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

Monday, November 30, 2015

Oh Sweet Routine! How I Have Missed Thee! (Personal Update)

Come here you big cuddly routine,
and give your ol' pal Chris a great big hug. 
It's been a rough month even among rough toddler-chasing months. Two vacations and Thanksgiving added on to some epic personal issues, which aren't helping the fact that I'm mood crashing, even though I'm likely overdue anyway.

I'm glad to get back into a routine even if right now it feels a little stiff and uncoordinated–like that first work out after a long break.

A lot of writers sneer at routine, and I don't think it's a terribly big coincidence that they're about 99% the same writers who have trouble writing. Even though there's a lot of variation in routine, the thing I'm always struck by is how hard most writers with names we'd recognize work to carve out time each and every day for the love of their lives.

For about the past year, I've been kind of scraping by. The Contrarian is in a particularly time intensive state (even more so than when he slept all the time last year), and getting a blog once a week that isn't absolutely jazz hands has been just about the far flung limit of my ability.

I don't have a lot of finger waving lessons writers can take from this save maybe one:

Look at my last year. I wrote every day, even if it was just a tortured couple of hours stolen while T.C. watched Daniel Tiger. I posted almost every day (except weekends recently). I still managed to get dozens of meaty articles up. And this is my treading water. This is my deplorable output. This is what I do when I'm feeling overwhelmed and don't have enough writing time.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Christian Terrorism is a Story You Don't Hear

Even when a white male Christian shoots up a Planned Parenthood, shooting several cops, beyond social justice circles there won't be much of a major outcry against Christian terrorism. Some news might run pieces, but the backlash will be tremendous.

There won't be a critical examination of the toxic factors of white male culture. Harris, Maher, and Dawkins won't call Christians or white males savage, barbaric, or backwards. No one will say "hey, I'm talking about their 'suburban culture,' not their skin color, but something is making them violent by nature." Big tent atheists will not pontificate that there is something INHERENTLY more violent about Christianity that leads them to such deplorable acts. No one will demand that if there are any moderate Christians out there, they vociferously condemn the actions of their extremist label-sharers 24/7 for weeks (even though that still wouldn't be enough) or consider the slightest reticence tantamount to being glad it happened. (Even though there will be are Christians explicitly glad it happened.) White males won't find themselves followed by armed civilians–menacing them with assault rifles–as they go to their churches. No one will consider all Christians too dangerous to be allowed refuge in the country. No one will say that if white Christians don't want to be treated like criminals, they should stop acting like criminals. (Because no one will treat them like criminals.) No one will talk about white on white crime as the real epidemic. No one will say they just hate us and theirs is the real bigotry. No one will say that it's only a matter of time before a white Christian male reveals his true colors and does something violent. People wearing crucifixes or other accoutrement of Christendom will not be eyed with suspicion. No one will say they just get nervous around Christians and excuse it with "I'm not a bigot or anything, but hey, that's just reality." No one will suggest that we bomb Christian cities to glass or that we deport all Christians back to where they came from (even if their immigration was a few generations back). We will not have a national conversation, backed by a major political frontrunner about establishing a national registry to track Christians.

Nope. No double standards in our narratives here. Move along.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Turkey Sandwich Mailbox Coming

Did I say no post on Friday?

Let's switch that up.

I'll do T.G. prep today (including watching the 2 year old while people who can actually cook get busy in the kitchen) and then on Friday when everyone is enjoying their Turkey sandwiches, I'll put up the mailbox I've got going for this week.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Best Dystopia (Semifinal Round 2)

What is the best Dystopia in fiction?   

Our November poll goes on. With fifteen nominations, we had to do some semifinal polls to find out which dystopias will be going on to the final round.

Our second semifinal poll results will go up next Wednesday (as well as the final poll).  That means that everyone who votes early will get to vote "often" since Polldaddy can only store the IP of your voting location for one week.

Everyone will get four votes (3). The top four names will go on to the finals. Before you simply vote for your favorite four, consider that, as there is no ranking of those four votes; each vote beyond one dilutes the power of your choices a little more. So if you have a genuine favorite–or pair of favorites–it's better to use as few votes as possible.

The poll itself is on the left side, at the bottom of the side menus.

Best Dystopia (Semifinal 1 Results)

This turned out to be a quiet poll, with fewer than 60 votes. But it's possible that putting up the call to vote on a Sunday and not really hitting it on social media was more to blame than any lack of interest.

The top four books will be going on to the final round.  Also stay tuned as the second semifinal poll will be up later today.

The Stand–S. King
Fahrenheit 451–R. Bradbury
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep–P.K. Dick
The Girl With All the Gifts–M. Carey

Monday, November 23, 2015

Quick Update (Vlog)

Plus check out my new beard that I toiled over for days.

Last Chance to Vote (Semifinal 1)

What is the best Dystopia?  

We're going to need this tie broken up!

Our first semifinal for best Dystopia will be tabulated tomorrow (and the next semifinal poll will go up shortly after that), so get your vote on.

Currently results are very close, and the cut off for on the poll (or not) is a tie.

The poll itself is down and to the left at the bottom of the left side widgets.

Friday, November 20, 2015

If I Might Respond

"Not so fast, my friend!"
I hope you all enjoyed last Thursday’s guest post about (not) writing every day. I know it’s important to hear perspectives of writers of many different stripes, even the ones who disagree with some of my more mantra-fied advice. (Though I think I disagree with Shana probably less than many might at first think.) I don’t have all the answers, and in fact there really aren’t any answers. Like grammar and the rules of craft, the “rules” of process can be mastered and manipulated by those who take the time to respect why they are rules and then break them contentiously.

Breaking rules is fun and often effective. But never, ever consent rules for sexyfuntimes or bathing suit area touches.

Breaking consent rules is always a no no.

It’s important that writers—especially starting writers with ambitions; those who are maybe wetting themselves to be the next Stephen King, JK Rowling, or Stephanie Myers—understand where the ubiquitous advice from so many well-established and well-known writers to “write daily” comes from, why it is so oft-repeated, and why you find such little deviation from it at the higher echelons of writing prominence. The fact is Shana is absolutely right. She really, really is. However most writers need to hear a lot more, “Apply ass to chair” and a lot less, “Hey don’t worry about it.”

I don’t want to call this post “damage control” because I don’t think there’s any damage to control, but I might go so far as to call it perspective realistificating. Yes. That is totally a word and totally what we shall call this post. (Or “expectation management” if you want to be all boring A.F.)

Writers can absolutely “make it” without working every day, and certainly without working every SINGLE day. I’ve written this over and over and over until the tips of my fingers have bled and my will to live screams out for some Sense8, an extra cheese pizza, and a four handed massage for self care (preferably all at once). This is even true for values of “make it” that include publication, money, possibly even multiple publications and maybe even a day job that isn’t “really” something else like editing anthologies or being a trophy boyfriend like this devastatingly cute blogger. 

But perhaps more importantly than any and all of that bullshit is that writers can “make it” in the area of artistic fulfillment. I know it’s touchy and feely and it’s artsy fartsy crap to most people.  Especially the ones who flood my inbox saying, “But Chris, oh font of writing wisdom…how can I (~dramatic pause~) MAKE IT?”, but if you are being fulfilled and your soul is happy by writing once a week, once a month, even once a year who the fuck cares about the rest of it?

Screw that soul fulfillment crap.
I want a rain of hundred dollar bills.
The problem isn’t that people write when they feel like writing and don’t when they don’t. The problem is the people who write when they feel like writing, and then feel like shit when they don't. People who write when they feel like writing and then look around and say, “Why am I not writing for a living? Why am I not multi-published yet? Why am I not a bestseller? Why am I not famous? Why am I not drowning in groupie threesomes?” (Or maybe that last one is just me.) "Why am I not the next John Grisham. The problem is people who want the accolades of being a writer (a successful writer at that) but are basically looking for a way to justify indolence.

So here are some pitfalls to be aware of if you’re sitting around wondering why you’re not on the talk show circuit yet:

1- Cling to this as your permission to not work at your own peril. 

I meet a lot of writers who don’t write very much. (And I mean I meat a LOT of writers.) When I was in a creative writing program at SFSU, about 80% of my class admitted writing only twice a month or so unless there was an assignment. Of the rest, only two or three wrote more than once or twice a week. (I also don’t think it’s any fucking coincidence that the two or three of us who did write every day have continued writing after graduation and the others I never heard of again.) These were people in school getting a degree to be creative writers, and they didn’t really enjoy writing.

Take a moment. Sip your drink. Think about that for just a second.

When people write to me asking for advice about how to become successful, about 3/4+ of the time, I find out that they don’t actually do much writing–maybe once every week or two. Or I find out that they spend a few minutes every day or three tooling a draft that they did for NaNo a couple of years back but are really frustrated that it isn’t publishable yet.

There are a phenomenal number of writers who do not write.

 I’m not going to tell these people they’re not really writers; I’m not the writer police. But sometimes I can’t help but notice the very strong correlation between people who are now working writers and people who treat writing like it’s an obligation they have to attend to every day (or almost every day) whether they are in the mood for it or not. And even when they don't stress daily writing, they never say you can skip weeks or months at a time or that it won't be a phenomenal amount of work.

No one's going to ride your ass to do any work. If you don't want to write, you can not write for weeks, months, even years at a time.

The problem is that beginning writers don't just not write, but then also get unsettled at their career trajectory and lack of book deals. Those who want to reconcile those two things without doing much work often love ideas like "talent" and "genius" and they often express the hope that they can become rich and famous regardless. They tend to hover around Shana's advice (or similar advice) like a moth to flame. I chose that cliche deliberately, despite its cliched clicheness, because the end result of moths flinging themselves into fire and writers actively looking for advice not to write is about the same:

That’s right: the smell of burnt moth wings....or maybe I screwed that up.

2- Don’t expect day job results if you don’t put in day job effort.

I've never met a single writer paying their bills with writing who didn't put in at least a 5 day week. All but one write on weekends too. And the one who does the best for herself career-wise, unsurprisingly, clocks in about ten hours a day.

If you don’t want to write, don’t write. 

But realisticify your perspective.

 The reaction I get from starting writers when I tell them I make a couple hundred dollars a month writing is always the same. “How do you do that? Oh my god. You’re like practically JK Rowling compared to me!” (This is usually where I drive the fish fork through my occipital lobe.) And when I tell them that I put in three or four hours a day to make what is about 20% of minimum wage, they say “Woah. Can’t do that.”

I also know that if I put in an eight hour day instead of a three hour day, I’d probably be doing even better.

 JK puts in 12 hours BTW and did so for years before she published her first Harry Potter novel.

At each level of “make it” you peel off more writers who don’t write every day. Lots of writers who don’t write daily are published. Fewer have a novel published. Fewer still have more than once or two novels published. Even fewer still make agreeable side-line money. Fewer still are paying their bills. Almost none are famous. And maybe one is a name you might recognize (Douglas Adams was sort of notorious for not writing very often.)

If you want to be making day job results, there's no reason it won't take day job effort.

2.5- Being the best means being obsessed.

It’s always a bit peculiar to me that people seem to know and understand that to be the best athletes train hours a day, the best musicians practice daily and rehearse for weeks before a performance, the best painters are constantly, obsessively doodling and spend whole days in their studios, the best lawyers put in late nights, the best doctors go to cutting edge medical seminars and read medical journals in their spare time to be premier in their field, but suddenly when it comes to writing people think there’s just some magic to it that is chiefly achieved by sitting down and NOT writing.

But can we get groupies?
This is very important!
You can be good at writing without writing every day. Even very good. You can get published. You can make money. You can have readers. But writing is an art incorporating a skill and a craft and like any skill and craft, if you want to improve, you have to practice and if you want to be great you have to practice a lot.

Who the hell thinks they're going to become great paragons at something by working at it a couple hours a week? Writers; that's who.

3- It is absolutely vital to keep in mind Shana's advice about doing something each day.

You might be one of those people whose creativity just comes in fits and starts. They do exist.

But here's what I noticed about Shana's story: 1- She put in the exact same ten years that most writers do before getting published, and in that time she was actually writing. It may have come in fits and starts, but she managed to crank out THREE BOOKS. 2- After the first book, whenever she wasn't writing, she never stopped working. She studied, thought, considered and basically did write every day–just not with a pen or a keyboard.

And when she finally did get The Idea™ for the novel that would eventually be published,  she had the skill and the knowhow to sit down and turn it into a book in just a few months. And far too many people have the idea, but have not spent the time developing the skills and discipline to really know how to translate their inspiration into language or the discipline to follow through with such a monumental creative project.

Of those writers who say you don't have to write every day, there is still a shocking commonality of advice. These writers still say it's hard work. They still say you have to work consistently (if perhaps not daily). And they still say that you should spend some time every day thinking creatively about your writing. They still write every day and it's still hard work.

Creativity is a muscle. If you work it out every day it gets big and strong and makes you feed it cottage cheese and demands to know where you keep the spare set of keys. But you really do have to work it out regularly. While writers talk about their muse, they are essentially saying "I have made creative modality into a habit."

3.5 Not every day has to be your WIP.

When I see (and give) advice about writing daily, it's important to make the distinction that this doesn't have to be on The Great American Novel™. You don't want to put a project in a drawer for too long, or you'll basically abandon it. ("Finish your shit" is advice almost as ubiquitous as "write every day.") But you can write something else for the day. A side project. A character sketch. Even an e-mail. You might find characters and ideas get stale like month-old Cheerios if you leave them for too long, but if you have a day where you just write some Facebook posts and an e-mail that you're not coming to Thanksgiving because Uncle Robbie's casual bigotry isn't really cute, you're still writing.

Just engage with the written language. Keep your wordsmithing skills sharp. Remember that writing is a skill that can atrophy. You don't want to be like "I forgetted how to wurd!" when the inspiration does hit.

Just....maybe not this.

4- There’s a reason so many household name writers advise daily writing.

If there’s a writer half a dozen random people have heard of—be they popular or literary – I can almost guarantee that their advice about being a successful writer involves hours a day. There's a reason for why it's such common advice. There's a reason famous writers give it.

You might be a special snowflake. But you should probably first assume you work like most other people, hump it, and then fiddle with the knobs if that's not working because.....

4.5- Have you tried? I mean have you really actually tried? Really?

Most writers have wildly different writing processes from each other, but there are few who have different creative processes. It's true that you might be one of the special snowflakes who will do better if you don't write every day, but it's far more likely that you work about the same as everyone else.

In my inbox right this second there are some twenty-odd e-mails from people all over the world (from patron muses to folks I’ve never heard of before or since) who have said “I tried the every day thing, and holy balls it worked just like you said it would. A few weeks in, the floodgates opened up and now I write every day for a few hours.”

Yeah. I know. (~puts on sunglasses~)

You know how many people have told me “I gave it a shot for a solid three months and it just killed my creativity. I was left a shattered husk of a writer. I'll never be the same"? None. Not one. Nada. Zip. Zero. Zilch. Love.

One person did write and said that they broke through and were able to write fluidly every day when they sat down, but they realized they didn't really want to write that much or that often. But no one said they destroyed their creativity.

Only you can look into your soul and know if you really, actually truly work better sporadically or if you are just deciding "Yep. That' must totes be me!" in lieu of getting to work.

6- Lastly, if you love it so much, why are we having this conversation?

Me after a day of not writing.
"I dreamed a dream of time gone byyyyyyyy
When the word count was high and life worth living."
Here's what it boils down to: how do you feel when you're not writing?

Go ahead and think about that for a second. It's not a hypothetical question.

If you are okay and fulfilled and enjoy not writing for weeks or months at a time and then working when the inspiration strikes, then I'll happily have a coke and shut the fuck up. If you feel disquieted, uninspired, lazy, hate that you're not writing, and kind of feel like your muse is putting on leather and smacking you around with a riding crop and making you call it "Ma'am" instead of the other way around, and send me e-mails about how disappointingly your career is going, and ask Jim Butcher what his secret is, maybe you need to take the advice of the army or so of writers who have gone before you and tackled this bear before.

Most working writers I know have a very particular answer to “can you make it without writing every day?” They say: “Why wouldn’t I want to write every day? I love writing.” They don’t look for excuses not to write. They look for excuses to ignore other things and do more. When their lives, for whatever reason, become logistically unable to host writing time (family emergency, job crisis, explosive personal drama) they are disquieted and long for a return to normalcy, the page, and the pen.

But if writing less works for you (and you are being honest about that an not just embracing the excuse) then, as always, do whatever works.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Like a Chicken With My Head Cut Off (Personal VLOG)

Got in last night at 1am.

Dealt with shit until 3am.

Woke up (way too early) to discover that my wallet was missing (perhaps left on the plane).

Can't cancel half the cards without the card number to get through their stupid fucking electronic mazes, so I need to go dig up statements.

Dealing with personal stress–on top of this.

Got kid for an extra unscheduled extra hour on top of the usual scheduled "several."

I was really hoping to do a VLOG for today, but it's going to have to wait. I'll hit the highlight reel here instead.

  • There's a lot of new material sitting on my hard drive from the two days I was on a train with nothing to do but write, and I'll get it posted in the coming week or two, but much of it needs a spit shine at least or an hour or two to finish. I am desperately looking forward to slipping back into my routine.
  • I'm back on track with thank you notes. If you didn't get one from me about a month ago, it's probably coming in the next week or two. (And I'm so sorry at how much I suck about this.)
  • Yes, there's even fiction getting closer to being done.
Edit to add: since I ended up with more kid time today as well (11/19) I'm calling time of death on trying to finish today's entry. We're just going to have to go off schedule this week and play catch up next week. Apologies for those who look forward to daily updates.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Best Dystopia (Semifinal 1)

What is the best Dystopia in fiction?  

Our November poll is live. With fifteen nominations, we will have to do some semifinal polls to find out which dystopias will be going on to the final round.

The semifinal polls will only be a little over a week each. I'll put this one up until next Tuesday and the following one until the Wednesday after that. That means that everyone who votes early will get to vote often since Polldaddy can only store the IP of your voting location for one week.

Everyone will get four votes (4). The top four names will go on to the finals. Before you simply vote for your favorite four, consider that, as there is no ranking of those four votes; each vote beyond one dilutes the power of your choices a little more. So if you have a genuine favorite–or pair of favorites–it's better to use as few votes as possible.

The poll itself is on the left side, at the bottom of the side menus.

Best Villain (Poll Results)

Not too many surprises on our Best Villain Poll. Iago took an early lead and held it, and most of the positions remained firmly entrenched. Pretty much even the spread only grew in proportion to the votes cast. It was pretty cool to see some classic villains get the nod on this poll.

Thank you all so much for voting (or maybe voting multiple times).

Also if you were interested in nominations for November's poll: Best Dystopia, today is the last chance to second the nominations that have been made (or try to make a nomination and get it seconded under the wire). The new poll will be going live in just a few hours. Please go to the original page to second or nominate so that it is easier to tabulate results.

Monday, November 16, 2015

One day extension!

This is actually closer than it looks
Now that WAW gets more than 100
or so votes per poll. 
Because I'm still in Denver until tomorrow you have a one day extension to vote (or vote again) in our "Best Villain" poll. (Down at the bottom left.)

You also have one more day to nominate (or second–we mostly need seconds) our "Best Dystopia" poll. But please go to the original page to make any more nominations or seconds, so the poll is easy to tabulate.

The results of the villain poll will go up tomorrow as will what will undoubtedly be the first semifinal dystopia poll.

Friday, November 13, 2015

How to Be a Writer Without Writing Every Day (Shana Chartier)

[It is my pleasure to introduce Shana Chartier who has a slightly different take on daily writing than I do.]

That's right, I said it. Hold in your gasp. Continue to breathe normally. Because I'm going to tell you the story of how I became a published author without constantly writing, and you're going to feel a little better about yourself.

Obviously being a writer means you have to write. Google it–there are memes for miles. But there's so much more to it than that. Ten years ago when I was in college, I realized that my political science major might not have been the best decision for me. I was young and indecisive and really, really naive. So I told myself that I would write a bestselling novel and be set for life. Piece of cake!

My first novel was 50,000 words (because everyone knows that's the minimum for being published, right?). I wrote when the muse struck, which for me is whenever. Sometimes I don't write for months, then BAM! Twenty pages come out in one session. That's my writing style. Deal with it.

I researched query letters. I emailed all of New York City and anywhere else that took YA, which these days is everyone because money. I swam in an ocean of rejection and my own tears. And I realized that just writing wouldn't be enough. I needed to see what was getting published, and why. What's the difference between a book that gets left by the toilet and a book you can finish in one sitting?

I spent the next decade reading, studying, examining word usage and voice. I wrote two more books that got not a single bite. I got sad. I stopped writing and kept reading and sometimes got mad at the books that got published when mine was clearly so much better (note: remove cockiness in post edit). What was I doing wrong?

I tried to force it. I wrote a bunch of really bad short stories, thinking if I just keep writing, I'll get something out there! Meanwhile, wisps of ideas for my next book were coming in, little by little. And then one day, a plot crashed into my head. I wrote and wrote for three months, and 230 pages later, a book was born.

That book is called Past Lives, and it's available on Amazon right now thanks to Pants On Fire Press.

So here's my point: being a writer is so much more than writing. I disagree with the notion that we should force ourselves to write every day. That just leads to frustration and more blocks. But if you can't write today, be a writer today. Read a little to see what's marketable. Think about how you would describe the lady in front of you at the DMV, and then think of three alternate descriptions that could be better. We can be writers by thinking like writers--and that doesn't necessarily mean putting fingers to keyboards all the time.

So if you didn't write today, don't beat yourself up! But if you also didn't think about the written word, about how to use it to convey your message, then maybe feel a little bad. Hey, dreams don't come true by staying in your head--you still have to take some kind of action. So do something writerly today: describe the room you're in; research a few literary agents you want to contact and personalize that query letter (it matters); read; read; READ; map out an outline of your plot points. Just do something! We are the only ones who can create the life of our dreams. What are you doing to move forward as a writer today?

Past lives is available through Amazon as a physical copy or through Kindle.

You can also follow Shana through twitter or her Facebook author page. https://www.facebook.com/shanachartierauthor

[Also read my reply to this article here.]

If you would like to guest blog for Writing About Writing we would love to have an excuse to take a day off a wonderful diaspora of voices (even if they don't always agree with me). Take a look at our guest post guidelines, and drop me a line at chris.brecheen@gmail.com.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Stuck on a Train

I'm posting this from my phone.  The drama of my train ride to Denver continues.

Apparently  crew rotation MUST occur after 12 hours, and we got stuck behind a freight train last night (it's a single rail with "passing lanes" from Reno to Salt Lake City so trains can't pass each other if they break down suddenly on the main line.) So it seems that if they hit 12 hours, they literally just stop the train and let the new crew come to them.

Delays have totaled up to over seven hours. So I'm still working only with my phone and spotty connection until late tonight. Probably no blog today. I'll run today's post tomorrow.

On the bright side, I watched the sun rise over distant snow-peaked mountains on the Utah flats and it was breathtaking. Thick smudges of pink and orange with a growing glow that lit the sky from black to deep purple and then blue. Then the sun blazed up and turned the horizon white and the flats to an angry red. When I say breathtaking, I don't just mean the cliche. I caught my air I. My throat with an involuntary "Oh," more than once.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Those Coddled Minorities

Whenever there is discussion of the tenets of social justice, the reactions to ideas like "safe spaces" or checking people on harmful language from those not checking their privilege is always the same. Some scoffing sneer that things have become too gentle and that people are so "coddled" lately. The real world, they point out, is much harsher.

These are many of the same people, of course, who stand up and cheer when a knife throwing karate master in a Guy Fawkes mask says that words are the keys to perspectives. Oh yes. So true. Words are so powerful! Words start revolutions.

But suggest that those SAME FUCKING WORDS have impact and power beyond merely "hurt feelings" when it comes to racism, misogyny, ableism, transphobia, homophobia, or that they "shape [the] perspectives" of bigotry and institutional harm, and suddenly you are a whiny baby who needs coddling if you're going to be so sensitive.

But here's the truth about coddling.

It was WE who were being coddled.

White people, men, cis people, straight people, able bodied people. It was we who were coddled.

They were always there. They were always telling us that we were being racist, misogynist, transphobic, homophobic, classist, and more. They were always telling us that their words hurt them–not just hurt them but reinforced their dehumanization. That made treating them badly, not hiring them, not promoting them, brutalizing them...even killing them just a little bit easier since we viewed them not as fully human like the rest of us. They were always pointing out how people with privilege got empathy, benefit of the doubt, intellectual rigor, and second chances. They were always standing up and speaking out. They were writing books. They were speaking at venues. They were telling us in every way possible that what we were doing was not okay.

But we could silence them. We consumed media with gatekeepers who wouldn't let "those types" through. We could walk away when they started talking. When they stood up, we shut them down. We could invite only the ones who were "cool about that stuff" into our spaces that somehow stayed segregated despite the laws. Their books sat unread (by us). Their venues went unattended (by us). If we didn't want to hear how we were hurting people, what our words and actions were doing to real people, we could very successfully pretend they did not exist or were simply some lunatic fringe. One more and one more and one more isolated incident. We would listen if it weren't for the chip on their shoulder about everything. We might pay attention if they weren't so angry. If they would just...soften it for us, instead of being so course, we could possibly digest it (maybe). We were pampered. We were indulged. WE were coddled.

Then came a medium where all voices could project more equally. Where those who were silent in the world because of the cost of speaking out could find their voice anew in pseudonyms and anonymity. Where social networking went around the gate keepers that filtered out what we didn't want to hear and shoved those voices we ignored right into our faces. We had to read again and again about the pain and anguish and triggers and trauma that our casual inattention caused people. As they were shared over and over by women, by POC, by the LGBT+ community, by people with disablities, by allies.

They commented everywhere. They called us out. We couldn't escape their reminders that we were treating them differently. They continually told us of their humanity and our lack of acknowledging it. It became harder and harder to find places where we weren't reminded of those we harm and dehumanize. Now there are almost no spaces left that we can curate completely from their unrelenting demands for equality.

And that hurt us. It stung. We're good people, right? Good people can't ever do bad things–not things this bad. It made us feel attacked. They must be mistaken. Whole communities of them. ALL of them. They must ALL be making things up. And we decided that it was somehow because this sensitivity was a new thing and not simply that it was the first we'd heard of it. (The first we'd heard of it because we'd managed to very carefully avoid hearing anything else until now.) It's just the dawn of PC police and social justice overreach, not the dawn of the media where we can't keep ourselves sequestered away from other voices any longer. We could demand their grievances only strike the proper tone or they would not be redressed--that tone, of course, being "easily ignored."

But it's time to grow up now. White people. Men. Cishets. Able bodied. It's time to come out of our safe bubbles and our echo chambers. It's time to mature into the REAL world and look at the faces of those we've hurt and listen to their words. It's time to hear them. It's time to see their rage and pain first hand and not be protected from its adult sting by those institutions that were dedicated to insulating us from their harsh realities. It's time to stop our child-like fantasizing that our oppression ended at some point in the past and has evaporated in our own lifetime simply because we choose to ignore all those who deign say otherwise. It's time they stopped taking it easy on us. We have been indulged as little babies for far too long.

Because they were always there. They were always saying the same things they are now.

And it was WE who were being coddled.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Sad Breath Between Vacations (Personal Update)

Suffering from "Forgot to bring my razor to Portland scruff" syndrome.
I have returned from Portland where the Hall of Rectitude had an emergency chain of domestic terrorism to combat. Fortunately we were able to stop the super villains after several epic battles at the Portland Children's Museum and neighboring zoo. There was a particularly fierce scuffle while trying to leave the seals.

My turn around will be brief though because tomorrow morning I am off to see O.G. in Denver. And this turn around is pretty unusual for an uberintrovert like me. I mean there is every possibility that with cleaning the cat boxes and house, unpacking, doing all the dirty clothes from Portland, and repacking, I will have zero opportunity to play Fallout 4 until my eyes bleed. A true travesty of all that is good and right in the world.

On the plus side, I scheduled my voyage so that I am taking a thirty six hour train ride specifically so that I have time without an internet connection to write. I'm even going to be extra extra extra good with good sauce, a side of disciplined, and a tall frothing glass of inner strength and NOT bring my gaming laptop with me, so that I don't just play Fallout 4 the whole train ride. Even though it's a brand new game and I just bought it and I want to play it so bad I might wet myself.

This means that I will not really be able to upload content tomorrow. (I'm going to try to make a quick vlog tonight to post right as I'm heading out the door, but life has a way of saying "Not so fast!" around here at night.) On Thursday we have an interesting guest post from a published author who is going to tell you some advice that I personally disagree with a little bit (but it's important to hear all sides).  By Friday, we will be back in business, and hopefully with a few high quality gems I've whipped up while I was on the train.

I came home to sad news. A friend. Someone from my choir days in high school. She was a sophomore when I graduated. Her parents found her body.

I didn't know her as well as I could, but she was always a brightly blazing fireball shooting through the sky like a meteor towards the next big thing. Her enthusiasm was like a wildfire, and she could get an Eskimo excited about selling ice cubes on spec. I remember laughing after each over-the-phone tutoring session and thinking "Next time I've got to remember to charge her for that...." The sky seems a little bit darker without her fiery passion lighting it up in brilliant hues of red, a glowing trail in her wake. A little more empty too.

I'm at that age now. My friends don't seem to look like they're going to live forever anymore. Bodies are starting to give up. Long struggles with chronic illness (even those misnomered as "just" mental) are starting to be too much for those shouldering the burden to go on bearing. In some cases addictions are taking their toll. It's still rare and unexpected now, like the first few kernels of microwave popcorn. But it has begun.

I will be one of those old people who has forgotten how to be angry. I can tell. My heart will be too full of sadness and too covered with scar tissue. I didn't know her as well as I could, but I grieve, and my heart feels heavier than it did yesterday.

Pour one out for Jenn if you get the chance. And if you see a red comet ripping through the sky, that's just her hurtling towards the next big thing.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Input Neeeded (Dystopia Nominations and Villain Poll)

What is the best dystopia?


Who is the best written villain?  

Your help is needed in both of our ongoing polls.

First we need your nominations and especially seconds in our best dystopia poll. It looks like that one is going to be a fierce competition, so please don't leave out your input. Also please go to the original page to make any new nominations so that people can see it and second it. The poll will be going up (almost certainly with semifinal rounds, and possibly with quarterfinals) in one week.

Secondly we need your votes on our best villain poll. Come vote (or vote again) for your favorite villain of those who made it to the final round.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

October's Best

While October was even worse than our normal bad around here (since the kid came along), I did get a couple of decent posts fired off. Here are the best of October's offerings. That will push on to the heights of fame and glory (third eighth rate internet fame and glory) in The Best of W.A.W.

On the Stories We Tell

Every time a (white) person goes on a killing spree, we hear the story about mental illness. But it's not the right story.

The Best Worst Tips About Writing People of Color

Our evil mystery blogger hacked the signal to give you some of the worst advice ever about how to portray people of color.

Flipping the Script

What would happen if we simply changed the script for the "rational debate." The one that disinterested people of privilege think they are so good at.

I hate to make promises as we come into the holiday season, but I've taken to carving out writing time with a blow torch and a hatchet, so here's hoping that November ushers in a period of getting up some of those long-promised posts. In particular, I have a 36 hour train ride next week with no internet connection, so I'm hoping to really bang out some serious writing at that time.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Post coming but late

I'm in Portland, chasing an almost-two-year-old all around children's museums and today a zoo. I have a post for today, but we pretty much have to leave the house now or there will be an incident, so the post for today might not get up until much later when we've worn The Contrarian out and are back at our base of operations.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Your Post Here?

I'm rolling out the welcome mat.

We've no post today because Thursdays is usually for guest posts (the real ones: not the one that live in my head).

However, if you'd like to guest post for us here at Writing About Writing (about anything loosely related to writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, or linguistics) we'd love to have you.

Please just take a gander at the closest thing we have to terms and conditions, and drop us a line at chris.brecheen@gmail.com if you're interested.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Cishet White Male Authors and Their Characters (Part 2)

Return to Part 1  

Missy asks:

Can I, as a white person, write poc main characters?

My reply:

Fuck but we're all wasting our time if you can't Missy.

Last month we dealt with Joe's question about not being sure he wanted to write main/POV characters of differing levels of privilege and marginalization because he wasn't sure he wanted to. And the answer to Joe is a little simpler because it's like that old "Doctor! It hurts when I do this," joke. ("So don't do that.) But as I mentioned, I got this question more than once, and most people actually did want to be able to write characters who were different than them–specifically in ways that involved being less privileged and more marginalized than them. So the question is how a writer can do that, and do so in a way that doesn't make things worse.

First, an unfortunate disclaimer:

Some people do believe in essentialism–that is the solid, and foundational belief that no one is really going to be able to write about any experience but their own. What does a cis het white guy know about being a trans woman of color after all? While hopefully anyone reading fiction, and all those writing it, have decided that other points of view can be entered through craft, integrity, and empathy, you really can't make everyone happy. Obviously an essentialist view is primarily espoused in non-fiction settings, and then gets used to evaluate fiction.

This isn't a goofball position. "Well what about the dragons and starships. Duuur." No one is saying your fiction can't be fictional. The question here is the accurate portrayal of characters with fundamentally different life experiences, not the fact that your anti-conformity themes happen to involve zombies–and they don't really exist.

There is, and there will always be, something to be said for the difficulty of privileged writers portraying characters in more marginalized social positions, but literature is replete with stunning examples of authors who have created keen and lasting portrayals of perspectives more oppressed than their own. Having empathy might mean you don't have a lot of FB friends you haven't pissed off by refusing to other your political opponents. And it might mean a lot of anger when you refuse to hate the enemies of whatever political ideology that is most en vogue where you happen to live. But it also sometimes has its advantages. And I mean even better than being able to get into two hour long conversations with random strangers when you ask, "Are you okay?"

A fiction writer has to work around the sort of feedback that denies that they can empathize and portray different voices, but not throw the baby out with the cliche when dealing with the portrayal itself. The last thing you want to be doing is telling a Native American who has taken the time and energy to confront you about your shockingly offensive Native American action adventure, "The Tomahawk Shapeshifter Man" that you can't be bothered to listen to them because "it's all just fiction, man." It's important to tune out people when they say "This can't be done," but it's very very important to listen closely when someone says "You got this wrong."

There are a few solid "pitfalls" when it comes to writing non-cis het white dude characters, especially by people who have most or all of those identities themselves.

1) The writer is inundated with the advice that they should "write what [you] know" so they write stories about people like them. No matter where their story takes place–be it steampunk Detroit or Khyron Beta Prime–they end up with a bunch of white guys...probably sitting around talking about how to get laid.

2) Perhaps at the next level, the writer is told "your stories are too homogenous - they need to include POC/women/LGBT/disabled/etc characters!" so they try putting some token characters in to make the quota. This is sometimes called ("charmingly," he said, making quote signs with his fingers) "rainbow sprinkles"–they don't really change the flavor of the doughnut; they just make it look colorful.

3) Then the writer is told "your POC/women/LGBT/disabled/etc characters act just like your white/men/straight/cis/abled/etc characters!" so they try making them act differently. This is especially true when the marginalized characters "learn" that not all white guys are so bad or their character arc involves realizing they "have a chip on their shoulder" about life. But it can also just mean that the particular difficulties of being marginalized are simply ignored in the narrative. Their lives and experiences are different, and they should act differently. (A black person who doesn't feel weird when walking onto the set of a Roland Emmerich film is either a cyborg sent back from the future to stop whitewashing, or has just arrived via the door to the Mandingo remake.)

4) If the writer tries to correct number 3 in the wrong way, they will probably be told "your POC/women/LGBT/disabled/etc characters are all stereotypes!" Who the hell thinks writing stereotypes is a good way to portray characters differently? Write writers, that's who.

This may make many writers throw up their hands. "How can one possibly win," they will say, thinking that this is really the range of possibilities and that the solution of "Write a better character," hadn't even fucking occurred to them.

You're in luck though, Missy: all four problems have basically the same solution.

Diversify your life and apply MOAR EMPATHY!

Writing what you know doesn't really have to include writing only things that one has experienced first hand. Writers have an amazing super power to telepathically speak with other human beings, even from beyond the grave, and vividly hallucinate their experiences.

It's called reading.

Like I don't fucking understand why some rando writers will spend 100 solid hours researching the architecture of Byzantium brothels so that they can write a two page scene, but balk at reading a couple of books by women of color to understand how they view the struggles for equality a bit differently than most white men. Does that seem right to you?

So read some things by those you wish to portray. Find out what they care about. How they frame the world. What their culture is like. Do some research. Don't be a stranger when you write about another group. Even if you think we're all equal (we should be, but we're not yet), it doesn't mean we're all identical, and those differences aren't something you want to ignore and erase. They matter.

Treat these characters with respect. Make them....you know......characters. Not walking cardboard stereotypes. (This is one of the reasons that a basic literacy in the most pernicious and common tropes can be so useful.) If they do share cultural commonalities with a broader group, make sure you balance them with individual aspects. Latino character with machismo? Fine, but have him also enjoy Katy Perry and like mystery novels or something.  Think about Lane Kim's mother in Gilmore Girls. There's a lot of furious criticism about her early in the show. It's a very problematic portrayal, but there's also a reason that even a lot of east Asian viewers come to the show's defense if they've watched later seasons. She begins to make human decisions. Her "Asian shopkeeper mom" stereotype finds several places where an actual person shows through. She becomes a single mom, someone worried about cultural erasure, a struggling businesswoman. These things are so much more genuine.... Suddenly this character is a character and not a trope with legs.




Walk up to a friend or acquaintance who is of the group you're trying to portray and say, "I have a question."  Or if you have someone who might like to read a story or book, say: "I'd really like to get this right. Can you tell me if I've done anything problematic with this portrayal?" Go online where many different cultures can talk to you and say, "Who's willing to beta read something to make sure I portrayed someone in a genuine way." (How refreshing!) Of course, you're not entitled to anyone's time or attention (especially not to slog through a rough draft of something), but you can probably eventually find someone who will help you. They want you to get it right too!

Now, not everyone you might ever portray is going to have an internet connection and a computer. Those are privileges in our world. So while you can connect with lots of people online, if you're trying to portray a group that may not be able to have access to technology or afford it, there might be some more steps involved, but the concept is the same. Find them and ask them.

They might correct you, add nuance, explain a custom you seem to be misunderstanding or elucidate what is behind it (which is absolutely a treat, let me tell you), point out that something is just a stereotype and a little offensive, or possibly even call you out if you glossed over the way social power dynamics like patriarchy or white supremacy actually work. Yeah, finding out that they got really uncomfortable with something might sting a little, but it should only sting the part of you that thought you were never going to make any mistakes. (It's a lot like any other kind of criticism that way.)

Of course you have to be careful. One person isn't an ambassador for their whole group, and thinking they are is called tokenizing them. And that's a bucket of anal sphincters to do to someone–like a big bucket...one of those Home Depot ones. The last thing you want to be doing is telling the black community: "Hey, I have a Afro-American friend who said it was okay...also that all y'all love the term Afro-American."  The more feedback and the more diverse feedback you can get, the better.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

What is the Best Dystopia? (Nominations Needed)

What is the best (worst?) dystopia?  

Edit: Nominations are now closed for this poll.

Even as our current best villain poll heats up, it is time to start taking nominations for Novembers poll.

The world is in ruins. Or maybe it's not in ruins but there's just something a little off. Or maybe it's perfect, but the price is the torturous misery of a single innocent child. In any case it's a dystopia, and it is doing its literary work to hold up a twisted mirror to our own society.

The Rules

1- As always, I leave the niggling to your best judgement because I'd rather be inclusive. If you feel like Jim Butcher writes dystopia, I'm not going to argue. (Though you might need to "show your work" to get anyone to second your nomination.) If you think Discworld is a dystopia, nominate it. I won't be enforcing any rules about it being future Earth or anything.

2- Since dystopias are a setting, they can be for a single book, a series, or several series.

3- You may nominate two (2) dystopias. Remember that I am a terrifying, power hungry monster who hates free will and all things of kind heart. To encourage reading and reading comprehension I will NOT take any dystopias beyond the second that you suggest. (I will consider a long list to be "seconds" if someone else nominates them as well.)

3- You may (and should) second as many nominations of others as you wish.

4- Please put your nominations here. I will take dystopias nominated as comments to this post on other social media; however, they may not get the seconds you need because no one will see them. (Seriously, Deloris Umbridge got a nomination for our current poll, but no seconds because she was nominated on Facebook instead of here. And then everyone got sad that she wasn't on the polls.)

5- You are nominating WRITTEN DYSTOPIAS, not their movie portrayals. CGI is making the Insurgent movies pretty fun to look at, but if you find the books to be a little contrived, you shouldn't nominate them.

My own nominations will be in comments.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Who is the BEST Written Villain? (Final Round)

Who is the best villain in a written work of fiction?  

Vodemort? Iago? Littlefinger? Pennywise? Welcome to the final round. Our poll is eight names you have narrowed down from 16 choices made from your nominations.

Each of you will be given three (3) votes. Please remember that there is no "ranking" system for votes so each vote you cast beyond the first will "dilute" the power of all the others. You should vote for as few as you can bear to.

This poll will run until November 14th. At that time we will need to get our November poll up. (Look for the subject and the nomination process for November's poll tomorrow!)

One reminder that I always need to put on our more popular polls. This poll is about books. It is not about movies. Ralph Fiennes is an awesome Voldemort, but you are basing your votes on the books in this case.

The poll itself is on the lower left of the side menus–just below the "About the Author."

Since I can't really stop shenanigans, I welcome shenanigans all flavors. The main one is of course that Polldaddy tracks your IP for a week so you could vote from multiple computers or vote again after a week, but people have also enlisted friends, family, and even author forums or Facebook communities to join in the fun.

Best Villain (Semifinal 2 Results

The results are in for our second semifinal poll. The top four results will be going on to the finals.

While I would have liked a slightly bigger spread between four and five, at least it wasn't only one or two.

Please stay tuned. The final poll will be up later today.