Welcome

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

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Twenty Questions (Publishing/Blogging/FB and Social Media)


[Notice that it's the same few people asking all the questions? That's because they actually ask them. Send your Twenty Question questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com and if it's too big for a post like this like holy-shit most of these are, I'll give it its own mailbox. FFS send me questions with SHORT answers. I'm dying here.]

PUBLISHING

1-2) Kara asks: In the modern era, when you get to publishing stage, do you still have to submit to a gazillionty outlets, and get, somehow, a gazillionty and 3 rejections, or has it streamlined, at all? 
I have a secret hope blogging has...streamlined it, a little.

Where the actual sweet apples *do* I submit something for publishing, short of an online outlet? Do I need an agent/editor?

MMMMMMMM.
Sweet apples.
A gazillionty and three??!!?? Okay there Optimism McConfidence. I guess expectation management is tomorrow's problem, and we're going with a wildly ambitious estimate of the number of rejections.

1) There's bad news and good news for the intrepid writer going the traditional publishing route. For the submit-everywhere author, it's actually gotten considerably harder in about the last ten to twenty years. The shrinking cost of publishing and the Internet have led to the rise of hundreds of small presses, zines, blogs, and outlets of every size, configuration and niche, and you can be a "featured author" for years on some of these sites without gaining an iota of street cred that an agent or publisher would care about.

For those who take the time and energy to find the places where their submission and the medium's guidelines match up well, there are more places and more niche places to find publication. If you're into cephalopod cyberpunk chick lit with zombies, there's a website for you out there. However, these places may not have any greater prestige when it comes to readership, a payment, or advancing a career.

This is assuming you're trying to build up a series of accolades for a cover letter. If you're just trying to publish a book straight away, it's much, much harder. The industry is impacted, the big six is now the big five, small presses are struggling to compete with non-traditional routes (and often "Balkanizing" into niches to keep any hope of maintaining a market share), and more and more writers are realizing that everything they want other than a gatekeeper's head-pat (money, notoriety, readers) can be achieved through non-traditional routes.

2) If you're going the route of traditional publishing, the short answer to this is yes you need an agent. You absolutely do. The minute you can entice an agent with your cover letter, snap that sucker up.

Technically a writer can put on that hat themselves, but they shouldn't. They really, really shouldn't and that's really the some of the best advice there is when it comes to the business of writing. (Possibly even THE best.) Agent-ing is a whole new skill set and a writer would be basically training for an entire other career when they could be writing. And, like any job one just dives into, the initial efforts are going to...(how to put this delicately?)...suck. Knowing where a fiction piece will fit the best but also where will pay the best, having connections inside a publishing house, knowing how to do the negotiations for pay (which will almost always pay for the agents' commission and STILL get the writer more money), being able to do a high level of marketability-content edits, and general advocacy that sometimes is more deadline reminderer, quazi-therapist, and motivational life coach than business partner.

Underwater cephalopod chick lit meets victorian cyberpunk
horror. With zombies!
This is from the old worth1000 website
(since shutdown)
I would love to attribute it
and give it a shoutout link if you know it.
3) Terra asks How do you know what genre you're writing in? (For example, there's magic and vampires in my stories, which are set in a rainforest in Latin America, but am I writing fantasy? Urban fantasy? Horror? Women's lit?)

Believe it or not, my experience is that genre is usually a marketing question more than anything. "How do we SELL this book?" Writers enjoy bending genres, breaking rules, and tossing multiple conventions in the mixer (as artists are wont to do). Most likely the publisher will figure out what section to put the book in so that people who want that type of book are more likely to see it, but the only real place an author needs to worry about it (their query letter), they can actually say that it's a mix of X, Y, and Z.

Kinda puts that anti-genre elitism into perspective, doesn't it?

Where you might need to take your best guess is when you are wearing that hat yourself (say you are trying to place your self published book by genre or want to know if you should submit a short story to Weird Tales, Asimov, or Fangoria). In that case you should probably go broad. Define it by it's broadest possible category. (In the case of your example, unless the horror elements are really overpowering, fantasy.)

4) Casey asks: Writing a book of short stories and plan on self-publishing. What are the pros/cons for self-publishing?



This is definitely not a short enough question for this format, but fortunately I have written a long version of the answer. The main question you want to be asking yourself is how "validated" you would feel by traditional publishing. There is a lot of "street cred" and prestige that comes with getting past a traditional gatekeeper, holding a physical copy of your own book, and being a published author.

5) Ian asks: I would like some tips for good query letters! Cheers.

Though I've written a more in depth guide here (second question), the MAIN thing is that you don't send a query letter–in fiction–for a book that isn't done yet, and that you keep it to one page no matter what.

6) Chelsea asks: Where is a good website to learn about proper manuscript formatting?

"Proper Manuscript formatting" is one of those things that is chiefly used to fleece money from unsuspecting would-be writers who think there's a big trick to manuscript formatting. You spend a bunch of money on a program that promises the only thing holding you back from champagne brunches in the French Rivera is how many spaces you have between your title and the author's name and it'll put all the chapter headings in the "right" place for you. (Or these days maybe you go to a website with a zillion pop ups that aggressively wants you to sign up for the "deluxe" version.) And once you format properly, all your problems will be solve.

Except 90 percent of everyone who ever buys one of those programs still has to finish their book. And the other 10% is wrong that that formatting is why they keep getting rejected.

"Proper"
You don't need such a thing at all. Every publishing house is going to have different specific formatting guidelines, and they will worry about that when you set up the galleys. As long as your manuscript isn't using a different convention for ever chapter (unless that's some bold artistic choice), the only thing you need to worry about are the super duper basics (which I've listed below) so that you look like a professional.

Basics of professionalism in submitting:

  • EVERY. SINGLE. PAGE. Should have your last name, the title (or one word from your title if it's long), and the page number on it in the top-right header. If there's an alteration to this in the submission guide lines, consider it the most important piece of information you could possibly pay attention to. Having worked with people on the "gatekeeper" side of the industry, it is almost universal that a submission will be thrown out unread if this is not done. (After all, why start a professional relationship with someone whose "Sunday Best" behavior demonstrates that they can't follow basic instructions?)
  • Your title page should include the title of the work, the word count, copyright info (if there is any yet), your agent's name, and your contact details. Don't get cute with the font sizes on this. It should basically all be the same size–-12 pt.
  • Have a margin on each side. Whatever is done automatically by a word document when you open one is fine
  • In English, align to the left. 
  • If you want to look like a consummate professional, use italics and never underline. Although that one isn't likely to make or break a rejection/approval.
  • Indent new paragraphs (don't skip a line). The exception to this is the first paragraph of a new chapter or section. That one should start at the left margin.
  • Use twelve point Times New Roman and only black type. (You can usually use a couple of others like Courier and Ariel, but TNR will never be wrong.) 
  • Double space. 
  • Lines between paragraphs probably won't be a deal breaker, but you don't need them and they will be taken out for your galleys. Just indent the next paragraph.
  • Same with double spaces after sentences. It won't make or break you, but the industry has shifted to single space.
  • Begin chapters on new pages. It is more important that you be consistent with chapter headings than how you align them, but if you want a by-the-book submission, align to the center.
  • It doesn't really matter how many spaces you skip between the chapter header and the start of the chapter, but keep it consistent and don't do only one space or more than like ten.
  • (You may hear some other stuff like how to put a hashtag at the end. It's not wrong, but it's a lot less important.
  • And not that this has balls all to do with formatting or matters much in the age of computers, but always always ALWAYS keep a copy for yourself. You will never get back the one you send.

7) Chelsea asks: Is it possible to publish a full book without publishing credits in literary magazines first?

We're talking about traditional publishing, right? (Because in self-publishing and other non-traditional models, you can do whatever the frick and frack you want.) Yes it's possible.

No wait.

To get the full effect of this answer you have to imagine I'm doing that sort of super head tilt thing with a shoulder lift and spreading my hands. Yes, it's....possible.

But I wouldn't bet the farm on it.

Publishers, particularly the big five, are bringing shrinking budgets to an ever-growing slush pile of unsolicited submissions. Some bleary eyed intern who isn't getting paid will try to up or downvote a zillion a day as part of their workload, and most of them don't get past the first page. If you think your concept is brilliant or they just won't be able to help but love it, think of all the stories you've heard about writers being rejected a gazillion times and remember that every other person in the slush pile thought the exact. same. thing.

Agents face similar difficulties. They are in an industry where authors can (and do) work around them more and more but facing an ever increasing number of hopefuls. Most have more clients than they can handle and are inundated with a deluge of queries. Many don't even have the time to try to read sample chapters and they give one quick glance at the cover letter to see if the writer has enough publishing accolades to be worth taking a chance on. They don't want to take a chance on clients who don't know the industry, don't have experience with extensive revision or rejection, and are going to need a LOT of help making something marketable. If you haven't got any publishing credits, they may not even read the first page.

The straight-to-book-deal stories are extraordinary precisely because they are so, so, so very rare. And in almost all of them (if you dig a little deeper) you find nepotism, a pre-existing marketing apparatus (like a person's fame or influence in another medium), or some reason that the agent took them on.

8) 
R Steele When it comes to referring to real-world things, thinks that are the intellectual property of others (like popular songs, or items sold at grocery stores, or even bits and pieces of other novels), what is the responsibility of the author to add in a trademark or copyright symbol after, say, Kleenex... or Campbell's soup... or that Wrecking Ball song?

Details like these may seem like the perfect touch to a story for realism or cultural relevance, but how does a smart author pick and choose their battles? Especially the pie-in-the-sky temptation to write in the perfect soundtrack for when producers come knocking with the fat movie-rights oversize novelty check?

So the short answer to this is yes. Yes you can.

If you publish traditionally, your publisher's legal department will send you back to your manuscript to make sure you do whatever covers their ass–and they probably have protocols in a SOP manual somewhere in the building.

If you do non-traditional, or don't want to have to make changes for your publisher, here are some guidelines:

  • Don't name a product something with an existing brand name that is really close to the products they produce, but isn't ACTUALLY a product they produce, or you might have to deal with something called "copyright infringement." If I decided to call my brand of cashew butter Skippy, I would definitely be on the hook with Skippy, even if they don't make cashew butter. (I don't know if Skippy makes cashew butter or not.) 
  • You can however use real products and companies and this is why fiction writers very very rarely get sued.  It's called "nominative fair use." You get to call a Pepsi a Pepsi, and Pepsico can't just come down the mountain for you.
  • Weirdly, you might get into trouble if you do something called "Trademark dilution." This is where you call any facial tissue Kleenex or talk about "Googling" something instead of using a search engine. Fiction writers get into hot water for this a lot. Usually such a writer just gets a letter from the companies man-eating lawyers urging them never to do it again, and that is (as they say) that.
  • Defamation and tarnishment are areas where a writer can get into real trouble. Defamation would be depicting a product as dangerous when it isn't (like if you suggested that Taco Bell killed people). Tarnishment would be depicting it in a negative light. Like making Pepsi the head of the evil conglomerate determined to take over the world. The most famous case is probably using the Dallas Cowboys brand in the pornographic movie Debbie Does Dallas.
  • The best way to handle defamation or tarnishment is to make up a product if you have any intention at all of portraying it in a negative light.
  • If you quote another piece of writing (even a song), you have to use quotes and attribute it––just like in your high school research paper on euthanasia.  



9) Sue asks: I am about to have a book printed. It is for a special event however I was thinking of taking it to a publisher. I am not sure what the protocol is. Because I have already had some copies printed. Would a publisher still be able to publish it if they wished? I am afraid that they might say "We can't publish anything that has already gone to print." Many thanks



There are three answers to this question depending on the specifics.

1) If you self-print your book without an ISBN number, those are essentially personal property and don't change any of the proprietary rights you have over your own words to sell the rights to a publisher. Legally, you don't have a book; you just have a fancy print out of your unpublished manuscript.

2) If you are the publisher of your book (with an ISBN number), you can make whatever deal you want with a new publisher to sell the rights. Get an agent and make sure they are ready to deal that particular logistic when they're representing you. It really should only amount to a couple more pieces of paper to sign.

3) If some OTHER publisher has the rights to your book, this is where things get really messy. There will be bids involved and offers and the original publisher may not want to give their licensing right up. There will be lawyers and a lot more legalize than would fit into a quick answer. If this is the case, lawyer up (on top of having an agent), and cross your fingers. Some famous writers have switched publishers–sometimes even in the middle of a series–and have NEVER gotten control back for their earlier titles.

I am substituting in this picture of a man getting punched
because I couldn't find a picture of a fight that
was sufficiently vicious for two lawyers going at it.

10) David asks: How big a deal is it to be published on a couple small and obscure web sites? It seem pretty insignificant to me, since that's all I've managed to this point.



Better than nothing, but not as good as being published in small obscure literary print journals or big and famous websites.

The problem with breaking into writing is we are all waiting for the Stephen King phone call that changes our lives forever, and the truth of almost every career trajectory is that it is either filled with nothing but small steps that feel insignificant and add up over time or that our final "I made it!" moment comes only after years of (and hundreds of) such insignificant-feeling steps.

The fact is, every step is significant, and somewhere there is an ambitious writer just starting out who would sell their soul to have a website they could point to (that was not their own blog) where their words were published by someone who deemed them worthy.

You're right that this probably isn't the ticket to having an agent quite yet, but now you know what you can accomplish if you try. Keep writing, get better, set your sights for something higher, and keep going.

11) Chelsea asks: What’s the best website to learn the process for publishing a book? (If, laptop willing, I actually finish my book.)

Fiction? Non-fiction? Self-publishing? Traditional? Romance novel? Science fiction?

I'm going to answer this question in some non-traditional ways because its one of those that could have an absurdly easy answer or a book-thickness complicated one. Believe me I have a couple of those late 90s/early Aughts Publishing for Dummies books on my shelf. (The other one has an even MORE no-longer-really-appropriate name.) That's 150+ pages of "let us make this really, really simple for you" so the complicated version isn't going to be a "short answer."

I don't think there's a "best" website. This is an ENTIRE INDUSTRY we're talking about and the fact is there is no One True Advice™.  Sometimes even the genre you're writing in will greatly change how you go about getting published. And even if you're dead set on traditional publishing there are many paths. There's a lot of information out there and a writer who wants to get into the industry should plan on spending at least a good afternoon or three cruising through a several different websites to learn the basics of the business they want to break into.

At the simplest level, a writers is trying to write something worth publishing, hire a bunch of people to do the parts that aren't writing for some portion of what the writing is worth, and keep on writing other stuff. Everything else is an added layer of complexity and nuance.

The second thing is that a whole lot of writers put their cart before their horse, and I want to stress that they could save themselves a lot of grief if they treat the industry as sort of "need-to-know." I'm not saying you're doing this, but far-too-many is the writer who goes around trying to assemble the entire codex of publishing information like it is the holy grail keeping them from being published. As if a query letter is some super hidden industry secret and they can proceed no further until they know the intricate ins and outs of agent/publisher negotiations and how many months are involved in waiting between galley proofs and book-on-bookshelf (sometimes as many as 18).

In fact, what is actually missing is the second half of their manuscript.

Once you write a book you can sit down and figure out the next step (revision/editing). And after that you can figure out the next step (market research). And then the next (agent research and query letter). You don't have to have all the knowledge before you can keep going forward and for a lot of writers I think they create an unending quest for knowledge about the industry as one of the many ways to not actually do the writing. But to a large degree it's like asking a bunch of questions about what's going to happen in the checkout lane, which line is the best to get into, and how the laser scanner works when you're not actually done shopping yet.

Plus...not to put too fine a point on it, but a lot of these questions come from people who write books first rather than short stories. (Which comes with a lot of assumptions––even if that's superficial and not entirely fair––about the probable quality of the book.) It sort of belies someone who wants to know the "trick" to just breaking in, and there isn't one. Most people either have a dad with a friend or work for about ten years making a name for themselves. For example, one thing that vets of submission (and rejection) know is that fifteen rejection letters is absolutely paltry compared to the room-wallpapering quantities that most writers eventually receive––particularly for a book. Fifteen rejections is no reason to give up.

If you have a book and you're going traditional, here's the basic rundown. Finish your book (And I mean FINISH finish, not first draft, "pretty okay" finish.) Make it as good as you can, probably including a professional editor. Then, spend an afternoon or two researching the market just to have a sense of where your work fits in to modern publishing. (Googling "Publishing industry" and checking out a dozen or so links will work fine for this.) Next research literary agents and find several that you think look like good fits. (Mostly you can do this online these days.) Write a query letter. Send it to all these agents. Get rejected....a lot. If the agents are kind enough to give you some advice about your writing, HEED IT––or at least consider it as very thoughtful and serious feedback worth considering. (Go back and do another revision.) Write more query letters. Eventually you find someone who thinks they can shop your book. If they feel solid and you feel good about this relationship, sign a contract. (15% is the industry standard, but don't worry, they will get you more than they cost you in the end.) The agent will then work with you to make edits that will help your book be more marketable. Now your agent shops your book and you pretend like you're not hanging out next to your cell phone waiting for it to ring. Your book gets sold. Your agent has already negotiated on your behalf so you mostly go in to sign the paperwork. (Be sure and tell them if you have any major demands.) Legal tells you if there's anything you have to change. Then you sit down with editors and change stuff. Some stuff that you won't want to change, but you have to if you want this publisher to publish your book. Then a copy editor that can notice the difference between a zero and a capital O from fifteen yards goes over your copy with a fine toothed comb. A single copy of the work is printed out that is as close to perfect as you can get it called a Galley Proof. You go through and hash out the last of the changes (because it's never actually mistake free). When the galley proof is perfect, you go to print––a process that usually takes months. The day after you can absolutely positively make no more changes, you will notice a typo.

This is how it's done.

Oh also, you market your book. (The biggest misconception unpublished authors have is that they won't have to market their own book if they publish traditionally. They are in for a nasty surprise. You will have to come to signings, release parties, readings, and probably commit to some social media presence as part of your contract.)

And these days, if you're very, very lucky, and signed with a big five, you'll get about ten grand. 
*looks up from keyboard* Holy shit! This is the SHORT answer? No wonder this post took me all week to write. I'm taking tomorrow off.

(No. Really. I'm not kidding, peeps. I'm not even going to feel bad anymore. This has become like three days worth of posts. Jesus fucking Christ!)


12) Chelsea asks: How much control does a first-time author have when a publisher accepts his/her book? (Asking because one of my writing professors has his books being published and he doesn’t get to pick the book covers, has to edit the book however they want, etc.)

Basically none.

Sadly, people do judge books by their covers and the
totally-would-have-been-an-immortal-classic book
Spending Christmas with a Yeti never got the acclaim
it so richly deserved.
And just for the record, that doesn't tend to change a whole lot from "first-time" to "multi-bestselling author," just so you know. Remember that weaponized bullshit Terry Goodkind pulled with his cover? That was because he didn't even have veto control even though it was like his six thousandth book and he has quite a following.

One of the primary reasons* that writers––sometimes even established, successful, bestselling authors in traditional publishing––go non-traditional is because they get back creative control over things like cover art and editorial control.

*Also they make a much greater percentage of their royalties.

FB/SOCIAL MEDIA

13) Bitter Cancer Patient Is it possible to make money on FB or does it only cost?

Asking for a friend... who may or may not be a newly-uninsured cancer patient. #whydoIhavetopaytoreachmyfollowers

First of all, I'm really, really sorry. Cancer has shown up within my inner circle of peeps and it was, without hyperbole, the worst time of my life.

To answer your question though....not really. If you have five years to build up an audience, you might be able to leverage that against a little bit of exposure for some crowdfunding (though if you remind them too often, they will complain and leave). Facebook is a terrible social medium for the content providers, and they have a number of ways to make it harder for anyone to make money rather than SPEND money promoting their posts. They will throttle your content to only SOME friends, throttle any links you post to outside pages to even fewer, and particularly throttle any link you post more than once. The only way to be seen by more is to get people to engage with your post (by liking or commenting or sharing). So even your medical Gofundme crowdsourcing a life-saving procedure so you don't fucking DIE that you share fifty times over the course of a month won't be seen by as many people as will see your Tumblr screen grab that makes people giggle.

14) Melissa asks: What forms of Social Media are you engaged in?

Mostly just Facebook.

I post links to my work to Twitter, G+, and Tumblr, and I post the occasional meme or article to Tumblr as well, but 95% of "the show" (all the memes, macros, puns, articles, and such) really only happens on Facebook. I find if I try to really keep up with multiple social media, I get sucked into a quagmire of time sinks. Every post takes just a few minutes, and maybe just a few seconds more, but then it ads up and multiplies and I realize I'm spending more time managing all this social media than I am actually writing. So I limit it to one. Unfortunately Facebook is the reason I'm surviving capitalism, so it's hard to quit them.

15) Matt asks: How do you disseminate actual work from someone trying to scam you?

My "message request" box on FB.
Basically nothing but scamspam.
It just so happens I got a scam email today. I knew not deleting it right away might pay off!

Usually Matt, they look something like this:

"Hi!

My name is Alexia Wolker. I recently came across your site chrisbrecheen.com  and I really liked it! The articles were information and greatly education. 

I'm experienced writer and editor able to plan all of organization’s communications strategies. I'm writing professional articles on topics that are discussed on your blog and I think I can writes for you in a some of the interesting articles that will be useful for to your readers.

I have a unique and helpful article and I'm want to post on chrisbrecheen.com

Hope to hearings from you soon.

Thank you in forward,

Alexia"

Now I'm not going to be a prescriptivist about grammar on the streets because that shit is classist and often racist, and lord knows I make at least a few doozies myself every time I post, but if you're writing to a blog hoping to write for the blog a phrase like "I think I can writes for you in a some of the interesting articles that will be useful for to your readers" should probably not be in there.

Notice also how this email says it likes my "articles" or "topics that are discussed" but offers NO information that's more specific? That's a dead give away.  Plus almost all of these emails LOOK exactly the same. They have exactly the same body shape. Header. Small paragraph. Large paragraph. Line that is mostly a link. Footer.

And then there's the FB offers to "rent" my page, as I've screen-shotted above.

Though sometimes you just have to give something the sniff test. Had a guy who passed all the basic scam-filters but when we started talking about what he wanted to write as a guest blog, he kept aggressively steering the conversation to whether or not I could do some weird type of payment through a company that I'd never heard of, and would there be any way to get money for the guest blog right away (I usually wait a week to see how the post does and if I should be paying more than my usual.) Something didn't feel right, so I Googled the company and sure enough found that it was a credit card phishing scam. ("It appears we do not have a working relationship with your bank! Would you like to add a credit card instead?")


16) C Sydney asks: Is there a path to redemption should the ban hammer be invoked? Or is it once banned, forever so?



It's pretty easy actually.

Just message me in some capacity. I've never not reinstated someone who sent me a sincere message asking to come back. Of course most messages I get are just trying to have the last word in some argument they think I'm interested in having, and I don't even finish reading them. Some of them unrepentantly whine about how I'm deeply unfair and they didn't do anything wrong, which tells me they either have no conceptual grasp of what they did wrong (in which case I'm very comfortable with my decision) or they do and they think they're justified (in which case I'm very, very comfortable with my decision).

This guy? Not so much.
What did the rest say? I'll never know.
I got about as far as the ellipsis before I deleted it.
"Slightly challenging" in this case included a racial epithet
and calling social justice warriors the real bigots.
But often people message me and they'd like back in and I take a good look at what happened.

FB sometimes "jumps" (updating right before I click so that I hit the wrong button) and I ban people I never meant to. They get reinstated as quickly as possible with my sorrows.

Sometimes I see that their comments were more "on the edge" than "over the line" and they just happened to hit me when I was in a "blood rage" from whatever other people were doing on the thread. So the empathetic thing to do is to show some temperance and just let the back with an apology for getting carried away.

Or sometimes they sincerely apologize for comments that ARE over the line. And I know we live in the age of "You said something problematic once––I have screenshots," but I personally think people evolve and grow and I have got to give them the space to do that and to be better. Besides, I was a bit of a dudebro once myself, and it was the INFINITE fucking patience of people dealing with me that helped me to evolve and to continue to evolve.

17) Akcipitrokulo Do you ever regret having the WAW page on facebook?



I wouldn't say "regret." Facebook is also the reason I have 10,000 readers a day instead of about 800. Facebook is my great love/hate relationship. I would not be where I am without its reach, and yet it makes me tear my hair out trying to deal with its ever-increasing rapacious bids to secure my money in order to show the very people following me the content they have asked to see. And of course managing the page when it has grown big enough that people sort of think it is "public and open" and they can go wild west in the comments (because free speech) instead of my house where they should extend some basic fucking courtesy tends to be way way WAY more of a time sink than I want. 

18) Akcipitrokulo
 asks: what is the current total of blockees?

Facebook doesn't give me a total number of banned folks for a page, but I scrolled through and I would guess it's in the neighborhood of a couple thousand. Honestly that's pretty good for getting close to a million followers. (And probably at least another couple hundred thousand have "passed through" in the five years we've been a page.) It means only a fraction of one percent are behaving so badly that I have to swing Mjölnir (the ban-hammer).

19) Kara asks: How do you navigate FB's algorithm?

Mostly I don't.

I have a very love/hate relationship with Facebook and it's algorithm is a bucket of sphincters that I would like to send down a water slide lined with razor blades into a salt water and ammonia pool before reattaching them to whatever they were sphinctering for.

The FB Algorithm™ is one of the hardest and most frustrating parts of my job. They continue throttling content and showing posts to fewer and fewer people to "encourage" me to advertise by spending money. They treat me with my little content generating writing page that brings all kinds of fun memes, puns, and value to FB the same as multibillion dollar company whose every post is a commercial.

My Patreon would arguably not be where it is today without Facebook, and that is how I pay the bills, so it's definitely frustrating to live and breathe under the whims of an increasingly greedy necessary evil.

No fewer than seven times since I've started, FB has engaged in a major campaign to prevent pages from being seen by the people who WANT to follow them. They always wrap this up in bullshit like "We want to show you more of your friends!" but they forget to mention the part where A) You don't actually see any fewer ads––and in fact you're probably seeing more. and B) These were pages you elected to follow, could unfollow at any time, and provide content you are asking for. Any time they are doing that, you can guarantee that behind the scenes pages like mine are squirming because our reach just got hacked in half (or worse) and we're getting all kinds of commercials to do paid advertising to "Reach more of [y]our followers!"

The most recent throttle has been the hardest by far. It has taken three months for our page to grow from 800,000 to 818,000. I used to grow 18k in a week or two.

20) Anon asks: Do you really think your "You should be writing" posts are anything but annoying. 

 [Image description:
A comment saying:
Just in case no one has ever told you
.... thank you.
As I sit here in my bed,
 laptop open and 62,455 words deep,
three glasses of wine (maybe four or five)
down the hatch,
THANK YOU!
Sometimes I simply roll my eyes
at your posts,
but other times
I put the phone down
and get back to it.
I simply wanted to give you
an honest thank you
for pushing those of us who need it.]

I don't care.

I mean obviously they are something other than annoying to many because people "like" them, and talk about how useful they are in the comments, and send me thank you notes for them and stuff, but like most things on this page, I share them because I enjoy them (they often start my writing day) and this is my page unless I am somehow hurting you along the axis of a marginalized status, I haven't actually solicited your opinion. You can enjoy the show or not, but don't come into my house and complain that one of the many dishes I'm serving isn't exactly to your liking.

If they're not for you feel free to scroll past them quietly, and if you can't do that, I'll be happy to show you where the door is.

[Note: This wasn't actually anonymous, but I showed him where the door was.]


 [Image description:
A comment saying:
I really love your page.
And I'm sorry for all the crap
you're going through
in your personal life.
If it helps any,
your posts help me through my crap.
Writing is so cathartic,
and your page helps me write.
I hope things get better for you and yours.] 


It does help. It makes it all worth it, actually.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Best Horror Not Written by a Cis Het White Man (Last Call to Vote)

What is the best horror book (or series) written by a woman or POC or member of the LGBTQIA+ community?  

Please follow this link if you're wondering why this poll has some particular limitations.

The front runners are practically tied and the results are going up in a few more days.

Everyone gets three [3] votes, but as there is no way to "rank" votes, you should use as few as you can stand.

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

If you're on mobile you can scroll ALLLLLL the way to the bottom and click on"webpage view" to see the side menus and get to the polls.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Wall (Personal Update)


Somewhere in the metaphor dimension there is a wall. It's not a big wall. Not particularly tall or wide or thick. But it is made of brick, and it is solid. In this wall is a Chris shaped indentation where, in particular, you can see my facial features with shocking detail (in reverse of course). This is from where I ran into it face first, pretty much at full speed.

Again.

Despite a careful regimen of self-care (including a horchata every day after teaching so you know I was totally serious about being nice to me) I simply have too many things going on that I don't really want to back burner. I did everything I could to make the six weeks of summer school easier, but it wasn't really enough.

I refuse to see the smol human any less. I refuse to go to ground for six weeks and have no social contact with loved ones. I refuse to stop writing. And while I don't do any double books for pet sitting, summer is prime vacation time, and I can't just shut down for the duration.

A couple of weeks ago I worked a job in Nob Hill where there was no parking at all, and I had to bring my stuff, drop it off on the first day, and then park my car back in Lafayette, BART in and out of Civic Center each day, and walk from Nob Hill to the BART (which if you don't know SF topography and geography is about 15 blocks at a 45 degree angle through The Tenderloin). It was a very difficult job, but I had time to read on the BART and I was getting some good, vigorous exercise every day. That turned out to be really, REALLY good for me. I was busy AF, but I had a lot more cope in my cope-tank. It reminded me that me and me really need to have a sit down heart to heart about priorities. I need more time to read and exercise.

I can't keep doing fifty thousand side gigs. It was necessary when I first moved out and had to figure out how to make ends meet, but now it's holding me back.

Technically I know this wall. My face has rammed full speed into it before. I’m familiar with its brick contours. This wall and me, we go way back. This EXACT wall and me go back five years when I first started teaching summer school, but I've been plowing into walls just like it for most of my adult life. I know this wall all too well.

Every summer during summer school I hit the point where I can’t. (I literally can’t even.) It’s one of the ways I know roughly where my upper limit for sustained weekly work is (About 80ish hours). I can flash fire the engines as high as 100 in a pinch, but only for a week or two.( And I know THAT because of final papers week in college and one particularly rough month in 2016.) But if I need to sustain the effort, 80ish is about my upper limit.

Every summer I take on this teaching job, which is an extra 20 hours a week, and push myself up closer to 85+ (it's been more in the past, but these days I know to trim work where I can). And every summer, like clockwork, about five weeks in, I slam into the wall, crash, and burn. I just stare at the blank page (well....screen in my case). It's not writer's block––if anything I usually have this frustrating backlog of ideas––but I'm just exhausted.

It would be almost spectacular if it were literal. Like Old Faithful. An entirely predictable display of nature's unrelenting fury. ("You can't do it." "Watch me." "Boom.") And these days, I have doctors orders to go a little easier on myself lest I go down from exhaustion and start sleep walking through entire days.

Rather than ramble on, let me use this to spearhead three points:

1) The question I get the most is some variant of HOW DO I DO IT? How have I made writing into a career, gotten enough money to (barely) live on, readership, and more, and this is one of the answers. Right here. You're watching it unfold in real time as is this blog's Mission Statement.  I DON'T back-burner writing. I NEVER treat writing like it's the thing I can push to the side. I write as hard as I can and sometimes that means I hit a wall at full speed.


2) There's good news. One of my side gigs has just gotten an extension of at least five years and a bump in hours. So there's some security there. Another situation is a property management gig which I'm doing some admin work for right now, but may, in a couple of years, cover my rent for not too many hours of work per week more than being a presence on site. (Perfect for a writer who works from home all day.) So I can probably phase out the pet sitting over the next year and change, or at least limit it to the close and easy jobs.

3) I also might be able to phase out this summer school nonsense and not run into the wall face first NEXT summer. (Wouldn't that be fucking spectacular!) Though I thought that summer school was going to be a thing for years because of how much they pay, as soon as next year, I may have a situation that is better without.

However, being able to drop that gig might be more up to all of you. If you want to help me not have 80 hour weeks and need five side gigs to keep the lights on and the Chris fed, consider dropping as little as a dollar a month over on my Patreon. (Yes, this is the 5/6 "pledge drive" post, but I figured I would break from just the straight full court press of the last few Wednesdays.) If I can cobble together enough to get by (without renouncing vegetables and my cell phone), I'll drop the teaching gig, which will give me a lot more time to write, and will mean I don't spend six weeks every summer doing a pledge drive like this one.

Monday, July 16, 2018

That Moment We Knew Was Coming (Personal Update)

Be distracted by a picture of me eating my hair.
To be honest, if I get through the six weeks of summer school and only utterly blow one post, I'll be doing spectacularly. It was sort of bound to happen, and as usual, I'm probably the one giving myself the most grief over it.

Yes, there are reasons. My blogging/fiction takes a hit when I'm wound up and posting a lot about politics (and boy howdy today, amirite?). I got tapped for kid patrol today and then got an extra 90 minutes on top of the original time. I'm starting to fall behind on sleep and posts and EVERYTHING because of the 20 hours a week I'm teaching (on top of everything else). A situation just boiled over among a lot of folks I care for every deeply that has caused a lot of people a lot of pain and will now get worse. I'm having one of my worst A.D.D. days in months.

And also, twenty questions turns out to take a LONG ASS time to write even if you're trying to keep those answers short.

Mostly though, I'm just tired, distractible, emotional, busy A.F., and class starts tomorrow and I'm in the backstretch but really, REALLY ready for summer school to be over.

So let's call time-of-death on a proper post for today, and if I can't get this Twenty Questions done for tomorrow, I'll do what I planned (also a personal update but with more personal updateyness), and we'll move the 20Qs to Friday.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Twenty Questions


[Note: Everything in brackets will disappear in a few days. It's time to put a new menu here for all of our Twenty Questions posts. It will be tucked into a sub-menu of The Mailbox. We may only have two right now, but another one is coming this week and we will likely have a half dozen before I finish out summer school and the "wake" of summer school.]

The questions might be long but the answers aren't.  

We answer a lot of questions here at Writing About Writing and most take time, energy, and nuance to be a full post. Publishing. Craft. Process. Personal questions to me. They're all covered. And if you'd like to get one answered send them, like all questions, to chris.brecheen@gmail.com and make the title "WAW MAILBOX."

But not every answer needs an entire post to respond to. Even stacking two three or four at a time won't really end up with a full length post, so when we've gathered up enough of those quick-to-answer, we'll bundle them all together and toss out one big run––usually by theme if we can make one or a "pairing" work. If your question is more of a quickie than a put-on-Marvin-Gaye-and-take-your-time type, it just may show up in one of these posts.


Friday, July 13, 2018

Need more questions!

The Twenty Questions posts are a bit easier for me than a regular post to write from beginning to end, and so they make great filler while I'm slogging through these last two weeks of summer school. Today I slept in until noon after a hard week, and had to move house to a pet sitting gig I'm going to be at for the next week.

As I recover, try to dig out the urgent emails, handle the growing pile of admin posts that need my attention, and try to get you some articles that aren't totally jazz hands, here is a reminder that I need your questions to help me do the "Twenty Questions" posts.

Themes remaining are Blogging, Publishing, Basics, Social Media (FB!), Reading/Books, "My Philosophy of Writing," Grammar, and Social Justice Bard. Though I may do one or two questions from Process, Craft, Personal or Meta if you still have those.

Now I'm off to do some power sleeping and then write like the wind this weekend.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Best Horror Not by a Cis Het White Man (Reminder to Vote)

What is the best horror book (or series) written by a woman or POC or member of the LGBTQIA+ community?  

Please follow this link if you're wondering why this poll has some particular limitations.

The front runners are tied (and I'm even more skeptical that all the people calling Frankenstein horror have actually read it), and we need your vote.

I got tapped for child care today. So today I'm just going to give everyone a heads up that I'll be posting the results of this poll tomorrow, so it's your very very last chance to vote!

Everyone gets three [3] votes, but as there is no way to "rank" votes, you should use as few as you can stand.

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

If you're on mobile you can scroll ALLLLLL the way to the bottom and click on"webpage view" to see the side menus and get to the polls.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

We Regret to Inform You

Will Writing About Writing need to start hosting ads and running constant pleas to whitelist us from your ad blockers?   

Eh, probably not, but I needed a clickbait title.

WAIT....don't go. I promise this will at least be informative.

Come see how the sausage gets made if you want to get paid for writing in today's publishing world. Because if you want to be an artist (even a writer) you have to do one of two things to survive capitalism. Be so fucking commercially successful that people will come to you to pay to have access to your labor.

Or beg.

A lot. A LOOOOOT!!!

(Even if you think you'll just publish traditionally, you're going to end up begging for people to put books on consignment or give you a try or come to your reading or....)

Learning to ask for money isn't easy. It's slimy and dirty and everything screams at you that you're a charlatan. I feel like I need a shower with steel wool after every post like this. But with creative writing, it's basically the cost of doing business unless you want to write (and I mean really put yourself out there) for 10+ years before you make anything more than enough to go out to a nice dinner once a month. And possibly a lot longer than 10 years. Today it's easier than ever to be published and paid as a writer but it's actually HARDER than it has been since the 1940's to do so in traditional publishing. There are more people submitting than ever before, and non-traditional routes are eating up market shares.

Pretty much every working writer I've met who isn't famous has the same dirt under their fingernails.

We beg.

Welcome to our fourth of six "fund raiser" posts. We're still trying to cover that goal where the increasing cost of health care and tax burden won't be forcing me to petsit until I'm in my fifties, but it's slow going on the progress front. I picked up a few donors in June (and as always lost a couple) and so far July is going actually pretty well, but I'm still recovering from May's loss of one big donor. That's how it goes.

Here is a screenshot from MY PATREON.
Image description: Screen capture of text--
July 11th, 2018
July 2018 summary: +18.50 in pledges, +5 patrons


On the upside, that means our pledge drive is over half complete. For better or for worse.

Hang on. I haven't told you the down side yet.
The downside is that we're pretty far from even our modest goal.

Budgets for the coming year* need to be finalized by early August, and summer school is currently cannibalizing about half of my regular writing time, so for three more weeks we're going to take one post a week, and beg shamelessly.

*Half the people in my life are full time teachers, so "year" around here tends to mean from fall to fall.

Patreon.

This is the best and easiest way to support me as an artist. Set up a payment for as little as a single dollar a month and forget about it. I pay the payment processing fee.

As much as I completely adore my big ticket patrons, as you can see above, if one of them can't keep trucking it sometimes takes me months to recover. You know, it's too easy to imagine folks who light their cigars with hundred dollar bills just tossing money they don't really need at Writing About Writing. However, what's really happening is that real people (who aren't rich by any means) are reaching deep into their generosity, and when they lose a job or a contract or their house gets reappraised into a higher property tax bracket, that's no longer money they can afford not to have.

What I would love is if more people made small donations they could afford and kept the dozen or so folks from having to do all the heavy lifting. Yes, I have bills to pay, but there's no need for anyone to handle all of them.

Last year we cleared our fourth goal a few months after the pledge drive ended. I no longer need to think about driving Uber or Lyft or side gig jobs that are labor intensive. I still have to do the pet sitting but (in theory) once I'm settled into the client's house, I can whip out my laptop and keep writing.

There are more goals. Eleven of them, actually.

Image description:
White line drawing on black background,
a control button that goes from 1 to 11.
Title in faux Gothic lettering: This One Goes To 11.

My side gig situation is honestly pretty secure right now. I never want for pet sitting clients (in fact I'm trying to redo my price structure to kind of "discourage" the number of double-bookings I used to have), and a pretty rad opportunity might be opening up in property management if I can just be patient for a couple of years and help with admin once in a while in the meantime. Plus my nannying gig is secure for the time being.

So I can probably at LEAST keep doing what I'm doing right now for a bit longer without having to sell out to The Man™ and clutter up this page with advertisements for herbal Viagra. Eventually though, I need to make up the shortfalls that all these side gigs are covering. I haven't put a penny towards retirement in twenty years and my 401k is looking a bit like "Who Wants to Marry a Ten-Thousandaire."

Besides it only costs $5 a month to get biweekly selfies.

Epic cuteness could be yours!
Image description: Epic cuteness.

Future income goals involve a more stable living situation and at their loftiest and most ambitious even my retirement needs, but I know I won't be getting there next week. For now I just want to know it's plausible by making some progress to my next goal. And it might be nice in a year or three to be able to keep writing instead of doing summer school.

Since this blog's inception, due to the breathtaking generosity of patrons and donations from readers like you, we have been able to:
  • Quit teaching night classes during the regular year and write instead
  • Bring you more content
  • Remove the annoying ads
  • Up the number of high quality posts each week. 
  • (Not to put too fine a point on it, but we've been able to keep bringing you content through what would otherwise have been some completely devastating life transitions that would have put most bloggers on hiatus.) 
  • Gone from five posts a week to six
  • Take far fewer random/unscheduled days off

Here are some things I'd like to add if we continue to get more support:
  • Even more posts, and more high-quality posts (less jazz hands)
  • When I do have jazz hands, it's a better quality of jazz....or hands....or, um, both
  • A seventh and even eight post each week
  • A greater number of carefully (perhaps even professionally) edited and revised posts
  • More fiction!!
  • Always and ever free longer fiction (books)
  • An always, forever, ad free experience on Writing About Writing
For the mere cost of twelve dollars a year–just $1 a month–you get in on backchannel conversations with other patrons, polls, and conversations about future projects including sometimes me trying to get your input about what you'd like to see. My patrons get to know what's happening when I have to take an unscheduled day off or when trouble is on the horizon. But perhaps, most importantly, you'll get that warm and fuzzy feeling that you are supporting an artist to continue making art and entertainment. And obviously that just makes you a great person.

So if you like what I do and want to see me do more of it. Or if you want to continue to see me do it without ads, please consider a small pledge. We wouldn't have gotten this far without our current patrons, and we can't go any further without you.

Again here is that link: https://www.patreon.com/chrisbrecheen

And of course if committing to a monthly amount isn't feasible, you can always make a one-time donation through my Paypal (at the top left of the screen). 

Also, if you don't have a penny to spare (which I totes understand, yo), but still want to help, giving this post a comment, like, +1, upvote, little <3, or some type of engagement on the social medium where you found it will help it be seen by more people and is ALWAYS super helpful.

Thank you all so much. No matter what is feasible at this time or what you can spare. I couldn't have made it this far without all of you.

*goes to shower with steel wool*

Monday, July 9, 2018

Twenty Questions (Process and some Leftover Personals)

Process

1) Amber asks: What environment do you write best in?

I sort of answered this in the last Twenty Questions as a personal question, so now I'm going to answer it as a process question assuming the question is a universal "you:"

(If that's not what you meant, feel free to pop back there.)

Try a lot of places and see what works. Not everyone is going to handle a din of background noise and some people might absolutely hate silence. Some need privacy. Some will like the accountability of a public place. For most writers, there is a pretty powerful need for privacy and quiet. Stephen King calls this "closing the door." And Virginia Woolf calls it "a room of one's own." Of course not everyone can have their own special private room, so you might have to grab a corner of the sewing room or put a desk in your bedroom like I have. Or maybe you use the dining room table after the kids are asleep. My experience is that most writers seem to need a lot of alone time and pop out to libraries and coffee shops to kind of shake things up or because they want a scone.

2) Richard asks: How do you un-clutter the mind when it's full of a thousand nuggets of ideas knocking around, but no way to make it cohere into a *story*?

So this question has a really complicated answer completely unsuited to the quick answers of a 20 Q's. That answer has to do with creativity, and it might help to visit John Cleese's thoughts on creativity. It's technically for management, but it's a good vid.

To boil this down to the oversimplified form that will fit into this Pez dispenser wisdom post, sounds like you don't have a story yet. Sounds like those nuggets of ideas are seeds. You need to stick them in the ground and let them germinate. Some will join and combine, but others might shoot runners off and become their own stories.

There are things you can do that are analogous to sun lamps, fertilizer, and playing Brahms at night (things like staring out the window and thinking of your ideas while letting your mind wander...though not TOO far), but you can't really force it, and ideas forced into the containers of stories usually read like they are exactly that. I'd give these nuggets time and work on other things.

3) Alicia asks: Do you have helpful tips for time management and keeping motivated?

You've come to the right place. I am fantastic at time management.

The reason I know this is because I always manage to get things done at the absolute last possible second. If I were bad at time management, I would turn in at least half of my stuff late. Nope. Turns out I procrastinate almost precisely as long as is acceptable and then spring into motion and get it done with exactly zero time to spare.

I hate to sound oracular, but know thyself.

That's my best advice.

If you work well under pressure, enjoy some Stardew Valley and let the deadline encroach. If you hate pressure, make sure you're on that shit right away. If you know you can crank out five good pages in an hour, then you need an hour to do your shit. If you're like me and you write more like a page an hour, you need five hours to do your shit. Know your strengths and your limitations. One of the worst things writers do is assume that they're all going to work roughly the same way, and one of the BEST things they can do is learn their own pulse and rhythm.

I find setting SMART(S) goals is useful for my personal writing whether it's as big as "Get this novel draft done by next October" or as small as a daily blog. Don't leave a project to "whenever." Know what your next step is and when it has to be done. I find I work much better on deadlines––even if they're just my own.

Motivation I'm not so great at. I create it two ways. One is the goals I mentioned above and giving myself deadlines. The other is to cultivate writing as a habit instead of something I feel "motivated" to do. (Kind of like brushing my teeth. I don't really feel motivated to brush my teeth most days, but I just DO it because it's habit.) The payoff is that when I AM feeling motivated, I can go a lot longer, faster, and harder in ways that are not as dirty as that sounds.

4) Kitiara asks: I've been an aspiring epic fantasy writer since I was eight...but i have A.D.D. [attention deficit disorder] and can never seem to write more than scraps. The story is perfectly clear in my mind as much as when I was eight. Its actually more developed now than then...but the problems of putting it on paper are the same. What can I do to keep focused?

I know that not everyone with A.D.D. experiences it in the same way, but I have similar issues and similar issues with my stories. I definitely feel you. Me and ADD couldn't ever get the hang of writing a story. So what I did was I just developed the discipline and habit of writing every day, and when the ADD got the memo that we were going to be sitting there and working, one way or another, and it couldn't get me to go look at the shiny, it started helping me put stories together. However, to. this. DAY. my mind will wander and rebel if I try to just sit down and "write a story," but if I sit down to just write and then kind of nudge it over to the story once the faucet is flowing, that'll work.

  1. Confront how much the story is really perfectly clear in your mind. I find it is very common to have a rough outline, two or three scenes that really POP in my mind, a solid beginning, an ending that is going to kick so much ass, and.....some hand waving in the middle. Does that stuff need to be fleshed out a little more?
  2. Cultivate that discipline. Folks with ADD have to work twice as hard (or more) to make habit, routine, and discipline replace a good executive function. It will feel like breaking a wild stallion at first––your brain will try EVERYTHING to get you up from what feels like work. But if you just sit down (preferably at the same time every day) you should feel it begin to yield eventually.
  3. I spent years doing morning writing and then The Floating Half Hour, and the payoff is that I can just sit down and write almost anywhere and any time. Most writers have a specific time they write. I am more flexible. (Which is good when you nanny for a four year old and have a schedule that changes daily.) 
  4. Psssst. Just between you and me..... I'd rather have the ADD. Everyone goes through this process of getting their muse (if you'll pardon that conceit) to play ball instead of just work when it feels good and inspired. Even neurotypical folks can't avoid it, it just might be a little easier for them. And even though I probably had to work harder to get to the point where sitting and writing was a habit, once I DO, I get the advantages afforded to me by my neurodivergence––hyperfocus and divergent thinking (or creativity). Just the sorts of things you'd want to make up stories for hours and hours.

5-7) Amanda asks: When something isn’t coming together as you want, what other activities do you find helpful to your writing? Do you feel short stories are inherent in themselves, never to be expanded on, or do you find sometimes a shorter version of your overall full length to be helpful? Do you, as I do, just go with wherever the story takes you, without a map (read: outline) or is there some form of literary GPS happening?



5- I like walking/hiking a lot. It clears my head, and is slow enough that I can let my mind wander without thinking a lot about where I'm going. I actually have to perpetually remind myself how cathartic and refreshing a good walk can be. My usual modus operandi is to "pedal faster" on work until I'm practically grinding my gears, and while I usually get the work done, it is often with increasingly limited returns.

6- Generally, I find that fiction should be the length it needs to be to tell the story. If a story can be told in 20 pages, making it into a novel will feel dragged out. And unless you're Robert Jordon on Book 10, you don't want none of that. Similarly if you need a quadrilogy to get your story out, making it into a short story will feel train wreck rushed. (Watch a Joss Whedon show after he finds out he's getting cancelled if you don't understand.)

Which is not to say that you couldn't have short stories that live in the same world as a longer work, make enough cuts of superfluous sub-plots to a longer work that it becomes a tight short story, or find a legitimate expansion of a short story into a larger work, but most of the time this is done, it feels a lot like pouring the wrong amount of water into a container. Either you have a pitcher that is practically empty or a glass that's overflowing.

And if you do successfully change the size and shape of a story, you are essentially telling a different story.

7- This is an interesting question given the last one. Are you using "short versions of a long story" to sort of "MacGyver" an outline?

I find outlines to be intensely personal, but some writers will not let go of the fact that their outline is actually hurting their writing. Some writers swear by outlines. Some eschew them aggressively. It's good for certain genres and kind of disastrous for others. Many have a few notes and let their characters do a lot of the driving.

A lot of young writers (young as in new, not necessarily chronological age) know what outlines are SUPPOSED to do, and how they're SUPPOSED to help, and they really cleave to that. They get pissed at me when I suggest that the magical rainbow bridge is closed for repairs and we have to take the long way through the gully, hacking our way through the jungle overgrowth with a machete. But then I find them still standing in the same spot two or three or five or ten years later still waiting for the rainbow magical fucking unicorn bridge to get repaired. They have brilliant, incredible, well structured outlines that they have spent hundreds of hours on, but still haven't written more than a couple of chapters.

Personally, I fall into the later category of very light plot point mapping and lots of character driving even though I rarely have written notes. (They're in my head.) What I have is a long period of percolating thinking about my story that gives me a sense of the milestones I'd like to pass, but how we get there is usually up to my characters (and sometimes has to be abandoned because they aren't feeling it.)

8) Mark asks:  Is all writing writing in the way that, say, all exercise is exercise? Or is some writing worse than not writing at all the way some food is worse for you than skipping dinner. Ergo should we quit the empty calories of Facebook?

Yes. And no. All writing is writing, but not all writing is The Kind of Writing You Want to be Doing™. I think you're more on track with the exercise metaphor. Engaging your language centers with some written communication probably isn't going to hurt. And even though writing "STFU n00b!" is probably not going to help you with that Nobel prize in literature, you aren't likely to find yourself unable to write a sentence that isn't in l33t speak later on that day.

What it might be (and totally is for me) is a waste of time. I HEMORRHAGE time on Facebook and every month or two I have to get my shit together and redouble my efforts to not blow so much time there. When I'm cannibalizing hours that should be for writing, that doesn't help my writing at all.

Also, this might seem like it should go without saying, but it never really does with writers: we get better at what we practice. So if you're a basketball player who keeps going to football practice, don't be to shocked if your basketball game isn't getting any better. And if you're a novelist who spends hours a day on Facebook, don't be too surprised if your fiction game is stagnating while your "argue in impossibly long threads" game is on point.

9) Kara asks: Is 5 minutes of writing as possible better than 1 hour of dedicated sitting and writing?

Unless you're really wasting that hour, probably not. Your brain is not ACTUALLY a computer, and takes a few minutes just to switch gears from whatever its last task was and really get into the writing. I'd say the shortest session that could still be in that sweet-spot of productivity is probably in the neighborhood of 15-20 minutes. That gives you enough time to really get into the writing flow and dig some good stuff out before you have to stop again.

Though five minutes of writing is probably better than zero minutes of writing.

10) Heather asks: Okay so, I have a pen and a notebook (or four notebooks) and what is coming out is a doodle. There's no words. Does that mean I'm not writing yet?

Yep. Or nope. Or um.....you are correct.

You may be starting to fire up the creativity, but it seems like the language centers haven't fully  engaged the warp drive yet. When you start metabolizing that creativity into words, you'll be writing.

11) Joseph asks: What's your strategy for the days where the inner critic won't give you a moment's reprieve?

Oh so you mean the ones ending in Y?

My inner critic pretty much has its name in the opening credits of The Chris Show, and I don't mean a "Special Guest Star" mention right before we open up on a panoramic shot of Lafayette. I'm talking top billing. Most days I sort of feel like at any moment half my patrons are going to realize I'm a complete sham and pull their patronage.

One thing that helps me is to imagine that voice actually has a face. I don't just let it be disembodied and nebulously conceptualized. I put it into words and imagine every single word as spoken by someone I am desperate to prove wrong––usually one of my abusers from the past.

Another thing is to remember that the "inner critic" is the Black Mirror version of my ego. That might seem counter-intuitive at first, but the inner critic doesn't want you to do anything that you're not already great at. Without effort. Without practice. Without work. Just automatically great at.  And once you realize how actually downright arrogant it is to expect to have something great and worthy to say without a tremendous amount of effort, it becomes much easier to just see writing as work.

It's just work.

It's X amount of effort to get idea from head to page. As you get better, that number gets smaller. That's all there is to it. It's not magic, talent, or worthiness. There might be some ineffable qualities (maybe) but the writing itself is a skill.

It's just like going into the office and knowing how much you have to do by the end of the day. You have to think about it, figure out what you want to say, write it, revise it, make it better, polish it, and the whole thing is just a process that all writers have to go through. All that matters is just the amount of work that it takes to get from here to there. It has nothing to do with your value as a human.

Between those two things, I'm usually able to at least sit down and get some writing done.

12) Justin asks: Any methods for organizing non - fiction would be helpful. I have extreme amounts of information and way too many rabbits I end up chasing.

Nonfiction is a very different beast than my usual advice. You're not working with the same elements and you can start with the core idea you're trying to convey and then work outward. (Rather than writing a story first and teasing out themes later.) The process can be dramatically different.

I would, for example, recommend outlining....a lot, and taking copious notes. And not just sitting down to write unless it's just a free write to throw some spaghetti at the wall.

When I was teaching writing at The Learning Center a lot of students would come in with too much information. I likened it to having a whole box of legos and not being sure what to build. So the first thing you need to do is figure out what you want to build––or in your case, write. Once you know you want to build a spaceship, you can get rid of the wheels and the Batman's Mega-Fortress wall pieces.

That blueprint will help you determine what of the "extreme amounts of information" would be useful to help you support the point, and what is a little too much detail or not relevant. Then, if you have some fact or figure that you're dying to tell, you have the whole structure built so you can see where it will fit the best.

In Western academic tradition, this idea is your thesis, and you're going to need to support it with ideas you then prove through evidence (your information) so you would want to think about how it all fits together in this telescoping relationship of claims and support. However there's no reason that all nonfiction has to follow an academic or Western schema, (today's audiences are EXTREMELY receptive to listicles, for example, that have no stated thesis). The exact form you decide on might depend greatly on the audience and medium. Long, erudite papers don't go over well as blogs unless the blogs are known for being scholarly, and your twitter essay is probably not going to end up in The Atlantic.



13) Melissa asks:  I have been wanting to write my life story but have no idea how to put it together as a story and not just as a list of dates and facts... I have looked at books on this subject but there are so many. Just wondering if, by any chance, you have a book you would recommend as a guide for this sort of endeavor.

You know a meta story that is just a list of dates and facts that ends up telling a narrative could be kind of cool. Like a historical timeline or a history book that is actually a story. (Plenty of nerds love exactly this sort of thing.) But let me get back to your question.

First of all, if anyone ("on the streets") asked me this question, I would immediately ask them how much fiction they'd read. I don't know your situation, but that's where my mind would go first. Consider it rhetorical, but important. What you are describing is deeply into the very basics of storytelling–breathing life into a moment. The most hardy way to figure out how to frame stories is not to read about them, but to read the stories themselves. The masters are there. All you have to do is study their techniques and then practice your own. Study how they take a moment in history (dates and facts) and breathe life into those characters through dialogue, action, and prose.

That said, the book you want is called Plot by Ansen Dibell. For the deep foundation-laying trouble you are articulating simply creating a story, this book has no equal.


I would start small. Vignettes and very short stories. Then try to expand yourself outward.


14) Hi Chris! Here's my question (hopefully it's short enough.) You've finished a novel before, right? How did you do it? Did you write it from beginning to end, or did you write a bunch of random scenes and come back later to stitch them all together? 

The questions can be as long as y'all want. It's my answers that I'm trying to keep short. So you do the heavy lifting and I get credit for a "real" post during these nightmare six weeks of teaching summer school and working 80+ hours.

The only time I've shot out ahead to write a scene was when I needed to skip ahead to something I knew I wanted to write to help get me out of the mud where I was spinning my wheels. As soon as I was writing and had opened up and was generating words, I went right back to where I was in my draft and continued the manuscript in the order it would be read.

The problem with patch-working scenes in fiction is that it very much reads like that is exactly what you were trying to do. There are these super strong scenes that pop and they seem kind of scotch taped together with really weak transitions. Characters make strange choices because you've already established they did THIS thing so now you have to shoehorn their behavior to fit where you know they're going to end up. It feels very much like "and then some shit happened that gets us to THIS NEXT SCENE I CARE ABOUT!"

Consider how off the last scene in Harry Potter felt. Even after multiple revisions Rowling couldn't disguise the fact that she had written it over a decade prior.

15) Jessica asks: First off, apologies for the long-windedness, this is a somewhat complex question that's been on my mind for a while.

Writers often give the advice to "read a lot, write a lot". I have little patience for fiction and books in general these days, but I can (and often feel like I do) spend an entire day reading articles, opinion pieces, social media posts etc. I also like to engage with what I read, which can lead to long response posts and exchanges.

My question is: does this kind of reading and writing "count" as honing your skills, i.e. educating yourself on various issues and perspectives? Or does the phrase "read a lot, write a lot" only refer to more "sophisticated" literary activities?

Well, it totally counts. And that "'sophisticated' literary activities" bullshit is the kind of elitist twaddle that makes me want to jam a fish fork––properly, of course––into the eye of the bourgeoisie and their artificial class barriers.

However, it might count most towards writing you aren't that interested in long term.

I've been super excited lately that my fiction bug has returned. (It's been gone since the 2016 election.) Part of it is, of course, because I simply enjoy reading and it's been difficult for me not to be able to focus on that for the last almost two years. Instead I've been reading thirty to fifty articles a day, mostly about politics or social issues (sounds like we have that in common). But lately I've started reading fiction again, not just in these gutting gulps when I had nothing else to do, but in long, luxurious swallows with time I had set aside to read and deliberately by limiting the number of articles I'll read.

But the other part of it is that very likely my writing is about to experience a similar shift. I'll probably start to yearn to write fiction soon and the jerky, horribly forced pace I've been making on my novel will smooth out to a rapid clip.

The point here is all reading and writing "counts," but you are likely to do the kind of writing you are reading a lot of lately. Reading is vital to a writer. If you are reading hours and hours of twitters, you're probably going to start thinking in 280 character chunks. If you read a lot of newspapers, you probably will find yourself writing in passive voice to sound official. If you read deeply into FB comment sections, you probably have a keen sense of social media discourse and will start to frame writing to anticipate pushback.  If you are slamming back articles about fascism like they are Rockstar energy drinks and you want someone at the other end of the table to know how hardcore you are, you will probably find yourself writing a lot of similar rants and articles. Even when we are deeply comfortable with our own writing voice, we tend to be influenced by what we're reading. (One of the reasons it's so important for writers to break out and read something they wouldn't normally from time to time––it gives them some fresh-to-death ideas for how to express themselves.) This is why journalists sound like journalists when they first start writing fiction and tech writers often sound technical. And it's why people who don't read at all can visualize something wonderful that they want to be on paper, but can't find the language to describe what's in their mind's eye.

Can the wrong kind of writing help you in general? Sure, but probably with limited returns. Facebook comment replies will generally help you with the alchemy of turning thoughts into words, but they are NOT going to help you teasing themes out of your settings or making your character portrayals more poignant. If you're dying to be a novelist, you might want to really carve out the time to read fiction and write stories and limit the articles and replying.

There's a question above that's very similar. It probably won't hurt you, but it might not be the best use of your limited time if you're really wanting to get better at one particular type of writing and your attention is being monopolized by another.

16) Steven asks: What ratio is good for hours spent writing to editing?

There's a writer named Marianne Robinson who says she just sat down and wrote Giliad from cover to cover with almost no need for revision. But she had been thinking about it for over a decade before she started working. There's another famous writer who I have tried and failed to Google who says the real magic only begins on the 13th draft. (I keep getting draft picks for the NFL.) If that doesn't give you a pretty wide spread, I'm not sure what will.

I imagine the flow chart you construct for yourself should ask questions like what kind of writing you're doing, what the medium is, and who your audience will be. A blog post listicle and a New Yorker hopeful piece would have two wildly different answers.

Personally, for blogging it's probably about about a 2:1 ratio in favor of writing, and lord knows I should do a bit more. (I'm usually under deadline and time's up.) For fiction it's more like 1:10 in favor of editing. I also spend a lot more time revising and editing things I have a feeling will go viral.

17) Jessica asks: How do I do the thing [writing]?? 

One word at a time.

And as trite as that might sound, it's the damned truth. The best thing you can do–craft or process–is just put one word after another. The minute a writer stops trying to sit down to write a book or the best thing ever or the most perfect short story or whatever and just sits down to WRITE, some real magic starts to happen. Focus on the sentence in front of you, and write the next word. Then the next. Then the next.

And pretty soon you'll be looking back at all those places you wanted to go when you started. And you got to all of them one word at a time.

Leftover Personal Questions

18) Amber: How many hours a day do you spend reading and writing?

Probably somewhere between 8 and 12 all told and probably split sixty-six/thirty-three in favor of reading. Some days it's more. Some days it's less. Days "off" it's more like one or two hours of writing and how much reading I do depends on how busy I am. Sometimes I spend all day in bed reading entire novels in one long session.

I think the biggest misconception most people who want to be writers have is that they will be the one who beats the odds and makes it without working "day job" hours and they are the exception who doesn't need to read voraciously.

The graveyards of would-be writers are littered with their exceptional bones.

19) Michael asks: I know this is considered a rude question, but I'm trying to figure out how feasible my own dreams are. How much do you make?

I'll PM you an exact amount Michael, but for the blog I'm not going to disclose the specifics. Let's say that it's enough that in most of the United States I would be able to just write if I were very, VERY spartan, but not so much that in the Bay Area I don't need a side gig to keep my phone and car running and keep things from getting to austere.

Keep in mind I'm on year six here. And the first year was like $100. And the second year was like $400. And last year at this time (five years into daily blogging) I was making less than $400 a month.

People tend to get downright fucking belligerent with artists if they're not properly starving and barely making ends meet like a good artist should. I've had folks demand free work because "You're doing just fine!" and want me to essentially turn my Facebook page into their free advertsing because "I make less than you do!" And a couple of people have flat out sent me nast-o-grams that they were not going to be donating money to Paypal because I made quite enough already.

That effect is compounded when folks don't realize the cost of living and the OMFG! cost of housing here in the Bay Area. The fact that I rent a room that is how-the-hell-did-you-swing-that? cheap in a two bedroom apartment (with three of us living here) in Lafayette for about the same price that most of the country, outside a dozen cities or so, would be charged for a one bedroom apartment or a little cottage, doesn't really compute for most.

20) Alisha asks: How do you protect your private life from your public writer life now that you're famous? Would you have done something different when starting out in case you became famous? Like, something you regret not doing to keep your private life private.

Okay, but I'm not "famous." I think there are parts of my life that are sort of starting to bend towards maybe "internet celebrity" a little-ish, but even that is pushing it. 

I heard someone describe writer fame once as depending entirely what room you're standing in. In one room, you may be the person everyone knows and in another not one person would even recognize you if you started telling them what you had done. Most people––the VAST majority––have no clue who I am.

It was a great idea to logistically separate my public and private lives (including things like FB accounts and what I'll blog about openly). I did it at a good time (not too late). If I had to do it again, I would not invite people IN to that private circle so casually.

I have given out my trust too quickly to people who were gushing about how much they liked me or were so friendly to my public persona, but who clearly did not really view me as a person. I don't know if I was on a pedestal or they were just projecting things on me, but when I said or did something they didn't like, they didn't turned quickly, fully, and didn't treat me very kindly. I wouldn't say I regret it necessarily (it was a valuable lesson in being wary of that kind of attention even if it kind of feels good at the time), but it certainly stung a bit coming from people I had come to care about. I'm more careful now with who I let in.