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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?

Monday, April 30, 2018

Major Meta Update Tomorrw

For those folks who follow the blog itself and not just my social media where I can drop a rerun and do a soft shoe, today I did two hours of job three that ended up being a lot more like four (five once the commute got factored in) and I'm working on a major change to the update schedule that I don't want to toss out after the east coast has gone to bed and the west coast has fired up part two of their Westworld binge.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

How to Grow Your Facebook Audience (Mailbox)

How is it that you have such a huge, throbbing......Facebook following.

[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 each week.  I will use your first name ONLY unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous. If I can't find your whole question, you might have to be Daniel.]   

Daniel* asks,

Hey Chris. I wanted to tell you that I enjoy your Facebook group/fan page and that I also really admire the way you built your audience. I'm trying to build my own audience just now, and it's slow going, but I feel like you've been really successful at it. I liked your page back when you had something like 40,000 likes, and you have grown by, like, A FREAKING LOT [note: current number is almost 800k-Chris]. Well done! If you ever wrote an article called "Baby Steps for Building Your Fan Base for Those Who Really Want Information But Need Things to Be Explained in Small Words," I would love it. Lol.

*I'm pretty sure Daniel is the person who asked the question before this one, but I seem to have copy pasted over that part of the original text. If this is your question, bear with me, and I apologize; you get to be Daniel for a while.

My reply,

This is a good reminder to me to get off my flippen ass on all the serial posts that I have been neglecting (in some cases for years) during what I have come to call The Time of Great Hardship™.

My current series of posts–a little less than half done–is under the auspices of Blogging About Blogging and is all about starting your own blog. It's not exactly what you're asking me about but (as you'll see) there's some overlap. After that I want to do a series on finding and taking feedback on one's writing. And that's to say nothing of the craft stuff. And more plot points! And the Skyrim article and....and....

Uh...so anyway about your question.

Getting your followers up on a page turns out to be a lot like writing. There's glitz and glamour and regular visits to media moguls who send their limos around to pick you up (stocked with Ruinart champagne, of course). You go everywhere with attractive partners of your preferred gender hanging off your arm, often two at a time–three when you pop over to the French Riviera to do meet a bunch of movie stars and pop musicians. And...

Oh sorry. That's something else. Here's the description of writing and page admin and how they're alike:

It's a soul sucking pit of deep unfulfillment unless you really enjoy it for its own sake.

Yeah, that sounds a lot more accurate. 


The good news is, I can convey what's involved pretty easily because there aren't really any tricks or techniques beyond sheer force of will and some patience. And even though I sort of worry that I'll have a million competitors nipping at my heels by next week, I did promise you all that I would share the hard won wisdom.

The bad news is, you're not going to like it because actually it's a lot like work. I don't mean YOU don't like work "Daniel." I don't even know you and I'm not here to judge, but I get this question a lot from a lot of people and when I tell them what is involved they get a thousand yard stare and say things like "The turtle couldn't help us."

See the problem is, the simplest explanation is to work on your page for about one to two hours every day. Go find content. Post content. Keep your comment section from becoming the sort of horror show that would scare away the people you imagine are your audience. Everything else I'm going to tell you is a variation on that theme: about an hour or two a day.

  • Basically post every day about once an hour. 
  • Yes, that means 12-15 posts a day. A hundred or more a week. Tremendous amounts of effort over time. 
  • Spread your posts out. Even with the algorithm and most people missing most posts, one an hour is pretty close to the saturation point. Any more than that and people will see nothing but you in their feed. Then they'll get annoyed and unfollow, even if they mostly like what you're doing. They just don't lie seeing YOU over and over again. Brains amirite? 
  • This also means you can't dump all your day's posts in ten minutes and call it a day. Either schedule them or post them every hour. 
  • I'd strongly recommend keeping a cache of fresh-to-death images on your phone so you can post when you're out.
  • Vary your posts. If you do puns and grammar memes and thoughtful articles and funny jokes, don't do seven puns in a row. Suddenly your a pun page and everyone who was following for the other stuff unfollows. Keep the mixture from "clumping" as you alternate between funny and serious or whatever the range is of your own content.
  • Spend some time in your comment section, if only to remove the MOST horrible people being horrible. You can't stop every rando from dropping a shit comment on every post, but you can cull the worst behaviors and help direct the timbre of the community by making it clear what isn't going to fly. As much as "don't read the comments" is an internet axiom people do and they'll be keeping score of what you allow to go unchecked.
  • If you're doing some kind of self promotion (like, say, posting a link to your blog), you want to limit that to a couple of times a day–MAAAAAAAAYBE three. 
  • Ask for money VERY infrequently. Once or twice a month at most. (I promote my Patreon once a month on the blog and once a month directly to social media.) Constantly trying to monetize will really sour people to you even if all they ever really had to do was give their scroll wheel a little something something. 
  • Whatever you do, just do it. Figure out what your thing is (hopefully something you really enjoy) and give it full throttle. Somewhere out there is someone who isn't going to like your thing, but instead of just getting over themselves or finding a page they like better, they'll get super entitled about their free entertainment and demand YOU change. Fuck em. Because if you get stuck where you're trying to please everyone, counterintuitively, your page will just kind of fizzle. For every person who grouses about X, ten people are there JUST FOR X. Just do your thing–whatever it is. This doesn't mean you're above reproach or never have to listen or apologize if you post something shitty, but it does mean that you don't stop posting puns because someone threatens to leave.
I do some other things (like just hiding comments I know are designed to stir up controversy in a particular SQuiDy way rather than engaging them or even leaving them, banning people who flounce or threaten to so they can't come back, or dribbling in reruns that I know no one has seen because they're from back when the page had a thousand followers), but I don't necessarily know if they've contributed to my page's success or just my personal peace of mind.


Oh and there's one more thing worth mentioning here.

Building up a facebook page of shitposting and puns isn't strictly about writing, per se, but it turns out to be more than just analogously similar. A whole lot of writers who want actual cash money careers could be doing a whole lot better if they learned to use social media to promote themselves. They whip up pages, for their book or their writing persona and then never post anything beyond "Hey, buy my book!" and wonder why they have 28 followers (17 of which have the same last name as them).

There are not really working writers anymore who just mail out manuscripts and pick up checks (and for reasons too involved to get into here, there never really were). Some of the old methods of self promotion like physically travelling to local bookstores to shop out copies of a book on consignment or organizing book parties or attending literally every reading in an area don't have nearly the ROI of social media. An artist, no matter how skilled they are, will quickly find that lacking reach can be incredibly frustrating. (You've written a good book but no one knows about it!) Before that big break where folks start seeking out the artist, we all have to go out and find our audience. (And newsflash–you still will have to self promote even after you're a household name. They're called readings and signings and they're going to be a part of your contract negotiations. From what I've heard, they're only exciting for the first twenty minutes of the first one you ever do, and then it starts to look like a wall of strangers who all want to talk.) It's not a bad idea to learn how to use the tools of modern promotion for the self promotion of a modern career.

I'm not sure every artist needs to be QUITE so prolific. Everyone can find their own air/fuel mixture, but your question was specifically how I achieved MY numbers.

It's work to build up a social media presence, and it's work that is NOT writing, but it's often work that would have to be done in some form anyway by anyone who wanted to be writing for a living, so I have to say that posting puns and digging through quotes to find the most inspirational beach sunset picture that quote is paired with is better than most alternatives. And if I have to pause a conversation with a friend for two minutes to drop a meme from my phone, it's not that high a price to pay.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Best Modern SciFi Not Written by a Cishet White Man

What is the very best science fiction written by a woman or POC or member of the LGBTQ+ community written in the last 20 years? 

Our latest poll is live!

This poll is from our Year of Diverse Polls, and as such it can't includes authors who are cishet white men. Please adjust your nominations accordingly. Also please check out that post before leaving any shitty comments here or on social media that wildly miss the point and which I will cheerfully remove.

Our poll was pulled from your nominations. Discounting a few that didn't follow directions, almost everyone that got a second made the final round. I put a couple up that I seconded myself.

The actual poll is on the left hand side at the bottom, beneath the "About The Author" section. Mobile viewers will have to go to the very bottom of their page and switch to "Webview" in order to access the poll.

Everyone will get three (3) votes.

There is no way to rank votes, so please consider that every vote beyond the first "dilutes" the power of your initial vote and use as few as you can stand to use.

This poll will be up for a couple of weeks. You can vote once a week. Since I can't stop shenanigans, I encourage as much of it as possible. Vote early, vote often.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Best Modern SciFi Not Written by a Cishet White Man (Last Call for Nominations!)

What is the very best science fiction written by a woman or POC or member of the LGBTQ+ community written in the last 20 years?

Despite big news going on over at Patreon behind the scenes, we have to get this poll up and running, so take your last opportunity to nominate titles or second the ones that are there.

The poll is going up tomorrow.

This poll is from our Year of Diverse Polls, and as such it can't includes authors who are cishet white men. Please adjust your nominations accordingly. Also please check out that post before leaving any shitty comments here or on social media that wildly miss the point and which I will cheerfully remove.

All the rules are here

That is ALSO the place to leave any new nominations or seconds. PLEASE do not leave them here. I need them all in one place. Please remember to second even if a title already has a second. I am no longer doing several elimination rounds–at most I will do a single semifinal round. Therefore a number of titles between eight and twenty with the MOST seconds will go on to the poll.

Consider Your Writer Talent Build Carefully (Revision)

No no no. That's WOW.
My blog is WAW.
Totally different.
Wow...they DO sound alike when you just say them.
That never even occurred to me.
I used to be addicted to World of Warcraft.

Well, not addicted addicted. I could quit any time, of course. I wasn't like my friends putting in the hours of a full time job to be in a raiding guild. I wasn't like those guys in their parents' basements. I was a high class addict, you see. Avoiding ten page papers that were due in less than 12 hours...absolutely, but I didn't really have a PROBLEM.

One thing I noticed about W.O.W.'s talent point mechanic was how strangely like being a writer it was.

No. Really.

Hear me out.

I should probably start with the USDA approved message to writerly folk that if you are serious about being a writer, one of the best things you could possibly do would be to take any Massively Multiplayer Online Games you happen to be subscribed to, place them into small box, and then place that box inside a bigger box filled with enriched uranium, and then take that box, put it into a rocket that is filled with explosives, and launch that rocket into the sun (or preferably another sun......one that is going supernova).

You will amaze and astound yourself with how much time you have available for writing when an afternoon's session isn't interrupted with: "Shit, I haven't done my daily fishing quests yet." (Because nothing says "fun game" like treating not-actually-fishing as a chore.)

Yeah, me neither. So keep it down to a few hours a week and keep writing, kay?

Of course, I stopped playing because Cataclysm sucked ass (and not in the way that makes someone go "Oh my god. I've never felt anything that intense!"). But let's pretend it was because I'm a disciplined writer who knew it was just going to be part of the price I had to pay, that I totally have epic mad levels of discipline, and I want to be a writer just that fucking bad. Furthermore, let's pretend I haven't started back up in the last few months.

Okay? Are you pretending? Splendid.

Anyway, this post isn't about getting rid of WOW. You can face that demon on your own....or better yet with a group...or a raid......of demon hunters.

Uh, sorry.  Where was I? Oh yeah. This is about how writing is often like WOW.

You mean you spend thirty hours a week doing it with nothing to show for it except some shiny pixels that make you think you're cool? 

Shut up evil italics voice!  No one invited you to this article. No, what I mean is that you have to decide carefully what kind of writer you're going to be.

If you've played WOW, or really any MMO, you know that your character fulfills a sort of "role" whenever you group up with others to accomplish goals. If you're an MMO vet, just bear with me through the crash course.

In most games like WOW you either take damage, deal damage, or heal. (There are games with a fourth role called "support" where characters sort of swiss army knife what's needed in a given group and drop some sick buffs, but WOW isn't one of those games.) If you take damage, you have to be a big bad tough to kill guy with lots of ways to taunt the monsters into attacking you instead of the people doing the damage or healing--this person is called the "tank."  If you deal damage you have to be able to crank out attacks that can hurt but without doing it in a way that takes the monster's attention away from the tank. If you heal...well, you heal, but again, you don't want to heal TOO well, or the monster will perceive you as the bigger threat. You keep the tank from getting killed, and everybody else if you can.

Unless everyone else is too incompetent to reign in their DPS and they end up with the monster's aggro. Then you let those fools die to teach them a lesson. Except that you'll get blamed for them dying even though they totally deserved it. Everyone always blames the healer when they die. Always. Even if they literally jumped off a cliff into a room full of snake men like in that movie Dreamscape...on purpose....into a fire...and pulled out their weapons so they would impale themselves when they hit the ground. It was still the healer's fault for letting them die.

Did I mention that I usually heal (if there's no bard class).

But really, "I can't heal through walls" needs to be about three times as big.

Off topic much?

I'm pacing myself.

In WOW, and most similar games, each time you gain a few levels, you get a point to spend on a "talent" that gives your character a little bit of customized power. Used to be there were whole trees where you had to buy somewhere between one and five talents to unlock something more powerful. (These days it's all streamlined and a little cookie cutter.) These are called talent trees–because they look like trees....that are growing upside down.....with three or four long spindly branches....and....okay, they don't look anything like trees.

Are you going to tell us this metaphor, or just tell us a bunch of things that aren't this metaphor.

Shut up.

Anyway, when you buy these talents, you don't just buy some from here and some from there in a mishmash of grocery-shopping-esque "I'd-probably-use-that-eventually" kinds of choices.  You are shopping with a list that has the ingredients from the recipe, and no Ben and Jerry's--not even Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough goddamn it!--is going to deter you. You consider how to get the best talents for that "role" you're playing. You want to unlock the more powerful talents because they will make you better at your role, but you also want to make sure everything fits together with what you're trying to accomplish. And sometimes there are really great, awesome, powerful talents that you don't take. Not because they aren't great, awesome, and powerful, but because they just don't fit with what you are trying to accomplish.

Like if you're a damage-dealing character, and you need to crank out damage, you might ignore a talent that gives you more armor every time you get hit by a monster. It's not that armor isn't awesome. Armor is the enthusiastic oral sex of the MMO world: you can never get enough.  It's just that every talent point you spend getting better armor is a talent point you can't spend to do more damage.

If you pick the armor talent, you might have to skip the "Rip Their Face......OFF" talent.

Now here's the problem: people who want to hedge their bets take that armor talent anyway.  Then they become less awesome at their "role" of doing damage. Sure, they can take a few more hits, but what they really WANT to be doing is more damage. They sacrificed their niche for something more jack-of-all-tradesish and now they can't do as well at their niche. The good guilds don't let them join. They get called noob. None of the sexy characters who are just-like-a-hot-human-except-blue will go back to their starting village to take a look at their etchings. And no one will cyber them.

We were promised some kind of metaphor or connective tissue with writing.  Did you forget about that?

Shut up evil italics voice.  I'm getting to it.

As a writer, you have to chose your focus wisely. You have a finite amount of time, and you probably have a finite amount of creative energy before you don't want to write anymore in a given day. You also probably have certain physical limitations like joint stiffness or eye strain. So it's important to think about the kind of writing you want to be doing and consider the "talents" you pursue.

You probably have a "role" you want to be writing in: "Fiction Author," for example or "Journalist" or "Web Content Freelancer." And sometimes it can be dangerous to think all writing is created equal and all avenues will serve you equally well.

Yes, freelance work might be useful. Sure, a journalism degree isn't a waste of time. Sure offering yourself up for no-pay gigs that get you some recognition might be useful. Fanfic might be useful. Writing web content might be useful. Blogging for free for a big blog might be useful. Any of these things would develop skill sets you don't already have and teach you a thing or two about writing. There are lots of "valuable lessons" to be learned. Experience is valuable. But they are like that awesome talent point that doesn't fit with what you're trying to do.

Just to be your-mom's-good-china-when-company's-coming clear. It is not that these things are not useful. It's not that they can't help you be a better writer. They just might be like that armor talent–that is to say they might be helpful but not necessarily helping you be the best kind of writer of the type you want to be. They take time and effort away from the one kind of writing you really may want to be doing.

While you're doing somebody else's Shakespeare homework or writing web copy for roughly 1 cent a word, are you missing other opportunities that involve the kind of writing you would rather be doing?

It's easy--all too easy--to take a job as a writer because....hey I'm a fucking WRITER! Freeze frame Flash Gordon fist-in-the-air-jump!

And then you look up one day, and it's twenty years later, and you're still on chapter six of your book because you come home at the end of every day from your "Fucking Writer!" job and the last thing in the world you want to do is write some more. You're probably a really good writer–twenty years of practice will do that–but eight hours a day is really about all you can handle. To make matters worse you might have a really specific style of writing at your "fucking writer" job that isn't helping you with the sort of writing you always dreamed of.

Oh and you're married with kids, so good luck trying to quit your "fucking writer" job to go make 8 cents an hour because you want to chase your dreams full time.

The same can be said of teaching writing. Just about every teacher I had at SFSU would rather have been writing full time. The same can be said for editing. The same can be said for publishing. Feelance. Techwriting. Whatever. A lot of writers get stuck in jobs where they thought they would learn something useful in a job that was close to writing, or "kind of creative," and they just ended up regretting how sidetracked they got.

I can't tell you how many writers I know who've told me they wished they'd just been a patent clerk or gone into construction so that they could come and not be revolted by the idea of writing for another few hours.

No one is suggesting you pass up opportunities, but the goal is to do so in a way that works you UP your skill tree, not to take every random opportunity because you might develop as a writer.  If you want to write about the robot wars on Khyron Beta Prime, joining a writers group for sci-fi writers two towns over (even though the drive is an hour each way) might be a better use of your time and effort than a paid internship at your local paper.

Disclaimer: If the kind of writing you're doing makes you happy, then you're not really stuck.  If you can make a lot of money writing, and come home and write some more, then rock, rock on! I know a tech writer who can demand some fucking serious money, and then does their fiction writing at night without missing a beat.

And guys....seriously...I can't stress this next part enough: if you got into something but then you found that it gave you a fulfillment in life that you ever could have expected, you've won the jackpot.

Really.

That's all we're really trying for in this life anyway, right?  If it turns out that raising a family brings you more happiness than writing eight hours a day in a boiler room apartment, then do that! Too many people lose sleep over some unfulfilled desire just because that was their childhood dream, but they've long since found other aspects of life more fulfilling. My mother dreamed of being a published author when she was young, but ended up writing internal policy for a bank when she discovered what really brought her joy in life was her family.

Of course now she lives vicariously through you by telling me to write BDSM erotica, and not noticing that you take a shower with steel wool every time she does so.

Please shut up, evil italics voice.  Please...

This is why I often turn down certain kinds of freelance work or advice about where to find writing gigs–even good paying ones. It's not that I'm too good for them. I certainly don't think they would be pointless or that I wouldn't grow as a writer from the experience. It's just that once I've done web content for twenty or so articles, I'm pretty sure I'm not going to have much trouble imagining how the 21st will go.  I want to write novels and mediocre blogs about the thing I love in this world.

Everyone has to balance their ambitions and hopes and dreams against the reality of their lives. If you're the breadwinner for a family of six, I'm not suggesting you quit your job to chase rainbows. But what I can tell you is that you can easily lose years because you went for that "armor."

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Side Gigs and Update Schedules

I had two days lined up of side gigs that cut into my writing time. Today was going to be eight hours and tomorrow is going to be about eleven. I got a reprieve on today (thought it probably means I'm going to have to actually do it in the next couple of weeks). I ended up taking the day off from blogging anyway since it's been a right hard week and I haven't had a proper day off in over a fortnight.

We should be back on our regular update schedule by next week, but I'm not going to try to catch up on the weekend or even get some kind of filler up tomorrow.

This isn't my appeals post, but if you want to stay in the loop when I go off my update schedule please remember that it requires at least being a $1/month patron.  Only $12 a year. Otherwise just know that until I'm making enough from writing to start phasing out side gigs, this is going to be part of the cost of doing business.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Writing Prompt: Short Term Goals

Today's prompt isn't about writing; it's one of our many "meta" prompts about being a writer.

When you ask writers about their goals, the first major problem you run into is that they don't actually have any. The second is that if they do, they're really more like objectives.

Ask most writers what they want and you'll get some pretty mushy answers. To "make it." To "succeed." Among the most concrete would be some idea of paying the bills with writing or some belief that publication will be the holy grail. Of course, get a little closer and you might find these a little mushy as well. Self-publication or small presses don't count (nor would a career writing smut). Neither would paying the bills if one was living in a tiny old studio next to the boiler room on the outskirts of Tupelo, Mississippi. They turn out to have some important specifics regarding their goals that are hard.

Of course, we can get lost in our fantasies, but it's important to have solid, concrete, and plausible goals. When we're faced with the option of a low paying day job writing web content for 60+ hours a week, it's very important that we know if our goals are "I want to clear $25k doing anything so long as it's technically writing," or "I want to be a upper middle class novelist with a fanbase and published by a big five." (I wouldn't recommend grueling hours of content writing to the person who wants the latter.) Check back in on this person in twenty years and if they made the wrong choice, they're going to be no closer to their goals.

And it's certainly important, in a world with so much advice about how to "make it," if you would rather just write as a hobbyist who enjoys the craft when the muse attacks. And if writing is the way to fame, fortune, and groupie threesomes, it quickly becomes apparent given the level of introspection. (And by the way, there are way easier ways to get any of those things than by writing.)

The problem is that these goals are often too big. They're just too mamathian for us to handle. We're like a kid who wants to get an A in Math class but hasn't the first idea how to make that happen. As important as specific and reasonable big goals are, and as much as they may perhaps shape and define our major life choices, they are often too large to metabolize into some form of daily action.

This is where short term goals come in. How do you break this big life goal down into pieces? Instead of looking at some gigantic thing that will take place over the next 10+ years, how do you proceed in the next year or two. (I wanted to be a working creative writer, and I wrote aimlessly for decades until I started setting smaller goals like "Get a Creative Writing degree." "Start a blog and post every day." "Figure out how to monetize, and do that right away even if it's a few cents a month." "Write at least one page per night on my fiction.")

How do you break down your big goal into bite-sized chunks? Of course it depends on the goal. If you want to publish a novel (and let's assume that you want to get it right, but self publishing would be okay) instead of just saying "Yep, totally gonna do that someday," identify the smaller goals in getting there. 1- Write it. 2- Rewrite it. 3- Revise it. 4- Content editing. 5- Line editing. 6- Proofreading.

Then take step one and decide what the smaller goals are for that.  "1- Write it"= " 1-I will write at least one page per day. 2- I will write at least three pages every day I don't have work or family obligations. 3- I will spend 4 hours writing on Sunday even if I finish three pages early." (I'm a huge fan of daily goals–and daily writing–if you can't tell, but you can personalize your own goals.)

The end result will be analogous to your ability to make big life decisions based on your big goals, except with smaller decisions and smaller goals. (Rocket surgery science, this ain't.) For example, you might be making great choices regarding not letting yourself get roped into a grinding job that will use up your creativity because it's "technically writing for a living," but now you also have the smaller goal to help you make the choice that you have to get a page written before you start playing Farcry 5.

Or if you want to look at me, I outline my goals and realize almost instantly that I'm spending too much time on Facebook under the auspices of "promoting my work" and not enough time actually writing it, so I immediately know that even though my Facebook page is huge and successful and gives me positive feedback when I provide it with time and attention (and has even been the source of some income), it is not a direction I want to channel so much energy. So I need to put limits on that or bump up goals regarding the actual writing.

These smaller goals should all be SMART(S) goals too. Write "a little" every day is technically achieved after two words, and will never get your novel written. Write "a page" every day is going to see your first draft in about a year. Write 1700 words a day might not be reasonable if you have a day job or a family and will quickly be abandoned by the wayside. The more these goals adhere to the SMART(S) paradigm, the easier they are to achieve. (That last "S" is particularly important. It's fine and well to submit to The New Yorker and/or The Atlantic ten times in the next five years, but you have little control over whether or not they actually accept your submission.) It's just really hard to hit a goal if you haven't really defined it.

PROMPT: In order to do this prompt, you must first define what success means to you. Now break that down into short term, yet still SMART(S) goals. Come up with at least three sub-goals that are themselves steps to getting to your main goal. (For example, if you want to be a novelist, you should probably write a book.) They can be steps done sequentially or concurrently (like I am writing a book, promoting myself through social media, doing smaller works of fiction, and working on a career as a blogger simultaneously) but they should break down your main goal into smaller pieces (my main goal these days is to phase out my side gig jobs because I make career money from writing). Now choose the first goal (if your three goals are sequential) or whichever goal you think is more important (if they are concurrent) and break that into at least two smaller pieces. Each of THESE should also be SMART(S) goals.

This process is recursive. You can break smaller goals down even further. (Perhaps focusing on where and when you want to write each day.) Find whatever level of specificity works for you–but be sure that's for definitions of "works for you" that involve actually making progress towards your goals and not "vague enough that it's easy to ignore."


Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Wifi-less flight

Folks apparently it was ambitious of me to think that I was going to post anything (more than something like this) on a transit day. Technically I was ready to rock, but I tried to pay for internet on my flight with PayPal, and PayPal wanted me to answer a security question which WOULDN'T LOAD because I didn't have internet....

So this was me:

Except with less bed frame and pillow behind my head and more plane seat, peanuts, and discomfort. (Though on the bright side, the deity in charge of flying–who certainly can be both capricious and cruel–must have taken pity on me for the missed flight and middle seat discomfort from Thursday because I had the only row on the whole flight that had no one in the middle seat.

Regardless now I'm up to (and I'm not even kidding) like seven half done posts, so at least starting tomorrow, I'll have no shortage of things to say for a while. On my WAW Facebook page, I'm going to repost the link to our latest call for poll nominations (best modern science fiction) since that went up late on a Saturday, but for everyone else I'll just let you know that it's there.

I'll hit the ground running tomorrow! Keep writing!

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Best Modern SciFi Not Written by a Cishet White Man (Nominations needed!)

What is the very best science fiction written by a woman or POC or member of the LGBTQ+ community written in the last 20 years? 

This poll is from our Year of Diverse Polls, and as such it can't includes authors who are cishet white men. Please adjust your nominations accordingly.

Also for my FACEBOOK followers:

If you didn't read that explanation and/or don't read this and insist on adding some sanctimonious comment to WAW's Facebook Page about how you're so enlightened that you only judge art by its quality or how this is the real bigotry or "what would you think if I said no [marginalized group]; how would you like it then?" (or basically any of those boilerplate, paint-by-numbers Chadclone points), do so at your own peril. (Also true if you
did read that stuff and dropped the same old arguments anyway.) I'll be erasing comments and showing the more obnoxious commenters the door. There are ten months to go and the answers are literally a click away.

Since we did a similar fantasy poll just a while ago with a lot of dovetail, we're going to skip on to our next popular topic (but with the diverse polls rules)–modern science fiction. Please note that I'm tightening up the "modern" for this as Sci-fi tends to be impacted. (Twenty years instead of 25.)

The Rules:


  1. Please note the diversity requirements above.
  2. Nominations must be copyrighted no later than 1998 (twenty years). Any series with books before that cannot be nominated as a full series (but individual books still can be). 
  3. As always, I leave the niggling over "Science Fiction" to your best judgement because I'd rather be inclusive. If you feel like Pern is science fiction, I'm not going to argue. (Though you might need to "show your work" to get anyone to second your nomination.) I'll only throw them out if they get super ridiculous. 
  4. You may nominate two (2) books or series. If you nominate three or more my eyes glaze over and I seethe with primordial rage. But more importantly for you, I will NOT take any nominations beyond the second that you suggest. (I will consider a long list to be "seconds" if someone else nominates them as well.)
  5. You may (and absolutely should) second as many nominations of others as you wish. So stop back in and see if anyone has put up something you want to see go onto the poll.
  6. Please put your nominations here. I will take nominations only as comments on this post. (No comments on FB posts or G+.)
  7. You are nominating WRITTEN SCIENCE FICTION, not their movie portrayals. CGI may make Sleeping Giants pretty fun to look at, but if you find the books to be a little contrived, you shouldn't nominate it.
  8. No more endless elimination rounds. I will take somewhere between 8-20 best performing titles and at MOST run a single semifinal round. So second the titles you want even if they already have one. (Yes, I guess that would make them thirds, fourths, etc...)

Friday, April 13, 2018

8 Steps To Improving Your Manuscript (Claire Youmans)

8 Steps To Improving Your Manuscript 
by Claire Youmans  


There’s power in distance.  There’s power in time.  Your writing will improve if you step away from it for a while and let it rest, let it cure, let it rise.

When I get going, finally, after months of research and in-my-head outlines, scene structure and character development, I rip right on through, nearly 24/7, for as long as it takes. I take minor breaks for the absolute necessities of life  but I leave my brain fully engaged in writer mode.  I am not happy when anyone tries to interrupt me.  I cannot do ANYTHING else because it will interrupt my train of thought, and that will set me back about a day, sometimes two or three, for every hour stolen from my writing at this time.  So, just NO.  Go away until I call you and I’m not going to be nice about it.  But at last…
.
Step One:  I’m done!  I finished the draft!  I think it’s great!  Woo-hoo!  A copy edit and it’s publish-city, right?  Wrong.

Step Two:  I put it away for a week, sometimes longer.  I do something else.  Sometimes it’s another project, sometimes it’s a trip.  Sometimes it’s the normal life stuff I have let slide.  I set a return date, and refuse to look at the manuscript before then.  When I come back to the manuscript, I want to have fresh eyes.  I want to see the things I’ve left out, the things I’ve put in twice.  Or thrice.  The words I’ve doubled.  The character names I’ve changed midstream.  The repetitive words and actions I’ve used to annoying extremes.  I want to read like a reader.  I don’t make notes and I don’t correct anything but minor typos.  Not now.  I just pay attention.  This read can take several days to a week, depending on how long the book is, but then I’m done, right?  A few corrections and it’s ready?  Nope.

Step Three:  I let it sit another week, maybe two.  This is really hard.  I’m on a roll!  I can’t stop now!  But I must if I want a better book.

Step Four:  I read again, but this time, I will address the things I noticed before, the little obvious things.  During the second break, my brain will cogitate over the big manuscript picture I finally saw, for the first time, on that first, fresh-eyes, read.  There will be lists, sometimes in written form, of the things I want to look for.  Of things I want to address.  I’ll get rid of those repetitive word choices, actions and expressions!  This narration needs to come out.  That concept needs explaining. This needs to happen before That, not after.  A character’s arc needs greater definition.  This area needs more emphasis.  I need to see where the longer series arc is going. What are the characters telling me?  What am I setting up?  Where are my loose ends?  Do I tie them up now, or is that for the next book?  How do I fix these over-arcing problems?

This takes longer, and I still can’t take breaks.  I need to keep the whole book in the front part of my brain.  This is a novel we’re talking about.  That’s a lot of material.  There are a lot of characters and each of them has his or her own story.  I must keep all of this clear.  So don’t bug me.  Aren't I done yet?  No!

Step Five:  I leave it the heck alone for another while.  As long as I can keep my hands off it.  I’m not good at that.

Step Six:  I reread.  I tweak.  I do another batch of corrections and edits, sometimes fairly major ones.  Finally, it’s as good as I can get it... 

Step Seven:  …for now.  Now, it's time for serious feedback from my wonderful coterie of beta readers.  While they are reading, I get some serious distance.  I have to use severe discipline to keep from bugging them.  It’s a good time to go out of town.

Step Eight:  When I get their comments in, I’ll do another read, and will most likely see they are absolutely right.  They’ve seen things I haven’t; often they all see the same things.  I see new things myself.  I see directions for the next book I didn’t even know were there.  This absolutely vital step gives me not only fresh eyes, but others’ eyes.  This is where good turns to really good.  By the time I finish this step, I have a much better book than I started with at the end of Step 1. Only now is it ready to go to my editor for her uncannily accurate feedback.  And there’s still more to come in the writing/waiting game before the book at last comes out.

Time and distance are your friends.  They give you the power and the vision to make your work much better than it might otherwise be.  Be strong, be disciplined and wait before rushing off to press.  Let that manuscript cure. Let it rest.  Let it rise.  Your book, and you as a writer, will be better for it.


Also check out Claire's blog and FB page and available books here:

http://claireyoumansauthor.blogspot.com

www.tokigirlandsparrowboy.com


Facebook:  The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy

Amazon:  http://www.amazon.com/The-Toki-Girl-Sparrow-Boy-Claire-Youmans/dp/0990323404/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top?ie=UTF8


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


Thursday, April 12, 2018

Best Dystopia Written by a Non Cishet White Man (Results)

What is the best dystopia book or series written by someone other than a cishet white man? 

Remember to go here if you don't understand why we're doing a year of diverse polls.

I missed my flight.

Some of it's on me. Well...I mean all of it's on me for not doing what they always tell you to do, which is to give yourself all this fucking extra time "just in case."

I'm not so much a "just in case" type. I'm more of an "OH SHINY Oh that's really cool and I bet if I were to-- OH FUCK IS THAT THE TIME??? FUUUUUUCK!" type.

Then I sat around and waited for a BART train. Then I sait around and waited IN a BART train, feeling that fleeting feeling of hope drain with every announcement of "We will be moving shortly." This caused me to JUST miss the airport connection. And when I got into the security line, they were having a bit of a day. I mean it wasn't TERRIBAD, and the line wasn't long, but they were understaffed and it took too much time.

I heard them call my flight. Then my name. And I hadn't even taken my shoes off yet....

The later flight I got bumped to was not direct, and the airport where I waited for two hours did not have functioning wifi. (They said they did, but it wasn't working.) The wifi on the flight is glacially slow, and Vera's battery seems to be in the middle of the Mortal Coil Shuffle™due to age. It's losing two or three percent per minute and I'm pretty sure that number is soft because she doesn't want me to worry. ("No it's okay, boss. You go ahead and download another picture. I'm........fuh....fine.") She's been flashing me a 20% thumbs up lately right before powering down, so I don't trust anything lower than 50%

So today has had a lot of bumps (since the stop over was in Denver, many of them were literal). I would have loved to see something break the tie for second place, but I don't have a lot of emceeing or energy to drag this out another couple of days and do a double post in me. Besides, we need to move on to our next poll.  Keep in mind our diversity requirements but think science fiction.....

Congrats to the winners and thank you everyone who participated.

Text results below

The Handmaid's Tale- M Atwood 97 22%
The Hunger Games- S. Collins 57 12.93%
The Giver- L. Lowry 57 12.93%
Broken Earth Trilogy- N.K. Jemisin 41 9.3%
Never Let Me Go- K. Ishiguro 39 8.84%
Parable of the Sower (Earthseed)- O. Butler 31 7.03%
Oryx and Crake- M. Atwood 27 6.12%
Xenogenesis- O. Butler 26 5.9%
Station Eleven- E. Mandel 24 5.44%
1Q84- H. Murakami 16 3.63%
Newsflesh- S McGuire 14 3.17%

The Fifth Sacred Thing- Starhawk 12 2.72%

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Best Dystopia [Diverse Poll] (Last Call for Votes)

What is the best dystopia book or series written by someone other than a cishet white man?  

I've been saving the "lighter" posts for the days during and right around my trip to Texas for a few days, and here we are, but also we need to put this poll in the can and get going on the next one. So you have exactly ONE more day to vote. I will post the results tomorrow.

Remember if you have any questions about why the poll is limited in the particular way it is, this link will cover that.

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.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

March's Best



The highest page viewed, non-poll posts from last month that will go on to the halls of glory and renown in our Greatest Hits menu.  March saw our schedule here at WAW begin to return to some tiny semblance of normalcy after years of being a mess, and consequently we were able to get a little more quality writing done.

Duck Shaped Bigotry

Something about ducks and water and....bigots.

15(?) Things Dungeons and Dragons Taught Me About How to Write (Part 1)

Yes, I promise that part 2 is coming!


There are actually a few really good reasons book nerds get their itch scratched so seldomly.

Friday, April 6, 2018

A Baker's Dozen Random Bits of Writing Advice I Wish Someone Had told ME. (And two that someone did.)

I definitely write a lot of themed listicles for this blog (and don't worry, we're going to get back to that D&D one soon enough), but some of the best advice doesn't fit into a tidy little box about prose or craft or ways to get writing again when you have writer's block.

Of course there's the advice you hear all the time like "Read a lot" and "Write every day" and certainly there's no shortage of advice on prose, process, and the market. If anything people want their publisher and agent finding advice before they've completed the prerequisites. But, for me over the years, some of the best gems aren't things everyone always says (though maybe they should). They're the rare treasures left haphazardly among the junk that is strewn about like engine blocks and tractor parts on the lawn of your uncle who lives on ten acres.

Like a fully functional daggit....

When metaphors go wrong.

This is advice for the dedicated wordsmith with an eye on "making it" or "success," and less so for the not the casual hobbyist content to putter when it makes them happy. It is united by little other than that if the grizzled me is ever visited by a time travelling alien who won't let me stop genocide or make a zillion dollars by writing "Every Breath You Take" in 1982, but will totally let me pop in the time pod and hop back to give myself some solid words of wisdom, this is what I'd say...


1- Get some fucking sleep

Twenty year old me thought it was a fun game to be sleep deprived and brag about how much caffeine I was currently running on. I essentially nursed a sleeping disorder, and then wondered why I couldn't focus or come up with good ideas and was always tired when I sat down to write and the adrenaline of always being on the move ebbed for half a minute. I convinced myself I was an artist because artists stayed awake until all hours. It didn't matter that most nights I was up late watching anime or playing video games rather than...you know...WRITING. I had convinced myself that this was the artist's life.

While some people can't sleep regularly, and young me was probably self medicating my ADD/ADHD with caffeine, what I've found is unswervingly true is that creativity just works better on predictable sleep, generally well rested neurons, and a nervous system that isn't being tricked into alert mode with drugs. Waking up slowly from a good night's sleep to those morning dreams is a fantastic wellspring of inspiration. And those hours of concentration that real artists put in takes a rested brain. It doesn't matter if you're nocturnal–sleep from 7am until 3pm if that's your jam–but get some sleep.

When you're elbow deep in the project and flying on inspiration, you can stay up until the sun rises sucking down 5 hour shots and breakfast tea chasers or inject meth into your eyeball if you want (I don't judge), but until then, get your ass to bed. You'll be a much better writer for it.

Three complete drafts?
Maybe you plebs need to write three drafts.
I'll just revise the original document.
2- Don't think you're too good to try [that thing].

This is sort of the overarching advice for all that other advice. The meta advice if you will. One advice to rule them all.

Writers give a lot of advice–often solicited by folks with shaking voices, sincere faces, and clasping the open mic in trembling fingers at the Q&A that falls between a packed reading and a mile long book signing line. "How can I deal with this (or that) problem" they ask. "How can I bypass this and achieve what you have achieved?" And the writer dispenses the advice as requested like a long runner of frozen yogurt into an easily digestible cone of some anecdote or funny story. Whereupon everyone who would have asked the same question, and perhaps even the asker themselves, tosses it into the garbage.

What's going on with the weird metaphors today?
While all advice should be taken with salt and ignored in favor of whatever works, the thing I see most often in young writers and starting writers and definitely young Chrises is being too good to even try. THEY don't need to stop watching movies and Netflix and read a lot more. THEY won't need to change almost everything about their rough draft. THEY won't have to put in years. THEY don't need to write every day. THEY don't need to kill their darlings. THEY won't have to cut 20% because every word is absolutely essential. THEY won't need to learn a modern industry. THEY will be the exception.

A sort of economy of effort around new writers who cling to affectations about how to use special pens and what time of day to write and for how many pages, but ignore advice like "You should probably do three drafts including at least one complete rewrite before you start worrying about editing."

I was right there with them thinking I could worm out of everything that sounded like a lot of work. I couldn't. I didn't. And it wasn't until I learned that my shit didn't smell like roses enough to at least give those hard ideas a shot that I started writing well enough that people around me began to take me seriously. The minute I wasn't too good for all that advice–like almost that day–my writing went to the next level.

3- It's going to take more than you think.

Oh young Chris. Oh darling, tender, young Chris. My sweet summer child. That idea in your head that of course it is going to take work (of course!) and then you imagine a montage of "Hard Work™" and spend a year writing a manuscript and surely now you're ready to be published and paid, right?

No.

Whatever concessions young writers make in their heads that "Don't be ridiculous. Of course it's going to take a lot of work. I know that. Pfffft. Of course I know that." They still seem to egregiously lowball the final analysis.

Of COURSE it will take a lot of work. I'm fully prepared–
OH HOLY FUCKING BUTTLICKING CHRIST!!!
I can't tell you exactly how much it will take because everyone is different, everyone has different goals, and luck is a mercurial turdmuffin in this equation. Conventional wisdom from a lot of writers (including me) suggests that it's about ten years, but that probably depends more on where you are when you start counting. Ten years ago I was about to start my upper division coursework in creative writing and begin what would be the most intense decade of my life, but I've been writing more casually since I was in fourth grade.

You won't have to make all the same choices I did, of course, (giving up weekends, a social life, raiding guilds in WOW, and even being a father) but the conventional wisdom that it takes about ten years to forge a career in writing does not refer to ten years of weekend warrior effort and chimerical dreams. These are ten years more akin to an olympian training.

I wish someone had told me (and all of us really) that there is no reason to write–not fame, not money, not sex, not validation–that was going to happen in a timetable to make it worth it but for one fact: if we loved writing for its own sake. I wish they'd spoiled for me the big plot twist that "Hard Work™" didn't mean months, or a few years, or even half-assed decades of journaling and rough drafts. I would not have made another choice (though I know a few who would have) but it would have helped with the long, frustrated periods where I felt like I was spinning my wheels.

Think about how many writers are published in the way you want to be (not just with their name on a few online articles or a dust jacket somewhere). Now think about how many writers there are. Total. From would be hopefuls to dedicated hobbyists to fanfic to self published to small print publishing to one big five title, but you've never even heard of them. Basically if you want to be like a professional athlete of writing, you better gear up for the most training you've ever done on anything. Ever.

4- You're spending a lot of time in self-deception, and no one is going to really talk you out of it.

Literary agents love lions.
No one is going to sit you down and tell you that you're full of shit. (Well no one who's not writing a blog about writing anyway.) Young writers are notorious for shooting the messenger if anyone tries.

Or simply ignoring the answer if they don't like it like Homer Simpson wanting steak.

Not that this impetus is always bad–a lot of people try to pinch a deuce in the sandcastles of a writer's dreams under the auspices of managing expectations or trying to keep the artist grounded in pragmatism. It's tough to be a writer and even tougher to tell people you want to be a writer until you have a six figure income and a retirement plan from writing. People who say "Come on...what do you really do?" are around every corner.  (My favorite: grudging support during fair weather and, "Maybe it's time to get a real job" at the first sign of a setback.) The thick skins and aggressive immune responses writers grow to this sort of bullshit serves us well in most situations. But like an allergy, they end up attacking the wrong thing to our detriment when we hear anything we don't like.

For me it was things like "grammar doesn't matter because an editor will just fix" it or
grammar doesn't matter because prescriptivism sucks and I'm better than that" or "I don't need to worry about what isn't working because I don't care about commercial success" or "maybe you should put that in a drawer for an indeterminate amount of time and enjoy the lessons you learned from writing it instead of trying to get it published" or "my spouse laughed at this, so it isn't confusing." And of course my coup de grace: "The story that I wrote in high school won't need more than one major revision."

For other young writers it might be that their NaNoWriMo novel really only needs some polish. Or that they can be a good writer if they're a movie buff and never really read. Or that a literary agent will be blown away by their first three chapters and not care that the book isn't finished. Or that their book really doesn't need a content editor. Or that writing web content is a career that will really help because it's good practice. Or that one can have a successful writing career without writing close to every day. Or that they really will never have to self-promote if they just sign with a big five.

I wish someone had told me to listen when the advice came from good sources who clearly didn't want me to abandon my dreams. I wish they'd told me that no one was going to bother correcting me about these misconceptions if I was aggressive about insisting they were true. They might try once in good faith to correct me, but if I got snippy and argued with them, they were as likely as not to just shrug, say "okay," and just let me smack into them like a sparrow into a pane window and walk away stunned.

Which I did. Repeatedly.

5- Don't share your story! Write your story.

But then, no shit, this dude turns out to be
THE ACTUAL HEIR TO THE THRONE!
Did you even see that coming?
It might seem validating to tell friends and family all the cool things that are going to go down in your book and all the brilliant metaphors you're planning and how fucking awesome as shit the ending is going to be.

It's a great way to be uninvited to the Christmas party for starters.

But I wish someone had told me that every time I tell my story to someone else, it syphons off a little bit more of that passion to WRITE it. And by the time I've told it a few times, I was kind of going to feel like it was out there and there was no point to doing all the hard work of transmuting it into language and working out the mushy middle. I lost the will to write a few stories before I learned that one the hard way.

I see a lot of young writers talk about their books and then lose the fiery passion for sitting down and doing it.

6- Writing at the same time every day is surprisingly effective.

Most successful writers write at the same time every day. (Yes, they write every day. I'm not including that in a list of "uncommon" advice though.) It might be when they first wake up or after they've tucked the kids into bed, but it is usually routine.

Despite this, not too many writers offer this up as advice explicitly–perhaps some don't realize what they've inadvertently stumbled upon. Yes, it is invaluable advice to write daily, but this can be magnified further by writing at the same time each day. Within just a week or two, the muse knows it's going to have to sit down and work at such-and-such o'clock and it starts generating the ideas ten, fifteen, thirty minutes before your writing session begins. (It's like starting to imagine food a half an hour before dinner.) Your mind "drops into the writing place" and you are able to concentrate longer and better than at some random time. Before you know it, you're going to be in a bad mood and a little anxious if you miss sitting down to write. It's almost like meditation.

Not every schedule yields easily to doing anything at the same time every day–to say nothing of sitting down for a couple of hours (or more)–but I wish someone had told me how effective it would be to my creativity, my focus, and my productivity to get it as close as I could.

7- The "darlings" you need to be killing are usually not characters.

"Kill your darlings" is, of course, not rare advice. It might be in a battle royale with "Write what you know" for the MOST ubiquitous writing advice ever. And unlike "Write What You Know," it deserves that position of honor.

Also a 2013 film about Harry Potter's double life as a poet.
But what I wish someone had told me is that your "darlings" are not your beloved characters (although they can be) but encompass everything you fall in love with. That oh-so-witty turn of phrase (that you've shoehorned in and isn't as cute as you thought). That incredible play on words (that is actually clunkier than you think). That great chapter (that adds nothing to your narrative). That amazing story that you keep trying to revise for an agent (that you need to put away and come back to in a few years....if ever). That ending scene you wrote ten years ago (that has not evolved with either your writing ability or the thematic directions your story took).

Your darlings are all the things you think you've done really well. If someone else also says you did them well, maybe you wave the gun in their face and tell them that it's their lucky day, but chances are, you need to take them out behind the chemical shed.

8- Not all criticism is created equal.

Criticism creates a paradox within art. Artists (writers included) have to simultaneously listen carefully to criticism and blithely ignore it because "what do those Philistines know about my vision anyway?" It's called Schrodinger's reception. (Pause for big laffs.)

Thank you. Thank you very much. Please tip your servers.

Usually it doesn't take too long for an artist to learn the difference between real, sincere pro/con criticism that is maybe taking an honest look at their areas for improvement, and some bloviating take down in the comment section that is at best a cheap shot to lift up the writer by tearing another down, but often looks more like someone trying to exorcise their own personal psychological demons by being sadistic.

Here's what I wish someone had told me though: is that it's not even this toggle that is either on or off (or simultaneously both). Navigating this complexity of feedback goes way past trying to figure out if you should listen to someone or not. It's this complicated continuum on multiple axes with a blob shaped Goldilocks zone of trusted, sincere, earnest people who want you to succeed but aren't afraid to be honest. People may be good (or not) at giving feedback, but they also might be good (or not) at giving it on that day. Maybe they like (or don't) the genre you're writing in. Maybe they don't (or do) understand what you're trying to do artistically–but then also maybe what you're trying to do is too subtle if they haven't picked it up or too ham handed if they're complaining. Is the top of your head starting to prickle the way it does when someone is pointing out something about you that you know is all too true, or are you pretty much feeling like a ten year old is challenging you to do a dissing contest?  Do you think they probably have some great things to say about character development, but seem pretty lost about how to worldbuild in your genre? Do you find they're right about your prose but have no idea about the industry?

And yeah...maybe that sadistic asshole just said something you could use to improve your prose.

All criticism must be considered and a LOT must be thrown out but not in any kind of all or nothing pattern. It is why someone you trust to be honest yet encouraging is such a gem.

9- Writing is not grammar

I wrote a whole post about this. In fact, that post was what led to this post.

There's a needle to thread here because grammar is not incidental in the pursuit of better craft. You have to know the rules to bend them or break them effectively. The last thing I want is to have some angry publisher screaming in my ear because they think I told them grammar doesn't matter.

But writing is not grammar.  And grammar is not writing. It's like saying that reading the notes is music. It's not. It's probably important to a professional career to know most of the basics, but if you run into "Morendo" as a notation in a score, it doesn't make you not a musician to have to go look that one up.

I wish someone had told me that it was not grammar holding me back. That I didn't need to grab one more copy of an adult native speaker's grammar guide and study it like my career depended on it. That I knew more than I thought I did, and what I didn't know was esoteric and weirdly interesting (in a nerd cred way), but wasn't essential in being able to express myself well.

10- The amount of writing is bananapants, but you can't write all the time.

If you want to make it as a writer, you have to give it the time. It'll be your part time job and your hobby rolled into one. Once you are (kinda) making it as a writer it'll be your full time job and your hobby rolled into one. The time itself is an investment to make The Labors of Hercules look like a reasonable alternative plan.

I wish I could go back in time and tell myself a gentle "Yes, but..." about all this stuff. It would have to be me though. As I stepped out of the time pod, and young me realized it was old me and not just some random unhip old dude who didn't know what it meant to have a dream, then old me could say, "Yes...BUT." and young me would listen.

Yes, it takes so so so much time......BUT.....there is a moment of limited returns if one neglects their life balance. Just like sacrificing sleep (even to write) has a cost, so does never getting out of the house, never having fun, never relaxing, never seeing friends, never getting exercise. Ironically, while sacrificing these things for writing is par for the course, if one sacrifices them too much, one can find one's writing suffering.


11- That moment you're dreaming of where you "make it." That moment only really happens for .001 percent of writers.

I'm so...fucking.....VALID!
No more imposter syndrome EVER!
You know the scene in your mind. You've played it over and over and over to yourself a hundred times:

The phone rings. You answer it (calmly–because you totally haven't been a hot mess to every unknown caller since you sent out your manuscript). "Hello. This is [your name]." "Hi. This is Gate McKeeper at Lotsabooks Publishing. Listen we just read A Wind of Sapphire Doom and we're all super stoked. Are you sitting down? How does a hundred thousand dollar advance sound. You are a 'real' writer now!"

Not. Gonna. Happen.

Don't get me wrong. I love those stories too. Stephen King. Andy Weir. Jim Butcher. But have you ever noticed there's about a dozen of those stories. And man look at how many writers there are.

What I wish time travelling me had told me was first of all, it's up to you to decide what "making it" even means. I have literally hit every goal I had as a young writer in my twenties (read by millions, paid, technically supporting myself). And yet, if I want to do some damage at Half Priced Books, I better have an appointment that week to scoop some cat poop. So now I have new goals. Goals with less cat poop.

And secondly, success is kind of going to dribble out of the hose. One day you're published in a little thing. Another day someone pays you. Then you get a regular donor out of the blue who just wishes they could do more. Half a year later, a post goes viral. A month later someone presses a $100 bill into your hand. The next year you start getting feedback that is breathtaking. A year after that, more opportunities open up. The next week someone takes your temperature about a project. Before you know it, people you meet are saying "Oh I've read your work!"

It's like climbing a mountain. You don't really feel like you're moving very fast at all and then you turn around and...."Woah!"

12- Yes, you need a content editor.

Your story needs more than to just be proofread. I know you think it's perfect. I know you think the only thing that's wrong with it is a few dangling modifiers and some commas. It's not.

I swear to you on all that is holy and pure in the universe, it's not.

I wish someone had told me every writer absolutely needs someone to read through and say, "This doesn't make sense." "That part was vague." "Why would this character do that." "What about that this happened like twenty pages ago?" "Wait did the point of view just shift to the dog for like one page and never again?" And if you really want to create something of lasting value and artistic integrity, you should hire someone who can say things like "I think your use of language here is not working with the mood you're trying to set" or "I feel like your setting could better work with your theme if you talked more about the statues..."

You can totally self-publish these days and get around those pesky gatekeepers who might send you back to the drawing board if you hand them a gleaming, polished turd with a confusing, hackneyed plot, flat characters, and a wilted prose (but nary a grammar error in sight!). However, if you don't get a content editor, that self-published book will sit proudly on the shelves of a few close and supportive friends and family and that's about it.

13- No one's ever going to just hand you a check to write.

Pictured: Unrealistic expectation.
It's not going to happen. No writer in the modern era gets to just write, send off their manuscripts, and pick up their royalty checks. You have to roll up your sleeves on the business end. You have to promote yourself. You have to market. You have to manage. And if you think you're just going to be so fantastically well paid from book one that you can hire people to do all that, let me know how that goes. You might have to walk around your local small bookstores and beg them to let you put books on consignment. Or you might have to do reading events (in the audience too as it's rude to only go when you're featured). You might have to do a book signing and no one even knows who you are. You might have to wrestle with an agent over the wording of a contract. You might have to set up your crowdfunding site with some reward tiers. YOU MIGHT HAVE TO GET YOUR BACKERS THEIR REWARDS. You might have to spend days and days revising your book to be true to your vision while still having some changes that'll help it sell. You might have to sit on the phone with your publisher talking about your book cover.

Once you're waist deep in the business of writing, you're going to realize it IS a business, and while I wouldn't personally change a thing, I wish someone had told me that it was going to be roughly a quarter to a third of my time so I'd know what to expect.


Bonus: Here's a bonus one at no extra charge. (Something someone DID tell me, but I wish they'd told me sooner.)

The industry is changing has changed. 

As much shit as I give the ivory tower, I loved my creative writing degree. However, the U.S. government also paid for 90% of it since I was taking home about $5k from tutoring, and that may have had a lot to do the fondness. When I mention that someone could reproduce its effects with a library card, a good peer review group, about 800 hours of online research, attending readings, a couple of years of really hard work, possibly a hired editor at a fraction of the price, (and maybe a blog about writing by someone who knows where the pitfalls are), I'm usually talking about the cost/benefit analysis. Honestly, it's valuable if you have the money and the time, but it's not the only logical next step no matter where you are.

But one thing I really took home from watching our guest speakers was that the working writers who hadn't established a traditional career a decade prior were all non-traditional. Self published, e-published, bloggers, choose your own adventure app writers, you name it. They cobbled together seven different incomes (and maybe a bartending shift each week) to make it work. The traditional publishers....they all had day jobs or rich spouses (except for Daniel Handler). They all told us about how making money was a pipe dream. Whereas the working writers were doing it and told us it was doable if we would be willing to do something other than traditional publishing.

If what you really want is someone (probably a middle aged white dude) who works for a corporation to tell you that your book is "worthy," you should absolutely go traditional. If what you want is readers, money, a career, there are all kinds of ways to make it from here to there, from fully non-traditional careers to hybrid ones. There are reasons to go traditional, but thinking that it's the only way to a career and readers really isn't one of them.


Lastly here's some advice that someone (my mom) did tell me that never quite panned out: 

"Never fuck."

I think this was in the early 90s and Mom had reached the apex of this tendency to try to distil complex issues into subtext-laden sound bites so she could get a word in edgewise as one of the only women in the upper management world of bank executives.

She was also getting pretty cynical by then. For her, "never fuck" was an indictment of how complicated and time consuming relationships could be–and of course the consequences of sex. Growing up in the sixties, she got a lot of promises about gender equality that sort of fell short in praxis, and every relationship since she was 20 years old involved her sacrificing her own hopes and dreams to further the ambitions of some fucking guy. Technically that even included the wee baby Chris, and even though I was sort of blameless in that situation, I wasn't exactly conducive to a high powered "lean in"-caliber career, and it was obviously fucking that had brought me into the world.

Never ever again.
Ever.
And now we shall never speak of this again.

Fortunately, progressive attitudes and birth control don't fetter sexytimes so much these days, and I'm able to show some wonderful folks from time to time how my tongue ring works, but part of her advice has haunted me for how true it turned out to be. I'm probably watching the train leaving the station right now for ever having my own kids. My partners call my writing my "primary relationship." I push people away who make a lot of demands on my time. I'm guarded about who I let in.

We modern writers can reintroduce fucking to our repertoires, and some of us may even have family. But eventually we're going to have to give up something. The casual hobbyist can have a weekend distraction, but for those of us struggling to make it, the social life, the career, the family...something will eventually end up on the table and we'll have to decide to move our writing or it to the the back burner.

The literal meaning of "never fuck" didn't come to pass, but all that subtext turned out to be right on the money. Would I have made it without those sacrifices? Impossible to know for sure, but I sort of wonder. I'm fairly certain I'd have made all the same choices again.

But I wish someone had told me.