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

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Best Modern Science Fiction (Vote Reminder)

What is the best modern science fiction book or series?  

Just a super quickie to remind you not to forget to vote on our semifinal for best modern science fiction. Results will be posted in a couple of days, so this is your last chance to decide which title will go on to the final round.

If you want to know the details of this poll, the original post is here.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Writing Process (menu tour)

#6 is obviously groupie threesomes
Also, this is obviously a complicated metaphor for
creativity and not just a license free image for the word
"process"
Image description: simple chemical distilation

As my bass ackwards week continues, I offer you Friday's menu tour on Tuesday. Today's menu about process has clued me into the fact that I desperately need to take a break for a day or two some day soon and spend that time just updating all the menus. There are definitely some articles that I need to add to this list.

Generally, there is a great deal of confusion about the difference between process and craft.  A lot of folks who enjoy writing and have a refined process, are not particularly good at the actual craft (like me) and a lot of people who are quite adept at craft struggle with the process for their entire lives.  Many excellent writers have written only a few stories, and cannot motivate themselves to write more.  Or they write brilliantly, but only when under deadline for a class. 

Very often the trouble here is that writing well is only half the story and usually only a small portion of the difficulty most writers struggle with.  If the technical skill of writing is not married to a good sense of process, then what you end up with a very good writer who does not produce very much.  Indeed, most writers have more difficulty just sitting to write than they ever do with the prose itself.  (Although, unfortunately, most writers focus on learning the technical skill almost the exclusion of working on their process.)

While concrete imagery, dialogue, or characterization are craft elements, how many times to draft, when to write, how important research and how to sit down and produce every day is process.  These are articles about the process of writing and whatever insight I have gleaned about it.

The Lessons of Brande.  Dorothea Brande's book Becoming A Writer is the best process book that I know of. 
1 One Book To Rule Them All (And With Oversewing Bind Them).
Cultivating internal dualism.
Morning writing
The Floating Half Hour of Writing

Do What Works For YOU It's not just a concept in martial arts, but about writing in general.
The Witching Hour When Magic Works Write when you enjoy writing, not others.
Free Writing--Why it Rocks There's actually a neurological reason
Should I Outline? (Mailbox) Authors have mixed feelings.  I weigh in.
Revision Land (Mailbox) Charlie the unicorn goes to the magical Revision Land
When to Revise (Mailbox) What to do when revision feels like not writing

Monday, August 29, 2016

Bass Ackwards (Personal Update)

Image description: Writer looking just a little bit harried.
Or like he's about to cut down a mighty tree with a herring.
Definitely one of those H words with lots of Rs though.
On the one hand, I did it!

I got moved.

Completely.

In two days.

With a Toyota Prius (C model).

Well it was sort of two and a half days, and there was a "desk adventure" this morning with a toddler. Also, there's still a king sized mattress in Oakland that I need to retrieve after I get back from Denver, and right now a queen sized futon is on top of a king sized box frame. But you know, let's not harsh my squee with all these bullshit trivial details.

It was still epic.

On the other hand, I'm just the tiniest bit ready to have a nap, put my feet up, eat some salt and pepper Kettle chips with store bought French onion dip in front of a shitty movie, and engage in the sort of stress relief that requires enthusiastic consent.

Not that I'm done. Oh no my friends. My room looks like a Total Recall set piece from the future sequences with the twisted steal beams and the chunks of concrete. Oh and the skull being crushed by a robot, but the skull is my free time, and the terminator robot is my schedule. Arnold shows up and says "Come with me...if you want to play No Man's Sky before all the planets are colonized." Then there was a fist fight over molten metal...symbolically.

Hasta la Vista.......free time.

Oh I'm not even close to done, and I don't just mean the installation of the bead curtain or the disco ball. Every inch of floor space is covered with shit I need to unpack. From unbuilt Ikea bookshelves named Billy to clothes to random power strips that somehow outnumber the actual outlets by a factor of three. (How the fuck....?) There are collapsable plastic banker boxes and even old Costco Sun Chips cardboard boxes crammed full of everything from organized stacks of all my writing/craft books to the hodgepodge "Fuck it" box of everything that isn't easily organized, but is still there when you're running late, tired, and ready to be done with goddamned fucking packing.

Included is an actual piggy bank, my mother's 50 year old flute,
a CBEST practice test workbook, a reading stand, and something that
if I'm not mistaken is an as of yet unused vibrating tongue piercing.

As if that weren't enough by itself, today until Wednesday, I will be doing 8 to 10 (or more) hour shifts with The Contrarian and tonight and Wednesday, that's before I go to teach for another five hours. I also am feeding two sets of cats for folks who are at Burning Man, and have to make at least an appearance in Oakland and Hayward in the morning and at night.

I'm glad I'm filling up my car for roughly the same amount as my Geo Metro back in '94. (Did you just "Back in my day" us Chris? Shut up whippersnapper. Get off my lawn.)

Oh by the way, did I mention that I moved this weekend for the second time in a month? Yeah. I did that.

Anyway, I'm so frazzled, I can't even come up with a contrived pretense of connective tissue this this has anything to do with writing (except maybe that I kept doing it no matter how busy I was, and so should you) but mostly I wanted to let you know that this week will be back loaded instead of front loaded (as weeks usually are). I'm going to do the soft shoeing early in the week and put up the heavy hitters later on. Thursday morning I get on a train to Denver and will have little to do but sit and write (and read) for 36 hours. So that's when all the meaty posts will be coming.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Should You Choose to Comment....

Image description: Major battle with the caption "Meanwhile
in the comment section."

A post in two "parts."  The first its inspiration and explanation:

Last night I got home, sat down to write, and experienced a familiar feeling that I often get at the end of vacations that have gone on just a little too long. I was homesick. I wanted to go home.

I was home.  

I love my new place so fucking hard and it's going to be spectacular once I'm in there (just yesterday I discovered two stores I love and the Lafayette reservoir–which is just a gorgeous place to hang out with some trees or jog or walk–are all within walking distance), but this move is dragging out and I was literally JUST getting settled when I started to move 2.0. This feeling of being DEEPLY in a state of transition has been going on for almost three months now (and has been building since I was asked to leave earlier this year). I didn't realize how much it was affecting me not to feel the ground beneath my feet.

So today I'm going to put in Herculean effort to be mostly done with this move by the end of this weekend. If all goes well, I'll be writing to you from Lafayette by Monday morning. I'm going to post something I already spent this morning working on anyway. It's from my Facebook page. I woke to discover some pretty nasty comments about an article I posted last night, and I realized it was probably time to remind everyone that they weren't going to get away with saying anything they wanted in the comments. I've made some edits to have it fit here.


I don't get a lot of comments here that aren't nominations for one of our reader polls, but I do get a lot on the social media where I cross post my articles--particularly Facebook. The only admin tool I've ever had to use on Blogger was to turn off anonymous commenting for a couple of weeks after Creepy Guy. But my basic rubric isn't going to change from medium to medium, so if one day we start getting robust activity in the comments, it'll be nice to have a comment policy written that I can cut and paste.

I don't like banning people.

But every time I post an article that deigns to intersect with how writing and writers affect social issues or about how language reflects societal prejudice, a few people end being shown the door.

It's not that they disagree. The comments all over this blog are filled with disagreement–it's definitely no echo chamber. The problem is they either decide to react in the most dismissive and derisive way possible ("This is SJW crap!") in which case this page is not for them, and I don't want to have to deal with them post after post, or they outright lose their composure and abusively attack other members or me for taking the time and energy to try to explain an issue or share their personal perspective on a topic. If what essentially amounts to free tutoring is going to be shat on because you wanted to "win" an argument and have the last word, Writing About Writing is not for you.

There is a one-on-one echo that exists within this reaction that I am pretty sensitive to: abusers gas lighting their victims. Instead of taking a moment to consider why someone is upset, that they are accurately able to assess their own mental state, that they can be trusted to relay when they are feeling hurt, or that their life experience may be something worth listening to, often they are told they are being hysterical or ridiculous and dismissed outright. Their feelings and even their actual experiences are invalidated. We see this in a relationship and it raises our hackles (hopefully), but when a group in social power (like men) do it to a group they have social power over (like women or gender variant folks) on a massive scale, it is considered perfectly normal behavior. And it can even cause the people who are constantly being dismissed and derided to question their own perceptions of reality.

(I think abuse and oppression have a number of shocking parallels, but maybe a post for another time.)

Let me be blunt about this. Y'all are writers. You ought to know better than anyone that words carry tremendous power...possibly even to invoke harm. No body ever silently went to war or committed genocide without words first fueling them. No one ever articulated a justification for racism or sexism that caused people actual PHYSICAL HARM without using words to do so.

And if you sit on your couch every November 5th watching a dude in a Guy Fawkes mask bloviate between the fight scenes that, "Words offer the means to meaning," and then starts a revolution because the "truth and perspectives" of his words are bulletproof, and then you imagine yourself leading said glorious revolution with your own martial arts skill and throwing stilettos, yet you then roll your eyes at those Social Justice Warriors being all "oversensitive" to  some slur you intended only to insult one person, you are DROWNING in the irony of social power dynamics and their double standards.

I'm not going to sit here and have a conversation every single time I bring up an issue of social equality with folks who's main conceit seems to be: "writers should be able to write whatever they want." You already CAN write whatever you want, and if you're in a situation where you can't (politically or socially), it's certainly not upholding the status quo that you can't do. And writers often do write whatever they want no matter how harmful or objectionable. Rarely are their careers even impacted, and if they stay off the pages that criticize them, they don't even have to have their feelings hurt. So if you're going to react with hyperbole and loss of composure to anyone asking you to consider how and what you write....on a blog about writing, Writing About Writing is not for you.

Also, I'd rather have a smaller following where folks who aren't well represented in the wider world feel comfortable speaking up than a large following where the Status Quo Warriors speak over and run roughshod over anyone who has the temerity to suggest that maybe arts and humanities affect social perceptions and that once in a while we should think about that. The whole damned world will let the people in power decide what is ridiculous to care about (spoiler: it's anything that challenges their behavior in any way). If you want me to be vapid about the impact of writing and stick to grammar lessons that sneeringly judge people without the education to use the proper your/you're and craft essays, Writing About Writing is not for you.
Maybe arts and humanities affect social perceptions...
This is primarily a blog about writing, but because it is me writing (most of) it, I will constantly post things ABOUT writing that I find compelling, interesting, and worthy of a writer's conscientious introspection. This includes craft and process and insights from my life, but it also includes pointing out how much of the writing that exists (even wildly popular writing) often reinforces harmful status quos like racism, sexism, heteronormativity, transphobia, and more–things are engrained in many of our narrative tropes.

If we can't at least consider and think about these things, we're just telling the same stories again, not new ones.

If you want a typical writing blog with some linguistic prescriptivism that makes fun of legitimate English dialects (often in a vaguely racist and definitely classist way), drops the same dozen articles (and their knock offs) over and over on how to publish your novel/find an agent/write a query letter, and never really asks you to think hard thoughts about how powerful writing is in creating the stories shape our culture, there are just SO many pages to choose from. But that's not what I'm doing here.

And I want those who normally run screaming from the comments sections on most of the internet to feel comfortable participating in my comments. I want that more than I want hostile dismissiveness of one more voice reinforcing the status quo that actively silences such voices.

In case that was too gentle, let me be absolutely clear about this: If your reply is nothing more than "This is PC bullshit!" or "This is crap. You're the real sexist!" or "Shut the fuck up with this pandering crap!" (or any of the thousands of variations on this theme I've heard over the years) or if you use bigoted slurs or double down on your "right" to be sexist, misogynistic, racist, transphobic, homophobic, ableist, or fatphobic after you've been asked to stop, I will use my admin tools to show you the door.

You don't have to agree with me. You DO have to play nice in my playground.

If you don't want to think about it, skip the post for that day. If you want to disagree, you can do so without being abusive. If you can't do either of those things, Writing About Writing is not for you.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Best Modern Science Fiction (Semifinal 1)

Image Description: The Martian
by Andy Weir
What is the best modern science fiction book or series?    

Our Aug/Sept poll is live. With twenty-two nominations, we will have to do two semifinal polls to narrow down which modern sci-fi will end up on our final poll. And let me tell you I don't envy you having to choose between some of these titles. This is like a restaurant where everything is your favorite.

Remember you may use any criteria you wish for "best" from most fun to most compelling to best written.

The semifinal polls will go pretty quickly. I'll put this one up until late next week and the following one a similar amount of time. Then we'll run the finals to the end of September.

Round two will include:

Snow Crash - Stephenson
Ready Player One - Cline
Never Let Me Go- Ishiguro
Consider Phlebas - Banks
This Alien Shore -Friedman
Old Man's War - John Scalzi
Commonwealth Saga -Hamilton
Honor Harrington Series - Webber
The MaddAddam Trilogy -Atwood
Use Of Weapons - Banks
Ancillary Series - Leckie

Everyone will get five votes (5). The top five names of each poll will go on to the final round. Before you simply vote for your favorite five, consider that, as there is no ranking of those 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, August 24, 2016

Absolutely Last Chance to Nominate

Since I don't have a guest post that's slated to go up tomorrow and I'm doing about 4 hours today worth of running between old place, new place, and cat sitting places today, I figured I would nudge everyone to take this absolutely last chance to nominate for Best Modern Science Fiction* (novel or series).

I will compile results and set up a semifinal round tomorrow.

*Please go to the original post to vote. It's easier on me and that is likely the only way you will get "seconds."

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Return of Leela Bruce

Image description: martial arts clip art
"And so the ink cartridges should be filled with actual honey," I said into the phone. "And it should drip out of the front of the pen. Like....all the time. Even if no one's writing with it."

I paused while I listened to the voice on the other end. "Yes, that's correct. Messy is okay." Another pause. "Yeah, no I want them to be real gold. Golden pens of dripping honey. Yep. That's what I want. It's sort of an in joke. We're really big on in jokes here at Writing About Writing."

"Attention," I heard over the P.A. system. "Attention. This is Cedrick. Effective immediately all doors in the Writing About Writing compound will be spelled with one O. I have exactly one fan in the entire world, and we will pay homage. If you have to go from one room to another, you will be using the Dor."

I took a deep breath. Apparently that conversation we'd had didn't stick as well as I'd hoped.

"Excuse me," Cedrick went on over the P.A. "Leela he's not expecting you, you can't just go–"

That's when my office dor got kicked off its hinges by a well placed spinning side kick. Leela Bruce sauntered in.

"Can you hold for JUST a second?" I asked, putting the call on hold.  "Hi Leela," I said. "Something wrong with the dorknob?"

"I wanted to make an entrance," she said. She flashed some teeth, but I wouldn't have really called it a smile.

"Technically just walking through the dor would be making an entrance." I pointed out.

"A notable entrance," she corrected.

"Yeah, about that," I said. "From a purely statistical standpoint, literally no one ever has actually waited for Cedrick to show them through the dor, so that would be the MOST noteworthy–"

Leela slammed her hands down on my desk. It split down the middle into two half desks. Both pieces fell inward resting in my lap. The laptop, phone, and desk lamp that were on the desk slid down the incline into the newly formed ravine.

"Are you going to hurt me?" I asked, trying not to reveal that having a jagged desk cutting into my femoral nerve already had.

"Why? Are you scared?" she asked.

"No," I lied. "I'm just trying to plan my day."

"Did you just quote a 90's Duchovny movie at me to try and look cool?" Leela asked. She pulled the half desks apart so that they each fell to one side, sending the laptop and desk lamp flying, and left me sitting exposed with some balsa wood powder, mechanical pencils, and the phone in my lap. I wished very much that I hadn't chosen this day to do some work at my desk while I sent my pants to the cleaners.

"How did you know that?" I asked. "Like three people saw that movie."

"You forget where I come from," she said tapping her forefinger on the top of my head at the word come. "Anyway, I came to tell you that you've done well with the sausage fest. Good work getting women guest bloggers. I'll start writing posts for you again."

"That's good," I said. "Because I was about to tell you that the free ride was coming to an end and it is time to earn your keep."

"No you weren't," she said.

"Maybe not, but I really was going to switch out the Buy One Get One Free sandwich coupons to Arby's that I've been paying you with for Free Coffee with $10 Purchase from Taco Bell. Who spends ten dollars at Taco Bell? Honestly? And then when you came to me demanding answers, I would passive aggressively mention that you hadn't written an article in like two years."

Leela rolled her eyes and walked out of my office.

"When can we expect this article?" I called after her.

"When I'm done writing it," she yelled back.

"What's it going to be about?" I yelled louder.

"Dunno!" she shouted as she left the outer office and started down the hall.

"Will you talk to Guy Goodman about also writing a post?" I shouted.

"NOOOOOOPE!" Leela yelled.

"Okay," I said, sitting back in my chair. "Glad we had this chat."

My phone was still in my lap.  I clicked the intercom button. "Uh...Cedrick."

From the outer office where I could see him (because we no longer had a dor), Cedrick turned and looked at me.

"Can we," I said into the intercom, but then realized I could just talk to him across the twenty feet. "Can we get someone in to fix this dor?"

Cedrick nodded, and spun two tentacles into a thumbs up position.

I clicked to line two.  "You still there? Oh great! Hey listen, along with this pen, I'm going to need a desk...."

This post has been edited by Cedrick the Octorian.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Move 2.0–Working Through the Bumps (Personal Update)

The current room unpacked. A bit cozy.
Image description: Bedroom with a cat on the bed.
So here's the news I was sitting on.

I'm moving again.

Again again. Like for the second time. As in, I just finished unpacking the last of the HBO series DVD's and even before the full shock and lamentation of the lack of a Carnivale season 3 had even reached stage three (bargaining), I was putting it right back in a box to move again.

So there I was in Hayward, resigned to foreseeable future of writing at least my break away debut novel from this tiny little room where I could touch my bed from my writing desk and my bookshelves had another tier of books hidden behind the ones facing outward, when I got the news from a friend of the goldilocks room.

No wait. That's not the right vibe.

The Goldilocks Room™ 


Yes. Much better.

It's a bit more expensive–right at the edge of what I budgeted for (though not "scary" since I took care of the Covered California stuff)–but everything else is fan-fucking-tastic. My commute from Hayward to Oakland where I watch The Contrarian was pretty much 35 minutes from door to door right now unless the roads are apocalypse movie empty. However from Lafayette, other than one particularly harried part of the day, it would only be fifteen minutes. My commute to where I teach will be cut from 70+ minutes to 15-20. It's in walking distance of a BART station and downtown Lafayette. Perhaps the best part for a room destined to be both fully functional groupie threesome babe lair and writing office is the room itself. I'm not exactly sure how the precise dimensions break down, but it's about half again as big as my current room by the math and feels about twice as big when I'm standing in it. And something about volume vs. surface area means I'm getting about eight feet more wall. Plus my roommate is super cool.

So while I am annoyed to literally have to turn around and move again, the opportunity had to be taken. And it's going to be ten kinds of awesome once move 2.0 is completed.

But Chris. How will you ever turn this post into some kind of folksy writing wisdom?


Well, I'm going to stop strumming my banjo for a moment, take this piece of wheat hay out of my mouth and tell the good folks reading that there's an important variation on the theme I've been talking about a lot lately. My life being the landfill inferno it is (that's a step up from dumpster fire, if you were wondering) I've been blowing a lot of smoke about how when the going gets tough, it's good to keep on writing. Your discipline will thank you. Your craft level not atrophying will thank you. And your emotional processing of your personal shitshow will probably thank you.

But sometimes the thing you're writing through isn't a tragic disaster. In fact, sometimes it's harder to keep writing when your life is about to transition in a definitively good direction. Particularly if that transition is going to be good for your writing. If you're about to get a break at work and go down to 30 hours, you might want to wait for that before you start writing. Or if you're about to move into a place with your very own writing office, you might be tempted to just wait until that happens. And in my case, I'll be getting out of a situation where I'm spending 20 hours a week commuting and cutting that down by over 75%, the urge is definitely there to just get myself moved and THEN worry about the writing.

Most of the reasons not to do this are the same whether you're waiting around for great stuff to kick in or bad stuff to kick out. Writing is a skill, and like any skill it will atrophy with disuse. Sitting down to write is a habit, and like any habit you can break it by not doing it. Creativity. Output. Vocabulary. Even smoothness of your sentences will suffer if you put writing aside for a while while you wait for life to either be great or stop being shitty.

But the main reason is that it's a never ending chain. How many times in your life have you not been looking forward to something good or hoping for something bad to be done. How many times have you truly not been in some sort of transition. That's just life. And if you spend the whole time telling yourself you're going to write when this next one thing comes along (and then the next and then the next) you'll turn around and realize life happened while you were waiting for the perfect circumstances in which to live it.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

To Write What Will Never Be Read (Mailbox)

The image finding intern is getting cute again I see.
Image description: a pair of shorts.
Is it worth it to write things that will never see the light of day? (Saturday Shorts) 

[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 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 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.]


Cathy asks:

I'm starting morning writing - which this morning turned into "on the commute" writing, but it did happen!

One thing I'm finding difficult is the feeling that if I'm writing, it should be on something that I'm working on. That I'm wasting valuable writing time... but writing on an actual story runs into all of the other issues (blocked, lack of confidence, plot problems overshadowing all, etc.)

Any advice on how to convince that part of myself that it is worthwhile writing things that will never see the light of day?

My reply:

On-the-commute writing totally counts! Half the problem with people fighting so fucking hard against the advice to write every day is that they think it has to look like some eighties Grape Nuts commercial where the writer faces a still dawn from a palatial cabin resting within a silvan glade at the edge of virgin pine forest. A gentle banjo joins a piano. You know when you've got it good, writer.

Except no one's life is that serene. Even that woman in the commercial. She dipped her banana in Grape Nuts, stood out at the edge of the lake, and that's when the dilophosaurus attacked. If you can dive into the bathroom with your laptop, hold the door closed with your outstretched legs, write for a harried half hour, while screaming to every kid or spouse who bangs on the door: "Go away! Mommy's working on the great American novel," that totally counts too.

Let's talk about your question though because there are definitely two answers. The first is that it's totally awesome for you to work on something you don't consider to be an "actual story." I'm not sure why there exists the predilection among writers that everything they do must be a part of something that will eventually be published. It's sort of a unique sense among the various artistic disciplines of the non-disposability of their every effort. But really it's okay for you to work on something you don't expect to be published. In fact, probably most of it won't. I should show you some day my stack of unpublished scribbles; I could probably wallpaper a small office building. It's everything from me just playing around to things I thought were good and no one wanted.

And then there's Bunnyrats. The less said about that the better. I tucked that one deep into the "Groupies-who-like-threesomes ONLY" drawer.

Musicians practice for untold gagillions of hours. Performers rehearse unceasingly. Painters have reams of sketches that end up in scrapbooks (if they save them at all). Sculptors' studios are filled with mountains of work they aren't trying to sell. Only writers seem fettered to this idea that they need to be working on something that will bloom to audience-awing fruition one day.

This is sort of a problem. A two-fold problem really. I mean it's not just breeding a bunch of pretentious writers who are still trying to shoehorn their poetry from high school into their current zombie love story (although that certainly does happen). But it also leads to a lot of writer's block because everything a writer does feels like it has the ultimate stakes–eventually being seen by the whole world. That's a lot of pressure.

Unfortunately this is reverse polarity artistry. Anti-art if you will. Being so terrified of mistakes that you refuse to take chances is what writing electric toothbrush manuals is about, not art. Some of the best creativity happens when artists are fucking around, mess up, and love the mistake. If a writer is busy not taking chances because they feel the microscope is already there (or worse that they've got to get their half angel half demon goth BDSM sex fiend vampire character from high school into their story) their art will feel stifled and highly derivative.

So when you're not just writing for fun sometimes, not only is the shit coming out worse, but some of the best shit never happens. And you definitely want the good shit. Cause the good shit is...um....the good shit.

So absolutely let loose. Write whatever you want. Write character sketches, vignettes, and stories you will never in a billion years allow to see the light of day. Try to write a story from a point of view of a minor character. Mix two characters from two different stories to see what they do. Have all your characters playing Pokemon Go in a tournament. And know that even if not one syllable of that work ends up in front of a set of eyeballs not your own, you will have learned and developed as a writer as well as continued to cultivate the discipline of daily writing. It's like a piano player practicing. Not everything is a recital, and trying your hand at a little improv for fun is, at the very worst, only going to teach you a couple of things that don't work.

There's a second dimension to your question though, Cathy, and I don't want to leave it hanging. This idea that writing on an "actual" story runs into anxieties. Yes, it is good for a writer to futz around with writing in a way that has no professional ambitions. Just like any musician jams or any painter doodles or any actor does the lines from a movie when they're driving to work. It's good to just do your craft because you love doing your craft. But I also want to tell you....these anxieties aren't going anywhere. Publish seven, eight books–even a couple of best sellers, and you're still going to be worried about plot problems and having confidence issues. I promise. It's just part of putting yourself out there and it doesn't matter if it's your first story or your thousandth.

So let loose with some creative play, but know that one day you and these demons have a date for some serious ass kicking.

Friday, August 19, 2016

You Can DOOOOO EEET!!!!!! (Menu tour)

You Can DOOOO EET!!!!!!!

Photo by AmyLovesYah
There's even more news coming (good this time and deets coming soon). I'm going to keep spreading out posts, but I will start to post on the weekends (tomorrow) and by next week we might get some brunch posts. Today though, I'm sticking with a menu as I take a day to deal with this development. 

A lot of people look at writing like it's some mystical process and writers like they're a different species. For years, the pedagogy of creative writing programs across the country was that genius could not be taught. Starting writers worry more about some mythical quality that they hope they have that will transform their dreams into success than they do about how much work it's going to take to get from "here" to "there."

But writing does not need to be mysterious. As a culture we've come to revere the genius rather than acknowledge the simple fact that most artists were relatively normal people who put in a shit ton of effort. Craft can be taught.  Creativity can be cultivated. Discipline can be exercised. And while writers like Shakespeare or Faulkner are certainly wordsmiths of the caliber that we can only admire from far, far below, most writers are just people who work very, very hard, think deeply about their words, and learn to tap into the creativity that we all have within us. They are human beings composed of the same spiraling chords of DNA as the rest of us.

And you can do it too!

The Holy Trinity of Writing Advice--The Only List You Really Need
Earning Your "Er."
Ziglar and Success.  What's Yours?
A Writer's Attitude: 15 Adjustments Toward Success
Using S.M.A.R.T.(S.) Goals in Writing
Progress is Progress
10 Reasons to Write Daily (Accentuate the Positive)
Don't Make it So Damned Hard!



Thursday, August 18, 2016

July's Best

Despite the massive restructuring of an 11 year relationship, and moving out (along with the regularly scheduled busy-as-shit schedule of teaching summer school, househusbandry, and toddler wrangling), I still managed to have a couple of articles peak up through mediocrity like a crocus through the snow. They will go on to fame and fortune and a life of ease in our "Best of WAW" menu where they will be fed caviar by sculpted models of their preferred gender and never have to think of pedestrian things like scraping up page views again.

That is exactly how it works.

Kickstarter Results and Final Thoughts (Personal Update)
Our Kickstarter finished to unexpected success (and is probably the reason I'm not living on Top Ramen right now).

Your Post Here?
Sort of an odd post to find its way to our "best," but I just go where the numbers tell me. And they tell me that our call for more guest bloggers was a very popular post.

Quickie on the Fly (Personal Update)
A very short post during some of the most upheavaly of the upheavalness.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Best Modern Sci-Fi (Nominations and seconds needed)

Image description: many spaceships; one in the background exploding.
What is the best modern science fiction novel or series?  

We often hear about the canonical science fiction, but what about modern books and series? In the last thirty years we've seen a renaissance of subject matter and new voices within the genre.

We still need more nominations (and the nominations that exist need seconds if they're to make it to the poll).

Rules are on the original page if you're wondering if your nomination counts as "modern" or "science fiction."

Please please please put any new nominations on the comments of the original page. It'll make my life so much easier when I make the poll to have all the nominations in one place.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

When it's Hardest, Just Keep Writing (Personal Update)

Believe it or not, I have to hold my fingers about ten cm off the keyboard
for them to show up in the shot.
Image Description: Writer in coffee shop "hard at work."
It's been a busy month!

I mean aren't they all busy months these days?  With health and relationship problems, moving, and toddlers?

Yes, but this one has been extra busy with busy sauce and a side order of chaos. Plus a tall glass of iced swamp. Wrapping up summer school and prepping for fall, moving, and all the accompanying packing and unpacking tend to fill one's days. Plus it's not like I ever stopped toddler wrangling.

These are the times it's tough to write. They're the times you want to shove it to the back burner, maybe put that blog on hiatus, skip a week or two of daily writing while you move, pause the work in progress, and pick it back up when the deluge of life has ebbed a little. It's not like anyone would blame you.

These are also some the most important times to stick with it.

Of course, I've talked a lot lately about writing being the way through the emotional turmoil and how many artists take refuge and solace in their art (ironically clinging to it more tightly when life is doing its best to rip it away), and none of that has changed.

But there are also more pragmatic reasons to force oneself to the page with a conscientious effort.

I'm moved now. There's still a collection of crap at my old place I need to round up like old USB's and a zillion power cables. I've had more time this week than last week that wasn't claimed by driving back and forth from Hayward to Oakland, and more time last week than the week before. By next week I will have had my first day obligation free since moving.

And the writing has returned to a brisk clip. My sessions at the computer are getting longer and longer, and even starting to come easier. Even though I definitely was working against some "at rest" inertia, I've gotten back into the groove without much difficulty. I'm writing now at a "hungry" canter, and eager for my schedule to free up even a little more so that I can go into a gallop.

Sadly, I know a lot of writers who would take weeks, months, or maybe even years to get back into a regimen after a life upset. Breaks have a way of metastasizing, and life upsets have a way of never really going away. A writer who sets their writing to the side risks becoming pinioned by the mercurial fates of the external world. (And understand I don't mean their work in progress, which can be an incredibly draining and labor intensive project that can't be invested in during times of real strife, but some kind of daily, creative energy.) The graveyard of writers is littered with the bones of those whose last words were: "I'll get back to that as soon as life slows down."

Life never really slows down. Life is sort of a jerk like that.

You can either learn to make the time and space on the fly, or you can live your life waiting for the patches of perfect conditions which, should they come at all, will be so few and far between that the discipline and craft skill to fully exploit them will have atrophied.

Perhaps one of my most fortunate twists of fate was to learn how to be a writer long before I knew a thing about how to write. I figured out in my late teens and early twenties how to deal with the motivation and discipline part of sitting down to write even as I churned out ridiculous hackneyed manuscripts of Star Wars, Star Trek, and Willow clones with the serial numbers barely even filed all the way off.

Still, hacking my way through my own awful prose is really a secondary issue, especially if I respect the full scope of the writing process enough to not be afraid of drafting and lots of revision. If I had to pick a problem to deal with as a writer, I would pick "needs to revise a lot" every day and twice on cliche day.

I feel terrible, though, for some writers who are spectacular at the wordsmithing part, but can't reliably sit down and make it happen. A ton of writers who are a LOT better than me, and probably than I will ever be, can make something magical happen every time they put a pen to paper. However they just can not find the motivation on a regular basis. They write once or twice a month when a flash of inspiration moves them, and are frustrated for the other 99% of the time with their writer's block and unsurmountable life circumstances.

Through my move though, and all the surrounding personal drama, I never stopped writing every day (even if some of the sessions were only a few solid minutes). For me, that discipline has been absolutely key to being able to just restart like clockwork the minute life returned to a simmer.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Post Shell Game

Folks, I need to spend my morning making an extra trip back to my old place to collect the last little bits of things like USB drives and old electronics (plus I need to throw out a chair that I guess isn't wanted).  I'm going to put today's post up tomorrow, tomorrow's up Wednesday, and if there's no guest post by Thursday, I'll catch up on that day.

Don't worry, I'll still sit down and do my daily writing for an hour when I get home from work tonight.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Earn it! (Revision)

Image description: Dog meme.
Text: "You really wanna know? You gotta earn it
Today's post marks the return of weekend revision posts: a review of some of the best from the early days, badly needed clean up and polish on some of my rougher words, and a real time demonstration of how the revision process refines and improves writing.

How to break the rules of writing within your writing...and get away with it.  

It's not enough to say to a writer "Don't do this unless you have a good reason."

For starters, every writer will always think they have a good reason. They'll think they have a great reason. They'll think, since the dawn of the written word, there have only been a dozen or so reasons that even come close to how spectacular their reason is.

This advice is also probably wrong. Or at least wrong-ish. Or at least not absolute.

Every "rule" in writing is breakable.

Despite my philosophical divide with the anti-genre pedagogy of SFSU, I really did learn quite a bit while I was there. I would probably not know how to torture lit snob professors by pointing out that canon literature is speculative fiction without having that education. At least not as well.

Plus there was a really good sandwich shop there in the cafeteria that did this amazing eggplant wheat roll thing...

Still, I must learn to intersperse my trash talking with poignant moments of self reflection. For all my quibbles, it was the best thing I ever did both as a writer and as a person. I did what I went there to do–I honed my craft. I wrote what they told me I "ought to be" writing, and avoided what their syllabi said they did not permit (that "evil trixie genre" writing) and I applied the lessons I'd learned to my own writing in secret–but first I locked the door, swept the room for bugs, and swore to them I was writing a short story about a bisexual Jew living in a halfway house who has AIDS, a meth addiction, and a family unsupportive of their "lifestyle."

Then I secretly worked on my genre novel.

One of the strengths of learning craft directly from people who have gone before you is that they can direct your efforts in a way that yields a greater return. Great writers can (and have) done nothing more to study craft than to read voraciously, and most writers (especially some of the MFA types) would do well to remember that before the 1950's or so, that (and maybe a mentor) was the ONLY way writers learned to write creatively. MFA writing programs didn't really exist prior to WWII.

However, for writers like me with more passion than talent or skill, every improvement has been like passing a kidney stone, and the presence of instructors to point things out can help ease that transition.

Writing programs are like cranberry juice that way.

One of the instructors it was my honor to learn under–Janusprof–enjoyed collecting a mental tally of stories that "broke the rules." Some people collect little pewter dragons or baseball cards. He collected stories that broke conventional wisdom. He had this mental list of a half a dozen stories that had successfully and beautifully broken any rule you could think of. Most of the stories were from authors that your average reader would recognize. He also loved pointing out where anything worth reading was breaking some rule or another.

There are a lot of rules in writing, and I'm not talking about grammar. Crack open most books on craft, and a deluge of rules comes spilling out: Don't write in second person. Don't be too abstract. Don't write out dialect. Don't TELL people how to feel.  Don't switch point of view in a short story. Write about a short period of time. Don't write in second person. On and on and on. Some of these rules get as specific as "don't write about little kids," "don't write dreams," or "you should never have more than one adverb per page."

And of course there are today's variations. "Vampires are overdone. Stop writing about schools of wizardry. First person is so five minutes ago–use close third. Quit thinking writing in present tense is edgy."

Pretty much...all bullshit.

Not that this advice is useless, and a writer would do well to understand what they're getting into if they write a present tense book in first person about vampire children at a wizard school who dream a lot. But any rule you can think up has had a unimaginably touching and deep work of fiction that breaks it–probably even canon literature–and probably more than one.

Writers dispense with rules all the time. Actually most artists dispense with the rules of their art all the time, and it's when some of the best works show up. (Most artistic movements are basically gaggles of artists flipping the bird to the last generation's "rules.") Still writing has always had this strange relationship among the arts with its own anachronistic advice. Somewhere in the mix of idolizing those writers who have "made it," it seems like advice from writers (even those writers we would never today want to emulate) takes on this mystical veracity that it doesn't in other arts or professions.

In a normal discipline, if a teacher tells you to always or never do something, there's this response that seems almost second nature to the students of, "Let's figure out why this is a rule so we can bend or break it." But writers have stuffed that part of their brain with Tennyson quotes and dirty limericks, so they don't always take this advice with respect and a grain of salt.

For some reason, writers tend to go all or nothing. Or they go the other way and just ignore it altogether and never learn why it where its wisdom comes from. Every writer is a special snowflake and their story is so fucking brilliant that they are exempt from traditional wisdom.  Because "if you really want to" or "unless you have a good reason" isn't even a speed bump when it comes to many writer's sense of their work's importance. So now you have a bunch of abstract second person stories about vampire wizard kids telling you how to feel and the writers don't really understand what the problem is because they are all convinced that their reason was a really "good reason."

Or they go the other way and take the advice as some commandment-level rule. Hating themselves for every perceived slight they have made against a set of advice by a 100 year old novelist who would never ever EVER EV-ER find an audience among today's readers.

Enter Janusprof.

I know when I felt it was time to move on from Janusprof, I really felt like it was time to move on–being told LeGuin didn't have any real social messages will do that to a science fiction fan–but while I studied the force at the foot of the Emperor, I learned a tremendous amount about how to digest hundreds of years and thousands of writers worth of advice, including what to shit back out.

He always had a sense that if you knew WHY something was a problem that was better than just trying to obscurely declare it to be so you would be better equipped to do the writing. So instead of spending his time worrying about what people shouldn't write (except....apparently when it came to genre) he instead had a catch phrase.

"Earn it."

Do the work that can make the writing happen. Earn the scene. If you want a character to wax abstract about their feelings, it's going to take a lot of concrete details around that moment to ground your reader so they don't just feel like they're being ham-handedly TOLD what to feel. If you want to write about little kids, earn that by showing how major events can take on strange and different meaning to them. If you want to write in second person, figure out what the strengths are of that voice and earn it like Loorie Moore or Jay McInerney.

Write your vampire story. Even your sexy angsty 90210 teen vampire story if that's what your soul burns to write. But also learn why that shit is overdone and publishers are avoiding it and then bring a fresh perspective to the table as well.

Rules beg to be broken. It's like telling a little kid "Okay, I'm going to leave now–don't look in the closet."

As you grow up, your relationship with rules changes. You learn to measure things like risk and consequences and to carefully break the rules you don't like. (If you make sure everyone's really gone, and you don't leave any evidence, but also you accept that you might be ruining your birthday present surprise, you can look in the closet.) Most people who do illegal things (like drugs or speeding) understand this relationship with rules. It doesn't mean they totally ignore them just because fuck rules–driving 120 through a school zone or blowing pot smoke into a cop's face. But they do know when and how to get away with strategically ignoring them.

Writing advice isn't really any different. Ignoring it because "I had a good reason" or because one simply doesn't understand why it's advice in the first place won't make the prose any better or more readable. And following every bit of advice like it's the Code of the Writer™ will leave work stilted and unwilling to risk.

Instead when writers focus on doing what it takes to make successfully execute their problematic moments.

"Earn it" is so much better than many of its contemporary bits of advice. Forget the reason. Forget whether it was even a good reason. I don't care if it was a dare or if two groupies told you they would have a threesome with you if you would just publish angsty second person vampire BDSM fiction. Your reason doesn't matter.  Your sense of whether it's important doesn't matter.

You don't ever have to justify your writing to yourself. Just sit down and write and your writing is justified to you. You have to justify your writing to your readers. And for that, there is no personal excuse that makes bad writing important enough that it magically becomes okay. You must simply, without prejudice or passion, pay the toll of making it work.

Earn it.

"Earn it," casts off the veil of glamour and mystique about writing. There isn't some mystical force that will tell you when a reason is "good enough" to break a rule. This isn't magic that drips from your fingers into the pen or keyboard and spills out onto the page. What will get your from an unearned scene to an earned scene is not the pen of Poe or the finger bone of Shakespeare or talent or even having a really good reason. It's work–hard work.

The only rule is you have to earn it.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Chris's Philosophy of Writing (Menu Tour)

Note: I'm going to keep doing the Friday Menu Tour until we've kind of gone through most of the good ones, but next week it will become the "brunch post." I'm almost done unpacking and sitting on the phone for an hour to make health insurance payments and all the bullshit that comes from uprooting an eleven year life and transplanting it into a single bedroom. I've got some posts lined up for this weekend and a dynamite schedule planned for next week.

Again, this Friday series is a tour of menus you can find on the side bar or up in The Reliquary

Chris's Philosophy of Writing


These are manifestos, rants, edicts, warnings, fundamental precepts and more. I claim no authority of fiat (in fact, sometimes that's what I'm most objecting to), but they are as close to the core nuggets of my personal philosophy of writing as anything is likely to get.  Some are several articles surrounding a core idea like Dorothea Brande or politics.  Some are very (very) long, some are obviously papers I wrote for college, and many are more than a little self indulgent.  But all are fundamental to what I understand of writing.

A lot of these articles show up in other menus--or rather they are cross posted here because while they might be about linguistics or process or in some other way fit in another menu, they are also core precepts I think are vital.

Earning Your "Er."
No Apologies: A Defense of Why Speculative Fiction Should Need No Defense.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Writing- It's much more than just the writing part.
A Fish, a Rat, and a Prescriptivist Walk Into a Bar Why most linguistic prescriptivism bothers me.
Ten thousand hours It takes a lot of work.  A LOT of work.
NaNoWriMo: The Good, The Bad, and the Really Really Ugly
The A to Zen of a Writer's Life
The Modern Artist's Survival Guide
An Open Letter to Lynn Shepherd
The 17 Rules of Writing
A Passive Aggressive Memo to Other Artists
On Sister Act 2 and How to Know If You Should Be a Writer
Ten Reasons to Write Daily (Accentuate the Positive)
Don't Make It So Damned Hard

Series Articles

The Lessons of Brande Dorothea Brande's book Becoming A Writer has shaped how I fundamentally approach writing. 1 The book and what it's about.  2 Cultivating internal dualism.  3 Morning writing.  4 The Floating Half Hour of Writing

Writers and Politics Be careful when dealing with politicsThe truth is a casualty of political writing.  Avoiding politics entirely isn't the answer.  But there are reasons to be cautious.

It's Really Okay NOT to Write. Really  Intro & Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Best Non-European Fantasy (Results)

Results copied and pasted below.
We're down a guest post this morning, so I thought I'd wrap up July's poll (you know...since we're almost half way through August now).

I don't have much to add here in the way of commentary. I was a little surprised at how robust the nomination process was and how limited the interest was in voting. That's probably the lowest turnout we've had in two or three years.

I'm sure the lack of enthusiasm has more to do with me than anything. Moving and personal life changes kept me away from the blog and its promotion even though I didn't technically put it on hiatus.  Hopefully there will be more turnout for our Aug/Sept poll: Best Modern Sci-Fi novel or series.  (Nominations are going on now.)


Earthsea–U. LeGuin 12 23.08% 23.08%
Kiki's Delivery Service–E. Kadono 8 15.38% 15.38%
Hundred Thousand Kingdoms–N.K. Jemisin   7 13.46% 13.46%
Lord of Light–Zelazny 6 11.54% 11.54%
Empire Trilogy–Feist & Wurts 6 11.54% 11.54%
Haroun and the Sea of Stories–S. Rushdie 5 9.62% 9.62%
Throne of the Crescent Moon–S. Ahmed 5 9.62% 9.62%
Monkey and The Monk A. C. Yu and Wu C 3 5.77% 5.77%