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

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Happy Halloween from Writing About Writing


We're still on emergency toddler duty and then there's OMFG-cute trick or treating later, so I guess we'll just hit the ground running on Monday.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Tomorrow?

For those following closely enough to miss our regularly scheduled post, The Toddler Factor™needs to be invoked today. We had a bit of an emergency.

The kid's fine, but I had to watch him while others scrambled, and so FAR it's been about five extra hours today.

I'm hoping to get today's post up tomorrow.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Random Creative Writing Terms Beginning With the Letter N

Random Creative Writing Terms Beginning With the Letter M

Narration/Narrator- Not just the disembodied voice that ham-handedly adds exposition in some movies. Writing that tells a story. Most fiction is narration, although some types of stylized fiction are not. (Like fictional travel books or fictional dictionaries.) Narration happens through the "focus" of a narrator, be it a character in a story or the omniscient voice. It is the story. This can make "narrative" (the story and point of view through which we filter our facts) very important. Les Miserable told through the narrative voice of Javert, for example, would be very different. (And in fact, in the book these chapters are very different.)

New Criticism- What happens when someone comes back after you think a fight is over and says "And another thing...." ~rimshot~

Literary criticism used to be pretty much 100% fellatio of the dead white guys of the past. (Now it's only 90% because we are totally enlightened from the past unenlightened days of unenlightenedment.) In the forties, a new kind of criticism emerged that considered a work as a discrete and self-referential package, not subject to being good or not only by the test of time and/or its moral lessons, and concentrated more on whether the elements of its craft like setting or tone worked to reinforce its themes.

These days, it is the premier way to analyze and criticize written work, even outside of the literary world. Writers who give a flip about their reviews would do well to understand at least the basics.

Nonfiction- This is writing that "really" happened. Ostensibly it is simply NOT fiction. However, after creative writers who deigned to dramatize their biographies with composite characters or a dramatic flare got factchecked and "exposed" back in the 90's, they took their ball and went over to "Creative Nonfiction." The line between "truth" and "fact" has never been so well-patrolled as in the internet era. We don't talk about non-fiction much here at Writing About Writing, but some of the conventions dovetail, and much of the writing process is similar.

Novel- *coughnotsomethingyouwriteinamonthcough* Defining a novel is tough. Not like overcooked ribeye tough; I mean like last week's teriyaki beef jerky tough. A novel is fiction, but also truth. It has maybe one or more or many characters, but usually sticks with a single narrative arc. Usually. It is a longer, but no one knows exactly how long. Some bellwethers go as low as 40,000 words but I've talked to several publishers and no publishing house would publish a book that small as a stand alone. They would call it a novella, and put it in an anthology. In fact 50,000 words would be too short for a novel to be published these days. Most print publishers will balk at anything under 70,000 for an author who isn't a household name. And will likely try to package multiple shorter works into an omnibus even then.  Similarly the point at which it is broken up into a trilogy appears to be controlled chiefly by gnarled knuckled mystics who chant at the event horizon of a temporal rift they mistakenly think is the god of books.

Creative Writing Terms Beginning With the Letter O

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Fortune Cookie Wisdom XI

The longer I do art, the more I think that JUST after hard work and persistence, the next most valuable trait an artist can have is the ability to crash right through their own imposter syndrome like the Kool-Aid pitcher.    

Oh yeah!

More people need to learn the formula of plot, actually. Most people's problems isn't that their plots are formulaic. It's that their plots don't exist. 

Mental illness is not homologous to evil. Before you have an antagonist simply be "crazy" consider who that stereotype hurts to be perpetuated and reinforced one more time and how lazy the writing is that doesn't come up with a more compelling motivation for villainy.

When you fall–and you will fall–get back up. 

You guys understand that the groupie threesome thing is a joke right? There are no groupie threesomes. My life is a fucking barren wasteland of of only groupie twosomes. You better love writing for its own sake or you're miserably going to be chasing the thing you think writing is supposed to bring you that you actually do want.


Your role in fiction is to tell the starkest truth possible by weaving a tapestry of lies.

If I had one random, non-writerly bit advice to give to writers trying to cut their teeth in the digital age, it would be this: read the article/book/whatever before you reply to it. Read the book. Read the thing you're criticizing. I can't even tell you how foolish that makes people look. If you haven't read it, shut your sound tube, and have a fucking taco. (Or stop moving your phalanges, whatever.)

Look you do you, but every writer who has a career arc one might emulate has written daily and encouraged would-be writers to do so. And I've never once had someone give me feedback that they tried writing daily and it "destroyed their creativity." (Actually the opposite.) That's only something you hear from people who haven't done it yet. So you do you...but maybe also do the math while you're at it.

Don't take it too hard if someone tells you your Nano draft is steaming shit. It's not like that's somehow vastly different from every other first draft.
Your inspiration is basically a muscle. If you sit around waiting for it to work, it will pretty much only twitch from time to time as an involuntary reaction to stimulus. If you put that thing through the paces every day, it will be Herculean and move mountains at your whim. 
You're going to develop a voice as you write. It will be as unique as your actual voice, and those who've read you will recognize you as easily and quickly as they would if they picked up the phone and heard you speaking.Let that voice come out, and don't let too many people insist that they know better what your voice should be or to shape it to their own vision.
Grammar is the Matrix. You exist inside it, it's everywhere, you breath it, and you have to know what it is and how it works to be a writer, but some of its rules can be bent and others can be broken, and if you want to jump across the building and make someone say "Woah..." when they read you, you're going to have to know exactly when to ignore its physics.

A lot of writers like writing, even for its own sake. And they want to be Writers (capital W). But here's where things get tricky. The work between those two points is phenomenal, painful, and at times down right humiliating, and if you don't slog into the horror of it, you're just masturbating with the keyboard. Masturbating isn't a bad thing (don't get me wrong, I'm sex positive here–we should all be having a good wank far more often), but it's definitely just for oneself. But the thing is is perfectly plausible to spend a lifetime writing and never be published. (Or self-published but never bought outside of close circles.) You have to do the right kind of work too.

Caffeine and writers have a sordid, tangled history, and it's possible you can jump start some creativity with some, but too much burns you out in a game where slow and steady wins the race, so don't make it a big fun one-upmanship to prove how badass you are.


If you only write when you're inspired, your muse is in control of you (and not the other way around). And your muse abandons anything that starts to look a little too much like work. 

The worst writing in the world comes from thinking the readers need to be told what to feel.
Shhhhhh. Come here. No, no closer. Closer!  Do what ever works. Always.


NOT ENOUGH!!! NEED MORE FORTUNE COOKIES!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

VLOGS


[The text in the brackets will disappear in a couple of weeks....

Well now you know.

I am, and always will be, primarily a writer, but I've begun to dabble in a few different projects just to see how it goes. Vlogs are easier for some to engage in, may extend my audience base, and have a different energy than writing, so they may help me to have a bit more time for other writing. (Here's hoping.) W.A.W. isn't going to change format or anything. I just might put one post a week up as a vlog, and if I don't like it, I'll stop.

I'm also vlogging for Ace of Geeks. This will only be every other week, and not strictly related to writing. However since Writing About Writing is your one stop shop for any project I'm doing, be it other blogs, fiction, or anything hosted elsewhere, I will start a new menu for The Reliquary, and keep all of my vlogs in one space. If one of my AoG vlogs has something (even obliquely) to do with writing, I'll make a small post about it here.]

All of my vlogs in one place.   

Writing About Writing Vlogs

Ace of Geeks Vlogs

Monday, October 26, 2015

Who is the BEST Written Villain (Poll: Semifinal 2)

Who is the best villain in a written work?

Now that we have our survivors from poll 1 (Annie Wilkes, Pennywise, General Woundwort, and Croup and Vandemar) we now need to cull down the second half of the list to see who goes on to the final round. Please remember that you are voting for the written versions of these villains, not their on-screen counterparts.

This poll will be up only for one week so don't delay in voting.


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 (Semifinal 1 Results)

The results are in!


The top four will move on to the final round. Since this semifinal went a week, the next one will too in order to be fair. It looks like we'll run into November after all.

There's not much commentary to be had here. The spread between "moving-on-to-the-finals" and "thanks-for-playing" is nice and big (how I like it) and the ones that made it took and held an early lead. The only interesting bit is the three way tie for first place. It should make the final round pretty exciting.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Rewriting: 5 Ways to Make it Work (Claire Youmans)

As I plunge into the first rewrite of Book Three of The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy series, I need to look at what I want to accomplish with this rewrite and how, exactly, I am going to do it. These are five basic steps that I think apply to any rewrite.

1  Give it a rest. Take a break after you finish your draft and also between major rewrites. Give it a week. Do something else. Laundry, maybe? An article or a book review? This is to give you a fresh perspective on the work. This is important. You need those fresh eyes to accomplish an effective rewrite. Be sure to set a date when you will return to the work and keep to it.

2.  Set your goals. While the manuscript is resting, decide what you want to accomplish next. This will vary from draft to draft and project to project. It depends on what you put on your list to go back to while racing through that first draft, or what you think you might have missed in writing the second. This is the time to set a deadline for completion of the rewrite, too. It shouldn’t take as long as the first draft, but it’s not a one-day project.  I find I will go through the manuscript several times during a rewrite. Sometimes I will nuke the whole thing and start over, if, for example, it’s in third person and should be in first. Setting goals allows you to focus on specific areas of writing. Narration and exposition, for example. Too much or not enough? Dialogue? More? Or is too much of it irrelevant or inconsequential? Does every scene, every sentence, every word move the story forward?

3.  Clarify your dramatic arcs. Every book tells an overall story. Every character has an individual story that plays out within that overall story. Make sure you know what your overall story is. Make sure you know your individual character’s stories. They weave together to make your book. If you know that J.D., your protagonist, is going to decide that Love Is The Answer, make sure you show (not tell) where J.D. starts and why, what happens and how it affects J.D., and how J.D. changes as a result of the experiences in the book. You must build foundations. You must build upon them. If you forget your dramatic arcs, you’ll wander away from the story you want to tell.

4.  Read as a reader. For your first read, just read. Read the whole book through. Take notes if you have to, fix typos if you must, but basically, you want to come as close as you can to the reader’s experience. See what glitches. See what’s uneven. Look for plot holes. Note these things, but don’t fix them. This is an overall view. You may find the whole plot or an entire character’s arc changes. It’s OK. As long as you know what needs to be fixed.

5.  Write as a writer. When you go back to make your corrections and adjustments, always think about the effect on the reader, what the reader knows or doesn’t, how you want the reader to react. This is what story-telling is about. The purpose of a story is to have an effect on the reader. Be sure you are clear on the effect you want to generate, and use your craft an art as a writer to make it happen. Then go back to reader mode and read again.

Repeat as needed until you think you are done. When the manuscript is as good as you can get it, it’s ready to meet beta-readers, if you use them, or maybe your editor. When you get their feedback, the process starts again.

Besides fall chores, I’ve been writing poetry, and also reviewed a marvelous book called Maze of Blood, by Marly Youmans.  You can see my poetry and the review at http://claireyoumansauthor.blogspot.com.  The review is also up on Amazon, Facebook and Goodreads. This book is a great read for writers. Check it out.

Now, hello, Book Three.  I’m back.


Also check out Claire's blog and FB page and available books here:

http://claireyoumansauthor.blogspot.com

www.tokigirlandsparrowboy.com

Facebook:  The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy

Amazon:  http://www.amazon.com/The-Toki-Girl-Sparrow-Boy-Claire-Youmans/dp/0990323404/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top?ie=UTF8

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Ridiculous Filler is Ridiculous


A vlog post and a menu will be up before the end of the day, but I'm having yet another terrible week.

So in the meantime, have some filler. I just happened to notice today I have 1337 posts.

LEET!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Strange Cheese Guy From the Second Floor

This is not the Writing About Writing Cheese Guy.
This is from a Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode called Restless. But very close.
This is our latest entry for the Writing About Writing Staff page. Text has already been added there.

When we moved into the WOW compound we found the cheese guy already up on the second floor. Apparently he just lives all alone up there with his cheese. Since we haven't even moved beyond needing more than the first floor, we decided to just leave him alone. Sometimes he comes and shares cheese with us, but usually he's just up there by himself. The weird thing is, we don't know how he gets the cheese. None is ever delivered. It's not like we wouldn't notice a dairy on our second floor. And yet he constantly has a wide variety of fresh and stinky cheeses. We tend to see him a lot more when the articles are really flowing around here.

Above him (on the third floor) lives a velociraptor with a head mounted laser system. Because the Sci Guy was bored one day.

No not this guy.
But very, very close.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Who is the BEST Written Villain (Poll: Semifinal 1)

Who is the best villain in a written work?

Our October poll is live, but we're going to have to move quickly if we want to get it done before well into November. Turns out you all nominated (and seconded) over 16 villains. I almost included only the villains that had multiple seconds, but that would have been a very short poll. So we have to go to semifinals.

Warning: because it's so late in the month already, these semifinal polls will go very quickly. 

The semifinal polls will only be up a few days each. I'll put this one up until Thursday and the second semifinal poll up until a week from today. Then the final round will dip into November, but hopefully won't drag out.

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.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Poll to Monday

Looks like that poll will have to go up Monday. I meant to put it up Friday evening, and then ended up in the most nightmare drive from SF to LA I've ever been in. (I guess there was a mudslide on the Grapevine and a bad accident on the 101.) Anyway 14 hours after I left at 1am, we finally arrived and it was too late. So I'll put the poll up on Monday morning.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Best Villain (Nominations and Seconds Needed)

Who is the best villain in a written work?

Much later today (tonight really, so very late for most of you who aren't on the west coast of the US, and even perhaps early tomorrow for a few) I will be in Southern California, and I will put up the poll for Best Villain. I know it's a very short turn over, but most of you appear to have risen to the challenge. In the meantime, if you have any nominations you want to get in under the wire, there is still time.

Mostly though, we need "seconds." Only three or four villains have had seconds so far, and that would make for an awfully lackluster poll.

Please, please, please go back to the original post to make your nominations. Or I will think you hate me and weep bitter tears. Plus that's where all the already-nominated villains are for you to second.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

My NaSeWriMo Adventure

If you’ve read my posts here, you know I attempted a NaNoWriMo equivalent in September for the first draft of Book Three in The Toki-girl and the Sparrow-Boy series. I knew going in I’d have six days when I couldn’t write, because of mandatory trips to LA. I’ve taken off a few more to take my kayak out while I still can and use my new sail! It’s fantastic, and the time I can use it will end shortly with winter weather. I have taken a couple of days for can’t-wait house and garden chores. So this output represents 19 or 20 days of actual sit at the computer type writing. The thinking parts I do constantly, making me crabby and boring company when I am writing, especially first draft.

What I have achieved: 28,110 words. I am happy with that. What I have is pretty good in terms of story structure, which I see as the purpose of first draft. Books for my middle-grade to adult audience run 35,000 to 50,000 words. I am beginning to glimpse exactly how the end will play out. I expect it will run close to 45,000 when it’s done, and probably 50,0000 when it’s finished.

What I liked: The deadline. It pushed me to start on a certain day. It got me prepared. It kept me going. I am into it. I even had a little moon-viewing for the Super Blood Moon Eclipse, wore a summer kimono, and wanted Moon Cakes, which, sadly, I would have had to start making the day before. My head is in Meiji-era Japan. Other things just have to wait until I am done. Let me at my computer! Don’t bother me; I’m writing. I liked the focus the deadline gave me, and while I’ll take a couple of days off for can’t wait chores and a couple more sails, I am going to finish this before mid-October. I will let it rest a couple of weeks while I do all my pre-winter preparedness things and other stuff I can’t avoid any longer. I will try to get the first re-write in before ski season starts Thanksgiving week. A rewrite takes far less time and goes much more quickly, in my experience. I know “what happens next” already. The bones of the book will be there in my first draft. It will then go to beta-readers (interested? LMK), on a two-week turnaround. I will review their responses and go through another rewrite based on their feedback. Finally it will be off to its editor, while I ski and write poetry, working towards the same summer publication date as the first two books.

What I didn’t like: My attention to word count rather than story. I am afraid of throwing things in that I will cut on first rewrite, or my editor will cut later, because I was going for word count. I have tried hard to avoid that. I don’t like that I can’t really just bang out 1667 words a day, every day. I managed around 1400 on the days I wrote, but there were about ten days during the month when I didn’t. I do have an outline, but it’s just an outline. I write by scene and chapter rather than word count, and I have to think about how each scene plays out. On September 30th, today, I finished a surprising (to me) chapter that wasn’t in my mental outline, but seemed to need to be there. I started the next one, but now I am not sure where that’s going and how that will affect the final sequences, where problems posed get wrapped up, and there are astonishing new developments that will lead right into Book Four. The basics are in my head. I just need to work out the details. It’s going to need some thinking time before I can go on, tomorrow.

Should you do NanoWriMo? Sure. If you have an outline of your overall dramatic arc in your head or on paper, and some idea of your characters’ personal arcs, go for it. Even if you don’t “win,” you win because you have more than you started with, and you are well along (I hope) with your first draft. When NaNo is over, take a couple of days to do laundry and such, then read over what you have, and dive in again until that first draft is living in your computer in its entirety. Don’t lose the momentum. Set a finish date, and keep on plugging. It’s great if you have a hard time sitting down and starting. NaNoWriMo gives you a start date and a goal. Those help you push through the difficult initial task of sitting down, creating a file and typing “Chapter One.”

My conclusion: NanoWriMo is a tool. I think it can be a good one. Use it. Don’t let it use you.


Also check out her blog and FB page and available books here:

http://claireyoumansauthor.blogspot.com

www.tokigirlandsparrowboy.com


Facebook:  The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy

Amazon:  http://www.amazon.com/The-Toki-Girl-Sparrow-Boy-Claire-Youmans/dp/0990323404/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top?ie=UTF8

Who is the BEST Written Villain? (Nominations Needed)

Edit: Nominations have concluded, but you can still vote in the poll.

Hi all,

They are the mustache twirlers, the misguided, the people doing the right things in the wrong way, the agents of chaos, those who repent any single good they've done from their very soul, those who let their personal loyalties cloud a greater good, or those who've just lost their sense of morality along the path of their growing fanaticism.

They are the villains.

And they are our October poll.

I must stress that it is already October 15th, so the nomination process is going to go VERY quickly. If I have enough nominations by tomorrow, the poll will go up then so move quickly if you want to get in on this.


It's been a while since we ran a poll here (not that we forgot or anything.....MARK), but a quick reminder of how the rules work.

The Rules

1- As always, I leave the niggling to your best judgement because I'd rather be inclusive. If you think that Shylock is a villain rather than a victim of Christian oppression, I won't argue.

2- You may nominate two (2) villains. Remember that I am a horrid despotic power hungry beast who hates free will and all things good. To encourage reading and reading comprehension I will NOT take any villains beyond the second. (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 villains 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, last month there were lots of great FB nominations that no one saw or seconded.)

5- You are nominating WRITTEN VILLAINS, not their movie portrayals. While we have all been blown away by Donald Southerland's ability to be actually sinister with Snow's goofball lines in The Hunger Games Trilogy, the book villain is very different.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Vlog Question (Polls)








September's Best

Here are the best and brightest (or at least the most page-viewed) of our September posts. Though September felt like kind of a flomphy month after I abandoned "Blogust," it had a couple of seriously powerhouse articles.

Remember, you can find all of our "Best of" articles by year and by month in The Best of W.A.W. (either follow the link right there or on the little tab at the top of the page).

Terry Pratchett and "Real Literature"

Reports from Burning Man (A Writer's Life)

Why do I hate NaNoWriMo? (FAQ)


Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Flipping the Script

There's a part of me that sort of wants to completely flip the script of the "logical and rational" actors in social justice discussions.

You see, we place a "value" and a "high ground" on the rules of discourse that in many way reflect the power dynamics of the larger society themselves. Being emotionless about a topic makes you seem to be better able to speak about it because emotions are thought to cloud your ability to be rational. People who don't experience something are thought to be the only ones who can be objective about it. Women, for example, can't talk about workplace sexism, because they are not objective. Only men are considered objective enough to tell them what they experience isn't really misogyny at all. Black people can't talk about racism because they have a "chip on their shoulder" and white people need to explain to them that though racial inequality exists, somehow no specific example they bring up is ever really racist.

See how that works?

What if we could completely flip that script? What if the value and high ground could be placed on emotional investment and critical thinking that involved listening to the stories of people who have directly experienced something. (And while my examples will be "men" and "sexism" this can really work with any kind of social power dynamic in our society between the powerful and the marginalized.) If we imagined this, what would it look like?

Like start ridiculing men who are "impartial": "It's clear you don't even care about this. Why should we listen to you? You're completely uninvested."

Berate men for having NO vested interest in women's issues: "How can you be objective when you're not even a woman. Clearly not being affected by this creates an unsurmountable bias."

Dismiss "logic" that ignores subjective reality: "It's clear that your logic hasn't progressed beyond the freshman survey course if you think every linguistic shortcut about what "men do" is open to hyperskepticism and "fallacy whack-a-mole." So the complexity of this discussion will obviously elude you until you have a deeper sense of critical thinking and how humans who aren't writing syllogisms actually interact with each other."

Discount their contributions if they are uber-objective and kick them off of threads if they continue to do so: "I'm sorry. I simply can't take this lack of passion and empathy seriously. You are just making your argument look so bad." (Later) "If you're wondering why you're being kicked off this thread, it's because you're talking about major issues of misogyny and the humanity of women like they are mathematical proofs. No one who can be so emotionally detached from the issue belongs here. If you maybe had a slightly less disinterested tone, I might be willing to consider your points."

(For bonus points, if they persist, start holding their past behavior against them: "You clearly have a problem with being unable to invest in this as an urgent and critical issue. I've seen you be totally cold on several threads. It makes it really hard to take anything you say seriously.")

Point out how irrational it is to eject half our thought process from thinking about issues that concern us deeply: "You're trying to separate reason from emotion. How can we trust your perspective as accurate when you make such an effort to compartmentalize mental processes as though they're not completely interdependent and dismiss everyone who does not? That is completely unreasoned thinking."

Mock their lack of commitment: "You don't talk about this incessantly. Are you some sort of dilettante or something? Why should I listen to anything you say if you're not constantly getting educated and struggling. Pfffft. Get the fuck out of here, you tourist."

Point out studies that show how unable they are to speak on matters: "There is research on how being in a position of power makes you ignore details. So men are not objective when they speak about women's issues. Men are utterly biased. They should acknowledge those filters and let women do most of the talking. And listen."

Yeah....imagine that. 

Monday, October 12, 2015

That Actually Worked (Meta)

So, last week after my huge personal issues, I pushed everything to Wed, Thur, Fri. I put up some filler, but the whole week's worth of blogging happened in three days.

And that....really worked.

Like it really, really worked well. I was stressed and frazzled and I actually got more writing done than during a normal week.

During the other days I wrote fiction, I tinkered on a few of the bigger articles that I either posted later or are still coming, and I cleaned up some of the menus that have gone neglected here for YEARS. I even put up some filler but didn't feel guilty about it because I knew the real action was still to come. And it did. All the posts I wanted to get up for the week went up, but they did so at the end of the week when I have a little more time and a lot less stress.

It's possible that I'm just not accounting for how much stress and schedule impact teaching one class a week really adds. (I would need about $250 a month more than I'm making now to drop my last night of teaching and give writing that time and energy.) I also don't tag in quite as long with The Contrarian on Wednesdays and Fridays. I also usually have evenings before those days to outline or think. For some reason the start of the week is just a little tougher.

So I think that's what's going to happen from now on. You'll still get all the same Writing About Writing quality that you've come to expect, but squished into the end of the week.

I've already updated the Update Schedule.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Reckoning

Today I walked into an intervention.

The whole staff was there, even the cheese guy, Grendel, and Grendel's mother were all assembled. The guest bloggers took point. Leela Bruce finally spoke.

"Okay, noobcicle. Something has to be done about the Evil Mystery Blogger or I'm just going to start kicking asses and I'm okay starting with yours," she said. "It was bad enough when it was shitty writing advice, but this is just.....this is shitty all around. I mean it reads like some kind of cutting satire or something."

"We are all going to do four things if you don't do something: 1) quit, 2) leave, 3) never look back, and 4) gladly pay full price for value meals at the local fast food restaurants," Ima said. "This has gone too far."

"Ima," I gasped. "You too?"

"You can't ignore this," Ima said. "That last post. I mean, I like me some satire, but.....damn."

"I don't know what to do," I said. "Sci Guy has beefed up internet security three times. He's sure the hacks are somehow coming from within the building, but all of you assure me you're innocent and are offended at the implication otherwise. What am I supposed to do, start the inquisition around here."

"Actually," Sci Guy said, "I have an postulate about that. In his last transmission he said that he would 'continue looking for back doors.'"

"Right," I said.

"Well, basically, if I create a back door by fluctuatting the quantum negspace in the webosphere, I can create a tempting and juicy back door into the blogoverse, and when he goes through it, we can find out exactly which computer he's logging in from, and keylogs and probably even figure out who it is and even their quantum state and everything. We'll have him."

"Really," I said. "You can do all that?"

"If I calibrate the positrons and tachyons to proper angular modulation and write a bit of intentionally shitty code, yes."

"Okay," I said. "I hate to say we might have to endure another post like that last one, will that be enough that you don't leave."

"For now," Leela said, cracking all her knuckles by making a fist. "For now."

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Cedric

[This is one of the long-overdue bios for the Writing About Writing Staff Page.]

Cedric- During the Octorian Wars, Chris ended up on the wrong side of the temporal event horizon for several days and befriended one of the Octorians. They went through a real trial and like every Enemy Mine/The Enemy ST:TNG trope they ended up realizing that they had a lot in common. Cedric helped Chris survive and get back to his own dimension, and then (because Cedric kind of liked pretentious artists) he stayed and has been working as Writing About Writing's administrative executive since.

His loyalty to Chris is only matched by his loyalty to the Human Dor who is his fan--his specifically.

He is glad no one has ever made him choose between them. Chris probably wouldn't like that. 

The Best (Worst) Tips for Writing People of Color

A collection of the absolute best worst tips for portraying people of color that will make your characters pop like the ears of the passengers in a 747 in free fall.  

Hi everyone,

Have you missed me? Well don't worry, I'm still here to tell you all the tricks to becoming a famous published author without all that inspiration porn bullshit about working hard and reading a lot that'll just drag you down. The tool/noobs (I call them toobs) at Writing About Writing might be trying to make it harder to hack their signal and boost my pirate posts on top of their boring old articles that you don't need, but because I love you, I will continue looking for back doors. I have a civic duty to be there to counter the bullshit that goes down on most writing blogs.

There are tricks to being a famous writer. And none of them are hard work. And I'm here to tell you what they are.

Well, a few of you have asked about portraying people of color–who I call minorities because I don't go in for all that P.C. bullshit. (Seriously, if it was good enough for the 80's, it's good enough for me.) In fact, today Chris was going to answer a question about it for The Mailbox, but I got to it first. So while I offered a bit of advice about this when I told you how to incorporate the best tropes into your writing, today I will talk specifically about how to portray minorities in a way that will make you rich and famous.

Small disclaimer though: if you want to be rich and famous, you don't want these to be the POV character. Your POV character should almost always be a cis heterosexual white male. That's what sells. If your character is anything else, work extra hard to incorporate the advice below so that your reader doesn't feel too uncomfortable. This isn't an exhaustive list, but it should get you started.

  • Remember to compare anyone who isn't white to food. Caramel skin. Chocolate complexion. Butterscotch thighs. Almond shaped eyes. Even if your POV character is the minority, they should always be on the cusp of devouring themselves. But don't do this for white people. No one thinks marzipan thighs or meringue shoulders sounds good. 
  • If you're writing an indigenous person, have them be a complete physical badass, though with a strange affinity to anachronistic weaponry. Especially tomahawks. Indigenous peoples are always very warlike, unlike the cultures that have genocided them, and this makes sense. Give them mystic powers no one can explain if they aren't bad ass enough. Transforming into animals is good.
  • If your character is a minority, that should literally be the focal point of their existence. Like if you have a latin character, everything they think or feel should start out with "Because X was latin, he thought....."
  • If you your narrative is taking you into contact with another culture, they should have a chief. And that chief should have a sexy daughter....
  • Though if it's the daughter of an Asian dude, he better know martial arts and be a criminal mastermind. She can either join the heroes or seem like she joins the heroes only to betray them. 
  • Hispanic dude? Better be dashing.
  • If you're doing something with supernatural powers, remember that the black guy always does lightning/electricity. I don't know why, but it is what it is. Deal with it. 
  • Do you have a black person who is kind of a mentor character? You should give them mystical powers and make them extraordinarily wise, even though they only look like a janitor or a golf caddy or something. Make them have no desire for fame or rewards but simply want to help lift up the main (white) character. That makes sense, right?
  • You should probably make that black woman overweight and maternal towards everyone. But with some sass, of course. 
  • That or go the other way and make her an angry bitch who complains a lot about racism but using silly examples like the choice of album covers or the number of times K appears in a book instead of something like the prison industrial complex....because that will just make white people uncomfortable.
  • Make all your minorities be racist towards each other and especially white people. This reverse racism makes white people feel better about their own prejudices that they don't examine.
  • Need a sex interest for the main character while the love interest is in the tragic disconnect phase? Try a sexually liberated kinky character with an indeterminate European accent. That or obviously Scandinavian because Scandinavians are all total sex freaks. For reals.
  • French guy? Always an asshole. Always.
  • If you have an Asian character who doesn't know martial arts, you're just asking to fail. I'm pretty sure that's not even a stereotype. It's just true.
  • Time travel back to the 19th century? Don't worry about having your characters panic and refuse to get out of the time machine. I'm sure the wonder of it all and a couple of jokes will make everything okay.
  • Tech support and cab drivers are always Indian. Always.
  • If you're worried about the diversity in your story have the sidekick/best friend/partner be a minority. Instantly above reproach.
  • If people think you're too racist, have one of the white characters tell the minority how great they are and how they are a fine, upstanding example of their race. That makes it all copacetic. The more white people tell your minority what a credit to their race they are, the more everyone will realize that everyone can become viewed as fully human when they succeed at upholding the cultural values of white people.
  • If there's internalized racism where a minority believes some of the stereotypes about themselves, make it into a big joke or it will make your readers uncomfortable. Don't actually have them examine it in a serious way. Like have a latin guy be pro Trump because he's tired of his people being rapists or something. That's hilarious! Hahahahahaha! If you're unsure how to do this, check out Ben Carson. 
  • Character from a small southeast Asian island? They should be big and friendly and say almost nothing. If you can have them talk in grunts and offer the white people fish, that would be even better. Bonus points if they only smile and carry around a stick all the time.
  • Speeches that are uneducated but strangely wise are vital to the proper portrayal of a minority character. Especially if they are dispensing wisdom to a white person who will actually go and deal with the problem.
  • If you feel like you have a minority conforming to too many stereotypes and you might have some readers label you as racist, pick three or four and have the character do exactly the opposite. You can't just ignore them; you have to have the character subvert the expectation in a way that draws attention to how bold and daring you are to challenge stereotypes. Now you are totally inoffensive. 
  • You have a Muslim character who isn't a terrorist? What are you doing? Literally what the actual fuck are you DOING?
  • Really, honestly, if the minority doesn't die to teach the white people a valuable lesson, you're just not even trying. 
  • Have your white characters be unrepentantly racist, and then when the jokes that, in the real world, would end most friendships and tear apart social groups are uttered casually as edgy jokes, you can take the curse off of it by having your minority character say "You know I'm [black], right?" Big laughs and all is forgiven! That's the most reaction a minority should ever have towards blatant racism: "You know I'm [black] right?"

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Watching Disney Movies as a Writer (Revised)

Found on Google Images as "labeled for commercial reuse"
Will remove upon request.
A revised and polished version of an older post.

In honor of the trip I’ll be taking to Disneyland this weekend, I thought I would power-navel-gaze about the value one can get out of watching Disney movies as a writer. Also, this will probably not be a particularly long entry, as C-3PO and Indiana Jones await.

Wait. What? Disney movies? Seriously Chris?

Are you talking about those movies that are notorious for perpetuating racial stereotypes like the crows in Dumbo, the “hot crustacean band” in The Little Mermaid, the natives in Peter Pan, the Siamese cats in Lady and the Tramp, pretty much every character in Aladdin, (seriously I could go on), and that's if we sort of pretend The Song of the South didn't really happen. The same Disney where the bad guys are almost always effeminate and darker skinned than the good guys (even when they’re both supposed to be from the Middle East…or are…ya know…lions)? Are you talking about the same Disney that indoctrinates legions of young women that beauty is their prime asset, to be completely submissive in courtship and let the men come to them even if it means waiting around for life to just serve you up by magic that your prince will come, and frankly it’s probably just best if they sleep most of the time anyway, abusive guys have a heart of gold inside if you just Stockholm syndrome their beast into submission, and that even if you kill every last motherfucking Hun in China, your big achievement is still if the barrel chested hot guy likes you. Are you talking about the same Disney that indoctrinates legions of young men that they must solve their conflicts with violence, and to be “manly,” they must be a barrel-chested Adonis and fight for their woman—who must be an object of beauty and pleasure because that’s what matters. Are you talking about the same Disney that indoctrinates legions of young people into the belief that there is “One True Love” out there, who is identifiable on sight, who you should leave everything you know and love to be with, and is so preposterously repetitive with their “love conquers all” narrative that they white wash over things like North American colonialism? The same Disney movies that has a generation of kids thinking Hercules’s real mom was Hera and the Little Mermaid ends in a wedding instead of foamy?

Heteronormative, sexist, racist, Bechdel-failing, status quo supporting Disney? Is that what you're talking about?

And yes, this article was written before Frozen and yes, I realize that a few of these tropes have (finally) been challenged by the more modern films.

Yeah. That would be the movies I'm talking about.

Hold the phone, though. I didn’t say they were good movies. I certainly didn't say they were great didactic movies. I said that they could be valuable to watch as a writer. Let’s say if you’re one of those people who thinks Disney movies are still so totally enchanting that you let your kids watch them over and over and over and over again and you figure that images bombarding them fifty or sixty times a year when they’re five won’t have the same effect as a meaningful conversation or two about gender roles when they’re teen-agers. Or maybe you think that at least your kid isn’t watching Jersey Shore.

Edit: or maybe you just think “Oh my god, this will distract them for 90 minutes while I have a chance to do laundry and have a bowel movement of longer than thirty seconds. Pixar isn't TOO bad. At least it's not Cinderella.”

However, I’ve already received death threats from my fellow barrel-chested white males for threatening to mess up the steady supply of subservient women, and this is usually about where the people who think Disney isn’t so bad start to rise up with pitchforks and torches, and the people who hate Disney for all the reasons above are polishing their Awl Pikes for our next encounter because how dare I derive anything of value from something so patently sexist, racist, and everything-else-ist.

And there I am, standing in the middle of a scene from Braveheart, except the two sides want to kill me instead of each other. So let me just say this:

I think Disney movies suffer from being easily accessible and recognizable pop culture icons that everyone has seen and become an easy way to critique the larger culture. If half of us memorized every line from every James Bond movie, we’d probably pick those movies to talk about misogyny or colonialist racism…and we’d probably have even more to talk about if we did. Anything mainstream media puts out would be just as problematic to essentially put on an auto repeat loop, and we go after Disney because it is such a recognizable icon. For all its faults, Disney tends to at least be conscious of some the social progression of our society. Many of its latest movies have even social progressives saying (well, this last one wasn't SO bad). The problem is many of its classic and iconic movies date back to more problematic times. It is even possible to say that one of the reasons many Disney movies achieve such a popular state is because they twang the cultural chord that many people in our society WANT TO HEAR. The really great exceptions to all this bullshit are usually not the movies every little kid knows by heart. And given the reaction that Disney DOES get from enraged fans about anything that isn’t perfectly sweet and antiseptic for the kiddies, it’s probably a wonder they don’t actually have everyone make up and have hot coco at the end of every movie.

All that said, you might still think I’m insane for suggesting that Disney could be valuable for a writer to examine. Those stories are trite. They are simplistic. They are formulaic. They are almost all the same with only a few cosmetic variations. They are the movie versions of a four chord song.

Yes. Exactly.

Because their greatest weakness is also their greatest strength.



Disney Movies can be very useful to a writer precisely BECAUSE they are formulaic. I know a lot of people look at Disney movies and vow that they will never write something so simplistic, so predictable, and so shockingly laden with tropes and cliches. That's good.

But like many things in life, it's very difficult to break the rules if you don't know what the rules are.  Ever seen someone who talks about how they are breaking the rules of grammar for effect, but it's pretty clear they just don't know how to join two clauses? Yeah it's like that. It's impossible to write against the grain of a Disney movie if you don't know what that grain really is.

Most people have their stories rejected not because they lacked complex literary elements–in fact most people do a PRETTY good job of knowing what level their writing is at and what sorts of magazines to send them to. According to editors I've spoken to and what I've read, most people have their stories rejected because they lack a plot. Nothing really happens. "This is a poignant character sketch of an intense moment, but it is a vignette not a STORY," is shockingly common feedback for new writers.

I witnessed this phenomenon time and time again throughout my writing program and even in some of the graduate work I had a chance to see. Amazing writing with fantastic descriptions, exquisite significant detail, care paid to setting, and simply gorgeous characterization would all fall flat on the page because nothing would HAPPEN. No rising tension--no tension at all. Just someone wallowing in their emotional state for a few pages. Often there was an antiseptic reveal that I know was intended to be a plot twist but wasn't because there was no plot to twist.

Some writers try to pass this off as "character driven." Usually they don't really know what that means, they just think it sounds highbrow and means they're NOT "plot driven." But even if this weren't pretentious bullshit, they have confused "character driven" with "no discernible plot." In a character driven story, the characters aren't reacting; they want something. And it is their desires that are driving the action forth.

There is no driving to speak of in 80-90% of young writers' fiction–plot or character driven. Publishers know it and Creative Writing instructors know it. And instead of working on writing good, compelling stories, most programs are still focusing on elements they've deemed more important to
"literary" writing.

Most writers would actually do well to understand plot, and going back to the basics is a good place to start. Disney movies are masters at the basic plot. You can't overly burden a four-year-old with intense complexity and subtle motivations. You might be able to slip in some adult humor, but the basics of the story have to be basic. Yes, a Disney movie is formulaic, but that formula is something people must know long before they can successfully break it. Disney movies have the story arc down pat–rising tension, complication, climax, denouement. Most of them follow The Hero's Journey (despite its flaws and criticisms) so closely, that it would only take you a few seconds to figure out who the "mentor character" is in a list of ten or fifteen Disney movies. (Go ahead; try it: Hercules, Cars, Lion King, Aladdin, Mulan, Finding Nemo.) Most Disney protagonists burn with what they want and what they need.

Sure it's sophomoric to have them say "I want to win that race more than anything!" within the first five seconds of being on screen, but it beats ten kinds of pants off a story where you're not sure WHAT the hell a character actually wants, which is a big problem with much new fiction.

What Disney demonstrates unswerving skill at over and over is telling a story. And for all their flaws and simplicity, examining them for what they're doing well is a great way to avoid stories without plots.

So if you have problems with plot, you could do worse than to suffer through a few Disney movies. Learn to walk before you fly...to infinity and beyond. (Sorry, I had to.)

Now, I must go to see a mouse about a thing.  But work on your "four chords" in the meantime, and enjoy the Official Video with several more examples:


Guest Bloggers Wanted

We're cramming everything this week into three days, so tomorrow instead of our usual correspondence bloggers ("guest" doesn't really fit for Claire Youmans or Amy Echeverri when they're part of the team) we're going to be putting up a couple of posts that should have gone up on Monday and Tuesday. Also, Claire's next article is about NaNo, and I figured I would nudge it a bit closer to November if possible. 


Got something to say about writing, art, inspiration, creativity, motivation, process, craft, literature, reading...or possibly cheese?

Got something that writers or book lovers REALLY need to see? 

Want to respond to something I've written, even if it's to completely disagree with me and tell me I smell like soup? And not that I smell like the good kind of soup that reminds you of childhood winters, but something with weird goat cheese, too much salt, and seasonings that make you wonder if the meat has maybe gone off.

Want to take advantage of my (currently) 50,000+ page views per month and advertise your own online endeavors in a thinly veiled self-pimp-a-thon wrapped in the "sheep's clothing" of an article?  (For which I will only demand a shout out in return.)

Want to put an article or three out in the world, be read by lots of readers, but without having to start your own blog and lose all your friends by pimping yourself on Facebook all day long? ("Ugh. All they do is talk about themselves! They don't take pictures of their lunch like me!")  Or just want to try blogging on for size a few times before you start one of your own?

Then I want you!

Bring it!  Drop me an e-mail.  (chris.brecheen@gmail.com) As long as what you want to write is mostly coherent, at least obliquely about writing, no more than 82% horribly offensive to white males, non-abusive to other readers, doesn't make me cry (except in the good way), contains at least one vulgarity, innuendo, or salvo of F-Bombs to maintain the lack of decorum, I will totally publish your article.  I can't promise that if you write an article on why I'm wrong about everything ever in my face that I won't write some kind of rebuttal, but all opinions on writing are welcome--even ones antithetical to mine. (I do reserve the right to refuse a post for any reason, but I promise that reason won't be because I disagree with you.)

And...if you're one of my regular guest bloggers, I'll even give you your own link on The Reliquary (unless you'd rather I didn't). 

Here are some guidelines so we don't waste each other's time:

  • If you send me offers to do web content, I mark your mail as spam. I know when I'm looking at a legitimate offer for a guest blog.
  • If you are a robot I will mark you as spam. Unless you can do dishes. Robots that do dishes are welcome.
  • If you can't figure out what this blog is about, and offer to do articles about steam roofing or something, I'll mark your mail as spam. I'm not just web content here; this blog has a theme and everything. Make it about the inspiration and creative process of steam roofing AT LEAST!
  • Please read the paragraph below the bullet points very carefully.
  • Your writing is yours. I'm going to ask that you let the post run on my page for a while before you cross post it, but ultimately I respect that as the generator of the creative effort, your writing is yours. If you ask me to remove it, I will. If you repost it somewhere else, that's okay.
  • There are no author passwords to Writing About Writing--you'll submit your articles to me. I will post them if they are good enough to post.
  • If you skipped all that dull text up above, this blog is about writing, art, inspiration, creativity, motivation, process, craft, literature, reading, and maybe cheese. Don't skip the paragraph below though.
  • I will be as liberal as I can about gate keeping, but you do have to be able to write a little. An incoherent rant about the tyranny of grammar probably won't be approved.
  • You don't have to agree with me, particularly about writing stuff, but I'm not going to post wildly divergent social positions, humor that punches down, or deeply problematic phrasing. Anything I post here isn't an "I agree with this 100%!" endorsement, but if I hit publish on it, I'm going to be the one to answer for it. If you want to write about how the PC police are agents of "Obummer the Mooozlim," and they won't let you even use the word "tard" anymore, go start your own blog.
  • I won't make any content changes to your writing, but I may make some copy edits. If a proofreading change might change your meaning, I will run it by you.
  • Please fucking read the paragraph below.
  • When I say "I will make some edits" I want you to understand that I'm not a copy editor even though I can do okay (on writing that isn't my own). I'm not here to fix up a post from scratch that you didn't have time to proofread. Clean it up.
  • You may link out as much as you want (even self-promotional links), but I'm going to check them all--if they go to spammy shit, I won't publish your article. 
  • Please, for the love of all that is holy, and in the name of Hera's left nipple, read the goddamned fucking paragraph below.
  • If your post is a giant fucking commercial for some product, then you need to be paying me for advertising space. And if your product isn't awesome, that's not going to happen anyway. Thinly veiled self promotion under the auspices of something that at least resembles an article is totally okay though–just know that it might not get a lot of hits. I only get about 150 views on articles that aren't liked or reshared through some social media. If my readers don't like something, it does NOT do very well. If they do, well they know where the share button is.
  • Seriously, read the paragraph below.

The very important paragraph: 

W.A.W. isn't making enough for me to pay anyone up front (yet), and I make no money from ad revenue. If I ever do make money enough to pay authors, and/or your article brings in heavy traffic, we will figure something out so I'm not taking the hard work of a writer with nothing but the promise of "exposure." It might not be more than a dollar or two for a solid article or a few bucks for something quite viral, but I will pay something if your article does better than an typical article here on W.A.W. (about 150-200 page views). Plus of course if someone sends me a donation earmarked for a guest blogger, I will pass the money onto them and even cover the Paypal fee–that's for them, not me. It may not add up to much (unless you get millions of hits or write for me a lot) but if it came from your work, I'll make sure I'm not taking advantage of you.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Another Thank You

I'm still taking a break until Wednesday (at which point I have two posts a day planned, so you should still get a week's worth of Writing About Writing, just....all at once–I just badly needed a break).

However, in the meantime, as absolute and total filler, I thought I would share with you another thank you note we've gotten from one of the recipients of the funds from Blogust's fund raiser. You all were amazing.

I also found out that it was W.A.W.'s donation that tipped them over the edge and fully funded this particular project. So that's always an extra awesome feeling.


The full bit from the web page.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Quickie for the following

Just me. Not shaving and hanging in there.
Hi folks,

Chris here. Not the Writing About Writing Chris persona. Not joking superhero realism Chris. Not fun runs the compound at WAW Chris and has guest bloggers who mostly beat him up and an octopus person for a personal assistant.   

Just me. The person behind all those people.

The one who's been trying to keep up with life and since last Monday or so despite a week that just kept getting worse and worse.

Some stories are mine to tell, but many are not.  Some I tell anyway after a lot of cosmetic surgery, and call fiction, but it would be unethical for me to just dive in. And a few of my readers know enough about my life that if I tried to be vague about deets, they would just use their decoder rings.

Hi boys and GHOULS! I'm the only one around here who should be cryptic.
But trust me if you knew what was going on, you'd forgive me.

I'm going to keep working on these thank-you notes (a few more are going out today), and Wednesday the posts should start coming on our regular schedule. But I need to do some self care today and tomorrow. I'll run a concentrated week from Wed-Fri with a lot of brunch posts. And thank you all for reading. 

Friday, October 2, 2015

On The Stories We Tell

There's a story our society tells when an atrocity is committed (and "atrocity" is the right word, not "tragedy"). As we grab for the answer, if we find something strange and different like a religion or an ethnicity that doesn't belong, then we blame that.  Code words pop up like "terrorism," "immigration," "thug," and tell us exactly who has committed these atrocities.

When the offender is white though, these ways of slipping them quietly into other groups that explain their penchant for committing terrible actions breaks down. And that is when we turn to mental illness as the story we tell. "Mental illness," or whatever euphemism ("deeply troubled" "crazy" "insane") you might prefer. The problem is that even when these things are true, they are still irrelevant and focusing on them both harms others and pulls the scrutiny from where it belongs.

It is actually a good and wonderful thing to lament the deplorable state of mental health treatment in this country and culture. The lack of easy access to affordable care is revolting, and the stigma is huge. Most people are still trying to tell folks with mental illness to eat right and exercise and just try NOT having that chronic disease. And those are the ones not simply recoiling in fear. Ten lifetimes of focused activism would be badly needed and on point.

However, when people tell the story of mental health ONLY after someone has committed an atrocity, or care about the mental health failings of our culture ONLY after someone has committed an atrocity they're actually making things a lot worse, not better. They are only being harmful, not empathetic.

First of all, they are usually using "mental health" as a shibboleth for "people who do terrible things." The suggestion is that no one who does something like this COULD be sane. Let me be absolutely clear about this: that is, by every psychological bellwether, completely inaccurate. People who commit atrocities are diagnosed clinically sane ALL THE TIME. And the vast majority of people with mental illness are victims of violence not perpetrators. By a huge margin.

I know it hurts to think that humans are capable of violence without something being fundamentally wrong with their mental processes, and that the capacity to do violence indicates that something MUST be wrong, but that simply isn't true. (Or maybe it is true but what we should be looking at is our culture, not the functionality of specific brains.) We can all be monsters under the right circumstances. Some of us are. And I'm sorry if that's scary, but many are as sound of mind as you or I. The things that make us monsters are not always bits working incorrectly. Sometimes it's the culture that tells us the "other" isn't worth living. Sometimes it's an expression of the hate we are taught every day. Sometimes it's the bits working a little too well.

When people DO this–when they say that "of course he had mental illness because no one who didn't could have done such a thing"–it's not only sloppy and uncritical thinking, devoid of logic and the slightest psychological accuracy, but it also perpetuates the stigma that the mentally ill are dangerous. They equate the two in a way that is not only inaccurate, but also causes a lot of splash damage to those who suffer from mental illness.

But mentally ill people ARE violent. You're not saying they're never violent are you? That's ridiculous. Of course some mentally ill people are violent. Some vegetarians are violent. Some mathematicians are violent. Even if this weren't a post hoc ergo proctor hoc fallacy right out of a Freshman textbook, the correlation is so low as to make the comparison actually disingenuous and not simply fallacious. By significant margins, mentally ill people are more likely to harm themselves than others when compared to the general population. And certainly compared to groups like young white men. When we go digging for it, like it's the cause, and nothing more need be said, that's the problem.

Even, as in the case with the Oregon community college shooter, when the presumption turns out to be accurate, it is a red herring or at best a mcguffin. We might as well turn up proof of athlete's foot or tooth decay for all the causation that is indicated by a diagnosis like Aspergers or "psychological problems." People with far worse "psychological problems" aren't violent at all, and most on the Autism spectrum are extraordinarily non-violent. So that's clearly not actually the cause even though that's what the media tries to dig up. And even if such a condition increases a predisposition, ignoring the underlying cause would be a little like doctors shrugging when an immune compromised person gets an infection instead of finding out what the infection is.

Because here's the other problem: they are using "crazy" to circumvent a lot of relevant social analysis that could and should go into the calculus of such an event. Everything from the absurdly simplistic and unregulated access to instantly-lethal, multi-lethal, ranged weaponry to the effect of toxic masculinity on young men, to racial inequality to a sense of white, male entitlement, to tribalism and othering is simply swept under the rug in one swoop because that person was "obvs crazy." We dismiss dozens (hundreds?) of conversations about the culture these minds were marinating in to simply write it all off as being about mental illness. "Oh well, what can we do. Just another disturbed mind. Hope it doesn't happen again...or again...or again..."



Mental illness affects a certain percentage of people all across the Earth–why do these atrocities so often happen in the U.S.? And why are they so often done BY white males? These are the things we should be digging into–not finding out every person in a shooter's past who ever said they were troubled.

Mental illness is not homologous to "evil." And people really should either bang that drum all the time or think hard before they give it a whack after a highly visible event.

Because the stories we choose to tell might just be making things worse for a group that is already erased, marginalized, and stigmatized.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Three Points on Process

I’m just over 8300 words today on the first draft of Book Three of The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy series.  I know where I’m going for the next 8,000 or so and I’m tickled. Now, it’s much easier. Even when, as the fox-woman did today, the characters take over and lead me somewhere else, it all falls together. I see the scenes scroll though my mind. I know I’m in draft mode because I write pages of dialogue and almost no description, though I see the scene. When I rewrite, I will expand on character action and reaction, insert setting, scenery, season and specifics, adding a very necessary layer. Too, that will add to the word count in a useful fashion. There will be massive cuts — there always are — so it will even out. I don’t have to worry about word count for its own sake now. More scenes and words will appear as the story develops. It will grow and change almost organically under my hands. It’s a magical feeling. Oh, I sense a potential continuity problem that will need tweaking, and I do have a practical paradox looming in 10,000 words or so. It’s tough being a legend in a world that doesn’t believe in you!

I am having fun.

The days I spend wandering around crankily thinking about "what happens next" are the harder ones. Mostly it’s my subconscious working, which means forcing it isn’t possible. "What happens next" has to simmer on the back burner, like a chili or soup working away on a wood cookstove. Those are days to walk, to bake, to boat, to ski, and talk to nobody human. This is when I start reading cookbooks and re-reading mystery series I know almost by heart. Those are days to let the mental silence reign, so my mind can work in ways I don’t consciously perceive, though I can feel them bubbling along underneath. Finally, at last, the light dawns. I know where the next scene starts, and the general direction in which I am going. I can play my keyboard like a musical instrument, as the words fly out of my brain and onto the page. When this happens, I can’t wait to get to my computer. I can’t lose this. I have to get it out and down to make room for the rest that’s just waiting to flow. My writing, like my workout (which I won’t do unless it’s fun), is a task I often schedule as a reward for getting my chores done. I did that yesterday, spending the morning cleaning the house, writing blog posts, and so forth. I’m always excited at this point, so chores go quickly. There’s no procrastinating now.

Yesterday, I happily settled down, chores done, to work on Book Three. I’d barely opened the file when Aaron Cat brought in a bird and let it loose. I am pathologically afraid of birds flying into my face, so you can imagine my reaction. Yes, clinging to the ceiling by my fingernails just about covers it. I tossed the cat outside, closed the door, and called a neighbor. The bird was loudly alive and sounded uninjured. Aaron is not that great a hunter. When he catches something, it’s mostly alive and healthy so it can be rescued. My neighbor came over but the bird was silent. We looked everywhere. No bird found. I blocked off the room as much as possible and opened the front door. I took Sally, the dog, out. On our return, she, true to her poodle heritage — they are water retrievers — located the bird hiding in the stacked firewood. The bird vocalized, probably telling her to get lost. I now knew exactly where it was. My neighbor returned and dismantled the wood pile, actually getting a sighting. A single layer of firewood covered my newly cleaned floor. But we saw no bird. This saga continued through two more attempts, the rebuilding of the firewood stack, and three other neighbors. Sally focused on a particular potential hiding place enough to rouse human suspicion, but no bird. Telly, the Shiba Inu next door, focused on getting to Sally’s food. No bird. Was it possible it actually left on its own? Eventually, I had to bring Aaron, the cat responsible for all this turmoil, in for the night. I had to to close the outside door. I retreated to my bedroom, door closed, expecting to wake to carnage.

Nothing. Perhaps the bird really did leave on its own. There’s no sign of it and neither Aaron nor Sally are interested in looking for it. I have cleaned the floors anew. Unstacked firewood makes a huge mess. The bird doesn’t seem to be anywhere in this house. I hope it’s outside, happily being a bird again, albeit one that’s a little more careful of large black cats.

The take-away points are three. First, don’t worry about having a short word-count at the end of your first draft. NaNo aims for 50,000 words. An adult novel is half again as long, at minimum. First draft is a time to plow through and get the story down, to turn the ephemeral into the physical. Don’t go for perfect, go for the line from the beginning through the middle to the end.

Second, while I strongly believe in writing consistently once I begin a first draft, sometimes writing isn’t in front of the keyboard. It’s silencing your mind and letting the process flow. Just make sure you’re doing that, and not drowning the process in conversation, drugs, liquor, sex, a new book, a new band or any other distraction, or bashing yourself because you’re not at your desk with words pouring out. Honor this part of the process; give it a chance to work. When you recognize that this is part of the creative process, it’s possible to plan for it.

Third, except when it isn’t. Life happens. Life gets in the way. The absolutely only way to deal with this is to recognize your art, your writing, is your priority and step back on the metaphorical horse and ride on.

And best of luck to that little blackbird.