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Friday, October 31, 2014

Alea Iacta Est (10 Item Final Prep Checklist for NaNoWriMo)

The "Shock Both of Hers™" maneuver.
Perfect for those ever-common groupie threesomes.
The die is cast. No more warnings about NaNo–if you ignored the advice, you ignored it. Nothing but encouragement from now on.

Hi everyone. Evil Chris here. Just hacking into the signal of some anti-NaNo tripe that Chris tried to slip in as an 11th hour warning. Fuck that guy...and not in the good way.

Did you miss me? Did you think that I wasn't going to join you this year? Were you resigned to putting up with goody two-shoes Chris and his insufferable warnings about NaNo without my fresh spring breeze to remind you that it's okay to be an artist however you want?

Never, dear readers. Never. As sure as Chris will be incessant about the dangers of NaNo, I will be there to call him a tool. I'll be hacking the signal all month to cheer you on and cockblock any negative Nancy bullshit he tries to fill your heads with.

I was busy having my tongue pierced, that's all. Oh don't even pretend you don't know why.

However....oh my. Look at the time. The month of madness is almost upon us. If you're anything like me, you looked at the calendar and said "Holy shit, is that the date?" I don't get many trick or treaters down here in the basement of Writing About Writing, so we didn't even have to go shopping for fun sized candy to remind me. And now we're scrambling to prepare for the grueling 30 day trail. Less than 24 hours to go!

I'm here to help with ten things you can do in just ONE day (or even one afternoon) to prepare you for NaNoWriMo.

1- Clear your calendar

On November 1st, you're probably going to clear 1667 words in only an hour or two. Plenty of time left over to hang out with some friends or catch Sleepy Hollow.

Easy peasy right? Why don't they just GIVE NaNo badges away.

Calm your flappy bits. Something starts to happen around day three or four and it gets worse and worse until you're well into week two. Excitement wanes. The grind kicks in. You hit parts of your story where you were a little fuzzy on how characters get from Thiscoolscene to Thatcoolscene. Maybe your fingers stop for minutes at a time while you contemplate what's next.

Suddenly it's taking you more like three or four hours (maybe more), and that's all the free time you have in the entire day. You're catching up on weekends. There's no time to be social. No time to go out. Your house is a disaster. Your lover has a permanent scowl on their face and is putting out "casual encounter" ads on Craigslist. You have to write, boyo! Welcome to the real NaNo–not just the first two days.

So the best thing you can do to prep, is turn November into the closest thing to a barren wasteland of time commitments that you can. Get out of your book group. Cancel that date. Postpone the cupcakes and tea until early December. Do the Delany reports this week so you don't have to stay late at the office next week. Tell Aunt Gurtrude that you have to skip canasta this month. Tell the fam who want to pop in for TG early and leave late that you just can't hang. Get out of as much as you can.

It's much easier to make some plans if you finish early one day than to try to get out of them when you're running behind.

2- No I said CLEAR your goddamned calendar.

Okay your first instinct is going to be to work out a schedule that looks good "on paper." Surely adding three to four hours of writing each day into a schedule where you technically have three or four hours open won't be a problem, right? You can just wake up at five in the morning for the next month, write for an hour, shower in thirty seconds, and run a few red lights on the way to the office each morning, come home write for two more hours, go to bed a little late, and never have to give up time with friends, family, or video games, right?

Fuggedaboutit.

You might think you can squeeze a few of extra hours of writing in there without really giving things up as long as you technically find a three hour block in your schedule. That's the kind of driving, insane, too-much, "WHAT-HAVE-I-DONE??!?!" schedule that you might be able to pull off for a week, maybe two if you're a real pro about crunch times.

Not for a whole month.

You're going to have to give some things up, and they won't be easy. Unless you literally sit and watch four hours straight of television every day, you won't have an easy sacrifice to put on the altar of writing. It's going to involve some planning, some oblations, and probably something you're going to miss.

That's kind of how writing goes.

3- Warn your peeps

Only other writers and maybe a few people who have run marathons or eaten nothing but kale chips for a month are going to have the slightest fucking grasp what has compelled you to take part in such a soul crushing event. You need to prepare your near and dear for what's about to come or they will get pretty ticked off that you suddenly went completely off line as even remotely dependable for 30 days.

You're going to spend some time telling your lovers that they look great in their sexy underwear, but they'll have to take care of themselves tonight because you have to keep writing. You're going to have to tell your friend who calls you for two hours every time they break up with someone (which is like every week for FUCKS sake!) to grit their teeth and stare at the ceiling until December. You're going to have to tell your roommates that the door might be closed and you will just reach out for the pizza they offer, but it's not because you've suddenly developed a heroin problem. You're going to have to tell your buddies that they're on their own for takeout and Halo night. You need to let the blog you write for know that you're not going to be able to submit any articles for four weeks.

The polite thing to do is let them all know ahead of time that you're going to be an antisocial misanthrope for thirty days, but that it's not them. That way you don't have to cancel plans or disappoint them. Let them know it's coming. It takes a thirty second e-mail blast to keep them from being caught off guard in the moment, pressuring you into doing things anyway, or guilting you for not paying attention to them. You are about to become a oxygen sucking fuckwad, who cares for nothing but your stupid, cheesy-ass story, for the next thirty days. The least you can do is give the people around you a heads up about it.

4- Do a dry run and time it. (Also triple it.)

Write 1750 words. (That's about 6-7 double spaced pages if there's not too much dialogue.) If you are crazy into the rules of NaNo, and don't want to start your novel until November, write something else. Do a free write. Write a short story. Write a letter. Write a manifesto about how shitty you are at cleaning the litter box from the point of view of your cat. It doesn't matter. You're just seeing how fast you can splatter the words onto the page.

Time yourself.

The problem is, how fast you free write when your blood is up will not be the same speed as how fast you can work on a novel when you've written yourself into an unclear scene and you're tired and want to go out with your roommates to the new Thai place and you're fucking tired of this stupid event and who the fucking hell had the bright idea to write a fucking novel in thirty days anyway? Fuck that guy.

So you need to triple the time it takes you. This will not be 100% accurate but this will give you a good sense of how much time you need to block off each day. For some people, that will be three hours. For others it will be six. I can't tell you how many yahoos just started writing without any kind of idea how long they would need and by the second week were saying things like, "Gee, I wanted to do NaNo, but who knew it was going to take more than TWO hours a day?" (Well anyone who had any idea how fast they write would have known that, you tool!)

5- Jot down an outline (or prepare to go off the rails)

Some writers swear by outlines (especially for certain kinds of writing) but I'm not a big fan because they tend to railroad characters, and plot should be driven by character, but if you don't have some idea what general direction your story is going to go, you will probably wander aimlessly for pages at a time.

Now....wandering aimlessly isn't actually a bad thing in writing, especially if it helps you to figure out your characters a little better. It just means most of it will get cut (which would be true anyway of a draft you write in 30 days). But a lot of writers will feel like they're stuck or lost and face the urge to just give up or to throw everything out. Especially when you only have ten more days to get yourself to the really cool end you've imagined, this kind of losing the plot can be terribly frustrating.

So unless you plan on facing your day with a shit eating grin and saying "Holy fucksticks my characters are off the rails, completely meandering, and I don't even know what the hell is going on! What a day to be alive!" you might find that a loose outline is a good idea. Know basically what's going to happen each day you sit down. You don't need more than a sentence. That's thirty sentences–you can write that in just a few minutes before tomorrow.

Just don't OVERplan.

6- Don't overplan

This might seem counterintuitive, but you don't want to make extensive outlines or sit and over-plan your story. The more you do that, the greater the chances become that you will start to fall in love with its brilliant countenance or some shit, and then you won't want to write it with pulse pounding fecal spray that is NaNoWriMo's page-filling pace.


You'll want to slow down and "get it right." That's awesome, but it's exactly the opposite of what NaNo is about.

NaNoWriMo is projectile diarrhea aimed roughly at the toilet. If you bring the Sunday paper, light some candles, and turn up Steely Dan in the next room so that you can hear it, you're doing exactly the wrong kind of....um...writing.

Simply put, you don't want to be too invested in this story. If you are, the horrific quality bilge pump that you have to spew out onto the page in order to hit your word count in under ten hours a day is going to make you single tear that you're not doing your magnum opus justice.

None of this crap. You have to promise to do wrong by your draft.
NaNo is grudge sex of writing.

7- Repeat after me: "This will never get published"

You must let this idea go. Yeah, but maybe if I... Let it go. But possibly with enough editing... LET IT GO! But if I flesh out that one scene and then hire an editor.... FUCKING LET IT THE FUCK GO!!!!

You are not not not not not going to publish this "novel."

No.

Nada.

Never.

Maybe....just maybe...a year or two from now.....there might a book that has a few of the same plot points and several characters with the same name, and that book might be ready for publication, but it will not be this book. It will barely be recognizable as based on this book. This book will never ever ever ever get published. No matter how much time you spend cleaning up the grammar, it is barely even a zeroth draft.

Realizing that is the key to having a good month because the last thing you want to do is get hung up on doing it right. If you're sitting paralyzed in front of your computer because you're worried about how to phrase something to get published you have missed the entire point of NaNo.

LET IT GO!!!


8- Set up some support

Get a friend and meet up three nights a week. Sign up for a writing group–even a NaNo group. Tell everyone that you're going to do it on social media to commit yourself and then give them daily updates. Make it transparent in some way. We always do better when people are watching.

These shouldn't be the kind of people who will be assholes if you have to quit. The last thing you want is someone going "Oh Gee what happened to your NOVEL Writer McWriterkins, or did you give up and wet yourself like the baby you are?"

If you have friends like that, kill them.

But even without that kind of anti-encouragement, just having some transparency will help. Better yet, get a few bunkmates for your asylum stay. Grab some other people who are doing NaNo and encourage each other, maybe even schedule some writing sessions where you'll just sit and write for a couple of hours with no pressure to fill the moment with social energy.

9- Forget the extra caffeine (but do stock up on snacks).

NaNoWriMo is thirty days. Don't bring out the "study for finals sprint" playbook to get yourself through a thirty-day endurance event.

Caffeine is a stimulant that is useful when you have to stay up, say, all night for a midterm. It's not so great at keeping you revved for an entire month. In fact, depending on your metabolism, somewhere between a couple of days and a week or so, you're going to pay the price for all those hours of running your body at more RPMs than it can handle. And while you're crumpled into an unmotivated heap of excuses who needs two days straight of sixteen hours worth of sleep just to find the motivation to go across the room to grab the remote to turn on House of Cards, you will scratch your head and wonder how people actually manage to get through NaNo without burning out.

It's a matter of some boastful humor how much caffeine NaNo'ers tank up on during the event, but that's actually a sure way to burn out, so don't let the culture of one upmanship convince you to throw you off your game. NaNo "survival kits" always include coffee, but they never seem to include a fucking good night's sleep and some vegetables.

This will get me to November 2nd....
You need to go the long haul. You need the right amount of rest and sleep (real sleep), you need good, nutritious food, and you need to lay off the drugs. You don't need to treat your body like a temple or some shit, just be aware of the physiological effects of tanking it up with stimulants.

You don't need to cut out caffeine either. Then you'll just be trying to write while going through withdrawal. (I just wrote that to give you a good scare on Halloween.) If you drink five cups a day, then you should stick with five cups a day. If you drink two cups a day, stick with that. You just don't need to be having more than normal.

What you do need is food. Stock up on some snacks to have around the house so that your stomach has no power to distract you from writing. (That is like the first trick your brain will pull if it wants to get out of something that feels like work.) You want some zero or low prep food that you can just grab and get back to work, not something you have to take several minutes to cook.

10- Prepare your heart to be cold like the Siberian tiger. 

I would write three novels in November (and one every other month)
if your human keyboards weren't so small and annoying.

Game time peeps.

Time to be cold, like ice. Like Candice from high school when she dumped a nice guy like me to go back to Tony. No...even colder than that. Like dry ice.

No. Even colder than that! What's colder than dry ice?

You. That's what.

NaNoWriMo isn't just a physical endurance and discipline activity. It is a battle with one's own shadow Link (except it's not possible to just sit in the corner using duck and attack to win). The emotions will come crashing down all month long. Take a moment to be ready for that.

"This is the best novel crafted by the hand of man." "This is the worst novel ever written including that avant guarde 'shit sculpture' book." "I can totally do this." "I am never going to make it. I am the worst human being imaginable." "Why did I ever think I had this in me?" "Why did I kid myself into thinking I was a writer?" "I am a quitter and a bad person." "I'm no writer."

You gotta leave it all behind. Take a deep breath. Look at yourself in the mirror. Screw your courage down to the sticking place. You have to be cold to all those feels. They are shadows of the truth made monolithic in the crucible of NaNo's structure. We all feel them, but you'll be feeling them all in 30 days. From the first breathless jolt of creative magic that you are writing something that is going to make you famous and rich to the bitter end when you realize you've saved up way too much writing for the long weekend, and you're not going to make it and hate yourself. None of those feelings is real. It's all the NaNo talking.

Take a moment of reflection to keep this all in perspective. This is not writing. It's one event loosely based on one part of the writing process. You are not genius. You are not terrible. You are not the first one to hit turbulence five or ten days into the event and not think you are going to make it. You are not the first writer to doubt yourself. And if you don't make it, you are NOT to question your worth as a writer.

But you've got this. 1667 words a day. Just crank it out and ignore your brain. Ignore the hurt. Ignore how tired you are. Ignore the voice telling you that you'll never make it. Ignore your doubt about the quality. Ignore your friends telling you that it's no big deal. Ignore it all.

Because I'm going to make you a promise. If you finish that 50,000th word, it won't hurt anymore. And for just a minute–just one transcendental minute–even your self-doubt will shut the fuck up and give you a respectful nod.

LET'S DO THIS THING!!!!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Look At Everything Upside Down


Part of having bad A.D.D. is that even when I'm not multitasking, I need to be multitasking.

When I clean the house, I like to put on a show that can create background noise without distracting me. If it's too interesting I'll get distracted, sit down, and watch it. If it's too boring, it won't help me focus on the cleaning and I'll wander off to find something shiny. Most shows I haven't seen before will distract me*, so I can't catch up on Doctor Who or check out Gilmore Girls (which I love so far). So I usually watch shows I've seen already. I recently got through House M.D. for probably the third or fourth time.

*Supernatural has been the only show I have been able to watch for the first time while cleaning. If I missed some dialogue, I just assumed Dean said "Sam, you're my brother," a few times and then one of them died.

I've been re-watching The West Wing lately since I've seen it two or three times. (Actually, technically, I've seen the first four seasons two or three times, but I always lose interest after Sorkin stops writing and the quality of dialogue tanks.) There's one scene that always reminds me of writing even though it involves no writers and has nothing to do with writing.

It's the scene with the Cartographers for Social Equality.

It is ever a reminder to me as a writer to look at everything upside down. Everything. Always.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Best Y.A. Series (Semifinal Poll)

What is the best young adult series??  

Thanks to everyone who took part in the FANTASTIC participation of the nominations. Another poll with that many entries and I'm going to have to start doing only books with three or more nominations (1 nomination + two "seconds") in order to stay sane.  However, this time around, I embraced the madness.

I want to encourage everyone to read the directions carefully. A few of you nominated clearly adult books, stand alone books, or five or six different titles. 

However the list was (again) far too massive to be included in a single poll. That means we have to do a semifinal round. I will put the first list on a poll for ONE WEEK. Everyone gets five votes and the top five series will go on to our final round poll.

Then a week from today, I will put up the second list of books for ONE WEEK and we will generate the ten titles that will end up in our final round. In the last two weeks of November we will have the final round showdown for the best Y.A. Series.

The poll itself is at the bottom of the left sidebar. It's the long black poll looking thing. Everyone gets 5 (five) votes, but please remember that there is no ranking system, so you will "dilute" a strong vote for every extra you take. Only vote twice or more if you really can't decide.

AS A REMINDER: Many of these books have been turned into movies, but we are voting on the BOOKS. If you liked the first Hunger Games book, thought the second was okay, and found the third one to be a train wreck, then you shouldn't vote for Hunger Games...no matter how awesome Donald Sutherland is making the films.

If you want to be a helper, please check my spelling and that the titles match up with authors. I cut and pasted from the nomination page without checking every title individually.

This week:

Young Wizards - Diane Duane
The Old Kingdom/Abhorsen Chronicles - Garth Nix
The Dark is Rising - Susan Cooper
The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins
The Chronicles of Narnia - C.S. Lewis
Artemis Fowl - Eoin Colfer
Trickster series - Tamora Pierce
Percy Jackson & the Olympians - Rick Riordan
Another Fine Myth - Robert Asprin
Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander
Harry Potter- J.K. Rowling

Next week:

Warriors - Erin Hunter
His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
A Wrinkle in Time Series - Madeleine L'Engle
Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey
Uglies/Pretties/Specials - Scott Westerfeld
Stainless Steel Rat - Harry Harrison
Heralds of Valdemar - Mercedes Lackey
OZ -L Frank Baum
The Books of Swords - Fred Saberhagen
Death Gate Cycle - Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
Winnie The Pooh - A.A. Milne

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Clackity Clackity

I'm still working on my Ace of Geeks article that should be up this week. It's gotten to be pretty long and it's going to take two days worth of my writing.

If you want to see it as soon as AoG publishes it, be sure to follow me on one of the media where I post articles I write for other blogs.

In the meantime, I welcome you to read about how video games make me a better person. A lesson in how we all can learn about how to listen with empathy from the tabula rasa of starting a brand new game.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Ace of Geeks

Writing About Writing is not the only blog I write for. Ace of Geeks is a blog where I take a stroll away from writing, and dip a little further into the pure geek side of my life. It's where I talk about video games, science fiction movies, and role playing (of the non sexy variety), and generally write with a wonderful group of geeks and friends and an editor who in his own words wants to be "Wil Wheaton."

Ace of Geeks puts out a M-Th blog (to which I contribute at a pathetic "once in a while" pace very roughly averages out to once a month) and a weekly podcast on Fridays where they talk everything from non-traditional publishing to the latest video game play in's to interviews with geeky icons to discussions about deeper themes in movies. They extend to all the Great Warm Hug of Geekdom™.

Here are the articles I've written for them:

10 Reasons Gamergate Has Failed
How Video Games Made Me A Better Person
I GOT TO DO A PODCAST!!!!! (Here is a follow up to that podcast I wrote.)
"Fake Geek" Is Not the Problem With Fake Geek Girls
Bioshock Infinite: Your Argument Is Invalid Part 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
Movies Deserve to Be Done a Second Time
Why I Will Never See Ender's Game (Possibly Ever)

Rollout!


So this calendar thing may not look like much to most of you in the studio audience, but it is actually what I've been working on getting right for a couple of weeks now. And tonight, around midnight, I finally finished up a version that I can take on a trial run. It probably shouldn't take so long to compare when I have time available to when I write things that take a lot of time, but....um....I am not a smart man Jenny.



As I wrote a couple of days ago, my current (or old) schedule was failing me in a number of ways that this new version seeks to redress.

It's a monthly schedule instead of a weekly one.

Even though a lot of things repeat weekly or biweekly, a few of the more time consuming entries happen only once a month. That gives it a definite pattern fidelity without locking in so many days of the week that writing anything else becomes a nightmare. It makes space for the other blogs (and I'll put a cross post here those days), and has a much more realistic posting schedule for the days I'm taking care of The Contrarian while still getting something up every day.

It leaves time open for my own fiction and reading without sacrificing quality or quantity by leaning more heavily on the weekends and making many of the more time consuming posts monthly or bi-monthly.

I'll take it on a test drive around the neighborhood during November, and make sure it doesn't drift to the left when I let go of the wheel, stick in third, or make a clanky noise above fifty. I want something a little more concrete than "fluff" on Wednesdays, and there are at least a couple of days I'd like to add choices, but this is looking pretty good right now. I may need to fiddle with the knobs and see if the plan survives its encounter with "the enemy" before I shout it from on high.

Once I know it's going to hold together, I'll update my Update Schedule.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Best Y.A. Book (Poll Results)







Many thanks to all who participated in our Best Y.A. book poll. It was close for a while but after I called for more votes yesterday, The Hobbit's small lead turned into a gigantic, crushing one. The Phantom Tollbooth just couldn't hang on.


Most of the ties were broken in the last 24 hours, but we may never know if The Neverending Story could take Talking to Dragons in a straight fight. Perhaps if/when a Y.A. poll comes around again, their "Who-Really-Deserves-Seventh-Place" rivalry will be resolved.

We will start our semifinal round for the Best Y.A. series from your nominations tomorrow, so if you have one last nomination or a second, please head over to that post and get your input in.


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Vote! (Best Y.A. Novel)

The Brain and Sonic Gal got back last night from Seattle right on time. They even gave me an impromptu day off from watching The Contrarian. Of course, four days of running around after a proto-toddler means the other chores in the house fell a little behind. I just walked past the sink and a film of mold asked me if I wouldn't mind terribly waiting until it had evolved legs before I cleaned the dishes. Naturally I calmly unloaded eight cans of Lysol into the mold while screaming at the top of my lungs.  

Tomorrow our "September" poll will end, so you have one last day to vote for the best young adult novel.

Shortly after that I'll be putting up our poll for Best Y.A. Series. (There is still some time to nominate series or give them seconds but please do so at the original page.) At this point it's going to need its own run off semifinal polls and is obviously going to go on through November, so I'm not even going to bother continuing to try and call it our "October Poll."

So if you haven't voted, vote. And if you have voted, vote again (because the IP tracker only locks you out for a week and I might as well run with it). And tomorrow we'll find out if The Phantom Tollbooth can take The Hobbit down a notch.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Showing My Work: Schedule Needs

Day four of watching The Contrarian. Neither of us had died horribly, so I'm daring to feel optimistic.

Of course, now, "Dared to Feel Optimistic" will be my epitaph. I have tempted fate by publishing my lack of Raiders of the Lost Arc face-melting horror. It's been nice knowing you all.

The Brain and Sonic Gal get back from Seattle late tonight, and I hope to be back on a regular posting schedule by tomorrow.

However, I hope to be back on a regular posting schedule SUCH AS IT WILL BE.

As you know, those of you who've been keeping up with Writing About Writing, I've been threatening a major, fundamental change to my posting and updating schedule. Not a small little tweak like I've made in the past to help squeeze out an hour here or there, but a huge overhaul that requires me to put on pants that insufficiently cover my butt crack and insist that parts can't be ordered any sooner than next Tuesday. Then I'll try to scratch my balls with my wrench, but subtle like so no one can tell that's what I'm doing.

Of course, it was with no small amount of irony, my ability to post my old schedule completely broke down the day before I was about to do a big post about what my new schedule was going to be.

For now writing still involves grabbing my laptop when milk-induced comas provide me with 45 minutes or so to punch out a few words. Provided, of course, I am not watching Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood with a thousand yard stare or remembering that I haven't had anything but powdered crystal light over stale corn chips in the last thirty hours and trying to hoover in something with cellulose.

What I have done today is to work out what my old schedule was lacking that my new schedule needs to take into account. These are the critical failures of the old schedule getting more broken as time went on. Many of them have been creaking and groaning (or maybe throwing off showers of sparks) since the baby came along, but I just kept thinking, "It's just for now. No need to pull emphasis away from the blog."

That was eleven months ago.
  • Fiction This whole thing started with someone wondering about my process and me realizing that my current regimen is really preventing me from getting in some good time on my own fiction.
  • Blog Plot Once upon a time the blog used to enjoy an ongoing plot. Then it all became about page views and last minute posts. I want the whimsy back.
  • Reading Writing without reading is like trying to only exhale. I need more time for the essentials of "breathing in."
  • Better proofing I don't exactly LIKE realizing that I've posted articles with incomplete sentences and missing words.
  • Account for other blogs Remember how I write for blogs like Grounded Parents and Ace of Geeks? Yeah, so do my editors. And just trying to write two or three articles a day on the weekends was driving me nuts, and wasn't getting done.
  • Account for thank you notes At least once every couple of months, I need to write some thank you notes to the marvelous donors to whom I owe unending thanks. Since I hate doing form letters, each one takes 15-20 minutes. That adds up fast. Like most things on this schedule that don't fit, I tried to just squeeze this in without making room for it. Results were....predictable. 

  • Account for the insanity of Wednesdays On Wednesdays I watch the kid for five hours, teach for four hours, commute for three hours, usually end up cleaning for an hour or two, and do the weekly trash rituals of cat boxes, gathering little trash cans and getting dumpsters to the curb. Yet, for some insane reason that was the day I tried to put up a "meaty" article. The thinking was that I would have it done by Wednesday by working on it the days before. The thinking was wrong. The thinking needs to be driven off a cliff in an exploding car with a javelin through its face.
  • Account for the fact that I have 40+ hours of other work I can post a little something every day. I can post significant articles. What I can't do, is with my current life of househusband, teacher, daycare and writer, is to do both every day.
  • Account for Unsupportive Girlfriend Unsupportive Girlfriend likes to keep me on my toes by switching around my schedule or asking me for favors and making it impossible to write at the same time every day. The more my schedule is precision packed like a Tetris game, the more she's going to screw me over when she gives me the Z piece instead of the I. 
  • Time off  It's probably telling that I forgot this completely in the original version of this post. I write every day just like I tell writers they should, but blogging every day is a bit different. That's writing under deadline and it's less whimsical and more stressful. These last few months I've often realized I've been working 60-80 hours a week and I'm still falling behind. I might post content every day, but I need to be able to write it in a way that I have extra in the hopper and can take a day off.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Stop. Baby time.

Power to the people.
Right after my nap.
Kid grenade alert!

I know this is inauspicious timing, what with the new schedule roll out poised to hit and everything. But this can't be helped.

This is a strange story.

An ebola task force has been dispatched out of the local hero comitatus in Washington D.C. There not going to do much more than free up some local forces by keeping their eye on a few unsavory villain types in Sierra Leone.

Several superheroes from Seattle have gone to D.C. to shore up their front lines, and since the Temescal has been quiet, Sonic Gal, The Brain and another hero from West Oakland known as Codex have gone up to Seattle to make sure no one takes advantage of the light superhero presence up there. Wrecking Ball, Uber Dude, and a few other heroes have taken on extra patrols for the time being.

Sonic Gal and The Brain were going to take The Contrarian to Seattle with them. But then he started cutting a molar and looked like he was getting a cold. Even if Seattle sent down their stealth troop transport (The Fapper) the poor little guy would probably not be a very good passenger with all that sinus discomfort already going on.

So....I'm watching him. Alone. For four days.

I'll write when I can.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Does Talent Exist at All? (Mailbox)

Is there such thing as talent?

[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. Seriously, we need more questions. I'm dying here.] 

Alexis asks: 

So....I've read your D&D talent thing [Author's note: Talent: A +5 Sword You Could Do Without] and bits here and there on your blog that make me think that you don't really think talent exists–that it's all just hard work. But then I read so many other people who seem to believe that there is some ineffable quality that makes writers good, and without it the struggle is pointless. So let's have it out officially, right now. Do you think there's such a thing as talent?

My reply:

A very (very) qualified yes.

Two quick logistical disclaimers before I dig into this.

1) I'm almost out of questions.

PEOPLE, SEND ME MORE QUESTIONS!!!! 

If you've always wanted to have a question answered by a washed up, over-the-hill writer who can't even say he's a has been because he never even was, now is your chance! I think I have one more week's worth, and then I'm going to have to start making stuff up from conversations I have in Taco Bell. (What sauce is writing like? PICANTE!!!)

2) This off-schedule mailbox has been brought to you by a surprise day off from child care. Dad was home on Wednesday and I got the morning off and was able to get this started (though not finished until Friday night, it seems). All the stuff I said on Monday about doing a major rework the posting schedule still applies, and The Mailbox will no longer be on Fridays after tomorrow's roll out.

Tomorrow I'll do photos of the little calendars I've been drawing. It's epic.

But on to your question, Alexis...

Fifty years ago the reigning school of thought in creative writing was that genius could not be taught and you could either write or you were wasting your time. They would even send crying people out of the classroom. "I'm sorry, but this is crap. You simply have no talent."

Then we learned more about how humans learn and really broke down what makes for good writing. (Plus crying students running out of classes is no way to populate an MFA program!) And we discovered that, lo and behold!, most of the skills that make for good writers are actually learnable and teachable. Of course fifty years ago, everyone wore tweed and liked Marvin Gaye, so I'm pretty sure I'm cool going with modern thought on this one.

Imagine what we'll think fifty years from now.

On the other hand, to say that every writer who has studied writing and written for exactly the same amount of time will produce exactly the same quality of work is absurd. Even accounting for stylistic variations, personal tastes, and the fact that not all writing is equally created for mass appeal, critical acclaim, or artistic integrity, such an assertion would be demonstrably untrue. Some writers take to craft with an extraordinary alacrity. Others (like me) have a vivid imagination but constantly struggle with the words and the language (and in my case, particularly my weakness with proofing my own copy). With the exact same amount of effort some writers will achieve great success and some will struggle to make ends meet–if writing ever pays the bills at all.

What is the X factor there? Could it be something we like to call "talent"? Do we have innate abilities or aptitudes that will simply carry us further and that's all there is to it? Are we like the snobby, tweed wearing, elbow patched professors of yesteryear who think that genius can't be taught?

I shy from the idea of talent is that it is talked about like it is some sort of secret formula that will make someone a good writer and that if one has it, nothing else matters. What really matters is work. If you work hard and write hard and read like you're supposed to and make sure you've got the basics down and are never to good to learn a little something then you will improve. It's that simple and it's VERY predictable. Almost no art can be counted on to have such a predictable and immediate learning curve as writing.

What most people say when they confer the honorific of "talented" on an artist is that the art is good. ("The wickedly talented Adele Dazeem!") They have no idea the years of training and hours of work that have gone into what they're looking at.

The problem is when you conflate these two uses of the word, and suddenly "talent" means you don't have to work.

I've seen writers who don't work every day, don't work every week, don't work consistently every month, barely have one first draft of a manuscript to their name, who have turned in the same short story in four different classes, wring their hands, bite their lower lip, and make impassioned pleas to get a teacher to tell them whether they have "talent" or not. And I mean these motherfuckers stop the whole class with a "Can you just tell me if I have talent?"

Like that's going to matter, you lazy fucking.....okay deep breaths Chris. Deeeeeep breeeeaaaaaaths.

We don't really do this with any other skill. (I mean some people do, but we roll our eyes at them and really don't lend it the credence we do with writing.) No one who doesn't go to practice and misses half the games says with a quivering lip, "Tell me straight coach, do I have what it takes?" No one who began a job last week corners their boss and says, "Am I a prodigy or should I just quit now?" No one who picks up an instrument says to their community center teacher while they're learning their first scales "Can you tell if I'm going to.....make it? Where can I find a manager?"

Because that's fucking absurd. Yet somehow in writing, we forgot about the work part.

The problem is, it's absolutely impossible to know what "talent" might actually be. Maybe in fifty years we can strap babies to MRI's and then follow the ones with the big linguistic centers or something. But right now there is absolutely no way to differentiate it from that which can be taught and learned.

Is it a family that instilled the value of books? Is it parents who used big words when you were growing up so that you not only were precocious, but you actually knew what precocious meant? Is it the teacher who read your story aloud to the class in first grade and made you want to feel that feeling again and again like your first hit of nicotine? Is it the subtle words of encouragement from a mentor to never give up that was the closest thing to a father figure you had? Is it learning the power of the written word as a formative experience by watching an intercepted note make Lisa Kulber cry for lunch? Because if it's those things, there's no real reason you can't start at twenty, or thirty, or sixty.

Or is it all just a genetic advantage in the linguistic centers of the brain, and some amino acid cocktail that adds up to writer juju? Where do the advantages that are truly innate separate from someone who works hard.

Thus, when I say there are things that make Billy-Bob a better creative writers (and there are) like imagination, intelligence, some kind of education, command of language but also linguistic flexibility, empathy, sense of pacing and story, a flare for the dramatic, or a sense of subtext, it is still very difficult to know where Billy-Bob the innate human ends and Billy-Bob the product of his environment begins.

And not to put too cliché a point on it, but if Billy Bob ends up in an MFA program or a published writer, statistically speaking, his intelligence had less to do with it than whether or not he was white.

Imagination can be cultivated by exercising it. Linguistic playfulness is nothing more than a command of language so complete one knows how to break or bend the rules for effect. Pacing and drama come from reading or even watching TV or film. Subtext can be taught. Even empathy isn't impossible to develop. Technically none of us have any of these abilities when we're born. We're all shit stained egomaniacs who couldn't figure out the symbols in an Updike novel. (I asked a two year old what the conch shell represented in Lord of the Flies–maybe the easiest symbol in all of literature–and he just demanded more cupcake.) They're all learned skills. Psychologists are still struggling to figure out what is genetic and what comes from our early childhood experiences.

The nice thing about talent though, is it almost always dovetails rather nicely with interests. If you have a passion, you will probably cultivate the abilities around that passion. Whether it's self selection or subtle reinforcement, you don't get a lot of talentless who really want to do something with all their free time. Tone deaf musicians aren't a pox on the industry because they don't tend to like music with the kind of lifetime dedication that musicians do. (I'm talking about real musicians now, not the deluge on the first couple of episodes of America's Got Talent.) People who have very unmathmatical minds don't burn to be engineers. The number of writers who don't have a pretty good command of the language, or some sense of pacing is usually pretty low.

Yes, there are people who (for example) do not pick up on subtext at all, but they generally do not have the sort of relationship with fiction that creative writers do and thus don't go on to badly want to be creative writers. They might be more inclined to pursue non-fiction, where other aptitudes like precision of language are valued. But talent and interest usually dovetail.

You just don't end up with a lot of people who have real drive and passion to be writers with absolutely no sense of writer skills*.

What you USUALLY see is not two people who have put in equal effort at vastly different points though. What you usually see is someone using "talent" as a codeword for "shortcut." What you usually see is someone who hasn't put in any effort wanting to get the nod that they will become rich without that decade of struggle that just about every writer has to go through. They want to know what the result will be before they put in all the effort.

This is entirely the wrong question. Not because we all don't want to know if the years of toil are going to be worth it (everyone wants a crystal ball), but because the real question is this:

Would you do it anyway?

That's what really matters. If you're writing for fame or wealth or publication it's never going to be as fulfilling as you think it will be. But the writing will. The writing always will. If you knew today that you would never be published, never make money, never get a book deal, never have a fan.....If you knew that for sure, would that stop you from the simple love for the act of writing itself? Because it's the writing that will change your life.

Now...all that said, there are people who try very, very hard to improve their writing, read voraciously, think creatively, and never seem to pass a point where they get published or maybe aren't publishing more than a couple of stories a year. They succeed, but it is with very limited returns. There may not be anything teachable, cultivatable, or practicable that is holding them back. And perhaps the easiest way to understand what is going on is that they don't have as much talent as the writers of comparable work who have gone on to achieve better things.

There are also writers who eclipse us all. Shakespeare, Faulkner, Morrison, Marquez. No matter how hard we work, none of us will achieve their skill and poise with words. Ever. And it is folly to compare ourselves to them. If we were as gifted as they are we would be wunderkind and already know it.

Most of us fall in the middle somewhere. Our skill will improve with practice.  Our career trajectories will largely be based on how hard we're working. If we make money, it will probably have more to do with the kind of writing we're doing and our willingness to promote than the absolute level of skill.

But you'll never know if you don't put all that work in first, and that's the pisser of it. That's the reason why it's madness to do it if you don't love the shit out of it for its own sake.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A Big Reminder (And A Little Reminder)

What is the BEST Y.A. series?  

Our "October" poll is no doubt going to run into November, but we should try to get back on track, so we're not running polls into the next month for the next ten years.

We badly need additional nominations for our Best Young Adult Series poll. If we don't get a few more titles (and a lot more seconds) this ship might not sail. 

Please please please please go to the original post so that I don't have to tabulate results from two different places.

The rules are there, as well as the complicated definitions of Y.A. literature and why I'd rather be inclusive with our nominations and not an enforcer.

While you're at it, take a slip down to the lower left side to the long black poll (technically our "September" poll) and vote on the best Y.A. novel. This poll will only be up for another week.

And don't forget that those of you who voted when the poll first came out can now vote again as your I.P. address is logged only for a week.

Monday, October 13, 2014

What Is Going On??




Hello Readers,

It's probably about time to try and share a few of the things that are going in the turbulent maelstrom that is Writing About Writing's writer's brain. The last week we've been off schedule (and have flat-out missed a couple of entries), and I was hoping to have the whole thing gift wrapped up in a tidy little bow by today along with some explanations that would make you all nod sympathetically and say. "There there, Chris. There there. I'm only surprised you held out as long as you did." However, this weekend turned out in many ways to be worse.

I wanted your explanation gift wrapped for you, but it turned out my life (and my brain) was behaving more like this:



But there are people out there supporting Writing About Writing who deserve a lot more than for me to crawl into a shower and cry for another week while I post Youtube videos, so let me try to give you the "work in progress" highlight reel of what is going on just so this next week's ongoing train wreck makes a little more sense.


  • If you have no earthly idea at ALL, remember that my crazy superhero stories are not JUST crazy superhero stories. They are like magical realism–except with superheroes. You might have to learn to metaphor, but the truth is all there. The mailbox a week ago Friday has lead to one of my biggest struggles as a writer, and rearranging my schedule is turning into a nightmare.
  • It turns out that there are generally two struggles when striking back against the sinister specter of Not Enough Time™ and the quest to find time to write. There is the initial struggle to carve out the time, and then there is a secondary campaign to defend that time from incursion.
  • Writers joke (bitterly) about how no one respects their time because they sit in front of a computer and might even be staring out a window, but it is not the random stranger who doesn't get it that frustrates the writer. The closer and more supportive someone is about the idea of writing in general, the more difficult it can be when they think their thing should be a special exception.
  • That thing everyone in the whole fucking universe tells you about how you won't really have free time ever again once you have kids? It's ALL TRUE!! If you somehow do have time, the chances that you will successfully say to your long-term partner "Stop right there, lambikins, I need to use this time to write," and not end up on the working end of a guilt trip, an uncomfortable, or a Soviet-made AK-47 with a top mounted grenade launcher is infinitesimal. 
  • I cannot indefinitely spend every conscious moment writing or cleaning or caring for a baby (or maybe teaching ESL). I love writing, and I can probably do more 80 hour weeks than most people before I burn out as long as 30-40 of those hours are writing, but eventually I will succumb. I have even had trouble lately just finding time to read. And trying to write without reading is....it's like trying to only exhale.
  • The last week or so has led to one of the worst mood crashes since I wrote about my typical artist struggle with depression. I'll spare you an embossed invitation to the particulars of my pity party. There isn't any German chocolate cake left and the bevy of strippers (both genders) totally no-showed so I'm just sitting here binge watching The West Wing with a party popper in my hand.
  • I will share this one story from the pity party: I woke up this morning determined never to eat again (except kale, dry oatmeal, and vitamin supplements, of course) because I'm feeling overweight and unlovable. Then eggs Benedict were (was?) delivered to the house (by loving peeps). I cracked from my kale and shame diet in seconds, and the food was so deliciously wonderful. The universe, it seems, is not without a benevolent–but entirely fucked up–sense of humor.
  • I am working on some changes to the updating schedule of this blog. Not just little changes I often talk here during the new semester or if Unsupportive Girlfriend suddenly changes her schedule at work. (These are changes I usually refer to as "fiddling with the knobs" or "tweaking," and there is a new update schedule posted that no one but me cares about an no one but me follows and no one but me gets upset when I'm behind on.)  The changes coming, however, are actually huge, massive structural changes that I can keep up long term.
  • Tomorrow I have to remind people to vote and nominate in our current polls, but you should expect to see the conclusion to Self Reflection Sucks by this weekend. (Saturday at the latest.)
  • Before the weekend is over, you can expect the unveiling of an entirely different kind of update schedule.
So now you know. This week will probably be a little like the last. But if my calculations are correct, when this blog hits Saturday....you're going to see some serious shit.



Saturday, October 11, 2014

Self Reflection Sucks (Part 2)

Continued from Part 1

I couldn't move. My eyes were stuck on the shard of the Mirrorshield.

You're not a real writer. I thought. Forty years old, and you triumphantly hold up your mediocre numbers and dollars a day as some sort of yardstick of success. Weren't you supposed to have a book written by now? No, instead, you barely write fiction at all these days, do you? A few minutes here or there if you can spare it. All on the back burner while you whore yourself for page views. You and your precious process. Your process is,"hang on." Your process is, "don't let the world see what a sham you are." You haven't taken a good look at yourself in years.

I tried to tear my eyes away, but the mirror just kept dragging me deeper and deeper into the self reflection.

"Months, it took me to negotiate with the forces of the underworld to bribe my way out of corporeal death," Warlock said, still whispering in my ear. "And another two to learn all the quirks of this cadaver I'm riding in. Do you have any idea how complicated women's plumbing is? That little brat's parlor trick ruined everything I had going. But the advantage of a year without a body is that it gives you time to plan."

"And oh, how I have planned for this," Warlock said.

"I'm just a sidekick, Warlock," I said. "The worst thing I'll do is write a scathing blog post about you."

"Oh you needn't tell me how useless you are, Chris," Warlock said. "Do you even actually have any powers, or are you literally riding the coattails of your cohort?"

"Literally would mean they were wearing coats you know," I said.

"Um...don't correct me," Warlock said. "It sickens me. Oh and by the way, Mr. Creative Writing major. It's DOCTOR Warlock to you."

"No it's not," I said.

"Yes. It is," she said.

"It's not. You're not a doctor."

"I am. I have a doctorate in occult studies from Penbrook."

"That's not an accredited university!" I said.

"Shut up! It's an honorific."

"Do I look like the kind of person who's going to honor your stupid mail-order degree?"

Warlock's hand darted out and grabbed my arm. A searing pain lanced up my arm and radiated into my chest. I heard a clipped scream, and realized it was my own. I felt like my soul had been scorched–which given Warlock's proclivities, was probably not too far from the truth. I felt my mind almost unhook from the mirror, and my eyes almost return to my control as a result of the agony, but Warlock let go of me an instant before I could tear my gaze away.

Instead I just couldn't escape the horrible reality about who I was, what I'd become, and how neither of those things was a writer. I was some half rate blogger–and that was on a good day.

"Well done, Chris," Warlock said returning her voice to a whisper. "That was quite well done. You very nearly tricked me. But you'll not get away this time. Your soul is mine. And I shall burn it like diaphanous tissue and masturbate to your ethereal screams."

"Well, that was....really graphic," I said. "I guess being dead for nearly a year makes you want to put the necro in necromancy."

"You'll not trick me again, you powerless hack of a writer," Warlock said. "However, I must stay my hand for just a moment. I've promised something to someone who arranged this little meeting of ours."

"Hello again, Chris," ChronoTron said, stepping into my peripheral vision. "Or I suppose the appropriate greeting is, 'We meet again.'"


"Appropriately cliche," I said. "Seriously, no one from the future has original lines?"

"Sarcastic to the last, I see," ChronoTron sighed. "No matter."

If I could just move. If I could just look away from that horrible reflecting mirror that was sucking me deeper and deeper into self doubt.

"Listen....ChronoTron," I said, unable to keep my voice from shaking. "I've been thinking. I have to tell you. I think it's time we saw other enemies. I need some space."

"Are you trying to break up with me as your nemesis?" ChronoTron asked? "Because that's actually pretty funny with you paralyzed, powerless, and suffering from crippling self doubt."

"Yeah," I said, struggling against the inexorable slide into the mirror's reflection. "Well, I just don't tend to have nemeses for very long. Honestly, I get bored. I have trouble committing. It's nothing personal, you're just not as interesting to me anymore." I could see in my peripheral vision that he was setting up the biggest time syphon I had ever seen. If it was to scale with the other weapons he'd used, it would steal all of my time in a single blast.

"You're right," he said, unfolding a tripod. "In a just a moment, you'll no longer be my nemesis."

"Yeah, well, I'd really rather break up with you," I said. "If it's all the same."

"I decided I needed some help from your time in order to defeat you," ChronoTron blathered on, ignoring me. "Fortunately your list of enemies is rather extensive. And one of them had an ace in the hole–a small shard of mirror that makes you realize how small and pathetic and not-a-writer you really are."

I tried to struggle, but I simply couldn't look away from that horrid little shard. I tried not to doubt myself, but they crept in everywhere. I wasn't writing fiction because of the baby. Life was too busy. It wasn't my fault. But then again a real writer would have found the time–found a way. I was a poseur. I didn't even have a book deal.

"Better now than in ten years when we're committed," I said, struggling to no avail. "I just really need to work on myself right now, and I can't be tied down to someone who wants to fight all the time. I'm a sidekick, you know. You deserve someone better. I just don't see a future with you."

ChronoTron laughed. "You know, ironically, you're absolutely right about that." He aimed the syphon. "You'll want to step back Warlock. Not unless you're not doing anything important for the next fifty years."

Warlock took a step away from me, and was immediately replaced with a 57' Chevy blasting Rock You Like A Hurricane.


Technically Warlock wasn't replaced so much as crushed by the 57' Chevy. It slammed down from the sky, trunk first, splattering Warlock's new body all over the pavement, but it was so quick and unexpected that the illusion was almost perfect.

Everyone paused. The only sound was the Scorpions: "My body is burning/ It starts to shout/ Desire is coming/ It breaks out loud." Then the sound of pedestrians screaming and running for cover as they realized supers were having a fight on the street.

A smokey outline of a vaguely human torso, coalesced from under the Chevy oozing out and past my head. "I fucking hate you!" it yelled at me as it puffed away.

That's when Wrecking Ball landed next to the twisted hulk of car, leaving two impact craters where his feet hit the sidewalk.

"Oh," ChronoTron said. "It's you."

"Yep." Wrecking Ball said.

With no further banter, Wrecking Ball swung at ChronoTron, but half a meter from ChronoTron's head, Wrecking Ball's fist slowed to a crawl. ChronoTron gave it an amused look and stepped easily to the side.

"Time dilation field," ChronoTron smirked. "I sort of figured you might show up, so I took a couple of precautions. Your ridiculous strength won't be so useful if it takes your fist thirty seconds to reach me."

"Yeah?" Wrecking Ball asked. "Did you put one on your little machine too?" He punched the time siphon. A glittering explosion of thumbnail-sized debris scattered from his fist, leaving only the smoking tip of the tripod remaining.

"FUCK!" ChronoTron screamed. "Fuck! Fuck! FUCK!  Do you have any idea how long it took to make that?"

"Gee," Wrecking Ball smiled. "I guess now you're really out of time."

ChronoTron pulled a smaller syphon. "Fuck you!  No matter. The old fashioned way will work just fine on immobile boy over there."

"Yeah, I wonder how your time toy works against wrestling moves?" Wrecking Ball said spreading his arms and trying to reach around ChronoTron.

"Fortunately, we don't need to find out," ChronoTron said. "I really did expect you. And the time dilator is only one of the couple of precautions I took."

A sense of foreboding flooded over me. As if struggling with self reflection weren't enough, I now got the distinct impression that something terrible was about to happen. Wrecking Ball dropped his arms to his side and looked around, doubt crossing his features.

"And while I definitely would have liked if Warlock could have at least survived the opening....move," ChronoTron said, "the little mirror she brought has served its purpose, and so has she. So now I think it's time for you to meet my second little bit of insurance."

The shadows around us deepened. The sense of foreboding grew. A breeze caused every goosebump on my body to stand at rigid attention.

"I see you survived our last encounter Wrecking Ball," a silky, androgynous voice said from all around us. "I shall be more...thorough this time." The darkness had grown into a local dusk. Shadows reached out from everywhere towards Wrecking Ball like long, greedy fingers.

Wrecking Ball spun left and right looking for the voice. Fear etched his face. "Chris," he gasped between terrified breaths. "I can't..... I won't be able to....."

The color drained from his face as the first of the long shadows reached him. "It's Harbinger!"

TO BE CONTINUED....

Friday, October 10, 2014

Inspiration (Where's the Friday Mailbox????)

Those of you paying attention to my usual update schedule might be feeling a little frustrated right now. Perhaps even angry. This week has been filled with missing "big posts" and strange unresolved cliff hangers.

Hopefully not this angry.
Everything that's happened in the last week or so is going to start making a lot more sense in a day or two. I promise. We're doing much more than just a cosmetic change here, and while it probably won't matter even to most regular readers, it will probably make all the difference in the world to that cute guy Chris.

In the meantime, I'll share a couple songs that have lately gotten me juiced up for writing.





Thursday, October 9, 2014

September's Best

These are the three best articles of September which will be going into The Best of W.A.W., fame, and virtual immortality.

The 17 Rules of Writing A list of simple things every writer should keep in mind.

Pass/Agg Memo to Other Artists Just a few things I want to say to my fellow artists. (But certainly not you!

Why Others' Stories Matter  A gorgeously illustrated post (come check out the artist!) about why letting other people tell their own stories is so important to being a writer.


Despite a saner updating schedule (or perhaps because of it) we gained another four thousand page views over last month, up to about 44,000.  It's starting to look like Blog's goal to hit a million page views by 2015 might actually be possible.

I'm still fiddling with the knobs here–especially after my recent forced introspection due to a question about my process–so I'm not sure exactly what to preview for October, but you should definitely write in on our October poll for best Y.A. series and vote while there's still time on best Y.A. book.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Behind The Scenes

Searching for license free images,
I finally stumbled across and image from
the cinema masterpiece, Saw VII.
I'm doing some big behind-the-scenes work today.

I could put up a screen shot of the little four week calendar I've got going on and assigning values to all the different types of posts I want to write and the ongoing reaction to some forced introspection after Friday's question about my process. However, the truth is, it is pretty messy, and not even I completely understand what I'm doing with it yet.

This all will make much more sense in a couple of days, after I finish up the post of the drama that went down this weekend and explain what changes and reflection it inspired.

But I didn't want the three people who pay close attention to my update schedule to wonder what the hell I was doing.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

What is the Best Y.A. Novel? (Poll)

What is the best young adult novel?

Though the current poll should have been our September poll, it's running into August due to the massive popularity and need for run off semifinals.  It won't be up for the usual two weeks, so vote soon!

Everyone will get three (3) votes.

The poll itself is long and black and at the bottom left of the side widgets.

Also, please don't forget that the program I use for polling will forget your IP address after one week. You can get in multiple votes, and since I can't stop it, I might as well fold it into the logistics.

Vote early! Vote often!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Self-Reflection Sucks (Part 1)

Today's entry is a combination of a personal update and the ongoing fiddling with the knobs to make Writing About Writing a useful and entertaining place to land.

So there is a timeline involved in this entry that could be considered critical backstory:

  • February 2012. The climactic battle with my (then) nemesis Mirrorshield ends during a lightning storm on the rooftop of the Oakland Tribune building. After twenty unrelenting years of his devastating ability to hold up his shield and cause me to see myself in stark cold truth, I finally don't mind what I see. At least just enough to keep my wits about me and deliver a coup de grace with a lightning rod through his torso. Seconds later, lightning strikes his impaled body, and he dramatically flails, dropping the mirror shield to the ground below. Then he falls from the roof, smacking his head on the "I" on the way down where he lands on the roof of a car.
No "Next time, Chris!" for that guy. No siree bob.
  • September 2013. The Brain enters third trimester. My housework contribution to The Hall of Rectitude increases.
  • October 2013. Wrecking Ball, a local superhero roughly built like a tank, except with arms, officially signs on with The Hall of Rectitude to help our PR image which has been taking some hits in the Temescal area after one of Uberdude's creations razed a charming little Ethiopian place with dual auto cannons. It turned out not to be the secret lair of The Ethiopian.
  • November 2013. Wrecking Ball gets into a fight with The Harbinger. He is critically injured and ends up in a coma. Most of the Hall of Rectitude is busy trying to put away local crime syndicates before the baby comes, but I visit Wrecking Ball every night and read him Hamlet, Macbeth, and Othello. I even do the voices.
  • December 2013. The Contrarian is born. His psychic ability of contradicting everything saves me from the soul-ripping powers of The Warlock.
  • January 2014. I take over local patrols in addition to cleaning duty since Uberdude and The Brain want to stay home and coo over the baby.
  • February 2014. I am badly injured on patrol by Dawnweaver. Her deprivation ray saps me of alertness, memory, cognitive ability, and performance. I end up convalescing. Uberdude makes an impassioned soliloquy and returns to patrols, unleashing a plague of tiny robot chihuahuas on Dawnweaver, an act which causes her to declare him her nemesis and focus her attention on him instead of me. He tries to hide it, but he is often suffering from deprivation. Wrecking Ball wakes from his coma, but is not yet ready to return to crime fighting.
  • March 2014. I begin to notice I am missing time. A few minutes here. An hour there. I'm not sure where it's gone. Wrecking Ball gains strength and is nearly ready to return to active duty.
  • April 2014. Uberdude cannot handle the influx of villains who have heard that The Temescal is "open season." The Brain and Wrecking Ball return to full time crime fighting. 
  • May 2014. My severe difficulty with time management comes to a head, and I attempt to analyze why I seem to have so little. I discover that I am not just suffering from a perception issue, but that there are actually bits of time that are missing from my life.
Can't look at this chart right now. Crying baby (which trumps "Looking At Charts").
  • June 2014. Plaguebringer, who usually causes plagues of bacteria or viruses, tries something new: a plague of middle school students. The Hall of Rectitude deems the onslaught of obnoxious, self-centered kids a "low priority" and I am dispatched to handle it. Alone.
  • Late June 2014. I discover why I am missing time. A traveller from the future (where they are "out of time") named ChronoTron is stealing time from people who are too busy to notice. He does not realize I am a sidekick and we end up in a fight on the roof of the Ordway building. I am saved by Dim and Sum who end up being...well "criminals" is such a strong word given that they barely steal at all from people who don't totally deserve it, but I guess technically outside the law is correct. They look so good in boots though. So so good. ChronoTron declares himself my new nemesis.
  • July 2014. After considerable effort, I am able to round up the last of the plague of middle schoolers and return them to their parents none the worse for wear. Uberdude is given the key to the city for having the presence of mind to deploy me. I am given a $32 gift certificate to Sephora. 
  • August 2014. The Contrarian learns how to make messes. Nothing will ever be the same. Blog goes insane and tries to get 50,000 page views. Between the two, I barely survive.
But the room was clean ten seconds ago.
I only turned around to grab my Kindle. I don't even....
What the actual, literal fuck?
  • September 2014. ChronoTron returns, attacking the Hall of Rectitude. Wrecking Ball happens to be enjoying a day off catching up on Orange is the New Black and eating Chinese take out. He hears the commotion from the foyer, jumps down from the mezzanine, and one-punches ChronoTron into next week. Literally.
  • Friday October 3, 2014. Jenny pops my "what's your process" cherry

Which catches you up to this weekend, specifically yesterday. I was taking a walk down on Piedmont Ave., half-heartedly looking for some place to have lunch, when I heard my name. A strange woman with golden hair and a bright smile waved and gestured me over. 

"Chris," she said. "It's me. Jenny. From Friday's mailbox."

"Oh, hi!" I said, starting to walk over. "I didn't realize you lived around here." Jenny turned out to be into breathtaking short skirts and breathtaking knee-high soft leather riding boots (the kind with the tops that fold back down about six inches). I didn't stare, but it was hard not to notice.

"Well, I work out here actually," she said. "On the weekends. Doing charity work. For homeless orphans. Who are missing limbs."

I cleared my throat. "That's....very....niche work. How many of those are there in Oak–"

"I was wondering if you could look at something," she said. "I totally took your advice, which was amazing by the way, and I came up with a process of my own. Just for me. Will you look at it?"

"Sure, I guess," I said. "But really it's about you."

"I know," she said. "But I'm such a fan," she said. "I was really hoping you could just take a glance. Please?"

Had her skirt somehow gotten shorter? Don't stare, Chris! You're a feminist. Male gaze. All that stuff. Be cool.

"Sure," I said. "I'll take a look."

She handed me a small folder.  "I was just so inspired by your process. The way you are barely able to keep up and aren't really writing much fiction these days. The way you can only just keep up. It moved me."

"That seems like a strange thing to find inspira..." I said as I opened up the folder. My words died in my throat.

I was staring at my reflection. A fist sized, roughly-crescent-shaped piece of mirror sat in a hollowed out alcove within the little folder.

I looked at myself. My overweight face looked back with bags missing sleep under my eyes. It hit me how little fiction I was doing. How I had entire projects in my head that were just slipping away since I could never seem to catch up or stay ahead on the blog. How my life was just a cascade of barely keeping my head afloat. I saw all my ambition and my drive poured into petty time sinks like Facebook. I saw what a waste I was becoming. 

A familiar feeling of paralysis gripped me. I couldn't move. I was too busy loathing what I saw in my reflection. What had my life come to? Why was I wasting it? Who was I kidding? I wasn't worth the oxygen I was consuming.

"Like that?" she said, sliding up to my left side and whispering in my ear. "I thought you might get a kick out of it. That's the biggest shard of the Mirrorshield I could salvage from the street below the Tribune building. Took me months to track it down."

I felt her hands running through the thin down on the nape of my neck. "Worth it though. The enemy who pwned you up and down California for twenty years, and who you only defeated in a spectacular, and uncharacteristic, moment of self esteem–his power is now mine. Look closely Chris...at what you really are. No self delusion. No rationalizations. No pretense. Just you and the truth."

I swallowed. Was I even a real writer? Did blogging even count? One more poseur in a long line. I couldn't move. I could barely think. I could only contemplate how my life failed in so many ways to live up to what I wanted it to be.

"Have you no psychic baby to save you this time?" she asked, a Welsh flavored English accent creeping into her words. "Or shall we finish what we commenced before Sonic Gal so rudely interrupted us?"

The affected accent. The speech patterns....I knew them.

"Warlock?" I gasped.

"In the flesh," she said.