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

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Best Horror Novel Nominations (Final Days)

Our current front runner in "seconds."
Nominate the best horror novels, and seconds to the existing nominations to determine which books will end up on our "Best Horror Novel" poll.  

Only a few days left of accepting nominations for the best novel from the horror genre.

The RULES-- 

Please please please please please for the love of god please, go back to the original entry to leave a comment nominating a book or seconding an existing nomination.  If you post here, I will take it, but I'll treat it like it's a G+ or Facebook comment for the purposes of breaking ties.

You may nominate TWO (2) books at the most. Obviously the fifteen books you love can't all be the best you've ever read.  Really I should be accepting only one "best ever," but I find that makes prolific readers have aneurisms in their brains.

You may "second" as many of the existing nominations as you wish.  (Yes I know that it's not really a "second" if a book has three or four of them, but you get the idea.)  So check back to see what's being nominated.  The number of seconds will largely determine what will go on the poll.

Only the best three (3) books from a single author will go onto the poll.  (I don't want this to be a "Which Stephen King Book is the Best" poll.)  Most people don't read a lot of horror, and I find their experience to be limited to just a couple of authors.  I want to get at least a few different authors on this poll.

I explain on the original article how I will break ties if they should happen.  Usually it's pretty clear cut which books are going to be on the poll and which aren't.

I haven't tallied all the nominations and seconds up yet, but my general impression is that we have:

1) Way more nominations that will fit in a single poll, so some of them will have to go.

2) Many titles with a single nomination, but no seconds.  Several titles with one nomination and one second.  Lots of ties to be broken.

3) Four or five Stephen King titles--only three of which get to make it onto the poll.  

So there is LOTS of influence a commenter can have on what goes on to the poll--even those of you who have already dropped your two nominations.

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Mailbox: What Do I Write If I Can't Write?

I'm having trouble just sitting and staring at the screen. Also, will you post more fiction?

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer each Friday. I will use your first name ONLY unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous.  My comment policy also may mean one of your comments ends up in the mailbox. Also don't forget the F.A.Q. covers a lot of questions.]    

Sophia writes:

My problem isn't sitting down every day. I do that for three hours religiously. My problem is that I just sit there and stare at the screen. Sometimes for the whole three hours. I have story ideas in my head, but when I go to write them, they're gone. I know you say you've never had writer's block, so please tell me your secret. If I can ask two questions, I'd really like to ask you to post more fiction. I loved Falling From Orbit and The Look, and I can't wait for the next part of the Demon's Rubicon. [Author's note: I added the text links to Sophia's question.]

My reply:

So there's bad news and there's good news, Sophia, and then there's also kind of hard to believe news but potentially more good, if you can swallow your pride and believe the last news, news. I'll try to break it down.

First I have to tell you the story of the Karate Kid. Actually, I have a lot of housework I need to get to today, so I'm just going to link this Youtube.

I'm a child of the eighties, so this is the old version with Pat Morita and the crane kick that we actually saw Daniel practicing, instead of the triple flip downaxe kick what ever-the-hell-thing Jayden Smith did and whereandwhenthehelldidhelearnTHAT moment at the end of the Jackie Chan version.

Now hang tight if the analogy I'm about to make about writing is escaping you. I know it's pretty hard to decode.

Bad news- This is a pitfall that most writers experience.

You're in good company, Sophia. In fact, almost every writer experiences a blank page they can't fill at some point in their lives. They taunt us more than French people in castles.

And while this is more common among starting writers, it often happens to experienced writers after they've had a measure of success and are worried about repeating it. It comes from the deep seated worry that what we write will not be good, so we sit trying to come up with the best words ever. You read a billion memes a day about first drafts being shit, but if you don't feel it in your soul, they're just words.

Empty, hollow, mocking words.

Writer's block is a real thing, but it doesn't have to be the end of the road. As a matter of factoid, there is a fairly consistent consensus among the most successful writers that what you do (or don't do) at the point the words are no longer doing the driving has a lot to do with what separates serious writers from casual hobbyists. If you walk away, blame your muse, give up, and begin a strict regimen of talking about how writing without inspiration feels like a chore or forcing yourself to write makes it feel like work you will probably always be a casual writer.

Good news- For most people, most of the time, there is a way out.

Actually, there are two ways out. You can wait for inspiration--it will eventually return (probably).  You will have an idea and then you can go write about it. But it will do so on its own sweet fucking time. (The bastage.) It may take weeks, months, even years, but it will probably eventually happen. The downside of being at your muses whim like that is 1) you may not have enough mojo to see you through a whole project, and 2) even if you do finish something, once you are done, you are back to not writing. You will find that your artistic well tends to dry out every time writing starts to feel like work you're the muse's buttmonkey,.

Though this does have the benefit of allow you to feel even more justified in getting cranky at advice to write every day. But on the down side, this path may lead to a lot of frustration if you're hoping to be a professional writer or a working novelist or something.

Fortunately there is another path for those who are serious. You can screw your determination to the sticking place and be like Joe Swanson from Family Guy facing down your problems with a cry of "BRING IT ON!"

A giant mutated rat will be playing the part of Writer's Block in our scenario.
Hard to believe news- I will show you how to fix it.

The kind of writer's block that you're describing comes from some pretty predictable places, and it's actually pretty easy to overcome for almost everyone. That's easy as in simple, not easy as in effortless. If it were effortless, you'd probably see a lot more people who express grandiloquent love of writing actually doing a lot more of it instead of just filling up a Pinterest "Writing" board and following every writing Tumblr they can.

But here's why I started with The Karate Kid. You have to do the exercises I recommend, and you have to do them in good faith....possibly for a few months. If you don't do them, you can't scratch your head when it doesn't work.

As Mr. Miyagi might say: "You either writing do YES or you writing do NO. Otherwise, sooner or later.... ~squeerk~ Get the squish."

Just like a grape baby. Just like a grape.

This is where I lose most people. I tell them to write every day and they think "fuck that." I tell them to do free writing and they're too good for it. I explain how the muse, creative flow, inspiration, unconscious, subconscious, brain, whatever struggles against even the pleasure of artistic creation the minute it starts to feel like work, and they think "Not MY brain." They know better. (You know because of all the books they published and money they've made.) They're too good for plebeian exercises because they are artistes. Artistes must be inspired, not do drudgery work. And a few years later when I check in on them, they're usually still struggling.

The potentially more good, if you can swallow your pride and believe the last news, news- If you take these steps, and you do them faithfully, the chances are in about two or three months we get to have whatever analogous writing equivalent there would be to this scene (maybe you like writing a lot while I make grunting noises or something):

So are you ready to do what I say, no matter how weird you think it is and how much you might feel like it is sucking the joy out of something you love or making it feel like a chore, and no matter how much you think you know better? No matter how much you feel like maybe I might--JUST SHUT THE FUCK UP AND DO WHAT I TELL YOU!!!!

Okay? Here we go:

1- Follow all the links below. The text links below are all to superfly shit that is exactly what you're asking about. I go into more detail about something that I've written an entire article about previously. Morning writing. The Floating Half Hour. Free writing. They are all their own articles, and it's GOOD information. Yes, it's a lot of reading, but some of this information doesn't bullet point well.  If you want to know, for example, why you do "morning writing" right when you wake up, it's in that article. This article would become too long to include all that information. It's worth it. Trust your uncle Chris.

2- Get your hands on Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande. This is the best process book you could ever possibly have.  It is so amazeballs that I changed my product review so that it could go up to eleven. Many of the other suggestions on this list will be coming from that book. There is nothing in this book about how to write. No grammar rules. No craft suggestions. Brande doesn't care what your prose looks like (yet). It's all about how to be a writer. When to write. How long to write. How to read.

This isn't easy reading either. It's not motivational speaker positivism crap. Dorothea is not kind--she is like the mean physical trainer at the gym who won't let you get away with saying that you're tired. In fact, she very clearly tells writers at a couple of points that if they can't do an exercise, their internal desire not to write is clearly greater than their desire TO write, and they should give up.

Ouch, right? Yeah. Dorothea isn't fucking around, and neither is this book.

Becoming a Writer is off copyright, so there are a lot of ways to get it for free if you're budget is in a pinch. The PDF URL tends to move, but if you Google it, I'm sure you can find a copy.

3- Do the morning writing exercise that I've written about. The benefits and reasoning is all there. Find a way and make it happen. Don't be too good for it. Don't figure you can do it whenever. Don't write your fiction. Even if you have to write about how you don't have any ideas for what to write, do not stop moving your fingers no matter what. Free writing has a valid neurological reason that it will work.

4- When you achieve success at the morning writing (which you will know by reading that article) move on to The Floating Half Hour of Writing. It may take you a month to get here and a month to successfully do this exercise. It may take you three months to get here and a month to do this exercise...or vice versa. It may take you three months each.

Stick with it. It won't be easy. The floating half hour causes even more people to give up (or to think they're too good for it) but it is really where the magic happens. If you really sit down when you say you will (instead of "a little later") you are learning to make your muse YOUR buttmonkey. [Don't tell Cathamel I said that.] If you pull this off, you may never have writer's block again.

5- When you are not working on these exercises, and you are working on your fiction, attempt to write the worst fiction you can. Seriously. Make it the most self-induldgent, train wreck filled pile of steaming crap you can. Set out to make it suck.

A lot of that frozen-in-front-of-your-screen (or paper) stuff comes from feeling like you have to write something good. People sort of intellectually know that they get multiple drafts, but they don't REALLY respect the process. They still think "No, that's no good..." If you undermine that anxiety by literally trying to be the worst you can, you may find that within minutes you're writing fluidly. You need to be revising (a lot). You can fix it then.

6- Read more.  I don't know how much you're reading, Sophia, but I do know that not reading can lead to having stories in your head that you can't get onto paper. Unless you are reading three or four hours a day, it sounds like you could benefit from reading more. That's because you have ideas and maybe images in there, and you want to have words. Writers deal in words. Cultivate that relationship you have with language. You may even literally find that after reading a rich description of something in a story that you feel ready to run to the paper and do some of your own writing.

7- Write every day and at the same time every day. Don't confuse this with morning writing. Morning writing is just an exercise. You HAVE to write anything that comes into your head in the morning, so you shouldn't be working on fiction. But when you do work on fiction, sit down at the same time each day--and do it every day.

You may take ONE day off each week....but if you do, try to notice how the next day on feels a little stiff.

If you do this after the morning writing, that's okay, but it will be best if you take a little break in between to mentally separate the two. Try not to skip days (except the one) no matter how badly you want to or what comes up. Make this time sacred.

Pretty soon (between a couple of weeks and a couple of months) you're going to find that you are starting to become creative thirty minutes to an hour before your writing time. Ideas will be gushing. Sentences will be springing fully-written into your head. You may even find your fingers starting to ghost type.

8- Shut off anything that you might be doing during your writing time that isn't writing. Facebook. Email. Livejournal. Youtube. Kittiessmokinghashpipes/tumblr. Whatever it is, close the window. Turn off the wireless if it's too tempting, and go somewhere without signal if that's too tempting. If you sit there and really stare at the screen, the first seven steps will probably help you. However, if "staring at the screen" really means letting yourself get so fucking distracted that you can't hear your own thoughts, you'll never escape the block.

Epilogue- If you literally cannot write after all these steps, try this: This will jump start your engine, but it's not going to help if you haven't done the other steps. Take out a book you like, written in a style close to your own (or what you wish was your own), and just start typing what you see on the page. After a few minutes your brain will be "out ahead" of the typing. Then let your own thoughts edge into your writing. This is a trick that will break a "RIGHT NOW" block, but like a car that has to be jump started, eventually you have to do the real servicing.

That's it. Do those things for a few months and I can almost promise you--unless you have certain linguistic learning disabilities or a very strong will not to work (which I don't think you have, Sophia, since you sit for three hours)--that you will be writing easily and fluidly every time you sit down.

The trouble is most people won't do these things. They find excuses not to do morning writing. They believe they "can handle" having Facebook open while they write. The legions who think they don't need to write every day send me hate mail nearly weekly. And for some, they can find other roads to unlocking the flow of words (though many continue to scratch their heads about why the creative flow is so sporadic.) But these are tried, tested, and approved methods, so if you stick with them, it should go well.

Let me know how it turns out!

As for your second set of questions, most of it is addressed in the F.A.Q. here.

I am leaning in my probable intentions toward the less-traditional routes. The success of "Creepy Guy" has given me quite a lot of optimism about blogging as a means of monetization. And traditional publishing has some serious problems with being about white men.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

15 Things Not to Do to Writers (Unless You Want Them to Hate You)

Rage.....taking over.
15 Things you might be doing to make writers hate your stinking guts (1-5)

[Ima here. Good to be back on the guest blog circuit.  I'm glad that Cedric's newfound love for this Dor person has helped him find the motivation to make Chris get this place back in order.]  

Though most of my wonderful lists are for writers, today’s list goes out to people who aren’t writers, but interact with them.  Or perhaps for writers to share passive aggressively with their friends who do one or more of these things  (“Hey Harry.  Just thought you might get a kick out of this.  No reason.  No, seriously, read it.  -Cheers.”)

Are you basically a nice person, but you seem to turn writers off? Have you ever gotten a sour look from a writer, even though they seemed endlessly fascinated by person next to you talking about weaponizing carbuncles, and you wondered what you could have possibly done to offend them?  Have your writer friends stopped coming around even though you offer only the finest boxed wine?  Do writers cross to the other side of the street when they see you coming, or maybe pause before getting onto elevators with you, weakly smiling and saying: “Maybe I’ll get the next one"?

It’s probably you.

For all your innocent fun jestitude, good intentions, and even well-meaning curiosity, you may be doing things that make writers hate you more than Orson Scott Card hates passing the Bechdel test.  Most of us writers aren’t particularly strange creatures--we like to be fed good food, we enjoy cool drinks on hot days and hot drinks on brisk evenings, we get a little stupid w hen the back of our neck is touched, and we’ll probably go catatonic during a good massage, and many of us have an almost unhealthy obsession with threesomes.  We like stimulating conversation--especially about good books.  Most of us just want to be loved, and while we might be awkward about our ability to form or carry on social connections, few of us eschew them without cause, and most of us hold tight our dear friends who love us despite our writerly foibles.

However, the fecund jungle of a writer's brain is not without it's strange Rambo-esque traps. One misstep and you can wreck a rapport faster than texting on the freeway can wreck your chances of being on Dancing With the Stars.

Here are a list of some of the most common perils.

1. You ask them for their publisher/agent (or ask them to promote you).

The development of (genuine) professional contacts takes a lot of time and effort and much, much, much more good old fashioned hard work than marketing savvy. (The names you typically get from rubbing elbows instead of writing quality material are about what you'd expect from hobnobbing. They are contacts who are out rubbing elbows with "not really" writers.  Basically, they KIND of deserve each other.)  You are essentially telling the writer that you want them to do that part of the work for you. That email or phone number that you think is “no big deal” took them years to earn, and you don't want to wait years.

Not only are you asking the writer basically if they will help you shortcut the work they had to do, but you are also asking them to vouch for you and the quality of your writing. They're sticking their neck out.

Now I know you--in all your narcissistic glory--think you are totally worth it, but try imagine how they feel. You’re putting them on the spot, and that writer may really really not want to tell you that you probably have a couple of years more practice before you’re ready to be published, or that you should start by farming out short stories because your novel was nine hundred and fifty excruciating pages of self-indulgent, Star Wars rip-off bullshit in which you were so obviously the main character it was painful every time they turned the page.

The same goes for asking a self published writer who has taken the years to build up their audience to promote you. They've worked for years for what you're asking them to hand you. It's like skipping the queue for a Mega Roller Coaster on opening day.

At least do them a huge favor first if you're going to ask for something like this.

2. You brag about how you don't pay for books.

Imagine someone telling a plumber that they really like to scam plumbers.  How do you think that will go over?  Or how about telling a cab driver that they like to jump out of cabs at the end of the trip and run off without paying, or telling a server that they like to dine and dash and never, ever leave a tip.
Not paying people for their hard work makes them like you.
This is exactly what you’re doing to a writer if you tell them you download books illegally or otherwise don't pay for them when you should, and it is why they hate you. Fiction authors don’t make very much money unless they are ridonkulously famous.  Most have day jobs, rich spouses, live in their parents' basements, or are really struggling.

Compound the white hot hate filled fury of a supernova the writer feels toward you by a factor of ten if you brag to them that you stole/didn’t pay for THEIR book. (And yes...this actually happens.) This isn’t a lot different than proudly telling someone you stole their jewelry last week, sold it, and spent everything on bacon cheeseburgers.

Also, most people don't realize this, but a writer doesn't make any money if you buy their book used. (It's not hard to realize if you think about why, but most people never stop to consider it.) Writers love books--oh sweet Jesus they just LOVE them--so most will understand if you can’t resist the sweet siren call of Half Priced Books, or if you tend to take a chance on new authors from the USED aisle because they do the same thing, but if you never ever ever ever buy a book new (or check it out from a library...which buys it new) you might want to keep that to yourself. At least don't brag about it TO them.

3. You give them unsolicited advice.

Writers get a lot of advice.  The problem is most of it they don’t really need or want.  And while you may be the most well intentioned Helpy McHeplerson who just wants to helpfully help, by the time you show up with your well intentioned suggestion that the writer write “the next Fifty Shades of Grey,” the chances are that your every word is like taking an enthusiastic, full-mouth chomp on a sheet of tinfoil.

Gosh, why didn't I think of that.
Gee.  We've totally, like, never heard that advice before.

If you’ve ever tried to lose some weight or had a cold...ever, you probably know how annoying it is for someone to start barking orders at you about how to live your life before you’ve even asked.  It’s even worse for writers because most people start by assuming what it is that writers actually want to get out of their writing. (With a cold, it’s probably correct to assume that the person wants to feel better, so your unsolicited advice of sitting in a small room of echinacea oil diffusion and zinc injections may be unwelcome, unwanted, and impractical, but it at least you’re on the right track.)  But with writers, the chances are that you don’t actually even know what they want, never mind which paths they feel comfortable using to get there.

Do you know if this writer has even the slightest interest in traditional publishing? Epublishing? Self-publishing? Blogging? Are they even ready to be moving into publication/business end of writing?  (Most writers aren’t, and they know it.)  Do they have a written work ready for the sort of action you’re proposing.  Have they  possibly tried what you’re about to suggest before?  Do you know anything about them?

But even more than that....do you actually have the slightest fucking clue what you are talking about?  Are you an agent?  Are you a published author?  (If you are, you are probably being sought out for advice more than you find comfortable.)  Have you been keeping up with industry trends?  Do you really think you know more than than the writer who’s trying to get into the industry?  Do you know about craft and process? Do you know which venues are good for which genres? Or did you just hear something once that worked for your cousin Verpisubul, and you assume it will work for everyone?

And if you are so fucking good at knowing how to give great advice to writers, why aren’t you selling that advice for oodles of money already?  Fleecing wanna be writers is a hundred million dollar industry.  People who want to be writers will pay for books, camps, seminars, classes, workshops, computer programs, and pretty much anything that promises it might raise their chances of getting published.  If you have the One True Advice, you should be rich beyond your wildest dreams of avarice.


4. You tell them you’re going to write a book/be a writer...someday.

There are a few variations of this:  “I’m going to publish my memoirs after I retire,”  or “One of these days I’m going to write a bestseller,” and the outlandish but actually uttered in my presence, “I’ve got a trilogy that is going to be big.  I just need to wait until I have enough vacation time to finish it.”  They all basically presume that publishing a novel is the easiest shit in the world.

Obviously! That’s why writers spend absolutely NO time or effort trying to put out their first book.

"My first book was child's play to publish!" said no author ever.
(Carrie was rejected THIRTY times before being picked up, and
King had been submitting short stories everywhere he could for over a decade.)

You might have the tenacity to sit down and write a book through its denouement--though statistics are not in your favor--but getting that bad boy to the point where it’s publishable involves a years-long cultivation of a writing skill set.

Not--I repeat not--just a little bit of free time.

Statistically speaking, there are more people in the United States who *want to be writers* than who actually read.  (No...not who write.  Who read.)  More to the point, the energy required to publish a novel is not something a person dashes out when they're not playing golf in the Hamptons.  It is career-caliber effort.  Writers struggle their whole lives and don’t get a book published.  It is as reasonable for a writer to say that after they retire from writing, they are going to go become a science teacher at the local junior college or that they are going to design the next New York skyscraper.

Imagine how you would feel if someone treated your career like a retired dilettante could easily do it in the spare time they had between canasta tournaments. That's why you're making that writer hate you.

5. You delight in their every grammatical failure, or conversely, constantly tell them how bad you are at grammar.

I know!
Let's make a meme out of the mistakes you make at YOUR job!
Few are the writers who want the wrong you’re/your to go out into the world within something they've written, so you really are doing them a solid if you kindly point out a flaw in their grammar.  However, if you take it as a point of pride that you "called out a writer," it’s not going to be long before they start avoiding you like you have a “gym sock odor” problem.  Writers are human.  They make mistakes.  Imagine how obnoxious it would for someone to gleefully point out every mistake at your job.  (“You didn’t bill properly for that invoice.  And you call yourself a billing director.”  “That student didn’t learn the concept you were teaching.  And you call yourself a teacher.”  "You told the truth to your constituents. And you call yourself a politician.")

Similarly if you talk to writers at length about how you aren’t very good with grammar you may find they begin to avoid you.  They’re hating you for a subtly different, but related reason.  It’s not that they can’t appreciate someone who is bad at the basics (and most writers are less likely to judge you for that than others, ironically), but that’s all grammar is--the basics. This is like telling a member of the London Philharmonic, at length, about how you can’t read music. It’s not that they can’t appreciate that, and at first they're probably going to be sympathetic, but if you keep at it, it starts to come across as if anyone who CAN read music could easily be in the London Philharmonic--that reading music is all there is to being a great musician--you are inadvertently insulting everything they’ve done beyond just learning to read music. A physicist is more than just "good at math."  A world renowned chef knows more than "a lot of recipes." Grammar is important to a writer (though they will make some mistakes) but there is more--so, so much more--to writing than just grammar.

On to Part 2 (6-10) 
Skip ahead to Part 3 (11-15)

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Updated Update Schedule

This has gone "live" on my update schedule page, and is probably what you all can expect from me...at least for the next few months.  My "learning moment' for this semester has been to either sign up to teach day classes or night classes, but that doing both kind of disrupts my daily routine and sleep patterns in a way that isn't good for my writing.

The bad news is that my "15 Things Not to Do to Writers" article won't be done until tomorrow.  The good news is that is because it's fleshing out pretty well to be one of the better articles I've written (I think--I'm really a terrible judge of these things).


Mon- Some kind of personal update on the goings on in my life--as boring as they may be.  Writing About Writing observes bank holidays and takes every three day weekend it possibly can.  Mostly because I'm lazy, but also I don't want to pay the staff overtime.
Tues- Supportive and Unsupportive Girlfriend both claim Tuesdays as date day (often tag teaming me all day long--and not in the good way).  If I have a guest blogger to present (and I LOVE guest bloggers) I'll post them on Tuesday.  Or if I'm running a poll, I may try to encourage people to get voting.  Otherwise I have a Mai Tai and put my feet up on a sun-kissed beach, which might look to the layman like getting cat litter from Costco, but don't be fooled.  Oh no.  Don't. Be. Fooled.
Wed- The "main" article of the week will land on Wednesdays (usually).  I alternate between the illustrious guest bloggers we have on staff here at W.A.W. and my own offerings.
Thurs- Shorter posts find their home on Thursdays--or the main post that should have come in on Wednesday might end up here since it's my first day of the week off from teaching.   A regular Thursday update might just be a link with commentary, a poll or call to vote in a poll, a writing prompt, or a quick update on what's happening around the W.A.W. compound.
Friday- On Fridays I answer questions you send in for The Mailbox.  You too can have your very own question answered by a not-even-slightly famous writer.  Just send your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox."  I will also respond to comments--even anonymous ones from time to time.
Saturdays-  I usually take weekends off.  But I might find an image or a link It may be a link with commentary or a quick observation.  It kind of depends on how motivated I'm feeling, so if you're really excited about seeing something on the weekend, writing an e-mail on Thursday about how much you love W.A.W. would work.  A groupie threesome on Friday night would work even better.  Just sayin...
Unless there's been a threesome.
I really can't underscore enough how well that would work.
Sundays- I really, honestly try to take Sunday's off.  Or Saturdays.  Or at least one day.  Sometimes. The problem is that content means traffic, so a day where I don't do anything sees half or less the traffic of a day where I post anything--even if it's just five links with a sentence each of commentary on them.  Even the cheesiest entry represents at least 200-300 page views, and as small as my number are right now, that can make a big difference.  So if you're ever wondering why I seem to complain about never getting a day off, it's because I'm an unmitigated pageview whore.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Let's Get Personal

So several of you have asked me (and I mean way more than three of you when I say that) if I might be willing to open the door just a tiny bit wider to some more personal life events here on this blog.  "I'm really interested in you as a person," you've said.  At least some of you.  And in the last two months, I've had a few W.A.W. Mailbox questions that weren't much more than "Will you tell us more about you."

It's not just a vocal few either.  The page view numbers I get from my analytics every time I write something a little more personal certainly suggest that the interest is actually there.  My baby shower post last week isn't going to break any records, but it got about three times the view of an average post.

And I am nothing if not an unrepentant whore for page views.

First of all, let me just tell you that I know what's going on here.  I know you're talking about that tool who runs around looking like me.  Mr. Non-W.A.W. Chris.  It's him you're all interested in and his stupid pathetic life.  I pretty much hang out here at the Writing About Writing compound all day--like a boss! (no literally, I'm the boss of all these flaky guest bloggers and weird staff members)--while he goes and does things like teach people English, play househusband to his "chosen family" (or whatever hippy thing he's calling it today), and tries to make the world a little better than he found it or some shit. He prances around reading and "working on his fiction" while I'm the one who knows that sex sells and talking about groupie threesomes is totally good P.R.

I hate that guy.  But I think I hate him slightly less than I love page views.  So.....

Now that I'm settling into this new semester, I have a better idea of how the update schedule should look, so I'll fix that to reflect the really real changes, and what folks can expect out of my update schedule.  I imagine I'll start writing some kind of more personal life-ish update on Mondays.  Then I'll alternate big articles and "guest bloggers" (that's guest bloggers WITH scare quotes) on Tuesdays. The rest should be pretty similar.

For a year and a half, I've been keeping only snippets of my personal life on this blog (and only when they directly affected my writing life) because I figured 1) who the hell wants to read about me, and 2) my life isn't exactly about writing.  While both those things are still mostly true, I can't deny that 1) there does seem to be some curiosity about my life (Google analytics never lie....right?), and 2) writing has become so central to my life that it bleeds into almost everything and almost everything bleeds into it.

I'm still going to try to tie things back to writing...at least a little.  I feel like I'm being a narcissist if I don't do it at all.   ("Hey everybody.  Come gaze upon my life!")  I'm pretty boring anyway.  If I don't work in some broader implication, you're likely to fall asleep. I'll try not to make it too South Parkian ("I've learned something today...."), but I will fail in that regard.  Horrifically.  Repeatedly. So if it takes me a while before I get the hang of incorporating writerly wisdom into vignettes please bear with me while I find my sea legs.

Also, having kept a Livejournal for about the last fifteen years I have unwittingly discovered something about the human condition.  People don't actually LIKE it when you write about them to the open internet and it's bajillions of readers unless it is in the most complementary terms.  And by "discover" I mean "had my face melted off for doing so enough times that it actually stuck."  You can say "here are ten thousand good things about Jeff and one thing that I find isn't perfect" and you can pretty much guarantee that it'll be about ten seconds before you get an email or comment from Jeff saying, "Dude, what the fuck?  We aren't friends anymore, BRAH!"

Thus, it is very likely that my ongoing efforts to crack the window to my personal life will involve ambiguities, vagaries, and my ongoing brand of magical (and superheroic) realism that protects the people in my life who aren't ready or willing to be blogged about.  My personal goal is that no one will EVER have to look me in the eye and with a sincere voice say: "Chris, I need to ask you not to blog about this."  If that ever happens as a genuine concern (and not a general disclaimer) then I will have failed in telling you about my life without telling you about the people IN my life.  I guess I'm not quite ready to go Anne Lamott "you-should-have-been-nicer!" on their asses.  There are still going to be things that I won't share unless you know me, things I won't share unless your my friend, and things I won't share unless one of us has had their mouth on the other's junk.   Don't ask me for a decoder ring.

If everyone is okay with all that....

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Mailbox: Bits and Pieces

Several shorter questions I've gathered up over the last couple of months.  Are these really questions people send me?  Have I REALLY had a threesome?  Where is the Reliquary? And more.

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer each Friday.  I will use your first name ONLY unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous.  My comment policy also may mean one of your comments ends up in the mailbox.  I may save really small questions until I can bundle them.]  

Sam asks:

Are all your mailbox questions really questions people have sent you?

My reply:

Of course!

Sort of.

Not exactly....not technically. Not all of them.

But yes. ....kinda.

I'm only just starting to get enough write-in questions to be able to answer one a week. (In fact, we've had so many questions lately, that I had to take a pass on a couple for publishing here and just answer them the best I could directly to the people who sent the question.) But prior to the deluge of this summer, questions sometimes trickled in slower than a water fountain when you're really thirsty. I sometimes had to get a little creative.

Most of them are really write ins. Almost all of the hate mail is verbatim. But all of them are really real questions. It's just that sometimes I twist a conversation I'm having in person into a question for The Mailbox, or I take a question that someone asked in passing on a Facebook post or something and turn it into a Mailbox. I've been known to ask people in the middle of conversations "Hey, do you mind if I put that question on my blog and answer it?"

Winter asks:

Have you ever really had a threesome.

My reply: 

Back in the day, Sonic Gal used to be fast in all kinds of ways--not just at subduing criminals, if you know what I mean--and there was this one time when we were in a fight with Everclear (whose liquid crystal eyes cause anyone to just sort of fall into them and make questionable life decisions). Now, Sonic Gal had laid out The Mechanist, but she just didn't turn around fast enough to avoid Everclear's gaze.  And I'm just a side-kick, so I was no match for a super-villain. Before I knew it there was a pile of fishnets and spandex next to me, and Sonic Gal was screaming "FASTER!" at both of us. Fortunately, Everclear could only really use the full force of her gaze on one of us at a time and we were able to pound her into submission.

After that we fought.

My other blog, Writing About Threesomes, got shut down by Blogger or I'd just link you to the full story there.

Anonymous asks:

Where the heck is this Reliquary you're always talking about where old articles are.  Is it as hard to find as a real reliquary? Do I need to put on a fedora and grab a bullwhip? Will I have to solve a series of intricate puzzles written by the ancients?

My reply:

Yes. I can't have just anyone getting in.

I have hidden The Reliquary in darkness so that only Laura Croft/Indiana Jones, and the bravest of their acolytes, can possibly find it.  First you would have to have the Scepter of Basic Observational Skills which you would have to combine with the well-guarded Crystal of Ocular Contemplation.  By combining these two artifacts together in one special spot on my blog known as Pagina Domium (or The Home Page), the pathway to the Reliquary can be made clear.  However, you will have no chance of finding it unless you know how to interpret a series of lines, curves and swoops into a codex of symbols known to Archeologists as: Written English.  If you have these artifacts and these skills, you can look up from the "Home" position, and notice there, nestled within the top menus of this blog, hidden from all the world but those with your enhanced vision and skill at reading, is the entrance to the fabled Reliquary.  Tread softly, adventurer.  You walk where no human has walked and breathe air from the time of the Pharaohs.

There's also a copy of it about one screen down on the left hand side.  But that's even harder to find.  It involves a psychic alien artifact known as The Scroll Wheel.  Knowledge of the use of this xenotechnology is understood only by top men. Top. Men.

Kirsten Asks:

I recently discovered that authors use critique groups when writing their drafts.  How do I find a critique group that I can trust? 

My reply:

This can actually be pretty tricky.  Problems with writing groups abound--from the fact that they're flakey as fuck to to wildly varying kinds of skill or even genre elitism.  If you think someone who only reads half your story, is writing at a level years lower than you, and hates your quirky brand of Gothic Steampunk Romance Zombie story is going to give you good feedback you should...um....well you should do something quite ridiculous because that just isn't going to be true.  You may never find a critique group that meets regularly the way a book club or something does.   Most writers have to content themselves with a few "beta readers" and their editor--especially by the time they are writing professionally.

Especially now with the internet, writers often just tap their beta readers when they have something they'd like read, and in turn are tapped by them from time to time.

A workshop class in a writing program is only nominally better.  You'll be getting feedback, but most of it is crap.  The problem here is that a really good instructor can make a class critique worth your time, by how they place grade value on the quality of feedback and the questions they ask, but most instructors will just group you randomly and have you chat with each other for a while.  It's like being forced to meet with a shitty writing critique group for four months.  If you're very lucky, you end up exchanging names with one or two people at the end and you keep in touch with them.

The ubiquity of online groups can make finding people a little easier, but you usually have to sift through more dross to get to the good stuff--kind of like the internet in general.  That's why when you find someone who you feel is giving you valuable feedback, you want to develop a personal connection with them right away and never let go.  Most seasoned writers have half a dozen people who would read something if they asked.  And they would read something of those people in return, if asked.

Fortunately, you have one thing going for you.  Something that most narcissistic itch-scratching writers don't know, but a lot of the more serious, professional ones have figured out one way or another: as a writer you will learn ten times more about what makes for good writing by GIVING good feedback than by receiving it.  So you can go out there and "try out" lots of different people and groups and trust that even if you decide that person and you don't click, you are greatly improving as a writer for the experience.

Things to look for with someone you want to hold onto is an appreciation of the type of writing you do (genre, style, voice).  A comparable level to you. (Starting writers and Iowa Workshop MFA's just don't have enough productive advice to give each other.) And someone who will call bullshit on you. (It's nice to be told we're great, but you need someone who will tell you what's not working too.) And of course someone who gives you feedback in a way you can digest without having your self esteem ripped through your soul and out your chest. (Olivier in Six Feet Under is not particularly good at feedback, for example.)  When you have all of these criteria met, critique can be a pleasure.

So go fourth and critique with wild abandon, look for people you click with to forage longer lasting bonds, and avoid this guy.

Mike asks:

Now that you've written something viral [Mike is referring to the "Creepy Guy" article I published back in July] and it doubled your page views overnight, do you still think this idea of generating tributaries is the way to achieve blogging success? Given the numbers on that post, it seems like writing a few great things is a better idea.  

My reply:

I think it more than ever!  [Writer's note- Mike's "tributaries" reference is to a post I wrote about a little less than a year ago called Generating Tributaries; I've also touched on similar ideas in another mailbox and even in my FAQ since I get asked regularly by other bloggers about how to get more page views.]  The success of that article has really given me a glimpse into how a single-author blog can possibly grow it's numbers.  Like Bradbury said, quantity is quality.

1- You never know what's going to go viral.  I've written several articles that I thought were totes amazeballs, and the reaction to them was the page view equivalent of the internet saying "No...honey, it's okay.  It doesn't always have to be about me.  I had a lovely time.  Will you hand me my toy?  No, the big one with the three pronged plug..."

I've also written things I didn't expect to go as far as they did.  That article, ironically, is a perfect example. I figured my friends would share it and it would get a few hundred page views.  (I sort of suspected it would do pretty well--I just had no conceptual grasp of how well.)  A quarter of a million hits later, and I am kicking myself for not revising it several times or writing it to a broader audience than the readers of a blog about writing.  I had no idea it was going to resonate with SO many people. You just never know what's going to stick to the fickle wall of Internetland when you toss at it a handful of The Spaghetti of Content.

So if you've got some crazy plan that you're going to screw the, "generate good, regular content" advice by simply writing one viral post a month (or something), it may not go quite how you expect.

2- People stay when you have content.  A lot of people came to read "Creepy Guy" and then looked at something else while they were here.  Eight Things Prometheus Can Teach You About How (Not) to Write got four thousand page views in the month that "Creepy Guy" was at its apex.  I got about 300,000 page views during that time.  That means about 50,000 hits came from people looking at other articles or the blog as a whole.  If I didn't really have a lot of other content, some of which looked interesting, they probably would have come, read, and then left.

I also picked up about two hundred new readers, some subscribed, some started following G+ or Facebook.  And while some left once they discovered that I wasn't a social justice writer or that this blog wasn't specifically a feminist blog, many stayed because they enjoy the content I do produce.  If you don't really have content, no one is going to stay.  They just figure the next time you write something exciting, someone will point them towards it.

Only the most foolhardy mountaineers would consider braving
the western face of Mt. Creepyguy.
3- Viral Fades but tributaries keep giving.  Within a four days, I was no longer making 50,000 page views a day.  By the end of the first week I was down to 2000/day.  A month after, I was making 1000/day.  Now, I don't always reach 1000/day.  Some days I'm lucky to get 750.  It hasn't quite gone back to the pre-Creepy Guy days, but it's not like that article has stayed as popular as it ever was. Sometimes it seems to pick up on Tumblr or Twitter and I get a little boost for that day, but it seems to be in a long, slow fade.  Whereas most of my other "heavy hitter" articles still give me between 10 and 30 hits a day.

4- Look at how "Creepy Guy" is doing today.  Yesterday I got 400 page views to "Creepy Guy." But I got 1700 page views total. Creepy Guy brings me a lot of traffic, but it's till less than 25% of the total.  If I somehow could know ahead of time what was going to be my best performing articles and ONLY write those (let's say the top 25 or so--a little more than one per month) I would have only half the traffic I currently do.

Don't get me wrong, "Creepy Guy" will probably always be a metaphorical Illinois or Ohio River when it comes to its caliber of tributary, but it is not the sum and substance of this blog--no matter how huge its numbers.

5- Without people, I'm not sure it ever would have gone viral.  I had a hundred or so regular readers when I wrote "Creepy Guy."  I'm not sure it would have gone as far and wide as it did if I didn't.  If it had been my first article, it would probably still be sputtering along.  The fact that it exploded in so many directions at once, I attribute exclusively to the fact that I had a small group of people who were enjoying my work prior to writing it.  If I were too good to be writing regularly, I wouldn't have had that audience.

While there are a few "tricks" a blogger can use to increase traffic, like being or hosting guest bloggers or interacting with their audience, most of their numbers are going to come simply from writing as high a quality content as they possibly can and producing it on as regular and frequent a schedule as they can manage.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Progress is Progress

Got a picture here of another paycheck from Google--my second.  I'm not putting it here to brag.  I can't imagine bragging over making this little anyway.  (That three hundred dollars is representative of no less than 800 hours of writing, is the product of seven months of writing but couldn't pay my bills for even one, and even combined with donations from Paypal average out to less than minimum wage...in Malaysia.

A lot of people know the story of Stephen King's 400k advance (in 70's money) but not how long he wrote short stories for any place that would pay him a few dollars.  They know about Ray Bradbury's tenacity  for not giving upwithout really having a concept of the part about how long it *actually* took him even before he sold his first story.  They know that Rowling rose from welfare with her first book about a wizarding school but don't have a sense of how long she was writing ambitiously before she penned Philosopher's Stone.

I don't know if some genuine financial viability is in my future.  Right now I'm in that twilight between hobby and "really shitty-paying job." But I think it's important that starting writers have a sense of this part of the process.

One of the reasons I really like having a blog is that people can actually see how long I've failed, failed again, and failed better before I got there.  If you want to go back and see the first entries and how rough they could be and how they were WAY too long and WAY too wordy, it's two clicks away.  If you want to know how long it took me to make my first hundred dollar paycheck (ten months) it's right there to be seen in all its fantastically underpaid glory.  I think that's important because most starting writers seem to think they're going to sit down and write a novel that will get them a 400k advance or that they're only looking at a year or two of rejection before the money really starts pouring in.  And for many writers--even household names--that couldn't be less true.  They worked in ignominy for more like a decade (or more) before something really exciting happened.

As I mentioned on Tuesday, his probably will be the last check (or one of the last checks) I post online for the world to see.  When people don't see the grueling hours, they tend to think the paycheck fairy just stopped by or that the articles that got me that money were slammed out in ten minutes between episodes of The Big Bang Theory.

But in accordance with my Mission Statement, I want starting writers to take note:

A year ago, I was making an average of $20 a month.  Today that average is more like $100 per month.  This is if you take out the fluke success of "Creepy Guy;" the average is actually about $200 a month if you don't.  I tend to feel like that's not something I am likely to repeat for quite some time on a blog about writing, but who knows.  I also didn't expect it to go viral (at least not that much), so it's very hard to predict what future spaghetti will stick to the wall.

People don't seem to understand something about the "big scores" in writing (and art): 1) the planets only align for the Hail Mary once in a while, and in the meantime don't be afraid (or too good) to simply work the ball down the field, 2) you may not have the slightest idea what is going to catch on and what won't--some of my most "fire and forget" articles have done very well and some of the ones I really wrote for mass appeal have died a quiet death--and 3) in order for something really good to happen to a writer, you have to be on a few people's radars already.  Almost no writer (ever) simply bursts onto the scene from innominate origins.  It's okay for you to start small with people who know who you are and like your work.  In fact, those people will become better networking than you could pay for when you do write something that really nails it.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Write-In Nominations for BEST Horror Novel

Edit: Write in nominations are now closed.  You can find the poll here.

I'm now taking nominations for the best horror novel.  I think in MOST cases this will be a stand alone book, but if some of you feel like a series is definitely worthy, feel free to nominate the series as a whole.

You may use whatever criteria you desire for determining what is "horror" and what is "the best."  As long as things don't get outrageous, I will take your nomination.  (Jane Eyre is not horror, for example.)  Obviously "scariest" could be a measurement, but most disturbing, best written, or most canonical would work as well.  (Though I will probably do a "best classic" series of polls.)

The RULES--You may nominate TWO (2) books at the most.  Obviously the fifteen books you love can't all be the best you've ever read.  Really I should be accepting only one "best ever," but I find that makes prolific readers have aneurisms in their brains.

You may "second" as many of the existing nominations as you wish.  So check back to see what's being nominated.  The number of seconds will largely determine what will go on the poll.

Only the best three (3) books from a single author will go onto the poll.  (I don't want this to be a "Which Stephen King Book is the Best" poll.)  Most people don't read a lot of horror, and I find their experience to be limited to just a couple of authors.  I want to get at least a few different authors on this poll.

My own two nominations are for Pet Cemetery by Stephen King and The House With the Clock in its Walls by John Bellairs (which I know is Y.A. but it scared the crap out of a little version of me).  Those are only single nominations, so they may not make the poll if others get lots of seconds.

The books that will make it onto the poll will be the ones with the most nominations.  In the case of ties (of which there are still many given that our readership is still pretty low).  I will break them in the following way:

Nominations made here rather than as replies to this post on other social media.  I will take replies from anywhere, but if it comes down to a tie, I will favor the ones made here.

If one author has another title on the poll I will break the tie with the new author.

I will take the more "genre appropriate" book.  If it's down to Harry Potter and the OotP vs. Hell House, I'm going to go with Hell House.  Even though you may use any criteria you want to determine what is horror, know that it might be rejected if it comes down to a tie.

First come, first serve!  I'll leave the nomination up for a while and if we get way more than one poll's worth of nominations, we'll do run offs like we have before, but eventually I will cut things off, so getting a nomination in early is important.

The poll should be up in a week or two--depending on how fast the nominations come in and how soon the input dies down to a tiny trickle.

Also, just FYI, I'm going to start taking nominations for future polls while the old one is still running so that we pretty much always have a poll going.  So be ready for that change.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

No More Financial Reports

It has been pointed out, by someone who is knowledgable and wise about such things, that despite my intentions to maintain financial transparency so everyone could know that I'm doing what I said I would do with 20% of all the proceeds I make here at Writing About Writing, it is probably not a good idea for me post money stuff online.  It leaves me open to too many vulnerabilities.  When it's tiny and the subject of some comedy, it's probably no big deal, but as it grows I should be more and more vague about it.  She told me that it probably wasn't actually identity thieves or hackers I would have to worry about, but actually my biggest concern should be people who might otherwise donate money but who then feel like I have made "enough."  She said that can be a real problem for some websites that make money.  People are willing to donate for art and support independent artists until they feel the artist is "doing okay," or doesn't deserve that much success, and then they close off.

And, unfortunately, many people who do this base these perceptions on the arbitrary feel of the "paydays" even if they represent many hours of work or there are months between them.  While I might be making less than two dollars an hour on average, what people are going to see and react to is that I have a paycheck for $300, and that feels like "a lot of money" to them.  (Even if that 300 took me months to make.)  So it will be better for me (and ironically the two "non-me" things I want to give 20% of my proceeds to) if I simply keep that aspect a bit vague.

If people can't see me sitting and working for hours on writing, they sort of get the impression that the writing (and thus the paychecks) just sort of spontaneously appeared.

will always love YOOOOOOoooooOOOOO!
I will still give ten percent to a local children's literacy charity.  (Right now, the kids section of the Oakland Library.)  Hen Wen is still around and being stuffed with her ten percent every time Google sends me a check (and/or I empty my Paypal into my account).  Ten percent will still go to site improvement, but as long as the amount is such a trickle, Hen Wen will continue to hold this money in the interim.  Those proceeds will still be allotted to the same places--I just won't be blogging about specific numbers here anymore.  If any of you are able to accurately appraise web design, I suppose you could work backwards to figure out how much I am making.  I won't erase the old entries, but I'm going to take down The Reliquary menu and this will be my last post with specific numbers.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Personalish Update: A Writer's Time

Writing About Writing isn't really a personal journal, but some days it's hard to ignore the gravitational pull that life exerts on the world of my writing.  Recently, carving out my own time for writing has become harder and harder. The Brain is only a couple of months away from birthing our latest little crime fighter, and everything in The Hall of Rectitude has become about the baby.

This picture of me is SO five minutes ago.
Yesterday a bunch of superheroes from other leagues all got together and threw her a shower (well her and another local crime fighter who is due right about the same time).  Even Sinostro and Mezmer-eyes put aside their plans for world dominion to swing by and congratulate her.  (And the onesie they gave us as a joint gift was so fricken totes adorbs, you have no idea!)  It was a grand affair--worthy of superbeings.  There were superpeeps, superdrinks, supersnacks, superdecorations, and a supercake.

No seriously, this cake could have fought crime by itself,
just based on how awesome it was.
Also, buttercream.
The littlest superhero was apparently satisfied by the offering of tiny knitted hats, teething rings, and ironic onesies; it power-kicked The Brain's bladder from the inside no more than fifteen times before it settled down for a a nap. If that's not absolute satisfaction, I don't know what is.

Anyway, the baby madness has been settling in on the Hall of Rectitude pretty hard these last few weeks now that little crime fighter is into its third trimester he has begun to exert what can only be an early manifestation of psionic powers.  Right now the little one can only psychically contact mother, but she is pretty much completely mind controlled.  If it wants more yogurt, she eats yogurt--despite lactose intolerance.  Chicken sandwiches.  BLTs at eleven o'clock at night.  And the demands are only getting weirder.

Yep, it looks like we're going to have a little psychic superhero who will fight crime in amazing little red stripy socks OHMYGODSOCUTE!!! I'm not exactly sure how making criminals fix BLTs and chicken sandwiches is going to thwart their nefarious plans for world domination.  Maybe if they stop in the middle of the bank robberies to go find bacon or something...  

Anyway, The Brain is starting to need more help lately.  She's still in that stage where she doesn't think she needs a lot of help but the other day I was tapped to help her put on sandals, so I think we're going to have to face facts here.  I have to be careful about how I word this, or she'll shut off power to just my laptop (somehow).  The long and short of it is that a lot of little chores are starting to fall to me. Sonic Gal and Uberdude do the heavy lifting as far as fighting crime goes, so I have to be better about doing the chores here at the Hall of Rectitude.  I've even had to be more emotionally available for conversations and hang outs, which while not hard labor or anything, are also not writing and pull some time and energy away from writing.

On top of that, The Brain is getting kind of picky about just how clean the place needs to be in preparation for baby.  I tried to tell her that even if it were pristine, that would last about ten seconds after the first diaper hit the scene, and baby was pretty much going to find dirt to eat...somehow...no matter what.  (Plus we don't want it so sheltered that the first mugger with a cold becomes its arch nemesis.) I suggested that The Brain was being VERY anal about how clean she wanted things, and we might as well start calling it the Hall of Anal Rectitude.

Yeah, that didn't go over very well...for some strange reason.

Anyway, I've recently had to start completely revamping my writing time.  I had been just trying harder and harder and harder, doing the flying machine equivalent of pedaling faster, but this baby shower was a bit of a wake up call that things just really aren't going to "get back to normal."  They're just going to keep getting weirder and weirder.  Soon there will be tiny corporeal manifestations of the weirdness with psychic powers and tiny little socks that are socute ohmygodyouhavenoidea!

Every once in a while it just becomes clear that the time I've carved out for writing just isn't working and that I have to make other arrangements if I'm going to get the work done.  Some who would be writers use this as an excuse to slack off because they"don't have time."  (That or they simply stop writing until the day that wedge of time is returned to them--even if it never happens.) But I think writers who are serious find a way. They find a way to make it work--even with babies on the way or babies in hand or whatever else is going on.  They find a way.  I had been heading upstairs after dinner to write in the evenings, but they have been getting more and more crowded with baby stuff.  So right now I'm struggling a bit with some of the transition of finding new writing time (I'm trying to switch to "insanely early" this week).  I may need to simply leave the house Hall of Rectitude for a while each day, but there is a lot to be said for going to work across the hall in a pants optional work-environment, so I may cling to hope beyond all reason.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Mailbox: Fits and Starts

This kind of feels like writer's block, but not exactly.  Also where do I publish?

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer each Friday.  I will use your first name ONLY unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous.  My comment policy also may mean one of your comments ends up in the mailbox.  Also, smaller than an opus would be good.]  

A caveat to today's question, and a warning for future questions: you probably want to keep your questions on the short side.  The internet is a fickle place and I already write entries that are WAY too long for the average surfer's attention span.  I now get more questions than I can handle, so it's probably time to start picking and choosing.  One factor that may influence that decision is the length of a question.

Or I may, as I did in Cassandra's case below, make some cuts if your question gets a bit rambly.  In the past I have even summarized questions that were way too long.  So if you're hoping to see your words in print, best to stay brief.

Cassandra Writes

I am writing a novel.  I know what happens in the story.  I know about the characters.  I see how the story is supposed to progress.  I have dialogue scenes written out.  I have, for the last few months, sat in front of my computer and wrote something in order to stay in the habit of writing.  I have read voraciously (as if you could stop me) in my chosen field (fantasy-esque).  I have tried skipping ahead to parts of the story that I have staged, so that it least I'm making progress on the story. So why is my story coming in such fits and starts?

I have used writing exercise sheets from online.  I've tried taking a break about once a week to write other things.  I have tried ignoring everything in my life until I have had a set number of words per day and still very little useable writing.  I have been at this for about 3 months, and yet I have come up with a to-date count of only 36.5 pages.

This isn't writer's block.  To me, this feels more like I have a huge reservoir of water called "story" but instead of rushing out fire-hose like, it's the angry little stream of water you get with a blocked sink in crappy apartments that frustrate you every time you try to brush your teeth because it ends up on the floor instead of your tooth-brush.  I know on your blog that you suggest that classes aren't better than just writing a lot, but is this a situation where they would give me needed direction? Is it a problem with my story- have I decided to try something too complicated for my first story?  Is the story just too terrible for words? This story has been irritating me for a while now, and I'd really like to get it out of my head, but it might be possible that I should try meditation or liquor instead.

Question 2: where would be a good place to try and submit my short stories?  The anthologies that I read short stories from seem to be mostly for already established writers, and I'm not familiar with magazines or anthologies that consider neophyte work.  I don't even know enough about where to get started to even google for the information on where to get started.  

My reply:

So you've really given me quite a bit to reply to.  I have a few theories and a few suggestions.  Let me try to take things a piece at a time.

I am writing a novel.  I know what happens in the story.  I know about the characters.  I see how the story is supposed to progress.  I have dialogue scenes written out.  I have, for the last few months, sat in front of my computer and wrote something in order to stay in the habit of writing.  I have read voraciously (as if you could stop me) in my chosen field (fantasy-esque).  I have tried skipping ahead to parts of the story that I have staged, so that it least I'm making progress on the story. So why is my story coming in such fits and starts?
My first question about your writing coming in fits and starts would be to wonder if this is your first real attempt at writing.  I'm not trying to be an anal sphincter when I ask that question, and I don't mean that you haven't been writing for years or even generated a few stories in the past, but that this is your first genuine crack at sitting down every day to write something for months at a time.  If this is the case, the most comforting thing that I can tell you is that the "fits and starts" thing is never really going to go away.  (Isn't that just so fucking comforting?)  That is just how the creative process works.  But, if you keep sitting down every day (at roughly the same time) you will find that the ups and downs become more like gently rolling hills instead of the latest Six Flags thrill ride and that even when you aren't gushing with inspiration, you can at least get some work done. So if this is all still very new to you, Cassandra, I would suggest you just keep sitting down and forcing yourself to write something and have faith that it will get better.  Trust your Uncle Chris on this one. It might help you to switch to (and stick with) a word count goal.  Even if you just write about how your characters ate cheese and crackers, played Connect Four, and made sexual innuendos about the Teletubbies. Write it just to write something even if you KNOW that you're going to cut it later.

Second....knowing nothing else but what is in this letter, my suspicion is that you might be trying too hard.  Your admittedly "run on" sentences (most of which I've edited out of your question above, but which I assure you were in several cases quite....spectacular), and your sense of urgency in trying to write "usable writing" faster point me towards the idea that you might have a sense that if you're not writing something very clever onto the page, you might be holding yourself back.  If this is the case, just relax.  Let yourself write things that aren't perfect--in fact that are absolute crap.  It's just a draft.  If you end up with a main character who spends forty pages in a curio shop in Cambria high as a kite on pot and just looking at his hand (I mean really looking at it), that's okay.  You can always revise it out later.  You have to trust in the full writing process, which includes revision and the ability to make mistakes during the rough draft.

Last, I want to ask about your mention that you skipped ahead to parts you have staged.  You may be experiencing a block because you're trying to shoehorn your characters towards these prefixed moments.  That's actually some "black belt" caliber writing skill to be able to do that without a lot of difficulty and awkwardness.  The difficulty you experience may be from not knowing how you mean to get your characters INTO the position to have those scenes--especially if this feels railroading to your characters and they're working against you.  Most writers either outline their plots pretty extensively or they let their characters drive the plot, but very few do a combination of both where they have some scenes fully developed and a nebulous idea otherwise.

The problem with that is exactly what you're experiencing--GETTING them between the scripted scenes feels clunky and is tough to write.   Writers can do it, but it's often a little too tricky.  A gushy writer might just spend 600 pages of crap in the transition (a problem in its own right), but a trepidatious writer (like I think you might be) would be more inclined to find themselves unsure of how to proceed.

I suggest you not try to write with scatter shot scenes.  Either take your work and extensively outline your plot so that your staged moments fit in neatly with the rest of the arc -OR- go completely the other way, set your staged scene to the side, simply let your characters do what they want to do, even if they run off and have spumoni sandwiches and unprotected group sex.  If you get to a point where you can work your staged scene in, great.  If not, maybe it was not meant to be and you were trying too hard to get there.

I have used writing exercise sheets from online.  I've tried taking a break about once a week to write other things.  I have tried ignoring everything in my life until I have had a set number of words per day and still very little useable writing.  I have been at this for about 3 months, and yet I have come up with a to-date count of only 36.5 pages.
My one cautionary word with what you've said here is that it sounds like you're fracturing your creative energy considerably with breaks and writing exercises.  This can really stymie many writers.  Try focusing just on one project at a time and work on it until you have a draft finished.  A work like a novel should just about consume your soul in an entirely unhealthy way.  If you're not ready to write this novel, wait.  If you are, bury yourself in it.

Mostly though, this kind of reinforces some of the things I said above.  Relax a little.  Have fun with it. Let your characters take the wheel and tell you what they want to do.  Don't be afraid to write something that isn't perfect or that you know you won't keep.  It's okay to have writing that isn't usable.  None of that effort is truly wasted.

Three months is an interesting marker though.  This is the point where, in a whole lot of activities, people start to wonder why they aren't getting better fast enough.  Whether it's a sport, a skill, a hobby, music, or even visual arts, three months is often when the frustration sets in that it isn't as easy as they thought it would be.  This is the moment when we first start to realize how much work it is going to take us to be good at something.  So while it might not be much comfort, it seems like you're right on track for these sorts of questions.  I hope that your soul searching goes well.

Month three: still not the lead guitarist in a death metal band.  Not sure what the problem is.
This isn't writer's block.  To me, this feels more like I have a huge reservoir of water called "story" but instead of rushing out fire-hose like, it's the angry little stream of water you get with a blocked sink in crappy apartments that frustrate you every time you try to brush your teeth because it ends up on the floor instead of your tooth-brush.  I know on your blog that you suggest that classes aren't better than just writing a lot, but is this a situation where they would give me needed direction? Is it a problem with my story- have I decided to try something too complicated for my first story?  Is the story just too terrible for words? This story has been irritating me for a while now, and I'd really like to get it out of my head, but it might be possible that I should try meditation or liquor instead.
Not knowing your story, I can't tell you if it's too ambitious, but I sincerely doubt it is too terrible for words.  The question I can't answer for you is this, though: "Now that you're starting to realize how much work it's going to be, is it still something you want to do?"

What it sounds to me like your experiencing is an extremely common reaction to the difference between a conceptual story in your head and one you can linguistically articulate onto paper.  This is why most people think writing a book is going to be absolutely no trouble at all until they actually try to do it, and if they do slam a draft out, they can't quite understand why no one thinks it is totes fucking brilliant.  ("But it's a farmer....who fights a dark lord....in space!")  This one of the reasons I asked you if you were a bit newer to the whole writing thing.  Starting writers tend to fall into two categories: those who gush words like inky diarrhea and don't quite get that they need to revise and refine those words and those who sit paralyzed in front of blank paper because they're worried that what they're thinking isn't good enough to write.  (You seem to be more the latter.)  The skill to get thoughts onto the page comes with time and practice, and if you've really only been at it for three months.  It takes TIME not only to develop the linguistic skills to just instantly put an idea into fully formed language, but also to have faith that a crappy first draft will be better on revision, so just getting something on the page really is okay.  Just keep working on it, and you will probably find your dribble begins to turn into a predictable flow.

To be fair to the idea of classes, classes are great when the problems a writer is having are with craft or with quality, or if they are looking to cultivate the quality of writing that programs instill.  They are useful to a writer who has never experienced peer review or really done some close reading to determine what makes good writing good.  They have their place.  It's just most people who sign up for them do so for different reasons.  (Usually because they need help sitting down and actually working.)  Classes can be okay if you need help being told to get to work, but I say this with a caveat.  An assignment deadline is an external motivation and I've seen a lot of good writing occur because of one, but they only exist for as long as they exist.  My main point with this aspect of classes is that eventually a writer has to learn to motivate themselves.  A lot of writers go to school so that they will have the discipline and structure to write, and then find when they're done with their degree, they're back in the same boat they were before they spent a bunch of money getting a degree.  So I think if that is your particular impetus, you could save yourself some money by learning to ride yourself.
Question 2: where would be a good place to try and submit my short stories?  The anthologies that I read short stories from seem to be mostly for already established writers, and I'm not familiar with magazines or anthologies that consider neophyte work.  I don't even know enough about where to get started to even google for the information on where to get started.  
There are more places than I could ever list for submitting work--even as a new author--but I'll give you some quick rules of thumb.

One: Decide early whether you're willing to submit to online publications and how much.  Some writers start with e-media (like zines) and move to print as soon as they have a good cover letter.  Some (like me) think that print is just going to get harder and harder and so try to make a move using strictly e-publishing.  None of these paths is less real, but the way the industry is shaping up, print media is becoming much, MUCH harder for unknowns.  It is also faster and easier to monetize your writing through e-publishing.  However print media is still considered much more prestigious and "serious."

Two: Google.  Your search should be pretty easy.  "Where is a good place to submit [genre] stories." You'll get lots of hits--much of it crap.  Plan to spend a couple hours coming up with a list of half a dozen places that seem like good places to submit.  Zines and e-markets will be easier to find, so you might need to give it a good afternoon if you're dedicated to print media.  I don't recommend buying the latest Writer's Market.  Their information is often obsolete before the book is even published, and you can get a far better feel for the flavor of a publication online.

Three: Follow the publication.  Don't just submit your story blind.  It's considered incredibly tacky, and you aren't likely to know if you're a good fit.  Read some past issues and get an idea if you're what they're looking for. With print media this means you subscribe for a while or find a way to read some recent back issues.

Four: If you're trying to break into print media, follow ALL the rules and play nice.  This is a small, incestuous little industry, people talk like you wouldn't believe, and it's shrinking every day.  This is not the place to get a bad reputation.  If you burn a bridge, it may come back to haunt you, and the last thing you want is an editor who won't even read your story because their friend over at another magazine said you ignored the rules about simultaneous submissions (or something). Follow their guidelines to the letter.  You can be a LITTLE more fast and loose if you're mostly in e-publications, but you still want to keep in mind that your personal reputation will spread much faster than that of your writing if you're a turd.

Once you've been in the industry a while, you'll learn which rules are more flexible with which presses, but best to mind your manners until then.