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

Monday, September 17, 2018

Catch You On the Flipside (Personal Update)

Hi folks,

We're about to go "dark" here at Writing About Writing for a couple of days.

Hang on. Hang on. While I know some of you just felt the icy grip of panic, let me assure you all that you'll still get all the great posts that you're used to (and maybe even a bit more of the good stuff and less fluff)––just slightly out of the order you're used to. 

See, I'm about to lose WiFi.

You see, right I'm now heading home on a train after a wonderful and rejuvenating vacation. I'm currently on a short jump from Ann Arbor to Chicago and this train has WiFi. But after that, it'll be a couple of days on the cross country train that does not. I'll have signal when I'm going through towns or the train stops at the bigger stations, so I can try to keep up with my Facebook Page, but no WiFi with which to upload posts from my laptop.

That's why I posted through the last weekend, and I will post through the next one as well. You'll get the same number of posts, my days "off" will just be this weird cluster across the next couple of days.

The catch is, I'll be writing. The whole time. That's really all I do on trains besides sleep and read, and I'll be clacking away for most of the (almost) three days. So when I come back out the other end, I should have some really good articles to post.

I enjoyed my vacation and loved the train part (I'm really looking forward to the extended writing opportunities on the way back), but I have to say that I could have used a little more train. Both my hosts were great about giving me some time to write, but it usually takes another writer to really GET that my usual diet is six to eight HOURS, and that's too long to be rude to someone who is excited to go do something with you.

Seriously. I have a fever and the only prescription is more train.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Results: Best Young Adult Book or Series not by a Cishet White Guy (2000-Present)

It's been a long time since I've seen anyone kick the crap out of any poll so thoroughly, but there was no contest on this one. Tricksters Duology was all out of bubblegum, it seems.

It's pretty easy to guess where we're going next. Fire up your nomination lobes for young adult stuff from the late 70s, 80s, and 90s and I'll get that going tomorrow. Thank you to everyone who participated in making this poll awesome.

Text results below.

Tricksters Duology - T. Pierce 112 35.78%
Hunger Games - S. Collins 47 15.02%
Graceling - K. Cashore 42 13.42%
Binti - N. Okorafor 29 9.27%
Finishing School Series - G. Carriger 26 8.31%
The Hate U Give - A. Thomas 22 7.03%
Akata Witch - N. Okorafor 18 5.75%
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe - B. A. Sáenz 17 5.43%

Friday, September 14, 2018

Are Snippets While Depressed Writing?

Does light writing while depressed "count"?

[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. Our questions might look a little "thematic" in the next few weeks since they come from disassembled Twenty Questions posts.]

Jere asks:

I have a srs question.  

Let's say someone has many years-long depression that kills most of their will to ever create any kind of art, let alone clean their house or properly take care of themselves besides absolute basic daily needs.

If the best they can do for actual writing is to make pages of notes in building characters or settings, and small snippets of situational scenes for practice, and they keep doing this for years... does this still count as "write every day"?

My reply:

First of all, I'm very sorry about your depression. I struggle with some down energy that kicks my ass for a couple of days but it just doesn't compare to some folks' struggles, and I avoid the D word. I know that mental illness can affect creativity, daily routine, and even just enjoyment of once-enjoyable things, so I don't want to step in here like I have answers a professional therapist would. I have some advice for writing with depression, and there's more to come after my attendance of Worldcon 76, but take it with a grain of salt as well as whatever level of help you might be able to afford and as much gentle self-care you can get. The best we can do is the best we can do.

"Write every day" shouldn't be prescriptive in the sense that anyone is able to be an arbiter of any particular writing adjacent activity's validity as really real writing, and if it is, you have my permission to snap kick the prescriber in their shin*. In that regard, I am unable to bestow the status of what "counts" and "doesn't count." (And neither will the deluge of comments in various social media [most from those who didn't read the article] telling you that absolutely it counts.)

No one––absolutely no one––has the power to take that judgement call away from YOU, whether they say no OR they say yes. They mean well, and maybe they're assuring themselves as much as anyone, but it's still 100% up to you whether it counts.

(*But not really because I have no authority to grant such permission.)

If this is what you enjoy and what you love and it brings you pleasure or fulfillment, then everyone else can take a flying leap into a vat of fecal matter. It surely counts if you count it. If this is the most you can do because of depression, then it's moot how useful or not it might be, and it might make your mood/outlook worse to be unkind to yourself that you can't do more.

If your goals are to be a famous, well-paid novelist someday then the water might get the slightest bit muddy. Writing these snippets is certainly better than doing nothing at all, but your skill for the parts you are avoiding (like any other unused skill) will atrophy over time, and you'll likely have to step up your holistic game before you start to write anything that you might want to submit. In your particular case, Jere, you are likely to find that you're tremendously good at small snippets, world building, and really neat characters that you've really thought through, but may have trouble tying those together with a cohesive narrative or coming up with a compelling character arc that spans a whole work. And of course that is assuming your depression picks up, moves to barbados, and lets you work for a year.

Imagine yourself as a basketball player who has been shooting some hoops from the freethrow line and the three-point line, and gets into the occasional pick-up game. You might be quite good at sinking shots and decent at the game, but it's not the same as the practice you'd need to go pro. You're going to have to learn to move in on the basket, pass, lay up, and move up and down the court for over an hour. You will be in a much better place than anyone who had done nothing, though.

Then again you'd possibly be really good at micro-fiction or poignant vignettes. Or simply at writing works with strong characters and intense moments but a weak overall plot arc.  (You certainly wouldn't be the first published author with such clear strengths and weaknesses. Shakespeare was generally terrible at plot. If the intensity of each moment weren't so fucking awesome you'd probably notice that except for MacBeth, most of his works drag a little.) Perhaps it might work with your mental illness to consider the kind of writing you work well doing, and not trying to force yourself to be a novelist (or write a novel that focuses on something other than a grand plot arc).

Thursday, September 13, 2018

August's Best 2018

Day three here in Ann Arbor on my Writer Retreat/Train Vacation, and my host and I sort of realized simultaneously that we were going to need to schedule a bit more time for me to be writing. Fortunately, I do still have one bit of end-of-month/new-month business to knock out, so there's one more day of jazz hands to fall back on.

So without further ado, here are best three non-poll articles that will go on to untold fame in The Best of W.A.W.

Also the Best of the Year by Month has now been updated

Hospitalized Part of the reason August was a little rough. Kidney stones suck y'all. Don't stay thirsty, my friends. Hydrate the shit out of yourself.

Won't Someone Think of the Straight White Males? (Mailbox) Every single time I post one of the polls from a year of diverse polls, the comment section reminds me of exactly why it's still necessary. This time, spectacularly so.

10 Addendums to Write Every Day (The Article Some of You Have Been Waiting Your Whole Lives For) What if I told you that you don't actually have to write every single day?

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Your Fallacy is Showing

Counter protesting is ALSO protected speech.

Being angry at someone's genocidal BEHAVIOR is not the same thing as wanting whole demographics dead or forcibly deported based exclusively on the circumstances of their birth.

Right to free speech is not the same entitlement to venue.

We don't casually debate cannibalism or pedophilia in university settings, so there IS a water's edge of acceptable ideas and not everything has to be chin-strokingly considered.

The "uncomfortable topics" status quo defenders feel the "need to discuss"....endlessly....all the time...in any space.....ever.....predominantly involve the intellectual merits of granting other people their humanity, rather than–for example–their privilege or their own cultures' toxic entitlement.

Protecting oneself and peaceful protesters against an armed group of provocateurs that has demonstrated its willingness to commit aggravated assault and murder (and speaks casually of far worse) is not the same as encouraging people to preemptively harm "someone who disagrees."

Antifa means anti-fascist.

Being a pacifist is not the same as being silent in the face of systematic violence and the armed agents of the state who carry it out, but squeamish about seeing a punch thrown or property damaged––that's called being authoritarian.

Calling everyone you disagree with "Nazis" or "fascists" probably IS counter productive, but there are actual swastika-sporting, zeig-heiling, blood-and-soil-shouting, neo and literal NAZIS marching in the streets. Really. Plus these days they're joined by other white supremacists, ethno-stateists, bleeding edgelords who are so far into their privilege they think their words have no consequences, and a conservative party who doesn't give a shit if the leader of the Republican party eggs them on as long as there's the promise of a payoff (in the form of a better economy). So sometimes the rank and file progressives might use metonymy when we're not doing interviews for NPR or on the Oxford debate team. I sure hope to see all these pedant warriors the next time a 3% progressive tax increase on the richest 1% is called socialism because that shit gets said by national level politicians ON NPR all the goddamned time.

In this moment in history, only one "side" has a body count in the name of its ideology, and it's not the OPPONENTS of white supremacy.

Black bloc is a tactic to protect peaceful activists from being run off by genocidal bigots who have demonstrated their perfect willingness to be violent or threaten violence.

Someone in your personal space screaming at you that they want to murder you and yours while you get hit with eggs and bottles and the cops laugh from the sidelines is probably not as easy to pacifist one's way through as armchair criticism would have one believe.

Attempting to take over state power to deport people from their homes, incarcerate them into a modern version of slavery, and possibly murder them indiscriminately in a massive act of eugenics is not "equally bad" as discussing punching someone who speaks openly of their desire to do these things.

Law enforcement does not protect either group with identical diligence. Nor does the criminal justice system. Suggesting that all the enemies of bigotry have to do is NOTHING has not worked in modern times or in history. Ever.

I'm really just ten kinds of fucking tired of people thinking I endorse all manner of wildly uncontained extrajudicial violence because I hate fallacies of equivocation and see some nuance when literally armed Nazis march into town and get punched.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Best YA Book or Series not by a Cishet White Man (Last Call For Votes)

What is the BEST young adult book (or series) written by a woman or POC or member of the LGBTQIA+ community?   

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

Lots of titles nipping at the heels of The Hunger Games. Come vote on the poll formed from YOUR nominations. The front runners are practically tied and the results are going up in a few more days.

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

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

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

Saturday, September 8, 2018

When the Magic Dies (Mailbox)

What to do when the magic has died?

[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. Questions that got picked up for 20 Questions post but were nothing even resembling "short answer" will be trickled out one at a time.] 

W. asks: 

Hey. Long time follower, first time messenger. You’ve written about so many aspects of writing and the love of story. Do you have any posts about what to do when the magic has died for you?

I grew up with my nose in books, writing my own stories and then even working in BBC scripts in my twenties. I wrote my first feature length at 32. Then I had ID twins at 34 and the younger one died at 11 days old. That was 8 years ago.

I couldn’t look at a novel for years after then it had to be something that didn’t treat the horrors of life as fodder for the story mill. But it’s probably been almost a year since I read a novel.

Now I’ve been commissioned to write a series outline for a producer and I’m realizing I can’t bear to do it. I don’t watch TV drama any more and I only watch films if my husband puts them on. But I miss them.

My nickname as a child was cloth ears as you could say anything to me when I was reading. I lived the world of the story until I put it down. The same when I wrote. But it has died for me. Is there any hope?

My reply:

Just a quick announcement here regarding the shit ton of questions I'm sitting on that came in while I was in summer school for my Twenty Questions posts. It was a great idea in theory, to keep things a little lighter and fluffier for me during the weeks I was teaching, but people sent me regular questions, not quick-answer questions, and they ended up being more like writing 20 consecutive mailboxes in one post. I'm still going to get to all of them, but one at a time. I'm creating a separate file for the actually short answer questions, and I'll trickle the longer ones in.

On to our answer.....

I can't tell you if the magic is gone for you, but I can share a couple of stories about a guy named Chris. I've put down The Pen™ a couple of times in my life, usually during major transitions that sucked up most of my time (I found it quite impossible to be a writer and a restaurant manager, for example, so those were some shitty two years). In every case eventually the bug bit again, and I got back into the flow, often to much relief that my "Creative lobe" hadn't shrivelled up and fallen off.

In both situations writing was no longer bringing me pleasure. Not magical unicorn rainbow fart pleasure. Not gut-wrenching catharsis. Not deep fulfilment and satisfaction. I liked writing, but trying to do it regularly was stressing me out.

Each time I returned to writing, it was because I wanted to. Like a make-up/break-up relationship where you realize that you made a mistake. Perhaps more illustratively I always felt like something was missing when I wasn't writing; a deep and profound sense of absence within my soul.

Do you solemnly swear to stop taking eight months off to manage restaurants?
I do.
Image description:
Delicate feminine hands sliding a ring on the fourth finger of a masculine hand.

It has only been more recently in my life (since maybe my early thirties), when I treat writing as an obligation and a habit (I "settled down and committed"––wait, did I just make marriage sound like an obligation and a habit?), that I've found my writing "red shifted" into he Yee-Haw zone*. The kinds of setbacks that would have usually led to months of break tended to be more likely to just put me in a "dry spell" of gutted-out minimums and frustrating sessions for a week or two instead. Rather than even the slightest setback making the day a wash, my very worst days were 250-500 words and instead of my best days (usually around 2500 words) be these few-and-far-between one-shots, I could milk the ebb for a week to ten days.

*Not to be confused with the Hee-Haw zone where I pop up out of cardboard "crops," tell a joke and then Conway Twitty sings a song about how much his heart is breaking for you.

I keep coming back to one sentence in your question: "But I miss them." And given the tremendous agony that you've gone through in life, I wonder if there isn't something greater at work here. Something that is well above "my pay grade." It is just so common for someone having gone through something so terrible to spend years getting back to a place where they do things they enjoy again. And I don't know where you are in your recovery, but maybe now is the time you can start to do slowly reintroduce things that once brought you pleasure––things like reading a few minutes a day or maybe some light writing––and see what happens.

Sometimes we write because we love it. Sometimes we write because not writing is worse. Sometimes it brings no joy or pleasure and it's time to be honest with ourselves. It's not easy to know, but I suspect with you the magic is in the middle of a phoenix resurrection.

Because there's no getting around this one thing: I'm sitting here with this question, which if there were a simple and unambiguous answer in your heart, you would never have asked me. Perhaps, "But I miss them," is the beginning. The prologue to a prologue of a long walk home to a world where life is never what it was, but the Babadook can be locked into the cellar for a while. And as for writing, perhaps this is the tiniest spark of something that might return to a glowing ember if it is nourished and treated gently.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Narrative Distance

Narrative Distance: the distance between a reader and a narrator in a story.

In most high school classrooms and literary analysis, most emphasis is placed on narrative point of view. What isn't mentioned very often until/unless you are in a writing program is a concept called "narrative distance," and it might actually be a more important idea to understand for a writer.

Conventional writing wisdom suggests that if you want to be "closer" to the narrator, you pick first person and if you want to be "further" from the narrator, you use third person omniscient. This is overly simplistic and borders on simply untrue.

While the narrative point of view can influence distance, it in no way determines it. Yes, first person narration is generally closer but it doesn't have to be if the narrator is keeping emotional distance. Distance is best thought of as a completely different axis of narration that refers to the space between the reader and the narrator of a story.

Because narrative distance can be close or far regardless of point of view.

Consider a book like Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go: though it is in first person, the narrator is looking back many years from the time of narration to the time where the events of the book take place. She regularly admits not being able to remember things, and drizzles in some perspectives that have come from years of reflecting on these events and weren't in her head as she's narrating. She sometimes even hints at what is going to happen next because it's been years since these events and she KNOWS what happens next.

On the other hand, the narrative distance in G.R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire books, despite being in third person, is deep within one particular character's head for each chapter––even influencing whether they notice esoteric details or food or clothing or apparent fighting prowess more than other things. Their thought processes are written out.

First person close: I opened the door. My heart stopped and the world swam before my eyes. It was my brother. And he was clearly dead.

First person distant: Opening the door turned out to be the worst decision I made for many years to come. I found my brother's corpse on the couch. 

First person (very) distant: I opened the door to my apartment like it was any other Saturday morning. My brother's corpse was splayed on the couch. I staggered for a moment before starting forward. 

First person (very) close: I threw open the door. My brother. Vision swimming. Balance twisting. Heart frozen in mid squeeze. My brother....dead.

Third person (very) close: James opened the door. What was that on the couch? Was it a person? Oh god, it wasn't just any person, it was his brother. And very clearly dead. James's heart clenched closed for a suspended moment. His vision leapt left and right, up and down.

Third person distant: What James would find on the other side of the door that Saturday would rattle him to his very core. His brother's body, clearly dead, sprawled across the couch.

Third person (very) distant: When he was twenty-one James walked into his apartment one Saturday in May to discover his brother's body in an advanced state of decay. It would take years after that for James to not take a girding breath before opening a door. 

Notice how the language changes. Notice how the immediate thoughts and physiological reactions are focused on in the closer readings and left out of the more distant ones. Notice how you get more detail on the distant but less emotional resonance. Notice how we're right in James's head for some third person readings, but we can focus strictly on actions even in a first person narration.

Now let's look at John Garner's five levels of examples of this in The Art of Fiction (although he calls it "psychic distance):

1 It was winter of the year 1853. A large man stepped out of a doorway.
2 Henry J. Warburton had never much cared for snowstorms.
3 Henry hated snowstorms.
4 God, how he hated these damn snowstorms.
5 Snow. Under your collar, down inside your shoes, freezing your miserable soul.

While the fifth level obviously takes some second person liberties, all of these are in third person and yet get closer and closer.

Many stories "pan" in and out between close and distant narrative distance. Often moving closer for emotional moments and further away to cover more ground quickly. But very often the narrative distance is an important choice in how the story unfolds.

Imagine telling a story from your point of view an hour after it happened when you were mad at someone. Now imagine telling it (still from your point of view) a year after it happened and you realized that you were actually the one being the jerk. How about 20 years? Can you rightly say you were even the same person twenty years ago that you are today? Very different stories and something an author has to consider depending on how they choose to craft their narrative.

Similarly a third person narration may focus on the action of a character and the physical description, or it may go deep into their head, even bringing the reader along in the actual thought process. This could be the difference between the main character being a monster telling the story from its own point of view, or having the fact that the character was the monster all along be the "twist" ending. Two VERY different stories (even if every plot point is identical).

And of course, one of the sly tricks writers pull is to add just the tiniest hint of authorial judgement to a third person close narration.

Internal Monologue- Most internal monologue is not the shift-to-italics-and-quote-the-exact-thoughts variety. You don't see that much, and even less in modern writing. Usually it's more subtle. (James walked around the building looking for a way in. The Pendercots were exactly the kind of meticulous people to keep a Hide-a-key. All he had to do was find a rock that didn't look like any of the others...)  See how that is right in James's thoughts but without being like: (Come on, James.  I thought. The Pendercots are anal about everything. They have to have a hide a key. Find a rock that looks different than all the others.)  The irony here is that the latter is generally GREATER narrative distance. By separating the reader and the thoughts like that, you are not inviting the reader to come in to the head space, but only giving them glimpses.

Consider logistical details- Notice in the above examples that the logistical details increase with the narrative distance. Some of them are so close they don't even mention the couch. If we're in someone's head during an emotional event, it is less normal to think of those kinds of details. Consider going to your local grocery store. You just GO, right? You don't think about how you get there or what street it's on. So the addition or subtraction of these details can help you establish your narrative distance.

Consider your vocabulary- If you are doing distant first, is your character describing an event from before they had went through puberty but describing it AFTER they were an old man? A PhD describing a childhood memory will be very different than a ten year old describing what happened five minutes ago. If you are in your character's head, it's going to sound like your character's thoughts. Do they have your vocabulary? What would they use to describe things? If you use florid language in your descriptions and your character is a much simpler person, you are creating narrative distance with your reader you might not intend.

Consider "Show, Don't Tell"- One of the reasons this advice is great for starting writers and increasingly problematic for more experienced ones is because it presumes a close narrative distance.  At a close distance, you will want to show more details because you want the reader to experience what the character is, but you can "tell" a LOT at a great narrative distance.

Consider what your character would care about- This is going to dovetail with the concept of significant detail, and the closer your narrative distance, the more this significant detail is crucial in helping to characterize your focalizer character. If your character is a germaphobe, they should notice dirt and grime and people leaving the bathroom without washing their hands. A distant narration might be less interested in these details or only mention the character's discomfort at them. A distant first person narration may have new priorities and be remembering events through a different lens of priorities. In "Penumbra," my character narrates post epiphany, and often questions some of his own earlier thoughts.

Consider filters- Filtering words like "noticed," "saw," "observed," "remembered," "recalled," "thought" (and many many more) increase the narrative distance.

Why does narrative distance matter? The short answer is sympathy. The closer you go, the more sympathy you are asking for from your reader for your character. While that's usually good if you want it (and want it THEN), it's not always the right choice. Many great stories can be told through the filter of time or the filter of redemption or with a distance that allows a less sympathetic character to still be compelling in less interesting ways. "I was once an asshole," is an important trope in fiction. However, the closer you are to a character, the more you are making a deal with your reader that they will BE that character for a while, and sometimes that's not what you want. And sometimes that's exactly what you want.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

The Week That Was/The Week That Shall Be (Part 2 The Week That Shall Be)

The Week That Was (Part 1)

And the Week That Shall Be

(Well….the fortnight, really.)

What was I doing all this packing for? Only my neat-o-est vacation concept ever (and if it works, the shape of things to come). A full 10 on the neat-o-meter.

Trains. The future is trains.

Well, I mean the obsolete past of obsolescence is trains really, but MY future is trains. Specifically, using them to get around the country on all the trips I never take because I’m always too busy.

I know what you’re thinking, my intrepid reader. Trains? Did he say fucking TRAINS? Expensive. Slow. Antiquated. Half of them don’t have WiFi. Those trains? Why not save 40% of the price, and just fly there in 1/10 the time? What the actual, literal fucking fuck, Chris?

Hang on. Slow your roll. Give me TWO minutes. (Three if you’re a slow reader.)  Let me now appeal to your writerly sensibilities for a moment.

Yeah, I could get on a plane. Spend a little less money for as little space as one can scientifically fit.  Be there in an hour or five. Cramped between some manspreading dudebro with deplorable body odor and a guy who packed a fishwich from the day before. Struggling against my bladder because I don't want to ruin their whole flight by needing to get by Mr. Fishwich for the third time––lord, why did I drink a large Dr. Pepper. I could go through TSA where they act like they don’t know what a Kindle is and make sure I know they know I’m packing a Hitachi Magic Wand. I could be there in half a day (though it always seems to kill the whole day no matter when you fly), and once I’m there, I could jump right back in to life’s frantic pace with its never-ending distractions from writing.

However…instead, imagine this: You are provided with a very spartan room but it has a plug for your laptop, good lighting, a bed and a couple of chairs. You can nap if you want, play games or watch movies (that you’ve downloaded) if you want, and read if you want. And of course you can write all you want. Long, quiet, uninterrupted hours. Your meals are taken care of (and quite well if your don’t have diet restrictions). You will be summoned to each one by a voice on an intercom. You can go to the dining car and socialize for a few minutes while you eat, or ask to take your meal back to your room if you’re on a roll or just too into your book. You can walk around if you wish to stretch your legs and there’s even enough room to do some jumping jacks or leg lifts to get the blood flowing, and the passage of time (should you choose to care about at all it) is marked by periodic stops where you can exit the entire building and get some fresh air. There’s even a small shower that so many of those camping retreats lack. To your side, gorgeous panoramic vistas slide by the window. They are not urgently distracting like television, but provide the perfect beautiful and ever-changing landscapes to gaze upon, should you wish to let your mind wander. There is no Wifi, and often no cell phone signal, and you quickly realize how distracting the internet has been and begin to establish a whole new rhythm and pace of writing as well as a fresh sense of how you need to refocus your writing time to involve much less Facebook and hot-take editorials on politics. Perhaps best of all, at the end of this experience, you will be someplace different. Maybe someplace where a friend lives. Or some place you’ve always wanted to visit. 

You get to have a fun vacation. And then, you get to do another couple of days (or three or four if you're going across country) on the way back.

Writers––a shit ton of writers––basically pay hundreds, even low thousands, of dollars for this kind of experience, dropping gobs on retreats where they can get away from it all and spend a long weekend looking at trees and writing up a storm while someone else cooks, or booking hotel rooms to sequester themselves away from friends and family so they can concentrate without distraction. If you take a train and get one of those roomettes, you get all those things and transportation to someplace nifty. And when you consider the meals, space, lodging, AND transportation, the price is entirely reasonable. Plus, when you get to where you're going, you’ve just written so long and hard that you don’t have to feel guilty about doing a light day or two.

I’m telling you….trains.

So yesterday morning, I packed up a bunch of clothes and headed to Denver and Ann Arbor. I’m finishing up the first leg to Denver, have been on this train almost thirty hours (and have about one more to go at the time of this writing), and have finished more writing in the last two days than in the two weeks prior. And I honestly feel like I’m just hitting my stride.

 I still plan to do some writing during the vacationy bits, but the real spectacular key clacking is going to happen while I’m on the trains. Back and forth across the country.

Trains (or rather the trips taken on them) do mean a bit of logistics, particularly for my Facebook page. I can’t really post from my laptop until I am at one of my stops. And I can’t post from my phone unless I’m in a place with signal. (Despite the Verizon commercials, there are more places where he can’t hear you than you can imagine, particularly out in the middle of the Wyoming wilderness.) And while I can technically turn my phone into a hotspot and upload a post really quick––this is what I did last night––it chews through my data REALLY fast, and isn’t something I want to make a habit of. So my posting might be spotty, erratic, and even miss days. But when the posts DO hit, they will be solid like your cat-lady-aunt’s Christmas fruitcake––you know, the one you used as a door stop to hold open the fire door at your office so you could get onto the roof and smoke.

So solid.

So here’s to fun, adventure, and a shit ton of writing in the coming weeks. And hopefully it will only be my adventurous spirit and creativity going off the established path.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

The Week That Was/The Week That Will Be (Part 1––The Week That Was)

This post is two posts––well the first part of two days of posts, anyway so look for the exciting conclusion tomorrow.

Yesterday’s post (which you are reading even though it’s today and you have NOT ridden in any Delorians lately) got swallowed by the cascade effect that actually started over a week ago. (I will post a little something extra this weekend to make up for yesterday.) A lot of times, like Tuesday, I spend an eight hour day watching The Contrarian, and the only reason I am able to get a post up is that it was already written. And even though Labor Day created a three day weekend (the staff still refuses to come in on bank holidays even though I’ve doubled their salary from two to four cents per article on TOP of their daily stipend of fast food coupons—yet still they give me attitude), it was part of the week of dining on phail as the phail train crashed into the phail station and created the phail singularity.

The Week That Was

Last week was a recursion loop of phail. At each level the past phail magnified the intensity of the phail until everything collapsed into a phail singularity, and anyone who touched the event horizon of phail would simply have every plan for the next 168 hours instantly sucked out of them and replaced by emergency child care and screaming.

The first perturbations of phail began early last week, and I dismissed them at the time like a hapless fool in a disaster movie. In fact, a little, tiny, but high-ranking military official inside my brain assured the initial little, tiny scientist that discover the phail there was nothing to worry about. “It sure would be a shame if your department came up for an audit again” said the little, tiny, but high-ranking military official. 

The little, tiny, but high-ranking military official was the first one to get eaten by the Phail, of course.

As much as it seems like I fly this blog by the seat of my pants, the first thing I really, honestly, genuinely (stop laughing, I’m totally not kidding) try to do when my life takes a turn for the more stable––as it finally did when summer school ended––is try to stabilize my schedule, get back into regular and predictable updates of non-jazz hands writing, and even write a little out ahead so that I can do things like have an emergency day without skipping a beat or get some Early Access articles written for my amazing patrons.

And things were looking good. Even though the weekend was going to have to involve some packing to get ready for a train trip, I had it wired.I was ready to chew gum and kick ass. Things were looking so good, they were extra good with good sauce. (Like a really nice parfait.)

Things looked good enough, in fact, that several gods of mischief blew kisses at me. They were worried I might get bored. These kisses combined into one epic, life-destabilizing mega-kiss. Sadly, at this point watching my best laid plans blow up is boring, so even that didn’t work out. What would truly be interesting would be if a week of writing went like I planned.

See, I was on track to have this very wide open five-day weekend with gobs of writing time to catch up and prepare myself for the upcoming writer retreat/vacation/train trip I had planned. I had settled into my latest pet-sitting gig, didn’t have any other jobs and was about to clock some epic word counts.

The Contrarian, though, had one more week of summer, and while it was established that Uberdude was going to take a couple of days off to run kiddo through some young super hero training, no one quite got around to making sure I was on for the later half of the week.

Fortunately that came up Monday. 16 hours melon-balled out of a week’s writing time is rough (I don’t know how many of you have chased a four-year-old for eight hours, but those days are not really opportunities to “double dip”). However, I could absorb it with notice. I was just going to have to really crank it out on Monday and Tuesday. But then that packing was still going to be there on the weekend, so I was going to have to crank that out too. 

Still, doable. Just a little phail. Phail salad.

Then came the extra time. A second entire tier of phail. Super heroism in the age of Trump involves double most enhanced humans having to do overtime punching Nazis, so that meant I needed to do eleven hour days instead of eight. Coming home to collapse instead of knock out an hour of word smithing changes a landscape pretty quickly if you were hoping to get a little ahead. Would you care for a phail appetizer?

Then Friday there was a major upset and someone ended up hospitalized (who wasn’t me this time—but seriously why is my life playing like I’m a secondary character in a medical drama these days). The kid was going to need more supervision. Here’s your phail entree in a light phail sauce garnished with truffles and phail.

And this whole time, I was watching a doomsday clock on some freelance work I’d kept putting off counting down. (I mean I thought I had all day Thursday and Friday so…..) Oh….well I didn’t order the phail pairing, but let’s just go with it.

Still, what really sent the whole train wreck sliding off the rails as it barreled into the the station of Monday and Tuesday and became a phail buffet with parphail for dessert. A SCHEDULED eight hour day with The Contrarian on top of trying to wrap up a job and pack for a trip that would start crack early the next day (today). All without having had a moment to do anything but try desperately to catch up on sleep and zone out enough to achieve basic functionality.

And that’s when everything collapsed into the singularity of phail. With literally zero time to write a post, I simply had to spread my hands and laugh. I started out walking to an uplifting version of Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head, and ended up with in a Doom Metal montage about existential futility.

Of course....Where would such a post be without the PSA at the end where knowing is half the battle? 

The idea of tempering life with writing and scheduling and how “fair” the mantra to write every day is has come up a lot lately in my orbit, and I’d just like to point out that I had a day where I didn’t “write every day.” It happens. It’s not the end of the world, and to the best of my knowledge that’s not why any of my patrons stopped supporting me. There was too much and I just couldn’t get to it. 

However here’s the wisdom nuggetoid coming to smash into your atmosphere and cause an extinction level event in your ignorance: abandoning writing wasn’t the thing I did at the first sign of trouble. I kept revising my schedule and trying to get it back in there. I kept paring down how MUCH I could do and moving when all over the G-cal, but it was still there until there was absolutely no time left. I planned on getting to it until the last hour ticked over.

It was a priority.

And if people are looking for something that digs a little deeper than the bumper sticker wisdom of “Write Every Day,” one place to look would be how our lives become reflections of our priorities, not because we never phail them one shitty day of fail singularitizing, not even because we never have health problems or emergencies or sick relatives or bills that eat up our lives, but rather they tend to merit out one decision at a time over months as we place them front and center with each new plan (or don't).

Part 2: The Week That Will Be

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Fortune Cookie XVI

You may need side gigs to pay for your cell phone and keep the car gassed up, but it's pretty fucking sweet that day you realize that you could just be a writer and at the very least, you wouldn't die.

There seems to be two ways to harness your muse to work when you want to. One is to write at the same time every day and most writers seem to swear by this. The other is to spend a few months sitting down to write for a half an hour at any and every time of the day until you train yourself to write any time you want. This takes a lot more front-loaded effort.

Like many people, a writer may have folks enter their orbit because of their work that you are interested in romantically/sexually/whateverly. Be careful! Of course, a power differential is unethical to exploit, but this is for YOUR protection as well. Even when you are sure someone is not starstruck and their consent is totally informed, they may be projecting who they think you are onto you or idealizing you or not really seeing you as fully human.

Sometimes you have to put that thing you're sure is brilliant in a drawer and walk away. Take the lessons you've learned along the way, enjoy the experience, and start on something else. Maybe you come back some day, or maybe you realize that's not the best idea. It may be the first real darling you have to kill.

Your best time management skill is self-knowledge. Do you write better on deadline? Without? A soft deadline? Are you a fast writer or is your progress plodding? Arrange your deadlines accordingly.

"Writing is like exercise" is an imperfect metaphor, but it at least conveys that the way to improve is to establish discipline and routine.

I can't speak for everyone, but for me, imagining my negative inner voices as actual people strips them of their power. Imagining my inner critic as one of my past abusers is particularly effective. "Fuck you, I'm going to nail this shit."

When it comes to writing, you are what you read. Read nothing but Twitter and you will probably start thinking in 280 character chunks. Read nothing but political rants, and you will probably start thinking in partisan polemics. Read nothing but FB, and you will try to be cute and pointed, but probably not nuanced or informed. Broaden your diet. Digest some good stuff.

Don't sit down to write a book or a chapter or even the best paragraph ever. Just focus on one word at a time.

It's very hard to write when life isn't going well. (And sometimes it's just impossible.) But if you can gut out a FEW words under adversity, you'll be that much better when things are bending your way.

I simply can't get enough of these Fortune Cookies!