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

Friday, February 28, 2014

The Mailbox: Do I Have What it Takes?

How do I know I have what it takes to be a writer?

[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 will even answer them if I'm sick. I just love you all that much.]    

Salma asks:

Quick question, how do I know that I'm a good writer? I've written in journals since I was born, and I literally can't live without it. I've also written a couple of articles but I always find a lot of people who write way better than I do! How do I know that I have what it takes? [Writer's note: I received this question through FB, so it had a number of lower case letters, missing apostrophes and grammar errors that I fixed. The content is the same.]

My reply:

I'm still a little under the weather today, so I'm just going to do a quickie. (Wakachika wakachika.)

One of the things I think is most important when this question of "making it" comes up, Salma, is to ask yourself what does that even mean to you. I've written about defining success for yourself before, and in this context that is why it's extra important. You're already writing every day, so you have made it as a writer. When you say "make it" do you mean publication? Any publication? (Traditional publication? Zines? Self publication? A blog?) Do you want a book deal, or just publication in a magazine? Do you mean that you want to make money? How much money? Do you want to write for a living? A posh living? Megabux McMillionare living? Do you want to hire somebody to chew your food and bathe in champagne? Light your Cuban cigars with hundred dollar bills? Drive a Lamborghini?  Do you want to be read by a certain number of people? What is that number?  (I've been read by half a million people, but I still can barely pay my cell phone bill with what I make from Writing About Writing.) New York Times Bestseller? One billion readers? More copies than The Bible?

What are we talking about here?

The reason identifying what you want is so important is because the basic conceit in this question is a perception about writing that I think is mostly inaccurate. The "trope" in writing that there is some thing, and you either have it or you don't is largely wrapped up in the idea of talent and genius. Too many movies with, "You got the gift kid!" Not enough that show how much work it takes. People want to be blessed from on high with some inner quality that will mean their writing will just be awesome on its own. They expect to bashfully hand their work to some author or creative writing teacher and have them say, "This is..... My god, this is incredible!" But there's about as much chance of that happening as a kid off the street who's never been in a fight beating up a boxing champion.

Work trumps talent every time. Writing is a skill. It has craft elements, technical elements, and creative elements, but all those things can be improved with time and effort--just like any skill. If you don't think work trumps talent, find a writer bequeathed by someone around them to have "talent," but who writes once a week or a few times a month. Find another with no such talent and a skill and ability level far less than the former but who writes every day. Check back in on them in about two years.

Talent and genius may exist (though they are given far too much credit), but almost every writer you talk to who has made it is going to tell you that the only really important thing is actually hard work. A lot of hard work. Most writers will never produce anything as good as Shakespeare or Steinbeck or O'Conner or Woolf, but it doesn't take that level of skill to be a working writer either. There are plenty of Grishams and Jameses and Meyerses too out there making (lots of) money with compelling plots and mediocre prose.

Look at me! I can't write for shit. (And when I started this blog, I was even worse... And ten years ago, I was even worse than that...)  But I get up every day and do the work, and I somehow manage to make a little money at it. I have a growing audience, a growing income, and a growing body of work. All this from someone who on his BEST day can barely write a post that doesn't have an unfinished sentence.

There are also a very small number of people who probably won't be writers. Ever. No matter what they do. They don't like to play with their imagination, they don't enjoy words or the possibilities of teasing language to do new things, or they simply don't have the empathy to divorce themselves from their own point of view for long enough to write compelling characters. For most people any of these things improve with practice and lots of reading, but for a few they never will.

Such folks might get heartfelt advice after a few years that perhaps they would make better editors. But to be totally honest with you, I think there are as few such people as there are true geniuses.

For most people--the VAST majority of people--it's just about the work. It's not genius and it's not futile; it's just work. Good old fashioned, grandpa telling you in his gum-toothed (yet stern) voice that "the only place success comes before work is the dictionary," uphill, both ways, sweat-on-your-upper-lip work. You have to do the level of work that will get you to the goal you're hoping to achieve.

If you just want to publish an article in a zine, that might not be too much work.  If you want to be the best selling novelist that ever lived, you better get cracking. And if you write ten pages a day of your best work for sixty years, you may not have Stephen King's success, but you will have some success.

I would love to tell you that if you look behind your lower left molar you can find a bump and if it glows then you "have it."

Actually, that would be kind of creepy.

But I would love to tell you some way to identify something that you have or don't have so you could know whether to pack it in and call it a day or keep working. Because a lot of people (artists especially and WRITERS super duper especially) seem to want to have some ineffable quality that will mean they don't really have to struggle and toil for years before achieving success.

Sorry.  That's just not how it works.

If you love writing, keep writing. If you want to write for an audience, learn the ropes for the kind of writing you want to do and practice that kind of writing. Put your work out to be seen (by gatekeepers or the world depending on which route you take) and then keep working hard. If you want a hobby, put in the time you would on a hobby. If you want to make part time job money, put in part time hours. If you want a career, put in career caliber effort. If you want to be the best, let it consume you.

I wish I knew of a shortcut. Let me know if you find one, okay?

And as for your last sentiment....the only person you should compare yourself to is you from yesterday. There will always be better writers. Always always always.  Read the fucking shit out of them, learn some of their tricks, work hard, and move on. Unless your last name happens to be Stein or Faulkner, there will ALWAYS be a better writer out there somewhere.

Also writing since you were born? That's HARDCORE, Salma. I didn't start until I was eight or nine.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

March Poll: Write In Best 70s/80's/90's Science Fiction Series

Aliens looked like this in the 80's, right?
March is almost here!  So Writing About Writing needs your help with two things.

First- We need the final remnants of voters to go make their voices known about which movie was the best adaptation of a book. Looks like The Princess Bride is going to win hands down, but second place is basically a three-way tie and many of the other votes are only one vote difference.

BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY...

We need your nominations for the newest poll.  Now about a year and a half ago I did a poll on best Sci/fi or Fantasy series and it turned into a seven part poll with semi-finals and finals and just went on and on and on, so I'm hoping to streamline things a bit by breaking up the categories. This will JUST be science fiction series (that's more than one book) from 70's, 80's, and 90's.

Rules- 
1) You may nominate two book series. It should be one (your favorite) but I find this makes book lovers get awfully uncomfortable.
2) You may second (or third or fourth etc...) as many series as you want. In fact you should do that or they may not make the poll. Check back and see what others have nominated so you can give them secondings and they will make the poll.
3)In order to keep lots of redundant series off the NEXT poll (which will be 2000-present) the series must have published its final book some time between January 1st, 1970 and December 31, 1999.)  If there is a series that is incomplete, but hasn't had a new book since 1999, you may nominate it, but the main thing here is that there are no new books after that date.  (Our next poll will cover contemporary series.)

As usual, I'm not going to be an enforcer on "what is science fiction" or "what constitutes a series." I find that alienates people more than encouraging them to participate. Use your best judgement. As long as you're not saying Xanth is Science Fiction or something, I'll take your nomination.  All I will do is check the publication date on the last book of the series.

Don't forget to come back here and second series you want to see make it onto the poll.  Also it is best to nominate HERE....on this thread. If you nominate a series as a reply to the G+ or FB post it probably won't get noticed and you won't get seconds.


Note: I'm happy to go back and revisit our old polls now that we have closer to 500 regular readers instead of a tenth of that, but if there are any polls you feel I should add into the rotation, please let me know.  There wasn't enough interest in other genres to really support a poll yet (I think most of my readers overlap with sci fi/fantasy/geek culture) but we may be able to in the future.  In the meantime, other suggestions are welcome.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Sick Day!

Sorry everyone!

Unfortunately my frail mortal host body has succumbed to the last remnants of Plaguebearer's Power Miasma Cloud Attack from earlier in the month.  It's just a cold, so I'll be tooling some fiction from bed (where Hen Wen prognosticates that either Supportive Girlfriend will bring me chicken noodle soup and crackers or Unsupportive Girlfriend will give me shit about using the royal "we" in the phrase "We need more Sudafed"--though which will happen still remains to be seen).  I'll also probably be back by tomorrow at the latest, but the fact that there's a tiny sadistic person with a bicycle pump inside my sinus cavity pumping away with glee (and not in the good way) and the fact that I got three hours of sleep before discomfort woke me up is mucking up my brain enough that the structured writing of my normal Wednesday posts just isn't happening.

~The obligatory note that I really need to start writing out ahead of that day's post so this sort of thing doesn't keep happening goes here.~

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

An Ounce Returned

[This is a follow up to last week's post A Pound of Flesh.]

I closed the door to the medicine cabinet last night while brushing my teeth, and Art was in the mirror behind me.

"I heard you talking shit about me," she said.

"Jesus!" I screamed, jumping up half a meter. Before I could turn around, she grabbed the back of my neck with a razor sharp talon and slammed my face into the mirror.

"Poor artist," she mocked. "Oh how he suffers. Oh what a horrible price he pays for his art."

"My tooshbrush is shoking me," I garbled.

She pulled me away from the mirror just enough that the toothbrush fell out, clattering in the sink. But she didn't let me go. I was still uncomfortably close to the mirror and watching her in the reflection, eyes burning and wings unfurled.

"Poor poor me," she went on, pitching her voice to mimic me. "I gave up my stupid job, with my stupid monkey suit, and my stupid hours that I hated anyway. I gave up my marriage that was stifling me. I gave up on a bunch of materialistic crap that I hate anyway. I gave up a life I hate and people I despised to be an artist." Her voice changed back to her own. "Those weren't sacrifices you impudent whelp. I saved you."

"Well, th- thank you for liberating me," I stammered. "from years of hard effort."

"Oh right," she rolled her eyes.  (A strange sight when they are literally burning.) "Your precious Dropbox data loss. Poor, poor artist.  Lost all his old crap that needed to be rewritten anyway."

"Another favor?" I asked.

"They're all favors, mortal," she said. "Don't you get that yet? All of them. You just can't see it because you're in love with your old crap, in love with this world, in love with what they tell you to be in love with. I didn't memory dump your skills. You haven't forgotten everything you ever learned. I left you the emergency back ups. Your stories are intact. They need the tender ministrations that you now can give them."

"Back ups from 2010," I said. "Back when I really sucked."

"That just means you'll actually rewrite them instead of trying to retool the existing versions. You forget how well I know you."

"I lost half my Creative Writing degree--the better half, I might add. All those short stories for my apex class. Gone. I was hoping to add one or two of them to the blog."

"I'm so sad," she mocked. "Now, I'll have to write more. Poor me. Wah."

"I worked so hard."

She paused. For a moment--just a moment--she looked protective; like a mother.

"If you love me," she said, "you'll write them again." Her voice softened just a little. Her talon gripped me a little less tightly. "You'll make them better. You'll learn to appreciate my favors...in time."

"I did. I am. I have. I do." I said.  "I didn't stop. It would have killed some writers to lose that much work. But I kept going."

"You did, didn't you," her voice sounded proud for a moment.

Then her eyes flickered, and her voice took on a seductive edge. "You also said something else in your post. Something I haven't forgotten.  You said I was worth it."

"I did," I said. My heart was starting to beat faster. I swallowed.

"Did you mean it?" she asked. She leaned her body into mine from behind. Her breath was hot on the nape of my neck. My hands gripped the edge of the bathroom counter. In the mirror, I watched a flush run up my face. "Is my inspiration....worth it?" she asked.

I was breathing hard. "Always," I whispered. "Always."

"Never forget that," she said. "Ever." Her eyes flashed red flame as she said the last.

Then they softened, cooled back into eyes of liquid azure and lust. "I give you so much more than I take." She leaned in, her lips brushing against the fine hairs on the lobe of my ear.

"Hard....copies." she whispered...and was gone.

In the mirror, I watched my own eyes go wide. Of COURSE. They had to be somewhere--physically.

My profs were nothing if not obnoxious about never taking anything electronically and demanding we exhaust a small fortune in ink costs making multiple copies of everything. And I literally saved EVERYTHING from every class because I was sucking the marrow out of the bones of that degree. Every class produced a stack of papers that I dutifully saved--some of which were annotated copies of my own work from classmates.

I ran out of the bathroom and up the stairs to my bedroom, my mouth still dripping with toothpaste foam, I dug into the bookshelf with the stacks and stacks of paper, dug through where I thought the right strata for my senior year was. I felt like Gandalf or Indiana Jones as I blew two years of dust layering off the top.

And there they were. Both of them.

"Always," I whispered.

Monday, February 24, 2014

A Demon's Rubicon by Chris Brecheen (Part 4)

A few things have changed in 30 years.
For example, where the hell is this??
A Demon's Rubicon
by Chris Brecheen 

Part 1 
Part 2
Part 3

I had something of a station of honor growing up in Calabasas.

Okay, I might have to put “honor” in scare quotes. But then, to be perfectly honest, I would just erase them again.

I was something of a leader among my friends. We cruised around in pairs and groups and some days even gangs with our Town and Country T-shirts, capri shorts, and our palpable attitudes. We felt like kings when we managed to order fries from the local country club without being asked if we were members, played guns in the park despite the peevish moues of adults jogging past us, or shoplifted a Hustler from the newsstand while the security guard was harassing the patron who “just seemed a little 'urban' for Calabasas.” We rode bikes and skateboards to the edges of our empire and used pilfered laundry money to play video games at bowling alleys and mall arcades.

Being a leader of a group is not like the movies though. No one swears fealty, defers to your wisdom, or even hesitates to argue with you for three days running about whether or not Goonies could "actually happen." You don’t have adult values of loyalty or camaraderie. You don’t decide it’s time to go into the sewers and fight the killer clown and everyone clamps their grimy palms over your closed fist with solemn determination. You get into fist fights because “the person who came up with the ‘fart’ lyrics to ‘Shout’ should be the one who gets to sing it for the tape recorder", you tease one member one day and another the next, you argue about whether Stacey or Jennifer were getting better tits, you scream expletives across the lake at each other, prompting incensed homeowners to send the cops out to talk to you…again, and you keep wondering why all the adults around you call you “the mastermind” and your friends “flunkies.”

Being a leader is more like a slow, dawning awareness that unless you are there, Eric and Eugene won’t hang out with Jason and Travis or that Dusty can’t really stand Aaron or that Brandon is so mad that you’re up watching Fright Night with Adam because he was Adam’s best friend first. And then one day, ten or fifteen years later, you look back and realize that their eyes would flash worry and fear, but they would still sort of do anything you suggested—even running around inside the Lockheed grounds dodging the mechanical eyes of rotating security cameras, grabbing Bangles tapes out of an unlocked car, or “exploring” someone’s apartment when you found a kicked in door.

I was never a popular kid. Likable, perhaps. On the cusp of acceptance. Cute, though never cute enough it seemed to get the affections I sought. Athletic, though too small to be a serious contender for any sport. Smart, but never smart enough to know in which crowds to care about school and which to show off how little I cared. I tended to get into trouble, but not so much I was a “bad boy.”

I would love to tell you I was above all those facile popularity games. That I lived life by my own rules—a maverick even in my youth. I would be lying, though. I was keenly aware of my failings and how they were keeping me back from greatness. I was unpopular and never quite able to break into the cliques that really held sway over the social landscape of A. E. Wright Middle School in the mid 80’s.

My problem was that I collected strange friends the way some people collect salt and pepper shakers, pewter dragons, or matchbooks from every bar they’ve ever visited. My own collection was kids who didn't fit in, who were too awesome to have to eat lunch alone every day. We fell inexorably into each other’s orbits attracted by our mutual outcast status. My friends were the too poor, the too short, the too fat, the too hyper, the too remedial, the too delinquent, and the too Asian. We were the cliche motley crew of outcast misfits.

And where would the outcasts be without their bully?

Bullying…it didn’t mean quite the same thing when I was growing up as it does today. Today the word has been overused and the bullying itself under examined.

When the word is being diluted it refers to every form of fundamental human censure--we keep the other members of the tribe in line by teasing--sometimes harshy--and it's one of the reasons we don't pick our nose and eat the boogers at the bus stop or skip showering for weeks running and why over-politeness meant a generation of people used their cell phones in the theater until it finally became okay to shame them.

But at the same time every social ostracization technique has fallen under the umbrella of bullying, the actual bullying has gotten much, much worse. It is no longer always one troubled youth picking on someone smaller, but is often a horrible group thing that looks socially like hyenas picking off the weak. It happens online where it can be pervasive and constant and basically inescapable even in class or at home and kids have trouble getting parents to fully understand or help. Parents don’t like the word (partially because of it's linguistic dilution) and don’t hold their bullies as accountable as they should, nor do victims want to be seen as weak.

In my day a bully was almost purely a single, physical presence. They were big, but you could usually avoid them when you heard the French horn music. And when you were at school or home, you were safe. And dealing with them was, to some degree in the 80’s, still considered to be a rite of passage. It’s probably fair to say that today’s trouble getting bullying acknowledged as a major social issue by adults may largely be due to what bullying meant thirty years ago.

I don’t want to give you the impression that I enjoyed myself, though. It was balls.

Once every month or so he found one of us and gave us a black eye or nose bleed for our trouble. I remember his fists felt like a brick wall slamming into my face. Once he punched me in the stomach and I fell back and over into the street, gasping for several seconds to try to pull in air that simply wouldn’t come.  He stabbed a switchblade into our soccer ball--a Christmas present I'd been given after three years of playing league.  He chased us down whenever he found us.  One Halloween he waylaid me for my candy, chasing me down on my way to Brandon’s house, but I only had three doors worth of loot. “You’re lucky!” he said, jamming a tiny little Twix bar into his mouth. He shoved me to the ground and shoved me back down each time I tried to get up. It was probably only three or four times, but it felt like I was down there looking up at him eating my candy for hours.

I wasn't able to stop him. I shot up during puberty to a towering 168cm (5’6”), but before the real throes of puberty, I was really short. He was three years older than me and starting to fill out. What could a barely pubescent short kid 6th grader do against a bully from High School who carried a switch blade?

One day he had one of those sticky hand things that became popular in the mid eighties. Back then trends were born and died by what could be pulled out of a capsule vending machine for a quarter. It was made of stretchy goop in the shape of a hand, but was really sticky so it could be used to stick stuff from far away like a frog’s tongue.
As bad as sticky hands were,
Goop was worse.

His was blue. A deep cerulean with iridescent sparkles.

No sooner had we seen him that day than he snapped his blue sticky hand around my neck, cackling.  I grabbed it and we struggled, but he managed to get it back, rewarding me for my impertinent resistance with a fat lugi of citrus scented spit across my cheek.  I wiped the snot from my face while he turned his blue hand sticky thing upon my friend James.

James was fat—the fattest kid in our school—and stuttered profusely.  He would stammer through the simplest things—a T or a C paralyzing him in front of the whole class while he tried to answer a simple vocabulary question. He lived with a brother and his grandmother—and every time his mother or father would come and visit, it was painfully obvious that neither of them had their shit together enough to be his parent.

Everyone treated James like he was dying of cancer when he tried to talk in class, looking around with gobs of mustered faux sympathy, as he gripped the side of the desk and tried to spit out a few words. But their icy concern melted like summer thaw when adults weren’t around. The nice one’s mocked him behind his back. (“Sure, I’ll have another ch-ch-ch-ch-cheeseburger.”)

Those were the nice ones.

We were pretty much doomed to be fast friends. He fit right into our dysfunctional little cadre. I got to see everything the rest of the world was too fucking superficial to appreciate. James was one of the brightest people I've ever known, had read every book I ever did and more, loved astronomy, and when we played, he could go whole afternoons without a stutter. He would stand up to me when he had a moral problem with what I was doing—one of the only in our group that would—even if that only meant threatening to tell his grandma.

James just stood there while the bully snapped out his little blue sticky hand and smacked him with it repeatedly, laughing the whole time.

“Stop,” he cried. “Stop!” His voice became increasingly shrill. “St- St- St-“

Flat soccer balls...Empty bags of candy...Sitting gasping for breath in the street in front of the gas station...Fists like bricks flying into my face...His smug face mocking my pain…

But what did it was James. Holding his hand up to try and stop getting snapped with that blue sticky hand and unable to even get out the word stop as his assailant had switched to an X pattern for maximum effect. “St- St- Stop!” James shrieked.

And that did it. It was like snapping awake from a dream.

“FUCK YOU!” I screamed leaping bodily as hard as I could. (I later heard was audible across the complex by another set of friends.) He fell backwards onto asphalt with a crunchy skid.  I was fortunate enough to fall on top him.  My hands shot out to everything I could find.  I don’t even think I had time to ball them into ineffectual fists. I just slung them out randomly contacting anywhere I could get to.

I knew he was going for the knife when he reached into his pocket. I remembered how easily slid it into my soccer ball and the puff the ball had made as the life drained out of it.

Would I die here in the condo’s carport, my blood running down the white rivulet strip in the middle to the storm drain?  Would I come home stabbed and have to explain to my pacifist parents that I’d nearly been killed in a fight from which I could—and probably should—have “walked away”?

The thing that was pounding in my head though, was that I wasn’t going to let him win. Not this time. It was going to end one way or another. If he killed me, he killed me, but I was NOT going to let him keep hurting my friends. My hands found his throat and curled around it.

The next few seconds dragged out forever.

Thirty years later, I can still remember every second in petrified eternities. It has inexorable feel. He moved in slow motion. I moved in slow motion. I could smell the tar and dirt of the asphalt beneath us and feel the crisp snap of November air on my face. I even remember hearing birds chortling, oblivious to the struggle below them. He had a thin mustache of fine hair coming in above a lip curled to reveal one brown incisor among a row full of yellowed teeth. His eyes were wide with surprise and hate. He popped the handle, and the metal exploded in a dazzling glitter as the bright morning sun bounced off the ejecting blade.

This was it. I was going to die.

My only thought was that if I gave up, I would be running from him forever. I wasn't going to let that happen. I couldn't let that happen. My hands tightened, and I squeezed his neck tighter than I’d ever squeezed anything.  I felt my face contorting into a grisly grimace. And I saw his eyes swim.

I don’t know what I really saw.  Maybe he was blacking out a little, though I can’t imagine my weak hands doing that much damage so quickly.  Maybe he realized that he was probably going to have to actually use that knife instead of cowing me just with the threat of it. Whatever it was, his eyes kind of rolled back a little. And when they refocused on me, he threw the knife to the side and croaked. “Okay…you win.”

And just like that, it was over.

I stood up and brushed the asphalt bits off my jeans. James and I walked to the bus stop like nothing had happened and were joking about throwing Mogwai across time zones as “Gremlin Grenades” by the time we reached school. I never worried that the bully would come stab me.  Maybe I should have, but I didn’t.

Shortly after the carport, Eugene said he’d gotten tripped and held down. The next time I saw the bully, I started to follow him. I don’t know what I would have done, but it didn’t matter. He turned a corner and was gone when I caught up. We never had to deal with him again. Some new group of kids likely were much easier prey.


It wouldn't be the last time I stood up for my friends.

In high school, my best friend was named Jason. Jason was a little overweight. Jason was a little awkward. But Jason’s biggest crime in the merciless halls of Canyon High was that he was a little effeminate. He played the flute in band, liked to put his hand on his hip, and had a C-3PO prissiness thing going on, and had an unfortunate habit of telling people he “didn’t appreciate the fact that” they were doing whatever it was he was objecting to. While I was pretty good at slipping under the radar of the worst teasing, Jason never seemed to get the knack of it. 

“Hey fag,” they’d say. “Hope you blow cock better than you blow that flute.” “Hey Jason, when’s the operation to get your vagina?” “I’d let you suck my dick, homo, but I’m too afraid you’d eat it.” "'I don't appreciate the fact that' you're such a fairy."

I couldn’t fight Jason’s battles for him. I was sixteen. I had my own problems, and if you want to get down to the human fallibility of it all, I was more interested in getting a blow job from the girl in English and passing Algebra. A few “knock it off”s here and there were as much as I stuck my neck out while it was happening.

I could have been a better friend. I should have been. Jason was one of the whip smartest people I'd ever met, and we shared an almost perfect overlap of geeky interests. We blew through years worth of lazy afternoons playing video games and talking about movies. We shared books with steamy parts our parents didn't know we were reading after bedtime.

But more than once I cornered one of the worst offenders alone at lunch or at a fast food restaurant after school.

“Tone it down on Jason,” I’d say.

They’d give me a look. It was the teen-rebelion look. The no-one-tells-me-what-to-do look. Eyebrows high, lips flat, and head tilted back. I was still barely pushing five feet, and despite being known as the guy who smacked another kid with a metal lunchbox in junior high, I hardly had a reputation as a badass. 

But they would tone it down.

All but Brian. 

Brian was on the baseball team, if my memory serves, and he towered over me easily by over half a meter. He was thick and muscular and wore a scowl and a Dodgers cap wherever he went. I think they were psychically linked because his scowl deepened whenever a teacher told him to take off his cap. It was our Sophomore year, and Brian was taking a particular glee in making fun of Jason.

I caught him at his locker one day as lunch was ending.

“Brian, lay off Jason.” I said. 

“Whatever,” Brian said.

“I’m serious,” I said. "Ease off."

He slammed his locker. He took a step towards me towering over me and looking down into my eyes. The height difference alone was comical, but he probably also outweighed me by a fifty kilos. His hands like two ham hocks, each with five thick penis fingers jutting out. “Or you’ll what?”

However, everything Brian was trying to exploit within me had had the life choked out of it on the asphalt of the Oak Park Condominiums in Calabasas. For better or worse, the reason I would fight off muggers as an adult—even three and four at a time—chase a home invader down the street, and risk having my lights punched out to mess with a creep who wasn’t leaving a woman alone had everything to do with that moment--that one moment--when I chose to squeeze tighter instead of give into fear. He wasn't going to intimidate me.

“I’ll pick a fight with you,” I said. I was looking almost straight up to meet his eyes, and practically smiling. My heart was banging away in my chest and my throat and my temples, but I didn't back down.

Brian’s penis fingers curled into a wrecking ball of a fist.  (Here it comes!) “I’ll kick your fucking ass, Brecheen,” he said.



“Yeah,” I said. “I imagine you will. And then you’ll get suspended for fighting."

Brian snorted. He was unimpressed.

"And you’ll probably miss your next game.”

 

That got his attention.



"And when you get back, we’re going to have this conversation again. And again. And we’ll keep having it until you end up at Bowman.” [Bowman was the district’s continuance school for delinquent students.] "I don't think they have a baseball team at Bowman."

He realized what I was threatening to do. There was a long, long pause. His hand unclenched.

“I’m not going to be his fucking friend,” Brian said.

"He would never be yours anyway." I said. "Just back off a little."


There’s a follow up to this. One of those things that sort of never happens until the day it does. I ended up with Brian in an English class my senior year and the teacher had us all write something complimentary about each other anonymously. The activity hadn’t been structured very well and most of the kids were using the opportunity to deliver back handed compliments. “You aren’t as stupid as you look.” “You smell better than you did at Sierra Vista.”

Mine were the usual blend of smoopy stuff you get from that sort of thing, but I remember finding one I always thought (hoped?) was Brian: 

“I hope some day I have a friend as good as you."


[© 2014 All Rights Reserved]

Part 5

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Tightening The Net

Pictured: Not the Sci Guy.
Or our computer array.
Or really anything to do with Writing About Writing.
Sci Guy: It came from the first floor....again. I can't tell you any more than that.

Chris Brecheen: You know that rules out the two people I would have suspected. You sure they aren't on the first floor.

Sci Guy: This isn't Star Trek, Chris. I can't track their life signs or anything. But I do know that their security key cards didn't open any doors on the first level. There are only two computers that can be accessed without going through a security door and one of them a closed POS machine in the cafeteria that Grendel uses to send orders back to his mom.

Chris Brecheen: So we're nowhere?

Sci Guy: I'll check the remaining computer's keystroke log, but that's about a ten hour job at minimum. And I really have trouble imagining someone who is this clever about hacking making a mistake that obvious.

CB: This has to stop happening. I mean he said "fuck grammar." Do you know how long it's taken me to establish the delicate balance between hating prescriptivist wankers but still acknowledging that grammar is important for a writer?

SG: Yes. Do you?

CB: (pause) Um....Well, no, not exactly, but it's been a....good long while.

SG: I am doing everything I can on my end. It's your end that needs the attention now.

CB: PHRASING!

SG: You need to find out who the mole is. And even though that cheese guy is weird, I think he's about four stories further up than where you need to be looking.

CB: We only have three storie--- Oh you mean the basement.

SG: Yes, Chris. Yes. That's what I mean. Not a lot of people have an EVIL VERSION OF THEMSELVES living in their basement.

CB: Well, I mean he's not like...REALLY evil.  He just likes NaNo and gives women "The Shocker" all the time.

SG: And lives in the basement singing about being an Angel of Death....and has a goatee. And do I need to remind you that he has hacked our signal about fifteen times now including every time you try to do a literary review of Fahrenheit 451.

CB: Yeah, but that's....you know.....prank stuff.

SG: Go talk to your evil twin.

CB: Every one of my guest bloggers has a reason to be a butt head.

SG: Yes, but which one of them is actually holding a grudge.

CB: I don't suppose--

SG: It's not me.

CB: How did you know I was going to ask that?

SG: Because you're way more predictable than you think. Look, you let me muck around with quantum realities looking for my dead girlfriend IN DEFIANCE OF AN INTER-DIMENSIONAL TREATY WITH A RACE WHO WANTS TO WIPE OUT HUMANITY. As far as I'm concerned, I owe you. Besides, if it were me, you would just turn your computer on and never again be able to get it off the picture of me giving you goatse. Ever. On any computer you ever touched.

CB: I probably could have gone my entire life without that image burnt on the back of my retinas.

SG: Just do yourself a favor Chris. I know you, and I know you think that thing down there is mostly you--but it's not you. Not really. You're going to do this whole witch hunt thing with the entire staff and cast and crew because you don't think you're capable of something like this, but that thing down there isn't you. It's something that has gone through what you never had to. You know how you get pissy after an afternoon of cranky anonymous comments?  Well imagine nothing but that in the last 18 months straight. You wouldn't be the same person. I know you don't like to think about this because it's basically you down there, and it's like looking in a "What If" mirror. But don't lose your head.

CB: Okay, well thanks. I'm going to go find the cheese guy.

SG: Did you not hear a thing I just said? Like at all?

CB: Sorry Ciggy, I'm still trying to get that goatse thing out of my head. Jesus fucking Christ.

Friday, February 21, 2014

2014's Greatest Hits By Month


January
Happy Second Birthday Writing About Writing
You Don't Really Have To Write. Really. (Part 6)
Derailed!

February
Question: Do You Really Have to Write Every Day to Be A Writer (F.A.Q.)
A Pound of Flesh
The Mailbox: Do I Have What it Takes?

March
The Pros and Cons of W.A.W.'s Social Media
Parting Clouds
Let Writing Terrify You (Mailbox)

April
30 Ways For Writers to Be (And Stay) Miserable (Part 1)
The Mailbox: Text to Speech Software (And Season 2)
Post Delayed Because Baby

May
Sunday Rerun Day
Copyright and Editing (Mailbox)
The Mailbox: Talent

June
The Mailbox: Is Dead Poets Society a Shitty Movie or What?
My Life Just Got a Little More Complicated
Introducing O.G.

July
Opting Out: My Dubious Future in Traditional Publishing
The Mailbox: Self Doubt
Traditional Publishing Questions (Mailbox)

August
Personal Attax
The REALLY Hateful Hate Mail
Attack of the Strawmen (Mailbox)

September
The 17 Rules of Writing 
Pass/Agg Memo to Other Artists
Why Others' Stories Matter 

October
Pass/Agg Memorandum to Other Artists
The Mailbox: What's Your Process 
Self Reflection Sucks (Part 1) 

November
What is Avant Garde? (Mailbox)
I Am The Night....Or Something
Writing Angry and Capes (Mailbox)

December
So You Want to Start Your Own Blog (Part 2)
How Do I Describe Things? (Mailbox)
The Coming Week (Or so)

The Mailbox: Best Answers EVER.

The worst best advice ever: How much revision should I do? Do you have any suggestions for how to improve my grammar? I feel like I just don't have talent. How much reading should I do if I am serious? You make $1200 a year and growing--how can you complain?  

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will intercept them and answer them for him (because he is a total tool).  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.]    

Hi all! Your white knight here to drop some really real wisdom on you about how to be a writer, and kick start your career faster than the comments get ugly on an online post about feminism. I have intercepted your e-mails, and now I will answer your questions with some actual advice instead of that tripe Chris likes to dispense about work ethics and revision and shit. 

Mark asks: 

How much revision should I be doing on my NaNoWriMo novel?

The only reply you need:

The real question you should be asking, Mark, is how many editors the publisher is going to assign your book once they read how fucking awesome your idea is! Because when you're a winner, people come to you. When you're a loser, you go to them. And when you're a complete and total loser, you do their job.

Work on the idea, Mark, not the writing. Anyone can write. Not anyone can come up with a killer concept.

Writing isn't a skill. It's a talent.

My daddy used to tell me if something was worth doing, it was worth doing right. So if you've spent some time thinking about this idea, you shouldn't need to revise it at all. That's why you wait for inspiration and write a perfect draft when you sit down the first time. Otherwise you'd just be writing a bunch of crap. Wait for inspiration before you sit down, and then you only have to do it once because it's a good idea.

Oh sure, it's going to need a polish for grammar, and a few loose ends. That's what those pedant word nerds are for. Revision is for people who didn't do it right the first time.

Work smarter, not harder, Mark.


Lisa asks:

Do you have any suggestions for how to improve my grammar?

The only reply you need:

Here's my suggestion: Fuck grammar. Grammar is for tools.

Writing isn't grammar. Writing is art. You don't have to be some fucking English teacher to be an artistic genius. Grammar is a bunch of stupid little rules.

Grammar is only important to people who are going to become copy editors or Professional Tweet Responders (PTR's as I call them). In other words, the people who will be assigned to clean up your genius novel. Let them do the pleb work. It's your job to come up with the great ideas. And once they see how awesome your idea is, they won't care if you've left out a comma or two.

You=genius. Them=grammar. Got it Lisa?

It's all descriptive anyway, right? I mean if enough people say literally can be used before hyperbole, then that's what happens, so who cares if you're wrong. Just tell them what you meant. You don't need to learn the conventions or why rules are being broken by some groups or how to impress the eight or nine people who actually care about this stuff. Let them go be stuffy somewhere else.

What's important is your ideas. If they are off the hook inspired then you will have a million pencil pushing nerds crawling over each other to fix your grammar for you. If you sit around and learn what a participle is, you're never going to come up with those genius ideas in the first place.

Who the fuck thinks writing is about being some grammarian?


Moira says:

I feel like I just don't have talent. I wrote a story for NaNoWriMo this year, and then I wrote a sequel to it in December, but in January I stopped writing, and now I can't think of anything new.

The only reply you need:

It's possible you don't have talent, Moira. Not everyone does. But you managed to write two novels in two months, so I'm guessing you're at least kind of a genius.

Welcome to the club.

Look there are a bunch of fucking stupid a-holes out there who would suggest that the reason you can't write right now is because you stopped writing for a month and a half like it's some kind of thing you have to do every day or it will go away. Like a muscle that's out of practice or something. They're going to tell you to get back to daily writing or some shit.

They'll probably also tell you that one month is too fast to write a novel and that you need to rewrite it and then revise it. They're just jealous motherfuckers who want to tear down your crowning achievement.

Fuck them in their earholes. And don't be dejected that you aren't equipped to do it naturally Moira. Even if you were a dude, I would recommend doing it with a big glass dildo.

These people think writing is a skill.  Writing is not a skill. It's a talent.

What's going on, Moira, is that you can't be genius all the time. You have to let your inspiration recharge like a tesla coil after a really hard discharge. (Or me after a six-shot marathon of epic sex, if you know what I mean. [Call me.]) Creativity isn't a muscle or a habit. It's a gift that comes down from on high. And if yours gave you two novels in a row, you're going to have to wait for it to recharge.

I strongly suggest you relax. Let your batteries recharge. Send your two novels off to publishers (several publishers at a time) and start getting them to fight over who will publish you. Don't worry if they send them back--true genius is hard to recognize. In the meantime watch some Game of Thrones and start a wishlist on Amazon for all the shit you're going to buy when you get your advance checks and royalties start rolling in.


Lance asks:

How much should I be reading each day. I am serious about wanting to be a published novelist.

The only reply that matters:

Reading is not that important to being a writer. What you need--what you really need--is talent. The people who tell you that are the ones who want you waste a bunch of time reading that you could be using to come up with more ideas for awesome books.

If you're reading more than a couple of hours a week, it's way too much. Use that time to network, brand, get your talent recognized on Reddit and Tumblr because that's what's going to supercharge your career--not some stupid book.

If you want to relax with some entertainment, watch movies, play video games, and read comic books. Those will inspire you and teach you about narrative arcs and stuff. They are way more useful to a writer than reading.

That and talent.


Anonymous asks:

You make like $1200 a year. That's enough to buy a computer or go on a nice vacation. How can you still tell people that isn't very much??!!??!!??[sic] God I know so many writers who haven't made anything yet. You are spitting in their face.

My reply to Chris's question:

Chris is right to think this is pathetic and not worthy of his time. Writers shouldn't go in for those small payouts. It should be one massive payday or gee tee eff oh.

$1200 might sound like a lot of money all in one place, but you've got to understand that Chris gets this over the course of an entire year. That means he makes about $100 a month. Well he spends 25-30 hours a week on this stupid blog. So really if you break that down to hourly, he's making about a dollar an hour or less.

What an idiot!

If he were a real writer, he would write a book and go make a million dollars.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Don't Forget to Vote!

February's Poll has lost a little steam. Partially because I'm not running around the internet hectoring people into voting, but mostly because The Princess Bride took an early lead and left the other movies in its dust. Yes, yes, let's all take a moment to act shocked that Rob Reiner's fricken immortal classic is probably going to be voted the best adaptation and surreptitiously whisper that we're pretty sure those people just watched the movie and didn't really read the book.

Got that out of our systems? Good. Because there's still every other position on the poll still to figure out, and some of them are neck and neck.

However, the runners up are all in a massive close race for second, and that could be anyone's game. So if you haven't voted yet, care deeply about those second placers, or just want to round up twenty friends to topple The Princess Bride, you have just a little over a week left to vote.

The poll itself is on the left hand side of page all the way at the bottom of the sub menus there.  It's long and thick and black and somewhat innuendoish. Everyone gets three (3) votes, but there is no ranking so using all three "dilutes" their potency.

Just remember this is a poll about movie adaptations, not the movies themselves. While every movie must change some things, did the adaptation stay as true as possible to the source material? This is NOT just a poll about which movie you liked most.

Also....prepare to gear up for the write in portion of March's poll. We will go back to one of the first polls I ever wrote here on Writing About Writing, but with a twist of breaking down further by genre and breaking it into decades. So hang on to your thoughts for now (the actual post will go up in a couple of days) but in the meantime consider the best SCIENCE FICTION series OF THE EIGHTIES.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

A Pound of Flesh


This is a story only a few people in my life ever knew until today. It had a limited share on Livejournal many years ago, but was only ever shown to a few.

This is a story about Art. Not about art with a little a, but about the proper noun. The big cahoona moona. The real McCoy.

Art.

People think art is an abstract concept, but artists know that's completely bullshit. Art is real. She lives. She breathes. She devours souls and shits effervescent beauty. Her merest gaze can strike one down with ecstatic paroxysms of inspiration. And she watches her followers like the capricious gods of old demanding sacrifices and proof of loyalty.  She's all kinds of ragingly jealous.

And if she only asks for your first born son, you got off light.

Art might allow some to casually worship her for fun or enjoyment. She may extract no price for this. Go ahead and write for fun once or twice a month. Go ahead and draw with no ambition. Go ahead and join a community theater troupe or your local church's choir. She will allow this. She can be cool and detached and aloofly benevolent to her dilettantes.

But from her high priests and priestesses, she will always come eventually, approach with sinuous steps, stretch her glorious wings across the sky and ask, "Just how much do you love me?"

This is the story of the first time Art came to me, and how I failed her.

When I was in college (the first time), I was a music major with emphasis in voice going to one of the better colleges in the state for music instruction. I stood in front of stodgy white men with lips curled into moues of pre-rejection, sang my heart out, and they nodded--clearly unimpressed--and yet welcomed me into the Bachelor of Arts in Music anyway. There I learned about musical theory, listened to chords and intervals, practiced piano, and sang so much, so often that my throat burned.

It wasn't just hyperbole--I had a developing cyst on my vocal chords. A pisser of a diagnosis for a voice major. That is when Art came and gave me a choice.

However, this story is not how I overcame adversity. This is the story of my failure.

When the ENT diagnosed me, I was actually relieved. I remember running out of the office and jumping into the air with one fist raised high, Flash Gordon style. I had been going nuts trying to keep up with that degree. Theory lab, personal training, choir, and keyboard training were all one unit classes, mandatory to the major, but required four or five hours a week each to keep up with.  Theory itself was three units and easily took 10-15 hours to keep from floundering. I had a GE class too. I think it was critical thinking. I started out okay, but my music kicked my ass so hard, I didn't have much left over.

But the huge one was The Northridge Singers. Singers was a terrible freshman-savaging monster that knew no mercy or remorse. It was the Grendel's Mother of my schedule.

My first semester a guy named Ax ran the class. We sang a Magnificat and a half a dozen other songs. It was beautiful. It was everything I ever wanted out of a choir. The time commitment ran about 10-12 hours a week. It was intense for a one unit course, but we focused on parts training, and I had the time to learn each piece. Our performances were spectacular and they ranged from Palms Springs to Santa Barbara. My step-father looked at me after my first college concert with the first look I could describe as something other than I-am-obligated-by-faux-fatherhood-to-be-here pride and said, "I'm sort of glad you stuck with this singing thing. It gives me an excuse to hear some actually good music."

But Art was watching. Art didn't want me getting too cocky.

Art had not yet asked me to pay the toll.

John Alexander came back from sabbatical my second semester. He turned that class into a nightmare. Perhaps, in truth, Ax turned the class into an idyllic fairy tale. Either way, the class that I had fallen into bed with and told that I was starting to have "very real feelings," grew cold and slipped a hand around my throat.

Here I was, a freshman voice major, with masters students in music who were admitting that things were "way too fucking intense." I spent hours a week trying to parse the music he handed to us. Not one piece or two or three, but half a dozen every time we met. He just kept giving us more and more. He kept telling us we'd be put on the spot to sing our parts in front of the class. I was sight reading pieces levels more advanced than I'd previously ever performed with extensive rehearsal, and he wanted the songs all but memorized by our next meeting.

I tried desperately to keep up with the pace of the choir, but I didn't have enough piano skill to practice on my own, and I needed more time to assimilate pieces than a single run through. By the time it came to a head I was spending 20+ hours working on that one unit class every week. That in addition to a full fourteen other units, a forty-five minute commute, a girlfriend and a weekend job.

Art asked me, in a voice I could almost hear, how much I really wanted to be a musician. "Demonstrate to me how much you love me," she demanded. "I desire to know your dedication."

I hemmed. I hawed. Art would have none of it. She pinned me under her merciless talon and repeated her demand: "Show me how bad you want it!" She leaned in that I might smell the fetid wind of rotting artists' souls on her breath

I got my cyst diagnosed without my parents knowing. They still don't know (well, I suppose they do now).  They just thought I dropped out of school. I didn't tell anyone. I didn't tell my girlfriend. I didn't tell my friends. I didn't tell my teachers. I didn't tell John I-am-the-antichrist-before-a-concert Alexander. I didn't tell a counselor or the school.

I just stopped going.

I didn't have a plan. At first I just stopped going to my music classes. What would have been the point? I didn't want to look John or my voice trainer in the eye. About a week after that, the full weight of all those wasted units hit me. I'd been at school for an entire year and had two G.E. classes to show for it. Utterly dejected, feeling like a failure, and with no vision about the future, I stopped going. I wouldn't be back for over a decade.

Art gave me a choice when I had the diagnosis, though at the time she was wearing the skin of a young Ear Nose and Throat specialist named Dr. Peterson.

It was a developing cyst. I was lucky to have felt it right away, and come in. If I stopped overusing my voice it would diminish on its own. But that meant no singing. If I wanted, they could perform a minor surgery and remove it. In either case it would come back if I overused my voice again.

I had to chose a life of only singing or a life with almost none. If I chose to sing, I had to treat speaking like a rare gift--the doctor told me to imagine each word cost me a quarter. I would have had to be virtually a mime except for singing and training. If I chose not to, I had to be careful to even reign it in when singing along with the radio. To this day, I can feel it bubble up if I've been really belting out Javert in Les Miz or something.

I let go.

But the fact was, I wanted to let go.

When I quit, I just stopped going. I drove off every morning in my boxy Suzuki Samurai like I was going to school, drove down the road, and played Super Metroid with my friend Shawn. It was strange because I could have walked in, head held high, and handed them my doctor's note without another word. They would have grumbled and nodded and signed all those units into Incompletes and let my G.P.A. survive the hit. I could have walked away with honor.

At the time I convinced myself that maybe they would pressure me to have the surgery, and I didn't want it. But that was fucking bullshit.

It was also a clue.

I was afraid that they might try to talk me into sticking with the art I was signing onto a lifelong commitment for. God forbid they wonder if I wouldn't have a minor procedure in order to keep going with something I professed floridly to want a career doing.

Art had set the price, and I couldn't pay. That cyst was just fortuitous timing. I got what most artists never get--one clear, unambiguous choice. Most artists face a long road of small choices in which their priorities become painfully obvious only over time and often despite their passionate declarations to the contrary. I had no ambiguity to hide behind.

I did not want to be a musician badly enough to inconvenience my life. It wasn't them I couldn't face; it was me.

My parents found out I wasn't going to class when my voice trainer called my house to see where I was. My friends found out when my mom let it slip in front of them. My girlfriend didn't find out until after we'd broken up. I lied to all of them in a way that made myself look worse, and part of me liked that. When my parents yelled at me or my friends shook their head and rolled their eyes it felt right. It hurt good.

Because I had failed. Truly. Spectacularly.

I ruined that hobby for myself by pursuing it that way. I loved singing. I loved music. But Art doesn't want to know if you love something. She wants to know what you'll give up for it. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But eventually she'll want to know.

I didn't love music in the way that I love writing. I didn't need to be as good as I could. I didn't wake up singing and think about singing all day and get kind of depressed if I wasn't singing an hour or two a day at least. I didn't tear off on singing benders that could last hours. There wasn't passion. There wasn't fire. I wasn't pursuing music because I yearned and burned; I was pursuing music because I wanted to have a paycheck while I wrote. I wanted to teach high school choir as a meal ticket and stumble home each night and weekend to my word processor. (You know, cause teachers have all that free time.)

But Art doesn't play those half assed games. You have to want more than anything else in the world to placate her.  She'll demand work and toil and so much sweat you feel like your pores are fountains. And that is your minimum. Then she comes and asks you for things like your speaking voice.

Art will allow you your garage band or your habit of doodling or your finished NaNo draft.  Art will let you strum a guitar or keep up with the chord progression of a song on piano. You may keep your hobbies. Art has no qualms with her casual followers.

But speak of careers and passion and "making it," and Art yanks her head towards you with a sniff like a predator who has seen movement in the corner of her eye, and she fixes her gaze upon you, and she thinks of what she will demand from you as tribute.

Sometimes people ask me about my writing time or ability to struggle on even though I'm making only $100 dollars a month, and they are a little indignant that they don't have that time or ability. "Well of course YOU can dedicate your life to writing. YOU don't have a career or kids. You don't have all these bills. You are Mr. Luckypants McAdvantageface!"

That's true.  But that's also true, in part, because I did not always fail Art. There are certainly parts of my life that I owe to unearned advantages and parts that were very lucky breaks (like being a househusband for room and board) but I have also made difficult choices to get here as well.

When Art returned, I was no longer a musician. I was a writer, and I wanted to be a writer.

"You know this will not be easy," she said. "You of all people know."

"Yes," I replied. "But writing is different. This one I do want." I swallowed.  "Ask."

"Oh I shall," she said, a gleam in her eye brightening into a twinkle. "I shall."

She asked me to leave a career. I did. She asked me to go back to school to improve my ability. I did. She asked me to work less as a teacher. I did. She corrupted the files of all the writing I'd ever done in 20 years and told me to start over if I really loved it that much. I did. She asked me to be a nearly forty thirty-two year old man with no car who technically rents a room. I did. She asked me to have a deplorable financial situation when it comes to retirement. I did. She asked me to give up on dating folks all but some mythical friends with benefits who would not take up my time and energy. I did. She asked me to give up my social life. I did. In a way--in a very round about way that I will perhaps write about some other time--she asked me to give up my marriage for her. I did. She even asked me to give up on being a father--I didn't have to take an existing child to an altar to sacrifice it, but she let me know by showing me young families around me that I would have so much more time and energy if I gave up on having a family.

And I did.

Art forces us to tell her what's important to us. Sometimes she asks in a series of a thousand choices that end up with us working 30 hours a week from home and having the rest of the time to write, and sometimes she uses an Ear Nose and Throat doctor as a meat puppet to give us one climatic decision.

But she always comes eventually. You don't find artists of any measure of success who don't have a story of giving something up for the Art. They all have a path they couldn't take. Whether they deny themselves a family or just have trouble emotionally connecting to those they did or whether they gave up a social life or just chewed through friends because of their mercurial nature or whether they gave up a career or advancement or something. They all had choice they hated to make. A sacrifice. Art came eventually for all of them.

All of them.

The question isn't if you love Art. The question is what will you give up to be with her.  And the worst part is, and there's no getting around this (at least not for artists):

She's worth it.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Down at R&D

Chris Brecheen: Okay, dude, you just said a bunch of words that have no meaning to me. I don't know what a poleronic transistor is. I don't know what a antinutreno pulse wave does. On my best days, I am capable of finding my computer's on button by the third try. What I want to know is if we can get Writing About Writing back up and running. It's just dead air right now.

The Sci Guy: I think so. I can probably regain posting ability to make sure that something goes up tomorrow, but it'll have to be something you've already written. By Thursday I should have regained our primary interface module so you can write new posts. But, it'll probably be the weekend before I can go through every line of code to see if they dropped some kind of Trojan horse in the system that will let them hack the signal.

Chris Brecheen: I thought this wasn't going to happen anymore. You promised me that you would quit poking around in the quantum universe shards looking for a timeline where your dead girlfriend didn't die for at least long enough to make sure our security was air tight.

S.G.: Our security is airtight.

C.B.: You do know what the definition of is is, right?

S.G.: Probably better than you do, Mr. Writer man. Our firewall should be impregnable. Your password even has a number in it that isn't an E replaced by the number three. And the internal security involves retinal scans, hand print ID, and voice code recognition. Which isn't bad considering my budget for R&D is ten dollars a month, and my salary is supposed to come out of that amount.

C.B.: Obviously there's something--

S.G.: What I've been telling you for the past several months is that this isn't an external security issue. We could have the best security in the universe. What you need is someone who can deal with internal espionage. The instigating computer came from the primary level of Writing About Writing.

C.B.: So...someone left a window open?

S.G.: Jesus you're an idiot. No. Triple redundant ion cannons would prevent anyone from clearing the run up to the compound. No one left a window open. I'm telling you there's a rat in the house. We have a traitor. It's one of us. Tend to your knitting. The call is coming from inside the house. Do you get it?

C.B.: Damn...and I was just about to add Pudding Pops in the cafeteria because everyone's been working so hard.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Technical Difficulties

This is Chris Brecheen, the head writer here at Writing About Writing...

~sounds of farm animals~

We are experiencing some

technical difficulties.

I'm not sure what's going on, but the Sci Guy thinks we may be under another cyber attack.

I hope this is a temporary thing, and we're back up and running by tomorrow when I will tackle a very important question from Eugene about how to write when smeg--

"Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh"

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Question: Do You Really Have to Write Every Day to Be A Writer (F.A.Q.)

The original facepalm.
Short answer:

No, you have to write to be a writer. 

Long answer:

More than any other process claim I make here at Writing About Writing, this one causes spontaneous bowel voiding, and makes people grab their pitchforks and torches and wander around Oakland killing people who look like they might be pretentious writers in the hopes that it might be me.

The thing is, I have never actually said that writing every day is necessary for someone to be a writer. I don't spend my time bequeathing that title on the worthy or denying it of the unworthy. I have more interesting things to do with my precious number of finite breaths--like rearrange my sock drawer.

You are a writer if you "Earn Your ER."

People I know this is a little TL;DR, but please listen. Just this once. Just for shits and giggles. Just so you can put on your hipster glasses and tell people you knew I wasn't really telling people they had to write every day "before it was cool." Just pay attention this one time.
I don't have time to read the history of the Teal Deer!
TL:DR

Write. Don't write. I don't give a fuck. 

I mean I do give a fuck, but only if you want to write. (It's like the old joke: How many psychologists does it take to change a lightbulb. Only one, but the lightbulb has to want to change.) I want you to be fulfilled in life. I want you to get what you want out of the rat race. I want you to succeed if you want to be a writer. I give a fuck only in so much as I give a fuck about all of you, and I want to help you make that dream come true. If you fantasize so hard you wet yourself about BEING a writer, I have some pretty good advice for you about how to get there. Because that used to be me, dreaming hard and sitting around not writing--in love with the idea of being a writer.   

But if you don't actually want to write, don't write. There's no glamour in this job. No fame. No fortune. A shameful absence of groupie threesomes. If you get to any of those things, ever, it will only be after years and years of toiling away without them. There is absolutely no reason to write other than for the sheer love of writing. 

You don't need permission not to write. You don't need absolution. You don't need approval. You might need to get over this idea that you're a writer, but that's between you and you. You don't need to make excuses that no one believes anyway. All you need is to put down the pen and not write.

Writing is not the kind of activity you should be doing if you don't actually want to be doing it. If you want write "more than anything else in the whole wide world" and you have these masturbatory fantasies of getting rich and famous because you're the next Stephen King or J.K. Rowling, I promise (pinky swear) that it won't happen by sitting around NOT writing.

Seriously, I promise.

What I (actually) tell people is that, like any art, and really any highly technical skill, writing every day is the best way to improve. Musicians practice. Artists sketch. Actors rehearse. And the better the musician/artist/actor, the more they do these things. Only in writing do you find this sense that the artist should sit around and wait until the heavens open up and grant them inspiration, as if it is genius rather than work that makes good writers.

The most insipid part of this harmful little narrative about genius is that even if a writer who isn't working regularly should become inspired, they may not have the skill to do anything about it. They were sitting around when they should have been learning the skill and craft of writing. Now they've got a great idea and they really suck at expressing it.

None of us practiced because that would ruin the magic and make it feel like work.
Hope you enjoy the show.

Inspiration is cheap.

It is. It's seriously cheap.

Go find someone who doesn't have a book in their head or a movie in their head.

Go find someone who doesn't have few chapters saved to a zip drive or tucked into a drawer, or even a rough draft--that's actually the more difficult task. Human beings are creative. It's part of what makes us human. The ability to convert an idea into little black marks and have it still be good when someone (who doesn't want to sleep with you) reads it--that is the real trick.

Practice is essential for any skill. Professional athletes don't sit around on the couch waiting to be inspired. And they don't make the major leagues without a zillion hard-ass practice sessions before their big day in front of the talent scout.

The artists we admire, the ones we love, the ones we want to emulate, and who we fantasize that our own careers will follow the trajectory of--they invariably worked very, very hard. I can think of maybe two authors who didn't write like crazy and who had a small body of works achieve such great success that they basically built an identity as a writer upon them. (F. Scott Fitzgerald and Douglas Adams) Everyone else writes (or wrote) constantly and reads when they're not writing. They didn't play video games and tell people on the chat forums that writing every day makes it feel like work...and then one day they just had a great idea, slapped it down during NaNoWriMo and became rich and famous. 

That's fucking bullshit.

So the advice to write every day is for people who really want to improve, those who want to make writing a career, those who want to be published novelists, who possibly even want a following and fans, and certainly those who want to be among the notable fiction writers of a generation.

If that's not you, then do it as much as you want to be doing it and quit when it no longer brings you fulfillment.

Would you like to know more....?




Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Lifting a Glass to the Patron Muses

Apollo knew how to hook up a tensome???
Man those Greek gods had game!
I've written before about The Patron Muses and their extraordinary role in my writing. Though I hope for a little help from a lot of people in making Writing About Writing a better blog, taking the writing quality up a notch (through editing), and providing fiction (even longer works someday) free of charge, the way things actually tend to work out is that a small group of people absolutely blow me away with their amazing generosity.

Of course I want to reiterate that every donation and supportive word take my breath away. I have even been honored by someone who said they admired my work before they tore me a new one for one particular article. I've felt moved by a few dollars and an accompanying word that given twins on the way (twins!) that's all the person had to give. Many of you have caused my breath to catch in my throat with just a few dollars. (There's even a vague sense of guilt and unworthiness when I get donations on the days I write those damnable appeal posts asking for it. ("No, I'm sorry. I was too pushy. I don't deserve this!") If I'm ever wondering what the hell I'm doing, I just look at my Paypal history, and suddenly I remember.

MY FANS ARE THE BEST!!
(Our picture getter guy thinks because he's union,
I won't fire him for shit like this.
I used to think it was kind of goofy how every artist in the world thought their fans were the best.

Now I know exactly why that happens.

However, even among my complete adoration for the fans of Writing About Writing and my work, the patron muses have a special distinction. There's no dollar amount at which one becomes a patron muse or any specific action one takes. They simply go beyond my ability to express my appreciation in any other way. Alisha (who Cathamel considers her number two) showed up one day last year wearing W.A.W. t-shirts that HADN'T BEEN INVENTED YET and regularly donates amounts that make me write to make sure there hasn't been some sort of mistake, or that her husband isn't in the bedroom packing a bag to take the kids to his mothers over it.

The others have established their places in other ways. Some have set up a monthly donation at an amount that causes the air to get dusty every single time I get an e-mail about it. (THE AIR IS GODDAMNED DUSTY, OKAY!!!) Some have been with me since the beginning with a donation each month. Some have put an amount in my account in one go that must have felt like passing a kidney stone. Some have simply been a non-stop source of social media proliferation--liking and sharing and +1ing like crazy in a way that really helps W.A.W. find new readers.

One even assures me that if it weren't for the thousands of miles between us, I would at least have one groupie.

~sniff~ It's the little things.

The thing is, there is no exaggerating the impact of these displays of generosity on my writing life. If anything, I will never quite do them justice, and I can't underscore enough how much these folks have meant to me. There have, quite literally, been moments of dark desperation, when I made five cents the day before, and I didn't get any prewriting done, and I'm looking at eight hours to just get "one more article" up, and I've wondered why the hell I'm trying so hard on something.

And then I remember the people out there who had faith in me.

Sans sexual tension so far....mores the pity.
If you don't get the reference, go get it.
Seriously, it's like one of the funniest shows ever.
And it's like I can't NOT keep going. I have to do right by them. And an hour later when I'm typing away, and it's because of them, I know I can never really thank them enough. There are a lot of cheesy cliches I could fall on here, and the worst thing about it is that they're all true. "Beacons in the darkness" might make y'all throw up in your mouths a little, but it's also kind of accurate.

And on that note, I have a new inductee to their ranks: Tracesea. I realized a couple of days ago that for months on she's made donations, offered up awesome encouraging words, and helped me over on my Facebook Page by engaging on so so so so many posts--which without getting too much into the logistics of how Facebook sucks, is incredibly helpful in helping those posts be seen by more people.


Also, just to give everyone a heads up, pretty much all of the patron muses have specifically asked for more fiction. They are kind of...well patrons, so even though I'm not exactly surrendering creative control, they definitely have my ear on what they'd like to see.  So there may be some "Work in Progress" signs up in the coming weeks (where there should be articles) while I work on some stories.