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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?

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Try To Remember The Kind of September


Try to remember the kind of September
When compared to August, your hits seemed mellow.
Try to remember the kind of September
When Chris made four dollars, and gave a bellow.
Try to remember the kind of September
When Chris had enough for morello jello (but not a bordello)
Try to remember the kind of September
Try to remember, and if you remember,
Then follow....


....this website.

Follow follow follow follow follow.


September was a great month.  It's going to be a long while before any month here at Writing About Writing can compete with August and the semi-viral spread of 20 Ways to Sabotage Yourself as a Writer.

However, as you can see we are still doing pretty good even if you take out the anomaly of August.  September's page views is 4,700 (roughly) while July's were 1,370.  Even though we're nowhere near the 11,500 of August, that's still over three times more visits.


Coming This October...

Expect a few articles on NaNoWriMo this October since it's my last chance to warn people of the horrors that await them in November.  Plus whatever book I end up reading from the poll will probably get written up this month.  I'm still playing Skyrim, so that's going to get the next part of its review soon.  Also an article on why talent is a lot like a Dungeons and Dragons game with a screwed up, Monty Hall dungeon master.   

All this, our usual bevy of guest bloggers and their zany antics, a few more letters for the glossary, more characters, at least a dozen jokes about threesomes, and more!

Friday, September 28, 2012

It's That Time Again

Already?

Yes, I'm afraid so.  It's been six weeks.  Six glorious weeks of free entertainment.

I'm sure you've spent many a sleepless night wondering what you can do to help Writing About Writing go right on offering glorious free entertainment.  You might even have spent hours staring at yourself in the mirror and wondering how you can help W.A.W. offer more in the way of even more glorious (but free) articles, even though they take a long time to write, and extra glorious fiction offerings.  Because you, my friend, probably like to partake of the glorious!

Plus you'll help get Unsupportive Girlfriend off my back about when I'm going to use my degree to get a "real" job.

So every six weeks I will remind people how they can help.  As deals go, it doesn't get much better than that: free with a reminder how to help if you want to every month and a half.  Even the musician on BART points to his tip jar like every three minutes.

I'm not begging.  I'm just making sure you're aware of HOW to help if you want to.

1- A Small Donation.

2- Turn off your adblock.

3- Help spread the word.


1- A small donation- My "tip jar" is over to the left.  It uses Paypal, which I know is the devil, but it's the only option of its kind right now.  For only one or two bucks you can make a writer feel ten feet tall and increase my usual daily income by about 100-200%.  Paypal takes 30 cents a transaction, so a few dollars is better than one, but everything helps and is awesome.

2- Turn off your adblock-  Given what I write about, and the fact that the ads are tailored to keywords, my ads are usually pretty cool.  They're for things you might be interested in.  Scifi books, video games, cool movies...even writing programs and stuff.  I'm NOT asking you to click those ads until/unless you're interested.  I could get in a lot of trouble, and even lose my ability to host ads if you "fake click."  But most people don't even SEE my ads because of adblock programs they have as addons to their web browser.  But you can turn those off for ONE domain without turning them off completely, and if you turn them off here, you might see something you're interested in.

3- Help spread the word- Sharing an article helps more than you think.  Sometimes it doubles or triples traffic on one of my pages.  If you think you have peeps that might be interested, just reposting it can really help me spread out.  Plus any kind of social media you want to give me a positive click on (whether it's a "Like" on FB or Stumbleupon, an "upvote" on Redit, or a "+1" on G+) helps immensely.  I really like Stumbleupon likes since those increase the likelihood that someone will get my page in their "stumbles" and the ONLY people who will see my pages are those who have listed "Writing" as an interest.

Mostly, I just can't emphasize enough how just the tiniest efforts to help get me out there (so I'm not always pimping myself out like a used car salesman to my friends) can really make a huge difference.  I'm still in the peanuts phase of all this.  If you get me 20 more hits, you've probably increased my daily totals by 10%.  That makes a massive difference and really will help the longevity of W.A.W.


I'm not going to quit writing ever, and I'm not going to quit blogging anytime soon, but my ability to bring you more of my thoughtful articles and more fiction is tied directly into how this all continues to grow and expand and start to seem "real."

Fitzy and the New Look

New look?  Yes?  No?  I demand more color?  It makes me feel like W.A.W. is TRUTH.  Kill it with fire?  I want your babies?  (Be sure and let me know about that last one.  I have Thursdays free.)

I figured it was time to get rid over those birds.  Those birds were poseurs.  I asked them last week what kind of books they liked to read, and they told me that they watched a lot of HBO shows and indie movies, but didn't actually read much.

Stupid birds.

Anyway, I'm going to leave this template up for a bit to let people's initial reaction to change wear off, but I'd love input at this point or even an up or down vote on first impressions.  Then I might try something new.  Unfortunately my skill with HTML and blogger limits me to a few preset templates, and they seem to all have their own issues--some have entire subscriptions.


After punching F. Scott Fitzgerald in the nose, Leela Bruce said she felt a lot better and suggested that I remind everyone of some of the good things Fitzgerald has said, and the fact that Gatsby really is one of the best books "evah."  (Her words, not mine.)

So...Fitzgerald quotes:


The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. 

No grand idea was ever born in a conference, but a lot of foolish ideas have died there. 

First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you. 

Life is essentially a cheat and its conditions are those of defeat; the redeeming things are not happiness and pleasure but the deeper satisfactions that come out of struggle. 

What'll we do with ourselves this afternoon? And the day after that, and the next thirty years? 

Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Leela Bruce Kung Fu Fights F. Scott Fitzgerald

Good afternoon.  Leela Bruce here.  It's been a while since I beat the crap out of a dead white guy, so I'm looking forward to today.

F. Scott Fitzgerald got onto my radar with his quotation not to write unless one has something worth saying.  ("You don't write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say.")

Oh do my fists ever tingle when I see bullshit like that.

I was digging through some of Chris's old entries and I found out that he once had an encounter with a creative writing instructor who basically demanded the same thing.  There's a strong concept of "the book inside you" or "the thing you're dying to say."  There's a real sense that you won't (or can't) do any "real" writing until you figure out what that thing is as well.  It is so prevalent in the pedagogy of CW programs that rather than focus on teaching a marketable skill (who goes to college for something like that, right?) an inordinate amount of energy is spent trying to "defeat" those trivial themes students are interested in exploring to get to some mythical creamy center of "worthy" subject matter--which... apparently has to do with childhood trauma and/or sexuality if the overwhelming subject matter of "literary" magazine short stories is any indication.

Yep, definitely time to kick some ass.  It's probably not fair that I'm going to punch Fitzgerald in the face for every high-art, lit-snob, writing teacher that has come along since, but who says I'm fair?

Unless you're a masters in literature, or a seriously huge book nerd like Chris, there's only an infinitesimal statistical likelihood that you've read more than one thing of Fitzgerald's.  Ever.   Granted it is largely considered to be "The Great American Novel" in as much as what is missing from that should be: "The Great American Novel of White Heterosexual Males of the Last Century" but it is hard to say it isn't a decent read.   The Great Gatsby is one of those books that almost everyone has read, most have read a few times, and this was even true before it was basically installed as a fixture in the American high school curriculum.

You may have heard a few things about Fitzgerald if you take an interest in that sort of thing.  You might know he was born in the last few years of the 19th century, and did most of his well-known writing in the 20's.  You may know about his friendship with Hemingway, about his raging alcoholism, about the fact that his wife was named after the eighteenth best selling video game franchise of all time (Zelda--we're glad she wasn't named Thetrisa).  You may know he lived opulently in the French Riviera with other expatriats in a very romantiziced "writerly life" that still leads to misconceptions about writing to this day.  These are the stories that are popular.

But here's what you maybe didn't know about Fitzy.  This man was the biggest sellout ever to walk the purple mountains majesty.  Take that you money-hating Humanities professors who think commercialism is a dirty word!  Fitzgerald was the literary equivalent of a two dollar Bangkok hooker.  This guy couldn't convince Zelda he was worth taking a chance on until he sold This Side of Paradise (which did quite well for the day.)  Then he goes back to her.  If someone told me they couldn't get with me because I didn't have enough money, what I would do is peel out in their front lawn, race over to my nearest place of worship, and thank everything I think has any influence on such things that I found out before I was financially entwined.  This guy finds out she's a gold digger and then COMES BACK WITH SOME GOLD.

The really sad part is that he was absolute shit with money.  After his first novel went viral, he up and blew all his money....in the French Rivera....during the depression.  How fucking stupid do you have to be to realize that spending all your money during the depression is not a good plan?  You would think that somewhere along the line "Maybe we should move back to the States" would have crossed his mind.  And in order to make money more he started writing short stories with what he called "commercial twists" (insisting they were deep and meaningful literary masterpieces within earlier drafts--before he grudgingly added the commercial parts).  Both Fitzgerald and Hemingway called his work with Hollywood "whoring," but he did it anyway, and it soured that friendship.  He sold short stories to magazines like Esquire to help shore up a flagging income.  He borrowed so many advances from his agent that they had a falling out.  Essentially he drank himself to death, claiming he had TB to hide the symptoms of his alcoholism, having heart attacks in his early forties and his fatal one at forty-four.

Are you starting to get the picture?  Maybe not so much a guy you want to be taking advice from?  Even if you happened to be alive during the time.  And you might be aware that there have been a few cultural and social changes since then as well.

Let me help bring it into even more focus.  He was expelled from St. Pauls for being a poor student.  He dropped out of Princeton for being a poor student.  He joined the army after WWI was pretty much over.  He adopted the lifestyle of New York Celebrities, which was why he was always in financial straits.  When his wife, Zelda, published a book about their lives together and being captured by a monster named Gannon, not only did Fitzy get the book changed, but he also made Zelda's psychiatrists promise that they wouldn't let her write anymore of "his material."  (Men could pull that shit on their wives back then.)  Just so I make sure that last part was crystal clear, he got proprietary about their relationship as being "his material."   He also talks constantly about the quality of genius in a way that makes it startlingly apparent that he thinks he unequivocally is one.

This guy pretty much screams "entitled douchemongerface" from every pore of his body.  Not only did he not really "have anything to say" when he wrote for a paycheck again and again (and again and again), but apparently what he did have to say involved a control of a story that we would find shocking and hideous in any modern context.  Today, post-colonial literary analysis, Orientalism, and critical race theory have some pretty pointed things to say about the idea of voices in power that are unable to let go of controlling the narrative.

Now...when you're a young, white, heterosexual male, living the celebrity life the French Riviera off the proceeds from your FIRST AND ONLY book (technically it was his second--another was rejected) during the 1920's, when you're pretty much convinced you're a genius, literary and otherwise, despite flunking out of everywhere, and when you sort of view all the stories that you're involved in as "belonging to you" (even the one formed by the relationship between you and another fully sentient person), you reveal something pretty fundamental about your sense of self importance.  Maybe you think that writing is something one does with purpose and determination like a precision laser, and maybe you have a certain disdain for those who use it in any other way.

But when a writer needs a paycheck (and not just because they overdid it in the Riviera but maybe because they want to pay your normal bills) they may just write to say something.  When a writer writes more than four books before they're even a success, never mind EVER, they may develop a sense of what they want to say over their career.  When a writer is not the most privileged voice in this world, but instead comes from a culture where their voices are marginalized, they may need to FIND that voice.  Joan Didion puts this succinctly as "I write to find out what I want to say," but many other writers echo her sentiments.  When a writer has spent their recent cultural life having their stories stolen by assholes like you, Fitzy, they may need to find their words and even struggle a bit with them.  Trust us when we say that the writing life is not so easy as it was for you Mr. One Book Success.  Most of us do our best whoring at the BEGINNING of our career and aren't so self righteous about it later on.

And let's not forget when and where he was born.  Life wasn't necessarily simpler back then, but people sure seemed to pretend that it was.  America's star was on the rise.  Men were MEN.  And women were women.  And no one questioned those roles (or was taken seriously if they did).  And everything in Fitzy's writing suggests he was pretty okay with that.  And no one had yet looked at The Scream and thought "Yeah, that pretty much says it all.".  And no one had realized that the "war to end all wars" not only wouldn't, but was going to have a higher-budgeted and bigger-special-effects-sequenced sequel.  And no one yet had to deal with the multiculturalism of an anti-communism immigration policy or women's liberation or civil rights or any of that stuff.  And intellectually they didn't yet have deconstruction or post modernism or role theory or other kinds of criticism that involve the serious question about certain voices having control over all the stories. A privileged voice today might sit and wonder what the hell it even has worth saying.  But you didn't really have that problem, did ya Fitzy?

Those of us who the universe DOESN'T revolve around have to actually work at this shit.

So that's why you get this power punch to the face Scotty, my boy.  It's not because you never said anything poignant, meaningful, or resonant, or because your one uberbook isn't AWESOME.   It isn't because you aren't a fine writer, for you are.  It's for that crap that still gets echoed today by every high art snob as a reason to tell someone not to write what they enjoy.  You get it right in the face.

KA-POW!!!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Clearly A New Character is Needed

Obviously, with two appearances and almost certainly more to come, Evil Italics Voice will be requiring his own character slot in the Cast and Crew.

One of the most pernicious voices inside my head is constantly telling me I can't do anything, shouldn't try, and that I'm no good at the things I do attempt.  Like the Shadows in Wraith: The Oblivion, this internal voice seeks only to make me let go and give up.  And it is really good at picking the most hurtful things to say, and even interrupts me when I'm writing--   I'll take it from here Chris, since you can't really rub two words together to save your life.  I'm not even a little evil.  I'm the best thing that ever happen to Chris.  I keep his wanton ego in check.  If it weren't for me, he would actually think he is a capable writer with some measure of skill, and he would even go so far as to think that people want to read what he write.  I make sure to keep those delusions of grandeur from putting him in a position where people will really tell him what they think.  I also remind him of his failings since he so often forgets them.  We all have our limitations.  Some more than others.  A few, like Chris, a LOT more than others.  See he literally doesn't comprehend how pretentious he is and that everyone around him is basically just humoring him.  I help him stay out of trouble.  I'm his gardian angel really.  Yeah...kind of like that.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Hope They Make Aston Martin One-77's in Black

Yesterday...I made a dollar.


Okay, not quite a dollar.  Still, anytime I make something within five or six cents, this part of Grand Theft Auto III always echoes in my head and gives me the giggles.  This is from a commercial that you would hear on the radio when you are driving around in a car.  You should listen: it's only a 42 seconds long, and it's pretty funny.  




Now imagine me hearing this "commercial" a hundred or so times over the course of two months as I drive around Liberty City trying to get in good with the mafia so I can hunt down my traitorous girlfriend, combine it with the absurdity of how little I make doing this and what a joke the financial end can be right now, and you'll probably realize why I can't get that little kid out of my head every time I make a dollar.

Financial Pledge

Clearly I'm well on my way to entry into the 1%, so it's time to start printing up my financial pledge.  It seemed silly to put this up when I was making so little, but since (wait for it)..."Yesterday, I made a dollar!" it's totally going to become important.

So here is my pledge: I will only ever take half the money I make from Writing About Writing.  I'll put 30% of it aside for taxes since it doesn't get taxed before I get it.

10% of it will always go to the improvement of this blog.  Yes, I actually have dreams of layouts that don't suck and backgrounds that aren't templates, of pictures that might have something to do with writing (not just birds), and I'd even like to move over to Wordpress some day since they can do a little more.   If I ever get to the point where the layout and design is pristine, I'll start looking into getting a copy editor for some of my more important articles.

And the last 10% will go to a local children's literacy charity.  I picked these guys for now: Share Literacy since 100% of their donations go to books and they operate in my area.

I know this all might not matter much when I get that first check and I spend ten dollars on Share Literacy but I'm hoping down the road, it might make a difference.  Also...I only need so much, so if numbers ever really did get big, I would adjust these percentages as well.

Oh, and I won't keep printing up how much money I make when it stops being funny how little it is.  I come from a culture where that's considered quite gauche.  But I will keep transparency "on file" (so to speak) for anyone who is interested in seeing the numbers and making sure my money is where kids' books' mouth is.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Art: Like Keysi/JKD/Krav Maga--Do What Works

I tend to be a pragmatic person.

You mean when you're not spraying yourself with pepper spray, getting your finger stuck in a drain for 45 minutes, or jumping full speed off a stairwell with a low ceiling and hitting your head so hard that you--and I'm quoting your friend now--flipped all the way over and landed on your stomach?

Shut up evil italics voice.  All those things had...mitigating circumstances.  Anyway, this is my story.

Once upon a time a slightly younger version of me was out with a group of my science and math friends and an argument broke out about whether a plane could take off from a conveyor belt.  There was no way I could follow the science, so I just watched them talking past each other for about a half an hour.  Things got heated, then superheated, and then one of my friends turned into plasma and melted through the floor.

I knew we had turned a corner from lively debate into something much worse when the nutritionist called the PhD in astrophysics a "fucking tard."

Well, the physicist looked at me and said, "Okay, since we're not listening to the physics doctorate about about physics anymore, what does the English major think?"

"I think there would be a conveyor belt airport if it were more than theoretically possible," I said.

My friends got a laugh out of that (largely, I think, related to the number of empty beer bottles on the table between us), and we went on with our evening with no further talk of planes or conveyor belts.

But seriously that was all I had to give.  I understand the problem is one of perspective and there are considerations like the ability of the wheels to go twice as fast as the plane and the length of the conveyor belt or something.  A plane still needs air under the wings for lift or some shit,so it won't just lift off from a fixed position, but it could get the speed it needs in a really short space by rocketing off the end of the belt.  And something about two trains leaving from different cities or something.  Anyway, I'm STILL not really clear on the science, but the point is both are kind of right and both kind of missing something, but in the end, even if it might be possible, it isn't really practical.

Actually I can take off on three joggers' treadmills if you position them right.
Fuck you.  I'm a dragon.  ..plane.  A dragonplane.

Can we expect this diarrhea of the word processor to achieve some vague sort of point any time prior the Aztec apocalypse? 

Shut up evil italics voice.  I'm getting there.

I've had similar conversations about exercise.  Being a on again/off again gym rat, people sometimes ask me how they should be working out.  If you've ever had a friend who worked out for more than a month or picked up a fitness magazine or--God forbid, you poor, poor person--asked on a social media for some advice about losing weight, you are probably aware that there are a few...uh....competing theories out there about how best to lose weight.

Not only is every Pilates/Crossfit fad workout going to have its legions of born again fanatics who shamble up to you and desperately want to eat your brains, but just the whole idea of what you should be doing is in contention.  Should you focus on cardio or on resistance training.  Legions of weight lifters have things to say about muscles burning calories, metabolism, and how pointless long sessions of cardio can be.  (They point to all those obese marathoners as evidence.  Oh wait...)  The health industry and another whole legion focus on cardio and burning calories.  Cardio before weights.  Cardio after weights.  Nutritionists, doctors, physiologists, body builders, and even olympic trainers are all doing their best to recreate the Battle of Stirling.  William Walace will be played by Ryan Gosling.  ("Hey Girl....  They may take our LIVES!    But they'll never take our....knowledge that the fashion industry is making billions promoting low self esteem.")

The third machine from the left is the one true way.   All the others less than.

And a lot of people asked me, "Chris, what is the best work out?"  And my reply to that is always the same.  "The one you'll keep doing."

No one asks you for advice on anything body related...except maybe how to eat a lot of pizza.

Please shut up.  This was back before my free time became so precious--back in the before era of the long, long ago.  Back when we had reached the tipping point of the statistical probability that someone who said they hated Black Eyed Peas was not talking about southern food.

I don't care if it's playing squash with a friend, joining a derby league, reading a book while you jog for two hours, lifting weights with your buddy, or doing a Navy Seal workout routine, if you keep doing it, it will work. Unless you're bringing a bag of chips and just sitting still on a stationary bike to watch the free gym TV, if you're going to the gym three or four times a week, you will probably get results.  So if something is fun and you like it, do that.  If something is boring and you hate doing it, you'll probably start to find excuses pretty quickly.

I hate resistance training, and if I give that emphasis in a workout, it's not long before I start seeing working out as a chore that I'd rather skip.  Excuses start rolling in, and then I'm gone.  I also get bored easily doing cardio by itself.  But if I bring a book, I'm happy for hours.  I can burn 1500-2000 calories and not even notice.  A few weeks of that three or four times a week, and you betcha I can tell a difference.  So go ahead and tell me I should be lifting weights.  Tell me ALL. YOU. WANT.

Still, my work outs aren't really the point of this article.

You should tell them about The Megathalon.  ~snerk~

Shut up!  It was...nothing.  Forget about it.

A few months ago I wrote about how a writer really needs to find the time that works for them.  The magic of creation is a personal thing, and someone else's routine isn't for you.   You might do morning writing for a few months because you're employing the techniques of Dorothea Brande, but once you're writing smoothly every time you sit down, you probably are going to notice a time that works best for you.

But this really goes for anything.

It's not just time that is subject to this.  All aspects of writing should be like this.  Do what works.  Do whatever works.  And most importantly of all: do whatever works for you!

I once saw a person writing into a loose leaf folder with a really fancy fountain pen.  "This is what X did," she said.  I can't even remember who X was anymore: Bronte or Austin or Plath or someone.  I asked her if that helped, and she said she didn't like it.  She much preferred to write on a word processor because she could type much faster and keep up with her brain a lot better.  Plus she could go on longer before her hand did it.  Why on earth, I asked her, would you keep doing that then?  "Because X did it."

Oh.

Standing on formality can sometimes be very, very ineffective though....

Some martial arts you can go learn at the local school are hundreds of years old.  Many come with traditions of culture and etiquette and formality.  You can't even take a class before buying a two hundred and fifty dollar uniform.  You have to do a special bow when you come in.  You treat the Sifu/Sansei  with deference even though we don't treat any other teachers that way in the U.S. You don't learn a punch until you spend hours working on stances.

But many other martial arts are intensely pragmatic.  They have no uniform; you just come in your sweats and a t-shirt.  They have no deep stances; they just tell you not to stand straight on and if you forget the teacher pops you and you sure as hell don't forget again.  You call the teacher by their first name.  They aren't going to stand on ceremony.  They aren't worried about stealing anything from any other form that might be effective.  They are hybrids of five or six forms taking what works and leaving the rest like the raccoons of the martial art world--wily little thieves that get into everything and respect nothing.  They care what works.

Jeet Kun Do is so non-formalized and focused on adaptation and improvisation that Bruce Lee kind of didn't want people to call it a form.  Keysi incorporates half a dozen styles into something that is absurdly messy and looks kind of silly but horrifically brutal, and Krav Maga, of course, is the national Israeli martial art that trains people to kill fifty guys in a room using toenail clippers and the ripped off limbs of the dead and is SO fucking horrific that practitioners often report not using it in fights where no one pulled a knife, crowbar, or AK-47 because the stakes weren't high enough.

These martial arts focus on what works.  They won't say that a straight on punch isn't in keeping with the balance of energies and circular motions of the yin and yang.  They will say "try to hit the bridge of the nose so you shatter cartilage fragments into the asshole's brain!"

So...today we're going to do Writing About Martial Arts?  Or just Writing About Nothing?

Shut up.

This pragmatic approach is what you want in writing.  You want cartilage fragments in the brain! Metaphorical cartilage, of course. In the metaphorical brain. But metaphorically speaking...just like that. Don't get up at four if you don't like getting up early. Don't sit at a desk if you need to move. Don't use a fountain pen like James Joyce did if you prefer typing. You want to focus on what works. You want to focus on what gives you results. And you want to leave the formality and the ceremony of others behind.

Unless of course that formality is what's working for you....then you want it. But make sure it's your formal structure. If you do your best writing in the dead of night after you tuck the kids in and have a wonderful bowel movement, more power to ya.  You can even bow to your fountain pen if you want.

I have conversations about my stories with a wooden dragon I got six years ago from Chinatown; I'm the last person with any right to take someone's affectations away.

My "Morning Writing-Fu" has destroyed your "After Work Fu."
There can be only one.....

.....way to write!

So what you're saying is that spending 3 hours a day on Facebook works for you? Also, that you can't fight?

Please shut up evil italics voice. I'm begging you. Please.

If the process of other artists gives you the springboard for ideas, that's wonderful, but don't be beholden to them.  But when it comes to your art, do what works. Do whatever works.   If you find writing at three in the morning while standing on your head works, do it.  If you find writing two sentences every hour works, do it.

Be careful though!!

There are some general things that usually work.  Really.  Like writing every day.  And only you really know (really) if something works better for you or if you're giving yourself permission to not work. A lot of people will say "that doesn't work for me" as an excuse not to put in any real effort--guess how their careers are coming along? But just don't be afraid to get under the hood and make any modifications that might help.

Artists need to be pragmatic. About time. About money. About creativity. About energy. About perspective. About everything they do, they can't afford to get caught up someone else's baggage and anyone else's bullshit.

So don't forget with any advice--even with MY advice, as sage and above reproach as it is--don't be afraid to toss it if it doesn't work.

Do what works.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Hate Mail! (Or Love Mail?)

There are certain milestones in a writer's life.  Certain guidepost markers that let the writer know that they are moving out of a solitary hobby and into the public sphere--that they are, in a manner of speaking, "making it."  The first publication.  The first paycheck.  The first book deal.  The first advance.  The first enraged editor boiling their pet rabbit.

While a writer might not ever make millions or get groupies there are certain signs that their writing is getting out into the world and making an impact.

One such milestone is hate mail.  And I got some, baby.  I GOT SOME!!!!  After nine months of sweat and toil, someone I didn't know took the time to tell me I suck.

No writer is beloved by all:

No SERIOUSLY.

There are pages and pages dedicated to hatred of Shakespeare.  People who study Joyce don't like him. Many people think Virginia Woolf is unreadable. Faulkner turns stomachs. You can get a high society meeting to turn into a back alley brawl by introducing the topic of whether Hemingway was a genius. I myself often wish in my more baleful moments that Sylvia Plath had had her fateful encounter with an oven before writing The Bell Jar. Stephen King gets death threats. There are entire CAREERS dedicated to dismantling Dan Brown for humor and sport online. JK Rowling is largely regarded by millions to produce writing worse than her mid-tier fanfic.

Do you think anyone would care this much about what they perceive to be bad writing if these people were unknowns?

Fuck no, they wouldn't.

The more popular a writer, the more people are going to take time out of their day to talk about how they suck. And no one will (or even can) spend their precious life essence trashing you if you're not out there to be trashed.

So for every writer, there will always be the first anonymous hate mail. The cherry-popping cowardly snipe taken from the shadows by someone who not only noticed you, but then stopped to read, and THEN took time out of their day to talk smack.

I have arrived!

This is probably how the person wanted me to feel.



But, unfortunately for them, this is how I actually felt.




So what WAS this hate mail?  I know you're dying to know.   It came in on my top entry of the day, but it was about my Who Is This Clown page.  I can only assume the person wrote the comment where they did because they couldn't write a comment on one of my fixed pages.  I say that I can only assume because it's honestly difficult to tell exactly what the person was objecting to.

Anonymous Wrote:

I like your "about me" page much better. 19 paragraphs of word sophistry fucked my eyeballs. i mean, really: who is this pretentious clown? I think I'd rather chug a jug of cholorox bleach than read this blithering drivel. your writing serves as an antiseptic to sanity. 


I don't know about you...but I'm not even entirely sure this is actually "hate mail."  I mean, I think it is, but it's tough to tell when the writer has trouble with things like words and sentences.

Unfortunately the pretentious thing is accurate. Tragically so. It turns out my pretentiousness is the entire reason a multi-dimensional race of genocidal cephalopods are trying to eradicate humanity.

My bad.

But the antiseptic to sanity, that's where this letter gets weird. Anyone who knows me would know I would consider that one of the highest compliments I could ever receive.  Unless they meant that it cleans sanity...like a sanity antiseptic. (Saniseptic?) It's not really clear what they meant since written communication skills are clearly not within this writer's skill set.

Assuming they meant that it was KILLING their sanity...AWESOME!!  Considering how fucked up and stupid most "sanity" looks.....

(People spending money they don't really have on things they don't really need to impress people they don't really like or regretting 90% of their decisions when they lay dying and wishing they lived a life a lot more like the people they once called crazy)

....I'm pretty okay being an antiseptic to that.

But now, a somber note. Take care, my cowardly commenter. Seriously. I don't want you to hurt yourself.

If I ever felt the need to imbibe toxic chemicals rather than continue reading something (And I got pretty close during book three of the Hunger Games) I would probably just stop reading.  This doesn't seem to have occurred to you, and I worry that the ready availability of bleach may be a toxic combination with your inability to conceive of such alternatives.

Lastly, a protip: I'm not much of a grammar wank, but if you want to talk about "word sophistry," you might want to use capital letters, proper punctuation, and spell Clorox correctly. It might be the difference in making me feel bad for a few minutes vs. laughing so hard I needed to pause before being able to finish the last sentence. 

The Best of the Mailbox

If you want a question answered on The Mailbox, just put "For The Mailbox" in your subject line in an email to chris.brecheen@gmail.com .  I will use your first name unless you tell me explicitly that I can use your whole name and/or you would prefer to remain completely anonymous.  I can't promise I'll post everything I get, that I'll respond to abject stupidity, or that I'm going to keep posting every anonymous attempt to hurt my feelings if I have anything else to use instead, but if you write a thoughtful question or comment--even if it disagrees with me--I'll will honestly do my best to try to get it up here and write a little something in reply.

If we ever get to a point where there's just too much mail to answer it all, I'll pick the best questions and comments (which I promise won't simply be the most complementary).

Rage Against the Brecheen: Hate mail--and my response to it--does so well, it deserves its own menu. Come see the teeming millions of the internet (usually anonymously) try to take me down a peg or two.

Comic Sans                                                                              That "What the Author Meant" Meme
My Top Three Achievements                                                   Bits and Pieces
Grammar Questions I Have No Business Answering               Revision Land
What Does "Good Writing" Look Like                                       Recant. Reflect. Refine.
Giving Thanks and the Oxford Comma                                    Writing Every Day
Unsupportive GF's Wrath and My Stance on Grammar            Facebook Questions
The Value of TV/Movies to a Writer                                         Speech to Text Software/Season2
What Do I Want From Writing About Writing?                          Just How Much Do You Make?
Scraping the Bottom of the Barrel                                             Should I Outline My Book?
Why can't I make money?  My friends like me                         Whatever Works
Overcoming Inertia/ Sans Love of Writing                               Critique Groups
Strangely Inappropriate Non-Writing Questions                      Traditional vs Digital Publishing
"Creepy Guy Feedback" Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4              Little Kid's Grammar
Feedback and Follow Up (Q's about past Mailboxes)              Coming Out As Feminist
Is There Anything GOOD About an MFA?                             Questions From Facebook
Is Dead Poets Society a Shitty Movie or What                      The W.A.W. "Chris's" Persona
Why Is the Publishing Industry so Whitewashed?                 What is avant garde?
How Do I Describe Things?                                                     Tropeception Part 1 Part 2
The PC Police                                                                         Cultural Appropriation
Character Driven Zombie Stories                                           Jones and Pratchett on "Real" Literature
What About Harper Lee's New Book                                     How Do I Write A First Sentence?
I Just Can't Write                                                                     Writing For Income
                             


Can't find what you are looking for? Or maybe just can't get enough of these amazing answers?

Not every mailbox is destined for greatness.  Some of them have ended up down in the basement: The Not So Best of the Mailbox.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Guy Goodman St.White Reviews Spencer's The Fairy Queen--Genre Crap Simply For The Sake of Genre

Good evening, I'm Guy Goodman St.White your outrageously British sounding host, and tonight we will be taking a glimpse at Sir Edmund Spencer's The Fairy Queen.  We are entering a period of history within our exploration of the important British part of the canon where there are a number of quite spectacular authors of incredible skill and literary prowess who nonetheless decide to delve into the dregs of speculative fiction for some ungodly reason.  Maybe they just liked having unrealistic works that couldn't possibly reflect the human condition.

Maybe it was all that opium they were bringing in from India.  I don't purport to comprehend.

Ranked highest among these wayward genre writers is Sir Edmund Spenser.  Despite Samuel Johnson's disdain for it, Spencer really should have stuck to the gritty realism of his pastoral poetry, with its banal depictions of cleaning stalls and husbandry, but instead he succumbed to the methane fumes and decided to write one of the most blatantly genre pieces in all of English literature.  Spencer quite literally sets out to create a transparent allegory about Queen Elizabeth and England.  And let me tell you without any equivocation, he succeeds magnificently in his quest to create really-genre genre writing.  If I were one of these young online hooligans, I might refer to it as ubergenre.  High fantasy, speculative offal oozes off of every page in an affront to everything for which good literature stands.

I was very excited when I picked this up.  I thought it was going to be about a gay cross dresser whose parents did not understand his lifestyle choices.  You know...the stuff of REAL literature.  Instead there were knights and satyrs and magicians and not literary fairies that reflect the human condition, but the stupid folklore kind with their bollix wings and shit, and the whole thing was just a train wreck of one cliche image after another, excused by Spencer's rationalization that they were symbolic.

In a plot that would make the makers of the Warcraft saga say "Damn, this is convoluted!" Spencer literally DE-banals England's political situation with every work of genre fiction he can muster. From the first canto of the first book to the seventh canto of the third book, The Fairy Queen is a non-stop barrage of unrealistic, high fantasy imagery taking the idea of being genre simply for its own sake to the meta level. Honestly, where is the black death, the dysentery, the ravaging of heathen women, the armor chafing so bad that it smells like spoiled chicken, and of course the homoerotic subtext. That is the stuff of REAL stories of medieval knights? This genre bilge knows nothing of the human condition.

The canon for some horrid reason is filled with speculative fiction tripe, but none is quite so guilty of going down the genre rabbit hole as The Fairy Queen, and bloody Edmund Spencer with his bloody knighthood.  So I'm going to have a brandy or six while I think about how so much of this unrealistic bilge somehow became important to read even to a vaunted ideologue like Harold Bloom (peace be upon him).  Please join me next month for another episode of Speculative Fiction Sucks Balls (And Not In the Good Way).  I'm Guy Goodman St.White.  Not SIR Guy Goodman St.White, you'll notice, but just the regular kind who knows good literature when he sees it and bosh when he sees that.  Regardless...good evening.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

New Poll: What Should Chris Read?

Okay so in this post, I asked people what their favorite speculative fiction they thought was absolutely the best, and got a pretty good list.  While I'll be coming back to this post for a second round and a second book (and probably even a third or fourth), I thought I'd start with books I've already read once just to see how doing this goes over and to warm up my lit-analysis muscles after over a year of atrophy.  Although, I admit that I culled Hitchiker's and Spell For Chameleon from the list.  I haven't just read them once; I've read them like seven or eight times (more in the case of the Xanth novel since I had a pretty long Piers Anthony stage in junior high), and in the case of Adam's writing, there's only so much one can say about the levels upon levels of irony.

I set the poll up so that you can pick three of them.  Obviously picking only one will be a stronger vote, so you should pick multiples only if you are totally torn.  The poll is under the reliquary but above the tip jar (~coughcoughtipjarcough~).  It's the big black thing just below the bottom of this entry with all the book and author names on it.

NOW THIS IS SERIOUS- Blogger's own poll widget is pretty much perpetually broken so I had to go to a site called polldaddy.  (It was highly recommended for Blogger polls.) You may not be able to see Poll Daddy if you have all kinds of ad blockers and stuff, so if you want to vote, you might have to disable that stuff JUST FOR THIS SITE or just temporarily open this up in a new web browser.

I'll leave that bad boy up for a couple of weeks, and if we need some run off voting to break some ties, we'll settle that.  I'll also send any strong runners up into the next set of books if this schtick ends up being popular.


Other shit you totally won't find nearly as important!

PIMP MY RIDE!!!  Hey, check out the "Sociable" widget I installed!  Isn't it awesome.  It's like a unicorn farting a chocolate covered rainbow into your open mouth!  Except even better!  Now you can click a button and recommend a page on any social media you find useful.  Whether you're a Reddit type, I've sold you on Stumbleupon, you think Digg is the wave of the future, or you will never leave Facebook, you can find a way to pimp out those articles you like the best with a simple click that doesn't require all that pesky cutting and pasting that requires you to commit tens of seconds.  You guys know I'd stand on the side of the road with a sign that says "Will Gargle Balls For a +1/Like/Upvote," so consider throwing me a bone...uh...so to speak.


OMG HATE MAIL!!!!  Guys, I've got HATE MAIL!!!  This is so awesome!  I've been waiting for like nine months to get a really good, hateful comment from someone I don't even know.  The kind that demonstrates that even though people will cowardly use their anonymity to be horrific human beings, they also took the time to read you.  This is like one of those milestones that you're becoming a writer--like your first paycheck, or your first real advance.  Your first hate mail rings up there with writerly rights of passage.  Of course, if anonymous turns its tender ministrations on any of my readers' comments I will immediately and forever change the commenting policy here at W.A.W.  But for now, it's just enough to bask in the glow of being out there enough that someone hates me!  I'll put it up on Friday so everyone can see how awesome it is!  Because it's awesome with awesome sauce and a side of bitchen fries and a big ol' frosty cup of rad!  And epic win for dessert.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Random Creative Writing Terms Beginning With the Letter H

Creative Writing Terms Starting With G



Haiku- A poem with three lines.  Five syllables--then seven more.  Line three has five more.

Historical Fiction- Fiction that takes place in the past--usually within an identifiable era (like World War 2 or The Depression).  This is different than fiction that takes place in past tense as it generally involves recognizable historic events.

A writer must be extremely careful about historical fiction because the relationship between historical settings and "genre" are definite, but ill defined.  And as you know, genre is not "real" literature, so by picking the wrong time period, as writer may categorically deny themselves the possibility of writing real literature.  Certain time periods are absolutely genre--like anything west of the Mississippi in the 19th century, but others are acceptable like Victorian England.  Similarly, using historical figures may get a work labeled genre, but it depends greatly on how important the figure is, and what interaction they have with the main character.  There is a huge grey area between claiming that Willard Fillmore nodded in your direction at a polo tournament once and that Abraham Lincoln hunted vampires with his axeguncane before he was elected president.

Use history in your writing at your own risk.  You walk a fine line between real writing and that fake genre stuff.

Humor- Apparently the most difficult concept in all of humanity to master.  Often confused with "being offensive and calling it edgy."  Surprise, the inevitable, truth, falsehood, exaggeration, understatement make for humor...even though they are opposites of each other.  Slapstick, parody, satire, irony, sarcasm, farce, puns, wordplay, misunderstandings, double entendres, and more make for humor.   Even stereotypes make for humor as all my Moleskine journal jokes attest to.  And there's even just how using profanity in weirdly inappropriate contexts can be hilarious.

Pictured: Humor.
We don't know why.  We don't know how.
But it's funny.

Humor in writing can be even more difficult to pull off as many context clues that would key someone into a jovial intention in face-to-face interactions are absent.

Hyperbole- Grotesquely exaggerated statements whose language is intended to make a point.  Like saying someone is as big as a house or that you could eat an entire cow.  Anything ever said on the internet about politics is hyperbole, and 90% of all things said on the internet about ANYTHING are hyperbole. in fact, if you can't write as if using two spaces after a period is a crime against humanity, you really need to stop being on the internet right away.

Use hyperbole after the word "literally" if you really want to see some English teachers pop their corks.


Creative Writing Terms Starting With I


xkcd.com


Monday, September 17, 2012

5 Ways Writing is More Like Driving Than You Think

Driving cars and writing.  Totally different things right?  Stephen King might be able to compare the process of character based writing to driving in the fog, but there's no way driving could be a ridiculously awesome extended metaphor for writing is there?

Well, buckle up.  Because yes there is.


1- You learn them in the same basic progression.

When you start out driving, you constantly have to check everything you do like six times.  You run the checklist when you sit down of checking rear view mirrors, chair and everything else.  You keep your hands exactly at 2 and 10 every moment.  You actually have to think about making turning smooth.  You check your rear view mirror every ten seconds even on a lonely highway at night. (And not just because you saw The Hitcher on USA's Up All Night, last week.)  Everything is a conscious and awkward act of will.  You think really hard about how how hard to push down on your right foot to accelerate "smoothly."  You stop too fast because you push on the brake pedal too hard.  If you're using a standard, you probably rev too hard when you're trying to let out the clutch on a hill.  You actually count out three seconds to the car in front of you.  You basically suck.

You're thinking about how to drive.  And in that split second between thinking and doing things get clunky and jerky.  It's like watching a toddler chase the dog.

I'm a geek, so I think of this as "the video game factor."  When I first start playing a game I have to figure out a new set of controls.  I might run into a room filled with bad guys and in the split second I'm looking for the "Duck" button, they all open up with submachine guns on my brain pan, resulting in me watching myself die in glorious multi-cam True Color right about when I realize that "Q" is the duck button.  But after a few hours of playing the game, the controls are second nature.  I don't even think about which buttons I'm pushing anymore.  I just run in, lay some suppressive fire, toss a grenade and start taking head shots without once looking at the keyboard.  Driving is a fair bit harder, involves legs and arms and heads instead of just a few fingers, and the stakes for fucking up are higher than having to go back to the last save point, but it's the same basic idea with a longer learning curve.

Pretty soon, you don't think about how to drive.  The car becomes an extension of you in a cheesy Worf-and-his-Batleth kind of way, except hopefully with fewer severed heads. You stop thinking about how to do something, and just think about what you want the car to do.  In a couple of weeks you're eating a cheeseburger and fries, blasting Bohemian Rhapsody, and laughing with your friends while you drive the miles away without thinking about it.  And while some of that might be hubris that will eventually result in you rear-ending an old woman with an oversized Huey, Dewy, and Louie sweatshirt and a twitchy brake foot, a lot of it is just that driving is less a process and more second nature.

This amateur level of one-with-your-car is fine, as long as you don't want it to do anything too exciting or extreme.  (Like not hitting the old woman instead of plowing into her with gusto, for example.)  Anytime you start to push the limits, suddenly you become aware of that chain between your brain and the car's performance all over again.  If you take a turn too quickly, you're trying to apply pressure to the brake, but not too much, and you're thinking about how much is too much.  If you go into a skid, you have to remind yourself you want to turn into the skid and the split second of thinking is disasterous.  Suddenly you are clunky and jerky all over again.  (This is why texting is so epically stupid.  You'll be fine if nothing goes wrong, but the moment there's the slightest hiccup, you are an arm and two precious seconds behind the person who's paying attention, and you end up dead.)  It can take years, even decades, before the car is really just an extension of you, and you would have to spend hours a day behind the wheel to seamlessly move into those extreme moments.

Further if you want to learn to do something especially interesting with the car like drifting, you have to go back to the basics and be uncoordinated all over again--much like Lightning McQueen did in Cars when he spent hours and hours sliding over a cliff into cacti trying to practice the turn that Doc Hudson beat him with in their race.

Writing is the same way.  Not the physical act of writing (you probably have that pretty much mastered even if you were in special "bad handwriting" classes like me), but rather our relationship with what we're trying to get the language to do.  At first our efforts to make sentences are clunky and jerky.  We consider each word we chose carefully before committing it to ink (or pixels).  We check our adverb ratio every paragraph and worry over the appropriateness every use of passive voice.  We try to make sure we have a good ratio of compound and complex sentences with a peppering of simple.  We think carefully about each sentence's clarity.  Our sentences come out of us in fits and starts and we are very conscious of how we're using language. We are all too aware that the slightest misstep in the linguistic arena could end up with a pair of gardening shears jammed through our reproductive organs and a morbidly obese yet triumphant Ukrainian gleefully teabagging us while yodeling at the top of his lungs that he's just doing what we wrote that we wanted.

But as we get better we just think about what we want the words to do, and we go there without really thinking about how.  Ideas are conveyed without our deliberate attention to every word choice.  Whole sentences just appear before us and sometimes we are as delighted to read what our brain has come up with as anyone.  We might consider the imperfection of a particular phrase or clause, and think about how to do it better, but overall we are confident that language is an extension of us.  However, it might take years, even decades, to really get to the point where language really does exactly what we want it to.

Of course when we are stretching the limits of our writing, we will probably go back to that deliberate and conscious word choice, especially if we are pushing the boundaries of the writing we're used to into the territory of something we do less often like our first foray into fiction or trying our hand at a brand new technique like expressionism or surrealism.  Then we will stumble over every word all over again.

It can take lots of practice to make a new kind of writing second nature, but the dedicated writer is the one out there, beyond their comfort zones, practicing new techniques in their free time--not because they think they'll ever use them in a publication, but just for the love of writing--just like Lightning McQueen did on that pesky dirt road turn.  Unless you just want to write in a way that gets you from here to there, you probably need to spend some hours practicing.


2- Your relationship with the rules is VERY similar

If you've got a drivers licence, you are probably a walking codex of traffic laws.

Think about it.  You have to be in order to pass the test to be able to get that licence.  You know how to handle things when multiple people show up simultaneously at a four way stop sign...not including your innovative solution that utilizes a rocket propelled grenade launcher.  You know when you can make protected turns.  You probably know the speed limit even if there's no posted sign based on how many lanes their are, what kind of buildings are around you and whether there's a median.  You know what to do when you see certain kinds of vehicles in certain positions relative to you (like an emergency vehicle behind you, or a motorcycle next to you).  You know to slam the brake if you see a little kid run out in front of your car, even if you are in a temporal vortex and the kid is a young Harold Bloom.  A zillion rules could fall out of your head for any given moment.

You're probably not as savvy as a cop, but you know your fair share.

Writing is like this.  You probably know a gazillion rules.  Rules about grammar.  Rules about spelling. Rules about punctuation.  Rules about paragraph construction.  Rules about what makes for good fiction.  Rules about passive voice.  Rules about adverbs.  Rules about lexicon.  Rules about subjects and objects.  Rules about stative verbs.  Rules about how items in lists should not be their own sentences.

The thing is, you also know that some of these rules are really, really important, like driving the appropriate direction on the freeway, and others are pretty much bullshit, like the 35 mph speed limit on the straight away between one small town and another where no one drives less than 50.  So, while you know that using no subjects or tense markers or spelling every word like "ghoti" will make your reading incomprehensible, you also know that to sometimes start sentences with conjunctions or to split infinitives is no big deal.

Of course you can't just ignore the rules.  You have to know the rules to know which ones aren't important.  You probably won't get a ticket if you breeze through that five minute red light at four in the morning.   But if you rocket through a school zone at 150 on a Tuesday at three in the afternoon because "fuck rules," you will end up in county prison nursing your taser wounds and wishing that either the toilet was much much MUCH more private or your cellmates hadn't had cabbage the night before.

You probably can do a fine job without knowing every single rule.  You are probably a fine driver without knowing that it is illegal to jump from one vehicle to another at 65mph in Glendale, California.  You are also probably a fine writer without knowing that several style manuals state that technically any action (beyond attribution tags) that occurs between a single sentence quotation is supposed to happen inside em dashes.  Some rules might even be a little less obscure than these examples.  (You may not know that if you see an emergency vehicle with flashing lights on the side of the road, you are supposed to move a lane to the left [except in a couple of states] and you may not know why some lists of adjectives have commas between them and some don't.)  But you can probably still write pretty well without knowing every rule.

Some rules are just shit people make up like driving a car barefoot or that speculative fiction can't ever be as significant as literary fiction.  They don't even know what they're talking about, but they want the rule to be true, so they tell everyone it's totally a rule and it catches on like an urban legend.

Passing on the right:
the don't-end-a-sentence-in-a-preposition of the driving world.
No one cares.  Everyone does it.
And it drives the rule-lawyers insane!
Delightfully, beautifully, purple-faceily insane.
And you probably know someone--both a driver and a writer--who follows all the rules, and demands everyone around them do so as well.  They probably have a truly reasonable sounding explanation for why they insist on this (meaning with writing or safety with driving).  And...in BOTH cases their adherence to the rules can be so strict as to actually achieve the opposite of their intention.  A strict, inflexible, and "proper" interpretation of yesteryear grammar can actually muddle meaning with many (if not most) people, and following every traffic law in every situation can actually put you in grave danger if people around you don't know what you're doing.  Also these people are absolutely insufferable pedants in either context.


3- There is a huge gulf between doing it for a living and doing it in a way that people just sit and watch

You probably know some people who drive for a living.  Cab drivers.  Bus drivers.  Airport shuttle drivers.  Package delivery drivers.  Limo drivers.  Maybe just someone who commutes such an ungodly distance as part of their job that they are basically including driving as part of the job.  These people technically make their money driving.

Technically.

Are they stunt drivers?  No. Are they race car drivers?  No.  Are people lining up just to watch them majestically operate their machinery?  No.  Would people pay just to watch them drive?  No. Driving is the means by which they get you to what you are really paying for--your pizza or package or your transportation or some other thing that needs a driver.  These people might be consumate professionals, highly skilled, and even quite awesome drivers, but you're probably never going to drop real money just to watch them get the 20 Line from BART to Diablo Valley Community College before 4:30.  The drivers you pay to see are the ones that push the limits.  They do things with cars that you almost can't believe.

Though I have to admit, I would totally pay $100 to see the local ice cream truck catch air off a car loader set up like a ramp--straight up Crazy Taxi style!  Day after day, your home life's a wreck...

The same is true of legions of professional writers.  There are tech writers, policy writers, science writers, content writers, communications directors, legal writers, travel writers, analysts, grant and development writers, and journalists.  These people are often highly competent wordsmiths--wonderful, adept, and professional at their particular skill sets.  They are making money with writing, and the writer has provided an invaluable service with skill, but it isn't the writing itself that is the product being exchanged..  It is the news, the grant proposal, the content, the analysis or something like that.   It's a pretty big chasm between this kind of writing and the kind you drop an hour's worth of pay on at the bookstore in to read for pleasure.  Those kinds of writers push the limits.  They do things with words that you can barely imagine.

Now, I'm not pointing out this chasm this to be an asshole.  I'm not saying this to say "those people aren't 'real' writers."  They are awesome and they are real. But creative writing is an industry where people get a little weird about jealousy, about settling, and about what they think counts as writing.  Sometimes there's so much power in the words "I'm a professional writer," that they forget to consider that chasm.  But it would make about as much sense for a driver dreaming of one day being in the Indy 500 or in Nascar to let themselves settle for driving a cab their whole life because it's technically driving, or to be jealous of a limo driver because they are making money operating a vehicle.

Does that seem right to you?  (Image from comicvine)

Can other kinds of writing help someone become a novelist?  Absolutely they can.  In fact, writers of every type of writing I mentioned have taken their skills to fiction and it has informed their work.  Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is so charming precisely because it was written by a travel writer who took that style into fiction, and not just because Kevin Spacey did the movie adaptation.  But a writer is not an author just because of their skill anymore than a pizza delivery driver should be doing stunt driving for Hollywood because they know a shortcut that will get that extra-large with olives and mushrooms past an accident on Main street in 29 and a half minutes.

Mmmmm.  Pizza...


4- There are different kinds and styles that are valid

There are muscle cars and turbocharged cars and each delights in thinking the other isn't legit.  There is street racing and track racing.  There is off roading and karting.  There are formula races and stock car races.  Each has its own set of conventions and regulations and many that think (openly or secretly) that they are the best and the only real kind of driving.

Some kinds of driving deal with the raw power of the machine.  Some focus on the technical skill and precision of the driver.  Some have hard cap limits on hardware.  Others allow for every innovation technology can provide.  Some do endurance runs around circular tracks.  Some take off cross country.  Others do Tokyo Drift and their "race" never really leaves an intersection sized area.  Some kinds of performance driving happen right on the street in the middle of traffic "on the streets."  Others are dazzling spectacles of paparazzi and border on show business around a handful of drivers who are quite famous.  And despite many groups trying to delegitimize the others, all have niches and fans and audiences and require skill.

Writing is shockingly similar.  Obviously there are different genres--including the "literary genre" trying its best to declare itself the best and only "real" kind of writing.  There are small presses where the writer wears the hat of publicist and sometimes has to even put their own books on consignment at local bookstores.  There are major presses where a book release might involve radio advertising spots and public transit billboards where a handful of writers are quite famous.  There are bloggers, short story writers, novelists, poets and playwrights.  Some write with an almost anachronistic eye on the past, limiting their grudging interface with technology only to submission time and only as much as a given agent demands.  Others push the limits of technology, incorporating multimedia and mixed media and publishing in a myriad of ways that weren't even available a decade ago.  There's creative non-fiction and high fantasy.  There are people heading out to readings to listen to the way the language of their words rolls off their tongue in an atmosphere filled with the beating pulse of other writers and readers.  There are people who try to limit themselves to the precision of what they can do with careful word choice and obsessive revision.  There are beat poets in your local coffee shop ranting about sex and drugs and critical race theory from something they just jotted down on a napkin in the five minutes before the mic opened up, and people whose literary manuscript won't see an agent until it's undergone twenty rewrites.

And of course, you have elitists in every group who think that they are the only kind of writing that really counts--or if they are too humble to actually word it that way, they might have no end of disparaging comments to say about all the other kinds EXCEPT theirs.  You can read between the line of I'm-not-going-to-come-out-and-straight-up-say-I'm-a-snob-ism, right?

Good writers don't limit themselves to a single type of writing, either--even if they feel most comfortable there or do most of their "published" work in that type.  Like good ol' Lightning McQueen who worked that dirt track turn over and over until he mastered it, a good writer will take on a different kind of writing just because it's writing and to have a different kind of tool in their toolbox.


5- A lot of hobbyists fancy themselves awesome and don't really get what's holding them back

You probably have a couple of friends who are quite the daredevils behind the wheel.  They catch air coming out of their fucking apartment complex.  They hit fourth gear crossing a parking lot.  If turn sign says 45mph, you know they won't take it going less than 70, and if they decelerate at all when taking an intersection corner, they must have seen a toddler trying to cross...alone.  When they let loose on the freeway, you actually see the world around you aging more quickly due to observable relativity.  They drive behind emergency vehicles and complain about "these damned slowpokes." Usually you have to have your fingernails surgically removed from the "Oh Shit" bar after a ten minute hop down to pick up dinner from the Pho place.

And the thing is, they're usually pretty good drivers.  If they weren't, they'd have gotten in about twenty gagillion accidents long ago or ended up as the "really-hammer-it-home" clip of Red Asphalt 25.  But having a lead foot and an observable hatred for the lives of pedestrians doesn't make you Ayrton Senna or Mario Andretti.  Being good, even REALLY good, still is miles from the Indy 500, and while these people might entertain pleasant dreams that they are taking corners in the Monaco GP, they would have years of training before even their level of skill was ready for any professional circuit--no matter how miraculous it is that they don't have a kill score.

You might love to drive.  You might speed down the 1 with the top down and your hair whipping around like a Viagra commercial.  You might road trip when flying is considerably faster just because you like getting out on the open road.  You might pay close attention to things like sound system and chair comfort when car shopping because you're going to be in your car way more than the next guy. But this doesn't mean that you are Lewis Hamilton.

You probably have friends who are the same way about writing.  They are fabulous at it--stringing words together almost effortlessly and reaching meaning that you felt you muddled with twice as many words.  They tear through a paragraph like they are bending the laws of time and space, and wind up getting from language to meaning in a way that makes you wish for a linguistic "Oh shit" bar.  You probably have friends who love to write.  They fire off an opus because it's Monday, write pages upon pages every day, and write with such abundance that you contemplate how to bottle their linguistic fecundity and sell it in in vials at the mega-bookstores next to the Moleskine journals.

Loving writing, being really good at writing....they don't make someone an author.  Many people are happy writing at this level, but many more are frustrated and confused when these abilities don't translate into instant success.  Writing, especially creative writing, professionally takes more than love and more than skill.  Both help, of course, and you won't go far if you don't much like writing.  But pushing yourself to take the step from hobbyist to something more takes a unswerving dedication and an unflagging effort.  It takes more than writing a lot or writing well.  It takes being willing to focus every skill you've learned like a laser on the kind of writing that isn't just for you, but will go out into the world.  It takes learning uncomfortable parts of the process like revision.  It takes actually finishing that manuscript they have a couple of chapters of tucked away.  It often takes sacrifice of a lot of other things you might also enjoy doing.  It takes being willing to learn the Biz of CW.  It takes treating writing as more than a hobby.

A lot more.

This is the only hobby that translates directly into success.
Train engineers are recruited directly from model stores.

And now we come to what is actually one of the major DIFFERENCES between driving and writing: your friend who really loves driving and has a lead foot probably isn't going to be racing on a pro-circuit next season unless they really dedicate themselves to it and make some major changes in their lives.  What's more important, your friend probably knows this.  They aren't telling themselves stories that they are a couple of half hearted decisions away from The Long Beach Grand Prix, and it would be theirs if they really wanted it.  For some reason, with writing, people who are impressive hobbyists really think they are on the cusp of being major writers without ever really giving it a buttload of work.

A hobbyist-going-suddenly-successful writer is actually about as likely as your friend driving Nascar.  Which is even less likely than the plot of Days of Thunder. Which is more likely than the plot of Herbie: Fully Loaded but far less likely than the plot of Cannonball Run.


Of course, there are several ways that driving isn't a thing like writing.  Don't even get me started on how quickly this metaphor breaks down if you start talking about how maintaining peak performance involves someone really getting under your hood regularly...uh....with some fluids....and...um.....uh...

Never mind.  Pizza's here.  Gotta go tip a driver.