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

Friday, June 22, 2018

FAQ for our Facebook Page

FAQ for Writing About Writing's Facebook Page but also Tumblr and any other social media sites. 

What's with this blog you post to every day.

That's the whole reason this social media outreach is here at all: to get a few extra eyeballs (and maybe the occasional fan) on that blog....er....this blog. If it weren't for this blog, and the traffic that FB brings this blog, I would hang up all these puns and memes and go enjoy an extra ten or fifteen hours a week doing almost anything else. Fortunately if I can build an audience of a million, a few will click the links I post and maybe I can scrape out a few bucks a month.

"I'd like to become a patron/give you a donation? How can I do that?"


If you want to be a monthly contributor and get in on a number of reward tiers, please consider becoming a patron of Writing About Writing. Even a dollar a month is enormously helpful and will get you in on the "backchannels" of questions about my work, polls only patrons can respond to about upcoming projects, and solicitations for feedback.

One time donations are of course welcome as well. The conspicuously placed tip jar is over to the top left, or you can use Venmo. My e-mail is chris.brecheen@gmail.com

Technically I can also provide you a P.O. Box if you need one.

And honestly, thank you. I've got rent to pay just like anyone. Financial support helps me keep writing (and running this page) instead of patchworking together pet sitting side gigs to keep the lights on.

"Wait, you want money just for shitposting on some Facebook page?"

Nope, that's not all I do by a long shot. The memes and the puns are just the tip of the iceberg. This blog (the one you're on right now) takes me about thirty to forty hours a week to maintain. I also write fiction–both short and long term projects–and it all goes here for free. Just because you never click on the blog links doesn't mean FB is the only thing I'm doing.

And just so you know, I spend about six or seven hours a week most weeks running this page, so it's kind of a dillhole move to deliberately take time out of your busy schedule to sneer at the idea of someone who is entertaining you asking for maybe a dollar a month from a few generous folks.

Please don't post about politics./Why are you posting about politics?

Writing About Writing has never been apolitical. It never will be apolitical. If you can't cope with that, you might want to find another page to service your "You should be writing" meme and terribad pun needs.

For starters, let's make sure we understand that what you're calling "politics" might split down left and right, but it is really about social issues. I'm not plugging a tax plan or endorsing a candidate or even a party. (I do that on my own FB wall [see below] a BIT more, but I usually still consider that sort of binary thinking a rabbit hole.) But even when I get my polemics on, I'm usually pointing out that a writer has the power to tell stories, that narrative works to create villains out of nuance and desensitize entire cultures to genocide, that media affects culture, that representation matters, that language is used to obfuscate bigotry and oppression, that people get to tell their own stories, and that leaving out whole parts of the story is a pretty good way to control who is seen as angels and who is seen as demons without ever misstating a "fact." I find telling my own story more meaningful than making explicitly didactic demands.

Writing About Writing
 has always considered the link between social issues, narrative, and language to be valuable to explore for writers and storytellers alike, and won't be stopping this intellectual rigor any time soon–certainly not because some people want their stream of quotes and inspiration porn to never be tainted by an uncomfortable thought of the social consequence that comes with literally aspiring to master both narratives and language.

Further, it isn't really possible for a writer to be completely apolitical. The personal is political and those who find politics sequestered from anything that affects them personally usually have a lot of social advantages. Aggressively avoiding social issues in one's writing belies a strong endorsement of the status quo. There are many writing pages that will stick to making fun of people's grammar in racist and classist ways and post the same hundred quotes over and over. I'm more interested in considering how we can all be vicegerents of the awesome power that comes with being a writer.

And also if you demand that I stop posting about politics obnoxiously enough, I may show you the door. (Since clearly you don't want what I'm cooking.)

Why are you doing transcriptions of the posts?/Why do you often ask for transcriptions?

We're creeping up on a million followers and I've been asked if it might be possible to level up our disability access so more people can enjoy. Many macros and memes are pictures of text or text ON pictures. (Things like screen grabs of Tumblr or Twitter, but even just macros.) This means they can't be read and transcribed with text reading software for folks who are visually impaired. A FEW of the better ones can read very plain fonts, but without the picture for context, even this could be meaningless.

Personally I am not going to have time to transcribe some of the longer ones into text and/or I am often posting from my phone or posting from work where transcribing would be very impractical. So if I put "Transcribe?" (or some variation) with an image, it means that if anyone would be willing to do that, I'll cut and paste that text along with my sincere thanks and a shout out and add it to the text.

You can also send it to me through PM if you'd prefer no attribution and the transcription to be anonymous. I'll probably just use the first transcription I see that does a halfway decent description of the picture and text, so no need to keep going if you see someone else has. I'm not trying to slight anyone if I don't use theirs.

Is the free labor of people doing your transcriptions exploitative?

1) Facebook pages don't actually make money. And the FB throttling algorithm was designed by greedy shitgibbons who literally fiddled with the knobs until they found the sweet spot between "That's a lovely outreach you have there. Be shame if something happened to it." and "Fuck it. I'll use G+ and Tumblr!" While I technically might make some Patron money via people from this page, most of them are donating money because they like my blog and my writing, not because I maintain a page that posts memes. (In fact, I often literally say when I post my Patreon something like: "If you're just here for the memes, don't worry about this, but if you like the blog I link to.....") While there is a symbiotic relationship and this page helps me promote my work, there isn't really a mechanic by which this page ITSELF makes me any money.

2) The particulars of transcribed posts are done for the accessibility benefits of folks who use assistive technology. For years there were no such transcriptions. I have been asked to do this, and I WANT to do so, but doing it all myself would be a tremendous addition of labor to what is already several hours a week on top of three jobs I already have. I tried to come up with a compromise to saying "No. I'm sorry. I just can't do that."

3) I'm more than capable of transcribing posts, and often do so (usually over half the time). However when I am flinging up a post quickly on my way to work or posting from my phone with its little stylus, I can't describe some involved four panel comic or essentially type out 250 words. I could just leave it without a transcription–possibly for hours–until I can get to it, but that seems to defeat the purpose, and the alternative is blowing some off.....and not in the good way.

4) I'm not promising people exposure or ground floor opportunities or some slick ass bullshit to folks who help out. (I'm certainly not approaching professional transcribers and guilting them.) If folks help, I assume it is because they want our page to be accessible, not because they think it will benefit them in some way. Everyone is free to help or not help. Sometimes no one steps up and the post just goes un-transcribed until I can get to it. It's not like anyone is being leaned on.

5) If I were making a lot of money, I probably WOULD think about employees rather than volunteers. I pay my guest bloggers, editors, and others who help me unless they insist that their work is a donation, even if it's just a few dollars. However, perhaps the fact that I need three other jobs besides writing will be indicative that I'm maybe not making as much off this page as people seem to think.

The community seems pretty supportive, but please let me know if you'd like me to revisit the question.

Why didn't you respond to my comment?

I am only able to read a fraction (a small fraction) of the comments from a page with over half a million followers. Chances are that I didn't even see it. I occasionally look at the top replies or make sure people are playing nice on a post I know is going to be a tire fire.

I can respond to even fewer. If I tried to stay active in the comments of such a large page, I would quickly find my writing time completely gone.

PM me if it's important or if something is happening for which I may need to wield the banhammer. A good question or thoughtful comment may even go into the blog.

"Will you promote [my thing]?"

If your "thing" is exactly (and I mean EXACTLY) the sort of content I'm usually posting (memes, macros, "you should be writing," quotes, and the occasional really good article about writing, maybe some book love, or a really funny miswritten sign), I might post it if–big if–I like it. I tend to avoid the posts some typical writing pages share a lot of, like ableist inspiration porn or classist (and often racist) prescriptivism. [I'm all for giggling about a misplaced comma, but only so long as we're giggling about what the sign says instead of AT the person who did it. But if you send me something you made that is our usual fare, especially if it's "doin' me a laff,"  I'll consider putting it up along with a link to a page if you want.]

If it's not the normal stuff, but is at least tangentially related to writing, and if you send me a PM asking nicely first I will let you post on our "Guest Posts."  (For the record, Dave M, the following is not acceptable: "Hey bro, you're not going to get your panties in a twist that I posted this on your wall, are ya?") I'll probably say yes. Be advised: web content filler slapped up there usually gets about the three or four clicks it deserves, but I've noticed that the response to quality posts is decent.

Will I do a trade promotion with you? If our pages are comparable, sure. If our pages are wildly differing in terms of traffic, you're basically asking me for free advertising. While I'm down with sidestepping unbridled capitalism (you don't have to pay me money) let's find some other way to make it worth it on my end.

If it is wildly not about writing or it is your own creative writing, or (AND LISTEN CLOSE TO THIS ONE) if it is a publication opportunity that requires payment [whether in the form of a "contest" that requires an entry fee or whatever], the answer will be no.

I have a regular post where you can share your own writing. And if you think a page called Writing About Writing is a good spot for your car detailing business commercial, I don't know what to say.

BTW: If you don't ask and just slap up your self-promotional link into the guest posts, I just remove it, even if it's totally about writing. And if I recognize your name from having pulled the same thing before, I'll ban you.

I'll be really honest with you about my one of my many failings as a flawed human being. I've spent years now building this page up. Don't even get me started on the first year when I was posting to 95% my own friends and like four other people. Or the June in the middle of year two when I whooped inside a Kinkos because I'd passed 1000 followers. This page takes a lot of effort, and even though it's led a few more people to my blog and maybe been responsible for a few donations, it's mostly thankless, unpaid labor where most folks only ever chime in to complain.

I have birthed a tiny little petty in these last few years. I've fed it cottage cheese and bile, taught it the dark side of The Force, and watched it grow up big and strong and it knows force lightning. I cheered it when it force choked the better angels of my nature. I kind of hate how people are crawling out of the woodwork–NOW–and trying to ride my coattails without a thought about reciprocity or so much as a peep asking if it's okay. I really quite enjoy being able to point at something one of my friends did (or someone whose work I've been following with interest) and send lots of eyeballs their way. But I feel really used when people act entitled to it.

If your stuff is self-promotional, I'm going to be harder on it–especially if you don't ask. Darth Petty demands no less.

"Will you read/critique my creative writing?"

I can't. I'm sorry.

There are nearly half a million of you, and this page grows by a thousand followers on a slow day. I'm getting a couple of requests a day to read things--everything from a ten line poem to a short story to a full novel manuscript for content editing. I know you've poured your soul into it and it's dear to your heart. I also know that because you've poured your soul into it and it's dear to your heart, that even for that ten line poem which I could read in a few seconds, you probably want more feedback than just "Nice poem" or something. I know how serious that request is for you and how important it is to you and even how much you may have psyched yourself up before sending it to me.


But still...as much as I admire your moxie, there's only one of me. A good week for me clocks in around 70 hours between all my jobs. I barely even have time to read and give feedback to my good friends and the folks with whom I have a relationship and rapport.

Of course, if you want to hire me, that's another story (see below).

And then of course you could also do the long con where you get to know me, we develop a relationship. Maybe go out a few times. Have a deep and meaningful relationship. Move in. Experiment with all manner of wildly fulfilling group sex. Get married. Have kids. Join the Columbia Record Club. Start planning for our multi-continent retirement. Then you look at me and say.... "Chris, actually, I really just wanted you to read my stuff."

Will I tutor/edit/do some writing for you?

Sure. My freelance rate is $50 USD/hour. ($75 if you want me to drop everything I'm doing and give you all my writing time right this second). I will need you to pay for your first hour up front, and we'll figure out over e-mail or chat what you need. I can give you a billable hours estimate and a rough timeline for completion, and then I will work whatever is left of our hour, and you can see if my time is worth your money. After that, I'll ask you to pay me for every couple of hours for the first 10 hours or so. As we work longer and longer and build up professional trust, I can give you bigger chunks of time between payments. I'm much better at developmental editing than copy editing

Oh...did you mean for free?

I am interested in buying your page/running ads on your page? Will you sell it/give me admin controls?

Sure! Deposit $50,000 into an account I designate (that's a little less than ten cents per follower--the price may go up if the page grows) and after the money has been verified I will relinquish admin controls. (That's after I walk into my bank, asked for a manager, and made sure that there is no possible way that I'm being scammed and the funds will not disappear.) That's about what it would be worth to me to go build an audience from scratch on another page and might just cover the costs for the time it takes to do so.

I know the bitter, cruel irony here is that no one who sends me these fucking messages will ever read this FAQ. But at least that felt good to write.

Will you sit my pet?

If you're in the SF/Bay Area feel free to check out my pricing structure and send me an email (chris.brecheen@gmail.com) to inquire about a date.

If you want me to come to some remote location in the woods to a cabin where you use axes in all of your decorating, I'm sorry. I'm busy that week. Theoretically, I am willing to travel if all of my travel expenses are paid for (including lost income from the other job), but only for people I know. And why anyone would pay so much to have their pets watched is beyond me.

Where can I get some advice about writing.

I need to be on The Office so I can look at the camera.

Here. Here would be a great place to start for advice about writing. Try here. This blog. The whole thing. HERE.


Yes, this is actually the "question" I get sent.
Very, very frequently.

I'm not sure how people could send a page admin a thumb up accidentally so I suspect what is going on here is people messing with the fact that if I don't reply to every message, FB takes away my "responds frequently" (or whatever the fuck) badge and I have to wander through the wasteland of my own social media feces screaming to the heavens "Why have you forsaken me?" because what even is the world coming to without page admins struggling to be judged by Facebook as "very responsive."

So people send me a thumb up (or "Hi" or "Hey" or "Sup") just because they think I'll reply instantly to keep my "responsive" cred. When FB sends me a $500 check each month that I earn "very responsive," I'll start replying to a message that is just a thumb. Until then, I'll just ignore them.

Hello./Hey there./Hi there./Ho there./What's up?/Can I ask you a question?

I appreciate your decorum if that's what you were going for, but whatever it is get to it in your opening message rather than waiting for a reply. There are way too many many of these interactions, and about 99% of them are actually hacked accounts fishing to see who will reply.

Just say whatever it is you want to say (hopefully after having read this FAQ), and I will respond appropriately.

Sending a question to my personal FB mailbox instead of the page's FB mailbox.

It's all just me. You're not going to get your answer any faster or get any better of a response by doing that. Your message will end up in "Filtered Message Requests" which means I won't see it right away. And using that route to be combative sort of feels like showing up to a coworker's house to have an argument about last Tuesday. So maybe keep that in mind if you were hoping to get an answer.

I'm particularly fond of the "Thanks for banning me asshole" versions. I might have to make them a blog post. 


I know we're all writers, but I'm I typically describe my free time in terms of negative numbers. I get 50+ messages a day and unless I want my job to be Message Responder, I am not able to sit and read the ones that demand 5-10 minutes of my time just to read. Particularly by those who conflate loquacious with eloquent. Please get to the point and/or open with one GREAT FUCKING hook because trust that when I see unfathomable huge blocks of mammothian paragraphs, I just assume that it's self important bloviation, with huge tangents about Bukowski or some shit, and delete it unread.

Where can I get that t-shirt/mug/thing I really liked?

Whenever I find something still attached to its original commercial source, I will put it in the OP. If someone knows the source and puts that in the comments, I will edit the OP. But if I don't know and no one out there knows, the only thing I would do is try a reverse image search on Google and start digging through the results, same as anyone else. I'd suggest giving that a try.

Messages sent to me in obvious altered states of consciousness.

Sober up first please.

Okay these aren't exactly questions but they are all too frequent.

Nudes, marriage proposals, raging screeds, strange claims of supernatural forces in my life that only converting to your religion can save me from. I'm not even going to dignify them with a response.

But for FUCK'S sake, when you sober up, the message you should be sending me is "I'm sorry," not "Hey, why didn't you reply to this?"

I was too impersonal.

So this is another one that isn't a question so much as a reaction that has happened a few times. And even though it's "a few times" out of hundreds (maybe thousands), and I should probably trust that the law of large numbers applies, and that it's more about them than me, I worry about this shit.

I know for some people starting a PM is like reaching out personally and it might feel brusque of me to simply reply politely but briefly to the business at hand. Please remember that I'm getting 50+ messages a day I'm trying to be a writer not an email answerer, so I get through my admin stuff as quickly as I can. That means, while I try to be friendly and polite, my responses might be quick and to the point.

If you were hoping to become virtual pen pals, exchange warm replies back and forth for days, maybe buy me a drink the next time you're in the SF Bay area, and perhaps even end up riding Medusa at Discovery Kingdom with our pinkies locked, you should open with that.

WILL I marry you?

I'm pretty sure this was probably meant to be this flattering joke, but just so you know, I've actually hit that point of internet "fame" (or whatever the hell) where I've had some online stalking and some creepy obsessive behavior, so I'm going to be glancing nervously at my block button. Maybe joke about buying me dinner and getting to know me as a person for the effect you were probably going for.

Oh great. I see that you've seen my message but you won't reply. Thanks a whole lot you jerkwad. What is wrong with you?

I hate that people can tell when I've "seen" their chats. I hate it with the white hot fury of a billion supernovas. Because not everything is urgent. And sometimes I triage that shit. And sometimes I triage it right into the ignore pile. And it is a universal constant that the people who send the most ignorable messages are also the ones who think they are absolutely the most important people in the universe and get bent out of shape if I don't reply.

Sorry random person. There was a time when I could give thoughtful responses to everybody who sent me a private message. That time was about 400,000 followers ago. Now I'm writing an FAQ instead of a regular post so that I can reply with this to generic questions I get a zillion of.

But go ahead and ask again. I can cut and paste the URL of this snazzy new FAQ to you.

Hey you posted my thing/my friend's thing/a thing I know the source of/a webcomic I want to see succeed. Can you make an attribution/repost with credit/give me a shout out?

Yes. Thank you. Crediting artists is important to me since I am one. There are half a million of you and one of me and the internet is a big place where reverse image searches don't always work (or are directly deceived), people steal images and add their own watermark, and where it's impossible to know who is happy to go viral with mere watermark credit, who wants a shout out, who wants a URL link, and who will be upset if their page isn't shared from directly.

I appreciate the help.

I will add one caveat to this. The world is full of people who are so desperate to promote themselves that they might try to take credit for something they didn't actually create. Or more likely they will post something (gotten from elsenet) and then assume that I (having also got it from elsenet) MUST have gotten it from their site. If you are the original creator of something, I absolutely want you to have credit, but send me a link to the original image. I tend to err on the side of trust, but if you send me a link to your tumblr (or whatever) and it's full of thousands of memes you've just reposted over the years, I'm probably going to be skeptical.

You should just make sure you know where something is from!

Like all the other pages and Tumblrs and Pinterests, right?

Look, I do my best. I always hit "share" if the source page matches the author. However, some of the stuff I'm posting has been image grabbed and reposted thousands of times. Some of it has been taken credit for by five or six different sources. Some of it would take some serious detective work to track down. Doing more would change the time I take to find an image from a minute or two to as many as 15-20. And that's PER post.  That would add hours a day to my schedule, and that would add a level of difficulty I'm just not able to do. I would abandon the effort altogether.

Since there's one of me and 3/4 of a million of you, maybe if you see something you want credited, you could just let me know where it's from, and I'll edit the OP right away.

And I know people's hearts are in the right place but even so, super shitty sanctimonious comments drift into the territory of my commenting policy.

I would like to volunteer.

That is so sweet!

Currently, I don't have a lot of volunteer opportunities. You can keep your eyes open for the posts where I'm hoping to get a transcription. And if you see a typo and want to give me a shout out, that wouldn't be unwelcome. And if you have the chops to write a guest post, but then don't take the money when I try to pay you, that could technically be volunteering.

But here's the thing. I don't want to take advantage of this. I  pay my editors, guest bloggers, and website designers, and come up with some kind of trade in trade with anyone else unless they insist they don't want that money. So please only do this if you really really really want to volunteer.

I answered your question/told you where something was from/mentioned a problem in one of your posts, but you didn't react.

Did you do that in the comments? Because like I said up above, I can't really read the comments. If it's important, send me a PM. I check back when I can, but that's really only a glance at the top comments of the most recent posts.

Can I get an autograph?


This is all very new to me and weird and I've got huge imposter syndrome and I still think people who want my autograph are trying to trick me somehow, but this question keeps coming up, so I better answer it.

If you let me know you'd like to send me physical correspondence, I will give you a P.O. Box address that I check regularly.

Send me something I can sign (I don't have a book I've authored or anything yet) with a self addressed stamped envelope, and I will sign it and send it back. Please cover all the postage both ways.

Or just give me your address and I'll send you a postcard.

I won't turn down a donation, but there is no "charge."

I can't believe you're okay with what's going on in the comments on that one post.


Writing About Writing maxes out its 100 notifications badge in less that four or five minutes. I don't know how many comments I get every day, but it's way too many for me to have read them. Some posts get threads that are thousands long. I've seen posts that are six months old still having people basically chatting in the comments on them. It's not that I didn't care. It's most likely that I didn't even know.

If something has gone past your ability to handle, and you need me to step in as an admin, link me to the post and tell me what the problem is.

Here's a poem I wrote, and have sent you, unsolicited.

That's amazing! It's identical to a poem I just deleted unread.

If you're so overwhelmed, why don't you get admins?

Well, aside from the occasional Social Justice Bard post or maybe a macro that suggests that bigotry isn't awesome just because people who don't suffer systematic forms of it have decided that a particular expression is no big deal or something horrifying to Status Quo Defenders like the idea that representation matters, I don't really get the kind of comments off of grammar jokes and "You should be writing" memes that require roving bands of admins. I can swing through posts like the ones above, clean up the worst offenders, and trust that most of my followers are adults who will message me if they need me to step in. [Please include the link as well as telling me what's going on. Sometimes the comments rage for DAYS and I won't be able to just figure out which post you're talking about.]

And even though admins can reply to messages, having them handle "Can you post my thing?" or "Will you read my story?" isn't really what I think anyone would want to do. The last one whose job it was to answer my inbox left me for a beluga whale named Percival.

Basically, it's the wrong kind of "overwhelmed" for farming out the work. Hopefully this FAQ helps–or at least helps me to feel better about ignoring some of the questions that are answered here.

Hello from my sock puppet account that I made specifically to message you. We meet again, Mr Brecheen! Why did you ban my main account? Is it because you hate the founding principles of democracy like free speech? And can I get reinstated because I've suddenly realized that shitting on that post means now I don't get all the rest of your awesome content?

(Okay, maybe this exact phrasing isn't, strictly speaking, FREQUENT)

Why did this happen? Probably because you violated the commenting policy. I didn't write that just to hear myself speak. Or um...read myself write. (That does not work nearly as well.) I don't have time for warnings and explanations and the inevitable back and forth arguments that come from them. Pretty much every place you ever go has rules and a code of conduct whether it's to keep your shoes and shirt on or to keep your voice down if you don't want the librarian to shush and glare. And if you blithely ignore them, they show you the door. It has nothing to do with fucking democracy.

And if you message my personal account and I don't see "I'm sorry" in the first couple of lines, I just delete the shit unread. Hope you spent HOURS on it boyo.

I might be willing to unban someone if they apologize, but I'm not going to do so on a timetable that would allow them to jump right back into whatever argument got them banned in the first place. So you will have to hang in the penalty box for a while either way.

For a page about writing....

I'm going to stop you right there, boss.

Is what you're about to say kind of elitist, snotty, shitty, jerkwaddy, fucknozzly? Are you about to complain about the proper use of subjunctive in a FB post. Is this going to be a comment where you sneer down your nose because my text to speech picked a homophone and I was too Driving on the Freeway to fix it right away? Are you about to laugh at my non-academic use of punctuation. Do you have something to say about "climbing down" ladders, "making" money, splitting infinitives, ending sentences in prepositions, or beginning them with coordinating conjunctions.

A) Fuck off.

B) Go teach high school if you want to be that person. The adults are trying to have a conversation.

C) I get paid....professionally....with like actual money to basically make fun of assholes. Are you sure you want this to be your play?

D) If insist on saying it anyway, you the ONLY thing keeping you from getting banned might be how long it's been since I've gotten well and truly laid. Be warned.

Did you delete my comment?

Yeah maybe.

More likely just set it so that only you and your friends could see it. There are reasons I do that ranging from it being just a little too acerbic to something problematic that I don't want to have a thirty comment fight with people saying "Well *I* didn't see a problem with it," to my personal pet peeve of people who answer mailbox questions without reading the article, or projectile word vomit like five or six hefty paragraphs in response to a title clearly without having actually read the article.

Comments are moderated on this page and you should read the commenting policy if you don't know exactly how and why.

I don't erase comments that disagree with me. You can see that easily from a casual glance at any post that is even moderately controversial. I erase comments that are buckets of anal sphincters.

But that means you're biased in favor of liberals and progressive values! You let liberals get away with more. What about conservatives? What about libertarians? You are where FREEZE PEACH goes to die!!! What about folks on 'the other side.'

What about them? I'm not running the goddamned debate club here, and no one is entitled to feed my posts through their ideological filters and then comment without consequence. I do a thing. If you don't like that thing AND can't scroll past that thing AND have to comment AND can't comport yourself in any way other than an edge-lord shithead, my page is not for you anyway.  If you want to take umbrage or a shot, fucking play nice. I'm not going to excuse bigotry because some people believe it exists on a political spectrum they're entitled to discuss anywhere and everywhere they want to and that white nationalists and nazis and racists and misogynists deserve to be able to drop whatever dehumanizing festering shit turd of a comment they can pinch out in the name of free speech whether they agree with it or just haven't grown out of their basic edgelord immaturity long enough to realize people's lives are at stake. I'm not here to host the bullshit idea that reacting to oppression with angry internet words is "just as bad" as the oppression itself.

If you can't just keep that scroll wheel turning and you simply HAVE to disagree with my politics, there are a million ways to do so that won't get you banned. (I've got that artists' weakness for nuance and humanization, so seriously all you have to actually do is not be a fucknoodle.) And while there is a complicated point to be made about power differentials and privilege, if it helps you feel better to just imagine that I am unfairly meaner to anyone who isn't a liberal, knock yourself out.

Can we be Facebook friends?

[Okay, people don't really ask me this, per se; they just send me friends requests.]

Yes, you may, but let me make a few disclaimers:
  • This is my public account: Chris Brecheen (Public) If you've stumbled upon my private account, the answer will be no. That account is for friends, family, and people I've known online either for a very long time or have developed a rapport with. It's not the VIP room or anything, but it's an essential aspect of a private life as my online persona becomes very public. I need to trust those people aren't just with me for the show.
  • You might want to follow for a while and decide IF you want to send me a friend request. I'm definitely not everyone's cup of tea with the geekery and the social justice stuff. 99.9% of my posts are public, so you really wouldn't be missing anything except the ability to comment.
  • If you don't care for my (very) occasional social issues post on the Writing About Writing Facebook Page, you will like my profile even less. I write about that stuff almost daily.
  • I can be a bit much for people. I post a lot. 
  • I have 1 "Note" that is a Commenting Policy for this profile. You should read it before charging in. ESPECIALLY before charging into a contentious post.
  • Send me a PM with your request. (Don't worry, I check my "Message Requests" at least once a day.) That account gets around 200-500 friend requests a week. I reject most of them because I don't know if they're there to sell me sunglasses, phish my info from a pr0n site, or just pick a fight in the comments. So send me a message along with the request.
More to come....

Writing A̶b̶o̶u̶t̶ With Machine Learning by Lauren Avjean Parzanese

Writing About With Machine Learning

by Lauren Avjean Parzanese

How many science fiction tales have there been that caution against the threat of robots taking over the world? What about more recent criticism against the automation of labor and its effect on human jobs? Too many to count, spanning the course of decades. Though we are likely a long enough way away from the technological singularity, there are a number of jobs and tasks that run the risk of being replaced by automation. So far, we have automated phone services, self driving cars, drone delivery, a plethora of labor types, and it is becoming increasingly apparent that automation poses the threat of doing anything and everything a human can - only better.

Everything except creativity, right? Surely the human mind is necessary to accomplish any of the arts: music, fine art, photography, writing?

On the vein of creative works, one of the major premises in the XBox game “The Turing Test” is that an AI entity requires the help of a human (the protagonist) to solve a number of puzzles in order to gain access to its computer mainframe - puzzles that were designed so that only the creativity of a human mind could solve them. But how true is it that computers lack the capability to achieve this sort of creativity on its own?

A few years back, the Deep Dream Generator was making the rounds on various social media platforms where you could upload an image of your choosing, and the Deep Neural Network would “sleep on it,” or “dream,” and develop its own interpretation of the image provided. The results tended to be the stuff of nightmares instead of Deep Dreams. While it embellished upon already established art - it was not actually creating its own, indicating that we had a long way to go before computers could take over the visual spectrum of the arts.

In 2010, Iamus, which was “the first fragment of professional contemporary classical music ever composed by a computer in its own style, rather than attempting to emulate the style of existing composers as was previously done.” (source: "Computer composer honours Turing's centenary". New Scientist. 5 July 2012.) Its first full, original composition was titled “Hello World!” and was generated by Iamus in 2011, and then subsequently performed by human musicians. Iamus also has a self titled album that was performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, and features it (along with more information) at its very own webpage.

But what does any of this have to do with writing? Well, writing also has its own competitor(s) when it comes to the written word. The most recently praised neural network specializes in predictive text and goes by the name “Botnik”. Botnik had already been gaining traction in a number of online circles, but made its big break into the pop culture arena when it came up with its own chapter of Harry Potter - titled “Harry Potter and the Portrait of What Looked Like a Large Pile of Ashes."

After “Harry Potter and the Portrait of What Looked Like a Large Pile of Ashes,” people began feeding Botnik (alongside a number of other online bots) anything and everything in order to create a new and interesting Deep Dream take on pop culture. Content ranging from Game of Thrones to Olive Garden Commercials to Inspirational quotes and everything in between.

But how far can Botnik go? Could it write a blog? Let’s invite a Guest Guest Blogger, “Chris Bot-cheen” to shed some light on the subject:

[image: portrait of Chris Bot-cheen*]
Chris Bot-cheen’s Writing About Botnik**

The first place for introspection is not only inaccurate about the culture, but it muddies the water of a sanctimonious narrative.  I've been a writer and that means that you never give up on anything that antifa has done.  So today I want to change that frame of the people who espouse these atrocities and they wonder about the source material of their birth. Sometimes people indiscriminately want to be a microcosm of white nationalists, but they definitely perpetuate the power dynamic of these atrocities.

If you want to write every day and hope someone listens to the margins of our society, but somehow only ever do it a little bit, you are going to be used to sidestep conversations about guns. That someone who hates regulations and hates bipartisan cooperation isn't only a shitty insult, but also causes a lot of people unique vigor for their own acumen. When people tell the story of mental health treatment in this country and culture are rooted in white supremacy and genocide, they also ignore anyone who points out the sexism in their world.  Sometimes it's an expression of the hate we are taught every day.  Sometimes it's the same thing over and over.

Because we liked the media, our faves have created some of the most fundamental tenets of a representative democracy– so many people think they need to practice daily.  Don't always be too busy to do any actual work on listening to them and build a bridge to their interpretation of their own lives.  The things that make us monsters are not always bits working incorrectly. Sometimes it is the enculturation of an indoctrinating force of how impossibly we treat refugees. You will come up with new and interesting perspectives of the people who espouse terrible things, and that we desperately want the capacity of the last word. Some mathematicians start to watch these shows over the writer's past, and they become experts in the methodology of proving a claim.

Meaningful wisdom and even more rarely predictable tenacity, anticipate their most common questions about concepts of social equality and the slightest psychological accuracy of people. Sometimes it's the same thing about feminism that he as a cis het white male is a lot of people know, but when you hit that point where you realize you have to do cognitive dissonance and even more subdued behavior to be vulnerable. However unoriginal that racism is, it is actually a problem. That's a moment before we go on with the inimical finger pointing and our grisly postmortem narratives that blame some particular brand of liberals.

Terrifying wisdom and the slightest psychological accuracy ( the actual number is around 60 % ) are Asgard rejects, of course. What does that even mean?

"A sentinel is a lot of people who have definitively stood up to their own lives." - Lethal Deescalation

That a presidential nominee who bragged during nationally televised debates about scamming freelance workers and spent twenty degrees of "this" excuse for discrimination is a new wave of white supremacy. Each side went away from the most common bastions of advice: write every day, you improve remarkably in a relatively short time, and that we desperately want the capacity to do so while passionately being a good feminist. It is more like the art/artist fusionification of people. Especially when it is mentioned early and often.

[Image description: long line to the "comforting lies booth"]

The narrative we might escape is a lot of work to write creatively and the slightest oversight would be a little better than merely another disturbed fire. You will come up with new and interesting perspectives of people who have definitively stood up for their families without flinching. They are constantly grasping for meaningful justice asgardians who will demand academic rigor in order to accept a claim. Because when you are hiring an editor who fits your style, you are going to eventually have to apply your ass to the chair.

Bloggers who are layered and complicated with rich back stories have been conspicuously silent about the shocking uptick in their own sexuality. What does something like this idea weave at? Maybe not....

Today I have a list for everyone who wants to be a writer:

  1. [Image description: music and inspiration]
  2. you can expect meticulous attention to detail
  3. if you want to write something strange, there are also possible markets for poetry
  4. these projects of people are going to convince the world math is important
  5. " search and destroy any who would challenge her vision. " - mail list of things
  6. the things that make us hope that the skurges of our society will sit quietly into the bowels of incoherent vapidity will be human error
  7. basically ignore how often those same writers emphasize how important it is to dress up your procrastination with worry
  8. [Image description: tire fire gif]
  9. poems of the people that get the reader's attention will be drafted in their head
  10. that is not designed for anything they can get their little fingers on

If you want to write any work, that is how to make it at all. You will delight in the subtle differences between art and artists.

*The featured image was originally taken from Chris Brecheen’s Writing About Writing Facebook page, and then run through the previously mentioned Deep Dream Generator to create the Chris Bot-cheen persona and portrait 

**The featured blog post was written by “Chris Bot-cheen” using the Botnik Predictive Text app, based off of Chris Brecheen’s “Best of W.A.W.” articles and content

Hilarious as the “Chris Bot-cheen” predictive text blog post is/was, you can undeniably identify the W.A.W. literary characteristics it builds from to generate its choices in language. Using a selection from the “Best of W.A.W.” articles alone, Botnik was able to identify, pinpoint, and create its own text that was a clear reflection of iconic content that can be found throughout the real Chris’ blog. Snippets of social justice commentary, politics, and quality writing advice - sprinkled with a dash of pop culture - are easily identified as things that appear throughout the W.A.W. site… even if Botnik took it upon itself to create its own hilarious take on the language choice(s) - whether that was done deliberately or not.

Perhaps we have a little further to go before deep neural networks, especially predictive text generators, could takeover a blog like Writing about Writing. That said, the recognizable sophistication that is already present is both promising and terrifying at the same time. How long until well established bloggers or authors become indistinguishable from their digital “counterbots?” What level of complexity would it take for such a deep neural network to become interchangeable with these writers, and even other artists?

I do not claim to know the intricacies of the wide variety/ies of programming languages, nor the exact level of sophistication it would take to accomplish such an endeavor, but in my opinion we will see it happen within our lifetime(s).

For the foreseeable future, I would not plan on quitting writing in order to allow a neural network take over my writing - however neural networks such as Botnik and its digital brethren promise to provide valuable input, commentary, and a wide variety of unbiased interpretations of our own written work. While we wait for the much debated and previously mentioned technological singularity, an aspiring or established writer could plug in their existing work(s) to a literary bot and see: what sort of words they use too often, what signature phrases turn up more than they expect, or simply for their own personal entertainment. The possibilities are endless, infinitely useful, and cost nothing more than time and effort.

Give it a try with your own writing and see what you come up with!

"Lauren Avjean Parzanese is an east coast transplant who relocated to sunny California back in 2009. She has a background in finance, escrow, is a commissioned California Notary, and lifelong super geek. After well over a decade of RPG and LARP writing experience, Lauren left her day job at the beginning of 2018 and has finally begun to taste the exquisite freedom of diving into other creative mediums full time - including the occasional guest blog. Other personal and creative outlets include (but are not limited to) painting, burlesque, PC gaming (*cough* Blizzard *cough*), reading, long distance running, scifi/fantasy writing, extreme flower smelling, circus and aerial arts, and endeavoring to raise a strong, independent daughter. She is currently in the process of writing her first novel, which should be completed by the end of 2018 or early 2019."

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

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Future of Writing About Writing

Hi everyone.

Today marks the first of six Wednesdays where I'm going to try to do something a little like a pledge drive. (You know like those two weeks where NPR spends a few minutes between each show trying to convince you to become a monthly donor in exchange for an earthquake survival bucket and some water bottles? Yep, just like that....except six weeks.........and only on Wednesdays.) Since I'm unable to maintain my current posting schedule because of teaching summer school, I thought that this would be a good time to do a sustained reminder that my ability to keep on writing about writing (and occasionally some writing) largely depends on all of you.

Here are a couple of screen shots from MY PATREON.

83% of the way to medical benefits. That's.......very.....2018.

It's been a shitty summer.

I'm currently 83% to my fourth goal, which will hopefully help to pay for the private health insurance I have to buy as a freelancer as well as a bump in my taxes from not being able to write off things like my office space or computer.

So good news: we're already 83% to the new goal.

But I'm also down $56.50 in pledges from May. That's a little less rejoicerific.

What I can tell you is that most of that happened when one big donor had to cut back. And it is the reason that I assure you that even a dollar or two a month can make a big difference. While of course I love big donors, a thriving "ecosystem" of smaller donors will help me absorb more easily the loss of those big donors when they can't do as much heavy lifting. And that lets me predict my income with a lot more stability.

Since this blog's inception, BECAUSE OF DONORS, I have been able to quit teaching during the regular year, write more, bring you more content, and up the number of high quality posts each week. (And not to put too fine a point on it, but we've been able to keep bringing you content through what would otherwise have been some completely devastating life transitions that would have put most bloggers on hiatus.) Writing About Writing has been able to go from five posts a week to six. (There was a brief flirtation with seven, but we're going to need to phase out more of these side gigs.) And we've been able to take far fewer random days off.

Here are some things I'd like to add if we continue to get more support as I phase out pet sitting and dependence on side gig hours:

  • Even more posts, and more high-quality posts (less jazz hands)
  • A seventh post each week
  • A greater number of carefully (perhaps even professionally) edited and revised posts
  • More fiction
  • Always free longer fiction (books)
  • An always, forever, ad free experience on Writing About Writing

This goal is pretty arbitrary. My side gigs WILL get me the money I'm looking to make, but I am trying to phase them out and focus on writing. I may have to return to hosting ads on Writing About Writing and I may have to consider other ways to monetize my work. It's not something I want to do, and it will actually limit the range of certain kinds of content I can post, but I have an amount I need to make and eventually I will have to shore up that amount somewhere.
Remember just twelve dollars a year–just ONE DOLLAR a month–gets you in on backchannel conversations with other patrons, polls, what's going on with my life, and conversations about future projects including sometimes even me trying to get your input. But perhaps, most importantly, you'll be supporting an artist who works completely off of donations to continue making art that will always be free for everyone to enjoy.

So if you like what I do and want to see me do more of it, not do less of it, and continue to do it without ads and for free, please consider a small pledge.

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

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

[Note: I'll add to the bells and the whistles and the jazz hands to this appeal post each week as this six weeks of summer school goes on.]

Thank you all so much for your support.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Needed: Questions with short answers!

Hi everyone,

I need your questions! Want to know the three ways to join clauses? Want to know how often and long I absolutely think you should write?  How many people I've banned from my Facebook page? What time of day I think is best for writing? My favorite writing book?

Now's your chance to ask all those random questions that you weren't sure I'd pick for a full on mailbox post!

I'm going to be doing a series of posts over the next few weeks while I'm teaching summer school during the day. The mechanics will be "Twenty Questions," and they should be entertaining, but a little easier for me to write than your typical post, since most of the actual POST will be your questions.

Themes for the 20 questions posts will be Meta, Personal, Process, Craft, Blogging, Publishing, Basics, Social Media (FB!), Reading/Books, "My Philosophy of Writing," Grammar, and Social Justice Bard.

Of course if you feel like a question doesn't fit neatly into one of these themes, ask away! I'll either find a place for it or do a Miscellaneous one at the end.

If you want to ask a question anonymously or without your full name and FB info being attached to it, feel free to send this page a message or e-mail me at chris.brecheen@gmail.com but be sure to include "20 Questions" and the Theme you think your question should fall under.

If your questions get a little too big for our short "20 Questions" posts, I'll tuck them away for a longer mailbox later.


Monday, June 18, 2018

The Great and Terrible Storm (Personal Update)

Every year, right around this time, my life gets it's-not-actually-a-Chinese-curse "interesting." This has been going on as long as I've been blogging. Actually EXACTLY as long as I've been blogging. In 2012, I was offered the opportunity to teach a study skills class during the summer at the campus I worked at during the year. Since my regular position didn't come with summer work, this was a dream come true.

The first couple of times it happened I got caught flat footed and spiraled out of control pretty hard, and the first year with a baby was pretty wild. Last year had some challenges I won't have to face this year (I had to write two curricula on the fly), but even so it was better than the year before and I've been getting better at at least knowing to expect that I'm going to drown a bit.

But it still sucks and it's hard and it is 12+ hours a week stacked on top of what is already a pretty.....let's say "robust" schedule.

What happens at this time of year.

First of all for six weeks I teach summer school. It's only three days a week. It's only four hours a day. But it's 12 hours on top of all the other plates I'm always spinning. And it's not like my usual schedule has a lot of beach and umbrella drinks time worked into it.

This is also when everyone goes on vacations. My pet sitting side gig is abuzz. I'm steadfastly refusing to double book myself while I'm teaching (and so far no weaponized guilt trips have crumbled the walls of that boundary), but the entire six weeks has already been Tetris'ed up so that I'm on a job the entire time.

What that means for all of you

I'm going to be less awesome at keeping up with blogging stuff until late July. I hate to have this come on the heels of being sick and that week of a thousand horrors. I would always rather my known periods of crappier productivity come after I show you all exactly what I can do (especially when I start asking for money), but sometimes we don't get to pick when the bullshit meteors crash into the unsuspecting villages of our lives.

Last year I ran a "pledge drive" in the style of National Public Radio or other broadcasting charities. It seemed to work pretty well and most people weren't jerks about seeing a post every week because they knew it was going to end. This year I'm a tiny bit less panicked about trying to hit a specific number because the side gigs are actually more than I can handle most of the time, and all of them show signs of growing rather than tapering off. Money's kind of fine in a weirdly uncomfortable way that I'm not used to. However, I would LOVE to be able to hang up my pet sitting business. And it looks like insurance and taxes are going to go up. It's a thirty kinds of blessings and a privilege to have a little gig that doesn't interfere too badly with writing, but I'm still running around the bay area way more than I'd like.

I'm going to write less. I'm going to jazz hands more. And I'm going to be asking for money.

What you probably won't notice (because I seem to be the only one who ever really does)
  • Getting a little more done on weekends.
  • Posting less.
  • A lot more jazz hands posts. Particularly I'm going to be cleaning up a number of menus and adding to a few ever-growing lists. 
  • A skipped post some days because I just literally can't even.
  • I'm going to take Thursdays off. I'll try to post on the weekends instead, but sometimes that depends on how much of my other jobs I'm doing as well. But by Thursday I am a frazzled little crisp of a man, and trying to write a post on top of everything else never goes well. Best I just write that one off and try to get something decent cooked up on Friday.

What you probably will notice
  • Me apologizing for posting less.
  • Me talking about how busy I am.
  • Me pointing out that I'm failing you even though you wouldn't have even noticed if I hadn't said anything.
  • I'm going to run a series of posts while I'm in school called "20 Questions about [Subject]" I have two subjects for each week I'm teaching. I hope they are entertaining, and if I do them right, they'll put a LITTLE bit more of the heavy lifting for the post on the questioners. (I'm hoping mostly for the short answer kind of questions.)
  • Some guest posts if I can get some guest bloggers to step up.
  • And you will certainly notice that while I'm teaching, each week on Wednesday, I'm going to run a fundraising post–basically of the type I do every month here during the rest of the year. I know by the end folks are a little sick of them, so please remember that it's only six weeks a year, and I can't do this without your support.

The Folksy Homespun Writerly Take Away Wisdom Moment

*me with a shaft of wheat between my teeth*

Howdy. Folks please notice that my super busy times involve me writing less and moving things around and even knowing I'm going to need a day off that I don't normally take, but when folks scratch their heads and say "How does he make money doing this thing I've dreamed of making money doing all my life," I would like to point out that part of the reason is that I never stop writing. No matter how harried I get. No matter how impacted my schedule becomes. I make time for writing. I keep doing it. I don't put the blog on hiatus. I don't take a break that could turn into a LONG break. I don't walk away. I fiddle with the knobs, and I keep writing.

And if you want to be a capital W writer, when your life turns up to eleven, you should keep writing too.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Best Classic SciFi Not Written by a Cis Het White Man (Poll Results)

Please check out this post if you wonder why we have particular limitations.

Yesterday I spiked a fever, fell into bed, didn't get a post up, and had fever dreams though like 13 hours of sleeping. Today I seem be able to get a little bit of work done from bed, at least.

Hope you enjoyed the extra day to vote.

Regardless, I'm still dealing with a mild headache and don't want to press my luck, so just a quick post of the results from our latest poll. I would have loved to wait until that third place tie resolved or even that the spreads weren't quite so close, but we need to move on to the next poll. I was actually shocked to see the 11th hour slip of The Handmaid's Tale from second place to tied for third, so never let it be said that the last call for votes doesn't matter.

I secretly wonder how many people voted for Frankenstein have actually READ Frankenstein, rather than just knowing they were supposed to like it, but I don't presume.

For our next poll, fire up your thoughts on HORROR.
Text results below.

Frankenstein- M. Shelly 65 23.3%
Dragonflight & Dragonquest- A. McCaffrey 42 15.05%
The Dispossessed-U.K. LeGuin 39 13.98%
The Handmaid's Tale- M. Atwood 39 13.98%
The Giver- L. Lowry 29 10.39%
Xenogenesis Series- O. Butler 21 7.53%
The Ship Who Sang- A. McCaffrey 20 7.17%
Parable of the Sower- O. Butler 16 5.73%
Hunting Party- E. Moon 8 2.87%

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Best Classic SciFi Not Written by a Cis Het White Man (Last Chance to Vote)

What is the best science fiction from 1998 or earlier written by a woman or POC or member of the LGBTQIA+ community? 

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

While some front runners are definitely pulling out, second place is practically a tie, and I've seen bigger leads fall apart in the eleventh hour.

I got tapped for emergency child care today, and I'm trying desperately to get my Early Access Patrons a post that I intend to make live on Friday. So today I'm just going to give everyone a heads up that I'll be posting the results of this poll tomorrow, so it's your very very last chance to vote!

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

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

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

Friday, June 8, 2018

Leela Bruce Fights ALL the Dialogue Attribution Advice

Every once in a while a martial artist like me has to pull a Yojimbo. Because both sides of some particular form of advice are just asking for it.

I came into the Dialogue Attribution Town, and found there were two factions warring for everything from style guide attention the way children were taught. Passions ran hot and almost no one in town hadn't sworn allegiance to one faction or the other.

At first I joined up with the Saids. They seemed a simple people, not prone to ostentation and flashy displays. They almost blended into the background, they were sometimes so subtle it was difficult even to notice them. I assisted them in their struggles against the bombastic Neversaids, a group that couldn't utter a word without making a fucking production out of it, drawing attention to their every remark. Emboldened by my presence, they dealt a critical blow to the Neversaids, and it seemed they might be about to win the ongoing struggle for the town.

However, soon after that fateful battle, I left the Saids and joined the Neversaids. The Saids were simple and unobtrusive, but they were also passionless and boring, and after a while their inability to convey the slightest emotional resonance when they spoke began to grate. Soon their attempts to be subtle and unnoticed became the very thing that made them stand out. At least I knew where the Neversaids stood and what their emotional state was. The Neversaids, happy to have me, delivered a terrible attack to the Saids.

Then with both groups weakened, I tipped my hand. I wasn't with either of them. I was here to defeat them both. They both were ridiculous and prescriptive and annoying. In a climactic battle in the lightning flecked rain, I defeated the leaders of both, dealing the final strike to the leader of the Saids.

"We had a deal," he said. "Why?"

"Because you're bad advice," I explained. "Maybe not as bad as the Neversaids, but still bad. And I'm really here for the people you're trying to control."

"This is a goddamned fucking travesty!" he said.

"See what I mean," I pointed out.

When it was all over, I stood before the citizens of the city who didn't quite know how to handle the new freedom they'd been given. I spoke:

"The Saids were right. You can't "gush," "sputter," and "ejaculate" every time someone is speaking. It's comical. It's distracting. It'll pull a reader right out of a moment. Using 'said' tends to blend in with the dialogue itself, and most readers glance over it without even fully registering it.

"But the Saids were not free of sin. The Neversaids were right as well. After a while you want something more than said. You want a snip or a sneer or a scoff. Not everyone speaks in the same modulation with everything they say, and the worst thing they would do is add a clunky adverb like 'said condescendingly' instead of just sneering. We have emotion, and that is what words are made to convey.

"You should be a Said most of the time. Go through the world and let your words draw attention to themselves, not their attribution tag draw attention to HOW they are spoken. But every once in a while, you've got to mix it up. You have to break that uniformity with variety in the same way you would any motif within art. You need to throw a word in there that shows a line isn't just being 'said.' And sometimes you might even describe action in a separate sentence for variety. Humans do not just...'SAY' everything. Neither of these factions was right. Both tried to control you. But now it is time for you to learn...moderation. Now it is time for all of you....to control yourselves."

And then I turned and left the town, never to return. I walked into the setting sun amidst a flurry of late summer abscission by the local flora. For reasons that will defy explanation, someone in the town put Shadow's Theme (from Final Fantasy 3) on the town's PA as I walked away forever.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

How do I fricken START? (Mailbox)

How do I just. Fricken. START?

[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. Minor surgery may be done to sensitive questions so that my FB page commenters aren't invited to give harmful advice.]   

Ben asks

I have a story I want to write. It's epic in nature, and stems from a series of delusions I had (for which I'm now taking meds), where I believed I was part of a greater purpose to create, or become (that is the question), infinite beings, that started at the dawn of man. It comes from a basis of "what if all mankind was an evolution that was the source of 'purpose'".

That being said, I follow your page for the sole purpose of motivating me to start, but to be honest my ego, which I need to do this, is dwarfed by the extreme talent of the great successes of our lifetime.

So what I would ask is, how do I start? Mind you, I've started numerous times. At least 20 beginnings to my story have been deleted in my absolute disgust. So I think maybe a new strategy is needed. Should I create characters first? Bullet point story trajectories? What should I do?

My reply:

I'm going to do a slightly reworded version of your question for the preview text of my social media just because a lot of folks start giving advice without reading the article, and sometimes it's really bad advice. Which is fairly low stakes when they're advising someone not to write every day or that there's no need to read that much. Particularly I don't want anyone giving you unlicensed medical advice regarding your psych meds. 

Let me bust out my thick Austrian accent and cigar. "Tell me about your mother...."

Writing is so intrinsically tied to thinking and the troubles we have with writing so often troubles we are having with the way we think that if I had the opportunity, Ben, I would actually sit down with you for a few minutes and ask you a handful of questions, not unlike a therapy session, to try and narrow down what it might be.

So often our writers blocks can be health problems, sleeping issues, malnutrition, and all manner of psychological blocks. While I can sit and write almost regardless of circumstance (because I've been doing this a very long time), the difference in word count when life is relatively hunky dory and when, say, I think someone I love is really angry with me is almost a factor of ten. I experienced one of my worst writing times in the early 2000's when I was in a relationship that I didn't know at the time was emotionally abusive and involved a coercive sexual dynamic (where I was having sex to avoid the tearful fights that would inevitably happen if I didn't have the sex). It was only weeks after our break up that the words began to flow again. Since I've gone professional with writing, one of the most profound difficulties I've had writing more than just a blog post (often with a mighty heaping spoonful of jazz hands) has been because of the intense anxiety over our current political climate.  Certainly not every psychological problem causes a block (indeed, some seem to facilitate writing prolifically), but almost every block has a psychological source.

“All writing problems are psychological problems. Blocks usually stem from the fear of being judged. If you imagine the world listening, you'll never write a line. That's why privacy is so important. You should write first drafts as if they will never be shown to anyone.”  ― Erica Jong
However I think you've let a couple of things through in your question that I can pin down and work with. I honestly think you nailed it in one when you mentioned your ego's role in this. I might have gotten it from the clue of you starting over so many times or the worry of the greats that came before you, but most of the Blues Clues in your letter are pointing in that same direction. And I brought my big blue magnifying glass.

You're afraid that it's not going to be good enough. Which is not to sound flip or dismissive. That's a reasonable fear for any writer. It's one we have to get over, of course, but it is reasonable.

While we all need monstrous planetoid-sized egos to do anything so self congratulatory as write and then turn around and put that writing out in the world like it might have value to other people, I think you've got your ego on the wrong side of the equation. Ego might be important for you to keep going and it's absolutely vital when it's time to blow off the stack of rejections and keep submitting because you know your work is good enough, but I also think ego is what's holding you back. Because when you see your own efforts as not good enough compared to others, you quit and start over. Over and over and over again. That's ego flying like a bird into a pane glass door over and over again.

It can be so intimidating to have really good writers out there doing their really good writer thing. And it can be so seductive to compare yourself to those writers and feel that you're coming up lacking. And it's so much worse with fiction. I'd rather do fifty listicles called "Why MFA's, Nano, and everything you love sucks!" and get raked for days by commenters on every continent than post one short story and have someone say "I liked this but the middle seemed a little stilted."

So let me start with a couple of good news/pep talk points:

1) You're comparing your first drafts with their final copies. The writing you're admiring has been through draft after draft after draft and then an editor and then beta readers and then a final editor and then a proofreader, and it is super polished. Yours is just a draft. The first draft. The APTLY named "rough" draft. It will not sound as good and that's just the facts of revision and why professional authors spend probably as much or more of their time RE-writing their work.

2) Every writer is a little bit bored of their own voice and finds others refreshing and exciting. That's half the reason to read prolifically. Other writers do things differently and you want to infuse some of that good Juju McGumbo into your prose as often as possible. But in the meantime, don't forget that they are probably a little tired of their tricks and will find your fresh turns of phrase and favorite words delightful.

Okay, now our Good News Network moment is over. Feeling light and fluffy? Got some rainbows and smily faces? Maybe a couple of unicorn companions who think your name is Charlie and seem overbearingly optimistic?

Great. May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.

So now I'm going to put this a little differently and it may sound a tiny bit....hmmm....ass kicky(?).  Meanish? Not super nice and fluffy? Like your physical trainer who takes no shit and calls you Cupcake?

Ben, you're letting your ego drive. It is your ego that expects to be great on the first draft. It's your ego that expects to write something as great as the masters in one shot and I'm-going-to-quit-if-I-don't. It is your ego that gives up (and starts again....and gives up again) when it's not insta-genius. It is your ego that thinks that there is some perfect start that will, with one ├╝ber effort, stand on even footing with the most polished writing of the best writers of our age.

Fundamentally, it means you're not trusting the process––the process says that whatever you wrote is going to go through a dozen revisions anyway and it's not going to look anything like this first page(s) you have now.

You aren't trusting that right now, Ben. You aren't trusting that your story will likely undergo huge tectonic upheaval, that you might not even begin the story in the same place. You aren't trusting that everything is going to change and you will end up revising the first page(s) at least a dozen times. There is humility in understanding how flawed the work is going to be in a starting draft, and a certain level of ego in expecting it to be perfect. Right now, you are trying to get it right in one draft because somewhere in your head you believe that if you get it JUST right, that's that, and until you have that breakthrough moment that it's going to be messy, you're just going to keep sitting paralyzed trying to get it perfect in one shot like you're trying to paint the Mona Lisa in one stroke.

That's not how writing works...not the kind of writing that ends on strangers' shelves, anyway. You could probably get away with it on a listicle if you have 20-30 years of practice.....

You can try bullet point story trajectories and character sketches first, and if those work, the golden rule is always always always to do what works. However, what I suspect is going to happen is that you will start to get more and more pre-writing work done and more and more ornate sketches and outlines, but will still have the same trouble when you sit down to actually do the writing. Here are my suggestions:

1) Stop trying to write something good––something as epic in nature as you once felt. The language can do that.....eventually, but it won't be easy, and it won't happen without several revisions, and in the meantime you have to deal with sort of a four-year-olds crayon version of the picture you're trying to draw. But once you have something (anything) down, you can start revising, so TRY to write something mediocre. Something that just gets the crappiest brushstrokes. You can make almost a game of how mediocre you let it get. Just make progress writing.

2) Quit starting. Forget the beginning, and jump in at Chapter Two. Just get in and put some rubber on the road. You can come back and do the beginning and spend all the time you need making it perfect. You might even find that the beginning you envisioned isn't exactly the place where the story should begin.

And punching nazis.

3) Officially declare your last attempt your rough draft and write forward from that point by one page per day for two weeks. Forget about the fact that it isn't perfect. Just go forth with your story.

4) If you find even these steps eluding you, I would check in that the habit of writing IN GENERAL is strong.  It's possible you may need to go back to more fundamental basics. A lot of problems with folks starting "Their Novel™" is that they don't really have a habit of daily writing to begin with.

I will say one more thing. It is extremely common for creative folks to have a harder time on psych meds. I am in no way, shape, or form suggesting that you stop taking them, but just know that you're in good company (including me). You may have to pedal a little harder and faster to cover the same ground, but obviously the mental health is worth it.