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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Three Things to Do Before Making Your New Year's Resolutions

We’re often so busy bemoaning our failures that we fail to notice our successes.

The last few years of my life would sound over the top in a telenovela. Oh, yes, if I think about it, I have failed in many ways, and quite spectacularly, too.

The other day I had an epiphany:  given the outrageous way Life has Happened to me, I ought to be crouching at the bottom of the closet, hiding among the coats, gibbering. No, I haven’t met all my goals. But I’m not locked in the bathroom howling, either. I started looking at what I had actually managed to accomplish, and saw that is something to be proud of, worthy of note and congratulations.  I’d be willing to bet you’ve accomplished things, too, even if you haven’t accomplished everything you wanted to. Before you make your New Year’s resolutions, please do three things that will make you feel stronger and set you up for success in 2016.

Stop. That’s the first step. Just stop. It’s easy to beat yourself up for your failure to meet your goals. Stop doing that for just one moment.

Second, reflect on what you have accomplished. Take note of each step you have taken towards your goals. You wrote three poems? Great! You finally cleaned out your sock drawer? Super! You didn’t gain any weight? Fabulous! You actually bought a bike? Wonderful! Even if it’s just a little step, if it advances your progress, notice it.

Third, take pride in your accomplishments. You might not have reached your goals, but you have made progress! Congratulations! Pat yourself on the back. You may not have reached your goals for 2015, but you made progress and progress is something to celebrate.

What if you didn’t do a blessed thing towards accomplishing any of your goals? Dropped out of NaNo at 0 words? Gained ten pounds? Still smoking? That sock drawer is exploding? Think about this:  you have survived the year, and you have the courage and determination to try again. That in itself is something to be proud of.

There is no true failure until you stop trying.

Realizing what you have accomplished, what you have faced and what you have conquered will help you realize that you aren’t a failure at all, and give you a solid basis to set new goals and make those New Year’s resolutions.

Here’s to your success!  


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



If you would like to guest blog for Writing About Writing we would love to have an excuse to take a day off a wonderful diaspora of voices. Take a look at our guest post guidelines, and drop me a line at chris.brecheen@gmail.com.

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Year of Fail In Review (Personal Update)

Unless you're one of the greatest writers in your language within a generation it is absolutely inevitable that you are going to fail as a writer. This is simply a fact.

Even the most popular writers of our day have their stories of failures. Years of rejection or toiling in ignominy before they were published.

And, honestly, even those popular will probably fail again; it's just harder to tell that because economies of scale affect the kinds of goals they set in ways most of us back on Earth can't see. I doubt Andy Weir or J.K. Rowling will ever worry about getting a publisher to pick up their next book (or anything they write ever again), but they certainly might have a week where they write a few hundred words instead of five thousand and feel like a yutz.

Well, I suppose there is also the possibility that a writer could never really try, and then they don't have to face failure at all, but that is really just its own slow, torturous failure that ends in a hospital room that smells like bedsores, Bengay, and regret, telling the great granddaughter (who's trying to defeat Tabuu with perfect health) that she's got to chase her dreams or she'll die a hollow husk of a human like they are.

"Listen to me and put down that Gameboy. I'm dispensing folksy old person wisdom here."

"Oh my god, you fossil, it's a 3DS!"

Well, anyway.....  The rest of us are going to fail. Sometimes quietly, sometimes spectacularly, and sometimes on a writing blog for all the world to see because it's important for young writers to understand the "behind the scenes" of process and not think that good writing simply springs magically from the inspired butts of muse-fellated geniuses.

But the failure is going to happen. Publishers will reject us. We won't win contests. Royalties will never catch up to the advance. The self-published book will not sell enough copies to reach minimum wage for the time spent writing it. Blog posts will go up late or not at all, or will use "yore" for a possessive. The novel won't get finished. The daily word count won't be hit. We will fail. It will happen and if we don't sit down in the mud at the first sign of it and give up, we will probably fail a lot.

This year, I failed.

I failed a lot. I failed hard. I failed...thoroughly.

I'm not just saying that because it's been a tough year and I didn't hook up a single groupie threesome, though that was certainly a tragedy that no one could possibly have predicted. I articulated a nine goals at the beginning of the year–everything from writing more frequently for the other blogs I write for to writing more fiction to a certain number of followers.

I hit none of these goals.

Not one.

Full failure across the board.

There are reasons. I didn't just blow the whole year playing Witcher III. Two thousand fifteen kicked off with cancer and never really let go. I feel like life was a dog worrying the chew toy of my cope. Friends have been committed. Loved ones have undiagnosable anemia. Relationships have gone through the dark night of their soul (and still are). And through it all a certain toddler has learned to take only one nap and have an opinion on television that appears to favor shows that make me want to spoon my eyeballs out faster than if I'd gazed longingly at Cthulhu.

Depending on how I'm feeling, these fall somewhere between legitimate mitigating factors and stinky asshole-metaphor excuses. But however I internalize them, the fact is that I failed.

So as a writer, and as a writer whose life is on display for other writers, I'm going to tell you that it is important to keep two things in mind.

Number one: My failure is other people's success.  I wrote every day. I published things that thousands read. I was paid for my work. And I can pay a small chunk of my bills from writing. Many writers think of these accolades as pipe dreams. It's important to remember how far we've come even when we fail to hit the goals that drive us from our comfort zones.

Number two: Everyone fails. Not everyone fails so completely as I have, but there's nothing really exciting about that part of the story. The actually interesting part of this journey is what is going to happen next. It is how we react to failure that really matters. When you fall face-first into the mud, the temptation is to stay there. To give up. To go home.

Or I could keep treading water the way I've done. After all two year olds are easier than one year olds, right? And I'm sure no health problems will possibly happen this year, and nothing will go wrong and it'll just be rainbows and threesomes all the way down.

Or, when we fail, we can stand up, wipe the mud out of our eyes, think about how to avoid the same mistakes in the future, crack our necks Bruce Lee style, and go fuck some shit up.

Guess which one leads to success?

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Best Dystopia: Don't Forget to Vote

What is the best dystopia in fiction?

Writing About Writing is about to conclude it's 2015 year. Even though I'm not giving up on a Star Wars writing review before 2016, with only three more days of scheduled posting left in the last eight days of the year, things are going to go fast.

So please don't forget to take a moment to vote (or vote again) in our greatest dystopia poll.

The rules if you need to review them.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Writing When You Can't Write

My family is waiting on news today. Possibly bad news.

I'm twisted into a knot and probably going to huck even the loose schedule I wrote yesterday out the door. Maybe I'll get that Star Wars post up.

I just can't write right now. My mind is goulash and I'm barely keeping thoughts coherent enough to string sentences together.

And yet...that's never completely 100% true. I'm writing right now. And I'll probably put in a couple of hours before the end of the day. And it will be personal shit in a personal file that is mostly unreadable and maybe might have an emotional nugget or two that will show up in other writing. It's nothing that will be published, or mined for a character. It will not be "useful" writing.

But there's still something to it.

Writing is almost unique among arts in that writers believe everything they write or have ever written will one day, in some form, show up in publication. Artists dump reams of their old doodles. Musicians practice in soundproof rooms for small eternities heard by no ear but their own. Actors do exercises to hone their craft that never seen an audience. But writers--writers seem to think that everything is just a polish away from greatness.

Don't be afraid to just write. It's the reason so many "Getting Started" advice lists include keeping a journal. (That and the habit of daily writing.) Don't be afraid to practice on something no one will ever see. Don't be afraid to write a story that will never in a billion years be published. Don't be afraid to just write a letter to ONE person. Not all your words have to be brilliant, and in fact expecting them to might be why you sit in front of a blank page all the time.

All that writing isn't lost. You're better for it. And you're not just a better writer for it either. But when your relationship to writing is more analogous to most people's relationship to food or water, you're going to find that writing helps you through these moments. Even it it's just an incoherent splat. Even if you have to struggle for just one sentence. Then one more. Then one more. Even if you might find out in just a few minutes that you're going to end up burying the love of your life and your whole world is coiled into one singularity of anxiety...

Even if.

Just keep writing.

Monday, December 21, 2015

My God! It's Almost Christmas! (Personal Update)

Yesterday I was looking at the calendar–specifically the date–and I realized I was looking at a two. As in the 20th. As in five days until Christmas.

It took me a moment to realize all the implications. It's already the 20th????  (Now it's the 21st????) I still haven't done any shopping. There are a half a dozen people I haven't shopped for who don't live with me that are now either going to get Amazon gift cards or late presents. And even though I'm a fan of online shopping, I'm going to have to get out to get some stocking stuffers and some stuff for under the tree.

When I shifted gears here at writing about writing two weeks ago in order to help family with Big Honking Health Issues™, I wasn't messing around. I've worked sixty hour weeks both weeks since then, and that's before I sat down to write a word. Life is going to be pretty different for the foreseeable future.

Part of my new help-out-the-family-schedule involves taking a little more time off around holidays when I'm needed most, so I figured I'd give you a peak of the next couple of weeks. I'm not going to just hiatus until the new year, but things will get a little tricky.

Post today (this one), then tomorrow (of a very jazz handian nature), and Wednesday I have a small review of The Force Awakens (which will contain spoilers so if you're subscribed and haven't seen it, don't read that post). It's not a should you see the movie, review, but more of a what-can-we-learn-as-a-writer review.

Then I'll take Christmas eve and day off, plus the weekend. Next week will be similar. I'll post on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday (mostly some lighter stuff), and then take New year's eve and day off. During this time, I plan to send the last of the criminally overdue thank you notes out, so if you still haven't gotten one for a donation you made in 2015, you are in the last batch, and should see it soon.

So if you'll excuse me, I think I need to go do some fucking shopping.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Fridging: Who's Dying for Whom?

One of these things is not like the other.
I’ve seen this macro going around a few times, and I’ve even shared it on Writing About Writing's Facebook Page once or twice. But there’s actually a pretty conspicuous absence on the reasons not to kill a character side.

Let me give you a hint. If you’re a white man, you probably won’t realize what it is. You might not even know what I’m talking about once I tell you. If you’re a person of color or a woman, you may have an idea. If you’re a woman of color, you probably guessed what was going on before this paragraph even started.



Give up? 



It’s called fridging.

Not to be confused with frigging, which could be fun if done with enthusiastic consent. Or alone. Really lots of ways to make that one awesome. But no this is fridging.

Originally “being stuffed into a fridge” is a trope named after an issue of Green Lantern where his girlfriend is stuffed into a fridge for him to find. The woman wasn't even a developed character. It just happened to piss the character off.

Even without any other problematic elements, fridging is a sign of extremely lazy writing since it is a cheap way to motivate the hero, move the heroes quest forward, or to incite their anger. Like if writing were household pets, fridging would be a cat–a cat who sleeps next to his bowl so he doesn't have to get up to eat. If a writer can't portray a situation that enrages a character without just killing off their friends/family/lovers to piss them off that plot is not engaging on its own. If a character is so meaningless that the only thing they're good for is to die and raise the stakes, they're not actually a very good character.

If a writer can't think of any way to raise the emotional stakes than to off a character, they're being a very bad writer.

I can't really remember anything about their goals or interests, but boy AM I MAD NOW.

Bad writer. Bad. No biscuit.

And as usual, it's not that a writer can't earn it when it comes to a fridging, but they should be more careful to know what they're getting into than "have a good narrative reason" for killing a character. Chiefly because every writer always thinks they have a good narrative reason for everything they do, and it helps to know the history of what they're doing and how to subvert expectations or not fall into the same old clichés.

Does this mean a character can never die? Of course not? Does it mean that the character can't be motivated by rage? Absolutely not. Does it mean that the villain can't kill anyone just to piss the hero off or even leave the body right where they can find it that will cause them the most angst? Nope. In fact, some villains do exactly that. What it means is that the character should be fleshed out enough, vibrant enough, interesting enough that their death resonates with the reader on its own.


                                           Second Season Buffy the Vampire Slayer Spoilers
                                                                      Like, big ones.

You can also get the "Uncle Ben/Ben Kenobi" sub-trope (which often ends in a death) where the mentor character is there pretty much not as a fleshed out character, but only to be the mentor to the hero.

If the problem of fridging ended there, it would probably be enough for writers to simply make sure that character deaths happened to interesting and fleshed out characters with their own arc. But there's another pitfall that is so common that it can't go without mentioning.

Fridging goes beyond this one "find your dead body and now I'm upset" trope. That just sucks and is lazy. But fridging gets worse.

The term has broadened when examined through some particular weaknesses in mainstream media. In particular we see that it is very, very, very common that the character is a woman or POC (or especially a woman of color) and is killed in the story chiefly as a plot device, so that the heroes either will or can carry on with the quest. Either the death saves the characters or it gives the characters some kind of emotional gumption to carry forth. Sometimes giving the heroes what they need ends up having a price that the fridged character pays. It also refers to the extremely high mortality rate of women characters who sleep with the protagonists–especially if their death is what prompts the hero to care about something or realize that something is going on. 



Now this is a cultural trope so no ONE show, book, story, whatever should shoulder the sins of all, even if we use it as an example, but let us pause for a moment to think about exactly why it is that it is so fricken common for women and POC to die for the sake of the main character's broader arc. Could it be because so few main characters aren't white men? Or perhaps because so many characters who aren't white men don't have engaging character arcs of their own?

The answer is yes. There's a bit of a chicken and egg situation here. Not only are far too many protagonists cis het white men because that is seen as a sort of "default" position for humanity by much of the world (and if they are not a cis het white man, they are only one characteristic removed), but the most expendable characters also tend to be the ones most marginalized. They aren't deep, fleshed out, engaging characters with their own compelling portrayals, so they tend to be the first ones a writer thinks of (either when they lazily reach for a character to kill off in order to raise the stakes or when they problematically decide that the main character's arc requires sacrifice). If people of color and women characters were getting more important, dynamic, vital, interesting, exciting characters, they would be much less likely to be tossed under a writer's proverbial bus simply to raise the stakes. And if they were more often the main protagonists, the whole dynamic wouldn't have that sick feel of marginalized people always dying so the white guy can win the day.

[If you need an example, randomly select any five episodes of Supernatural and there’s a pretty good chance you will see it more than once. Even though Sam and Dean are effectively immortal, it seems like every season a new group of marginalized people either die to help them, die to make them emotionally invested, or die to show the audience that this is srs bzns.

Or just read some G.R.R. Martin]


And if you want to know just how big this problem is in our media culture, try to come up with a robust list of white men who have died so that the women and/or person of color protagonist can keep going. It's not that there aren't any (Divergent springs to my mind), but it's actually tough to come up with more than a handful of examples.

Fridging sometimes feels like it should be a good thing, and realizing that it’s a powerfully overused and harmful trope is actually a little counter intuitive for writers without the context to realize how overdone it is and how often it targets marginalized groups. After all, if you’ve added a character who isn’t a white male, that's awesome right? And what a better way to honor them than to have them demonstrate their character with a noble sacrifice. Or to set up a power dynamic where the white characters can’t progress without their help or insight. That makes them important right?

And if you were the first writer in the whole damned world to think of that, you might be onto something. But as a cultural trope that is seen over and over and over and over and over and over again in media both popular and high arty, what it ends up portraying is that everyone who isn't an able bodied cis het white male is just DYING to help them succeed.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Katherine Johnson, Research Mathematician and Aerospace Technologist at NASA Langley (Amy Echeverri)

By Amy Echeverri



Katherine Johnson inspired me when I was a teenager struggling in math with multiple teachers having told me that it was okay to fail because it was hard and girls are more suited to language arts. 


I read about her when I was 19 and immediately stopped listening to my college professor. I sat in the back of the lecture hall to read the textbook and extra readings, working the calculations as I read. Everything clicked. Instead of struggling to just pass, I excelled. I worked damn hard for my As in math, which was a gratifying improvement over working damn hard for my Cs. And with my new math skills, I saw immediate improvement in all my other academics, including history, Latin, and Spanish.

Math made me start to understand how thoughts and concepts can have logical flow. Understanding math caused my writing to improve. When people ask me how I became a professional writer, I tell them the usual things like daily practice and reading. Then I pause to reflect on how best to say the unusual part. Each time I tell someone that mathematics was the essential piece that made the difference between rejection slips and publication, I get a polite nod and a redirect to talk some more about my English lit classes. 

The trouble is that the connection between math and writing isn’t clear without an understanding of both. The connection is logic and while it’s possible to understand logic (somewhat) and understand writing without math, math is critical to making a deep connection. It makes the difference between an intellectual understanding and a fundamental understanding that runs so deep that it might invoke emotion.

So when I tell you that math is as essential to my writing as language, I mean it all the way to the core of who I am. I don’t mean it as a glib “hey kids, stay in school” sort of cliché. Nor do I mean that without understanding mathematics it’s impossible to be a writer. I simply mean that an understanding both language and math makes it easier to understand writing than an understanding language alone.

Perhaps I should learn more math so that I can figure out how to explain this concept better. And thanks to Ms. Johnson, I mean that sentiment both as a wink and as a serious notion.

I'm grateful to Ms. Johnson for leading generations of women like me. She cut a valuable and necessary trail.


On Tuesday, 24 November 2015, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom

Image credit: Carlos Barria/Reuters; featured on CBS News


Articles at NASA about Ms. Johnson:

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

For Those Subscribing

For those subscribing or otherwise not on social media where I will do the reshare, today I updated my posting schedule for the new year (even though it's still technically two weeks to the new year and a month to my spring semester.)

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Something in the Oven

Scheming.
So I've been working on something.

It's not done, but it's formed enough to be rolled out. It marks one of the changes that will be happening here at Writing About Writing.

For about the past two years I've been shoehorning social justice topics into a writing container, either as "metaphors" or under the auspices of "narrative." And those topics are important, and will still be visited here from time to time, but I'm rolling out a brand new blog where I don't have to work so hard to bring the connective tissue back to writing and where I'm not stretching the pretense to tissue-paper-thinness to post it here.

I give you.... Social Justice Bard.

Or at least the proto form of it. Subject to layout changes, color changes, added widgets, and any other knob fiddling I might do.

Since all my writing will always be centralized here at W.A.W., I will put up a compilation of SJB's articles each weekend. The only way that this will affect W.A.W.'s posting schedule is that with fewer social justice posts here, we'll be able to get down to more of the writing stuff.

Hopefully that's a good fix both for people who wish I'd write more about social justice, and for people who wish I'd write less.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Cooking up Something

I'm still coughing a little too much to make a video, and we had a sitter cancellation this morning.

I'm also cooking up something. Possibly the Next Big Thing™

Friday, December 11, 2015

World Building: It's Not Just for Genre Authors (By Anthony Woo)

World Building:  it’s not just for genre authors

By Anthony Woo

When you think of world building you probably think of speculative fiction settings. You might think of Tolkien’s Middle Earth, with its thousands of pages of fictional history, more than a dozen languages, language groups, and scripts, and created the basis for the medieval fantasy stereotype. You might think of Rowling’s Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, with its intricate and internally consistent magic system, atmospheric locations, and bizarre interpretations of modern technology. You might think of Star Trek (yes, I know, not technically writing, but still an excellent example of memorable world building), with dozens of books devoted to technical schematics, people who are fluent in Klingon, and more allegorical aliens than you can shake a stick at.

If that seems like a lot of effort for what we all learned in Elementary as “just” time and place, it is. But all the work to establish location and era is necessary. No reader can experience the contrast between the bleak subsistence living of District 12 and the conspicuous consumption of the Capitol. Not one of us has stepped into a wardrobe full of fur coats and come out the other side to find a magical world of talking animals ruled by a snow queen that hates Christmas. These places exist solely as words on the page and our imaginations. And, of course, this is the advantage speculative fiction has over other forms of fiction.

In speculative fiction, the setting is frequently as much of a character as any of the people with names. And like any character, the setting needs an appropriate introduction and details that differentiate it from others. Redwall, for example, would be far less memorable without the attention to culinary detail and the Enchanted Forest would not be nearly as entertaining without the frequent self aware nods to stereotypical genre tropes. But if you’re not writing in Lyra or Tortall or Dragaera, you don’t have to do that. You’re writing about a real place. A place that people know. A place that people can see and hear and smell and touch. Right?

Wrong.

A few years ago, I skimmed an article about the history of Chinatown. It was described as an attraction planned and developed by the Chinese community. A location that would draw tourists and benefit Chinese immigrants with employment without the fear of racial discrimination. I had to read it again, because that was not the Chinatown I grew up in. The Chinatown I knew was an ethnic ghetto created by redlining. It was populated by mostly low income and ageing immigrants who had little opportunity to learn English. In my memory, it had gone through a period of gentrification that had (mostly) failed to displace the existing community. It turns out I was reading about the wrong Chinatown.

The Chinatown most people have heard of, the first one, is in San Francisco. The other one, where my parents grew up and I visit on a regular basis, is in Oakland (and if you've never heard of that one, you can probably tell from my description why). The point being that, even with real places--perhaps especially with real places--world building is critical. Without a description, just the name Chinatown, I would never have known the difference.

So does that mean that you have to write about every stone, tree, and blade of grass? Not necessarily. On one end of the spectrum is Tolkien. Consider the tower of Orthanc which is a relatively minor location, with pages of text devoted to its description, history of construction, battles fought around it, and various occupants and owners. On the other end of the spectrum is Jane Austen. We know hardly anything about the town of Meryton--best known as the setting of Pride and Prejudice. It is a provincial country town in Hertfordshire near London, and that's pretty much the extent of our knowledge.

So, it really depends on your story.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Writer is Sick (Again, not Still)

This is me. (Technically last night, but I don't look much different today.)

Last night a norovirus took my description of being sick last week with that bad cold as a personal challenge. So I'm not just uncomfortable and possibly contagious. I woke up this morning after 13 hours of sleep, made myself some soup and Gatorade for breakfast, and that was so draining that I went back to sleep for another four hours.

I'll get a guest post up tomorrow. But today, even trying to coordinate with the writers is exhausting me.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Some Bad News

Edit: Of course we've now learned what the mystery ailment was (cancer) and what was going on that was affecting her health. 

To my wonderful, awesome readers,
I have a bit of bad news.

I've been trying to put this off for a long, long time, but after last night, the final straw landed on the camel's back.

There will need to be some structural changes to how we do things here at Writing About Writing for at least the forseeable future. I'll get into the specifics of how this will (and won't) change the landscape here, but let me explain why first. If you don't care about WHY, you can skip to the bottom.

If anybody has been following me for the last two years, they know that I've been hanging on for dear life. (Fortunately, that's hyperbole, and I'm talking about maintaining my ambitious writing schedule or my arms would be really tired by now.) I'm constantly struggling with my writing time and my writing schedule, and I've been trying like the Dickens to get up more articles of quality in a given week. I have put up a few of these reorganization efforts in the name of meta-commentary on how difficult it can sometimes be for a writer to protect their writing time, but honestly, I didn't post it every time it happened because I thought it was getting too repetitive as a topic.

I've kept writing. (Because that's what writers fucking do, yo.) I've even kept writing every day, and getting up good articles regularly. Writing stayed a priority through all the schedule shifts and priority reorgs, and that didn't and won't change going forward. But no one watching has had any illusions about how much trouble I've been having trying to eke more time out of 24 hour day.

"Two years" is not just an arbitrary number. Exactly two years and two days ago, The Contrarian joined the Hall of Rectitude and ruined everything in the nicest way. Writing with kids is a little different than writing without kids. For values of "little" that include "literally it is entirely different in every conceivable way; you have never written so fast during someone else's nap ever). Can you even believe that there was a time before T.C. when I wrote three or four solid articles a week? It's not that writing with a two year old is impossible. Obvi (as my friend Mal, says.) It's definitely a lot tricker though. Even that first year when they sleep a lot is easier than what comes after.


When all the planets aligned the schedule that looked good on paper could manifest in corporeal form in the physical world, I did pretty well getting some good articles up. But all it took was one thing to kind of throw a wrench into the cogs. One illness. One tough board meeting at someone's work. One super villain robbing a bank but not during banking hours. One hiccup, and the whole house of cards came down. Posts were going up so last minute that a mild rhinovirus could could screw up a whole week. And if someone else was dealing with illness, I was easily working a 70 hour week before writing a word.

And yet, I've put off this post for months (possibly years) because I thought if I could just crest one more thing, I'd be though the woods. But there's always one more thing and one more thing and one more thing. And these last few months with the holidays and the vacations and the personal issues and the health issues (mine and others') it has just kept going on and on. 

The thing is, that's life. Shit happens. And you're not going to have to bury a friend or go through a divorce every week, but if being tapped for an extra few hours of child care crashes the whole system, you're probably cruising at ludicrous speed. 

I might have kept going too–holding out for that moment of scheduling Nirvana. It's possible that after finals and after Christmas and after the New Year and after the new semester starts and after I visit my mother in January that there would be some open space of time where nothing would go wrong and this schedule stretched tighter than a snare drum would finally work for a bit. Maybe.

However yesterday I heard something that brought it all into relief. I can't go into a lot of detail because it's about someone who doesn't like being blogged about, but someone very close to me has a health issue that isn't something likely to go away–not for at least the next couple of whiles and maybe ever. It's also nothing we can pretend isn't going to rock the boat. Not without being blissfully naive. Again, in a perfect world we could balance two sitters, get a housekeeper in every week, and no one would ever need to say "Chris, can you handle this?" during my precious writing time. 

But that's not life. Shit happens.

I have struggled for the past two years to get up two strong articles a week and try for a third. And that effort has meant I have done very little other writing. I've neglected other blogs I write for, longer articles that just take more than a few hours before posting, the thank you notes for incredible donors who deserve to be thanked for helping this blog stay afloat. It's cut deeply into any fiction time I've tried to carve out. I don't even read as much as I used to–I mean I still read a lot of non-fiction articles, but it's been incredibly difficult to find the time to dig into books. And this is to say nothing of swaths of days and sometimes weeks where I can't remember having more than a few idle minutes of guilt-ridden Notwriting to myself (because this list doesn't even include extra childcare tag ins, house work, or other domestic chores that I step up to the plate on when schedules get screwy). It's not that I want to write less, it's just that I want to write some different stuff and have a bit of breathing room with the rest.

I'll also be working behind the scenes to find the balance in the other aspects of my life so that I can work smarter and harder as soon as is feasible and as often as is plausible. 

So what does this mean?

This isn't one of those posts that ends up with a blog on hiatus. I promise. I might start to take a couple of days off around major holidays and post less often when I'm on vacation, but I'm not going to stop writing–here or anywhere else.

What I am going to do is shift my posting schedule. Instead of two major articles a week and trying for a third, I'm going to red shift it down to one major article a week and try for a second. I'll still update five days a week. (And possibly six depending on something else I'm thinking about doing–deets on this to come.) I've been trying to post two solid articles a week and go for a third.

Instead, what I'm going to do is shift my schedule dramatically to try to post one good, solid, home-run article each week on Fridays (except for this Friday). Monday through Thursday will be the usual stuff: polls, running plot, personal updates, guest posts, and more.

Now if I have the time and energy (or if we've had one of those Nirvana weeks I dream about), I'll do a second major article (probably on Wednesday). But if not, I'll pour everything into that Friday post. There's still going to be some fun fluff on other days but Friday will be the day I'm trying to nail it.

If I can carve out some time on weekends and write ahead, it's entirely possible that this move will actually usher in a renaissance of better posts, fiction, and more robust daily posting. But while that new schedule and whole new approach is sussing out–also depending on the severity of the diagnosis we get–it might seem like I'm doing less.

To my Patron Muses and Regular Donors:

Each and every one of you were part of the reason I held on for so long, and I am keenly aware that the new schedule is not quite as awesome. I have been saying for years that I could maybe take more time off with more financial support, but the reality is that in order to hit that point (where I either hire a sitter for a big chunk of time each week or stop teaching all together), it's going to take several more guaranteed donations to match the lost income, and in the meantime, I don't expect you to keep donating for less output.

Each of you is donating generously and if a reduced rate of my output is worth a smaller donation or no donation, please please please do not consider for even a moment that there will be even a particle of hurt feelings. If anything, I'm doing financially okay right now since making myself a little more available to my family means I end up covering more than my expenses. Donations are, of course, always appreciated and breathtaking, but they are not expected, and I will never stop writing, even if they go away. 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

November's Best

The few. The proud. The higher page-viewed than others.

These three posts will go on to be immortalized in our Best of W.A.W. menu.

(And yes if you're thinking "Hey, didn't Chris say he was going to do a Vlog today," you're right. Now that I'm feeling better, everyone else in the house is sick (including the contrarian) so it's been a nightmare, plus I started to try and record it (I never get it on the first try) I realized that my voice was hoarse and cracking from my own cold. So that might just have to wait.

Cis Het White Male Authors and Their Characters (Part 2) The second part of an involved question about how white people can write from non-white viewpoints.

The Sad Breath Between Vacations (Personal Update) 
Half personal update and half eulogy to a friend whose time came entirely too soon.

Those Coddled Minorities
The question is who is coddling whom?

Monday, December 7, 2015

Protect Your Writing Time

Me, at life.
This morning is a perfect example of why writers need to carve out their writing time. It is the perfect example of what happens if a writer doesn't protect their writing time.

Because something always goes wrong.

If you've been paying any attention at all, you know I've really been struggling lately to ramp up my own productivity. Now, I could probably work a bit more efficiently–lord knows having an "online presence" sometimes means I lose swaths of time in Facebook arguments. I could probably squeeze a couple more productive hours a week out of the time I have.  But for the most part, more writing is going to mean more writing time.

With a two year old in the mix, that is not an easy proposition.

Two weeks ago, getting back from not one, but TWO back to back vacations, I decided it was time to hammer into a whole new routine and redesign my week from top to bottom giving myself another couple of hours a day...but the holidays.

Last week I was ready to go, but I got really sick.

This week I was absolutely ready to go, nothing holding me back this time, rock and roll, we can build this dream together because NOTHING'S GONNA STOP US NOW.....

and our morning baby sitter called in, so I had to watch the contrarian for six hours instead of three.

Which is all by way of saying that there is supposed to be a VLOG here, but it'll be up tomorrow.

But even from my head-deskingly frustrated position of trying to write a splat, jazz hands post before I drive to teach, I can relay two things. One: if I were letting all this schedule crap stop me from writing at all, I would have just had over a month of no productivity. There is ALWAYS something. Some reason it can't be done. Some visit, some holiday, some vacation, some illness. That's just how life is.

Two: Getting writing time is always always always (even for a guy who's been making money at it for three years now) an act of will. Even the best writers (which I am most certainly NOT one of) are constantly trying to push themselves even further to write more.

Friday, December 4, 2015

How Long to Find One's Voice (Mailbox)

A turkey mailbox?
Oh right, because I started this article before I got sick....
in the before time.
[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer each Friday.  I will use your first name ONLY unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous.  My comment policy also may mean one of your comments ends up in the mailbox. When I say "each Friday" it's more of a guideline than an actual rule.]  

Li asks:

Can I ask a question? ...revising my writing and seeing where the plot holes are, the bad grammar, where it needs more work, how I somehow changed perspectives without noticing on a few scenes... treating each story as an individual thing... How long do you think it takes to learn your style in writing? I mean I know it's one of those 'well that depends' questions... say you're writing everyday for a couple hours ect... What do you think are the fundamental things to consider first when turning a draft into a next level novel?

My reply:

It depends.

Oh....wait. Goddamn it.

Okay, let me start with your second question.

Writing style is a living thing, kind of analogous to your personality. It will always be changing throughout your life. Morphing. Adapting. Refining. But thankfully not in a horrible human amoeba way like Tetsuo in Akira. Because that could just get messy.

Naaaaa Naaaaaa Na Na.  Ding!

Oh my god, that part where he stops the tank shell and blows up the bridge, and then they fight with the giant tubes snaking around....oh man, that was awesome! Wait...what was I talking about?

Steve's been watching 80s anime.

Oh right. Writing style.

When you're a young writer (by which I mean a starting writer, not necessarily a writer of a certain age–though writers who start physically older tend to move through the phase more quickly), your style can change quickly, dramatically, suddenly, and sometimes from day to day. (Much the same way a young person's personality can be mercurial.) You will probably even find that your style shifts wildly based on who you're reading (like some people's personalities change as they move between groups of friends). If you're reading a lot of Lovecraft, you will find your style becomes languid, almost Byzantine in its complexity and richness, forming several clauses in each sentence to spill out rich and detailed descriptions. Hemingway will make you clipped. You will use short declarative sentences. Reading me will make you verbose and take forever to get to the point.

Your style will solidify as you write. The longer you've been writing, the more sure you'll be of your inner voice and the less other authors' styles will influence you, even if you're binging on a single author harder than your Jessica Jones marathon. Much as older people will be more solid and confident about who they are even when around very different folk.

You'll never be completely free of influence or completely free of evolution. A casual glance at any prolific author's collected works will bear this out, as you will see their style change over the arc of the decades they wrote. But the difference between their first few works will often be noticeable and their last few will seem more solid.

Stephen King did a major post-publication revision on the first book of The Dark Tower series because he knew 1970's Gunslinger voice was very different from his early 2000s voice, and if you've ever Salem's Lot after Mr. Mercedes, you know he's not fucking wrong.

That sort of answers part of your "how long does it take" question, Li–it never really ends. However if you're wanting to know how long it takes on the short end to get really comfortable in your style as a writer, I'm not sure. However, I can leave you with this tidbit. Most writers don't publish the first novel they write. Few publish their second. Many many writers who publish their first or second book have written in other media for years first. If you're writing a couple of hours a day (and I mean religiously) it would probably take at least two or three years.

Really though, this is like the cheesy martial arts movies. I sip my tea and stroke my long pointy beard and tell you that only you can know for sure, Grasshopper. When you start to realize that you're ignoring most advice about prose and just writing how you're comfortable writing, you're getting close. Of course revision and editing work are still vital, and we all write sentences that need to be taken out behind the chemical shed and executed, but if you are pretty comfortable and most people say they understand you and enjoy writing, you're probably mostly there.

No, not THAT rewrite! 
As far as the most important thing you can do (which answers both your last question and the first one about grammar and tense/POV shifts and such) is not to try to "revise" your first draft within a word document. You really need to REWRITE your manuscript at least once. Print it out, mark it up, and start a completely new document. You can't imagine how much you're willing to slash and burn or completely change if you're committed to rewriting the whole thing anyway. And you won't believe how much people will try to fudge some genuine revision if they think they can keep big chunks of useless text. Your work will also be so much crisper in terms of grammar, plot holes, and such. After that second complete rewrite, your work is likely solid enough to survive being revised instead of rewritten. There are some philosophy differences among writers as to whether you should rewrite once, twice, or three times and revise four, five, or even eleven times, but almost every writer of merit highly recommends that the second draft be a complete rewrite, not a revision.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Best Dystopia (Final Round)

What is the best dystopia in fiction?  

Welcome to the final round.

Our poll is eight names. Culled through semifinals from 17 names that you offered though our write in nominations. Each of you will be given three (3) votes. Please remember that there is no "ranking" system for votes so each vote you cast beyond the first will "dilute" the power of all the others. You should vote for as few as you can bear to.

This poll will run until December 16th.  By that time we should have new nominations for our next poll.

One reminder that I always need to put on our more popular polls. This poll is about books. It is not about movies. There have been some great movie adaptations of many  of these titles, but stick to voting for the BOOKS.

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

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

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Poll Results (Best Dystopia Semifinal 2)

I don't have a lot in me today to do a breakdown of the poll. I'm still floating in and out of fever and feeling like my head is going to pop right off every time I sneeze (which is fucking all the damned time).

Top four names will be going on to the final round, which I will post tomorrow.


The Writer is Sick!

I have been struggling against some mild sniffles for a couple of days, but last night I started having fever dreams (something about needing to get on top of small hills in order to be able to see the lay of the land which was vital to progressing in Fallout 4.....for like five hours) and I woke up with my throat burning and a cough. Ever since I had the croup in childhood, my coughs are always these horribly nasty whooping things as well so they make my throat hurt even more. There's also a couple of degrees of fever up in this bad boy and a pounding headache.

I'm not dying (I think) but I am very, very uncomfortable, and no fit shape to do any writing.

So today I'm going to get that poll result up, and not much else. And tomorrow we'll start the new poll. And I'm going to beg you all for clemency for dragging that out as jazz hands. And then my plan is to put up posts over the weekend (two a day if I can manage it) to bring us back up to our regular output.

Remember, not every day is going to be a 2500 word count day. Some days, life happens. But if you write a little something to keep your fire burning and your wordsmith honed, then when the planets are aligning a little better, you can really chug it out.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Last Chance to Vote (Best Dystopia Semifinal 2)

What is the best Dystopia?    

Handmaid's Tale is definitely going on to our final round, but things are a little closer for next three.

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

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