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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?

Friday, March 31, 2017

January's Best

Well I'm currently about nine to ten hours of writing behind where I wanted to be by today. Also I had about nine extra hours of kid wrangling this week that were unplanned until the last minute. Even with math for liberal arts eight years ago being the last math class I ever took, I was still able to figure this one out.

Since I'm behind where I should be and very behind on some of the "bookkeeping" posts (like the best of posts). Today seemed like a good time to catch up on that. These are the three posts from January that will go on to fame and fortune among W.A.W.'s Greatest Hits.

The Narrative of Normalization If you are still trying to convince yourself that a Trump presidency will not be that bad, here is (some of) the cognitive dissonance that exists within that narrative...

An Old Friend is Sick Of course in February it became clear that the old friend wasn't getting better.

Social Justice Bard and the Tale of the Missing Outrage Before you wonder where the outrage is, you might want to check to see if the situation is utterly, entirely, completely different.


Honorable mention–REALLY close showing by this article:
Never Ever Ever Ever Ever Ever Give Up
 How even a fifth rate blog can eventually get the numbers you want.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Writing About Pre-Writing by Leah Godfrey

Writing about Pre-Writing
by Leah Godfrey 

I suspect that many of Chris’ avid fans are in a similar position to me. Wannabe writers. We know that there is a book in there somewhere. We know we have something interesting and relevant to add. We consume literature like voracious animals, savaging fiction and soaking up facts. We joke about how if we won the lottery, we would move to a small, warm island and ‘write for fun’. When someone compliments us on writing ability (usually in something work related) and suggests we do something about it, we blush shyly, demur and change the topic of conversation.

There is always an excuse; some reason which stops us from taking the first step or making the commitment. For me, there are two. First of all, “I lack creativity”. As of last month, I call bullshit on this feeble excuse. I don’t lack creativity, I lack creative muscle. This became very apparent to me having treated myself to one of the San Francisco Writers Group books – “642 things to write”. I’ve sat down and slowly worked my way through the book, flexing my creative muscles as I’ve gone and adding some serious bulk in a relatively short time. If you haven’t seen these books, pick one up and have a look next time you’re in town – very short writing exercises that don’t half get the juices flowing. I would highly recommend these to anyone in my pre-writing position so that you can call bullshit on that excuse too.

The second reason, however, is a little more practical. I have a pretty decent job and a solid career. If I wanted it to, it would take me places. Unfortunately, I don’t want it to because it’s a tough role and whilst I can cope with the mental demands, the emotional ones are wearing away my soul. I like my soul. I reckon it is quite important. I would like to be doing other things instead, writing for a living being top of the list. Financially though, I am backed into a corner where my life and that of my family is expensive and I need the job to fund everything we have and all the things we want.

There is also the small matter of my currently being on maternity leave with a teeny baby. The maternity pay is not amazing, but there is enough of it that I have been able to take nine months off work. The downside is, in accepting the pay I am contractually obliged to return to my job for at least three months after (or I have to give all the money back). So career-wise I’m not going anywhere until October 2017 anyway….

But this leave has given me plenty of time to think. I have had the opportunity to put in some groundwork. The aforementioned book is a great one page-a-day exercise so stimulate the imagination. I have launched a little blog on what life is like as a second-time Mum
(http://mirrormirror2016.blogspot.co.uk) and have committed to writing a piece at least five times a week, mainly just to get into the habit of writing with any regularity. I’ve bought books which will hopefully inspire and instruct me, including Stephen King’s “On Writing”, Bill Bryson’s “Troublesome Words” and “The Elements of Style” by Strunk & White. I read this and other blogs about writing with great interest. I have a notebook to hand so that when thoughts come to my mind I can capture them on paper immediately. Perhaps most importantly, I have started to read critically. Before I would read a piece of fiction and become lost in the story, because hey, that is what it is there for. Now, I also try to take the time to pick the book apart and recognise what the author doing at any given point; here is Stephen King effortlessly making us give a shit about a character, here is Olaf Stapledon doing some world-building and here is Armistead Maupin tugging on the emotional heartstrings. With this in mind, I’ve also started writing reviews for books on the GoodReads app, to share my critical analyses and see how they align with the thoughts of others.

There exists in my line of work (and probably many others) what is snappily titled “The Transtheoretical Model”, which refers to the cycle of change and how to help people depending on where they sit on said cycle. It is useful for behavioural adjustments (such as giving up drinking or smoking) or more generalised lifestyle changes (considering going to university) and five stages occur. Precontemplation (awareness but reluctance), contemplation (consideration, looking for the pros and cons), preparation (intention is there, plans are being made), action (what is says on the tin) and maintenance (sustaining the change or new behaviour). An additional stage is relapse which is usually framed, very positively, as the pathway back into the cycle following a blip, be that major or minor.

In terms of writing, I currently identify very strongly as moving from contemplation into preparation. Writing this blog post for Chris’ guest spot is a strong indicator for me that I’m moving towards committing to the idea of being a writer and looking for ways to make that happen. With that in mind, I would not want this to be considered as a how-to guide in pre-writing. I wanted to lay my ideas out there, because I imagine many of his readers will be exactly where I am now. I want to engender a sense of pre-writing community. More than anything, I want tips! Please! Any feedback is welcome. I have 6 months until I can dump my career and I would like to be using that time constructively, in this, my preparation stage.

Thank you in advance. Thank you for reading. Thank you Chris.


About Leah Godfrey: Avid reader, wannabe writer. Recent second-time Mum and owner of three dogs; Tweedledum, Tweedledumber and Tweedledipshit. You can find her blog here: http://mirrormirror2016.blogspot.co.uk/




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

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Worst Page Turner (Last Chance to Vote)

What's the worst book that you just couldn't stop reading, even though it was terrible?   

Only a couple of days remain in our worst page turner poll, so take a moment to vote. Results will be up this Saturday (April 1st).

From your nominations and through quarter and semifinals, it all comes down to the next couple of days.

Everyone has (3) votes, but remember that there is no ranking, so using as few votes as possible is better. 

The poll itself is in the lower left at the bottom of the side menus.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Personal Update on the Fly


Raw unfettered shit- 80,042 (Last update 78, 512) [Just this update- 1530]     

Slightly polished turd-59,956 (Last update 55, 716)  [Just this update- 4240] 

Superpolishedfragileshitstick- 11,513

I got a sudden tag in this morning at the outset of my writing time or I would break down for you why this isn't quite as miserable as it looks. (It's pretty miserable, but I feel like it doesn't reflect my couple of decent sessions and remarkably good intentions.) Of course my brain was cooking beyond my ability to even focus on text for four days of the last week as I nursed 102 fever and tried desperately to keep down water, and I've been taking it easy for four more as symptoms have hung on and kept coming back like the monster in a slasher flick. I've been poking at the novel for over a week just to not lose my mental momentum, and that's basically about as much as I've been able to do until just this weekend when I had the decent session.

I'm also, to my shame, still getting back into a more measured, paced (and non-fiction) writing from the post inauguration mind-fuck. The cacophony in my brain (echoed, to my relief, in so many other artists I talked to and read about) kept me from being able to focus for very long at all and at first stifled my creativity.

Ironically the ability to calm those voices, focus my mind, and get to work has been helped this time by being sick. After a while of a terrible cough, you just keep coughing because your throat is irritated and there's a tickle. I was actually getting a back spasm from coughing so hard and so much. So I just...didn't cough. It took phenomenal concentration and focus, and at times threatened to trigger my gag reflex, the urge was so strong, but eventually the tickle would calm, and I would be able to go to sleep.

I will say this since I'm nothing if not a dispensary of fortune cookie wisdom. (No...really.) Recharging one's batteries is important. My writing time was becoming a long, unfocused dribble in front of the computer with COUNTLESS distractions by Facebook and other social media. Gutting out that next word and the next word was really tough. I noticed after I was sick that I was having all kinds of fun and enjoyable inspiration–talking about being sick from the virus's point of view, and all manner of playful status updates.

It's not that I would back off on my advice to write daily if at all possible, but if you're feeling stuck and writing sessions are dragging out, you might try a really real break. Go out for a few hours. Take 24 hours completely off. (I don't really recommend getting the flu, but apparently it'll do in a pinch.)

We've got some good stuff coming this week including an article about Logan and the next part of our tone article. We're also going to get our massive thank you post written to all the wonderful people who have helped get Triexta's Kickstarter going. Hopefully this emergency kid-watch is a one shot and not an all-week need.

And on that note, it looks like naptime is over.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Poking At a Work In Progress (Mailbox)

What do I mean by poking at my work in progress?

[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 (after this 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. This backlog goes back months, so please be patient.]    

Adella asks:

In your post yesterday, you wrote about poking at your work in progress, and I notice you've used that expression a lot since you started writing your book. What exactly does that mean, and why just poke at it?

My reply:

Almost exactly a year ago now I was hanging out with a friend lamenting all the games we weren't going to have the time to play now that we had adult responsibilities and couldn't lackadaisically fritter 40 hours a week to the Pixel gods in the manner of our misspent youth. We have different games we dig with some overlap, but I think I'm way more into real time strategy, and he likes those brutal twitch shooters that make me throw my controller.

We both agreed that we were going to have to make time for Fallout 4 though. Both of us were slavering weenies for Fallout 3, and I convinced him that New Vegas, while less open concept, was still worth the time for that ineffable I-just-punched-that-dude's-head-off fix.

"I don't want to get into it now though," he said. "It looks amazing, but I'm going to wait. Right now I'm so busy, I know I would only be playing a few minutes a week. I want to wait until I can sink into it for days at a time and immerse myself in that character. If you go too long without playing, it's like you lose all that momentum."

I understood instantly what he meant. Not just because in my quest to actually finish the Literary Review of Skyrim now stretches into its fifth year and I've restarted the game probably ten times. But mostly because he's describing a phenomenon that happens in writing as well. You can't leave those characters for too long.

When you get into their heads, it's this whole thing. You're living them. You're breathing them. You're thinking their thoughts. You're obsessed with them like you might be a video game or book. You find yourself wondering how they'd handle social encounters you just experienced if they were there instead. They sometimes even talk to you in their voices. And you're constantly tooling those parts of your story that aren't fully developed yet.

If you put your project to the side, even just for more than a few days, that intimacy congeals quickly. You come back to the page and find those characters stale. Trying to move them around feels like moving a stiff muscle. You're no longer in their head and it's a struggle against language to get them to do talk to you again. It can be done, but it usually takes a day or two. And if the breaks are more common than the writing, it really makes a long-term project difficult to finish.

Stories that have been abandoned and rekindled repeatedly (without sufficient revision) often feel like their characters go through "wooden" phases, where they are little more than cut outs for the plot. This is what I try to avoid when I "poke" at my work in progress. It usually involves some light writing or revision, but it's basically a way not to lose the characters and what's going on in their heads.

It's an invaluable trick for longer works of fiction since it is inevitable that in the course of writing that much you're going to get sick or have a pet die...or have your life kind of turn into a F-5 hurricane for a year. As I return to old productivity rates, it has been invaluable not to have to grit through every single paragraph at the beginning.

So that's what I mean, Adella. I try to do a little every day even when it's basically impossible to sit down and have one of those monster, six-hour sessions. Just so the day after that will not be quite so start-over-from-square-one-ish.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Beginning Writers and Submission Guidelines

Young writers.....we need to talk.

When I say "young writers" I don't just mean writers of youth, though I certainly do mean them as well, but more as an industry-wide metonymy for, "writers who are just starting to really write in earnest and who have maybe yet to dip their toe into the industry." Or maybe, "Writers who have been writing but now want to take their writing to the next level, but are not yet aware of the business end of creative of writing." Or "Writers who think they know everything about everything and desperately need to be taken down a peg or two."

Perhaps ten, and certainly twenty years ago, I could have used a different phrase (and with greater precision) for those of you I'm hoping to reach: "Unpublished authors." Sadly, today with industry changes due to computer developments, the water is muddy with blogging and other online publication, hybrid publication and a myriad other non-traditional routes to the end zone. Which are all great but the ol traditional route (which I know many view as more legit) is still there too, and it is as mysterious as ever.

So....we still need to talk.

  • I say this as someone who has twice now issued a massive call for guest bloggers complete with some instructions to follow in the submission process and then seen what happens. 
  • I say this as an editor and then managing editor of a literary magazine.
  • I say this as a writer with friends in the publication side of the industry.

I know I went the nontraditional route, but I've submitted, been published, and more importantly taken submissions FOR publication, so I know a little something about what I'm saying:

Your most likely rejection comes from not following directions.
I'm not kidding.

Young writers tend to think think it's some ineffable prose quality they lack or some esoteric misunderstanding of what they were trying to do because no one could possibly see the genius, or even a grammar mistake, but really it's good old fashioned didn't-follow-directions that will fucking cast you into the lava pit like a Klingon that Kirk has finally had enough of.

All those other things matter. Prose quality certainly matters greatly for prestigious publications, although yours is probably better than you give it credit for if you would let your own voice through and trust in a rigorous process of revision. Your unseen genius (probably more seen and less genius than you think) still has to sell, whether the person reading it picked up on it or not. And while grammar mistakes are a quick way to get round filed, they're a distant second to not following directions.

Because no one will even LOOK at your writing if you don't follow directions. They'll never see it. It will descend at 9.8 m/s/s (with a little drag for air resistance) into the Circular Tomb of the Unread Manuscript™, and your fantasies that you are so spetacurificawesomicle that they will fudge it once they think of those sweet Benjamins that'll be flooding in may be sweet for you to fap to, but won't even pragmatically be possible.

They won't even see it.

They. Won't. Even. See. It.

But Chris, my submission is something really special. Anyone who reads it will recognize that it's really got some potential. It's about a farm boy who is strangely good at this special skill who goes up against a dark lord....

Nope! They won't even see it. Even if that were true (and it's probably not), they won't actually ever get the chance to know.

Look, if it's me and someone doesn't follow directions, I just work around it. I ask the question I absolutely needed answered in a follow up email or say "Oops, you seem to have not noticed this page is about writing not tantric sex. Sorry!" And about 90% of the people with perfectly wonderful submissions missed some part or another of the directions. And every one of them would have been tossed and never even responded to in a traditional setting.

It's not that these gatekeepers are just genetically spliced with sphincter meat to breed a purer asshole. They work in an industry where they easily have 500-1000 times more submissions than space to publish. And with a literary periodical it's probably about 10-20 times more (but with a staff of three doing the work). Anything they can do to pare down what they think is worth reading from the stacks of crap, the better. If you can't be bothered to follow their submission guidelines, why should they bother to read your crap?

So if they say query with three sample chapters, you send them three. Not four because it's really important to see the fallout of the Namor weapon on the Gisliski. Not two and an outline. Not the whole book. Three. If they say to send them 30 pages, don't send them 35 because you're sure they're going to want to know how that chapter ends. Don't send them 29 because that's where part four comes to a conclusion and they won't understand what's happening on the next page. Thirty pages. If they say they don't take electronic submissions don't send them one because you figured it would be okay for you. Don't ask if you can be a special exception. Print it out and and mail it. If they say the cover letter should be a page, you send them a page. Don't send them so much as a single damned word that wraps around to page two. Don't give them half a page. One page. If they give you a font size, use it. If they give you a maximum word count, don't send it to them at two words more. If they want it as a PDF don't attach a Google doc. If they give you a timeline before emailing to find out if they got it, respect it. If they want it sent with a self addressed, stamped envelope because they are still living in the 19th century, do it. If they tell you to include a VHS cassette of you doing the Animaniacs country song, while you wear purple and jump up and down on one leg, it's time to go rent an old camcorder from the old electronics store and brush up on your hopsinging.

Of course it doesn't have anything to do with how well you write, and of course every single solitary fucking place has its own particular and persnickety set of submission guidelines (and, frankly, some of this very bullshit is why a lot of people have given the finger to traditional publishing), but if you're going that route, get it right. It's like dressing up for an interview: it signals your professionalism and telegraphs that you care enough to be worthy of the next step.

If you're serious about submitting you have to do this. No one will make a special exception for you. They will just throw your shit away. Go through the guidelines meticulously line by line and make sure that every single thing is exactly to their specifications. Otherwise you might as well just throw it in the trash on your end and call it a day.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Day Before the Day Before All Better (Personal Update)

Still sick.

Today is the day BEFORE the day you frustratingly stay in bed because you don't want to jinx it (even though you're pretty sure you're good to go).

Today is the day I ran one fifteen minute errand and felt wiped out and needed a two-hour nap.

Today is the day a couple of the symptoms have quit the field and my fever has been mercifully gone (without antipyretics) since yesterday morning, but a couple more battle on for the glory of The Sons of Jacob, and the less I have to explain about why the fallout of the flu and a cough sucks as a combo attack, seriously the better for all of humanity.

Normally Wednesday is a pretty light day, so I'll just give you a quick update.

The good news here is with the fever down, I've been able to start doing some work in bed and reading again without getting bad headaches. I've been poking at my W.I.P. between naps and also getting through the guest blogger posts (remember there were like a hundred of them).  So if you put in a guest blog and haven't heard back, you probably will in the next day or two.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

They Are Coming

[Just a little something so y'all don't forget about me. I'm a bit better but still pretty jacked. My fever has broken, but there are plenty of symptoms hanging around for the after party and keeping me in bed. 

You can find these sorts of not-quite-their-own-post musings all the time over at my Facebook page (though I warn you, you would also have to put up with my wild  and outspoken social justice side as well). 99% of my posts are public if you just want to follow, but be sure and drop me a short note if you want to be friends so I know you're not a pr0nspam bot or spoiling for a fight.] 

Day 6:

What looked like a verdant utopia for my brethren has become a nightmarish hellscape. I landed in this biome filled with abundance, and few predators, and went forth and multiplied. I watched my descendants spread and grow content. All seemed perfect...almost idyllic.

But something here, something in the landscape itself grew....aware of us. It noticed our presence and did not like what it saw. The temperature rose three degrees overnight, and all the entrances have become death traps that force us into the cold outside, be it by sudden overwhelming gusts of air or sliding, sticky quagmire inexorably pulling them into the frozen outlands. Their screams echo in my ears as they beg me to save them.

And the predators. God the predators. At first just a few barely taking note of us, but as the temperature rose they grew ever more violent. Feasting on my kin's flesh, driving us back. Relentless. Now, not only are they more numerous, but they're getting better. Better at killing us.

The food is exhausted. Now we are the food. I have brought my people only death. I hear the drums in the deep.

A shadow moves in the dark. They are coming.

Monday, March 20, 2017

On the mend

Better. But still need more bedrest.
I'm on the mend but I'm still pretty sick. This was no trivial thing (high fever flu).

I'm hoping to be up for some jazz hands as early as tomorrow, but it might be Wednesday. By the end of the week I hope to be pounding out some substance.

I've been able to write today. Not blogging--my head is still just a little too foggy for that, but more than just a FB post here or there, so I'm going to poke at my WIP and do a little bit of writing from my bed between naps.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

The Writer is Sick

Brain-meltingly sick.

I can usually get something up if I just have the sniffles or the blahs, but I'm currently fighting a fever and the flu, and I'm good for at most a few minutes of sitting up and concentrating at a time.

Hoping for a triumphant return by Monday, but little tiny little invaders have my body jacking up the thermostat so that they are significantly less comfortable, and when I'm back in the saddle is going to depend on when they decide that melting my brain in my brain pan is no longer the strategy de jour.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Worst Page Turner (Final Round!)

What's the worst book that you just couldn't stop reading, even though it was terrible?   

They're the books you want to hate, but you can't put down. The books that you know are terrible, but you have to read one more page and one more like a bag of stale and greasy potato chips. They're the books you can't stand, but must have more of.

Our final round is live! Through a tumultuous nomination process, four quarterfinals and two semifinals we are now down to our last eight titles.

Don't forget you get three (3) votes, but that there is no ranking, so using as few votes as possible is better. This poll will be up until the end of March, and don't forget that that since I can't stop shenanigans like voting twice from different computers, or voting after the cookies expire in a week, I encourage as much of it as possible. Vote early. Vote often.

The poll itself is in the lower left at the bottom of the side menus.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Worst Page Turner (Semifinal 2 Results)

Through the nomination process, four quarterfinals, and two semifinals, we have at last arrived at the final eight names for our poll. Stay tuned. That'll be up in just a few minutes.

But here are the results of the most recent semifinal:
Text results below.

DaVinci Code-D. Brown 64 28.19%
50 Shades of Grey-E.L. James 45 19.82%
Eragon- C.Paolini 38 16.74%
Atlas Shrugged A. Rand 30 13.22%
Gone Girl-G Flynn 16 7.05%
Anita Blake-L.K. Hamilton 14 6.17%
Dreamcatchers-S. King 12 5.29%
White Gold Weilder-S. Donaldson 8 3.52%

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Scheduling Shift

Decided to go with the "Hella Professional" aesthetic
on this calendar image.
Image description: "Blog" written on Wednesdays
with an arrow pointing to Saturday.
I think I'm going to start writing a post on the weekends in place of Wednesdays.

My current Wednesday is my longest scheduled nanny shift, runs late, comes after Tuesday, which is usually a little on the tough and late-running side, is the end of my nanning work week (which comes fully equipped with all these....damned.....FEELINGS about missing the kid for up to four days in addition to the regular ol' "What a week!" bullshit), feels the most harried and work-in-progress neglectificating, and has been the day I've most frequently Jazz Handsinated the countryside in the last few months.

But this is absolutely a shift and not a shirk. Currently the Patreon, with its breathtaking goal achievement means I need to do six updates a week. That may be both weekend days or it might mean a brunch post one day.

And on that note, I'm going to power down my writing laptop and sing I'm not Crying.

I'm making a lasagna, you see.....

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

In Which I Maintain That Movies Have Killed the Ghost Story (Rahnia Collins)

Image description: Laptop computer on a desk with notes and a cup and another
cup with pens and pencils.
In Which I Maintain That Movies Have Killed the Ghost Story…  
By Rahnia Collins

I’m a sucker for a ghost story…love ‘em! Give me a crumbling house on the edge of the moor with strange echoes and even stranger occurrences and I’m in. But lately I’ve come to a horrifying conclusion. Out of the creepy, abandoned nursery of my addiction has come an unwelcome spectre. It is the spectre of the ghost movie and I think it’s better and scarier than the book. I can hear you all howling now, but before you form a lynch mob on my lawn, believe me, it hurts me to say it more than it hurts you to read it. This terrible confession is being dragged from someone who is a die-hard believer in the supremacy of the book over the movie version.

Now, when I say ghost movie here, I’m not talking about a specific book to film adaptation, I’m talking about the genre in general. I often find myself feeling let down at the end of a ghost story and I started to consider why it is that I am so underwhelmed by a genre I love.  And it is here that the tedious old adage about the picture painting a thousand words comes into its own. I think the genre of film makes a more terrifying ghost story because it can convey so much, so quickly with so little. When a writer describes the eerie scene or the terrifying appearance of the ghost, it takes time and paragraphs of words which necessarily slow everything down. The filmmaker can achieve the same effect in seconds. And then there is the soundtrack. Even if I imagine scary violins in my head as I read, it does not have the same visceral effect on my insides as the cleverly executed soundtrack in a movie.  But I think it goes deeper than this.

Ghost story scholar, Jack Sullivan, refers to a Golden Age of Ghost stories which he situates roughly between the 1830s and World War I. Obviously this is the era of the Godfather of ghost stories, M.R. James. It is no accident that when we think ghost story we consider that decaying mansion on the edge of the moors or the crumbling graveyard on a windswept coast. This is the spiritual home of the ghost story. And ghost stories in print would have been terrifying at this time. Imagine a group of people gathered around a candle in a darkened parlour scaring each other silly reading ghost stories while outside fog eddies around dark streets lit only by gas lamps, and in the alleys of Whitechapel Jack the Ripper pursued his hapless victims. It makes sense doesn’t it?

We, however, live in an age of technology, of cities so bright that they can be seen from space and for us the film is king.  We are so used to the way a film can manipulate us into being terrified with special effects and the soundtrack that the same story told on the page seems anti-climactic. Consider the climatic scene in M.R.James’s Oh, Whistle and I’ll come to you my lad: ‘…it became suddenly conscious of the bed he had just left, and darted towards it, and bent and felt over the pillows in a way which made Parkins shudder…what he chiefly remembers about it is a horrible, an intensely horrible face of crumpled linen.’ Now consider a ghost with a similar urge to frighten its victims to death, the little girl in The Ring. Cast your mind back to the climactic scene when she climbs out of the TV towards Martin Henderson’s character, Noah and we  get the briefest glimpse of her face. Bhuuhhhuh(sound of me shuddering)!

So I’m not saying that there are no good examples of the ghost story (Michelle Paver’s Dark Matter, for instance), I’m saying that film has made the impact of the ghost story far more frightening and thus taken something away from the written genre. It is rare that I have been kept up at night by a ghost story.  But… I couldn’t go to the toilet in the middle of the night without the light on for weeks after I saw The Ring.

So I guess what I really want now is for Internet land to prove me wrong. What are the ghost stories that creeped you out, that stopped you sleeping, that made you sleep with the light on?  And please, no angry mobs on the front lawn, you’ll wake the baby.

[Editor's Note: You might want to try House of Leaves. Shivers.]

Rahnia Collins is an English teacher by profession, a writer by aspiration and a reader by addiction. She wishes there was some sort of grant that would fund her reading habit. Her other addictions are tea and cats. If her husband had not set a strict two cat limit she would already be a crazy cat lady. 



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

Writing On Vacation (Personal Update)

I keep waiting for Wakka to tell me Sin is attacking.
Image description: thatched huts and a wooden walkway
on a shallow ocean water.
One of the most common bits of advice I dispense at the slightest provocation here at Writing About Writing is that it is a great idea for a writer to write every day. Of course there are lots of caveats to this advice oft forgotten when one came to this blog to have a good time, but are feeling so attacked right now. 

Still, I scream into the void. It keeps me from being bored.

I'm particularly liberal with the "Write Daily" mantra to those writers who indicate that their endgame is to "make it," those who have some bellwether of success that includes paid bills and legions of fans, or those who flood* my inbox with demands for how I've cobbled together such a fantastic kingdom of wealth.

*for values of "flood" that include at least one message of some kind every week or so

Among the questions I get the most is if I really write every day. Am I a big ol' hypocrite who does not practice what he preaches? I'm not exactly 100% clear on how these folks imagine this blog gets updated so frequently if I'm shirking on the down-low, but maybe they imagine I spend a lot of time plunger sucking writing from others' brains Dalek-style or writing weeks worth of posts in fifteen minutes on my phone during my Monday morning crap.

Many queries are at least a little more reasonable. They want to know how I write every day when things get tough. When I'm out of town. When I'm sick. When shit goes down–shit of the variety that life periodically and invariably downshits.

So this week, while I'm wrapping up a long weekend in Denver to visit OG, I thought I'd bring you a glimpse into my daily writing fare. Because keeping myself in the writing habit does not always mean four to six hours in front of my Work In Progress every single day. But it also doesn't mean I let my game go rusty just because I'm not in a perfect situation to write.

Thursday (flight to Denver @ 7pm): I had to get packed and clean the house so I ran a guest post here on W.A.W.  I did about fifteen minutes on a post that might run this week (about Logan) and spent about 30 minutes crafting a ranty/political post on my personal Facebook page.

Friday: We went and saw the Denver Museum of Art's exhibit on Star Wars costumes (very cool, by the way). I wrote for about ten minutes on FB. Then I made a post (the Fortune Cookie post), which was a little less effort than a regular article post, but I still had to go back through some of my old posts and tailor some of the "wisdom" there to fortune cookie format. It took a little less than an hour, but my host was getting a touch impatient with me by the end.

Saturday: We had a very low key day Saturday–just watching a couple of movies and kind of shlubbing at extraordinary speed. I was off from the blog, so I twiddled for about a half an hour on my W.I.P. just to keep from rusting, and sent off a couple of emails that required more than my half-assed attention. The total time might have been 45 minutes.

Sunday: Had a day with a wee one on Sunday who wanted to "take me" to Casa Bonita. This is a dreadful chain Mexican restaurant that apparently thinks Taco Bell is way too easy on the ol' digestive tract, but has about a zillion psychic tractor beams that work specifically on young brain wavelengths. Cliff diving in the middle of the restaurant... Scary animatronic caves.... Skeeball.... It's a weird place. (Though I proved I still have mad Galaga skillz.) Anyway, I was able to do about a half an hour of writing split between some Facebook posts and the first half of this article.

Monday (flight home @ 5:15pm): Packed in our goodbyes and packing and last little lunch plans (along with one completely decadent nap) all before it was time to start heading airport-ward around three thirty. I didn't get any writing done before my flight. I thought I might on the plane, but it was pretty crowded, so I opted to just read a book instead. Once I had landed, BARTed, and walked home, I busted out my laptop and spent 45 minutes finishing this post.

So there you have it. 30-60 minutes a day, mostly on emails, Facebook, or half hearted writing, all of it just spent writing SOMETHING and trying to keep from losing whatever edge I sort of, kind of, maybe have and maintain that habit so that when I sit down tomorrow, instead of rusty, I'm still in the habit. This is pretty typical for me on vacation: whether I'm at Disneyland or sight seeing in Washington D.C., I still sequester a little bit of time to sit down and do some writing.

I absolutely take vacations. But not from writing.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Fortune Cookie Wisdom XII

Image description: Individually wrapped fortune cookies.
Greetings from Denver!

It's been a long time and we have LOTS of fortune cookie wisdom built up.

See....if you were the first writer in the whole damned world to think of that, you might be onto something. But now that it's a trope, a cliché, and overdone like Uncle Cecil's hamburger patties, maybe you want to think twice.

Everyone fails. And eventually, everyone fails HARD. The interesting part is what happens next. 

The most common root cause of writer's block is not trusting in the full writing process. As soon as you don't have absolute certainty that you're going to have to rewrite something half a dozen times, you begin to be paralyzed in front of the blank page, trying to get it perfect on the first go.

Millions of artists are unknown, uncelebrated, and uncompensated. They paint, compose, play instruments, sing in the shower, dance in their living rooms, carve wood into faces, fold paper into cranes, decorate wreaths, take pottery classes, snap pictures, doodle, and even write in ways that fulfill them but aren't intended to be consumed by a wider audience. Even those who display or perform their art often do so for their communities or their loved ones. They act season after season in theaters where the ticket price might go towards the strike party. They sing for town concerts for little more glory than the mayor being honestly impressed. They write fiction online for forums where their best days are a couple of emails telling them their words are really appreciated. Not every art has to be about "making it."


Shutting off my brain and "just" enjoying something are usually actually mutually exclusive.

I don't fucking understand why some rando writers will spend 100 solid hours researching the architecture of Byzantium brothels so that they can write a two page scene, but balk at reading a couple of books by women of color to understand how they view the struggles for equality a bit differently than most white men.

The reason so many people ask how to be a writer instead of how to write is that the former is what they really want. And when they hear that it really just involves doing the later, they shop the question around, tirelessly searching for someone who will tell them that the answer isn't to read a lot and write a lot.


I know writing is a lifeline. I've known that since my last major adult relationship of over a decade started to fall apart. I've known that when I tried to process my mother's alcoholism and eventual recovery. I've known that since I started to realize almost all my stories were in some way about redemption. I've known that when I faced the moments over and over in college–working two jobs to get by and studying every extra minute of the day–when it would have been easier to give up. I've known that since I was young that I needed writing like some people need to talk about their day or unwind in front of the TV.

Perhaps the strangest among the claims of the "edgy" are those on a Facebook page about writing trying to insist that mere words have no real power. Words don't need to rip your flesh off like an X-men superpower to cause real harm.

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

See, there's nothing wrong with wanting dedicated time or a desk or even a room of one's own. But here's the money shot and there's no getting around it: For most people, it's never really one thing. It's always one MORE thing. Once they get a laptop, they need a desk. Once they get a desk, they need a room. Once they get a room, they need uninterrupted time. And on it goes.

If your soul burns to write. Write. Don't wait for the opportunity to be perfect or that one obstacle to go away or the time when work isn't going to be so rough or the kids to go to school or the planets to align or to get that snazzy laptop or when you can dig out the old sewing room and make it into an office. Find some time and space and write. Because one thing you absolutely positively unequivocally do not have an endless supply of is tomorrows. It's later than you think.

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

If you write, you're a writer. That's the part that changes your life. That's the part that opens up your world. That's the part that makes a difference. That's the art and the catharsis. That's the part that makes you feel whole when the bottom falls out–as it will do because life is kind of like that. If you write unpaid, unread, in your room for the sheer joy of it, ferreting your pages into the back of a drawer.... YOU. ARE. A. WRITER. Everything else is just frosting.

Not enough! Need more fortune cookie wisdom! 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Cheese and Writing: An Unlikely Love Affair (by Allison White)

It was only a matter of time, really.
Image description: many different cheeses
Cheese and Writing
By Allison White

I started writing as a young child. Poems, plays, whatever. I just wrote stuff. I didn’t realize it was something unique to me or even a gift to be able to use words as an art. By the age of 6, I was reading constantly, able to zone completely out of wherever I was and whatever conversations were happening around me, and enter into the holy space of stories. My love for reading was only surpassed by my love of cheese, and just as dangerous. Reading opened my mind to a world of possibility outside that of my very conservative upbringing, setting the stage for the eventual late blooming of my true rebel nature. Cheese taught me about the possibility of starting fires in a microwave. (No shit. FYI, foil seals + paper towels = microwave disaster. I was 9 years old for Pete’s sake, give me a break.) The cheese whiz and the writing I did back then were similar because they were both of low quality, but my love of both was as sincere as it gets.

As I grew up, writing became more of a chore – book reports, essays, and the like, took my desire to write and squelched it a bit as I had more important things to focus on. Like boys. I find it interesting that both my love of writing and my love of cheese both seemed to take a back seat during those important adolescent years. They both seemed to take on a perfunctory role in my life. Yeah, I’ll write it if I have to. Yeah, I’ll eat it if it comes with cheese. But there was no “extra”.

Fast forward several years and I started a blog.  A pitiful little journal of a blog that I know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, I would be entirely embarrassed to go back and re-read. I purposefully forgot the password and started a new publication on Wordpress about 3 ½ years ago. Something I could build on and keep my writing skills semi-sharpened, not unlike a cheese knife. Because nobody wants to cut their cheeses with a dull knife, and nobody wants to read shitty writing, or write shittily. I felt the desire to express myself through writing returning to me like a craving for melty mozzarella. However, I fell into habits of writing with the consistency of my childhood cheese whiz. It might reach something resembling a solid, but it was weak. SO weak.

Last year, following a long come-to-Jesus meeting with myself, I decided to launch a new freelance writing business. I named it. I opened a bank account. I got some decent work and wrote some successful projects. But while it felt good to get paid to do something I really love to do, I was still not being true to the inner artist that used to write those poems and plays as a child. My writing turned to extra sharp cheddar that couldn’t be sliced easily. Or, it was like Kraft Singles: it worked, but it wasn’t the “real” thing.

For the last 6 months or so, I’ve been in therapy. Specifically, IFS (Internal Family Systems) therapy. IFS is basically “inner child” therapy and it is there that I reconnected with the girl that used to just write because it felt good and not because she desperately needed camp money for her 12 year old or a new set of tires. It was also in these sessions that I began to learn autonomy for perhaps the first time; learning how to stop being emotionally manipulated either intentionally, or unintentionally, by others. This was going to go hand in hand with reconnecting to that inner artist because to write, and write well, you have to have a thick skin: not unlike a nice wax seal around a nice soft cheese. (I love Babybel cheese and I’m going to think about therapy and writing every time I eat one now.)

When our new, not-unlike-cheese-himself, president took office, something shifted inside me. I knew I didn’t like him, but I honestly never actually thought the man would win. And when he did, I was flooded with emotion. Anger, disgust, fear. And those emotions came from those inner parts that I was learning about in IFS. And all at once, I knew, that the only way to deal with these parts and the emotions surrounding them, was to write. Was to be as true as I could possibly be to myself, and write. To find my rhythm, and write. To read all I could read, and write. To start a book club, and talk about books, and write. To follow other writers, like Chris Brecheen, be inspired by them and their art, and write. Because writing keeps me sane, and I am going to need a lot of fucking sanity over the next 4 years. We’re only 3 weeks in and my commitment to being more politically savvy and researched has already produced within me, and countless others, vast amounts of personal mental fatigue.

So I try to remember, writing is about more than political opinions, or creating fiction, or being a social justice warrior, or making people laugh, or making ridiculous comparisons between writing and cheese. Writing is how I deal. with. life. Period.

For me, not having this outlet is like nachos with no cheese. And you know what nachos with no cheese are? Chips, my friends. Plain, boring, nothing-comforting-at-all-about-them chips.

Because writing IS comforting. It’s healing. It reminds me of who I’ve always been, because I’ve always had the desire to write. It reminds me of who I was, because I write 10 gazillion times better than I used to, thank GOD. It reminds me of who I am, because I AM writing. It reminds me of who I want to be, because I learn something new about myself every time I sit down with a pen or at a keyboard. Sometimes, I read things I’ve written and it’s like I had an out-of-body experience when I wrote it. I don’t remember writing it, I just know that the finished product was HELLA good. Like the first time I tried goat cheese. I don’t remember seeing that it was part of the dish I ordered, but when I got it, and I tasted it, it was like finding a missing piece of my soul.

As I get bolder and bolder with my writing, I find that I crave the actual process more and more. This thing that I used to think wasn’t so special about me is now the thing I love most about myself. I think about it. I dream about it. I fantasize about it. It’s a hunger that has surpassed anything I ever knew was possible. I write whenever I can. I make the time. Even if it’s only a paragraph. But no matter how much I get done, the craving is soon back, demanding my attention.

After all these years, I came back to my first, innocent love. I found, in my inner writer, the truest part of myself.

I spend 9+ hours each day away from my muse and all I want to do in those hours is be somewhere where I can just WRITE.

Let it flow, soft and smooth.

Like………..well, you know.

See more of Allison at her blog: A Pensieve View




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

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Worst Page Turner

What's the worst book that you just couldn't stop reading?  

Since yesterday's post grew into something bigger than I'd expected, I'm spending today going cross eyed reading the second round of guest-blogger submissions, as well as trying to get a couple of articles in the hopper for Friday and Monday while I'm in Denver.

There's only a week to go in our second semifinal for worst book you couldn't stop reading (no matter how much you wish you could). Next Wednesday the results go up and the four titles that are the worst (but most page-turniest) will go on to the final round

Don't forget you get three (3) votes, but that there is no ranking, so using as few votes as possible is better.

The poll itself is in the lower left at the bottom of the side menus.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Paying The Bills With Writing (Five Years In–Personal Update)

Writer looking triumphant–despite still being sick.
Today's post is a bit streamy. I'm still sick and still taking it easy, but there's something important to talk about today.

There's this scene in Necessary Roughness (and I bring it up, not only because it totally fits in with my usual melange of 20+ year old pop culture references but that it describes how I'm feeling today pretty well).

Tragically, I can't find a clip of it and this is the best I can do: https://youtu.be/F9xZ6ay5kMg?t=1h26m4s The whole movie is a pretty forgettable flick about college football. It was okay, and had its moments, but kind of blends into the early nineties pastiche of not-quite-eighties anymore, but not quite the multicultural and alternative media blitz that shaped so much of the later part of the decade. The part that I remember liking is that Scott Bakula's character writes a pretty good essay in his composition class and was actually there to go back to college.

I always dig the writer types.

Anyway, they're in a huddle, before the last play. (I hope you are all okay with 26 year old spoilers.) It's fourth down. They're exhausted. They haven't been able to make a passing play for a while.

This isn't the movie's climax. They make the pass and it becomes 21-20. The extra point would tie the game, but they go for a two point conversion and end up winning. (Yay.) THAT'S the movie's climax. It's overly-telegraphed in the dialogue, and involves some cheesy slow motion shots that are more movie than sports. It wraps up some character arcs with satisfying crunches. It's a 90's football movie–what did you expect?

But let's go back to that fourth down. Here's the reason I couldn't find the clip: It's just a line. It's delivered kind of nonchalantly before the play, and I think the director cared more about the joke right before it. But somewhere across twenty years and change in my mind, it became the most important line of the movie. It became the line about the moment where a struggle pays off. In my version, Scott Bakula paused before he said it–a long pregnant pause. He looked around the stadium and saw important people watching. He glanced across the faces of his teammates and saw the doubt in their eyes that their own abilities could get them through. In the background, not overbearing, a long note of music started. Scott took a deep breath, and he said to them:  "Listen up. (pause) You're hurt, you're tired, you're bleeding. (shot of everyone looking wrecked) I am too. I'm gonna make you a promise though. (a long pause) If we make it. In that end zone, when we cross that line....it's not going to hurt anymore. I promise.*"

(*Actual line: "Listen up. You're hurt, you're tired, you're bleeding. I'm gonna make you a promise. In that end zone, you won't feel pain. You hear?")

Something happened earlier today.

My Patreon funds disbursed. I've been making money in small amounts for years now through Paypal, but even my most spectacular months were about half of what Patreon just pulled in, and that's a monthly amount. In the last day or so, I've also gotten a big donor and I am now within $11/month of the second goal. This goal would permanently eliminate my need to teach a second night each week.

That's its SECOND goal already almost hit in a single month.

Image description $589 of $600 for the second goal.


There's a long way to go before writing is my only job. I'd have to cover what I'm making now from the second night of teaching, from nannying for The Contrarian, and the money the Kickstarter is currently covering. And even then, that creates only a pretty a tight, shoestring budget.

But also...as I dragged my ass through this last month of pet death and writing difficulties (because of the inauguration), as I've dragged myself through this last year of break ups and moves and loved ones with cancer and losing the parent relationship I had with T.C., there has been a lot of hurt around getting up every day and writing.

And I know your lives hurt too. And sometimes that's when it's the hardest to keep writing–especially for an audience.

But listen up. You're hurt, you're tired, you're bleeding. I am too. I'm gonna make you a promise though. If you make it. If you get that paycheck, if you have that moment where you realize you're paying the bills from writing–that you've crossed the line of that dream you've had for thirty-two years....it's not going to hurt anymore. I promise*.

*Other shit will hurt because that's life and writing doesn't make it go away, but all those moments you didn't think you could do it and you thought that it was best to just quit and only write when it was fun and you just did not know how you were going to get up and put something on the page anyway...those evaporate. 

Five years in...

I set this blog up in 2012, of course, to write and to write about writing, but also as a real-time, meta demo of how hard (but possible) it would be to make money writing. I knew from everything I had read, seen, heard, and everyone I'd talked to in the industry, two things stood out almost everywhere I looked:

1) The perceived "legitimacy" of non-traditional publishing was less than that of traditional, but that non traditional publishing would pay out faster. Also the latter was becoming harder and harder to break into–with every passing day, with every tech advancement, writing was becoming less and less a paper and gatekeeper world.

2) That even with the "faster" success of non-traditional publishing, it would take about ten years of solid, legitimate effort to reach the point where I was a working writer. (In traditional publishing those ten years tend to just be almost completely unpaid with maybe the occasional short story sale, and then BAM book deal. (Which usually is around the five year point for a writer going at it prolifically and though it isn't enough money to live off of for long enough to fully write the next book, it marks the moment when a writer can make some "day job" sacrifices for writing.) In non-traditional, you can make your first few cents the same day you start writing, but it's a long slog to the kind of money that pays for more than just your Netflix account. A year ago I averaged $200 a month. A year before that about $75.)

It's now been five years. We're about halfway there. I'm paying about half my bills with writing.

If the symmetry were any more perfect, I would burst.

I'm not particularly talented. I'm not a great writer. Any skill I have come by has been hard fought over years. I don't have the concentration to sit for twelve hours a day like some writers have. I don't have an unfettered life. I'm not doing anything super interesting that folks find compelling. I just do it. I do it every day. And I peel back my skin and rib cage and put myself out there.

The take home here is that it works just about exactly as fast as all these people who are on the other side telling you what to expect say it will. And every day you don't get to work adds another day onto the end of your "five to ten but really closer to ten" years.

For many–especially those just tuning in who haven't seen this as a process as slow as watching the grass grow–I have already crossed the Rubicon from "What the fuck does he know?" to "Teach me your secret ways!" but the "secrets" are all laid out in this blog. It's all there. Every crappy article that didn't land. Every swing-and-miss of fiction (and more to come). Every time you could just TELL I didn't have an article in me, but I wrote something anyway. The way I've foraged an online presence but never made that the end rather than the means. It's all right there.

In the last five years, people have disparaged my choice to go non traditional and disparaged my choice to put some of my effort into self-promotion and disparaged my advice to write daily, and disparaged every bit of advice I've given, but most of them are still in the same place they were five years ago. Of course, I don't think I'm right about everything, and certainly someone could make a fine writing career while ignoring a few choice morsels of my advice. ("Screw him I'm going to get an MFA and write for NaNo every year!") But what I hope keeps happening is that everyone sees that the formula isn't a trick or a secret.

It's just a lot of fucking work.

I do want to make one thing clear though: If you write, you're a writer. That's the part that changes your life. That's the part that opens up your world. That's the part that makes a difference. That's the art and the catharsis. That's the part that makes you feel whole when the bottom falls out–as it will do because life is kind of like that. If you write unpaid, unread, in your room for the sheer joy of it, ferreting your pages into the back of a drawer.... YOU. ARE. A. WRITER.

Everything else is frosting.

But if you're shooting for the frosting dream, and putting up with a lot of pain to try and get there, when you cross that line, all that work doesn't hurt anymore.

Speaking of Patreon:

Do you have a dollar?

I'll spare you all the official fundraising post this month and instead just tack a mention on here.

Just one dollar a month? To support all the writing I do? All the page maintenance, all the blogging, all the political ranting (and eventually all the fiction because it'll always be free–with *at cost* options for e-readers and print copies)? As little as one dollar could support this.

Currently over half my Patreon amount comes from three patrons. And over 80% of the money I'm making comes from fewer than a dozen donors. It's not that each of these isn't breathtaking and so unbelievably generous that I'm moved just thinking about it, but it sometimes makes me feel a little....vulnerable to have so many eggs in one basket.

I would just love it if I had lots more smaller donors too! For signing up to be a Patreon Patron for just a dollar a month, you can get in on the backchannel discussions and participate in Patron-only polls where I really listen carefully to feedback about upcoming projects, current directions, and where I should put my energy.

You can also get more rewards at the higher levels. They're not really "worth it" but it's a small way of saying thanks for the even greater levels of support. However, a single dollar a month would really be spectacular.

Monday, March 6, 2017

A Quickie (Cause I'm a Sickie)

Image description: Writer looking sick, but still hella cute.
Really Rough Draft  

Raw unfettered shit- 78, 512 (Last update 71,814) [Just this update- 6698]     

Slightly polished turd- 55, 716 (Last update 34,809)  [Just this update- 20,907] 

Superpolishedfragileshitstick- 11,513

Notice the new category? It's a third pass at the draft without completion, break, and writing out a whole new draft. I'm not usually one of those people who goes back and twiddles endlessly with the beginning. I do often start a writing session by reviewing my some of what I wrote the day before, but that's more of a jump start than anything. (A blank page is a hard start.) Usually, though, it takes just a couple of pages to get me back into the flow is plenty to kick off a writing session. 

However (and I've tried to be transparent with my Kickstarter backers about this), I had a pretty serious lapse in this work for a while there. It was mostly the couple of weeks leading up to and the month or so after the inauguration. (From what I understand, that's been really hard on a lot of artists.) It was all I could do to keep blogging and kind of peck at my word count. But the initial shock and horror have faded into more of a grim determination. The world will need relevant art. 

I woke up with a cold today. It's mild, but I'm flying on Thursday, and I really don't still want to be suffering. I'll break today's post up into a report (today) and a personal update (tomorrow) as I try to get some rest.

And of course keep plucking away at these word counts.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Worst Page Turner (Semifinal 2)

What is the worst book that you simply could NOT put down (no matter how hard you tried)?

They're the books you want to hate, you want to stop reading...but you just can't.

We've culled our quarterfinals and come up with sixteen titles. Eight of these sixteen have already been culled down to four remaining. Now these eight need to be culled to see which titles will go on to the final round.

Everyone will get three votes (3). The top four names of this 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.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Worst Page Turner (Poll Results Semifinal 1)

Well since yesterday's post was supposed to be a light and easy Thursday post, but turned into a 2000 word article on social justice within linguistics. So today, I'm going to just put up poll stuff, and maybe get you a light and fluffy question this weekend. I have other writing that I didn't do yesterday, guest bloggers to respond to, plus a mid afternoon plan, and I'm hoping to see The Contrarian tonight for some bro time before I won't for over a week.

Text results below.

I'm not sure if the titles below Eat Pray Love were deemed to be not irresistable and page-turner enough or if they were actually considered too good for this poll, but either way, they won't be going on to the final round.

Stay tuned. I'll be putting up our second semifinal round later today.

Twilight-S. Meyer 107 34.85%
Divergent Series- V. Roth 47 15.31%
Sookie Stackhouse Series- C. Harris 46 14.98%
The Fault in Our Stars-J. Green 30 9.77%
Eat Pray Love-E. Gilbert 23 7.49%
The Mortal Instruments-C.Clare 23 7.49%
Left Behind—T. LaHaye 22 7.17%
Bridges of Madison County-R.J. Waller 9 2.93%

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Dialects, Idioms, and Intelligence (Mailbox)

Image description: White Mailbox with two letters inside
[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 (after this 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 can only handle one seemingly simple question that turns into a massive explanation of cultural tensions once every few weeks.]    

Our week of mailbox posts continues...

Aelyth asks: 

Greetings!

First of all, I really thankful for your page, Got me back on track writing my world further. Secondly, it's so mesmerizing how much depth English has, as a foreigner, I learned it pretty much by watching movies and reading online stuff, but not so much proper books, yet I thought I should write my novel in English, for obvious reasons, but well. I'm not there yet that's for sure now. The thing what I want to ask you, do you know any site or book which explains this part of English? Like a dictionary of some short, explaining the expressions, and on top of that the more poetic expressions. Because I really want to learn that. 

On another note, I used English a long time ago last, so I'm not sure, if I missed out something, but... I read this post which said: "My mom didn't raise no fool." Isn't the double negative makes a positive?  Or that's just in math? 😀 Sorry, I'm quite a hermit, no social life, I have no one  to ask. And You seem pretty legit in grammatical questions. 

Third thing, Another question, it's about writing techniques... Ish. So I have this story, with a bunch of characters, and I'm pretty sarcastic in real life - no wonder I don't have friends - but When I write, I just can't come up with smart answers, as there are no stupid questions. Any idea how to make dumb characters? 😀 

Thank you very much. For inspiring, and for showing the hidden beauty of this language. 

[Chris's note: I added the link to the letter above.]

My reply:

Daaaaaaaaaaaaaang. So much for little league, I guess.

If you asked me to come up with a list of things I'm good at (after the initial imposter syndrome wore off that obviously I'm not good at anything, of course), I would actually have a reasonably robust list. I am pretty good at dissecting popular media through a literary lens. I give decent back rubs. I do this thing with my tongue piercing–well maybe that for another time. And I guess I can sort of write, though that is more a skill foraged out of years of determined practice than any kind of innate talent.

But I don't think, even if you told me I had to keep plugging away every day at that list for a year that "legit in grammatical questions" would be anywhere on it. It's a good day when I can use the right homophone in a Facebook post and not forget what commas are for.

But I'll do my best.

So there's good news and there's bad news, Aelyth. The good news is, you're in luck: teaching at this level is actually one of my three day jobs. And I'm pretty good at it. I rock coordinating conjunctions, relative clauses, and prepositions almost as well as Trogdor burninates.

The bad news is....while your grammar isn't perfect (particularly punctuation if you're looking for where to put your improvement energy), the things you're asking me about in your question aren't actually grammar problems.

Also, that the questions you've asked are not grammar errors, is probably the simplest things that could be said about them, so here comes some cultural unpacking. And given the gravitas of the issue at hand, I'm going to be stepping away from my usual sarcastic persona,  just so I can be extra careful.

The first thing you mentioned ("My mom didn't raise no fool.") might be considered an idiom or maybe a fixed phrase, but it comes from a dialect of English. In modern standard English (which would be considered "proper" English by many of the white male elite and institutions still primarily run by them) it is considered an error to use a double negative. So yes, in formal, academic English, this would be an error, but almost every native speaker will know exactly what you mean.

"My mom didn't raise no fool," is an expression used within AAVE (African American Vernacular English) which is a dialect that doesn't have the same prescriptions about double negatives. Some people who are not linguists or anthropologists may not understand this, but AAVE actually is a viable, "proper" dialect of English with roots that go deep into the US history of anti-black racism and slavery and a "code" that couldn't easily be deciphered by white people. It is, simply put, a very slightly different language. And the only reason it isn't treated as such has to do with the ongoing racism in our culture and the power differential between those who see it as legitimate (less social power) and those who do not (more social power). Today it is mostly spoken by urban working-class Blacks or by middle-class Black folks who are often adept at "code switching" between AAVE and "standard" English. AAVE has its own vocabulary, it's own grammar (which makes perfect linguistic sense when studied), and its own idioms.

Now before I leave it there, let me make one more point about this expression. Be careful using it. I don't know where you're from or what you look like from your question, but there's some context here that I would be remiss not to give you.

I don't normally spend a lot of energy policing linguistic syncretism and how humans acquire language makes the intersection between race and culture very difficult to untangle, but you should be made aware of the cultural conflict you're stepping into. Not every Black person will care as much about AAVE in general or this expression in particular, a lot of white people will dismiss and trivialize the whole thing, and there is some complexity (like how the phrase is common enough in rural Appalachia to make trying to figure out who it "belongs to" almost impossible) that would take a lot longer to explain than a single post. Linguistics is super complicated and trying to keep two languages that share a geography from mixing might be a lost cause.

But what I can tell you is that white people in the US have a racist and colonialist legacy that complicates how it would be perceived by many if a non-black person used an expression like this. AAVE is often appropriated by people who are not Black to make them sound tough or "edgy" or trendy or even faux trendy funny like when a nerd "misuses it" to appear extra ridiculous, while at the same time it is considered by those higher in the social hierarchy to be "bad English," filled with "errors," or indicative of a lack of education. It mirrors many other aspects of Black culture that are repudiated by we white folk, but then become "cool" when done by people who aren't Black, particularly by white people.

As an example, I need go no further than the expression you asked about. In "standard" English, which is considered "proper" by those with more power in our cultural dynamics. "My mom didn't raise no fool," is, in AAVE, a way to say basically "I'm not foolish," or "I'm not going to fall for that." White people, applying "proper" English's prescription against double negatives have repeatedly portrayed Black folks in their arts and entertainment saying this expression WHEN THEY ARE BEING FOOLISH.

It's a slap in the face. It's racist. It's bullshit. And it casts folks who speak this dialect as automatically foolish by virtue of not understanding the irony of a double negative. And all that history and oppression and racism still exists when white people want to turn around use this expression as an "edgy" way to say they're too smart to fall for something.

Your second question will require no less finesse. 

First of all, I know you wouldn't really know this as a second language speaker, but the word "dumb" is probably not the word you want to use. It's kind of falling out of usage these days because it's sort of unkind. I know I'm fighting an uphill battle (even with liberals) to retire terms like "idiot" or "moron" but there are certain slurs that have to do with people's abilities that have finally been recognized as hurtful. Most of us don't use the R-word or add "tard" to the end of words anymore. "Dumb" is kind of edging into that second group.

That's because usually the people we're calling these things are actually being immoral or obtuse or harmful or inconsiderate or any number of things that don't have anything to do with their brain capacity or processing speeds, and we have grabbed for a word that hurts other people as well by equating immorality, harm, and lack of consideration with these folks–when we shouldn't.

It's like calling our current president "insane." He might be, but I'm not his licenced therapist, so I don't get to make that call (and and if I were he would have my confidentiality).  What his real problem is is that he's racist, transphobic, xenophobic, misogynistic, and completely self centered. And plenty of sane people are all those things, and plenty of mentally ill people are none of them (at least not to the same degree). When I tie all those things to "insane," as if "insane" is metonymy for all these things (when that's not what they have anything to do with), it makes it that much harder for someone who legitimately has a mental illness to avoid the stigma that they are also going to be racist, homophobic, self-centered and such. Language has that power and people who use language carefully (like writers) should do well to know it and use words with greater precision instead of insisting the world at large ought to know what they meant.

Originally "dumb" meant unable to speak and then kind of grew to mean stupid as well. But honestly, if you see someone "acting dumb," their behavior mirrors someone who is deaf. Someone "acting dumb" will be mimicking having trouble speaking because they can't hear precisely what the words are supposed to sound like. They will speak with exaggerated long vowels and slur their words. It's really, actually SUPER shitty if you think about it for a half a second to cluster those two assumptions about a person together in one vicious mockery. Super smart people can be deaf and have trouble talking in a "typical" way, and folks with brilliant articulation aren't necessarily bright. In fact, most ways people telegraph that someone isn't smart–speaking like someone who is deaf, southern drawls, imitating down syndrome, impersonating autism–are all pretty fucking awful and rooted in bigotry.

And even though most people don't mean to insult both groups with the one insult, they absolutely do.

But the other important thing is just exactly where you're going with the idea of "less intelligence" anyway. Sometimes people are slower because of a processing difficulty like ADD or Autism, but still quite bright. A lot of people are intelligent, but may not seem so because of completely separate issues like mental illness or emotional disorders. Our very concept of intelligence is culturally rooted.  In the U.S., for example, it favors linguistic and mathematical ability over anything else including basic emotional literacy or interpersonal skills. Spatial geniuses aren't considered geniuses if they can't write a paper about it or apply it mathematically.

Further, consider how often "stupid" is synonymous with "non-conforming" in some way–particularly when it comes to following the directions of authority.

So your question about a considered portrayal of a character who is maybe not as smart as average folks probably has the same answer as my question of what you even mean by that. The unkind value judgements are more likely to lead to flat, bigoted portrayals because they spring out of the idea that "stupid" vs. "smart" exist on a single axis instead of a honeycomb of nuance. Figuring out if a character has a processing disorder or is maybe less adept at linguistic expression (but super good at reading the emotional states of those around them), or if maybe they just sit off in the corner arranging the matchbox cars by color and size because they engage the world differently instead of "less intelligently" will make for a FAR more considered, genuine, and high integrity character.

Are you sorry you asked yet, Aleyth?

Making characters smart is a little easier since you have infinite time. I wrote a bit about that here.

In general, I think the best thing for you would be to keep reading. A lot. Read read read, and when you're done reading, read some more. That's where you're going to find the answers to the kinds of questions you're asking. Beyond the grammar (and even beyond vocabulary) language opens up into culture. An anthropologist would argue that language IS culture. Everything from idiomatic expressions to the intense emotive force of insults isn't accessible through even the most accurate translations. You've reached the point where these expressions and phrases and stories have underneath them complex (and often horrifying) history and cultural conflicts. Reading (as well as other kinds of linguistic engagement, but since you want to write in English, I'm recommending reading) is really the best way to begin to tap into that huge linguistic iceberg that is 90% beneath the surface.