud of even if you're running behind. 

There's almost no concrete benefit to hitting 50k words. If you registered officially with the site, you can get a banner and certificate. Oh, and you are given access to purchase some merch like t-shirts. Regardless, there is absolutely no detriment to NOT hitting 50k words. If you only got to 40k, that's still an incredible month of work, worthy of a bard's song.

Still, if you're determined to catch up, think it through instead of just being harder and harder on yourself as you slip behind. There's no reason to think that you're suddenly going to be able to double or triple your output on a regular day. If your writing pace is manageable, and you've been finishing up with a bit of free time, you can divide your debt by eight and try to whittle away at it a little each day. Just be warned that if you have been missing by a few hundred words a day all month long, there's no reason to think that you will suddenly be able to write much much more for no reason and with no change. You might just be a slower-paced writer (which is okay!). If you probably aren't going to be able to catch up piecemeal, perhaps you can see what it's possible to do about getting the last couple of days of the month off from some or most or all of your responsibilities, so you can just crawl into a hole and do nothing but focus on pounding out words like bullet casings in the third reel of a Matrix movie. 

6- Plan your aftercare. 

Win or lose, you should be thinking about how you celebrate. You just did something amazing (even if you didn't "win"). You've been putting in hours a day for an entire month on something just for the sheer love of doing it. What are you going to do to reward yourself? Enjoy some video games for HOURS? Take yourself out to dinner? Binge the entire season/series of something you've been listening to people gush about all month, but you couldn't watch because you had to sequester yourself away and write? You don't have to take yourself to Paris for a month, but it should be something non-trivial to match how non-trivial what you just accomplished is. 

7- If you don't succeed, it's okay. If you can't do it because of whatever, be kind to yourself. But please don't give up. 

This could almost appropriately be 2b (above). If you start thinking, you might want to scrap the whole thing because it's too poorly written, too far off the rails, too this, too that, you're just thinking too hard. You can always edit a shitty draft. But you can't edit an abandoned one that you didn't even finish. Go ahead and finish. 

A lot of things can GO WRONG that are legitimate and will mean you don't finish by the deadline. Maybe you just didn't have enough time to hit 50k. Maybe you are more of a 500-words-a-day type (and now you KNOW that!). Maybe you or a loved one falls ill (here's hoping it's not Covid Uncle Blatbrat brought you by not actually quarantining but saying he did....the jerkwad.) You might have a mental illness crash. Your teenager might try to floor the car out of the garage before taking it out of reverse. These things aren't giving up. They're just life. Take it from someone who was that "gifted" kid who gave up at a whole lot so I wouldn't have to face failure. (Can't feel bad if I never tried, right?) But what I'm really hoping here is that you don't give up. Even if you fail. They are not the same thing.

Okay, but this song is actually about.....
Eh, you know what? That's cool. 

The worst thing that could happen is you learn a lot about writing, have an amazing experience under your belt, a more developed sense of what it takes to finish a novel, and dozens of lessons about how not to write.

And here's a little secret from someone who's been on deadline more than a few times: sometimes that's when the magic happens. You get under pressure and you start cooking hotter....kind of like your Instant Pot. Turns out there's a mistake in there that....well, it WORKS! Or damn it if that train wreck doesn't give you a really great idea! Or you punch something out in a fever of keystrokes and the next day you come back and....there's something to it. I can't tell you what might happen if you keep going, but I can absolutely tell you what won't happen if you give up.

8- On Dec. 1st, Keep Writing!

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 Herculean-trails proud, but it is by no stretch of the imagination a novel that is ready for publication. (At best you have a VERY rough first draft....maybe even a zeroth draft.) 

But this is how to do that thing which so many aspiring writers find so elusive, and if you love writing (and the oft florid prose of the people who tell me they would "die for Riley writing" seems to suggest that many do), holding onto this discipline instead of taking the next eleven months off may not definitely get you to your goals, but it is a capital idea. You don't have to continue on with the same four or more hours and 1667 words a day on a single work in progress. (That impression might legit be part of the reason the idea is so scary.) But there is a reason the advice to read a lot and write a lot of so many working writers and almost all "household names" is so consistently similar, when (as a general rule) writers don't agree on much of anything.

You're almost there! Go. you!