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

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Prompt: What Have You Done For Me Lately?

Janet Jackson: What Have You Done For Me Lately
That's a LOT of 80s in one picture.
There are three wonderful regular bloggers here at Writing About Writing who are not me, and of course, I'm always looking for more, but since I literally pay less than the price of a decent chimichanga, I can't be too picky when I don't have a guest post ready to go on Thursday. Therefore, I will reintroduce the writing prompts on Thursdays when I am sans a post from either a regular blogger here or a guest post.

Based on the unexpected runaway success of yesterday's post, I have a small exercise in affirmation and positivity that I think most writers would find useful–especially if they're going through a time in their lives when it's not as easy to pour some serious dedication into their work in progress. Of course we're never going to make money and pay bills and certainly never get rich and famous writing Facebook posts and strongly worded letters to products that have disappointed us, but there is also a place to be made for remembering that "Write Every Day" is a piece of advice that is based on keeping a skill set sharp–a skill set that can atrophy with disuse. Not every day of that daily writing is always going to involve ten hours of your very best effort on your Great American Novel.

A lot of athletes understand this concept. When they are unable to train for their big event for reasons ranging from personal issues to injury, they still do a little something to stay in shape. It's no substitute for training, but they know that letting their bodies go completely would be even worse.


Write down a list of everything you have written in the last 72 hours (three days). Don't just count the word or page count for things you consider to be headed for publication one day. Include e-mails, Facebook posts, journals, letters, character sketches (the written ones), outlining, product reviews. Even put your chats to people if they involved more than dinner plans, emoji, and "LOL."

Tally up every single thing you've written. If it's possible, get a word count or rough word count of it all.

Guess at the pages this would be. (A double spaced typed page is roughly 250 words.)

It's very important to write out this list. Conceptualizing a few things in your head will not have the same effect. You need to be looking at a hard copy of all the things you have written and be able to see them stretched out from end to end.

Now, this is the hard part:

Take a deep breath (very deep) and remind yourself that this is writing. It won't get you published. It won't get you paid. It probably won't get you groupie threesomes. But it will keep a skill from going dull. And if you're not in a place where you have the time, the energy, the luxury of sitting down to work on your magnum opus, it will do the trick in a pinch to keep you sharp.

And when your life is a little more forgiving and you can get back to that thing you're dying to work on, you will not have to start over with remembering which end of the pen goes down.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Don't Make It So Damned Hard

Danny Shanahan
Image description: Boy and girl looking at chalk words on the sidewalk.
Girl holding chalk.
Caption- "I try to write a little bit every day."
You know I tell most writers to write every day.

Well, I hope you know that. At least by now.

[If this is your first time here at Writing About Writing, you are excused from today's lesson, but tomorrow you're going to get a pop quiz and the only question on it will be "How often should I write if I really really want to be a writer and I just really want to 'make it'?"]

I mean "Write every day" is about as close to writing advice panacea as you can get. The only thing that might be more useful is to tell writers to read every day. You might be surprised to discover how many would-be writers think they're going to have great writing careers without reading constantly.

I know about half of the people that get the advice to write daily, pretty much ignore it. "Not me," they think. "I'm a special snowflake. Writing every day is for other writers. I have to follow my creativity or else it'll feel like work. Takes all the fun out of it to try and be disciplined. Nope."

These folks are sure they're going to make it by writing only when they are moved to write by the forces of their muse. Even if, consistently and predictably, that only happens once or twice a year and never seems to get them through an entire project from beginning to end.

Let's talk brass tacks with Chris, here: it really doesn't matter.

Wait what did he just say? Did he actually say writing every day doesn't matter? Is this bizarro world? Does he have a goatee? Is it raining spam loaves? What the hell?

Nope. It doesn't matter.

Ever. If these folks would get what they love out of the artistic process of creativity and enjoy the act of writing, this post would be over already because there would be no need for all this anxiety.

Please remember that you don't have to write any set amount of time or any set amount of time per week or month or year or day to BE a writer. You decide your level of involvement. You decide if you want to be a writer like people who are in their office baseball team play baseball. (Yes, it's really baseball they're playing even if they don't get paid or go do double headers in Tallahassee.) You decide if you want to do the city intramural team. You decide if you want to give all it would take to play baseball professionally in the minor leagues.

You can BE a writer by writing. That's it. The list is over.

But if you want to pitch for the Red Sox, you better be ready to train every day.

So many folks who don't want to write every day want to be writers with a capital W and in a glittery font. (Writer!)

They want to do book tours and have fans and make that sick as fuck, successful-writer money. It's not a fulfilling pastime, a rewarding hobby, an amazing catharsis, or even a great way to make sideline cash. It's fucking "DAYJOB OR BUST!"

Ride or die!

And they ask how to make that possible.

Most of them will come back every couple of years and ask the same question about what the secret is to be a working writer. (I've had literally the exact same people return to me three and four times at each sort of "tier" of my and this blog's success––good outreach, making money, making a living wage, becoming internet "known"––and each time I told them the same thing: "Write every day. Get a post up pretty close to daily. Don't stop. Or if you're doing fiction, get a chunk written every day."   Each time they walked away as if I had spoken confusingly of transcending their "moon blood" to align their fiery center....in the dead language of Ardhamagadhi.

Others really want permission to not write, so they'll ask some other writer the same ardent, sincere, heartfelt question (and ignore that writer as well when they give the same advice). They will do this over and over and over and basically shop this question around until they finally illicit the answer they want–someone who says some version of "You don't have to write every day."

Oh thank GOODNESS! Permission!

For my part stepping into this morass of folks who ask my advice about how to "make it," but get mad when I answer them, I have to admit that it takes some thinking to understand exactly how someone who expresses undying love for an activity and says they want to be one of the greats at it might balk at the mere suggestion that they do it a little each day.




It's also possible that "Write every day" as advice is conjuring images just a bit too unyielding and a bit too prescriptive. Not every day has to be a grueling six to eight hour session on your work in progress.

What the folks shopping for the advice they want to hear–like a keen bargain hunter at a Swap Meet–often don't realize is, these writers who "don't write every day" a lot of times actually do write almost every day. In many of these cases, those who proudly announce that they have avoided daily writing turn out to mean on their novel, and when you dig a little deeper, you find that they do freelance writing or write press releases as their day job, or any number of other things that are writing in an average day.

I'm not kidding about this. Pull a few layers back on those stories if you think you've found the promised land of milk, honey, and writers who "make it" by bursting to the page, driven by creativity, only when it cracks over their head like thunder.

There's probably a little more there. Like onions...or parfaits.

I once read a published author's blog where she swore up and down that she never wrote every day.


Not her. No way.

She had kids.

She had a job.

She had a life.

She couldn't afford that sort of nonsense.

She was just built differently than all those other writers. She was a very special snowflake. About 1500 words into this diatribe on how wrong all those hundreds of "big-shot authors" were to chant the daily writing mantra, she revealed that well of COURSE she did fifteen to thirty minutes every morning in longhand, often working out the kinks of her next big project.

Wait....what?  Seriously?
Image description: Me...looking hella confused.
Another explained that they wrote their novel in six weeks locked in their family's cabin on the lake, and they had done "nothing" for months before that. This one was in person so I had the chance to ask a few follow-up questions. "Nothing" turned out to be character sketches, outlines, and a daily obsession over how to word specific scenes that essentially amounted to drafting without paper. This was done at the same time as a daily diet of voracious reading, and a job that required....(can you guess?)....daily writing.

Then, of course, eventually. you do find one. Someone who really doesn't write every day. But on closer examination, you discover they dutifully do something like write sixteen hardcore hours on weekends and think about their characters all fricken day long during the week when between IT calls.

Because, of course, that kind of dedication was really what people were thinking about when they were trying to not write every day. Sure.

Who hasn't written an e-mail and added some flair? Who never puts some thought into a post on Facebook? Who doesn't sometimes prefer chat to a face-to-face because they can take time to put their thoughts into careful, precise words? Who hasn't tried to bring their full force writer skill to a Yelp review just to flex their muscles a little? Who keeps no journal, pens no letters, writes literally nothing in a day? Other than maybe those who really (truly) don't enjoy writing.

You don't have to make daily writing so hard. Writing is a skill. It's like playing basketball, playing the cello, or playing World of Warcraft at the endgame raid level. If you don't do it, you get rusty. If you don't do it for long enough, you kind of start to suck again. If you do it a little, you don't really improve and people who are trying hard will pass you like you're standing still. If you do it every day, you'll get better. If you really push yourself to be the best you can every day, you improve remarkably in a relatively short time.

Obviously you're never going to get your book deal if you spend your days crafting angry political Facebook posts or florid e-mails to your grandma. No one will publish your longhand morning journal. You're never going to finish if you only write fifteen minutes a day. And your day job writing might pay the bills but it's up to you to decide if it's fulfilling you creatively.

If you want to write creatively for a living*, you're going to EVENTUALLY have to apply your ass to the chair on a project and finish your shit (day job style). Same if you want all these accolades of authorial success**.  And when you do sit down, it's going to be ten times easier to keep chugging if you've already established a routine and regimen instead of just indulging a haphazard proclivity to write florid social media posts.

On the other hand, sometimes it's useful to remember that you're dealing with a skill set that you don't want to atrophy from disuse, not some mystic ritual that the old monks said was the key to success.

(*Do you? Really? Or are you perfectly happy writing just as much as you are driven by your creative mojo to write? It's okay to love writing part time. It really is.)

(**Is that really what you want? There's a lot to be said for writing because it blisses you out and not making a day job out of it. Being a day job writer is fucking hard work. Might be more enjoyable as a hobby.  We can oogle LaBron James's salary, but even the third stringers NBA players making their measly half a million salaries don't just show up for two hours on the weekends.)

And shhhh. Just between you and me: *looks around and whispers* It's probably okay if you only do six days a week. I often do. [2018 edit: I no longer take one day a week off, but I regularly have a couple of days a week where I do two or three hours instead of six to eight.]

There's a lot of push back in art against the idea that selling art requires work, and a lot of it lands in writing (and music too--lots of gonna-be-famous musicians out there who don't think they need to practice daily). Just remember that there's probably something to it if almost every single professional writer you admire is giving you the same one piece of advice over and over and over again. When everyone disagrees about how to get from A to B, you know you can blaze your own trail, but when they're all pretty much saying the same thing, that's when it's time to listen.

But also remember that you can't write an e-mail without the "write," and you don't have to always make everything so damned hard.

If you're enjoying this blog, and would like to see more articles like this one, the writer is a guy with a rent and insurance to pay who would love to spend more time writing. Please consider contributing to My Patreon. As little as $12 a year (only one single less-than-a-cup-of-coffee dollar a month) will get you in on backchannel conversations, patron-only polls, and my special ear when I ask for advice about future projects or blog changes.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Still sick.

I'm still sick, but the end of the week (and even the weekend) should have more of the OOMPH of the early part of most weeks since the superheroes are going to a Gizmos and Martial Arts convention this weekend.

Monday, April 25, 2016


Sorry folks.

It seems that petri dish toddlers and crushing life stress may not be two great tastes that go great together.

I have some time sort-of off coming up, and this week should have a Friday entry and kind of go backwards from our usual schedule.

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Dirt Under All Our Fingernails (Artists and Money)

Image description: The words "Art & Money on a
wall created out of US currency.
This is not an appeals post, but if it makes you want to donate through the Paypal link to the left or drop a buck into my Patreon, I surely won't complain.

I'm sort of trying to figure out how to make more money with Writing About Writing. I don't mean by exploiting it or anything. You won't see a sudden burst of pop-up ads for herbal strip Texas Hold Em Nigerian finance viagra porn enlargement or anything. (I thought about re-adding ads but I really want to try to avoid that.) Rather I want to give people the opportunity, and the gentle nudge to donate. Future endeavors will roll out much more quickly the closer I am to a full time writer. [2018 Edit: Almost there. Just need to pare down a few more side gigs.]

Of course I also know that I'm more likely to get patrons and donations if I'm not jazz handsifying so much. My "A-game" is still around here somewhere, I just left it in my non-cancer/moving/toddler pants. But based on how many weasels are clawing at the back of my skull even right this fucking second, if my calculations are correct, when this baby hits 88 miles an hour of writing time...you're going to see some serious shit.

Image Description: Back to the Future screenshot of Doc Brown and Marty in Twin Pines parking lot.

For the past four years since I started this blog, and absolutely since The Contrarian was in his third trimester almost three years ago, these following things have been true:

1- I did not really have to worry about money because my family situation was essentially the house husband to a family doing pretty darned well. Money I made from Writing About Writing went towards retirement fund, blog improvements, two-months-off-to-hammer-out-a-book-draft savings, and the occasional promotion of one of my articles on Facebook.

2- Donations have helped me make small tweaks to my schedule that produced a bit more writing (like cutting down from teaching two nights a week to one night a week or getting in a housekeeper twice a month), and they have certainly helped me muscle through some of my worst moments of feeling like I'd rather put the blog on hiatus during the tough times, but...

3- The real things affecting how often (and how long) I was able to write were not really tied to money. Money could get me a Monday night off or get a housekeeper in to do the deep cleaning so I had a bit less in chores, but the real things pulling me away from writing weren't going to be helped by money. Childcare, hospitals, stress. Unless I were making enough to hire a full time au pair or something, there's nothing to be done when life is coming on this strong–nothing but write as hard as possible in the cracks.

In about two to three months, none of these things will be true.

Not only will I no longer be able to afford a carefree attitude about money because I won't be living with said family anymore, but your donations will have a direct and immediate impact on how much I'll be able to write. And when I say immediate, I mean that there's a possibility that $100 on a Friday might mean I'm not driving Lyft that weekend, so I get a better article out as soon as Monday.

I'm also remembering a conversation with someone a couple of years ago on Livejournal. "I hate artists that talk about their page views and readership and sales," she said, "because I know that ultimately that is really just them getting people fired up about them making more money."

There's a tangle of paradoxical truths about artists and money and their sordid relationship to each other. One of the most pernicious, that goes way back, is that a "real" artist shouldn't care about money. They should just do their art and let it speak for itself.


Absolute fucking bullshit.

Image description: snob w/ pipe;
but w/o monocle
Not just run of the mill, "vomitoriums-are-where-the-Romans-threw-up-during-orgies" level bullshit. This is the kind of bullshit that actually has its roots in class oppression and general human assholery.

What this cultural narrative is basically saying is that art is only for the rich. If you can't sit around and do art leisurely with no need to ever get paid for it, then you are an unworthy artist sullying the entire thing with your plebeian need for food and clothing. And in the writing world, you see this in everything from MFA disdain for pragmatism and business level classes to a sneering contempt for commercial success.

It's possible to do art if you're struggling at two jobs working sixty hours a week, but art is actually work, and that means that it's likely to take significant commitments of time and energy. And your creative brain needs its needs met (and not to be putting out fires all the time) to work at peak efficiency.

Now (stay with me for a just a second) who do you think out there might want to make sure that the kind of art being produced by folks who don't really need money is considered more real, more worthy, and more exemplary of what real art is, and the kind of art being produced by folks trying to make a living with it is a voice they want to silence or muffle.

Take all the time you need.

This whole thing where artists recoil from being paid and people think asking to have their artistic labors compensated is uncouth is the propaganda of the class war of attrition. It keeps art and artists, their voices, and their expressions, coming from the upper crust, where the struggles of the less privileged are ignored. And even though there are fewer overt and explicit attempts by the higher classes to spell this out these days, the culture (like much of the "high art world") has deep roots in a time that very much did.  The social barriers that are created to separate classes in entertainment and expression are as tried and true as table etiquette. (And equally as meaningless.)

Navigating getting paid is the fish fork of the art world. And the bourgeois anesthetized art world that it creates, afraid to acknowledge that art is work, and artists don't all have trust funds and rich husbands, suffers for its lack of voices.

For one, many artists you can think of worked for money. DaVinci, Shakespeare, Picasso, Mozart. They were all working for a paycheck. Dickens had a billion kids to pay for. Warhol came from an immigrant coal miner who died when he was young. Scorsese came from poverty. And even though you can probably name a few who never made a dime from their work like Van Gogh or Dickinson (both from families monied enough that they didn't have to work very much, if you're keeping score), you often have to look at careers that were only posthumously honored to do so.

But more to the point, the idea that someone with a skill they have worked years perfecting shouldn't ask for money to ply it is preposterous in any other trade. There are a number of memes lampooning this idea about trying to get hotels to work for "future opportunities" or cooks to work for "exposure" or plumbers being told that illegally not paying for their work is doing them a favor. We only have this taboo around art because of the ancient traditions of who is "allowed" to be an artist.

Should an artist do their art only for the money?


Most artists–in fact, almost all artists–have to face the fact that their art work is probably never going to pay their bills (at least not all of them) and pretty much every artist save a fraction of one percent has not had to look themselves in the mirror and ask themselves the really hard question of whether or not they'd do it anyway.

Most artists worth their salt would do it anyway. It yearns to come out. No matter how many day jobs they have, the art squeezes out of their soul like the Play-Doh spaghetti press.

But asking for money once the art or entertainment product is done is another thing altogether. Trying to make money from art is as old as the capitalistic value of starving people to death who aren't producing enough labor to feed the capitalistic machine. (As is the view that if they were going to make it anyway, why should I bother paying for it, Chris added cynically.)

Is marketing and networking more important than the art itself?


Over-promotion is something that everyone with limited content really needs to worry about. And that saturation point is probably going to feel different to each socio/economic class. (Shockingly the more money you have, the less of an issue it is, and the more uncouth it is to talk about it.) However an artist with superb art and no reach will be similarly unable to pay the bills. So the work can't just "speak for itself" if no one is listening. Most, in fact pretty much all, artists have to come up with ways to promote their work and market it. Or did you think that the trailers at the beginning of your movie were fundamentally different than "Hey, you like writing, you might want to check out my blog."

Should an artist change their art based on what will sell?


There's this idea that artists shouldn't sell out for money, but....we all do. Seriously even Fitzgerald, that fucking pretentious fucker, wrote shitty movies for Hollywood. And James Joyce had to borrow money repeatedly from rich friends because he had so many money-making schemes go awry. Money matters to an artist because if it dries up, they have to go get a job and stop making art. Hard to keep writing (or painting or whatever) if the power's out, you know?

Should an artist worry about materialism?

Yes. Yes. YES. FUCK YES!

Look, you don't find too many artists living in opulence. You don't find very many artists cruising around in expensive cars or flashing around their conspicuous consumption. The best outfit someone in the London Philharmonic owns is probably their formalwear for when they play. Most working artists interested in leaving behind side gig hobbyism for "The Show" want to do their art as much as possible and pare down their day job lives to give them as much art time with their art as possible. Most artists don't cruise around the French Riviera going into bankruptcy. If artists (who were not born into high class) have a predilection for spending money, it is PROBABLY on other art. Visual artists have more paintings than wall space. Filmmakers have rooms full of movies. Performers are constantly going to the theater. Writers' houses could easily be moderately-sized libraries.

But artists still have to fucking eat. And no one's getting a writer's next book if they're too busy driving a taxi to make rent instead of that third revision. They aren't some ethereal beings who pull their inspiration out of the celestial kingdom and never need sleep and can write just as well only on sleep-addled weekends between jobs two and three.

Artists worry about the same shit you do. Their rent. Their electric bills. Their retirement plan. Their health insurance. And if people like their art, giving them shit about trying to get that stuff covered, so that they can go on making art is especially butts.

So what does it all mean?

You mean besides the fact that I need to step slowly away from the rant that started at 7am? And that maybe I should switch to decaf and make sure all my roommate's Adderall pills are accounted for? You mean as some kind of advice?

  1. Don't be afraid to ask for money.
  2. Recognize where your refined sense that artists shouldn't be at all materialistic comes from.
  3. Remember that you'll probably never pay the bills with your art, and ask yourself if you want to do it anyway.
  4. If you can ever be the househusband of a family doing pretty well, jump on that shit, because it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and otherwise you'll have to set up a Patreon like me.
  5. Oh and if you do love art, pay the artist.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Don't Forget to Vote (Best Non-Binary Character)

Image Description: Orlando A Biography
By Virginia Wolf
What is the best non binary character in fiction?  

We're over half way through April already (can that be right?), so don't forget to vote in our April poll.

The poll description can be found here.

The poll itself is down on the left hand side at the bottom.

Please don't forget that our poll program will only track your IP address for one week, so since I can't stop shenanigans, I'm asking for as much of it as possible. Vote early. Vote often.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Through the Worst of Times....Write On!

Yesterday's post–that little ten paragraph spit of personal update–took me twelve hours of sitting in front of my computer to write.

This post is part confessional, part excuse, and part....well, I hope something along the line of a pep talk.

I told you there might be a lot of personal updates in the next couple of months. After that we'll get back to my usual air/fuel mixture of mailboxes, advice, serial posts, ridiculous plot posts, and jazz fingers, but for now the lease in my brain is being repeatedly renewed by health problems, money problems, housing problems, and what-the-fuck-am-I-supposed-to-do-with-my-life-now problems.

Thank God for Ikea, I guess.

Last week I worked 45 hours at home wrangling toddler and cleaning, worked another seven and commute change teaching, did some packing, and poked around to find some possible living arrangements for the end of summer. And that was before I wrote a word.

Anyone paying any attention knows that I'm struggling lately, not just with the time and energy to come to the page but also with the emotional execution to write coherently once I'm actually there. My stories about a forty year old divorcee who gets a super soldier serum and destroys corporate capitalism by having THAT MANY THREESOMES notwithstanding, it's been tough to write lately. Sitting down to something meaningful when your brain is a cauldron of worry and stress isn't easy. The family situation I have so often blogged about in the past (and because of whom I have been able to do as much writing as I have) won't be there anymore, and when choices like living in one 10x10 room or commuting forty minutes are stuck in one's head, the words don't flow.

But by fuck, they come eventually.

I wrote a little while ago that the way out is through. For people who can set aside their writing in times of trouble, I almost recommend it. What a load off of one's mind and the time and energy to devote to what ever is going on. But for those of us who can't step away from writing, writing becomes our salvation.

I think this more than ever before writing becomes the way I am digging through literally the worst time in my life. I come to the blank page and it's like my brain has become a wild Mustang. It's everywhere and it will bolt at the slightest attempt to control it. There are a million things to think about and my fucking....blog post isn't one of them. That's why posts are going up so late and haphazardly lately.

But slowly, by degrees, I rope it in and get it close. One sentence--copied out of a book (just to get the words moving). One more sentence--this time half my own words. Two more--both mine. Then another two after that a little faster. Like a train slowly picking up steam...the words begin to come.

And it's not just the words appearing on the page (or the screen). It's not just that now I have done a paragraph. It's not just that now I might get a post up before midnight. My mind is also calming. It's jumping less. It's coming under my control. I am beginning to control it instead of it controlling me. And soon I'm writing. Not fast. Not a lot. But it's happening, and I'm back in control. Thoughts still spring unbidden, but they are slapped aside like greedy fingers reaching for attention instead of indomitable fists crashing into consciousness.

And after I've written, when I return to those thoughts that have preoccupied me, I it is as a well oiled project manager and not a frightened child reacting without thought. Now I can think straight. Now I can figure this out. I ask what we need, what we have, what our priorities are, and the answer becomes clear. Writing did that.

And it feels so good. It's all the catharsis and artistic bliss of finishing a manuscript that rushes through me. Even though I've done seven paragraphs and it has taken me twelve hours. I did it. And tomorrow I'm going to do it again.

If I have one bit of advice for writers, it should already be crystal clear what it is, but just in case I'll spell it out one more time:

This is the reason I make money writing. This is the reason I have a body of work. This is the reason I have regular readers. This is the reason I don't get writers block. This is the reason that I improve over the years. It's the reason books are being written in the background even as a blog gets updated daily. But more importantly than any of that, it's the way through the shittiest chapters of my life.

Eventually it's going to suck. Eventually it's going to get hard. Eventually the words won't come. Eventually you're NOT going to want to do it more than anything in the world. Eventually it's not going to be idyllic rainbows and unicorn cumshots. Eventually the words will feel like the hardest thing you've ever faced.

And that is when you have to JUST KEEP WRITING.

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Logistics of Writing About Writing's Future (Personal/Meta)

I am currently up to my eyeballs in logistics. Now, to the untrained eye this might look like me merely stressing out about money, but I can assure you that things far, far more sophisticated than such plebeian shenanigans are going on in the old cranial cavity. FAR more sophisticated.

As you now know, I only have a couple of months left in my current housing/job arrangement. On top of everything else in my life that's currently exploding like a secret lair at the end of a superhero movie, the idyllic writing situation I've blogged about as a boon so often in the past is about to come to an end, and I have to figure out something to do both for a day job and find a place to live.

Obviously what I'd love to do is write for y'all 60 hours a week and have thousands of people throw me a couple dollars a month for my efforts and then I would be able to afford my own little place, and everything would be happy and I could retire to the magical land of lollypop dreams and rainbow fountains, work on my fiction surrounded by groupies, and never worry about love or money again.

But for SOME reason, something is going wrong between idea and execution though. Not sure exactly where the wires are crossed. I blame Shia LaBeouf for his "Do It!" video.

And I want you all to know that keeping Writing About Writing going is one of my top priorities, both to honor those who have set up regular donations, and to try to keep writing as fast as I can in order to hopefully find new donors and patrons so that I can "shift" more and more of my productive time to writing. (I  write every day no matter what, but the time and energy that goes into a typical blog post are a little more than my Groot/Voldemort slashfic.) I may have to live in a place the size of a postage stamp or move out to Antioch or Pittsburg, but if that's what it takes to keep writing time sacred, that's what I will do.

I'll even try to bring out my "A Game" blogging a little more often before I start begging incessantly. You should probably be ready for that though--my current situation has made money a bit of an afterthought (I was able to do less teaching each week because of all of you [and before current events occurred, I thought maybe I was going to be able to quit my summer school gig] and it helped me get a housekeeper in so that I could clean less and work more, but my writing time depended a lot more on cancer patients and two year olds than on the donation amounts, to be honest). Now that link between donations and my ability to write more is probably going to be immediate and direct.

And oft mentioned. At least a bit more oft than I have been.

Probably the next few months are going to be a lot of personal updates (if for no other reason than that is what my brain will be demanding I write about), and they might have an analogous grain of wisdom or three, but no one's life is exactly like mine, and my situation can't always be didactic.

But I will say this....I could work about 50+ hours a week, make about $2200 a month between babysitting, teaching, and maybe something like driving for Lyft. I could get an apartment locally--nothing spectacular, but a little place--and I could make it work. I would probably lose the couple hundred I make from writing, but that averages out to about $5/hr right now, and I'd make twice as much working any minimum wage job.

However, when I think about that arrangement, what I immediately consider is my writing. It's tough to work forty, fifty, sixty hours a week and then want to sit down and crank out more hours writing.

Not everyone has the savings to buy a Prius outright and make Lyft a decent investment. Not everyone has the education to teach. Not everyone has the flexibility to work for a family watching their wonderful kid. Not everyone has the luxury of being so flexible about the kind of work they can do. But almost everyone has some way they can make choices in their lives that prioritize their writing.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

In Praise of Libraries (Bethany Brengan)

I sat down to write a completely different type of post, but then I realized that this is National Library Week (in the U.S.). And there are few things I love more than libraries.

There’s been a narrative circulating (pun intended) that people don’t use libraries anymore, that libraries are “out of date.” (Which fits in nicely with the “nobody reads anymore” narrative and the “everybody’s getting stupider and stupider and we’re all doomed!” narrative that never goes out of style.) The truth about modern library usage is complicated (and would require endless links to surveys, which Chris will thank me for not making him format), but a 2013 Pew Survey found that about half of Americans over the age of sixteen had used a library at least once in the past year.

[Note from Chris: I also recently heard a report on NPR that there are more libraries now in the U.S. than there have ever been in U.S. history.]

Just think about how many individual library patrons that is. Never mind the patrons who visit their libraries repeatedly (and the patrons under sixteen).

I’m sitting in my local library as I type this and thinking of all the ways the library has affected my life in just the past week:
  • The first and most obvious is that I have been spending a lot of time working in the library lately. As a freelancer, I work from home, but recently, my home has experienced an influx of black mold. As the mess is slowly being removed, I’ve been spending some working hours at the library. When I first snuck in, carrying my laptop like some kind of contraband, I found that I wasn’t alone, in quiet nooks and crannies throughout the stacks, people were working on their computers: doing homework, catching up email, or just watching funny videos (I can hear them giggling). At first, I kept waiting for some librarian to come by, like the impatient cafĂ© waiter when you’re typing away and you haven’t ordered anything but coffee refills for hours. But no one cared. And I feel so much better, less achy and groggy, for these few hours of breathing freely.
  • There is a member of my family who is currently bedbound. I’ve picked up several DVDs and audio books for her this week. This doesn’t include the audio books she accesses through the library’s digital collection.
  • This past weekend was the quarterly Friends of the Library book sale. I bought (too many) books for myself and some books for my writers group.
  • I returned a interlibrary loan book and requested another one. (Did you know that if your library doesn’t have the book you want, you can request it from another library? Or that you can even request that they purchase the book you want?)
  • Tomorrow night, my book club will meet in the library, using book kits purchased for us by the library. When I moved to the area, the first friends I made were through this book club.

That’s only the past week. In the past year, I have attended a zydeco lesson, poetry discussions, author readings, and a Native American dance demonstration, all hosted by the library.  

But perhaps what I am the most grateful for is how much my writing has benefited from the library.

For example, when I was researching my article for Dick Grayson, Boy Wonder, I quickly realized that I didn’t have all the resources I needed, and I definitely couldn’t afford to purchase them. The interlibrary loan system was a manna from heaven.

Also, I consider myself a good researcher, but at one point, I hit a roadblock; I couldn’t figure out where to find information on how gender influenced (or didn’t influence) parenting styles. One of the reference librarians took me through the shelves, pulling out book after book, and within those books were references to other books. Which I requested through interlibrary loan. Which became a starting point for my research. My article wouldn’t have existed without my local library. I couldn’t have afforded to write it.

This is what libraries do, they equalize knowledge. They’re one of few places in our culture where money won’t get you better service and lack of it won’t keep from getting served.

If you are writer (or a reader), please consider how you can support your local library (whether through donations or joining your Friends of the Library). If for no other reason, do it because it’s in your best interest to foster a community of readers.  


Right now, there’s a woman working at one of the computer stations and a librarian is helping her access something. (Given the time of year, I’d guess it’s tax information.) “You’re a lifesaver!” she exclaims (as much as anyone “exclaims” anything in a library). It might sound like hyperbole, but I find myself nodding.

Bethany F. Brengan is a freelance writer and editor who reads too many comics. She is a contributing writer to Dick Grayson, Boy Wonder: Scholars and Creators on 75 Years of Robin, Nightwing and Batman (McFarland Books). Her poetry has appeared in The 2015 Poet’s MarketPoetry Quarterly, and The Crucible. She can be found at www.brenganedits.com andwww.readingwritingraptures.blogspot.com.

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

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Best Non-Binary Character (Poll)

What is the best non-binary character in fiction?

Our April poll is live!  

Most fiction sticks to the gender binary, but occasionally characters are, in one way or another, outside of that. From your nominations we have assembled a list of characters who defy the man/woman gender essentialism dichotomy.

This is a longer poll since there weren't quite enough nominations to split it into semifinals, so everyone will get five votes (5). Before you simply vote for your favorite five, consider that, as there is no ranking of those five 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.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016


I need a day off so bad right now. I'm sorry folks. I promise at least some jazz hands tomorrow.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Tumors and Teammates

Image description: Intravenous bag labeled with:
"Chemotherapy Must Be Handled With Gloves Once
Outside Bag is Removed"
Chemo round five today.

I'm watching The Contrarian while she does that and also keeping the home fires burning while the plumber replaces our water main from the PVC band aid we had jury rigged last week.

Keep Sonic Gal in your thoughts if you've got a few to spare. She could use them. The chemo days themselves are mostly really long and boring, and maybe a little nauseating and tiring. Imagine sitting in a reclining chair for nine or ten hours while you are getting headaches, nausea, and fatigue. It's the days following that get phsyically bad as the chemo does its work of killing fast growing tumor cells just a little bit faster than it kills their human host.

This week (and three weeks from this week) are likely to be the really bad for the blog. The chemo rounds get worse each time. (The first one was just a couple of days of bleh. By the third round it took almost two weeks to get back to feeling vaguely normal.) I will keep doing everything I can to keep jazz hands going and get at least one article of substance up each week, but if I'm going to fail in this whole blogging-through-a-loved-one's-cancer process, it'll be this week or three weeks from now.

I have no idea what to expect from the radiation after that. That runs into summer school.

But wait...there's more. I told you a second round of crap was coming.

Well....the league of sidekicks has had a critical shortage in national funding. Pretty soon all sidekicks  throughout the U.S. will no longer be welcome to room and board in superhero halls--which are "resource rich to facilitate the particular needs of superheroes, and are over-utilized on sidekicks."

My days at the Hall of Rectitude are coming to an end.

I'll still be watching The Contrarian (at least a few hours a week, hopefully more if I can arrange it) and Sonic Gal says there's no reason we can't do a patrol once in a while, but I might have to get a sensible car and drive into Oakland from Antioch.

So in addition to everything else going on, I'm trying to line up some kind of working gig and a place to stay come August.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Credibility: Don't Lose your Reader

I write fantasy-adventure fiction.  That means I get to make things up.  So why am I in Japan doing research for Book 4 in The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy series?

1.  I write in an historical time period — the Meiji era of Japan.  Any time a writer uses an historical period or bases her work on an existing culture, it’s important to study that culture. Culture runs deep. Yes, one can change things up — and I do — but it’s important to know where your personal fictional culture is based on reality, what’s an extension of reality, and what’s plain made up. Historical fiction won’t have any credibility unless the writer knows the basic culture. Neither will speculative fiction. Think of Frank Herbert’s Dune series. It’s set in the far future, but the Fremen culture is based on contemporary and past desert societies. Things have certainly changed, but in a logical, developing way, just as real cultures develop over time and react to changing circumstances.  nne McCaffrey’s Pern series is the same. This applies to contemporary mystery, thriller and romance genres, too. If you write about an industry, for example, you must know the industry. For a police procedural or courtroom thriller, you better know how those things really work before you start messing with them.

2.  I also use folklore.  Sure, I extend it, twist it, bend it, but again, folklore is part of a society’s underpinnings. Myth and legend form what might be called the soul of a culture.  It’s the “givens" people don’t even realize fuel their, or their characters’, present-day thoughts and beliefs. What’s the fictional culture’s mythology? It’s important to find out, or it’s going to be just the same as the writer’s, all the time, and that isn’t credible, even if the writer is only one state over.

3.  I use actual history.  Just because it’s fun. It’s important to know what really happened so I can pull my characters into the mix in an authentic way. It’s also important to know how people disposed of trash, what their plumbing and sanitary systems were like, where their food came from and what it was, how their houses were built, what the climate is like, how they did their jobs and more.

Can a writer ever create an alternate reality that does not stem from a current or past reality in human experience? Can a writer create a society that is not related to or developed from a current or past society? I’m not sure it’s possible. Humans have much in common across cultures and across time. We tend to pair-bond. We love our children, though we might disagree mightily on how to raise them. Humans create stories, myths, and religions, and there are commonalities there, too. Perhaps the biggest difference is in the overall view of the organization of the universe. Yes, this is deep philosophical stuff. But how can a writer write about a culture — real, imagined or somewhere in-between — without considering the underlying assumptions about how the universe works affect how the people think, what disgusts them, what thrills them, what has meaning to them?  I don’t think one can.

What do I do? What might you do to improve your fiction — ANY fiction?

1.  Use conventional research methods. I dive into the Internet. I visit libraries. I seek out data and dig in. I have three hard-copy books to read right now containing literature from my era. Pain in the neck. I want them in my Kindle, but they are important books, so I will read them in hard-copy. I know much more than I need to for the stories I tell, but this knowledge is what makes them authentic and readable, and it also helps stories develop.

2.  Talk to people.  When I ask people about history, folktales, myths and legends, when I investigate religious and philosophical practices and beliefs, I learn things the books don’t tell me.

3.  Visit relevant museums and locations.  I learn more about why people did things a certain way and not another, based on their environments combined with their beliefs, when I can see and sense those environments for myself.

I do all this for Tween and Up fantasy-adventure, so that the story that builds in my mind makes sense in its time, place and culture. Nothing makes a writer lose reader credibility more than misrepresenting basic facts. There are well-known authors I cannot read because of what some might consider minor factual misrepresentations. Police officers no longer carry Colt .45 six-shooters. Writer, you’re losing me. Another: it’s not physically possible to ride a bike from Here to There in the time allotted. Writer, I might not even finish your book and I won’t be back. Once a writer loses credibility on easy to discover facts, that writer has lost the reader. The reader knows the writer cannot be trusted. If the writer sets a good factual basis, the reader buys into the writer’s world and will accept great leaps — a psychic police detective; the character’s super-special invention that allows that magical bike ride — in furtherance of the story.

Write your story any way you want, but be sure to fact-check and be sure to do your research before putting it out to the public.  Your readers will love you for it.

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



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.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Seconds and Nominations Needed! (Best Non-Binary Character)

Image: Ancillary Justice book cover.
By Ann Leckie
Who is the best non-binary character in fiction? 

I apologize that the week continues with me giving you the ol razzle dazzle. I have several good ideas and even a few half started posts, but it has been one hell of a week here at The Hall of Rectitude. In addition to the broken water main and its band-aid fix (which has reduced the water pressure enough that sometimes the other appliance think they're not getting water) there's been some trouble with my sidekick renewal paperwork, and I may soon have to find a new place to live.

Who is the best non-binary character in a written work of fiction?  Our April poll needs nominations. But mostly it needs seconds to its existing nominations.

As a small but unfortunate reminder (given how much love Sandman got), the polls here at Writing About Writing are strictly about written books. It's not that I don't like graphic novels, and it's certainly no bullshit like I don't think they're "real art" or anything, but writing in a text only medium means the tools for creating portrayal are very different. Both action and description must be described. I may eventually run some polls about writing in other media though.

Pop over here if you want to see the rules, see who's been nominated, second or make a new nomination. Please don't put a nomination here. I'll take it, but you want it where more people will see it.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

March's Best

I had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day yesterday, and was noticing that nothing I was writing was really congealing very well for today's article. But then I remembered that it's April! And that means we have not yet done the best of March. So here they are, all ready to go on to fame and glory in W.A.W.'s Greatest Hits.   

Once More Unto the Brink Believe it or not, there's even more personal strife coming.

But It's Just WORDS Our Social Justice Bard cross-post challenges the idea that words are harmless.

I Just Can't Write (Mailbox) S is having trouble writing. How can they get past that?

Honorable Mention: Say Something (Punctum) I had a little extra money at the beginning of the month (but not at the end) to promote some of these articles. This article almost beat "I Just Can't Write." Who knows what it might have done if I'd been able to throw a $10 promotion budget at it like I did some of the others.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Best Single Plot Arc in a Multi-Book Series (Poll Results)

Thank you everyone for voting. We got a really good spread (except between fourth and fifth place) and a LOT of participants. And except for LotR tearing out into the lead and never letting go, the poll was reasonably close until my last call for eleventh hour votes (last night).  So a big thumbs up and thank you to so many of you who participated.

I think I'm starting to get the hang of how to do a monthly poll that doesn't lose its momentum by the end of the first week.

And please don't forget to nominate (or second the nominations that are there) for our April Poll: Best Non Binary Character. That poll will be going up soon–especially if we're going to need a quick semifinal round to thin the poll to a reasonable size.

Friday, April 1, 2016

The Top 5 Mistakes Made by Self-Published Authors (Bethany Brengan)

There are many good reasons to self-publish (more authorial control, a bigger piece of the financial pie, trying to put out a book in a niche market, etc.). And the perception of self-published books has changed a lot recently, making readers much more willing to give their time and money to these titles. However, self-publishing comes with unique pitfalls. The following list is based on the mistakes I’ve seen self-published authors make, listed in order of perceived severity (i.e., the closer to the top of the list, the more likely this pitfall is to affect your book sales and readers’ enjoyment).

  1. Publishing too quickly. Some authors self-publish because they are unwilling to wait. They get a handful of rejections, or they become frustrated with the tedious cycle of traditional publishing, and they end up putting out books themselves. Books that, unfortunately, read more like second drafts than fully polished manuscripts.

In the afterglow of the first (or second, or third) revision, it can become tempting to believe that your book needs to be in the hands of the reading public right now. You feel that your idea is so great that if it was just available in print (or eBook), the readers and the money would immediately start flooding in. So you publish—without a final revision, or a marketing plan (more on this later). The truth is that the manuscript probably needs to sit for a couple weeks so that you can look at again with less lovestruck eyes. And after you’ve done that and made the necessary rewrites, you need to hand it to someone else (e.g., writing mentor, critique partner, well-read friend), someone who will be honest with you (preferably someone who is neither related to, or in a romantic relationship with, you). Remember that writing isn’t about proving your unquestionable genius to the world, but about putting out a good book. And at some point, this will mean accepting (constructive) criticism and making more rewrites than you had originally planned for. Most good things take time.  

  1. Accepting terrible covers. I cannot overstate this problem. I have watched books sink or swim on their covers. A cover is your first point of marketing. It will be the image readers associate with your  book. It needs to be good. And not just in a sense that it appeals to you and your closest family members.

A cover has three jobs: to catch the reader’s eye; to suggest the tone, content, and genre of the book; and to be recognizable and clear at various sizes. Ideally, a cover feels both familiar and unique (“That looks like a baking-themed cozy-cottage mystery, but a baking-themed cozy-cottage mystery I haven’t read yet”) and will look just as good and as clear to readers shopping on their iPhones as it does to those browsing their local Barnes and Noble.

That’s a tall order, even for an experienced designer. And yet many authors think they can slap some clip-art and text onto a colored rectangle and call it a cover.

This is where to you need to put money. I am not a designer by any stretch of the imagination, but I can tell you that it’s not usually a compliment when a reader says your book “looks self-published.” What they generally mean is that it fits the stereotype of unprofessional looking covers that readers have come to associate with self-published books. (This is not purely a self-publishing problem; many small presses have the same issue.)

It feels cruel to pick out specific books as examples of bad covers, but try doing an Amazon search of nonsense genres, and then look at the results. At each cover, ask yourself, “Does this ‘look self-published’ to me? Why or why not?”

I attempted this with the phrase “fish romance”—partially because I thought it was a strange enough phrase that some self-published/small press books would show up on the first page of results, and partially because romance novels tend to have a distinct “look,” so it’s easier to compare their covers. The first page of my search results revealed entirely small press, self-published, and author co-operative novels. But my first impressions of the covers were very different. There were several nice covers from a single author who specialized in romance, and who obviously knew what she doing. The best covers also tended to let the reader know how “clean” the novel was or wasn’t going to be (ripped vs. unripped bodices). There was also a self-published romance title with a weird black bar taking up most of the cover and detracting from the interesting cover image. (‘Cause I always associate neon font on a black background with romance?) This was in combination with a painful use of mismatched fonts. It wasn’t a terrible cover, and people interested in its specific subgenre might pick it up anyway. But the chances are pretty good that, given a choice, readers will purchase a different book on the same topic with a more professional looking cover.   

"How YOU doin?"
Image description: Book cover--Barracuda Sequel to Free Fish Friday by Lee Stone 

  1. Not researching the market, or book marketing in general. Even if you don’t self-publish, you will need to know about book marketing. But if are self-publishing, you will need to know more than the average bear. I feel like a hypocrite writing this because I hate marketing. But I’ve learned that what I hate even more is seeing good books languish because they haven’t reached their readership.

I specifically remember a book that a certain publisher I worked with was very excited about. It was beautifully constructed and met a need in the market. And yet. . .the publisher had the hardest time selling it. Everyone who bought a copy seemed to love it (heck, I loved it). But the author had more or less dropped it off at the publisher’s doorstop like a foundling and moved on to other projects. Without an author behind the book, willing to push it, it never met its potential. So before you publish, do your research. Learn who your readership is. Learn where they find their books, what social media platforms they use, what authors they follow (and why).

Before readers can love your book, they have to know it exists.

  1. Unprofessional interactions with readers. I’ve just mentioned using social media, but honestly, some authors need their Twitter accounts wrested from their twitchy little hands. It’s not that you can’t be strange and eccentric online; it’s that you have to pay attention to what you’re selling. If you’re writing about conspiracy theories, then you might be able to get away with long rants about the Illuminati. But if you’re writing Regency romances, it might be time to dial back on the “lizard-people-are-the-reason-for-contrails” posts. Or to deliberately separate your professional accounts from your personal ones. The point is that you don’t want to drive away readers who would enjoy your book even if the content of your Facebook fights isn’t for them. Also, I’m not going to tell you to never get into fights online, but please, please, please do not fight with reviewers (professional or otherwise). The author never emerges smelling sweet.

This advice extends into personal interactions with readers. I’ve watched people kill sales (and not just book sales) by breaking into completely unrelated side-rants during their sales pitch. In any semi-entrepreneurial setting, keep your conversation to general pleasantries and the topics addressed by your book. Assume that your readers have different opinions and life experiences than you do. And if the topic of your book is controversial, then present yourself as a thoughtful authority on topic. Readers are more likely to respect your work if you show that you can respect them first.

  1. No copyediting. This is last on the list because while editing is important, a misplaced comma isn’t going to make or break you. After content editing considerations are taken care of (see my earlier post on the different types of editing), the goal of copyediting is to make your meaning clear and create a text that looks professional and consistent. As a reader, I’ll generally forgive a couple typos and missing commas in a book, but if there’s a mistake in the back cover blurb or the opening paragraph, chances are pretty high that I’ll put the book back on the store shelf. My assumption is that if the author didn’t care enough to double-check the back cover or the first page, then maybe the author didn’t care enough to put in the work an interesting book requires. While readers will forgive a lot for the sake of a helpful informational text or a well-paced story, you will see a number of Amazon reviews along the lines of “After the third use of ‘should of’ instead of ‘should have,’ I just couldn’t keep reading.”

In other words: “Make your best possible book and make sure readers know about it.”

Bethany F. Brengan is a freelance writer and editor who reads too many comics. She is a contributing writer to Dick Grayson, Boy Wonder: Scholars and Creators on 75 Years of Robin, Nightwing and Batman (McFarland Books). Her poetry has appeared in The 2015 Poet’s MarketPoetry Quarterly, and The Crucible. She can be found at www.brenganedits.com and

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