1-2) Mark asks: You're always talking about your other jobs and you mentioned you have FIVE? (Holy shit.) What are they, and why do you need so many?
Shit, Mark, technically it's six.
2- Pet Sitting
3-Caregiver to The Contrarian (and housework helper)
4- Teaching during summer school
5- A property management opportunity in its initial stages
6- Freelance/editing work
Five and six are pretty sporadic, and four only happens for six weeks a year (that's what's going on right now). So it's usually only three, though that's more than enough for me to clock in the occasional 80+ hour week and almost never get by under 60. Good thing somewhere between 30-50 of it is writing and I love that part to bits.
Why? To survive capitalism baby. Because there's no universal basic income. Because no rich people hand artists a shit ton of money (or even a shit ounce of money) anymore to just make the world more beautiful. Because artists and entertainers struggle to find a market that will consume their creative efforts in exchange for money, not always with perfect success. If the next five weeks of "pledge drive" for my Patreon go well, I may be able to phase out more of my pet sitting and add in more writing hours. If not, it'll be another year of writing from weird houses in Freemont while Fido's parents are in Barbados.
3) Erika asks: If you are paying the bills with writing, why do you have all these side gigs.
"Paying the bills with writing" is sort of a linguistic stretch for bragging rights. ("Hey check me out. I pay the bills with this shit? Right that's pretty awesome. You want to get a cup of coffee later and...hey where are you going?") There is no glamour in this at gig all and certainly not what I was promised with the idea of groupies on the French Rivera, so I have to embellish or I'll fall asleep crying every night.
I technically WOULDN'T DIE if I were stripped of all income but writing income. Rent. Store brand peanut butter and bread. Health insurance (at least at its current price and subsidy under Obamacare). It doesn't account for cell phones, car insurance, gas, vegetable medleys, shwarmas, or the occasional book spending spree. On the other hand, having all these side gigs means that once in a while I can buy things like a cool leather pouch carrying case to replace my jacket with the hella deep pockets (that is too hot to wear in the summer) for holding all my shit. I can buy it and not have to auction off a lobe of my liver on the black market. That's a plus in my book.
I like my liver.
Don't think it hasn't crossed my mind that there are places in this country (or other countries) where I could already afford my own small place and all the bills from the income I make writing. But I've got a few reasons I'm fettered to this place and here life is a little spendier. Hopefully in a year or three I can start to phase out some of the side gigs.
4) Hélène asks: Not being from the US and not even having English as my native language (and I’ve noticed that I’m not the only one here): how is your surname pronounced? break, brek, bre, other? sheen, shin, tcheen, tchin, keen, kin, other? what syllable is stressed? Please oh please don’t use phonetic alphabet in your answer.
It's bruh, like you are talking to your bro, but deliberately trying to be even more casual, and KEEN with the accent like the thing that a banshee does when it sees the living. I'm told it is a Gaelic name that is short for some big long thing that means "son of the judge" and to say it Gaelic-ly, the CH has to be a Khuuuu sound in the back of one's throat.
But I learned it as a K sound.
5) Susan Wells Johnson asks: Where do you sit when you write? What kind of table, chair, etc. do you use?
I got a few questions like this and I made a very deliberate choice to put them under personal instead of process because they are a very PERSONAL decision. Every writer should do what works best for them when it comes to chairs and stuff like that.
Most of my work happens at my desk (the L shaped one named BEKANT from Ikea [though not the version with the motorized height adjuster]), although a close second would be the local library desk. I spent some "real*" money on one of those ergonomic chairs a couple of years ago. Sometimes I write at a couch with a laptop lap cushion thing. Sometimes I write with my back against a wall and my laptop battery slowly burning my left thigh into a mild numbness that is affectionately called "toasted skin syndrome." Sometimes I'm at a coffee shop. Sometimes I'm in the car with a sleeping kiddo in the back seat. Sometimes I stand up and use a counter or a washer or dryer (or surface of a similar height) because there's no place to sit. I've worked hard to be able write anywhere (at any time) and one of the benefits of that effort is that while I can definitely have places where I'm more comfortable, I can pretty much start working anywhere.
*For values of "real" that include the higher end one that Costco was carrying that day.
6) Alec Gramarye asks: Does depression hit you like a ton of bricks and make it hard to even do simple necessary things like wash yourself? Uh, because I would of course know nothing about that, I’m asking for...a friend. An imaginary one. Who’s dead.
It doesn't, Alec. And I'm sorry that it does for
One of the reasons, even in my gloomiest storm cloud moments, that I steer clear of the D word is that I haven't been diagnosed and I see other people struggling a whole hell of a lot harder than I do. I'm a few days of meh and maybe have some trouble posting a proper schedule. But I've never had executive dysfunction reach things like hygiene or eating, and I've never seen it last more than a week or two, even when there was bad situational depression like my parents divorcing or my marriage falling apart.
7) Shayna Allen asks: What's your ritual for writing?
I don't have one.
I know! I know! I'm supposed to have one. What the fuck kind of writer am I if I don't sit at a shrine to Stephen King and light a stick of incense every morning or something?
There seem to be two ways that writers shift the power dynamics with their muses (if you'll forgive the conceit of that personification). Most muses are capricious and check out the instant something starts to feel like work, and so most writers are at their muse's beck and call. (Which is why they can only write when they're feeling inspired.)
Way one is the way most writers seem to do it. Stephen King. JK Rowling. Truman Capote. They establish a ritual. They go to write at the same time every day. Their creativity bursts forth ten to fifteen minutes before they start. They write a certain number of pages or a certain amount of time or a word count. They maybe even sharpen six pencils before starting and sit at a special desk. Or maybe they wear a football helmet and listen to Gregorian chants. And while I'm a big fan of everyone finding the magic that works for them, I have had to wrestle my muse into submission through the more-difficult second path.
Ritual works. Sitting down at the same time every day works. Your muse is like the fox in The Little Prince. If you show up every day to feed it at the same time, it'll be tamed. And all those strange affectations like the special desk and pencils operate as a sort of personal magic/placebo. And for millions of writers this is how they do. But not everyone has a schedule that yields a few hours at the same time every day or is always near their football helmet and jello shots.
The second path is a little more front loaded with effort, but then the pay off is being less fettered to ritual later on. I started with Morning Writing and I did this for years (and do it again any time I start to slip up and fall behind on daily writing). Then I would do The Floating Half Hour, in which (no shit) overcoming my own excuses was the single hardest thing I've ever done as a writer. After that I developed the ability to just sit and write. Virtually any time and any place I can just pull out a laptop and begin to write prodigiously.
I work a little better at night (the wee'er the hour, the better) when I'm doing creative stuff like first drafts, and a little better early morning when I'm editing. I work a little better sitting up straight than reclined, and I work a little better with music that doesn't have lyrics I can understand, but toddlers, day jobs, yappy dogs, ambient music, posts that have to be done right now, and all manner of obstacles have forced me to better deal with imperfect circumstances.
8) Lyra asks: I write a blog about women, many of whom are really successful in what they do, and manage to do a LOT. So I will ask you what I like asking them: How on Earth do you manage? I mean, you post fairly often and quite long articles too, you manage this fb page and also post a lot, swing the banhammer like a pro, you work 3 jobs, write a book, and from what I gather from your personal profile, you have a social life among all that too... Teach me your secrets, Master!
Six jobs, but who's counting?
Yeah, about that social life..... It's about once a week, maybe twice. And while I could maybe squeeze in a third thing if someone showed up AT MY DOOR with a pizza and wanted to watch a couple of hours of Netflix (chill optional depending on the relationship), I sure do skip and/or turn down a lot of plans because I'm writing, working, or exhausted from one or the other. I can barely drag my ass to a four hour D&D game that meets every other week these days.
I think mostly, besides writing just taking up the "Day Job™" and "Fave Hobby™" and often "Social Life™" slots in my time management, I also am willing to back burner things some really huge things other people aren't in order to keep going. You know I'm well over 3*cough* years old and I don't have a family. I live with three roommates (one who gets high and steals my food). I drive an economy car and try not to eat out too much. I'm not the poorest person I know by a long shot, but when other people have the chance to sort of upgrade some facet of their lives, I tend to write more.
I have de-prioritized a lot of things and made writing my primary action item. And looking back I don't have REGRETS per se, but things like not having kids stings a little.
9-10) Chasity Black: Do u write on a computer or do u use paper to bring it all together and then type it? I'm the type that has to have paper and go from there. And also, I am interested in what time of the day u think is best for writing?
Occasionally I journal on paper. Hand writing is even slower than typing so free writing longhand allows for greater and deeper introspection. Almost everything I'd ever publish is typed though––even as a rough draft. You should see how many started articles I have in the cloud....
The best time of day for writing is the time of day that you write the best. For me there are two answers. One is late at night. But the real answer in praxis is whenever I have the damned time. That's the best time. When I can grab between four and six uninterrupted hours, and if that's eight in the morning, I guess I'm not sleeping in. And if it's ten at night, I'm grabbing a five hour energy shot. I try to carve out a work schedule where I am writing and nary a phone will I answer, but any given week it gets cratered into a lunar-like landscape by the meteors of life, well-meaning though some are.
11) Kara asks: What type of brainstorming do you use?
I will occasionally jot down an idea or take a few notes if I've reached the pre-writing stage, but a lot of the brainstorming I do is to just think about things and trust that the good ideas will come back to me. Once I've been turning over a story in my head for a year or two, it's probably percolated enough and it's ready to be written.
12) A asks: Have you ever gotten involved with a fan?
Kind of? But not really.
I've had two relationships start with fans approaching me because of my work. In both cases I tried to sort of get to know the person first so that we had a relationship that wasn't only based on sort of a starstruck power differential. That can get into some murky ethics, and I'm not really here for it. Not sure they could have been called a fan (or JUST a fan) after that getting-to-know-you process. But that's how it started.
One of them burned me pretty good though, and it had a lot to do with having a relationship that was never fully reticulated with me as a human with feelings that could be hurt. (The other was lovely and we're still close friends.) I've kind of further insulated myself since then. It would probably take even longer before I'd trust a fan to be a friend...with or without benefits...and longer than THAT before I'd trust them enough to open up to bigger fee-fees.
14) Angela asks: Do you ever Google yourself?
All the time.
I'm going to pretend that it's because I take a very active role in what shows up from a Google search for me as a writer, that (after all) being a third of my Mission Statement.
It's totally not because I think having a Wikipedia page that exists about myself would be wicked awesome, and I periodically go to check and see if that's coming along. Nope.
15) Michelle Baker asks: What is the best piece of writing advice you DIDN'T take?
You mean the one I should have?
"Put this in a drawer and move on. You've learned some valuable lessons. Keep writing. Stop trying to get this published."
The manuscript I wrote in high school will almost certainly never be published. If something that is loosely based upon it is ever published, it will only happen after a tremendous amount of revision to the point that is essentially NOT the same story. I mean it was the 90's and I was a 17 white dude from a conservative suburb of L.A. I can't even explain the PREMISE without it being problematic.
But man, I didn't give up on that thing for way too long. I just kept hacking away at it--draft after draft--handing it to different people, and getting mad that they returned it with weak, sympathetic smiles. It took me a long time to realize that I was basically kind of a shitty writer and that what I needed was to humbly enroll in a writing program and suck the marrow from its bones.
16) Rocco asks: Do you have anything to say about being a story teller vs being a writer?
There's this guy I know who can entrance a room when he tells a story about...pretty much anything. He held thirty people captivated for nearly an hour with a story of a cat on a C-130. Seriously we were ensorcelled. He's a pretty good writer too, and even writes creatively after a fashion. But he never really combines the stories and the writing into pure fiction. I always think of him when someone talks about story telling. That and the role playing game meaning of "storytelling."
I think, for the most part, if you're talking about fiction and not some other kind of writing, you have a relationship that is very analogous to rectangles and squares. You can have a storyteller who can't write, but it would be much stranger to have a writer (a fiction author, you understand I'm talking here; not some other kind of writer), who had zero able to tell stories. There are some things like pacing, dramatic tension, or character arcs that would be very difficult to write fiction if one had no sense of them. I'm not sold that this sense is somehow innate or "talent" (a lot of people who watch a lot of TV and film are wonderful storytellers–though not always writers), but it definitely needs to be there.
17) Kara asks: How do you prevent...absorbing (?) aspects of characters into yourself, or are those aspects already there, and just projected through characters?
One of my weirdest experiences, consistently, as a writer has been to hear OTHER PEOPLE react to things in my head. Of course these are characters, so in a way they are me, but it's still a bit trippy having a voice I recognize as distinctly NOT ME start prattling on in my brain like it's perfectly normal.
I think, for me, this question comes at character from the wrong side. I don't create characters and then absorb them or not absorb them. It's more like I tease them out of myself and then set about making them distinct from me. I create them from aspects of myself and empathy and possibly some research. One of the reasons I think creative writers and artists tend to be such a compassionate lot is that they don't deny aspects of themselves in the way it seems like society encourages others to do, but rather they are keenly aware that they are drawing from the full and robust range of the human experience within us all. I'm not an angry or violent person, but I don't deny those things are in me. I can tap those feelings to create an angry and violent character.
And maybe that helps me make peace with such things.
18) Kara asks How do you reconcile/approach writing a character antithetical to your personal beliefs/values? Do you write those characters as villains, as anti-heroes, or just...not write them?
Well...I'm sensitive to a literary tradition that has been very empathetic with monsters, and so there are some things I'm just not going to write. I'm not going to write a story wondering what if The South won the Civil War and treat all the slavers as sympathetic complex characters. There's been enough of that shit.
There are ways to avoid making antithetical characters (in my case bigots, abusers, and maybe toxically violent types) be "wrong" within the contextual frame of the fictional universe without necessarily making them villains or anti-heroes. They can be handled with nuance and empathy but the work itself is going to kind of show that they are in the wrong, either by having some kind of comeuppance or having the sympathetic focalizer character disagree with them or just unabashedly exploring the consequences of their behavior. There's always a "tell," which is why so many authors who themselves have shitty beliefs but who try to hide behind the imperfection of their characters usually can't. Their world...their other characters...their unconscious tone...their larger body of works...these things "out" them.
The same is true in reverse.
19) Hélène asks: What do you call ‘jazz hands’ posts and why? I’ve read them from the ‘Jazz Hands’ listing on the blog page, but I don’t get it.
Jazz hands is what I call it when I'm posting something that's very easy for me to write and not very time consuming instead of a full article. Personal updates that only take me a half hour to write. The little plot posts. Things like "fortune cookie wisdom" (which usually involves finding some pull quotes from the last month of posts and just retooling them a little). Revisions of old articles, which take an hour (rather than the 6+ it would take to write a new one). These are all posts I consider high form and little substance. They are not so much me actually dancing as shaking my hands back and forth to give you the impression that I am.
20) Anon asks: When are you going to finish all those unfinished posts like the glossary and blogging advice?
Depends on the post, honestly. I've got some fiction half way written and one story that just needs a polish. Those might be this weekend if I eat my Wheaties. Things like the glossary, I just need to be writing from home for a solid stretch instead of pet sitting away from my OWN books. Blogging advice is just a matter of clearing through a small queue of articles I want to do first...which, honestly could take a while. The Skyrim article? Jesus I have to find time to play the game (and probably start over from the beginning). That's no small feat and might be a while.
Bonus Personal Question) Reynaldo asks: Dude, did that creepy guy thing actually happen?
If you want to ask one a question on 20 questions in the next few weeks, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org The themes remaining are: Process, Craft, Blogging, Publishing, Basics, Social Media (FB!), Reading/Books, "My Philosophy of Writing," Grammar, and Social Justice Bard.