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

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Needed: You

Two quick reminders as I do a quick pass through the blogoverse on my way back to the pages of some fiction I'm trying to get out.

First....we are in the last week of my book's Kickstarter.

And we're trying hard to get this bad boy done or close to done about a year from now (instead of several months to a year longer). It's looking pretty good for our second flex goal, but we could still use your help. And don't forget that even a couple of dollars will get you on our mailing list.

The first round of reader-nominated choices is in the poll at the bottom of the right side.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Truthsome Liar (Personal Update)

Image Description: The word "Firefly"
against a parchment background written in a
golden illuminated flowing cursive script
We have achieved peak stress here at The Hall of Rectitude. The guest halls are filled beyond capacity with visiting superheroes. Cancer treatment goes on. And of course right now I'm about 1/3 the way through summer school.

Plus I'm trying to write some fiction in the last few days of promoting my Kickstarter so I can point to those stories and say, "See look, I can write if you give me a chance."

That means we have also achieved peak JAZZ HANDS!!!

As usual, I will do everything in my power not to put the blog on hiatus or miss days, but it could get a little fluffy around here on T-W-Th for the next few weeks. Once some of these stressors start clearing out, and my Kickstarter is over, I will begin bringing all systems back online one by one.

In the meantime, I'm going to tell you about a dream. Actually, I'll probably tell you about it on Thursday (since right now I'm still short a guest blog post). But in order to appreciate it, the first thing you have to know is that I started to have Firefly dreams about three years ago, and this was the first one:

I was a member of the crew (during the show, not post-movie) so the whole ship was alive. And I remember having this sense that I wasn't exactly sure what I DID in this group. I mean Jayne was the gun guy and there was a medic and the spiritual guidance, but I didn't seem to have any particular niche.

We were searching this huge, ostentatious house for the bits to what I think will make the Lassiter actual function (dream logic got a little fuzzy on the details here but the fencing value would skyrocket if we could get it working.) Of course, being the hardened criminals we are, we each have our bags of...um....not so laser-gun spoils that we've collected from around the house. While Jayne has quite the collection of foodstuffs and a pair of pistols named Castor and Pollux (NO idea where the fuck in my brain THAT came from), I have gathered up e-readers and fuzzy blankets. Inara had two objects d'art that she had actually recognized. Kaylee was trying to wheel a swanky toolbox from the workshop.

Mal starts to round us up and tells us it's time to go with a fairly huge sense of urgency. Everyone's asking him if he heard that the police were coming on the wave or something, and he just keeps saying no but hurrying us on. "Mission's over. Because I said so. Any folk don't wanna get left, get back to Serenity double take."

I asked him what was the damned rush, and he looks at me: "You are. You're the truthsome liar. You gotta wake up and get to writing so that folks like me can make a go of it. It's time."

And then I woke.

To be continued.....

Monday, June 27, 2016

How Many Books? (Mailbox)

Image description: Mailbox with the word "books" on it.
[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will try to answer a couple each week. I have a LOT of backlogged questions right now because my life is a dumpster fire, but I will try to eventually get to all of them.  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. Don't forget that I can be a little bit snarky.]    

Robert asks:

How many books do I have to read before I'm allowed to write a book?

My reply:

I sort of wonder about the wording of this question, if writing is really for you, but stick with me through the reasoning part before you just call me an asshole and throw your laptop across the room, okay? Maybe I'm way off base.

Here's what you do Robert. Pull out a notebook or laptop or something and start writing a book. Make it a really ostentatious beginning by putting "Chapter 1" in great big letters on the first page. It's really important that you sit down intending to write a book, or at least thinking that you will. It won't work if you only ever intend to write "Chapter 1." You have to have the intent to go forward with the whole novel writing business.

Then wait.... Listen. Shhhhh.

Do you know what you hear?  Nothing. No footsteps pounding up the stairs? No hovercraft outside the window? No clickty click of little spiders? Do you know why you can't hear those things, Robert?

It's because the writer police don't exist.

You're "allowed" to do whatever you want, which includes trying to write without reading very much. You'd certainly be in good company...or at least lots of company. No one will try to stop you if you sit down to write a book before having read some specific bellwether number of books. (Achievement unlocked: "I can haz writing?") They might advise against thinking you're going to pen a bestseller if they sort of can't remember the last time they saw you curled up with a book, but "allowed" is probably not going to be an issue.

Okay, so maybe you didn't mean "allowed." Maybe you meant when is it advisable or recommended. When will your Aunt Gertrude stop making that clicking noise behind her teeth, wagging her liver-spotted fingers in your face, and saying "If you want to be a writer, Robert, you're going to have to read a lot more than you do. A lot more, young man."

Unfortunately you're also not going to find a formula. It would be really cool if such a thing existed: "At one thousand books you may write a short, genre novel, but to tackle literary fiction, you will have to read at least eighteen hundred and fifty books, including half from dead white guys. Trilogies require no less than 2500 books." Different writers will absorb the lessons of the works they're reading at different speeds. I've been reading voraciously for thirty years on and I'm only recently feeling like I've developed enough of an ear that I feel confident in my ability to write a sustained work of fiction like a book.

Not that I haven't written manuscripts. (Because I was "allowed" to do whatever I wanted.) I've got about six finished "books" in my "drawer of memorabilia" But they are very stilted. They are very rough. My friends read them at my insistence and did that, "I love you but..." smile when I asked what they thought. And a large part of that was that I just hadn't yet developed a relationship with language to make it do what I wanted. I was like a painter who sees tremendous visions in their heads, but still needs to learn how to make the colors and the lines and the brush strokes work for them before what's on the canvas will match.

What I can tell you is that most writers, the vast majority of writers, like 99.9% of writers read prolifically. They read constantly. They have stacks to-be-read and plow through 100 novels a year. I read hours a day of online material (articles and blogs) but I still plod my way through forty or fifty books a year. I spend a good four or five hours a day just reading.

This overlap between writers and readers is certainly not just a very strange coincidence. But it's also not a causal relationship. Most writers do not read with the intention of becoming good enough writers like Burgess Meredith is telling them to catch the chicken. ("Understand Ulysses Rocky. Anyone who can understand Ulysses can get published by Apollo Creed.") They read because they love it. They read because their world is words. As all the best chefs began as connoisseurs, so are all the best writers voracious consumers of words.

Of course what this question is sensitive to is just how much better the writing is of someone who reads a lot. Reading means absorbing writing techniques from the masters and the moderns alike. Consuming others' writing–what is good (and especially by reading what is terrible)–gives writers a honed ear for word choice, phrasing, clause mixing, pacing, dialogue, conflict, characterization and more. Reading gives writers a sense of vocabulary and of how to express things they're imagining in words. It gives them the tools to describe things with concrete detail instead of telling the reader how to feel.

But even so they don't read FOR all those things. Reading is not the regrettable cost of doing business to be a writer. A writer might push themselves to read more because they feel like they're slacking off, but they probably enjoy it once they've made the time for it. They read because they love it.

I'm really not sure what it is about writing that brings out this dynamic of reluctant readers among would-be-writers. It seems to make as much sense to have breathers who like to exhale only. Filmmakers know they have to watch tons of movies. Painters know they have to look at lots of paintings. Musicians are constantly listening to music. Everyone drinks deeply from the well of the art they wish to be good at to have a sense of what they like, of what is considered good, and of how not to do things that don't work. But also just because they love it.

If you want a good sense of good writing and a soft number on the estimate side, Robert, I'd say about a thousand books at a rough minimum. At a book a week that's about twenty years of prolific reading to form the solid basis for a sense of words that will serve you as a writer. You'll probably find that even the very few successful writers in their early twenties have read at least that much. But I would also encourage anyone serious about writing to continue a steady diet of ongoing reading as well.

It would probably be easier if there were writer police, and they simply informed us when we were "allowed" to begin writing. ("Our records indicate that you have read your 1237th book. You may now begin writing.") But for most serious writers the actual answer to the question of how many books one must read to be a writer is closer to: "I hope many, many more."

Friday, June 24, 2016

My Fiction (A Tour of Menus)

Image Description: Hands of a woman writing on a laptop.
In an ongoing effort to promote my Kickstarter (to write a book over the course of the next twelve months), I'm sharing the menu of my fiction, so folks can see what my more polished writing is like and what sort of style they would be supporting.

There's not much of it yet, but I'm working on that. In the last days of the Kickstarter, you can expect to see two or three more bits go up. A stand alone piece, and the final part of A Demon's Rubicon. Plus if there's time, the conclusion to something silly I was doing with superhero realism about eighteen months ago.

Sometimes, when I'm not writing about writing, I actually do some writing.  And I'm going to post some of it here.  How much depends on its success.

All material labeled "By Chris Brecheen" at Writing About Writing is the exclusive property of Chris Brecheen. It is intended solely for the non-commercial use of visitors to Writing About Writing and may not be reproduced or retransmitted in any form or by any means without the express written permission of Chris Brecheen–with the following single exception: Users are permitted to print out a singe copy of the material for their private use. They may, however, under no circumstances whatsoever reproduce or retransmit any such copies in any form or by any means without the express written permission of Chris Brecheen.

Users are welcome (and highly encouraged) to link to any and all pages at Writing About Writing, and to provide the URL for such links to other persons by any and all means.  As long as such means aren't deplorably violent nor do they exploit fuzzy puppies or cheese makers. Users may, however, under no circumstances whatsoever link to any pages at Writing About Writing within so-called "frames" or employing any other format that may mislead users as to the origin and location of Writing About Writing, or that could in any way suggest that the author of these works was anyone other than Chris Brecheen.

Also, if you enjoy one or some of these stories, please consider a donation of a dollar or two to fund future offerings of fiction on Writing About Writing.  I'll put all my fiction here if I can scratch out a bit of money doing so--even the longer stuff.

Shorter Works

Falling From Orbit- July 2012
Penumbra- October 2012
The Look- March 2013 Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5

Creative Nonfiction
A Demon's Rubicon- May 2013 Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5
Waking From Nightmares (A little stream of conscioiusnessy. Not my best, but it fits best here.)
A Pound of Flesh- Another piece that isn't QUITE just expository. An Ounce Returned

A Little Different (not everything here is "fiction" in the strictest sense of the word, but it's quite creative)

Hypocritical Heartwarming (Season One Finale)- December 2012 (Here is the Season 1 Recap)
Falling From Orbit (Live Action Role Playing Game)

NOTE: One of the unusual strengths of this medium is that it can be changed, and I intend to exploit that.  Why write in a brave new world if the benefits of that world must be ignored?  While I won't change themes or characters or big stuff on a story once I hit "publish," what I can do is get in there and fix a grammar or spelling error or tighten up some wording on a rough sentence.  So feedback is encouraged!  If you're reading this, consider yourself a beta reader!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Best Non-European Fantasy Setting

What is the Best Non-European Fantasy Setting?

Our June/July poll is live.

The semifinal polls will last only about ten days each. I'll put this one up until next Monday and the following one until the a week from that Wednesday. Then we'll run the final round until the end of July.

Round two will include:

Tales of the Otori series by Lian Hearn
Monkey and The Monk
Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed
"Haroun and the Sea of Stories," by Salman Rushdie.
"Lord of Light" by Zelazny
The Fox Woman and Fudoki, series by Kij Johnson.
Nnedi Okorafor - Who Fears Death

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

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

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Best Non-European Fantasy (Absolutely Last Call)

Edit: Nominations are closed and this poll is LIVE.  

Had a flat tire yesterday that took several hours to fix (well technically it took several hours of sitting around Costco waiting for it to be fixed), and then a morning of taking care of stuff that couldn't wait.

It also looks like we won't have a guest blog post for tomorrow.

And it definitely seems like this month's non European fantasy poll is going to go into semifinal rounds and end up being our official July poll.

So....I'm going to add ONE MORE DAY for seconds and under-the-wire nominations.

Please go to the nomination post and second or nominate. Our first semifinal poll goes life tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Status Report (Personal Update)

I hope that light at the end of the tunnel isn't a train!
Image description: Author with wide eyes looking forward while typing.
A quickie today just to let you know where we are and what's coming up.

  • An apocalypse of dishes in the sink is my price for writing a full fledged article yesterday, so this will have to be a short, personal update, so I can throw in another load before I go to teach. Still, it felt good to let out the throttle a little. Posts like that used to be the norm....back in the before time. And they will be again, in the utopic era of promise and prophecy! When the time of the Kickstarter is upon us.  
  • We are at six weeks and counting for move out date, which makes me sad beyond the telling of it, but also optimistic at what might be a better future. It smells like unrealized potential all over the place lately. That and fishsticks. But that's a story there's no time to get into.
  • We are at five weeks and counting for the end of summer school. I almost imagine a soft female voice saying "Productivity impacted. Nominal status returning in....five weeks." Fortunately in one of the rare pleasant surprises of this entire fucking landfill inferno of a year, summer school isn't hitting me as hard as last year since The Contrarian has been able to go to summer play camps and get tag ins.
  • Various other environmental factors are coming down the pipe in the next three weeks, and things might still get sticky, but I'm juggling and spinning plates to keep it all going.
  • My Kickstarter is a little over half way to what I'm calling "The Real Project Goal" (The actual amount that I thought was far too ambitious so I set it at something smaller and made the full project into flex goals.) The current flex goal ($7500) is less than $2000 away. This is the flex goal that will give me the funds to continue working into Spring semester and will make the schedule for completion a year instead of 18 months or more.
  • I did a little Ask Me Anything for my Kickstarter, which turned out to be kind of lackluster. There were great questions but only from a small handful of folks. I don't think it generated a single pledge. Maybe it got someone reading who wasn't before or piqued some interest...maybe. I'll probably do another before the fund raiser is over, but answer the questions as I can get to them over time instead of sitting down for a set amount of time.
  • I am going to bend the laws of time and space to get at least TWO more pieces of fiction up in the sixteen days I have remaining. One is a stand-alone piece, and the other is the final installment of A Demon's Rubicon. My hope is to be able to point to that and some of my other fiction and say "You can get more of this if you back our Kickstarter." 
  • Tomorrow I'll put up our first semifinal of non-European fantasy. Please take this last opportunity to second what's there or get a last minute nomination up.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Writing for Income (Mailbox)

A depiction of exactly how it works.
Image description: Red mailbox with a stack of $100 bills in it.
[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will try to answer a couple each week. I have a LOT of backlogged questions right now because my life is a dumpster fire, but I will try to eventually get to all of them.  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. I am happy to answer questions about the money side of writing and blogging since that aspect is usually treated like a dirty little secret.]  

Sarah asks:

Your Kickstarter looks great, but I'm not sure why you you haven't set up a Patreon. It's totally the latest thing for artists. I would totally give you a couple of dollars a month.

My reply:

EDIT: Now I DO have a Patreon: Come check it out.

Oh I will, precious. Yes, we loveses the Patreon.

My never ending quest to debase myself for Tubmans knows no bounds. Pretty soon it'll be like one of those Klondike commercials gone horribly wrong. I don't mean the sexist "Five Seconds to Glory" ones, but like where they ask me if I'll do things like hang out with rabid chinchillas for another $2 a month, and when I'm taking the money with a broken smile, you can see me timidly petting one that's still hanging by its teeth from my left cheek....and that I've clearly become sensitive to light.

Patreon is coming, but there are two reasons it wasn't here already.

First of all, let's be honest: things were pretty fucking sweet before I was asked to move out. Money was not the problem. I was more than covering my needs and most money was going to retirement funds, a modest advertising budget, and helping out friends and artists (and especially artist friends). All of your donations through Paypal had already let me cut back on teaching hours and pitch in for a housekeeper and apply that time to writing. The problem I had was always time, not money, and unless I wanted to quit my job for the six hours a week that not going to it would provide, the only time left to trim out was watching The Contrarian. We were working on that when we got the diagnosis and the world went pear shaped. And most people who have wanted to schedule a regular contribution until now have had no trouble doing so through Paypal's "monthly contribution" button.

On August 1st it'll be worse than the shattering of the world in Final Fantasy 3 (unless you're an Esper). I will be like a middle aged divorcee housewife who suddenly has a desperate need for Ikea furniture, really cheap vegetable-laden casseroles, and the validation to my self worth that comes from lots of sex. LOTS of it. My need for bill paying cash will suddenly be tremendous, and if I don't want to rent a room into my fifties, I'm really going to need to get my shit together in a way that "Babysitter/Teacher's Assistant/Will Househusband For Food" really can't cover.

The second reason is that I had a very specific project in mind that I wanted to fund (Triexta--you should check it out if you haven't), and it seemed like that was a more focused and specific request for help than a Patreon. Patreon is a great way to get patrons who support an artist's creative endeavor's, across the board, with a few dollars a month. But I really wanted the chance to spend the next year writing a book.

There's also an issue of timing. (It's not just useful in oral sex.) Patreon patrons I can pick up on a long time line, but the Kickstarter has to fund in 30 days. I didn't want people who had signed up for Patreon to pass on the Kickstarter (I really want to write this book) because they just gave me money, and I'm sensitive about being one of those online artists who is just constantly asking for money without really pushing out much content.  I figured the timing would be better if I hit people's enthusiasm when I hadn't passed the hat in a long long time, and then waited a couple of months to start the Patreon for the same reason.

With the Kickstarter going as well as it is, I will probably be able to supplement my teaching and childcare gigs for the year. In a couple of months, when the memory of my Kickstarter and my aggressive self promotion is fading and they're all starting to not hate me for being such a Spammy Sleaze, I'll start up Patreon, and hopefully I will have impressed the shit out of enough people by next summer that Patreon donations will help me keep the momentum of that gap in my income going.

That's the plan anyway. Shouldn't take much more than an hour or two for life to completely fuck it up like Lenny on a bad acid trip. In the meantime, Sarah, if you want to support me, tossing a couple of months worth of what you would have given to a Patreon at that Kickstarter is about the most helpful thing you can do. The more that thing funds, the better I think the next year is going to go across the board. And I promise that I'll let everyone know when the Patreon goes live.

Mark asks: 

I was reading some older articles and I saw you essentially thanking your donors for the fact that you would be able to quit teaching summer school and focus on writing this year. Your latest articles talk about summer school starting up. What happened there?  

My reply: 

This is a very sad story, so don't even attempt to contain your tears.

I have to move out of my house. (I will pause here and let you reassemble yourself from your inevitable loss of composure.) The very cushy situation that I have lived in, which has made it possible to cut the hours of part time jobs out of my life in favor of writing more all while enjoying the finest artisanal vegan aioli, is going away in a mere six weeks. I will have to pay rent and buy my flavored aioli with hard-earned cash the same way everyone else does instead of skating by on a mere forty hours a week of househusband work.

Teaching summer school is a thankless gig, but.....well, actually no it isn't. I am thanked to the tune of $35/hr, which is pretty fucking spectacular for someone like me who has eschewed credentials and masters degrees in favor of foraging my own path. It's only three days a week and four hours a day, but summers for an hourly-paid teacher are usually a long three months without a paycheck. So even though it's not the first thing I would choose to do with my time, and my tween/early teen students make me pull out my hair in clumps most days, once I knew the artisanal vegan aioli gravy train was going to be skipping my station by summer's end, quitting was no longer a luxury I could afford. I will be your study skills instructor for the foreseeable future.

Most writers who don't experience strange, Andy Weir levels of insta-fame* will enter a period where they are making money but not enough money to quit their day job, especially if they haven't married money or are the principle income earner in a household. I've known writers with multiple published novels who don't yet make enough to quit and write exclusively. While tech-savvy writers in the digital age can mitigate this period by not marrying themselves to traditional publishing, it might still be several years before no day job income is needed.

During that time, writers often have to decide if money or their time is more valuable to them. Turn down a promotion? Work four days a week? Take that freelance job? A gig that pays well enough might be too good to pass up, even if it means a few weeks of lower productivity. In my case, summer school was just too much money to ignore.

*FYI: Andy Weir wrote for years before he wrote The Martian.

Alex says:

I follow your Facebook and I saw a status that you're currently making almost a third of your income from writing. I really want to be a writer and I was wondering if you could give me some advice.  

My reply:

You're not going to like this Alex.

You...specifically, Alex, are not going to like this.  You see, I thought your name looked familiar from a few comments on my Writing About Writing page, so I went and looked you up. Sure enough I discovered that you are one of the most outspoken opponents of one of the only pieces of advice I give out consistently to folks who want to improve quickly and make writing into a career.

Okay first let me clear up a factual error. I will be making a third of my income from writing, but I am not now. That's what my Kickstarter is all about. From August to about next June about 30% of my bills will be paid with backer support. This distinction is going to matter in a second, so keep it in mind.

Before we go any further, imagine that writing isn't writing. Imagine that it is dentistry. And imagine you have a dentist who doesn't really go to work except one day a week and that day is usually only a couple of hours. And even then, they might work or might not depending on their mood. They've had months before where they didn't even do so much as a cleaning. This dentist can do an extraction without too much pain and doesn't screw up too bad when filling a cavity, but they aren't particularly fast or efficient. A lot of dentists around them who really practice and learn tricks and hone their skills and learn the latest techniques are quite a bit better.

Now imagine this dentist comes to you and says "Alex, I just really want to make it as a dentist. I'm not even making a third of my income from dentistry. Can you give me some advice?"

What would you tell them?

Most professionals ply their skill "daily." Even if that is more like five or six days a week rather than every single day without exception. Even if life pops up, they generally can't take off work for more than a few days, and the worst circumstances might put them out for a few weeks, unless they hit something just life-shatteringly bad. And if they want to be exceptional in their field, they probably work longer hours, and take particular pains to excel. Artists aren't really remarkable in that regard.

If you are happy writing when the mood strikes, great! If you only want to give a day a week, wonderful. You decide your own level of involvement. But if you want writing to be a job, you have to treat it like a job. If you want writing to be a career, you have to treat it like a career.

Writing is a skill. Like any other skill, it will improve with use and atrophy with disuse. But it is also creates a product through work. And with the few exceptions of folks who win the lottery with a runaway bestseller (and I chose the word "lottery" deliberately), even working writers have to keep right on working like anyone else if they don't want the royalty checks, commissions, and advances to peter out.

The reason I can make 1/3 of my income from writing is because I write every day.

Let me say that again:

The reason I can make 1/3 of my income from writing is because I write every day.

I have donors who love what I've written so far and patrons who want to support my continued efforts. My Kickstarter has backers because I've demonstrated an ability to write with some level of competency at a consistent enough pace that they can be reasonably assured that they're not throwing their money away. (That or I take WAY better selfies than I think I do.) I'm rather certain that if I just assured them I was totally awesome at writing with a Donald Trumpian claim ("I am a great writer. I have the best words, and my writing is going to be fantastic. There will be no problem there, let me tell you. No problem at all."), there would not nearly be the support. All the networking tricks in the world can't take the place of content that people enjoy reading and their memory of you as someone they would like to read more of. Whatever money I've made from writing, past, present, and future, it's almost entirely because I sit down every day whether I feel like it or not and produce at least a couple of pages that entertain. And some days fucking suck and I hate everything I write. But those days pay the price in discipline for the ones where I'm in the zone and it just slides out.

Now here's where the dental analogy breaks down. If you write every day, you won't "make it" right away, or even for sure in the time it takes to become a dentist. It may take many years. It may never happen. This is why it's important to love it and decide if you would do it anyway because I'm pretty sure no fucking dentist would be willing to put up with a three to five year unpaid internship (5-10 in traditional....uh dentistry publishing). It's possible you can do all this work for nothing, so it has to be it's own reward. But what's not really possible achieving all the accolades of success without putting in the sweat equity. That's just not going to happen and there's no shortcut, trick, technique, or scheme that's going to make it otherwise.

Now I've seen you, Alex, go to the mat time and time again that it is stifling to your creativity to try to write every day and that you can't possibly when the inspiration isn't there and how dare I post yet another article that encourages writers to make their enjoyable hobby feel like work. Just about every time one of my posts is about writing daily, you've got something–something that's usually just a little more snippy than I'm being with you right now–to contribute about how that's at least bad advice for the creative soul within you, if not downright damaging to the writing world at large. (Who all apparently will churn out a lot more if they stop writing, I guess.) I've got to wonder at the irony here. Do you think maybe these things might be connected? Maybe?

If you don't want to write every day, that's cool...if a fun hobby that never feels like work is all you want out of writing. Seriously, it's really okay! Enjoy what brings you bliss. Frankly, I think more people could stand to be honest about not wanting to write for a living instead of filling the world with folks who are confused that they're not making career caliber money from weekend warrior effort.

But it's not really a coincidence that all the writers making day job money from writing dispense the same two pieces of advice: "Read like hell. Write every day." If you want writing to be your job, you have to treat it like it is.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Rage Against The Brecheen (Menu Tour)

By_XxDaimonxX on Deviant Art
(listed as creative commons with attribution)
Today's menu is all about the hate. Because haters send me "questions" to, and sometimes you just gotta wonder what they were thinking.

A Tall, Cool, Frothing Glass of Haterade

For some reason, people like watching a train wreck of hate. The online world provides the voyeur the perfect vantage to watch people who like to go to Hater Joes and buy Hater-tots in their old "Hate or Die" t-shirts while listening to "Hater Than Us All" on their iPods as they hurry home because they want to see the Hate of the Union address.

More than any of the other topics I cover in "The Best of the Mailbox," the hate mail I receive–and my response to it–brings all the readers to the yard. It's almost as if people find the drama of conflict compelling or something.  As hate mail has become "THE BEST of The Best of The Mailbox," I thought it deserved its very own menu. And the more readers I get, the more common hate mail seems to become, so I don't think it's going away any time soon.

Hate Mail (Or LOVE Mail?) My hate mail cherry gets popped. I have arrived!
You're a NoWriMo H8er!
Attack of the Strawmen
This Unseemly Money Stuff
You're a Mean One...Mr. Chris
Why Don't You Become a "Real Writer?"
You Don't HAVE to Write Every Day! (they insist)
How Could You Pick E-Pub? How COULD You?
You Evil Self Promoter!
Really Hateful Hate Mail
What is my problem with....? (Part 1) (Part 2) (Follow up to Part 2)
Personal Attax!
Not All MFAs
The Hugos Were Robbed!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

May's Best Posts

It appears that we are all out of guest posts for guest post Thursday (so if you want to write for us, send an e-mail to chris.brecheen@gmail.com and let's talk). But with somewhat auspicious timing it seems that we are also VERY overdue for our "Best of May" post.  

So without further ado (beyond this paragraph) here are the articles from May that will be going on to achieve untold fame and fortune within our Greatest Hits Menu.

10 Reasons to Write Daily–Accentuate The Positive
I tell people the downsides of NOT writing daily far too often. What happens if you do?'

Yes, I Make Money. But That's Not Why I Do It. (Personal Update)
Two stories, not entirely unrelated....

Plans. And Other Destroyable Things (Personal Update)
I'd hoped to take two weeks between Spring semester ending and Summer school starting to show you all what I could do when I let the clutch out, but this very popular article about why that fell to pieces will have to do instead.

Also, an honorable mention to "Why I Left Islam" which is actually a 2013 piece that I recently posted as a rerun on Writing About Writing's Facebook page, but it got another twenty-five hundred page views, which would have won the whole month if it weren't an old article.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Don't Forget The Kickstarter!!

This is a screen grab from the Kickstarter page.
To see the actual video go to: http://kck.st/1TV2MQp 
Hi everyone,

Only three weeks (and one day) remain in my Kickstarter: Triexta: A Novel of (sub)urban fantasy.

We've already funded to our first goal (which is awesome) but let me tell you why we still need your help.

When I first decided to do a Kickstarter, I had no idea what to expect or that my social media reach would help me out so much or even that people would be quite so excited about the project I was proposing. I mean.....damn. (And you have to say "damn" like Will Smith in Men in Black for the proper effect.) I created reward tiers of over a hundred dollars whimsically and without ever thinking they would actually be pledge amounts. I decided to start with a small and modest goal ($2500) because Kickstarter is all or nothing in terms of funding. If you don't reach your goal, you don't get any money.

Thus, my first goal was only about a quarter of what I wanted to ask for. Actually, originally, I had an even smaller first goal, but someone talked me out of going that low. They made me do motivational exercises in the mirror about loving myself and set me off with a final cry of "Beefcake!" I made the totality of what I was hoping to get into flex goals. $2500 keeps me writing for about five months. That's not enough time to write a novel. It's enough time to write a solid first draft (and maybe start a second).

What I really wanted to do was spend a year writing a book and then self-publish it as close to free as I can make it. I just didn't think in a million years a goal that ambitious would ever fund.

Well, we hit my first goal in just a few hours (and I may have cried), and my first flex goal a few hours after that (I needed oxygen....and then cried). Currently we're about $1800 away from my second flex goal, and that is what will give me the opportunity to keep writing (rewriting, revising, peer review, and polishing) come Spring semester. This flex goal will have a substantial impact on when Triexta comes out. If I have to go back to working 40-50 hours a week on other gigs to make ends meet, it will take a lot longer to rewrite and revise what I've got by December's end.

Remember that it only takes a dollar or two to get on the Kickstarter list where I'll send updates on progress and make sure everyone knows when the book is going to drop. But if you really want to back this project with gusto, there are some pretty awesome rewards including video chats, having characters named after you, and personal click bait posts about how awesome you are.

And as a personal message to my Writing About Writing readers, don't forget that providing this writing time will increase my productivity across the board even if it's earmarked for a book. Prolific writing begets more prolific writing and time to be creative raises the tide of all the ships. WAW is about seven weeks out from a renaissance of creativity that can continue on for months with your help.

The reason I don't have paywalls, and the reason I don't have ads, and the reason I can write books and make them free for everybody (with a only a dollar charge for e-readers or the materials for a physical copy) is because of donations from all of you, so if you've ever wanted to throw a few bucks to support what I do here, now would be a spectacular time.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Best Non-European Fantasy (Seconds and Nominations Needed)

What is the best non-European fantasy setting?

Well it looks like there's almost NO chance this poll won't go into at least a semifinal round, so we don't have to be quite so rushed trying to tabulate our nominations, semifinals will run into July and the poll will be finished at the end of July. However while some nominations were flooded with seconds, we need more. And of course this is our last call for any new nominations.

Please head over help us shape our poll. 

However, please do remember the rules for the poll. This is not about 99% European-trope conforming fantasy setting that happens to take place in a world that simply isn't labeled Europe or is on another planet. It's not about the Scandinavian comitatus that you haven't read much about in typical Tolkien knock offs. The key word is distinctly non-European.

There is one interesting entry, and its popularity threatens to unbalance the poll. I'm going to let you all tell me your opinions in the comments to this post. Dresden. Dresden is definitely not your typical European fantasy, and it technically classes as fantasy (even though urban fantasy is a bit different). But I didn't explicitly say it had to be high fantasy or medieval fantasy. It's out of what I envisioned, but I'll go with the consensus here. So chime in in our comments and tell me what you think about that.

Please please please go back to the original page. It'll make my life so much easier when I make the poll to have all the nominations in one place.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Once More Unto The Breach, Dear Friends (Personal Update)

Time to stiffen up my sinews.  
Jazz hands!
Image description: Me doing jazz hands

If you've been with Writing About Writing for a while now, or listening to me whine like a four year old with a skinned knee, you know that summer school is historically six weeks of me trotting out some of the most spectacular jazz hands I'm capable of doing. ("What? Another day of Fortune Cookie Wisdom? You don't say!") I somehow have managed every year to avoid putting the blog on hiatus through sheer force of will and not a single bit of crystal meth no matter what the district attorney alleges, but it is a difficult time for any semblance of a steady flow of non-ridiculous posts. Unfortunately, my imminent move out means that I lost the luxury of being able to afford turning down a 35/hr teaching gig.

Of course, cancer has also provided a challenging time to keep a steady flow of non-ridiculous posts going up. In the last eight months I've had to add jazz fingers and grow my hair out so I can do some mean hairography. So now we get to find out exactly what the effect will be of stacking cancer and summer school. (And company in town. And moving out.) Jazzier jazz hands? Or just complete meltdown? Tune in to find out! If you've ever wanted to see me crash and burn, now might be your chance.

I've known this particular confluence of suckitude (not the good kind) has been coming for a few months now. Hopefully I've got a few things set up (from half written articles to some slow ball questions for Mailbox posts that I've been saving) that will help get us through. I'll be leaning hard on weekends for productivity. And of course promoting my Kickstarter will create a little more filler that isn't usually there. (Sea monsters fighting carrier groups. It's going to be great. And even just a dollar will get you on the list for updates.) I should be able to at least fake it with style. I mean more so than usual. I always feel like I'm never going to see the light of day or write a decent post again, the six weeks usually ends faster than I expected.

So if you see me floundering in the next six weeks or I miss a day (especially a Thursday), that's probably what's going on. Or maybe my kids finally revolted against the terrible aspect of my eye, and even though I inflicted serious casualties, I was no match for 25 of them.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Four Things Your Editor May Not Tell You (But You Should Know) By Bethany Brengan

If you ever do end up working with an editor (whether through a publisher or one you hire), I hope it is a delightful experience. (Or as delightful as watching someone hack away at your beloved can be.) And I hope your editor is transparent with you. But even the most honest of editors may have a hard time admitting to the following:

  1. I can make your manuscript better, but I can’t make it good. Everything depends on our starting point. When I do content editing, I try to cover all the bases: from major plot holes to missing commas. I can tell you that a specific character doesn’t seem to be well-developed. I can even point you toward some tools and tricks that may help make him more three-dimensional. But I cannot make you think more complexly about people. I can tell you that a sentence sounds awkward or clunky. I can offer suggestions about ways to rewrite it, but I cannot turn you into a brilliant prose stylist. I can’t even rewrite every sentence for you. (Nor would you want me to; your book needs to sounds like you, not your editor.)

Ideally, every single manuscript would reach the same level of quality before it left my desk. But the truth is that although I try to give equal treatment to each project, it is easier to notice when the baseboards of your house need another coat of paint if I’m not also trying to deal with your flooded basement and caved-in roof. The cleaner and clearer a manuscript is when I receive it, the better its quality when it leaves my desk (and the cheaper edits will be for you).

As much as possible, I try to let writers know if they aren’t ready for edits yet. Hopefully, your editor will do the same, but just in case, I recommend at least one more revision than you think you need before you send one your work.    

  1. I will make mistakes. Ugh. It hurts just to type that. Because when you are hiring an editor, you expect meticulous attention to detail. And you should; that’s what you’re paying for. But editors are human. In most cases, it’s not a matter of knowing something is wrong, but noticing the wrong thing (among a sea of other wrong things). Once, in a sports-related book I worked on, a multi-page heading read “Icing Skating” instead of “Ice Skating,” and I didn’t notice until I got the galley proof back from the printer. And sometimes, mistakes go to print. I used to flip through all the books I’d worked on until I found a “mistake” (usually an optional comma I no longer liked). Because, statistically, I knew there was probably one. But if I could find a small, unnoticeable mistake, I could still sleep at night.

Don’t be surprised if you catch your editor in a typo. Don’t be surprised if your editor sends you slightly panicked emails wanting to make changes to previously edited chapters (changes that may not seem that important to you). Don’t be surprised if she sends you several such emails. She’s trying to make sure all noticeable mistakes—the editor’s and the writer’s—will be caught before you go to print. But as long as the editing continues to be done by humans (it may be a while before robots fully grasp idiom and plot structure), there will be human error involved.

  1. I don’t always agree with other editors. Editors tend to be opinionated people. Especially when it comes to grammar and punctuation. And although I may definitively tell you that you are not allowed to use literally to mean “figuratively” (and Garner’s American Usage would agree with me); I know that this usage is now so common that many dictionaries accept “figuratively” as a secondary meaning. And another editor might be perfectly fine with this usage in certain contexts. Meanwhile, a more prescriptive editor might “fix” every sentence that ends with a preposition while I roll my eyes and mutter about “the sort of nonsense up with which I will not put.”
The point is that the rules of the English language are not nearly as clear and agreed on as your editor might like you to believe. Most editors have a style guide, a dictionary, and a certain attitude toward language that they rely on. Therefore, different editors have different “voices” in the same way that writers do—the differences are usually subtle, but they definitely exist. I believe that the best editors are able subsume themselves within the particular voice of the writer, but you will still want to find an editor who fits your style. And if you are uncertain about an edit, don’t be afraid to check a style guide and ask for clarification. Which leads to my next point. . . .

  1. You should question me. Please, please, please for the love of all that is sweet and grammatical, read over your edits before you approve them for print. And ask me questions. Maybe I missed something. Maybe I misunderstood the way a certain character talks. Or maybe something just doesn’t seem “quite right” to you.

Recently, an author and I worked on her memoir. I had edited and she had rewritten her first chapter several times. I honestly thought it sounded pretty good. But she believed it could be better. I worried that more tweaking might ruin the flow of the chapter, but I agreed to look over another rewrite and give her my opinion. When she sent me the revision, I was blown away. It was much better. There was more tension; the emotion was clearer and seemed more honest. She had added other elements from her life story that I didn’t know about and never could have suggested. Because she was brave enough to say, “No, I think this needs more,” she got a much better opening than she would have if she’d just blindly accepted my edits.

I hope this helps you view the hacked up body of your book with a little more certainty.
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, June 8, 2016

My Kickstarter is Live

Help me get my first novel into the world just a little bit faster.

Check it out!!!

Triexta: A (Sub)urban Fantasy Novel by Chris Brecheen

Many thanks to the Ace of Geeks crew for helping me out with the video so it wasn't just me talking into a camera and trying for the 17th time to get it all in one take.

One of the things I want to make you, dear reader, aware of as I try to back this project is that even though this is a specific project and funds are all earmarked for it, the thing about having time to write is that the creative well never runs dry. While of course you shouldn't back my project if you don't like the sound of a suburban fantasy novel with F-15s fighting dragons, if you've always thought about supporting Writing About Writing to help me shift into a higher quality and frequency of posts, backing this project would be an excellent way to do so.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Best Non-European Fantasy (Poll Nominations Needed)

What is the best non-European fantasy?

Let's face it, most fantasy is pretty darned Euro-centric. King and queens, lords and ladies, knights and peasants, sylvan glades and thick forests, lots of armor, broad swords, cavalry (and chivalry), and sieges that demonstrate a castle's nearly indomitable defensive power given the weaponry of the day. But what about the fantasy in distinctly non-European settings. Mezzo-American? Japanese? Indian? Some great fantasy exists in these settings as well.

The Rules

1- Your nomination can be a single book or a series, but it has to take place primarily in a non-European setting. A "European setting" or "non-European setting" doesn't have anything to do with actually being IN EUROPE. Dragonlance takes place in a world called Krynn that has never even heard of Earth or Europe, but it is very European styled fantasy. 

As always, I leave definitions up to your best judgement because I'd rather be inclusive. However please consider that this is a call for distinctly non-European fantasy. Not simply a transfer of all the modern tropes into a place "with lots of sand." Or an incredibly European fantasy looking setting that happens to be another planet. 

2- Your reasons for choosing the book/series can be because you love the setting or because you love the plot and characters that happen to BE in a non European setting. It is entirely up to you.

3- You may nominate two (2) books/series. (Remember that I am a horrid and unyielding power hungry monster here at Writing About Writing. To encourage reading and reading comprehension I will NOT take any books or series beyond your second nomination.) If you nominate more than two, I will only take your first two and consider any beyond that to be "pre-seconding" for a future nomination. 

4- You may (and should) second as many nominations of others as you wish. No books/series will be going on to our poll that doesn't get at least one second.

5- Please put your nominations here. I will take books nominated as comments to this post on other social media; however, they may not get the seconds you need because no one will see them.

This call for nominations is late (it's already the 7th) so please hurry and expect the last call early next week and the poll to go up in just over a week from today.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Filler Splat (Personal Update)

A screen grab from last night's filming.
Image description: Me! With a pretty big smile on my face.
Hi everyone,

Fire up your non-European fantasy settings for tomorrow's call for nominations. We won't have as long as we usually do to gather names and turn them into a poll.

Today I am trying to catch up on fifteen things at once, and doing a personal update. One is a Kickstarter for a novel that will be rolling out soon and I am desperately excited about it. If it funds, you'll be looking at a full fledged novel by yours truly rolling out in serial blog post format about a year from now. (If it doesn't fund, it could be more like two or three.)

Another is approaching summer school. I've been putting off a bunch of paperwork (I'm changing the curriculum a little) and today I realized that it was the last day to submit things that I'll need for copies.

I also need to make some headway with my move. Nothing big. I still have 24 days until I even start moving boxes, but it's time to start writing e-mails and packing things in my current room in a less haphazard way.

Radiation starts tomorrow. We have NO CLUE what to expect. Some say sunshine and rainbows and a much improved frame of mind. Some say a lot of fatigue.

Which reminds me that I may have answered a mailbox about this already, but just so everyone knows the time of prophecy is nigh! The next week should be pretty prolific if radiation is not terribad, but then life is going to bodyslam me awfully hard. Basically every week until I am out of the house and done with summer school involves a new strata of complication. This week is radiation. Next week is summer school. The week after that is multiple overlapping visits. And the week after that is starting to move. Each of those things will stack onto the growing pile too. It won't be until early July before they start to clear one by one, and not until I'm moved, radiation is over, and summer school is done for the year that I will begin to have a normal schedule again.

This is the calm before the storm.

I'll keep posting, because writing is what I do, but there may be some skipped days, upside down schedules, weekend make up posts, and a WHOLE lotta jazz hands for the next seven weeks.

Saturday, June 4, 2016


I don't have a weekly or monthly prompt, and tend to favor quality over quantity when it comes to prompts, but after a few years, they have tended to add up.

Here are links to all the prompts I've put up in the past here at Writing About Writing.  Most are prompts I've done myself in some writing class or another or have had to design as part of other projects.

Some are whimsical and mostly free writing. Some are extremely structured and will require you to write exactly the amount or time that they call for. While each "rule" in a prompt often has a reason (most people write better under a time pressure than they do with none, for example) the only real rule with any prompt is to get you writing, so if you feel inspired by parts of the prompt but not the rest, feel free to cheerfully ignore whatever isn't quite working for you.

It's All About the Food                                    Recombine, Reconfigure, Reconstruct
Sunday Prompts--Disney Style                       Fast and Random
Get Into The Head of Your Characters           Metaprompts: The Prompts About Prompts
Concrete Detail                                               Dental Writing Prompts?  Oh yeah.
Writing as a Child                                           Truth and Compassion...And Politics
Make Yourself Aware of Filtering                   Significant Details Eulogy
First Sentences                                              Practice Daily Goal Setting
Sonder: Deepening Minor Characters         The Paradox of the Human Condition-A Civil War Prompt
From a Slightly Different Angle                      NaNoWriMo Warm Up (best done before NaNo)
A New Year's Inventory                                 What Does Success Look Like?
Look Down Your Own Mountain                    The Genre Shell Game
Pinterest Story                                                 "Scene 2"
What Have You Done for me Lately?