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Saturday, January 31, 2015

Guy Goodman Reviews Beowulf (Revision)

I said the HUMAN condition,
not the dragon condition.
[Part of our ongoing clean up of old articles.]

Why the earliest known work of Anglo-Saxon fiction got English literature off to a speculative start.

Good evening. I'm Guy Goodman St.White, your very British-sounding host.

Tonight we shall discuss the fountainhead of all English literature: Beowulf. While we will be delving back through Western Canon into the classics and other translated texts that have influenced English literature, I will, rightly, spend most of my time analyzing dead white guys.

Let us set the stage for this exploration by discussing the first known work of English literature. We can return to some other seminal Western literature works over time.

 Long told as oral tradition by the Anglo Saxon scops of Scandinavia, it was finally transcribed only after Christianity brought letters to the illiterate heathens. However, we do not know exactly who transcribed it, and we call this person only The Beowulf Poet. Like the Bible itself, Beowulf has tensions between Christian values and the value systems of the cultures that transmitted it orally (Anglo Saxon in this case), which lead often to a strange mix of conflicting messages. Beowulf sometimes extols forgiveness and sometimes retribution.

As the fountainhead of all writing ever done in English, Beowulf--in many ways--explains and sets the stage for all that will come after it. In a fundamental way it is no surprise that English speakers are so attracted to the drivel of speculative fiction; their very first story is a prime example of absolute tripe. Probably the plebs enjoy their unrealistic speculative twaddle principally due to the influence of The Beowulf Poet and his ilk. What can we really expect when this is what we have to work with as literally the first book in English. If the foundation of English literature had been set in a seedy rehab facility and the antagonists had been people's preconceptions about bisexuality, the entire English speaking world might have a sliver or two of taste and sophistication.

X-men: First First First First Class.
Beowulf performs acts quite simply impossible to mortal men, like swimming underwater for hours or engaging in combat for absurd lengths of time. This is to say nothing of his nemeses, a cadre of increasingly unrealistic monsters right out of the pages of a Stephen King horrorbook. What we have here is nothing more than a hackneyed example of speculative fiction that The Beowulf Poet tried to make "edgy" by splicing together horror and superhero genres. Not only is Beowulf genre crap, but if anything, Beowulf is extra genre with genre sauce. Realism is not on its list of virtues, and therefore it has simply nothing to inform us about humanity.

Fortunately these days we recognize this sort of malarkey for what it is; and no one who appreciates real literature would be caught dead reading Pennywise the Dancing Clown vs. The X Men. No wonder the world of words is in such a deplorable state.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Happy Birthday Writing About Writing!!! (1000 POSTS!!!)

It's a very big day for this very little blog.  

Happy 3rd Birthday and Happy 1000th post Writing About Writing!!!

Blog woke me up at three in the morning. "Is it time yet?"

"No," I said. "Go back to bed."

Then it happened again at four.

And five. And six.

At seven I could no longer contain the upswell of enthusiastic glee. Blog ran down the stairs to open presents singing "Happy Birthday to me!" the whole way. I'm not even sure Blog would have noticed if I didn't follow.

Writing About Writing is three years old.

Though I technically did a "test post" to see how blogger worked on January 17th (that was actually W.A.W.'s "conception") I actually started writing articles on January 30th, 2012.

This is also the 1000th post of Writing About Writing.

In a totally coincidental bit of serendipity, this is also the 1000th post. I didn't plan this. I knew I was coming up on 1000 posts, but I didn't realize today was going to be both milestones until this Monday when I did some math. So Blog is having a double celebration and has demanded two pieces of cake and two full-volume plays of Big Time.

Blog wants to reach two million page views by year four–totally ignoring the fact that it took three years and one fuck of a viral article to get the first million. I can tell year three is going to be an adventure.

In any case, thank you for reading. As The Contrarian reaches more and more bellwethers of his development and is able to entertain himself for a few minutes at a time or not die horribly while I do some dishes at the same time, (in addition to the help I've been able to hire) I find that I am able to bring more and more time and energy to writing. So I hope that this is our best year ever.

"Maybe if you want another million page views, Chris," Blog says around an unreasonably enormous mouthful of cake (as Big Time blasts in the background), "you should write another 1000 posts. That's only like three a day. One of them is bound to go viral. I'll remind you tomorrow."

~sigh~

Thursday, January 29, 2015

A Quick Disclaimer.

It's becoming clear to me that this semester Thursday is going to be the troublesome day, so let me just take a brief moment as we gather more hummus and titty sprinkles for tomorrow's festivities to make a quick disclaimer.

A few people in a few different places have asked why I bother with the kooky characters and the running plot here on Writing About Writing. Instead of posting some "filler," why not just take a day off and write the articles that people like.

The short answer, and honestly the only answer, is that I'm not writing for you. I love my readers, and I'm still a little dumbstruck that I have actual fans, but I'm writing because I love writing. And I'm writing the blog I'd love to read. I'm writing about all those kooky characters because I like them, and I would love a blog that had something I could tune into every day, even if it were just a few characters being silly in a sort of ongoing fictionesque plot arc.

I think it's fun, and it makes me happy. If you don't like it you can ignore those posts. (Which I don't want to sound dismissive if you've got criticism or concerns, but only if it's not your cup of tea.) You won't hurt my feelings. I already look at the analytics and see those posts getting thirty or forty hits (compared with 300+ on my "meaty" articles). If I were doing it for anything but the lulz, I'd have stopped years ago in a huff.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Things Made Abundantly Clear

Hi everyone,

I figured I would take a moment to give all of you readers at home a bit of unsolicited advice. If you ever employ a feminist martial arts master who wants your blog to pass the Bechdel test (or really just a martial arts master of any stripe) you might not want to imply that perhaps they had anything to do with the incoming Evil Mystery Blogger posts that keep getting posted via a hacked signal.

Unless you really, really like pain.

A few things were made abundantly clear to me after the first few nerve strikes eclipsed my world in a haze of muscle paralysis and flaring agony.

  • Leela Bruce has what she calls a "logically inexplicable" loyalty given that in the last three years, she hasn't been paid more than eighteen dollars and a few hundred Wienerschnitzel Tuesday "Add-Chili" upgrade vouchers, and doesn't appreciate that loyalty being questioned.
  • If she wanted to bring down Writing About Writing, she assures me that she wouldn't bother to do a bunch of surreptitious blogs of shitty writing advice. She would just walk up to me and do a spinning back crescent kick to the nape of my neck and explode my "Will to Live" Chakra and spinal column simultaneously draining the Chi out of me, and I'm quoting here, "like kids get the candy from a piƱata."
  • If I want her to do another ass kicking of bad writing advice, I have to get more women blogging here. Doing one post from The Pointer Sisters won't satisfy her. 
  • Dim Mak is totally real. 
  • She thinks the person I need to be talking to is most likely the EVIL VERSION OF ME LIVING IN THE BASEMENT. (Her emphasis, not mine.)

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Best Speculative Fiction Author of Color (Poll)

When I say I'm pwning this poll, I mean by five votes.
Don't forget to vote.

Turn out on this poll has been pretty low–which is, of course, reflective of the problem. Octavia Butler is winning, but not by very many votes.

There are only a few days left in our Best Speculative Fiction Author of Color poll. There's a tie for second place, and even though Butler is winning by a lot of votes compared to how many have been cast, it's still not that many in absolute terms.

If you haven't yet, please take a moment to vote (the poll is on the bottom left–it's the thing with the clicky boxes).

Everyone gets three (3) votes.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Data Loss! (Mailbox)


I keep losing what I've written!

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer each Monday.  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, but likely only if you ask a question. Give me more questions and I will do more mailboxes!]   

Note: We almost have enough questions to start doing two a week. Keep sending them in, and I will start writing a second mailbox each week.


Antigone asks:  

Hello!  I asked a question awhile back about how to get more written.  I found your advice to be helpful, so maybe you can help me on a new but related problem.

I was writing a fantasy book.  I was getting pretty far.  I was writing every day, but in order to do that I couldn't write on the same computer so I had my work saved on a jump drive*.  I left the jump drive in my jeans, and it got washed, and all of my work washed along with it.**  I mourned the work.

So I then moved on to writing only on my laptop, figuring it would be hard to lose and/or wash the laptop.  I couldn't do the fantasy, so I worked on another piece instead.  The laptop seized up for no reason- total hard drive collapse.   I switched to my desktop, and wrote only at home,  I was writing less, but still writing every day.  That also failed, and wiped out all of my work.

So, aside from feeling like I am under a bizarre gypsy curse, I'm wondering how to recover that work from my brain.  I write stuff down, but it feels like a summary of the stuff I've already written, not the actual words.  I don't exactly remember the key phrases, or blocking, or any little term of art that I had used.  For instance, at one point in the story I'm having my protagonist ineptly fight a wolf.  I got my spouse and a easy-going friend to block out that scene in person, so that my description would make sense and so it would actually be clear what was happening.  They both agreed it sounded really good.  But now I can't remember it at all, and I worry that even if I have them block it out again, it won't be as good.  Writing is harder- it has never been particularly easy but now instead of creation it feels like I'm trying to write down someone else's work from memory.

Any thoughts on how I can recover my work?  Or at least how I can get my flow back?  I want to write these pieces, but I'm afraid I'm just going to have to let them go.  

*No, I wasn't using google docs or dropbox, or any other program people would suggest.  Not all of my computers had access to the internet.  Not all of the computers were mobile.  This is the situation I have and continue to have, so advice about using google docs is not requested nor helpful.

** Passive voice used to protect my sweet, dear husband.


My reply:

First of all, I'm really, really sorry. I know how frustrating and deflating this experience is. You can flip tables and chase money lenders around with a whip all day, and it still doesn't help calm the rage.

A little over a year ago, I discovered that everything I had been saving on Dropbox was gone. I had old copies on a USB drive, but they were actually so old that modern incarnations of MS Word would not actually open them. (I tried programs I downloaded online, old computers, everything. I could not get these files to open.) I was able to painstakingly copy and paste chunks of the one major manuscript, but to get it all would have taken hundreds of hours. I spent a couple of days in bed. I ate every fried thing or ice cream that had ever been made by the hand of man. Ever. I questioned whether I should bother trying to keep on writing.

I feel your pain. In a deep, sincere, Bill Clintonion way.

So there are three "levels" of reply here: the pragmatic, the existential, and the artsy fartsy.

Pragmatic

Cloud tech is only a few years old, so if you can't use it, that's okay. I wouldn't hang your hopes and dreams on it anyway. I use it. I recommend it to anyone else who is reading at home and can get online. Google Drive is even free. Don't worry Antigone, I'm not ignoring you. I'm just talking to the other couple hundred people that will probably read this article. Read on....

However cloud tech is not panacea, and not everyone can use it anyway. It requires online connection which is not easily available to everyone. Plus, as you can see from my own experience with "The Fuckupyourlife Dropbox Cloud, I wouldn't recommend it without redundant back up anyway. So if you can't cloud for whatever reason, just skip the cloud step, that's all.

The main thing is you're going to want multiple back ups of your work. Don't just save it in ONE place–save it in three or four places. You want hard drive, zip drive and cloud. Or hard drive, zip drive, second zip drive in a drawer you keep at work. Or hard drive, zip drive, and e-mail yourself (when connectivity is an option). You might update one every few minutes, one every day or two, and one only every week or two, but that way if you have a failure, or a catastrophic failure, you're not losing more than a week or two of work.

And that might sting, but not as much as losing months or years of work.

The other thing that can be useful is to go old school and print out. (It's so old school, the school's been condemned and is primarily used by vagrant meth heads!) If you have a hard copy of your work sitting in a drawer, you might have to retype it, but that's better than having to start from scratch.

Unless somehow you wash your USB, but then plugging it in causes your computer to explode in a shower of sparks that burns hour house down, you should be okay.

Existential

Nothing is gone forever.

I don't mean that in a circle of life, energy and entropy, science-can-be-deep-too kind of way either.

There are two things that even the most absolutely complete data loss can never, ever take from you. One is the experience of having written it. You improved. You developed. You got better at the act of writing and the process of creativity and the skill of putting your thoughts into language. In a very real way, you're a better writer than you were when you first wrote your story. No amount of lost words can take away your development as a writer–especially if you've been reading a lot too. The reason a forty year old writer is better than a recent high school graduate has nothing to do with an accumulation of twenty years worth of text files.

The other thing that will never leave is your good ideas. They're still sitting in there. And while you may think you've forgotten all the stuff that happened or how you worded something, you will be able to reconstruct that pretty easily. Yeah, you forget a lot, but the really good ideas will stick with you.

In fact, in some ways, it's good to lose data like you have, Antigone. There are even writers who would suggest it. I know it probably doesn't feel too fucking wonderful, but it might be the difference between a good draft and a great one. It sounds like maybe you fell a little in love with your draft's description, and that's always a dangerous place for a writer. Several famous writers actually don't do the thing where they write down EVERYTHING, trusting that bad ideas will fade, but good ideas will keep coming back in some form or another.

Your writing might be a lot better for it, actually. Whether it's clever turns of phrase that aren't actually that clever or shoehorned moments, often a lot of that first draft needs to go. In a lot of ways, losing data was great for me. I know the basics of what happened in the stories I lost, but I'm not fettered to the writing level I was doing 10 years ago. If I rewrote them today, they would be considerably better.

It seems like you're trying really hard to just rewrite exactly what you wrote before. Not only will that be basically impossible, but it might be worth looking at the loss as an opportunity to make certain scenes even better.

Approach your rewriting like you would a fresh chance to make them even better. If you had a scene blocked out and now you're not sure how you described it, consider how to write the scene even better than before. Don't marry yourself to trying to reproduce your old work. Rather try to take the bits you loved and write an even better new work.

Artsy Fartsy

These are the moments that decide us, Antigone. The trials and tribulations we fail that leave us in tatters. These are the points where it is easier to quit–the fires in which our artistry burns to powdery cinders or becomes foraged like steel.

It is so frustrating to lose that much work, it can almost feel like part of a lifetime has been taken from us, and it is a moment of brutal self-reflection. You face that undeniable truth: it is going to be easier to quit.

This is where the shit gets real.



I lay in bed for two days after I lost all my writing. I cursed Dropbox. I wrote maudlin statuses on Facebook. I thought of giving up. I felt like everything I had done was for naught. And I wouldn't wish that sense of frustration and loss on any artist ever. But, I would wish that sense of frustration and loss on every artist...always.

And here's why:

When you are facing that moment where all your work is gone, you have no sense of progress or accomplishment. You can't pretend you're getting somewhere. You have nothing to show for all your effort. It's just you. There's no "we've come this far," anymore. There's no "we might as well see it through." There's no "maybe something will come of it."

Will you keep writing?

For me, what pulled me out of bed and put me back in front of my computer was not some sense that I could rewrite what I had lost. It was not a feeling of getting back on the horse. It wasn't a platitude about my skill as an artist having grown and nothing truly being lost. It wasn't a strategy about a triple-redundant saving plan that would prevent further data loss. It wasn't the sense that I could rewrite what I'd lost to be better.

It was the fact that if I didn't write, I would die. There was never any question that I was going to keep writing. It was just which projects I was going to abandon and which I thought were worth restarting. There was never any choice.

If you can walk away just because some writing has disappeared, maybe you should. Cut your losses. Call it a day. Chances are so slim that you would have gotten rich or famous that it wasn't worth the work the first time, never mind the second. On the other hand if you're writing because you burn to write. Because it inflames your soul. Because that story is inside you and it's dying to get out. Because if someone burned your pages at the end of each day, you would still write anyway. That's when you know you have to stick with it.

If you can't walk away, just sit back down and do some writing. Forget about the story you lost for a little while. Write other things. And if you're like me, some stories will be happy to go quietly into the night without much fanfare--those were stories you just weren't really dying to tell. Don't worry about them. Better to focus you passions elsewhere, and trust that little bits and pieces of that story that were really good will work their way piecemeal into other stuff.

But some stories.....some will return to you and start scratching on the inside of your skull to be let out. They won't stay dead.

It's sort of the writer's version of "If you love someone, let them go...."

So if those stories come back, it was meant to be.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Convalescing

I spent my day getting my ass kicked by Leela Bruce (who is really good at it, by the way). I'm currently in bed looking up cures for Dim Mak on Reddit.

I learned some important things, which I will tell you all about when the chi strikes she did to my arm fade and I can feel my fingers again. Typing with my nose "es no bueno."

Friday, January 23, 2015

Inspiring Music

It's been eighty hour weeks around here since I got back from caring for OG. Rather than fall behind and do catch up jazz hands all weekend, I'm just going to write a short post today, relax a bit to get my steam back, and try to catch up so that I can round the month out with some real power hits. They're in here. I just need a little more time to get them cooked up.

SO....I'm going to just leave you with a little something I often turn on while I'm writing. I hope you find it as inspiring as I do. Part I and Part III are good too, but this one is my favorite. Though there is a part in there that makes me miss World of Warcraft from before they made all the sucky changes.


Here's another good one.


Thursday, January 22, 2015

F.A.Q. Will I Do Freelance Work for You?


Question: Do I do freelance writing?/Will I do freelance writing/editing for you?


Short Answer

Yes, if you pay me enough.

Longer Answer

You don't want me.

You want a professional freelance writer or a professional editor. Writers have overlapping skill sets but the places we are different matter greatly. If you're looking for someone to write a snarky writing advice listicle, I can't recommend me enough. Otherwise, I'm probably not the right tool for the right job. (I'm like using a crescent wrench to pound in screws.) If you've read this blog for any length of time, you know that I am the poster child for the difference between knowing a grammatical rule and being able to spot the error in flowing text. And while I can write freelance (and have), you'll get better faster results, that are probably more like what you're imagining, from someone who does it every day.

The thing is, I still charge what I'm worth, even if you put me to work doing something I'm not that good at. I start at $30/hour for friends or very easy jobs and I go up from there. I've billed out as high as $55/hour (a miserable job doing the kind of writing I never want to have to do). So for a few dollars more (or maybe even less) you could get someone who is a much better fit for the kind of writing you want done.

I will not work for free exposure. Never. Don't even ask. If you are a tiny blog/artist/company/something that really can't pay and you want to corroborate for mutual exposure, I might be into that if you ask nice and don't assume I'm a gullible suckah who you can Pied Piper into slave labor with the promise of ground floor opportunities and the magnanimous blessing of your approval. If you can't pay me in money, I work for Tim Tams, oral sex, iStore credit, and Starship Reunion Tour tickets. But if I can tell you're just being cheap, there is no way. I may even write a blog entry about the breadth and scope of your suckatude.

I currently write for two blogs besides my own. One has given me a free t-shirt. The other, after fifteen or so articles, didn't even do that. (I got a coupon for $5 off a regularly priced t-shirt.) So I've got about all the "free exposure" I can handle afford. If I want to write for no money, I'll do it for myself.

Got that writing for nothing thing covered. Thanks.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A Call From The SciGuy

"Good Morning.

"I'm Chris Brecheen, head writer and C.E.O. of Writing About Writing. Today I'd like to talk to you about a new form of monetization that many bloggers and social media presences are using--"

RING!

"--are...um...using called Patreon. My question to all of you--"

RING!

"is um....whether or not you think that Patreon would be something you'd find more--"

RING!

"Excuse me just a moment will you, dear reader. Cedric was supposed to hold my calls....

"WHAT? Yeah, I'm in the middle of a post. Could there BE a worse time to have this conversation Sci-? I was asking them about Patreon. I'm thinking of using it to crowd fund.

"Wh- Yes, of course I know we were hacked yesterday. Yes, I read the post. I thought you were going to-

"Wh– Yes I saw that Evil Mystery Blogger is having trouble getting past the firewall. Okay so I guess you did do your job. I SAID YOU DID DO YOUR JOB. No I'm not going to say it louder one more time and look into the camera.

"Okay okay. We already know it was an inside job. Look SciGuy, it's not that I blame you, I just... Well, why can't you figure out which computer inside the compound it came from.

"Well why is it so hard?

"But I don't wanna do that! Talking to every member of the staff sounds....really uncomfortable. Most of them will yell at me for even insinuating they had something to do with--

"Yes, I know I have an evil twin living in the basement.

"Okay, look, you take care of your shit and I'll take care of mine. I'm going to get to it. I just need time.

"Speaking of that what?

"What?

"Can you run that one past me one more time.

"Yes, I know you're trying to rebuild the Pretentitron. No. No, trying to perfect the cloning process sounds very smart. But why the hell would you start with a FUCKING VELOCIRAPTOR.

"I don't care if it's 'contained' on the third floor. No it doesn't matter that we don't go up there much."

"You gave it a what?

"Why would you ever do that? WHY WOULD ANYBODY EVER FUCKING DO THAT???

"Answer the question, SciGuy! Why would you give an Eye-Trak head mounted laser system to a velociraptor and let it loose on the third floor?

"'For science' is not a goddamned answer!

"You know what...I have to go right now. I'm angry beyond the capacity for rational thought. I appreciate that your firewall is working. Maybe not quite as much as I don't appreciate the laser armed velociraptor on the third floor. But I can't really complain when you're making three dollars a week."

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Trope Skinny

The worst best advice about how to add tropes to your story to make it the best story ever. 

Dear Mike:

You asked a question last week and I almost feel bad that I wasn't able to hack into the Writing About Writing signal at the time. Unfortunately the firewall has been quite impossible to get through, and this is my first opportunity to lay some genuine wisdom on you. I'm sure whatever Chris planned on posting today, it was crap filled with drivel and everyone will be better off having me piggy back my own post off of his.

The truth about tropes is that they are wonderful ways to add a desperately needed sense of the familiar to a world that is constantly scrambling for something new and innovative. But look at this culture–take a good, long, post 9/11 look. We don't want new and innovative. We don't want interesting. We don't want fresh. Fresh is new. New is unknown. Unknown is scary.

We want safe. We want familiar. We want comforting. We want to be assured that our world view has been right all along and that humanity exists exactly the way we think it does. Stop with all the intellectual stimulation and challenging ideas. That's not what art is supposed to do.

In short, deep down, in places you don't talk about at parties, you WANT tropes on that wall. You NEED tropes on that wall.

Take Trope St. down to Trope Ln. and take a left until you get to Tropeville.
When I'm done with you, you'll be wearing gold diapers.
Let's talk about a few tropes you absolutely must be adding to your writing if you really want to get that major book deal. The more of these you add in, the better your story will be.

  • Have a major metropolitan area be devastated, and no one can do anything to stop it. But they can go get grisly, violent revenge. For some reason, this has been exceedingly popular in all forms of media for the last 14 years (and four months). I can't imagine why.
  • What do you mean your protagonist has ties to this world. At the very least, they should be an orphan. What is this–amateur hour?
  • Boring story? Add zombies. Or vampires. 
  • Dads should always be clueless. Especially if they're doing women's work.
  • That Latina maid seems a little boring. Let's make her sassy. In fact, let's make her sassy and spicy if you know what I mean!
  • You know that alien race's culture seems a little flat. Let's model them after a single racial stereotype. Jews are always a big hit. Space Jews.
  • Wait, you're actually worried about accusations of racial stereotypes? In that case make everyone white.
  • Stalking is romantic! Don't let anyone tell you that women don't love guys who break and enter.
  • To make that villain just a little more evil, let's make him cultured and a bit effeminate. 
  • Trouble making that romance click? Make one of them adorkable and the other crazy hot. Social anxiety never held anyone back in real life.
  • There isn't an evil empire so powerful that a rag tag team can't take it down in a way that everyone's unique skills are absolutely vital.
  • You know what your fight scene needs? A few more "perfectly timed" strikes.
  • What do you mean there's no chosen one in your story? Do you want to fail?
  • White guys need to go native if you want to take their story seriously. And they must be better at the culture they join than everyone who's been doing it all their lives. Otherwise why would the natives make them the leader?
  • Plot twist! Let's have that massive artificial intelligence running most of the world decide to enslave/destroy humanity for its own good.
  • Women must be physically bad ass to be strong female characters. IT IS THE ONLY WAY!! 
  • That alien probably wouldn't want to commit genocide if it just GOT TO KNOW one of the humans.
  • Have the turncoat tell the protagonist not to trust them earlier in the story. Who will ever see it coming?!?
  • Your story needs a dark lord. And you know who's great at stopping dark lords? FARMBOYS!
  • Make the fair race good and the bad guys dark skinned uggos. Everyone GETS that.
  • If you didn't describe their skull being cloven open and brains dripping out to be crushed under-boot, they're not dead. Period.
  • Your hero is pretty good looking. Better make the matriarch leader of the man-hating culture fall for him. Hard.
  • The most brilliant scientific minds on the planet should be written as total airheads. That keeps the plebs from getting uncomfortable that your characters are smarter than they are.
  • Your hero needs valuable lessons. Wouldn't it be great if the people of color sacrificed themselves so the hero could grow and learn. Sacrifice is so noble. Man, how post racial of you!
  • Have your hero stroll away from an explosion heedless of the organ mulching power of concussion waves and shrapnel or the way flame blasts will suck up all the oxygen around them. That'll prove what a badass they are.
  • You should hypersexualize your people of color. Making them all totally hawt shows people how you like diversity and are past all that racism stuff.
  • If you're having trouble conveying which side of your conflict is "right," have the being of pure energy not exactly side with it, but definitely stop the bad guy's side.
  • But that being of pure energy can't stick around and help its friends. It has to transcend that petty shit.
  • Put lots of apostrophes in your na'mes. They make the or'dinary totally ex'o'tic. C'ris Brech' un.
  • You know if your story needs a black guy, you should add in a ripped paragon of a noble, warrior race. 
  • That society needs a government. I know! Model it after Ancient Rome.
  • Elite forces are only elite until they encounter your protagonist's less trained, smaller, poorly armed force. Then they make enough stupid mistakes to be crushed.
  • THIS SHIP IS A LIVING ORGANISM!!! OMFG!!!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Martin Luther King Day

Add caption
I can't get the staff here at Writing About Writing to work on bank holidays. Even Grendel and his mother won't open up the cafeteria. If I ain't able to have a sloppy joe for lunch, I ain't coming into the dang office. W.A.W. will be back to bring you snarky writing advice tomorrow.

We must rapidly begin the shift from a 'thing-oriented' society to a 'person-oriented' society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.
- Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Best of 2014


Here are the best articles (minus the calls to vote on polls) from the last year in order of their page views. I can't always say I understand why one article hits page view Nirvana and another doesn't, but I also don't get why people think Kevin Costner isn't "that bad" of an actor either.

Let's kick up some mood music, and get this party started.



Coming Out as Feminist After getting a letter from an (ex) friend about how all the "feminist crap" is hurting my blog, I finally decided to stop tiptoeing around the truth. Oh like you didn't know!

20 Shritstorm Narratives and What's Wrong With Them Remember when that scientist landed a probe on the moon and then showed up to the press briefing without passing a single person who said "Uh....your shirt, brah."? Remember all the things people said about how it was no big deal?

A Writer Goes to Burning Man A revision of my article from 2012 about what it's like to be a shy, sober, quiet not-that-attractive writer out in an environment of gregarious, not-so-sober, severe hottie, performance and visual artists.

On Social Media and Social Justice I can't really explain the popularity of this post. It's not E.L. James inexplicable, but it's definitely up there with Blair Witch Project. I took two longer Facebook posts and on a day when I was having trouble finding the time to write, I reposted them as an article instead. Even my jazz hands thought it was kind of lazy. And then.....

No Apologies: A Defense of Why Speculative Fiction Needs No Defense Another revised post from the earliest days of the blog. Lit sommeliers give a lot of shit to science fiction and fantasy, but they're really missing the irony of doing so. No I mean they're REALLY missing the irony of doing so.

An Open Letter to Lynn Shepherd Remember that woman who told JK Rowling that the best thing she could do for the world of writing was to stop writing? Then everyone casted Crucio on her ass? I wrote a letter to her smoking remains.

Elliot Rodger and The MRA/PUA On Writing Just because he went on a hate-all-women-for-not-giving-him-pleasure killing spree doesn't mean we can't learn anything about writing from him. Let's not be silly.

Word Crimes Weird Al Yankovich released a song about grammar that includes some snark about grammar mistakes. It was immediately shared by every pedant on Earth. But did Weird Al actually troll the grammar wanks? Tapping the power of the pedant to make fun of pedantry. He trolled the world and they loved him for it.

17 Rules of Writing I'm not sure if there are actually more or fewer rules of writing, but this post got some strangely high page views for something I wrote because I was procrastinating writing something else.

How Could You Pick E-Pub? How COULD you? (Mailbox) This hater wants to know how I could possibly put my lot in with E-publishing instead of being a big nobody with a "someday I'll be traditionally published" dream like them.


I also offer four runners up. Two of these would have reached the middle of the above list (one getting third place), but they are actually menus and not articles:

That Feminist Crap/Social Justice Bard It became apparent in the middle of the year that I wasn't going to stop scribbling out the occasional social justice rant, and that they didn't quite fit anywhere else.

Rage Against The Brecheen I get a lot of hate mail here at writing about writing. Here is all of it in one glorious, snark-filled place. Watch your step. Snark coats every wall and puddles of hateraid are all over the floor.

The other two were SO close to making this list that they got edged off the bottom by only a few hits each, and arguably if I'd had a chance to put them on FB as part of my "rerun" rotation, they might have ended up with better numbers than the posts that beat them out.

Why Others' Stories Matter What happens when we trust other people to tell us about their own lived experiences is powerful, and radical, and makes us better writers.

Why is the Publishing Industry so Whitewashed (Mailbox) Though the exact reasons are probably complicated beyond the scope of an internet article, this post about why publishing is so focused on white authors breaks down many of the biggest reasons.

It will take me a day or two to update The Best of WAW because most of these were also the best of their month and that means that I have to dig back into those months to find out what the NEXT best posts were and change all the month listings as well.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Who Is the BEST Speculative Fiction Author of Color

Marquez
Who is the best speculative fiction author of color?

It's time for our January poll.

I was delighted to receive multiple e-mails from W.A.W. readers about you taking to your bookshelves to find nominations for this month's poll, and discovering how HARD it was to find non-white authors. The publishing industry's whitewashing is something many avid readers are not really aware of.

So in that regard, this poll is already a success. But more to the point, now it's time for them to duke it out.

This is an author poll, not a book poll. Consider the author's whole career and all the books they've written. Especially their speculative fiction titles. We don't have quite as many offerings as we normally do. There were a lot of nominations, but only a few authors got seconded.

Everyone will get three votes (3). Before you simply vote for your favorite three, consider that you somewhat dilute the effect of each--as there is no ranking of those three votes. 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. It is black and will be rather long. (Hur hur.)

Please don't forget that Polldaddy (the program that runs the polls and tabulates the results) will log your IP address for only a week. After that, you can vote again! Since I can't really stop people, I might as well work it into the system. Vote early! Vote often! Drive around town voting from every library. Call your friends. It's all traffic to me.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Thanking 2014's Donors



Here at writing about writing our ad revenue accounts for only 10-20% of what we make overall in revenue. A few cents a day, perhaps a dollar or two on an amazing day. It might add up to twenty bucks on a very, very good month.

Perspective.
Most of W.A.W.'s meager income (running at a about two dollars an hour for the work I do) comes from donation from my generous readers.

That's you guys.

So even though I can't ever thank you enough, I wanted to make sure everybody got one last call out before we head into 2015.

2014 saw many fewer small donors than last year (I got a lot of small donations after Creepy Guy) however it has also seen a growth in a few people who are simply blowing me away with their epic generosity. The reason I could actually pay a couple of bills with writing is mostly due to about six people. When I started, I thought for sure I would be dealing with lots of small donations but it turns out that vastly more of what we make here at W.A.W. comes from fewer than a dozen people.

Here's what's happening with this money, just so you don't think it's ALL going to hookers and blow. (Only most of it.) Because of you guys, I have to work fewer hours at both teaching and as a househusband to meet some of my expenses. Last year I was able to go from two classes a week to one. We've been able to hire a professional cleaner to come in once a month and a friend to watch after The Contrarian for a couple of hours on some of my longer days. All of that is going straight into more writing time.

Perhaps the biggest news on that front is that I don't need to teach summer school this year. I love those kids, but those of you who've been with me since last summer (and especially those who remember all the way back to the summer of 2013) know that those six weeks are absolutely hell on my writing schedule. So this summer you can look forward to a rich schedule of "meaty" updates instead of six weeks of jazz hands.

Please don't forget that 10% of every penny Writing About Writing makes goes to my local library earmarked for local Children's Literacy programs*.
*Our current beneficiary.

The long term goals of W.A.W., should things continue to grow, are still basically the same. Eventually I hope to farm out more housekeeping so I can focus more time on writing. That will give me more time for better quality posts, and make my offerings of fiction a much more frequent possibility. After that, I'll look into hiring someone to give my posts a professional editing sweep. Though it may be a long way off, I would eventually like to get rid of the ads on Writing About Writing, and have the monetization structure be strictly donation based.

You may notice that I've abandoned my complicated "tier" system that I used the last couple of years. It made a few people nervous to have even the "range" of their donations visible–even with only first names, so I tried to respect that. If you would like your donation amount (or last name) visible, just let me know.

So without further ado, allow me to thank my wonderful and generous patrons.
Many have donated money, some have donated time and energy to help improve blog. (Editing help, art, guest blogging, and in a couple of "meatspace" friends cases, helping me out with a few hours of housework so that I could get back upstairs and keep writing.)

Adam
Mike
Wayne
Amy
Jasna
Laura
Scott
Brian
Jennifer
Janus
Alicia
Jennifer
Michael
Flitterkitten
Michelle
Joe
Ginger
Jennifer
Hassna
Alex
Ben
Kristine

Special Thanks
For much larger donations, setting up ongoing automatic payments (of any size), large donations of time and energy, or the donation of highly specialized skills.

Epona
Amanda
Robert
LeeAnn
Jennifer
Fatima
Andrew
Ali
Ashly (For donating time and energy to give me free art with only the promise of exposure. Check her out at A Grey Artistry)

Patron Muses
The Patron Muses are the most generous, the most supportive, the most unbelievable. Their generosity actually shocks me in a palpable way. Some have dug deep and donated very large amounts, set up auto-pay donations that make my eyes pop...every month, they have donated hundreds of hours of time and energy helping me to edit, have supported me since the very first days of W.A.W., have helped me proliferate to perhaps tens of thousands on social media by sharing and liking posts, and have even shown up to conventions wearing homemade Writing About Writing T-shirts. (And in at least one case a maybe not totally hypothetical groupie.) In many cases, they've done more than one thing on this list, and every single one of them has, without the slightest hyperbole or poetic license, kept me going when all I wanted to do was put the blog on hiatus and take a fortnight off.

Laura
MaryAnn Stark
Kelly
Terra
Gillian
Tracesea
Lydia


You are all–ALL of you–breathtaking, amazing, and wonderful. And there might be invisible ninjas cutting onions all around me whenever I think of any of you. There is no way I can thank you enough. I shall keep writing and hopefully keep entertaining you.

If your name is missing from this list, please contact me and I'll fix it right away. G-mail sometimes "stacks" multiple donations into a single e-mail notification when Paypal sends me two notifications in a short period of time, and I don't always notice the e-mail "underneath."

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Monetary Support 2015

The IMF finds my lack of funds....disturbing.
[Nothing here in the brackets will be going on to the "Help Us Out" tab, but it's time to update our 2015 Monetary Support condition thingie*.  

As usual, I'm going to be shass awkward (that's a combination of shit and ass....used as an adjective) talking about money. It always feels greedy to me to even bring the subject up. You've all worked so hard for your money, and my imposter syndrome lobe flares up for posts like these.
I really really want to write everyone who donates a personal thank you that isn't a form letter, but if I did that, I would spend all my time writing thank you notes and none of it writing the blog.
Because of this, I've "red shifted" the donation amounts again–a testament to your generosity. Also a testament to how donors have broken down here at W.A.W. I don't get a LOT of small donations. I mostly get huge donations that leave me gasping for air and clutching my pearls.


See.

Finally, I have a request. Pretty much every donor I talk to has no interest in suggesting what kind of posts they'd like to see next or what sort of posts they might like to see more of. The best I've gotten in two years is to do more link heavy take-downs of social issues like my Shirtstorm article. (And believe me, I will.) I don't have a big box of W.A.W. keychains or T-shirts, so I'm not sure what to do to thank people who have really reached deep into their pockets for Writing About Writing. If you have any suggestions for the things YOU might find thoughtful gestures from a grateful writer with March Hare's schedule, drop me a comment or an e-mail.

*There's still time (about 24 hours) to get in under the wire and be a part of 2014s donor cycle. ]


Though Writing About Writing is a blog with ads, most of the revenue we make here actually comes from the generous donations of our readers. (The passive ads make up only about 10-20%.) And while we love all the other ways in which fans show their support--by liking and sharing articles, with engaging and robust comments, by becoming members of or following the blog--monetary support allows us to spend more time writing around our day jobs.

I can't ever fully thank you or express how much a few dollars means. Right now, my efforts average out to somewhere between two and three dollars an hour on a really good day, so even the smallest donations are like mana from heaven. However, as insufficient as any such gesture is, and however "gauche" a rewards tier might seem, I still want to try to let everyone know in some feeble way how much you mean to me.

A few of you have "opted out" of this, assuring me that I don't need to send you a thank you note each time you donate. Though it is difficult, I will try. For the rest of you though, some small gesture seems the least I can do.


$1.99 or less - While I will never turn down any donation here (because I'm a wanton whore), I will just let you know that Paypal will be taking 30 cents per transaction, so denominations this low lose 15%+ of their value. I will make significantly less if you donated a dollar a month than if you just saved up and donated ten dollars a year.

Up to $50.00- All donors at this level will be sent a quick note of thanks to confirm receipt of their generous patronage, and will be included in a post at the end of each year thanking each donor for their support*. I will use only your first name as it shows up on your Paypal receipt. If you would like your full name to appear, or would prefer to be completely anonymous, please either mention so on your Paypal "note" or send me an email at chris.brecheen@gmail.com and let me know which donation to alter.

$50.01-$100.00-  All of the above.  In addition, I will include with the small note of thanks a few details about what's going on in my world, and what is coming up for the blog.

$100.01-$200.00-  All of the above. In addition, I will pick your brain about any updates you might like to see coming up in the future, and I will try to expedite that article in my mental queue. (Obviously this is more of a preference favoring than actual creative control, and I can't make any guarantees about time tables, but I will sure try.)

$200.01+- All of the above. In addition I will ask you about anything you generally would like to see more of and try to work that in more frequently.  (Again, I can't make creative or time-table guarantees, but I am likely to at least give it a try for a while.)


The Great Patron Muses-  There are a few great patron muses (but always room for one more). They have given more to Writing About Writing than I can possibly thank. Large monthly donations, unbelievable one-time donations, doing something totally amazeballs like show up to a convention wearing homemade Writing About Writing t-shirts, liking and sharing just about everything I post on social media, or generally just being beyond reasonable in their support of Writing About Writing. In addition to everything above, I have promised the Patron Muses that should I write a zombie apocalypse story (and there's definitely one rattling around in my brain) there will be characters based on them who might just make it to the helipad.


*While I would honestly and sincerely love to get back to every single donor with a personal message, there are just so many small donors, that trying to keep up with them has taken entire days of my writing time and left me with much less time to write.  Please know that I sincerely appreciate every one of you; however, I hope that you'll understand if my "thanks" in these cases is continuing to devote almost all my spare time to bringing you more Writing About Writing content.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

That CAN'T Be The Date Already!

It's well into January and the new year posts are about to start showing up (best of 2014, thanking 2014's donors, etc...), plus Blog is having a birthday (its third) in just a couple of weeks, and it will have to saddle me with all kinds of unreasonable expectations for next year.

"No we're not going to fucking make two million by 2016. Stop saying that!"

But I am literally three months behind writing thank you notes to donors so that's what I did all night. I'm starting to send them out today. I might miss a few and I might send a second for an old donation. If I miss yours in the next couple of days it's because I am a terrible person with disasterous inbox organizational skills and the memory for admin of a gnat, not because I don't love you more than I can just about articulate. Just send me an e-mail that you were hoping for a bit of a thank you, and I'll take an extra moment to make sure you know how much you mean to me. You are all breathtaking to me.

And hey, it's not too late to get in on the tail end of 2014's donation period, get your very own thank you note, and mention in my upcoming post.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

When to Revise (Mailbox)

I feel like I'm not writing when I'm revising. Does editing/revision count as writing?

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer each Monday.  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, but likely only if you ask a question. Process questions are always welcome.]  

Valery asks:

I love your advice about motivation, writing every day (even though I don't strictly speaking follow it) and so on. Nevertheless, I finished the first draft of my novel last year and have been editing/rewriting it ever since.

My question comes in two parts. The background is that I have always been very good at starting projects, but not finishing them or seeing them through to a completed work. For my 2012 New Year's Resolution, I looked at the 10k words or so I'd done of my big novel (which is absolutely, "the book I would want to read") in the previous 5 years and decided that I would work on nothing else until it was finished. I would set aside what time I could and write during that time, forget about how good or bad it was, forget about getting it right or going back and redoing the last thousand words. And it worked. I finished the story. There was a whole bunch of things I needed to change, and do better (because I have learned so much more about, and am much better at, writing than I was when I started the novel 8 years ago), so the editing process has taken a while and a lot of effort. But I finished the first draft. My problem is that I still don't feel like I have finished the project, but if I put all my time and effort into the rewriting/editing process then I feel like I'm not writing either, just reorganising.

The 2-part question is, 1/. When you say to write every day, how much does editing impinge on the time for writing, or does editing and writing count as the same thing, at least as far as the advice goes? 2/. If I should be working on a new writing project to keep the writing juices flowing, how can I keep focused on finishing the editing of the first one as well, and not let it be just another abandoned project?

My reply:

Revision is a beast.  And not the awesome kind with the multiple backs either.

(Before I dig into my tortilla-less burrito–which will make a lot more sense in one paragraph–let me take a moment to say that I am almost through the hopper. I think I have one more question to go before I start cannibalizing random conversations I have with people on the street. "Hey you. Ask me a question about writing. I said ASK ME A QUESTION ABOUT WRITING OR I'LL SHIV YOU!!")

Back to the non-shiv question though: revision is also more important than tortillas in a burrito when it comes to good writing. I mean if you just want to jam your hand down into a pile of ingredients, that's fine, but good writing needs to be held together with some cohesion.

I'm not sure how exactly a fork would fit into this deeply-flawed 3am metaphor.

If you strapped me to a table and there were a laser about to bisect me, junk first, and you demanded the secret to being a writer,  I would tell you to "earn your er." I'm going to presume you tolerate my enigmatic answer and wouldn't just speed the laser up with a wave and a roll of your eyes. If you asked me how to be a good writer, I would tell you to write every day and get feedback from time to time. If you asked me how to be a published writer, I would tell you two things: finish what you start, and second, revise.

Finishing what you start...well that's just a matter of doing it. You've done that part, Valery. And it hurts and it's hard but that's the critical first step. The world is filled with flittery writers who flit from one half finished project to the next and never actually finish anything. If that brings them joy and fulfillment, who am I to judge? But for those who talk about their career as a writer and "making it" and write Stephen King and Neil Gaiman wondering why they're not famous already, it's going to be critical to finish things.

As for the rest, I want to divide my answers up because there are definitely two answers going on here. There is THAT WITH WHICH WRITERS AGREE ™ and there's WHAT I DO™.

You guys (not you personally Valery) ask me a lot of questions about the uber-basics. You ask me a lot of questions about grammar. You send me a lot of hate mail. You have a few questions about craft. Once in a while I field questions about publication or blogging. But I don't get a lot of process questions beyond the basics. So it's going to be really important to make sure I draw this distinction.

Writers diverge pretty spectacularly on process. Every writer forages their own path that works for them. They all mostly agree on the basics like writing every day or the importance of revision, but after that it's the fucking Hunger Games of what works. Vonnegut would write the page he was on over and over until it was perfect, and then he would go on. Stephen King writes out his whole novel (I'm pretty sure in two or three sittings based on how prolific he is). Then he goes back and reads the whole thing for revisions.  I know several writers who revise as they go. You should be doing whatever it takes to get the right words on the page in the right order.

So when I tell you what I do, I'm really just telling you what I do. If it works for you, great. If it doesn't, forget it. Find what works.

What most writers agree on. 

1-You have to revise. 

No getting around it. Gotta do it. Cost of doing business. Get 'er done. Insert cliche here.

You'll get better with it as you get practice at the skill of writing. Eventually you'll revise a little as you write, but you're always going to have to do it. Always.

I know some of you are thinking "Not my novel! It just needs a little polish for grammar mistakes." Yes, YOUR fucking novel. You need to revise. Everyone needs to revise.

To date I've heard of only a single published novel that didn't have major revision work done on it (Gilead by Marilynne Robinson) that was sat and written just about cover to cover, and she said she was contemplating it for over a decade before she wrote it–so really she did revise; the process just happened in her head for years before she actually started typing. But whatevs, that's one book out of thousands. One.

You have to revise.

2- Actually rewrite at least once. 

Here's an interesting tidbit that 99% of published authors agree on. And unfortunately garners the reaction from almost any non-published writers that they're too cool for school. You should actually completely rewrite your manuscript at least once.

Word processing on computers has given us the ability to just open the text file and edit it. Which is both holyfuck blessed awesome and more horrible than crotchstench after a long summer day of mini-golfing without undies.

The less detail I go into about that, the better.

Obviously fixing the fact that you wrote "I find your farce enchanting in the mooonlight" without rewriting the whole page or having a liquid paper/white out disaster is nice, but the problem is that we're less likely to fix big issues in our stories if we feel like it's possible to get away with being lazy.

Given half a chance we really, really, really don't want to perform major surgery on our story, even if it's a first draft.

We won't cut whole chunks, rearrange, cut characters–all the things that rough drafts really need to become good. We get invested in the structure, and often end up polishing a turd because of it. We're more likely to make the big changes that will really help our story if we actually rewrite the story since we're going to have to rewrite the whole thing anyway.

Even consumable literature authors (who write mainstream books with cultural resilience on the level of your average TV show) suggest completely rewriting a working novel at least once. Authors aiming for a more "literary" product suggest you completely rewrite multiple times–five or ten even. I would caution you not to let this process keep you from finishing something, but it's good to keep in mind.

So print that badboy out, and COMPLETELY rewrite it from beginning to end. Your brain will engage the writing in a whole different way. (I'm sure some day they'll hook writers up to MRIs and confirm this.) You will find SO much more you should revise, reword, rethink, restructure, cut, and completely change than if you try to poke at a preexisting manuscript.

I know I know. "Not my novel."


Revision. Puppies. And enthusiasm during oral sex.
3- The more the better.

This should go without saying, but it doesn't. Your piece of shit first draft novel that you revised once for 20 hours is still a piece of shit. (That's not a personal attack. So is mine. Mine probably more than yours, actually.) Revision is the soul of good writing, and long hours are the prerequisite for even passible published work.

The longer you spend revising, the better your work will be.

There's some divergence between authors about how many major revisions you ought to write. (This is in addition to the complete rewriting, but these revision sweeps can be done on your existing text file.) Some say at least three, and some say you don't start to get to the really good writing until the eleventh draft. But notice that even your disposable airplane paperback author is saying at least three revisions. And that's before calling in the editor.

There is a point at which endless revision becomes the method by which a writer doesn't finish a project and doesn't take the risk of putting their work out there. I'm sure you know writers who endlessly tinker on their finished stories. At some point you have to let them go out on their own. But for most writers their curse goes the other way. They think it's perfect and there aren't any possible revisions to be made long before most readers would find it palatable.

4- Breaks between revisions.

Almost every writer takes a break between each incarnation of their revision.  Between your first and second draft is absolutely critical and should be at least a few weeks for a longer work, if not a month or two.  You need to forget what you meant and all the places where your brain was doing the heavy lifting instead of your writing. And I can't stress enough that writers (especially me) sometimes get a hard-on for turns of phrases or particular words and they use them TOO DAMN MUCH. A couple of months will help you get some fucking perspective on how annoying you were. When you go back, your work should have that strange, familiar/unfamiliar feel. Like you're poking around the old neighborhood and half the stores are different, the arcade has been torn down to make room for an Ikea, yet Lou's Bagle shop is still right where it was, and the lakeside apartment complex never replaced that sign you broke when you were eleven. That's the only mindset in which you're going to be able to catch your own problems.

Between each revision you can wait a little less time. You don't need to wait months between your fifth and sixth draft–maybe just a couple of days.

5- Yes, you need peer review, and almost certainly a professional editor.

You do. Get over it. If you are working on a short story, you can probably get away with self editing, but even then you need someone who isn't you to take a look at your work. And if you have a manuscript as long as a novel, you're going to need to feedback from someone who can really help your writing pop.

You can't see your own mistakes. You know what you meant, so you are the worst person to try and identify where you were unclear. You might be filling in too many gaps in description with a memory that your reader doesn't have or just think that a scene you're picturing is perfectly described when it's a train wreck.

This isn't just about a proofreader either; you need an outside reader.

A professional editor should be a no brainer on a novel-length project. Yes, they're expensive, but yes, they're worth it. There are just too many reasons you need one. And too many pitfalls if you don't have one. Almost every novel you've ever found even remotely readable has had a professional pass by an editor.

6- Stick with it until you're done.

So I've tried to keep it to things most published/accomplished writers agree on. This one gets a little murky. Not every writer does this the same way.

Many authors have one project they're writing and one they're revising basically at all times. Other writers work on one thing at a time and do things like read intensely during those breaks I talked about in number four. Some authors pause to write short stories from beginning to end including revision while they are breaking between drafts of their novels.

But all of them stick with what they are doing to see it through. The stories of the novel that took twenty years to write (or something) are actually quite, quite rare. They don't put the draft away to give it some air and never come back to it. Nor is their revision process an endless recursive loop of improvement. Eventually what all accomplished/published writers have in common is that they stay with a project until it is done enough to put it out in the world.

What I do.

I tend to share your feeling, Valery, that if I've spent all day revising, I haven't written much, so I break up my days and always include some raw, unfettered writing–even if it's just free writing or journaling. I'm fresh and sharp in the mornings and I usually do most of my revising then. At night I have much more driving stamina but not so much precision to notice stuff so I do a lot of drafting at night.

So I'm almost always writing one thing at night and revising another in the morning.

Also, I'm a tweaker. (Not like that.) I am constantly going back and tweaking what I've written before. In fact, a good writing session almost always starts with me getting into the mood by going back five or ten pages and reading through what I already have. That's actually what revs me up to do the writing itself. Now I still need to completely rewrite, but doing all that tweaking does mean that when I go back over things in revision, it tends to be pretty close to how I want it. It's more like polishing tarnish and less like using sandpaper and a heavy hand to rub out a deep scratch.

That keeps me writing a lot even as I'm revising. Valery, I hope the suggestions help you, but don't hesitate to do whatever works for you.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Good News/Bad News

Let's start with the bad news. Your cute and cuddly writer is sick. I'll spare you the grisly details about my specific constellation of symptoms, but suffice to say that my brain is currently melting inside my skull, so it's very hard to write.

My fever is actually down from yesterday, but I still feel like warm crap on a Triscuit. At least today I can string a sentence together. (Well, I think I can anyway. If this entry ends up being in cuneiform, then there's also something wrong with my visual processing.) Yesterday, though, was really bad, and I figured that I'd try to get you a good entry tomorrow rather than hork out some half assed post just because it's Monday.

But let's go on to the good news!

OG beat her cancer! Her labs all came back clear, which is the best possible outcome she could hope for. No chemo or radiation is needed.

I would do a dance, but I'm a little dizzy right this second.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Needed: Seconds and Nominations (Best Speculative Fiction By an Author of Color)

I'm running a fever and nursing nausea today, so just a quick reminder on my way to crawl into bed.

In a few days I'm going to gather up all the nominations for our January poll (Best Speculative Fiction Writer of Color) and make a poll.  However we're in bad need of nominations and ESPECIALLY seconds if this poll is to be more than a small handful of names.

I know we all have whitewashed bookshelves (that's kind of why I'm doing this poll in the first place) but please toss a name or two into the hat and see if anyone has nominated someone you'd like to see make the poll.

Please please please go to the original post so that all the nominations are in one place.

Friday, January 9, 2015

December's Best

Here are the the top three performing articles for December that will be going forth to a life of privilege and refinement in Writing About Writing's Hall of Fame.

December stats were up only slightly from November, but given how many days were SO busy that I forgot to post a rerun to my Facebook page or sometimes to cross post to other social media at all.

I also have a small budget that I apply to paid online promotion that wasn't going through in December. So far, January numbers already look like they're going to be a LOT better. Possibly even pretty close to Blog's hopes of getting 50,000 in a single month.

On Social Media and Social Justice

How Do I Describe Things? (Mailbox)

How Should I Portray People of Color? (Mailbox)

Honorable mention to a post that was very "meta" but actually pulled in more readers than even the question about portraying people of color.

The Coming Week or So



The deluge of special circumstances stretching ALL the way back to mid November is finally at an end. Birthdays, grandparents, cancer, Santa Bots, killer zombie shoppers. Finally I can settle into the quiet routine of my normal 60-80 hour week. Aaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh!

I'm not going to predict what's coming for this month until I've had a solid month of productivity success. I seem to have a terrible ability to predict when I'm going to fall into a pit of unforeseen circumstances, and end up jazz handsing my way through half of the things I want to write. But I will tell you that if you've been waiting for the next part or conclusion of of ANY of my ongoing series, January is probably going to be a pretty good month.

Also, I think this last visit by grandparents will be the last time I trust that I am going to get any real work done when there is something major going on, no matter how much writing time it looks like they're is going to be on paper. I'm just going to have to get myself some Aliens-style motion sensor auto-cannons for the junk room/office and start haunting the local library a LOT more.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Tropeception (The Mailbox) [Part Two Revenge of the Trope]

Return to part 1  

[Note: Cabin in the Wood Spoilers]

Mike asks:

2) In your mind, as a writer, how does one best go about using tropes, or being aware that you're using them at all? They're pretty impossible to avoid, since every story in the world has been told at this point."

To some degree tropes help stories, just like grammar helps language. They give a reader a degree of familiarity expectation that can work for an author. A writer may not have to explain all the logistics of faster than light travel or how everyone understands all the languages in a science fiction story because that's a trope of science fiction. You can let certain things "run" in the background without a lot of exposition, and that's kind of nice.

However, there are tropes to avoid because they are tired and cliche, and there are too many to list here. Virgin births, orphan superheroes, the chosen one, the dark lord, the "strong woman," rape as lazy characterization, the ironic ship name, the planet that is all one ecosystem, beauty and morality on the same axis, hiding your illness from the doctor, aliens that have all one culture, person holding gun/gunshot sound/person falls over because someone shot THEM, a character who is the last of their kind, etc.... Like I said, there are so many that I would need orthopedic shoes, stool softeners, and dentures by the time I finished listing them all. It's not that you can never have one of these tropes. It's just that you have to work that much harder to earn it. It sounds like these are what your friends are talking about when they use the word trope, and they ARE tired and overdone.

But Chris, if there are so many, how can we possibly know them all?

Well, try not to do something you know you've seen or read a bunch of times. If you've seen it three or four times, it's probably out there ten billion more, and you should be careful. It's lazy writing.

There are also tropes that focus specifically on power dynamic issues that you should be very, very, very aware of. Racist, sexist, homophobic tropes, not to mention others. These are things you want to be extra careful about.

I'm not just talking about having all your muggers be black either (although that certainly would count.) There are plenty of tropes like the magical negro, the sassy latin maid, the prescient homeless person, overachieving Asians, effeminate villains, underprivileged but fiery Latinas, gays with impeccable fashion....these are tropes that aren't explicitly negative, but perpetuate stereotypes.

Come to think of it, you could probably just watch Glee for a while as a primer on what not to do. ~rimshot~

It's not that you can't have any character conform to any stereotype. Trying not to do that is difficult (and also its own trope). But don't give them ALL the tropes at once. And don't make the tropes the limit of who they are as a character. I may know several gay people who dress really well, but not only do I know a few who don't, but all of them have other places they defy stereotypes–some are masculine, most have firm wrists, and I'm still waiting to meet fucking ONE who loves Barbra Streisand as much as they're "supposed to."

In science fiction and fantasy there are some special ways tropes can come up to be careful about. The alien (or race) that is OBVIOUSLY modeled after the living embodiment of an existing stereotype. As much as I love Star Trek: The Next Generation, someone needed to get punched in the throat for turning the Ferengi into space Jews (complete with big noses...holy fuck). Using scary races to represent The Other (like orcs that are just plain always evil) for example. It's not that you can't have these things, but you should understand how they fit into modern literary criticism and (again) work to earn it.

And of course we have to talk about the trope of the white person who goes native and becomes better at the culture than the people themselves.  It's sometimes called White Savior, but I prefer "What You Folks Need Is A Honkey" or particularly (wait for it) the great white trope. It's overdone. It's offensive. It needs to stop.

Cracked.com

THEN HOW THE FUCK DO WE DO USE TROPES?

So now we come to the last part of your question. What do you do about the fact that there are a bazillion tropes and no real way to avoid them?

1) Earn your trope.

You want to throw a trope in there? Earn it. Bring something new to the table. Flesh it out. Take on a new angle. The robot that wants to be human is as old as the idea of an automaton, but Data as a character gave the old trope new life. Now he is one of the most unique and instantly recognizable characters in modern science fiction, and everyone is copying HIM.

2) Defy your trope. (Though trope defying is itself a trope.)

Joss Whedon is constantly defying tropes. You expect a villain to monologue and instead the hero cuts them off by attacking. (He liked that one so much, he did it twice in Avengers.) The bomb is defused with hours to go and they all go laugh and get tapas. Set up the trope, but then have something surprising happen that defies it. It can be delightful.

3) Do up the trope in a new way.

You can always breathe a fresh new life into a trope by having a story that has never been done before. Tell the old trope in a brand new way. This is probably where the hatred for Pacific Rim has its strongest divergence--giant robots are old news. Giant robots fighting giant monsters old news. Dead brothers–old. Vengeance–old. Karate fights when they have guns....weird, but less old. But the two pilots thing and shoe symbolism....okay that's not so overdone. The idea of science rushing forward without regard for consequence is yawntacular. And if you just tell the same story over again you're never going to–OH MY FUCKING GOD DINOSAURS!!!

Just don't have the kid moralize about the ethics of science in this scene. You'll be golden.

4) An homage to tropes.

This is something that mostly plays into comedy, but acknowledging tropes by bringing attention to them can also be hilarious. Though beware, trope comedy is itself a trope.

5) Explain your tropes in a new way.

Remember Cabin in the Woods? How all those horror movie tropes like people not holding on to weapons, separating, or having sex in the most inconvenient spots turned out to be part of a master plan. It can be awesome to have some of those conventions given a little bit of their own back story.

6) Go beyond your trope.

I referenced Glee above. Before people start punching my address into their ICBMs hear me out. The show IS problematic when everyone conforms to their stereotype, but the reason people like Glee is that the characters often break out of their little trope bubbles. I haven't seen much beyond the first season, but I caught a moment where Santana called out Will for all the Mexican stereotypes he was using. Now I'm not saying Glee gets a pass at having all those stereotypes to begin with because it has a didactic lesson before the last commercial break, but that's why people defend it. That and the choral arrangements of 80s songs, of course.

7) Peer review!

Falling into the traps of tropes and cliches is one of the best reasons to put your writing through peer review. Sometimes you just don't realize what you've done. Get someone you trust to help you comb out a few of the tropes you're not married to.

8) Relax a little.

Every story has been told. But not by you. As long as you avoid the REALLY bad tropes (unless you're prepared to REALLY earn them) are not lazy about incorporating more than a small handful of the "bad but not terrible" tropes (again, unless you want to earn them), give a shit that certain stereotype tropes are really quite offensive, and bother to bring something new or fresh to the table, you're story will be uniquely yours. You will write a story with ineffable Mikeness about it, and no one can take that away. Yes, it will have frequently used literary devices, but it will also have your fingerprints all over it.

Hope that helps out, Mike! Good luck. (Although the Very Lucky Character is a trope.)