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

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

What is Plot Driven (Mailbox)


What does "plot driven" mean?

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer a couple a 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. JSYK, most drunk questions are NOT worth answering.] 

"Doug" asks:  

I just got a rejection letter and I wanted to know what the hell does "plot driven" mean. (I might be a little drunk.)

(Note: Minor spoilers for Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Daredevil Season 1)

My reply: 

Well have one for me. That sounds like a rough rejection letter. Though if it was hand-written, instead of a form template, you might actually be closer than you think to being publishable.

This question disappeared from my inbox, but not from my mind, so I reconstructed it as best I can. Please remember if you send a question it might take me anywhere from a couple days to infinity to get back to it depending on its level of Awesome Sauce™. There are definitely ways to hedge your bets on a sooner-rather-than-later answer, and most of them don't even involve ash hauling.

But let's get back to your question, Doug. (I'm going to call you Doug since I can't remember your name from the original email. That's cool, isn't it.....Doug?) What does plot driven mean?

It means your plot is driving. *rimshot*

No?

More?

Oh fine.

Because this question is sort of impossible to answer without understanding its opposite, let me also talk about "character driven." Because if you're getting a rejection letter that says your story is plot driven, what they are also saying is that it is NOT character driven. Even though isn't really possible to have a story that is completely plot driven and more than a little unusual to have one that is completely character driven, it is quite common to find a lot of great media that is a spectacular mix of both. (An undead army beyond the wall to the north is a plot-driven, external threat, but the six books of infighting among those trying to fill a power vacuum that is needed to confront that threat is totally character driven. A powerful space station that can destroy a planet is plot-driven. The roguish character who leaves the fight...but then comes back because of a heart of gold is character driven.)

These two tend to be less like dividing a pizza (where there are only so many slices and you either get plot [pineapple and Canadian bacon] or character [sausage with extra olives] and never the twain shall meat–Get it? Meat...instead of meet?....never mind.) and more like treble and base.

No no. Stick with me. I can make this work.

Turning one up doesn't eliminate the other, but it can kind of make it harder to notice. And while they both can go up to 11, you don't tend to get a lot of quality difference unless one is higher than the other, depending on what quality you want the "sound" to have. So what you've really been told is not that you have to abandon your plot, but that your plot is driving the story, and you need to adjust the "air/fuel mixture" a little.

It's a pretty normal problem to have too much plot. Certainly there are plenty of shitty stories that are just swimming in interesting characters but nothing ever seems to fucking HAPPEN, and there's no real conflict, but it's quite a bit more common when it goes the other way..

"Plot driven" tends to be focused on the external conflict and events. If there's a villain they are pretty much moving inexorably towards something BAD™ and not driven by motivations that play off against the protagonist. The characters are often reacting to what's happening in the world around them or by the villian. Imagine the plot as more of a roller coaster. You could drop Othello or Hamlet in there and it's going to go the same way no matter what even though those two characters are almost as opposite as could be. Your characters might be interesting, but nothing they do is really going to change what happens until the end when they defeat (or don't) the antagonist. You see this type of writing a lot in thrillers and mysteries, and it tends to focus on "plot twists" and quick thinking. And while character driven is more common in the literary genre (and seen as more "legit" as a literary choice by lit sommeliers) there is no shortage of character driven stories in any other genre.

Character driven tends to mean that it is the characters and their internal struggles that are moving the story forward. If Othello and Hamlet switched out their circumstances their plays would each be over in half an scene each. What ends up driving the story is not so much how they immediately react to what is going on but how they process and internalize it. Instead of a roller coaster, think of a car in which they could make turns or drive off the road completely. Consider how Boromir's character changed the entire trajectory of Lord of the Rings (which has a lot of plot driving it) or how the final conflict actually occured within the hearts of a couple of the characters and was only minimally represented in the hack and slash bid for time. There was no last boss fight between Aragorn and Sauron. Frodo failed. And the only reason Sauron didn't win was because of another character utterly corrupted by the ring.  The main conflict in a character driven story is often within one of the characters–can they overcome some sort of personal flaw.....or not.

The thing is, character driven tends to be more impactful as a story, and it's the direction that media has moved over the last century. We are all happy that Lando blew up the second death star and Han blew up the shield generator, but what apparently really resonates for us as a culture is less all that blowing up stuff and more the choice that Vader made as a father. And while stories of good vs. evil will always be cultural touchstones, increasingly audiences are enthralled by complicated stories of characters rubbing up against each other in ways that completely change the story, and that sometimes both sides of a conflict are sympathetic and relatable.

So if you have a Strong Female Character™ with a sword, ask yourself this question: "Would ANY Strong Female Character™ with a sword (and a comparable level of skill) go through essentially the same story or does this SFC™ make some choices that only THIS SFC™ would make. Does she go around a threat because she hates physical pain? What happens then when she gets tortured? Is she toughened by this experience or nearly broken? How does that affect her willingness to go on? Is she hard boiled badass who doesn't give a crap about anything but revenge? What happens then when her choice is to kill the Big Bad™ or save the child? How do the consequences of that decision unfold?  What happens in the story that changes the character? How?

This isn't just about how a character behaves as they're going through a scripted series of events either. Sassy characters mouthing off to BadGuy_12 and gentle characters trying to urge restraint from BadGuy_12 might be "turning up" the character driven a little, but if BadGuy _12 does what they were going to do anyway, it's still Plot Driven Land. An obstacle laden dungeon that unfolds like a video game where all the dialogue options lead you eventually to the same results and same three final battles, is Plot Driven Land.

Plot Driven Land–Population: Doug.

I've been watching a lot of Marvel shows on Netflix lately (I'm way behind, but they're pretty good when I do sit down and watch some TV). They are also great examples.

Consider how much of Daredevil Season 1 involves the interplay between two foil characters. A lot happens, but much of it because one character or another CAUSES it to happen for motivations we understand as the audience. Both are violent. Both care about their community in a way that they are willing to do almost anything. Around the same age, each loses their father. But one is a killer who sees the people around him as a means to an end rarely doubts himself except on a personal level, and the other teeters over that abyss of morality but comes back and is generally supremely self confident on a personal level but constantly questions of his larger vision. They exist as foils and characterization chiasmi.

Consider as an illustration of character driven, how much differently would, say, The Punisher, handle Wilson Fisk if he weren't (as Matt Murdock was) essentially worried about his soul and fighting that base compulsion to hurt someone for vengeance sake and/or commit murder. Don't just imagine The Punisher using a rocket propelled grenade on Fisk's face just in the final fight or compare their ability to kick ass or gather intel. Actually start back at the beginning and imagine how The Punisher's sense of vengeance rather than protection of a community would shape his behavior from the very first moment of the very first episode. It would become a completely different story of an escalating cycle of violence rather than one where each tries to outthink the other's motivations and the ongoing internal question of whether he was doing the right thing would be completely absent from a story in which (with Matt) it was a central theme. Rather than a story about the soul of Hell's Kitchen and gentrification it would be a story about how Hell's Kitchen was collateral damage in a personal war.

Now consider what would happen if Jessica Jones were put into that situation. Five fricken minutes after the opening fight scene, she would be back in her office, pulling liberally on a flask and (successfully) talking herself out of the idea that it was even her problem.....unless she had a personal stake in it.

So I don't know what your story is about, Doug, but perhaps it's time to let your characters drive a little.

Here's a bit more on Character Driven stories.

Okay who wants pizza?

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The Book Was SO Much Better (Last Chance to Vote)

What book is outrageously, undisputedly, unquestionably so, so, SO much better than the movie?   

I'll let our current poll drift into February (especially if I let the end of it overlap the nominations for whatever the February poll is going to be), but only a few days. So if you haven't voted (or even if you have and it's been more than a week) it's time to make your voice be heard.

Remember this isn't about the best book or the worst movie but rather the book with the biggest gulf between itself and the movie. The book where you just want to grab people and say "But have you read the book? Oh. My. Sweet. Fucking. Jesus. Have you read the book?

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.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Emergency!

Had an emergency tag in on Job 3. Four hours turned into nine.

If everything goes well this week, I'll just be "red shifted" one day, but The Four Year Old Clause™ is one of the only things other than illness or like local firestorms (or you know.....being thrown into a wood chipper by Steve Buscemi) that can completely throw a wrench in the monkeys.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Follow Writing About Writing

Interested in following Writing About Writing? Or perhaps everything I write? Or maybe a Facebook page with macros and puns?  

If you're trying to follow Writing About Writing, it might actually be confusing to navigate all the different ways to do so. We're on several social media, but not every social medium is updated in the same way. Some follow the blog, but others follow me as a writer. Some get every post I make, no matter how major or minor. (Many days there are two posts but one of them is relatively minor or a menu or some sort of revision of an older article.) Some media are privy to a cycle of "reruns" where (once a day) I cycle through the popular posts of the past so that new folks can see some of the things they missed (and old fans can be reminded of treasured classics).

I also occasionally write for other venues (Ace of Geeks for example), and those who are following me as a writer, rather than JUST Writing About Writing, may prefer the media where I can share those other articles. Some social media have other signal to noise. For example, twitter gets ALL of these updates I post anywhere, including the reruns, which is great for people who don't want to miss anything but may feel too spammy for many followers, as I have no other presence on Twitter. On the other hand, if people JUST want my articles and nothing else, Twitter is perfect.

I'm not really present on any of these social media (except for Facebook). I cross post articles and very occasionally put something else up.

So what's the final word on how you should be following W.A.W.?

185 of the Earth's coolest people can't be wrong!
The real "Join this site" button is at the
bottom of this (and every) page.
Follow Writing About Writing through Google (Blogger, Google Friend Connect). Google's Blogger allows you to assemble a collection of blogs you follow. Most people following the blog this way have their own blog through Blogger, but it's not necessary. (You only actually need a Google account, which many people have through gmail.)

Pros- Shows all new updates (minor and major). Updates in a timely manner. Helps me with my "membership numbers," which are a bellwether of how cooly cool daddy-O the blog is.
Cons- No reruns. No posts from other venues. Blogger usually takes a few hours to get the latest post up. Wordpress is the chic, happening blog place; Blogger is like the high school kids who eat lunch in the quad.


It's going to burn your FEED!!!
Wait...what?
R.S.S. Feed (Feedly, Feedburner) If you have an RSS reader, you may like to simply be updated by having your RSS feed updated with the text of my latest post. If you click on the Feedburner button at the bottom of the page, you can subscribe to Writing About Writing through a number of RSS readers including FeedDemon, Netvibes, My Yahoo, Shrook, Newsfire, RSSOwl and more.

Pros- Shows all new updates (major and minor). Updates instantly.
Cons-Updates instantly! (Normally that wouldn't be a problem, but I am not a good writer. Usually I post before I've managed to find and fix the biggest typos and dingfab errors I missed before I hit "Publish".) R.S.S. feed do not include reruns–even the really good reruns. No posts from other venues. Many RSS readers are JUST text, so you won't see the fabulously hilarious images. Also, if you get a little behind on your feed, it feels like the sword of Damocles.

In retrospect, I probably shouldn't punch in
the addys of all those Nigerian Princes.
E-Mail Notification At the bottom of the page there is an option to put your e-mail into a text field and subscribe to W.A.W. through e-mail notifications.  Every time I post an update, you will be sent an e-mail notification containing a link to the post. I've been told that there's even some preview text (the first 200 words or something).

Pros- Shows all new updates (minor and major). Updates right away.
Cons- No reruns. No posts from other venues. You already get ten billion emails a day.

G+ for the W.A.W. Page (The text there is also the link) This G+ page for Writing About Writing. This is JUST for blog updates and reruns. If you want to get updates through G+, you should probably pick this page OR the one below, but not both. If you do both, it will appear in your feed as if every single link is being posted twice, which I know is annoying.

Pros- Show all new updates (minor and major).
Cons- No posts from other venues. Does not include reruns. It's G+, so people will accuse you of working for Google or being woefully out of touch. They will give you tin foil hats and serve you Kool-aid.

G+ for Chris Brecheen (The text is also the link.) This is my personal Google account which I don't really use much other than to post about my blog. Above is if you want to follow the Writing About Writing page; this is if you want to follow ME as an author. If I get added by a name I don't recognize in life, I put the name in a circle called "Author Updates." I post all my reruns and posts to other venues in this circle. I don't often use G+ otherwise, though occasionally I will have a public update that would also be seen by anyone in that circle.

Pros- Major posts, but not minor ones. Does include reruns. Posts from other venues. Posts right away. Not much other "noise."
Cons- Occasionally you'll see a public G+ post I write. Since I post all articles, reruns, and posts from other venues here, this can seem very "spammy." People will accuse you of being a Google shill because you're on G+.

Twitter (@Chrisibrecheen) I don't use Twitter--not really. I don't really like it very much. I held in there for a while until all the retweets and replies became too much. So my tweets are ONLY cross posts of things I've written. Some people appreciate that it's a good place to get ONLY my updates; others find the "signal to noise" to be something that wouldn't make them want to follow me.

Pros- All posts. Reruns. Major posts. Minor posts. Posts from other venues. Posts right away. Not much other "noise."
Cons- I don't otherwise use Twitter. It would be JUST cross posts two or three times a day. Also misunderstandings in 140 character posts are a fact of life.

Facebook Page for Writing About Writing (Text is also the link) W.A.W.'s Facebook page is a whole different kettle of fish. It is, in fact, a thermo-kettle full of piranha. On my Facebook page, I actually post memes, macros, quotes, inspirational messages, videos, and believe it or not, I try NOT TO POST TOO MUCH FROM MY BLOG. Most of the FB audience is there for the shenanigans, not the blog cross posting. Sometimes I skip posting "less popular" updates in favor of a "best of" rerun that will attract more of my FB audience.  FB's algorithm blacks out posts, even to people who want to see it in order to encourage content providers to spend money promoting themselves.
Bitter.
So very bitter.

Pros- Lots of other fun stuff going on. Most posts from other venues.
Cons- Lots of other stuff going on. (Not a good place if you just want the updates or if you want all the updates.) Major posts. Not minor ones. FB algorithm prevents page followers from seeing every post so some W.A.W. posts will get lost. Skips less popular posts in favor of popular reruns. Not a good place to get all the updates. Enjoying anything on FB requires a shower with steel wool and industrial cleanser. Facebook is the antichrist.

Tumblr (Text is also the link) I joined Tumblr after Facebook's latest round of content throttling that basically ensures that about one quarter of one percent of my Facebook followers see any given post unless it is "engaged." Then Tumblr started doing it too and well.....it's really hard to keep more than one social media at a rolling boil at a time unless you want to be a social media person and not actually ever write.  When I have time, I'd like to start reintroducing full X-post with some of the "best of" of my FB page's content. (Like that's one of my next major goals.)

Close but........no.


Pros- Only main posts. Very few reruns (only the uberbest). Some funny macros. Social Justice crap (if you like that stuff).
Cons- Only major, major posts. No "minor" posts. Occasional reruns. Social justice crap (if you don't like that kind of stuff). Very sporadic posting. Basically I suck at sticking with more than one social medium.

Facebook for Chris Brecheen (The text is also the link) I welcome readers to follow me on Facebook, but the updates there get mixed in with a lot of other stuff about my personal life and the things that interest me, some of which (as you may have noticed) include social justice and struggles for equality. I can be a little.....intense. You might want to dig back a few posts and decide if the stuff I yell at clouds about is right for you. Please send me a quick private message if you friend me there. I deal with a hundred sunglasses selling randos a month. If you just want to follow (not friend), 99% of my updates are public.

Pros- All posts. You're more likely to see posts than on Writing About Writing's FB page.
Cons- I go up to 11.  Lots of posts. Facebook is still the devil.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Disclaimery Stuff

[Note: I have a couple more things to do to wrap up 2017 completely. One of the last is to update Writing About Writing's top level menus (those menus that run along the top of our web page) for 2018. I'm doing a lot of them "behinds the scenes" (that is to say I'm just updating the original post and not reposting), but a few haven't been posted or updated in years and could use a repost.]

A few disclaimers

1- Variations: they may occur in your mileage.

2- I'm not very careful about images. 


It's hard to watch every other blog in the universe be cavalier about movie screenshots and copyrighted images and then use a picture of an old flip flop for your great Avengers quote because that's what Googled turned up as creative commons.

I've got a few places I check first, like the Creative Common Licence Flikr page or the "free to use (even commercially)" image search on Google. Some images seem to be allowed to be proliferated if properly cited on a non-profit blog. But I'm not as careful as I would be if I were hosting ads and making millions. Unless they are a picture OF me, they are absolutely not mine, and I will never ever claim that they are. If I put an image up on a potpourri post of comics and humor, it means I discovered them as a meme on Facebook and they had no attribution I could discern. I put copyright info when I post commercial images. I try my best, but the internet is a tangled thicket and not every image is watermarked.

So if I'm using an image that is yours (or your client's), please just tell me how you'd like me to handle it. (I'll take it down. Give you credit. Make it a link back to your page. Apologize for my impudence. Write a post about how awesome you are for not making a federal case of it. Whatever.) Just let me know what you want me to do, and I'll do it. It's just really hard to tell what's available and what's thrice stolen in today's online culture.

I really do try to avoid any image with a big flaming "Don't use my shit without permission" sign on the web page or a clear copyright watermark, or from companies I know don't give a crap if you give them proper credit, but sometimes I end up with such image through an intermediary with less regard. If I've used a image that I didn't know was stolen, I will do what it takes to make amends. And I will never pass off work that isn't mine as my own.

3-There will be no ads, but I might remind you of the tip jar and my Patreon once a month-ish.

Writing About Writing is and will always be free. And these days we don't even have any ads. But I'm a pretentious artisté and I dream of writing paying for more than just a cell phone bill.  Once every month-ish, I'll write a post reminding people that if they want more content, well curated menus and web design, professional level proof reading,  more fiction, or "big" articles every day, I'm going to need to work less than 20-25 hours a week on my two other day jobs. Through the generosity of readers, I've been able to pare down pet sitting, and I probably won't need to drive for Lyft to make ends meet. More improvements as they become feasible. As little as a single dollar a month (just $12 a year) through Patreon helps me to write more and gets you in on some private conversations about future projects.

4-I'm not very good at proofing my own stuff.

If you find a mistake, and you want to point it out, I promise I won't be the slightest bit offended or upset.  I will thank you, and fix it.  One of the great things about blogging is I can clean up old entries, and as long as I'm not changing the core ideas, it's all kosher.  I have some help in the form of beta readers, but I often procrastinate too long to fully solicit their help. Sadly, I cannot afford a proofreader, since I myself average a hair under minimum wage and they refuse to be paid in shameless flirting and fast food coupons.  Would that I could though.

5-In this blog, I mostly talk about creative writing, specifically fiction.

While the concerns of other genres of creative writing dovetail with fiction somewhat, and all writing in general has a few things in common (like words and periods and stuff), they are also quite different in form, content, style, and execution. Fiction is not journalism, and neither of those is technical writing. So if you are making a great living gritting your teeth through the boredom while writing instruction manuals for digital cameras and food processors, and wonder what the hell I'm on about when I talk about high passion and low pay, it's not because I think you're not a "real" writer. It's just because "Blogging about Fiction Writing" isn't as catchy of a title, and writing out "creative fiction writing" would be a pain in the ass to write all the time....and I'm really lazy.

6-I am not very good at computer stuff.

Actually, that's like saying I kind of like pizza a little. I may have links that go nowhere or images that don't load. I can usually fix that stuff if you bring it to my attention. There are sometimes some weird formatting errors where it looks like some of the text is the wrong font or font size, and I can't seem to fix it, no matter what I do. I suppose there are people who know enough HTML that it would be no trouble for them, but I am not one of those people.

7-There might be some satire in here somewhere.  Maybe.

You should probably take a satire class if you don't know how to recognize it when you see it. The Onion offers some online correspondence courses that are top notch. I highly recommend them.

8- I try to keep to my update schedule but I also write in real time.

When I'm doing super awesome, I have a couple of articles in the hopper for days where I can't really get in front of the computer for hours. (Just so we're clear of the crystalline variety, the last time that happened was 2013.) Like anyone who occasionally calls in to their work, some days there is emergency child care or I get sick or

9- Comments are moderated. 

This is not the wild west. You are not entitled to say anything you want. Check my comment policy for more info.

10-I am not the persona through which I write. 

I will not use this persona to avoid taking responsibility for my words–especially the way some people excuse their use of harmful jokes with a "Re....LAX buddy, it's just my PERSONA." But I definitely turn the snark up to 11 here, and I don't actually care that much about threesomes. Or maybe I do, but just don't talk about it so much. In any case, you really have to meet Chris to know what Chris is like in person.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Ursula K. LeGuin (In Memoriam)

If I ever get The Question™, Le Guin will be there. That's the question about "your influences" that all writers get eventually. (I'll have to write some more fiction before I get the question, but it's out there....somewhere.) Even if they only want two or three names, Le Guin will be there.

I picked up one or another of Le Guin's books several times growing up and in my twenties, and I never had a taste for them. They were thick and sticky, like the books we had to read in high school and there weren't enough proton phase blaster or quantum resonance detonations. Biff McManthighs wasn't unloading a cargo carrier of whup ass on some Badly Bad Baddies who were clearly analogues of Nazis or had an exoskeleton and a penchant for genocide.

At some point in my early thirties, I realized it was possible, even likely, that I did not actually have all the answers, and perhaps more profoundly, that the place where I perspicaciously insisted there could be no answers might include more insight than I was allowing if I stepped outside of the presumptions that everything I happened to believe right this moment was the natural order of things.

It was about that time when I picked up The Dispossessed. I was annoyed at a growing sense that my writing career was probably going to be best served by a brush with college and academia's attitudes towards genre were notorious. I read it mostly to arm myself with a dirty genre writer that even the lit somalliers couldn't deny. I would be armed with a counterpoint.

In Le Guin I found writing that asked questions rather than being cocksure of the answers. I found ambiguity. I found delightful characters and a moral compass that didn't presume righteousness, but only that the assumptions should be questioned. And the writing was so elegant and precise and a breathtaking example of prose rhythm.


Within a few days I picked up The Left Hand of Darkness as well. Then The Wizard of Earthsea. Then..... And then I just kept going. I couldn't get enough. I'm not sure there's a Le Guin novel I haven't read at this point (though I do occasionally stumble upon a previously undiscovered short story.) With every work I found an exquisite lesson in how to empathetically challenge the status quo.

Yesterday the news broke that Ursula K. Le Guin died. She was 88, in poor health, and it was not a shock, but I still retreated to my pillow fort, reread "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" (again), and cried. She is so important to who I am a writer and I feel like I lost a mentor.

We were lucky to have her for the time we did. And so fucking fortunate that her words live on.



Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Scorched Earth Edits (Mailbox)


How do I stop editing something to death and move forward with writing.

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer each Monday.  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, but likely only if you ask a question. Incidentally that link is also where to send fan mail, flirt with me shamelessly, or message me about how to put me in your will.]    


Gabriel asks:

What do you do if you've taken a break from a story, come back to it, and only edit what you have instead of pushing forward?

That seems to be a trap I fall into a lot. My editing sprees tend to throw out the baby with the bath water.

My reply:

Let me answer the second part first. At least what I think you're asking. At least what I hope your asking.

Okay, here's the truth: I'm going to bloviate for about fifteen paragraphs and let's hope I kind of answer your question.

When I was in my writing program, we regularly had to learn the power of revision by having a major project due for presentation (we almost always presented to the peer groups) and then a major revision a week or so later. You could really see the difference the revision made. And you could really see what someone had tried to do when they revised. Themes were teased out. Conflicts sharpened. Everything got crisper. Better. 

There were two types of students who had a really hard time with these revision assignments.  Well there were like twelve kinds including the dude who thought he was totally Stephen King and wrote about lesbians who bit the clit off of....you know what maybe I'll just tell that story some other time.  Anyway, two types are important for this article.

The first just couldn't let their babies go. They would read their revision and they had changed two or three lines at the most. It was basically the same. Muddied. Unclear. Often uninteresting. One of my teachers liked to say that revision is where you turn up the heat, and these drafts had no heat. It felt like a first draft in need of revision–which was essentially what it WAS having not really been revised. 

This is almost always a problem of a writer being underread. As in the writer has not spent enough time reading (not that not enough people are reading them). They have an idea in their head but they don't know how to make the language more precisely reflect that. It's one of the reasons the most ubiquitous (and unfortunately, also frustrating) bits of advice that young writers get is to go read a LOT more. It's because they need to hear good writing (and what NOT to do from bad writing) to develop a much more sophisticated "ear" for whether the words are saying what they're trying to say. Good writing takes a lot of reading and a lot of writing practice. (And is why editors are so valuable to writers.) That's a tough bit of feedback when what you wanted to hear was: "You're missing one comma, but otherwise it's brilliant and here is your book deal."  Understanding how the writing process works like polishing a stone through a series of refinements that makes the language a closer and closer reflection of what's in someone's head can (while at the same time revealing what was underneath) be a tough process of letting go of that initial ego, the effort sticker shock, and a lot of misconceptions about art and "talent" and how we're just supposed to be GOOD at it.

"Damn it, I have talent? Why do I have to write another fucking draft??????"

But there was another type. (Read that in a Kate Blanchett Lord of the Rings voice over for maximum effect.)

They were rarer, but one or two showed up in every class. Their edits went the other way. They would change everything. It was almost a whole new story. They would look sheepishly at the class (or group) before reading. "I changed a few things...."

Arrested Development Narrator's Voice: "It wasn't just a few things."

This wasn't a case of an "amputation" bringing forth a better vision or tectonic upheaval giving the underlying heartbeat new life. This was them eviscerating completely their original version (and vision) and replacing it with just a familiar hint of the old story–character names and mannerisms, and maybe a plot point or two. It reminded me a little of Tibetan sand mandalas to watch them put so much effort into something and then wipe it away. And the way classes were structured I often saw the same people do this over and over again.

I'm guessing this is roughly what you mean when you say you're throwing the baby out with the bath water. Gee it sure would be awkward to have gotten this far and be wrong.

*scratches the back of his head and looks around nervously*

As you can imagine, the end result of this was much the same. Writers need to revise and these writers' second, third, and fourth drafts all suffered from the same lack of focus, cohesion, and linguistic mud that a rough draft would. Because essentially they WERE rough drafts. They weren't writing five drafts of a story, they were basically writing five different stories.  Each one was so thoroughly edited and changed that it essentially was an entirely new piece. 

Believe it or not, once I'm done telling you why this happens, you might wish I'd sent you off to read some untold number of "MORE BOOKS" in order to develop an "ear" for good writing. Because it's even more touchy, more feely, and more nebulous and hard to pin down.

Gabriel, you have to trust yourself. 

Now if you love what you're doing, and it's bringing you bliss, forget everything I'm about to say. That's all the best parts of art and if you're getting the catharsis, you win the grand prize. But if you're vaguely discontent at your ability to sell, publish, finish, or stick with a story, then here is what I'm going to tell you.

Right now, you don't trust yourself. You don't trust your own artistic vision. We all question our writing once the slick sweat of that initial creation is over. We all wonder if it's good enough. When we come back to it, and see it with the editor's eyes (which we should do) we are seeing the flaws. The chasm between our hopes and the language on the page. We question its merit. And we think, "Why even bother?" instead of "This needs surgery, but there's hope." Will they believe this? Is this idea even important? Is this character remotely believable. Why would anyone read this? 

You start to edit in a way that basically gets you back into that high of initial creation. But eventually you'll have to look at this new version too....

Rinse. Lather. Repeat.



Instead, take a deep breath and trust yourself. You have to let that go. That fear. That doubt. (That bit of dialogue you're totally ripping off from Morpheus's speech in The Matrix jump scene.) They will believe it....if you make it better. That idea is absolutely important....if you can word it right. That character is believable....if you just revise them instead of going tabula rasa. They're going to read it because it's good....if you take the time to make it good.  

Look, some stories definitely belong in the trash can, but you're not going to know that if you keep editing the shit out of them so hard that they're unrecognizable and you never get past a first draft. And if you know it's a bust from the minute you glance at the rough draft, toss it. Don't edit it; throw it away and start over. But if what I suspect is happening is happening, that story is calling to you. 

It wants to be told.

It needs you to trust yourself to smooth it's rough edges into the shape you want instead of using dynamite and blowing the whole thing up over and over again. 

As far as your first paragraph of questions goes those are simpler fixes.

A) Don't allow yourself to edit if that's a problem. I know that sounds like the doctor joke: "Doc it hurts when I do this." "Don't do that." But seriously that may be the easiest fix. Just don't edit. At all. Only read the work to get back into the headspace then make yourself write forward, and only allow yourself to do revision when it is completely done. Forbid yourself any editing. Bite your fingers mercilessly should you slip.

B) It sounds like you're sessions with your work in progress are spaced SO far apart that you are returning to your story a stranger. That can be tough because you've forgotten a lot of the momentum you had. I wrote a list of ways to rejuvenate your old enthusiasm here. (It's a whole other thing, so it needs a whole other article, but basically don't just go after it with a hatchet.)

C) If your sessions are spaced so far that you're always returning "a stranger," see what you can do to find some time closer spaced even if it's just writing a sentence or two during the busy days between your power sessions. 

Monday, January 22, 2018

A Dozen Ways to Help You Not Write Every Day (If That's Your Jam)

Step one: denial.
Step two: ?????
Step three: Profit.
Image description: Coffee mug with text "I'm not addicted
to writing. We are just in a very committed relationship
Yes, it's great to write every day. And if you're pissed off that you're not the next Stephen King or Neil Gaiman, there aren't a lot of better bits of advice out there for you. But some people can't. And some don't want to. And what happens then?

(This list was originally part of a longer work about the ableism that can be inherent in dictating daily writing. Some people won't write every day, and some people can't write every day. Ima has spruced up the list within to be a stand alone post.)

1- Remember that you don't have to write.

You really don't have to write. Really. You don't have to write at all. But even if you do write, you don't have to have the dysfunctional relationship that most of your author heroes have with writing where their work-life balance is kind of fucked up and they're sort of addicts whose drug of choice is words. You don't have to do it if you don't like it that much–even if you are good at it. You don't have to write more often than you enjoy writing. You don't have to do it in a way that's dedicated to improving and output and feels a lot like work. You can even do it simply for your own enjoyment, and never mess around with the soul crushing work of trying to make money. And if you do make money, it can be a sideline gig–not necessarily something you have to do for fifty hours a week trying to scrape together enough audience that someday you might not need that day job as well.

You decide your own level of committment.

If you want to torch your social life, live like an aesthetic so that you don't need to work full time, and spend a full-time job's worth of hours clacking away for just the chance at career income, welcome to the poor life choices club.

And may the odds be ever in your favor.

We sincerely hope you like writing for its own sake because the lack of groupie threesomes is deplorable!

But if you just want to write a few hours on weekends and enjoy the video game/movie money that you get from selling the occasional short story–possibly while you putter on your novel for a few years–that's okay too.

Now, if you are struggling with the ability to write a certain amount, your decision might feel like it's out of your hands, but really it needs to be made with even more conscious and deliberate thought because everything you might decide to give to writing will "cost" you more. This decision becomes more important than ever if it's going to take you twice as much effort to go from casual writing to trying to get paid as it might someone without the same kinds of circumstantial fetters.

Most aspiring writers never face this simple question: how much do they actually even like writing? What do they want to give to writing? Will it be a hobby or a job or a career? It's like the mirror test in Never Ending Story that reveals one's true nature, but they never even get past the laser sphinxes. (What? 1984 pop culture references are too old for you? That's not that long ago. Only...um....carry the three...OH MY GOD!)

What happens to folks who want to BE writers but don't like writing that much: day three.
Image description. GIF of armor's helmet opening to reveal a charred skull
and Atrau recoiling.
Most aspiring writers just default to thinking they want it all–the whole combo platter with three sides and a large soda. They speak in florid prose about how much they absolutely, unequivocally, undeniably love writing so much, and then get irritated at the suggestion that they might want to engage in that beloved activity once a day. They may have this vague sense of what they want to get out of writing: Publication. Book deals. Fame. Fortune. Talk show circuit. See their story as a movie. However, they never really stop and think about their level of committment. They just try endlessly to fill that insatiable maw.

2- This is a piece of the puzzle. And most of the rest of it is out of your control.

Writing every day is very important, but it's a piece of the puzzle and should be seen as such. Success, in whatever way you define such a thing, is usually based on a lot of things. If I were to make a list of factors which statistically affect a writer's success more than anything else, reading would be the top of the list. But what comes next might surprise you. If your definition of "success" is simply to be published at least once by a major publisher, statistically speaking, being raised middle class (or higher) would actually be more important than writing daily.

No, I'm not making that up.

Such wealth tends to afford opportunities for time off to write, writing programs that will force productivity, schooling (maybe even writing school), can pay for really great developmental editors, can shop the book and fail for years without making money from it, and so on.

Also...consider this: based on what makes money and gets published, being white, male, and cis would be pretty high up there too. Being heterosexual would rank even though there have been some inroads in gay and lesbian literature.

No one is out there giving the advice "Go be upper-middle class." (Every once in a while you get some really salty old writer who is completely out of fucks and lays the shit down with a gruff: "Wanna be a writer? Marry rich. Fuck that person so good that their eyes permacross, and when you ask if you can work part time and write, they'll say, 'Follow your dreams baby! Just keep laying me like that in the meantime!'") We put all our eggs in this daily-writing basket because for many people it's one of the only things they are in control of. We can't change our gender or our race. There's way less class mobility than anyone in this "meritocracy" wants you to think. But we can sit down and write every day.

At least many of us can.

For those that can't, keep in mind that the calculus for traditional success is based on a lot of systematic problems. Not being able to write every day is not the single most important factor, nor is an inability to do so somehow under your control just because our culture has difficulty talking about disability as anything but a moral failing.

3- Be realistic about your limitations when defining success.

I don't want this to sound like "lower the bar." But everybody has to decide what they mean when they say they want to be a successful writer. Managing your expectations is actually really important to success.

Most writers never do this. They never sit and think about what they want. Do they want to publish a novel? Publish a trilogy? Make some money? Get a fan letter? I once sat on a panel with someone whose yardstick for success was based on one thing alone: if someone out there wrote fanfic about their books. (That is, someone cared enough about those characters and that world to add to it somehow.) Have a cult following? Make a million dollars?

Image description: Justin Bieber groupies.

Most writers, if they think about what they want from writing at all, always want more. If they get the book, they want a big five. If they get the big five, they want a best seller. If they get a best seller they want a NY Times review. If they get a NY Times review, they want a great one. If they get a great one, they want a career of bestsellers. And suddenly you have some of the most successful writers of our generation still comparing themselves to the likes of King and Rowling (or Bulawayo and Alexie if you want to go to the "literary" side). It's never quite enough.

Maybe you have to give up the idea of the Stephen King career if you can't write more than five hours a week reliably or don't want to treat writing like it's a job. (That guy writes ten pages a day when he's off his game.) But you sure don't have to give up the idea of being published or making (a little) money. You sure don't have to give up the idea of having a reader walk up to you and say "Thank you for writing this. This meant something real to me."

No way!

4- Writing daily isn’t necessary to be a writer.

You know what you have to do to be a writer? You have to write. End of line. Done. Finito. That's all she wrote. Kick the tires and light the fires. I AM OUTOFHERE!

That's the end of anyone prescriptively being able to tell you what it takes. If anyone wants to be an elitist sphincter wipe about gatekeeping what being "A Writer™" means, they are being a shitheel, shouldn't do that, and you have my permission to hit them with a hardbound copy of House of Leaves.

Writers have this....thing. They sure do like to be elitist fuckers.

"That person is so commercial. My writing is more substantive." "That writer doesn't have many readers. Look at how many books I've sold." "They're okay, but never made any money." "Oh they're fine if you like that sort of experimental stuff. I prefer something people might actually read." "That writer is too avant garde." "They're okay...for genre." 

My personal favorite: "Oh you're a...blogger." (For maximum effect, imagine about a half a second pause between "blog" and "er.")

Everyone wants to bolster their own claims of grandeur within the maelstrom of gazillions of writers (and no short supply of would be writer delusions, it's true) by taking everyone else down a peg or three as "not really real writers." But it's so much fucking bullshit.

These people who turn writing advice into prescriptive nonsense and gatekeeping are just full of themselves. Is writing every day good advice? Yes. (Actually it's great advice.) Does that make anyone who doesn't "Not a Real Writer"? Fuck that. And fuck anybody who thinks they get to arbitrate that sort of thing.

And here's the punchline to this shitty joke about who the hell died and made them the king of the really real writers: They're never going to bequeath you this status you crave anyway. I know people with three books and an MFA who write for hours every day and still struggle with imposter syndrome. I know people with five New York Times best sellers who still flinch at the idea that they're not real writers yet. Sometimes you just have to learn to find that sense of who you are by reaching in.

Being a writer (A really really real True Writer™) doesn't have to be anything more than writing. And if you get artistic fulfillment out of writing twice a month, enjoy that. That is what it's all about because it's sure not about money or fame.

A lot of writers never got through the Valley of Self Validation. They spend their lives looking to other writers to give them that nod that they think will be what they need to feel real. And they just keep looking. And they miss a lot of what writing makes great because instead of enjoying their relationship with it, they're chasing something that's always going to be just out of reach.

5- Get as close as you can.


Okay. Time to give the devil its due. Writing every day is a really good way to not only to get better at writing, but to build a body of works and once you start having an audience, it keeps you relevant. It's good advice.

It's great advice.

This is the reason so many people love NaNoWriMo even though they can't keep up with it for the whole month. It forces them into a container of extremely effective discipline. (Ironically they then are annoyed by the idea of writing every day for the other eleven months.) What Nano fosters is a daily expectation and many of these writers discover that coming to the page day after day starts to expand their creativity and productivity. Suddenly they're writing at a clip with the proverbial wind in their hair and it feels great.

Yes, indeedy that's the snake oil I've been selling for years now.

So get as close to it as you can. If you can't write three days a week, write the other four. If you can't write five or ten days a month, you write the other twenty or twenty-five. Permission and understanding with your limitations is essential to your self-care, but a boot in your ass might be needed during the other times. Grab ten minutes here. A half hour there. Write a sentence–just one damned sentence. Do what you can do.

A lot of writers who can write every day fall the fuck to pieces when they can't for some reason. Family emergency hits and it's like watching someone punch the bottom of the Jenga tower on the first move. (Ironically, the elitist sphincter wipes will suddenly understand fully the inability to write daily. This compassion will, of course, disappear as soon as they can do it again.) Writers who lose the ability to go full bore don't just fall behind on some of the writing, but all of it. A monkey wrench in their gears and they can be out of commission for weeks or even months. It's because they never learned how to do as much as they could. It's all or nothing, and that fucks them up.

It's the writers who set a reasonable, attainable, realistic daily goal that end up responding to life's hiccups with a lower but not absent productivity.

6- Mind the gap.

Remember when I said that writers had to have a brutally honest relationship with themselves? Yeeeeeeaaaaah. About that. That sound you hear is the music. Time to face it.

No one gets to tell you that your reason for not writing doesn't count. (And fuck their bullshit shitface shit if they try.) You may even have to learn to be a little gentle with yourself for the sake of self care, and not push so hard that you end up making things worse....

....but at the end of the day you also have to patrol that border from the other side.

You can't let your reason become your excuse.

I wish I could tell you it's not easy when you've got a built in reason not to write  No one around you will judge. (If they do, you Deep Blue Sea those fuckers right in mid speech like the genetic killing machine you are.)

"Does Marcellus Wallace look like a shark?"
Image description: Samuel Jackson in Deep Blue Sea

But you also have to be honest about if you probably can write and are using a built in reason not to. It can be deliciously seductive when you can even mostly fool yourself. Only you know the truth Grasshopper, and I'm not here to judge, but you have to be super duper wooper mega uber bigtime totes magotes honest with yourself.

Because the wonderful world of writing success (whatever that means to you) doesn't give a shit whether you have a completely valid reason or not. No agent is going to turn down your book, but then recant when you explain that you actually can't write every day. So it's up to you to hit those targets as hard and as often as you can.

Most writers never hit this point of candid self reflection. They're always just a bit self-deluding when it comes to themselves and their work, and for most of them it's a fatal disconnection with any hope of writing success. That book of theirs is almost done. They're just about to have the time to really commit to a second draft. They are sure they don't need another revision even though they got a stack of form rejections. They just know they are going to be the next Dan Brown even though their great idea has been stuck on chapter 6 for a decade. They never quite cultivate that inner voice that says "You are not that great, your shit is not that brilliant, and you fucking need to get your ass to work."

7- One of the main reasons writers advise daily writing is because sitting down is discipline and creativity is a habit.

There are several reasons to write daily.

Improving craft. Building a body of works (which even if you don't use directly, you can draw from). Expanding your vocabulary. Even emotional processing.

But two of the reasons most responsible for the unswerving ubiquity of the advice to write daily are that it cultivates the discipline to write for longer and that it taps into whatever primal neurological functions are responsible for creativity.

When we first start to sit and write, we're probably good for about ten to fifteen minutes, and that ten to fifteen minutes comes at lurch. We struggle for that first word, gain a spurt of creative flow, and are done faster than an awkward 80s movie virgin dude.

Image description:
Text on a wavy background:
"You can't use up creativity.
The more you use, the more you have.
Maya Angelou
Now here's where the magic that so many of the authors who are your heroes talk about: that fifteen minutes is your brain's base ability to focus on the raw creation of language. And it's almost a physiological constant. Untrained, we can turn imagery and thoughts into words for about fifteen minutes before that part of our brain needs a break. Just like if we were learning vocabulary, doing sums, trying to memorize lines, engaging in forensic logic, or any other hard mental activity that requires focus. But like other kinds of disciplined thought, if we work at it, we get better. We can do it for longer. We can concentrate harder. Our thinking is more efficient. Pushing that to hours and hours is possible, but only if we maintain that discipline. (This is why our mental functions get compared so frequently to muscles.) Most people can't get up and write for twelve hours straight, but JK Rowling can because she gets up and writes for ten hours straight most of the time. And like any other mental function or muscle, this discipline will atrophy with disuse.

The second component might be even more incredible. Creativity is a habit.

Oh yes. 

It's like brushing your teeth or doing fifteen push ups before you go to bed at night. If you're not used to doing it, it feels very unnatural and strange. You have to remind yourself–maybe put a post it note on your mirror. You might forget for a few days. But if you keep doing it, pretty soon you're going to start thinking about it before it's time. And the same thing happens with creativity. You do it at the same time every day, and it's not long before you start to get creative BEFORE it's time.

And this is why writers (and all creatives really) advise trying to work at the same time every day. Before you know it, you start to "create" before it's time. Or if you prefer the poetic imagery, your muse will be tamed and will be there waiting for you at the appointed time. For writers that means the words and ideas are gushing sometimes an hour or more before it's time to sit down. Once your muse has been tamed, it'll meet you where you tell it to.

All kinds of people who don't think they are creative at all have tried to do something intentionally creative for a few minutes each day at the same time and ended up after a couple of weeks–lo and behold–discovering that they have amazingly creative wellsprings and fantastic ideas.

But we have this sort of cultural unwillingness to understand creativity as a habit. We don't think of it as something anyone can develop. We are constantly focused on "practical" time management and cramming our schedules full of workouts, self improvement, and professional development.  It wouldn't even occur to most people that the idea of spending an hour a day trying to think creatively could be anything but wasting time.

Then we turn around and think of creativity as "genius." It's why people fall over creatives and say "Where do you get your ideas?"

But I want to be The One. I want to be a talented genius!

Why is this important if you can't write every day?

Two reasons. 

One:

The ability to keep writing can be drilled. It's probably easier to extend this period of linguistic focus naturally and doing so over the course of daily writing is the most natural way to do so, but you don't have to.

You can sit and write as fast as you can for as long as you can before you lose concentration. It may have to be free writing because you don't want to be sucking on the end of your pen and wondering what your character's motivation is. If you've never done it before, it'll probably be around ten or fifteen minutes. Then you stop, take about a half an hour break, and do it again. You may want to limit yourself to three or four "sets" before taking a serious break of several hours or an overnight. Pretty soon, you'll notice that you're writing for longer and longer each time. Eventually, you may even find that your ability to write is chiefly governed by things like hand fatigue, hunger, or sleepiness.

Someone who doesn't write every day can do these deliberate exercises on those days when they do write. In much the same way that a serious athlete with a full time job puts in extra training on the weekends.

Two:

Creativity is a habit, and writing is one way to tap it. For a writer, writing is probably the best way to tap it because it will always have a strong connection to words and language. However, the important thing is to do creative in some way. And this is where a lot of the wisdom comes from about "If you can't write every day at least BE A WRITER every day."

Now, I gotta tell you.... Most able bodied, neurotypical, time privileged people see this advice and just go apeshit. They seize on it as a pretty good reason not to do the work.

I mean they fucking LOVE this idea. ("All I have to do is think writerly thoughts while I'm having some cheese sticks? FUCK YEAH!")

They will not be brutally honest with themselves. And they will convince themselves that thinking about their characters for two minutes while they wait for their raid guild-mate to "BRB--bio" is totally their day's effort. It's their Get Out of Jail Free card for actually writing...

Which is why I don't talk about it much.

But we can cultivate our creativity without actually forming words. It won't help you with the technical side–the skill and craft of writing–the way actually writing will, but it will help you with that habitual creativity so that it's there and working for you on a day that works.

The trick here is about thinking creatively. Opening one's mind to what if. Being creative at the appointed time isn't just letting yourself daydream, though. This is hard to explain and why creativity takes some cultivation, but you want to let your mind "wander" without letting it go "out of bounds." You go where the tracks take you, but don't let your train completely derail or jump tracks. It might be particularly useful to imagine your characters in other books and how they would react. (I once had a blast on an airplane where I couldn't write imagining how Hamlet would deal with being in the Hunger Games. It didn't go well for the over-thinker, let me tell you.) You probably can't cultivate a deep and rich habit of creative writing flow from JUST thinking about it, but you can make sure that on days you can't write, you don't lose any ground.

Most writers never learn why they're sitting down to write every day (and preferably at the same time). They sort of just trust that the magical unicorn fairies will show up like always and shoot rainbow splooge of inspiration all over them. Consequently, they never really know how to handle it if they can't write for some reason. They don't realize that a few timed writing exercises and spending twenty minutes in a quiet room imagining their character in a Percy Jackson novel might do the trick.

8-Tap flow Floating Half Hour

Want to hear a secret?


It's true! Sometimes in my life (like right now) I set up schedules that are based on getting up early or writing late because the more everything else is falling apart, the more I need to cling to a disciplined and set writing time. Currently the wake up time is 8 or 9am and I hiss at the day star, question my life choices, but then slink to the computer with a grumble and try to work until mid afternoon. But most of the time, even though there's a sort of general writing time, I am constantly fiddling with the nobs to get a little extra sleep, take care of something that needs doing during office hours, do emergency tag ins, or just take a nap. If I can't write in the morning, I can sit down at night. If not night, that spot in the afternoon.

It's always better to sit down at the same time every day, but that's not always possible . The next best thing is to get your creativity (your muse if you prefer) to work on your schedule. You make that muse be your British Lady's Maid/Valet and not the other way around! That's right folks! After all this talk about creativity showing up at the same time every day, I'm going to hit the big reveal–that's only half the story.

Never since Kaiser Soze has the big reveal been so big.....and revealy.

One of my very favorite books on the process of writing–Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande–extensively outlines the way that writers yearn to have the words simply come when they sit down to the page. But early on in the book she talks about the floating half hour of writing. This is an exercise (much more detail about how and what to expect in the link) where a writer sits down at a different 30 minute window each day. The time moves throughout the day but is scheduled to the day before and considered a "debt of honor" by the writer.

Soon, you find that the words come when you sit down to the page. Every time.

Of course the floating half hour might run into precisely the same kinds of obstacles as writing every day does, and it would be important to give yourself permission for self-care in these situations (as long as you stay brutally honest with yourself). But depending on what the reason is that you can't write daily, you might be able to do this exercise in a limited way. Perhaps you give as many days as you can in a row before the circumstance manifests that makes it impossible, and do it again as soon as you can.

Most writers have not mastered their muse. Their muse has mastered them. The resistance of internal forces to creative expression as soon as it begins to resemble actual work can be quite significant. They write when they are inspired (or not if they aren't) and the idea of simply sitting down when one has time has a strange sort of dread to them. If they have mastered it often it is through a daily regimen that is schedule dependent and has a hard time with even the smallest alterations.

9- Don’t Make it so damned hard.   (Yes, that's a link...to an article about JUST this.)

Part of the reason I don’t like NANO (you know...other than all the other reasons) is that it takes this ridiculously difficult daily word count and hangs people's sense of whether or not they've got what it takes on that. Daily writing is great advice, but people hear that and start to get really nervous.

Most writers have off days. They get sick. They have a break up. They literally can't even. When that happens maybe they don't want to sit for five hours in front of their comedy sci-fi novel about Chippy the Chipper Warrior who is just so fucking happy and funny and NICE to everyone that she ends up defeating the genocidal Glurgenots with kindness and being the lord of the universe. Some days are just not Work in Progress days.

Understand that what you're trying to do by writing every day (or almost every day) is the same thing that an athlete would be doing to jog or hit the gym for a light workout during the off season or that a musician doing some scales and a couple of songs on vacation or even someone who tries to speak in a language they're worried about forgetting at least a few minutes a day or a couple of hours a week. You're trying to stay sharp. Practiced. You're trying to keep your edge–or at least not lose it so fast.

The same thing goes for writing every day. You don't have to make every single day a peak performance of six grueling hours in front of your work in progress. (You probably aren't going to get your novel written in a year if you can't sit down and write for a few hours a day, but maybe that isn't your goal.)You can take a day off. You can not write on your book for a week. You can do six days a week instead of seven. You can make your session ten or fifteen minutes long on weekdays. Sometimes it's enough to just keep your craft and skill from atrophying with disuse.

"Write every day" can feel insurmountable if you are expecting Stephen King caliber output every day. But if you stop and think that "writing" might just involve a thoughtful Facebook post where you really think about the language,  a few minutes on an e-mail that you compose with some care, or a small journal entry where you play with language a bit. Maybe then the whole concept becomes a little more manageable–despite difficulties.

Most writers never really get this about daily writing. It's all or nothing. It has to be on "the book they want to publish" and it has to be a mind numbing session where they crank out five pages, otherwise they are not worthy of REAL™ writerdom. It never occurs to them that many of the reasons daily writing remains such spectacular advice could be achieved in just a few minutes, could be done on things they probably were going to have to write anyway, and doesn't have to be so damned hard.

10- Do whatever works.

Seriously.

We who can write every day have no goddamned business being the gatekeepers of what makes for a real writer. Or judging whether the reason someone can't do some part of it is worthy. I'm not going to give advice from a position of privilege that is as trite as "don't listen to them," but in the absence of being able to get every able bodied, neurotypical, time privileged asshole to line up so I can slap them all at once, let me just make sure that I'm clear that you don't have any responsibility to conform to anyone's preconceived notions of what makes a really real writer. You do you.

Image description: Three Stooges gif of someone slapping all three of them at once.
When you've written that bestseller, it's not going to matter one fucknoodle whether or not you did the first draft entirely with speech to text, wrote it in chunks during periods when your depression wasn't devastating, or had to sputter it out over five years because between three jobs because you only had a couple of hours on the weekends.

Most writers never confront this idea that they need to figure out what works for them. They cling to the process of their idols like they are taking a pilgrimage that must be followed exactly or they struggle to pour themselves into some container of One True Way™ they perceive. While some advice is impossible to ignore ("Read a lot.") A lot of knob fiddling can go on to find the individual process that works the best.

As long as you maintain that self-honesty (which is between you and you), no one else has any right to decide if how or when or what you write is worthy or not.

11 Maybe try non-traditional routes

Hey so I totally get that getting an agent and a book deal is an incredibly validating experience and many writers consider it if not the end all goal, at least the first major goal in a series. And if that's your dream wedding and white picket fence, don't let me harsh your squee. Never give up! Never surrender!

However it is important to remember that traditional publishing is motivated by cost analysis. If you can't sell enough books to pay for your book's print run, you need to write something that is SO good, a publisher can't bear to imagine a world without it. Both of those come from someone's decision whether or not to publish.

That means gatekeepers.

It's always a bad sign when the agent does this.
Image description: Gandalf icon with text "You shall not pass!" 

Gatekeepers read your book and decide if your book is either A) going to make money or B) good enough to lose money on. It can be daunting to consider that one may have to work for literally tens of thousands of hours only to hit a gatekeeper who might shut the whole game down because they don't like your narrative voice.

Non traditional publishing has flung open the doors for all kinds of writers. Yes, there is more dross than ever before as writers ignore editors and go for instant gratification, but there are also choirs of voices that have been pushed to the margins basically since the printing press who can now be heard. The process of finding an audience is more immediate in many non-traditional routes. The immediate feedback can be motivating. And it is possible to tailor one's own schedule a bit. (I often have days that are less writing and more FB/Blog/promotional based when I am feeling particularly ADD/spacey.)

But let me just make this perfectly clear: if there's any group out there who will congregate in large numbers, ravenously consume your fiction no matter how sporadic its schedule of release is, won't care that you didn't take another three years to put it through four more drafts, (and may even give you some money to keep going), they definitely exist online.


12- KEEP YOUR UNIQUE VOICE UNIQUE

Last thing I want to say.

Only you can write like you. Only you have your particular cocktail of experiences and voice. And even if you're not writing autobiographical characters, your writing will be touched by your experience and your life and your unique take on the world.

The world needs that.

Whether you know how difficult maneuvering through a pedestrian world is with PTSD or you know how anxiety and depression team up to eat whole days of life up or you know what it is to be poor and work non-stop to make ends meet in a world of colleagues who had a leg up every step of the way, the world NEEDS to hear your voice. They need to hear your take on things. They need to see life through your eyes. That is something that no one else can do but you.

You might not be able to sit down every day at the same time at your writing desk and put in your monocle and pour a glass of brandy and write like the able bodied, neurotypical, mentally healthy, time privileged folks who seem so comfortable judging your dedication and effort, but you have one thing they don't.

You have your unique voice. And the world needs that.

Image description: post it with text
"The world needs your new novel, author.
It's time to get it written.
-Chris"

Friday, January 19, 2018

2017's Best By Month


January

Social Justice Bard and the Tale of the Missing Outrage What makes the story of the four who kidnapped and tortured a mentally ill man...a little different.
Never Ever Ever Ever Ever Ever Ever Give Up After five years of doing this, my analytics have started to change.
Tone The "scaffolding" part for a three part craft essay. (New parts coming soon.)

February

The People in my Life/The People in my Fiction (Mailbox) Should I be putting real people into my fiction?
Social Justice Bard vs. Milo the Troll Milo Yiannopoulos often insists on the legality of his speech, but is it HATE SPEECH?
A Long Overdue Post The kickoff of my Patreon was strangely popular.

March

Beginning Writers and Submission Guidelines I asked for guest bloggers and folks....we need to talk.
Paying The Bills With Writing (Five Years In–Personal Update) No magic. No trick. (No frills either.) But the bills are getting paid.
Fortune Cookie Wisdom XII Honestly a more popular segment than it has any right to be.

April

Logan: Why Character Matters Adding eye popping special effects and more super powered antagonists is not what makes a good movie.
When to Throw in the Towel (Mailbox) At what point do you call it a day and give up?
Five Steps to Motivational Rejuvenation (Mailbox) How do you get your swing back if you've put a work on the back burner for a while?

May

This "Populist Writing Philosophy" (Mailbox) Someone disagrees that all that matters is that people write.
An Open Letter to the Readers of Writing About Writing My appeals posts rarely make the Greatest Hits. I think this one just had a provocative name.
Social Justice Bard And The Curious Case of Representation Once upon a time there was a cishet white dude who loved himself represented in media. But then something happened...

June

Writing With Depression (Mailbox) Can it be done?
Feeling Stuck? Join the Club, and Try These Tips to Get Writing Again (R.S. Williams) R.S. William's guest post about getting unstuck was one of June's best.
We Interrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Blog Post Blog was pretty excited when my FB page went over 500,000 followers.

July 

In Which I Have an Unwelcome Visitor by Rahnia Collins Guest Blogger Rahnia Collins discusses procrastination.
Twelve Little Meta Things Random and meta. But apparently popular.
We Regret to Inform You.... During July I was teaching summer school and ran a "Patreon Fundraiser" and one of the weekly appeals posts (probably because of the title) caught some people's eyes.

August 

That Madmartigan Sigh (Personal Update) Oh great. Now I have to kill a dragon.
Battlestar Didactica You too can make the hard won wisdom of this blog into packaged wisdom.
An Old Priest, a Young Priest Groupie Threesome Jokes and Problematica (Mailbox) Why you see a lot less of the ol' Groupie Threesome joke around here lately.

September

Self Care Check In (A Very Personal Update) So...this started with me sleepwalking. For an entire day.
25 Things to Let Go of if you Want to Write Creatively for Money (Part 1) Part one of three. Giving some up might hurt.
Short Stories vs. Novels for Learning (Mailbox) If you're trying to learn to write, should you be doing short stories or novels?

October

A Strange Obstacle Fires near me weren't anywhere close, but the smoke in the air made it difficult to put up a post.
The Truth About This Last Month (Personal Update) Life was getting much better by October, but there's a very specific reason why.
25 Things to Let Go of if you Want to Write Creatively for Money (Part 3) The conclusion of the article started in September

Honorable Mention: The Renown Margin A new menu with new articles would have been number 2 in terms of page views. (More articles coming soon.)

November

Serious for a Moment (A Personal Update) Killing net neutrality may destroy an entire generation of artists, writers, activists, and creatives who have found their niche in online promotion.
Who Ordered the Extra Salty Mailbox It's not exactly hate mail, but I'm not quite putting up with this shit either.
Vocabulary Builders (Product Review) Are those books that promise to build your vocabulary really any good?

December

On the Business of Writing for the Non-Famous Writer Getting a tax write off on office space and laptops was very important to writers who weren't rolling in cash.
No Glamour in the Business of Writing Patreon enacted a terrible policy (since rescinded) and some days (if you want to make money writing) you have to deal with the non-writing parts.
In Memoriam (John DeCoster) One of my favorite teachers in high school.