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

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Best Post Apocalyptic Book (or Series)

What is the best post apocalyptic book (or series)?

Our poll will only be up until tomorrow, so this is absolutely your 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.

Monday, July 29, 2019

The Working (Creative) Writer [Biz of Writing, Meta, Personal Update]

Today's posts meanders through a number of topics I talk about here (the monetary business of creative writing, a personal update, some meta writing about what's coming up next, and let me be up front with you––my monthly appeal at the end). But mostly it's about how slow and sometimes painful it can be to go from a person with a dream to a working writer. 

As always, I ask that you help me to keep from having to constantly spam out calls for patrons and donations (and instead only bang this drum once every couple of weeks) by helping this post on social media with comments and reactions (even if you're only dropping your favorite meme or gif in the comments). 

Biz of Creative Writing

Almost no writer out there working for a living––and even preciously few of the household names–– simply wrote a novel, submitted it, got a book deal, and then forever became a writer by income. Most professional creative writers went through a period where they made some money from writing, but also had to keep working. I know New York Times bestselling authors with multiple books who have had to keep their day jobs. Even Stephen King before the fateful Carrie phone call wrote and sold short stories while he taught.

It's a sad fact of this career. Even if you give it everything you've got, and everything that having a career in writing requires, you will spend some time writing and making no money. Then you will probably spend some time writing and making a tiny little amount of sideline money. Then part-time income (even though it's full-time hours). Then somewhere on the luck/skill T-graph, you might find you're making minimum wage. Depending on your personal finances and drive to write, somewhere along the line, you might be able to start paring back on "day job" hours to make more room for writing.

Of course you can find other kinds of writing, from technical writing to content writing, and even make a very comfortable living. Going the creative route is usually a lot more unstable and unpredictable.

Personal Update

Right now, the money I make from writing means that I technically wouldn't die. But if I want dental insurance, a cell phone, and Ramen that doesn't come in a 244-pack at Costco, I have to do the side gigs too. I could also do better if I moved out of the Bay Area, but that's not really an option.

My schedule recently changed and the new one is a godsend. But I didn't know it was going to be there until a few days before it kicked in. My nanny clients were looking for work and suddenly it was like "You start Monday." I still had a month worth of pet sitting clients on the books, so I started my new awesome schedule while still working my old one.

Last week I worked 55 hours, and that was after I decided that, by fuck, I was going to take a day off.

The week before that was pretty close to 70.

Let me tell you, having no free time doesn't make trying to get back into the dating scene very easy . Mostly I just glower at OKCupid for a few minutes and try to make sense of the fact that they are suggesting a 58% match who lives in Modesto (a mere 90 minutes away) and wants absolutely no guys to message her.

And with a mighty cry to the heavens, I say "AND YET!!!!!"

And yet.

And yet.....

As great at is is to now have the financial stability from writing and nannying to hang up my catnip mouse and leash, pet sitting was an awesome opportunity and I did it for two and a half years. It saved me when I didn't know how I was going to make ends meet. And it is thanks to all of YOU that this is even an option.


The new schedule is awesome, but what doesn't work for me so well is overlaying the new schedule onto the old one where I'm still running around and pet sitting and walking a dog and stuff. I've been getting my ass kicked pretty good these last few weeks. So, much like last week, I'm going to fold in a day off (Tuesday) and do some jazz hands this week. I've even got some guest posts that are really good for you all.


The reason I can hang up my catnip and leash is twofold. Partially it's because of the new nanny schedule.

Mostly it's because of you.

However, the new nanny schedule is only going to be around for six months or a year, and then the new niblet starts preschool and I will be less needed. So, as of this moment, I am on the clock. The countdown has begun. And I'm hoping beyond hope that when that time is up, I won't have to dive back into the mercurial and chaotic schedule of pet sitting.

If you like what I do here and want to see me do more of it, see fewer "jazz hands and guest posts" weeks, and more knock-it-out-of-the-park content like last week's Buy-Me-Lunch Answer About My Sexuality, I'm a guy with bills and rent just like you, and every bill I can pay with writing means a little less side-gigging I have to do. Those great articles take 20 hours or more from beginning to end.

Please consider becoming a Patreon. Monthly donations help me budget, even a dollar a month helps, and I set up one of my best rewards (the monthly newsletter) at only the $3 level because having a lot of lower-tier donors means that I'm not perpetually anxious of what will happen if an upper-tier donor has to pull the plug.

And if an ongoing donation doesn't work, you can always make a one-time donation here (or just click above on the "Conspicuously placed tip jar.") I can also do Venmo at chris.brecheen@gmail.com if that's more your jam.

Friday, July 26, 2019

The Buy-Me-Lunch Answer About My Sexuality

Let me tell you a story.

And before we get going, it's a story of who I might bang in the right kind of circumstances and even some of the (VERY EXPLICIT) logistics of said banging, so if either you're my mother or that's not the sort of thing you want to read, now's your chance to hit one of the clearly marked exits before the ride starts. After this, you just have to tuck and roll and hope that action movie physics will keep your injuries to a minimum.


We're good?

Okay, here we go.

Last year I wrote The Buy Me Lunch Answer About My Gender, and even though I thought I was pretty well shoehorning a personal post into a commentary on labels and words, it turned out to resonate pretty hard. I had always sort of thought I would be doing this article SOME day, but the timing was decided for me when not too long ago, you will be shocked to find out that I ran across people being terrible on the Internet.

This is a similar story. It is a story about why I kind of grudgingly call myself a half a dozen vaguely descriptive terms, but would much rather have lunch with you (your treat because I'm pretty poor) and explain myself.

My old selfies barely look like me these days, so I put a new one up above.

I don't like labels. Unless I do. But usually not.

That might be weird to hear from a writer who deals in words, but I find it is actually ironically common. Maybe it's because writers ["and editors!" -Chris's editor] are the exact sort of people to understand the limitations of language. I'm not telling you that words don't have power. (I know far too well just how much power they have.) I'm telling you that when a signified concept has different signifiers for different people....well, a certain number of them start to act like wankel rotary engines.

If you've been online and discussed sexuality in the last ten years or so, you probably know there's a semantic....let's say dispute between hardline "pansexual" and hardline "bisexual" label enforcers. Most people are content to listen to the concerns the other has about a given label, understand the linguistic history of the LGBTQIA+ movement, respect the labels people choose for themselves (so long as they're not explicitly biphobic or transantagonistic), and honor others' identity. But some load up their No True Scotsman and False Equivalence fallacies and declare themselves the arbiters of What Words Mean™. Either by saying that "pansexual" is biphobic or that "bisexual" is transphobic.

It's just a whole lot of fingers in ears and lalalalala-ing.

I could spend a whole article spanking this kind of bullshit prescriptive dogma, its absolute lack of intellectual rigor, and the erasure damage caused by dismissing someone's identity. Folks out there stamping around, punching down, and not just letting everyone identify how they identify are behaving in what is a shocking echo to telling someone what ethnicity they REALLY are or what gender they REALLY are....since obviously they know better than the actual person.

And while I'm sure such an article would definitely do the trick, solve this issue, crack the case, probably end meanness online in general, and maybe even stop climate change, instead I just wanted to examine why, despite hating labels, I kind of grudgingly say "pansexual" as I hold out my flat hand and tilt its angle back and forth.

But what I really want is for you to buy me lunch.

Avoided label #1

I think I am probably on the "asexual" spectrum. Not very far, but I'm there. I wouldn't have thought I was in a million years if I weren't regularly exposed to so much thought about sex and sexuality. I generally like sex, often like it A LOT, and I've had my share of multiple-times-a-day during a honeymoon period. But as I read people's experiences, the phrase that kept coming up for people on the mild end of the spectrum wasn't that they were repelled by sex or experienced no sexual interest or couldn't ever get aroused, but "I can take it or leave it."

Yes. That.

I have a great sex life...with myself. And part of the reason I wouldn't have pegged myself as "Ace" (hur hur "pegged myself") if I hadn't done a lot of reading about Ace experiences is because of just how frequently I have a great sex life with myself. 

I mean really, REALLY good. I rock my world.

With other people, though? Eh. It varies? I'm not apathetic. I'm not going to lay there and let someone else do all the work. But my desire is based on enthusiasm. I'll be the first to admit that when my partners kind of just want to phone it in and let me do the work, I'm usually perfectly happy to help them with that, but I'm probably going to be more "leave it" than "take it" with myself if they're not putting some enthusiasm in my direction. I'm like a moon instead of a sun. I can be quite bright, but I'm not generating the light so much as reflecting what is sent my way. If my partners are not enthusiastic participants (which can mean distracted, uninterested, or preoccupied), approach sex like it is a banal working of body mechanics, or are just passive, my interest shrivels up.

Sorry about that visual.


I have so many flags that could apply to me, but this one
is the Reciprosexual flag.
None. I can admire someone's body. I can be attracted to a person. I can be interested in what sex might be like with someone. And in a relationship with enough consistent, demonstrated desire I can learn to make the first move and signal my interest in being up for something if the other person is. (I've only recently come into contact with a word that describes this—reciprosexual—and it's on the ace spectrum.) But there's quite literally no interest if it's not a "hell yeah." 

Which tends to mean someone being into me is much more a factor in whether I'm into them than any physical attribute, attitude, or particular characteristic.

But my Aceness (if that's what you want to call it) doesn't end there. (More about my ace-ness here: The Buy Me Lunch Answer About Asexuality)

I (often) will take care of my partner without wanting anything in return. I enjoy that act of service, but I could take it or leave it for me. Sometimes, though, this causes some "gender reverse" situations.  I've had partners who I needed to slow the heck down (and some who didn't after I said so). I have had partners who didn't engage me in enough foreplay (both in ways that were abrupt and off-putting too early in an encounter but also in ways that didn't turn me on enough to get off). I have had partners get off but leave me wanting (sometimes literally rolling over to go to sleep while I contemplated satisfying myself). I have had partners use me without checking in. I've had partners focus on my orgasm like it's the only thing that mattered in what we were doing. I've had partners ask every few seconds if I was going to come. I've had partners take it personally and even get upset when I wasn't in the mood to have P.I.V. sex or wasn't in the headspace to have an orgasm. I've had partners be coercive about sex, whinging to the point where I simply did it because the fight we would have would be worse.

There's a reason I usually relate to women's accounts of disappointing sex much more than men's. All of the above were AFAB women. 

I think a lot of guys have stories of women who just thought they had to show up and be naked, or who were non responsive, and when I read them, it always seems like the guy didn't enjoy it much, but it also didn't exactly stop him. For me, there's a certain physiological response that makes just....um....plowing ahead (this shit writes itself sometimes) rather difficult. If I'm not into something* my physiological response tends to come and go. [Yes, I'm talking about an erection. Everyone do a synchronized clutch of your pearls.] So that lack of enthusiasm sometimes led to some pretty spectacular disasters in situations where my partner really did think that sex involved them being there and being pretty and what the hell is wrong with Chris that he just wants to go down on me again and call it a night?

I can take a lot of foreplay to warm up and even require some halftime coaxing to stay there.

(*I fucking swear I didn't even mean to do that one. It REALLY writes itself.)

It didn't take long to learn how empty, unfulfilling, and frustrating casual sex could be as a crapshoot with someone's willingness to work with my non-traditional sexual response. There are absolutely folks whose expectations of sex are utterly heteronormative––they expect to be drilled like an oil derrick for five to ten minutes by a rock-hard penis just for showing up and stripping down. I've never been the guy who could make that happen. I get nervous, I get overheated, I get desensitized. I get too far into my own head. I want or need a break.

And the more heteronormative the expectations of "what sex is," the more of a letdown I tend to be. If I were the type to get a raging erection early and often, I might have been able to fake it through a few more of the encounters I had in my twenties, but I've never been that guy either. Sadly mine tends to come and go like the quirky neighbor in a sitcom. So once I'm clearly a letdown and focusing on that in my head, things tend to spiral downward pretty quickly.

Partners working with me often made for spectacular events worthy of the songs of scops, but partners who expected me to be Pornoguy McDrillmaster made for events just as epic in their badness. I'd have rather been spending quality time with myself (if you know what I mean) or, hell, even reading a good book. Being pretty take it or leave it about partners I didn't know were going to be supportive, accepting, possibly patient, and with a willingness to explore ways to get me off that weren't the ol' in and out––or even just accept that it wasn't happening this time––has led me to mostly consider trust and intimacy high premiums...things it's awfully hard to find in someone you don't know.

Ironically, I've had some lovely Friends With Benefits relationships, where the sex was even better than some of my romances.

If I'm not feeling safe and secure in a relationship (whether it's a friendship or a romantic one), my interest––and even my body mechanics––will betray me. I'm absolutely one of those people with whom the strength of the relationship and the caliber of the sex are mirrors. So while I am attracted to attractive strangers, and I still sort of imagine an increasingly implausible scenario in which hours of deep conversation leads to same-day connection, sex has been disappointing enough that I really want to know someone is going to bring something that will tip the scales from the fact that I could really take it or leave it.

Let me tell ya, it makes play parties are a little weird for me when I don't know anyone there, which is sort of hard to avoid unless you've been going to a lot of them in the same area for a while.

I've learned recently this is true even when it's not. For about a year, I've been on a prescription for Tadalafil, and while it certainly makes for a much more responsive erection and a few double, triple, and even quadruple headers that make me feel like I'm in my 20s again, as well as basically zero frustrating "Okay-maybe-we-can-try-on-me-again-later-let's-do-some-more-with-you" moments, I still find that I'm not having sex because I'm horny and want an orgasm. (I can get a great one of those by myself in a tenth of the time.) I'm still chasing that connection and trying to make someone I care about feel good (both of which can be achieved without sex and/or orgasm). I probably COULD perform without all the overflowing trust, but I have no interest in it. It would just be body mechanics. Even with a raging erection—I can STILL take it or leave it. 

Some people think this might put me on the "demisexual" spectrum. Maybe? It seems like the ironic fact that the more sex is treated as PLAY rather than a solemn ritual laden with expectations, then the more I'm into it. Some people think that's the opposite of demi. Certainly I've never found sex and love to need to go hand in hand. I've had great sex without love. I've had great love without sex.

But trust? And enthusiasm.  Those are all too vital.

That's why you're buying me lunch instead of just getting a list of labels. This comment section is already going to be a trash fire of people insisting I am actually X or am not really Y.

Avoided label #2

If you're on my Facebook page or watch my personal updates closely, you probably have realized that I'm "non-monogamous." (Ethically so.) That means I have more than one relationship at a time and that I am open and honest about all of them with everyone else. Some of those relationships are deep and loving. Some are friends I trust and bang. Some are local. Most are frustratingly far away. 

Twas not always so.

When I was a teenager, I was actually kind of the jealous type. I tried not to be, but I had a lot of cultural programming from a toxic culture about how people who love each other should act. (And, without going too far down the rabbit hole, usually my spidey senses were spot on, so I wasn't like.... indiscriminately jealous.) There's a lot to unpack about how I ended up married to the first person who expressed the slightest attraction to me (I was pretty messed up after a stint of being Muslim and feeling unlovable), but suffice to say that in my mid-twenties, I was married to a Mormon (and was technically Mormon myself for a hot minute), and another couple invited us to swing. While that didn't really ever work out like gangbusters (and there are whole stories here that I'm skimming over), the couple's check-out-all-this-dysfunction, bad-boy roommate convinced my spouse of this "polyamory" thing I'd never heard of, and I came home one day to find A) that I had been cheated on and B) an ultimatum about being polyamorous if I wanted to remain married.

Good times. Good times.

Today I would take just the fact OF the ultimatum (regardless of any interest in the polyamory) and tell the person to get bent, but at the time I was a little ball of insecurities and.....well, whatever the opposite of boundaries is.

And the rest is history. I've been non-monogamous ever since. That relationship ended in the non-monogamous version of cheating (involving breaking of trust and agreements) a decade and a half ago [2022 edit—almost two decades ago], but the non-monogamy stuck. Mostly because I've always BEEN with someone who is polyamorous or engaged in some level of non-monogamy from years and years of polyfi Vs to "I'm just dating a few people right now." But I'm not like one of these people who says "If I weren't ethically non-monogamous, I would just cheat." or "I feel hard-wired to be non-monogamous." If somehow, tomorrow, all my polyamorous relationships ended spectacularly and exactly at the same time someone monogamous came along who was worth giving up threesome jokes totally real threesomes for, that would be great too.

I'm definitely not resentful (anymore) that I got coerced into being polyamorous. I'm pretty good at it these days, to be honest! In the last fifteen years, I really haven't felt jealousy. [2022 edit—okay, I've had to work on this again—my insecurities in particular—when it comes to Rhapsody.] I have felt some envy about people who have no end of success seducing everything that moves and hooking up their wild group sex birthday parties just by making a couple of phone calls, but I really don't feel that sort of controlling jealousy. I even spent a hot moment in therapy worried about whether that was a sign that I was keeping people out. (Turns out that's pretty unlikely, given that my other feelings towards my loved ones can be quite loud.) My main thing is that agreements with partners––whether those agreements are monogamy or those agreements are that we send each other a text message if we're spending the night with someone else that night––are not one-sided.

There's certainly more to say about the agreements that I'm willing and not willing to get into with partners (I don't like hierarchical polyamorous relationship structures that can "veto" people or experiences, for example, and I focus on autonomy––or in a monogamous relationship, the person better understand that I require a LOT of personal time and I am probably going to fall short if they expect me to be a source of direct engaged stimulation any time they're not at work or asleep), but this approaches the level of detail that only someone who were a partner would really require.

I found the term "ambiamorous" in an article a few months back and was delighted. ("Oh look. It me!") It means could be monogamous...or I could be polyamorous. It really depends on who I'm with and what they want. Perfect. There's a label I did like and discovered a thing about myself that resonates and other people share and helps me not to feel so alone. (Sometimes labels rule.)

Okay....well.....except for the fact that there is still a metric buttload of explanation required around what "non-monogamy" means, and everyone does it differently.

Hence the lunch.

Like really, really differently.

Avoided Label #3

This is more of a quick rest stop before we get to the main event, but it's worth mentioning because it gets tangled up with attractions and affections.

It wouldn't have occurred to me until recently as I got further into the world of fluid labels and binary rejection, but many of my relationships with men, I would characterize as "romances." Often non-sexual (though these days, not always). But romances nonetheless. I wanted to spend time with them, made gestures, paid for things if they couldn't. In many cases they were as important or more so than my romantic or sexual relationships. Sometimes there were difficult fights and even, in some cases, breakups after a fashion. And I would be sick during our periods of estrangement. There weren't sexual dynamics, but "platonic" doesn't quite cut it and "bromance" is too chic and overused.

Of course more and more as time went on and I rejected the heteronormative assumptions I'd been raised with, I would consider what affection (beyond the hi/bye hugs) would look like with these men (usually quite pleasant). Eventually I'd even think about sex. Not that I was attracted to them necessarily, but with that trust and intimacy of friendship, if they wanted to "play" as sort of an extension of that deep friendship (or certainly if they wanted to have me join them playing with someone I both trusted and was more conventionally attracted to), I have and would again.

It is mostly a case of wanting to make them happy and feel good and less of my own raw desire, but it happens.

Avoided label #4

I'm not sexually attracted to masculinity.

The more masculine someone is, the less I'm sexually attracted to them. This tends to go tenfold for those carrying around expressions of TOXIC masculinity. I have friendships with masculine people, and sometimes I form platonic romances with those people (see above), and those could be possibly be sexual if the guy wanted it, but I'm not that into dudes. So MOST men don't do it for me.

As the slider moves (towards androgyny and then femme), my attraction tends to grow. If I get whiplash looking across the room, it was probably at some sort of femme aesthetic. I should say here that there are a lot of things that can attract me to someone other than their outward appearance (as I mentioned above), and I've fallen hard and QUITE physically for people who are androgynous and even a little masc, but that pure initial physiological response tracks.

Because of this, for many years, I simply called myself straight. My platonic romances could be written off as really good friendships (and they were), and none of those men had ever made a pass at me anyway, so that was moot. I just thought I had an active imagination and wasn't a homophobe. I was mostly attracted to women. Mostly NOT attracted to men.

Then one day––a few years ago––it sort of just OCCURRED to me that I was having an on-again-off-again sexual relationship with someone who is non-binary. They had a lot of femme presentation, but they were gender neutral. And that led me to consider that one of my AFAB partners identifies as a man. And I'm definitely attracted to other men (even if that attraction almost always exists because of some thread of femme). 

"I guess I'm not exactly straight," I thought.

This is the reason that if forced to choose a one-word label, I reach for "pansexual" instead of "bisexual." I'm still not that into cis-dudes or masculinity, although I've definitely had experiences with bodies that had penises. MOSTLY I'm not into guys. So unless I'm using a very shorthand or sharing a meme, I don't feel like "bi" REALLY applies because I feel like that suggests something is there that isn't (attraction to men). But people I have been sexual with (at this epiphany moment and since) have not all been women. Some have even been men. And I am sexually attracted to folks regardless of their gender. And my attraction ALSO happens regardless of people's plumbing (a few logistical alterations in what to do to make someone feel good doesn't really matter). The trust and THEIR enthusiasm is more important to me than the body configuration. So I'm definitely not straight. I shy from that "bisexual" label (personally, your mileage may very, you do you, your way right away at Burger King now) because my attraction, while perhaps growing more willing to play and experiment with men I trust and to whom I have connection, hasn't really changed.


I don't like labels, but some seem to hit closer than others. Some people insist I'm "queer." (And I do use that word in some contexts when I don't feel the need to be at all precise.) Some say "bisexual." (But I have my reasons for why that seems a slightly less good fit FOR ME.) Some say "pan." (Look, maybe kinda, but I'm still going to ask you to buy me lunch because one word isn't going to cover it.)

I know I'm going to take heat for this article. I'll lose some of my religious followers. Maybe even a couple of friends from old jobs or high school. But I think those of us with the privilege and position to come out have GOT to be willing to talk about this stuff. To explore the complexities and the rainbow of human expression beyond labels. To understand that the full array of human variation absolutely applies to one of our most common behaviors. But also just to talk about it AT ALL. 

The heteronormative world that seeks to push everything into one of two or––if VERY "open minded––three columns. ("Oh, but also please shut up about it if you're in column 2 or 3" because that's "shoving it in our face.")  And they complain bitterly that anything beyond that is "too complicated." (Usually after memorizing all the Pokemon and learning Elvish from Lord of the Rings.) I'd hate to see double plus ungood linguistic minimalism be allowed to define us when there's a whole world of lunches out there with which to extrapolate on as blunt an instrument as a label. And absolutely they can't be allowed to silence this discussion in a broader sense.

It is also possible that this article will not "age well." This discourse will finally gain "traction" of a sort and one side or the other will achieve a critical mass in what are appropriate/inappropriate terms. Please check the date on the article before you assume I popped it off last night, will ya?

Still, when it comes to self-identities as complex as gender and sexuality, it is 31 flavors of obnoxious, elitist, gatekeepery, and shitty to dictate to entire groups of people how they ought to identify, to presume their (group) ignorance of any discourse, to "No True Scotsman" the label you insist they REALLY have while arbitrating that language only ever changes in the way you proclaim it to have changed (thus the label you deem the One True Label™ cannot possibly be tainted in any mind), and proclaiming that anyone who fails to immediately fall in line with their suggestion is some flavor or another of bigot.

....rather than simply take the two goddamned minutes to ask someone why they picked that label and listen with a little good faith understanding.

Also, in my case, buy me lunch.

[If you would like to actually buy me lunch, feel welcome (perhaps even encouraged?) to drop a couple of bucks into the tip jar.]

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Best Post Apocalyptic Book (Or Series) [Reminder to vote]

What is the best post apocalyptic book (or series)? 

This poll will only run until the end of July, so don't forget 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.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Follow-Up Questions About Developmental Editors Mailbox

What if I've already done the proofreading? Peer review or paid content editing? Did I trade developmental editing for massage or "massage"? What do I think of Fictionary?

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer questions about once a week. I will use your first name ONLY, unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous.  My comment policy also may mean one of your comments ends up in the mailbox. Yes, enough follow-up questions and (clearly) I will do another post.] 

All of our questions today come as a follow up to Thursday's Mailbox "I Can't Afford a Development Editor"

Daniel asks:

I worked really hard on my story and I did a revision to clean up the parts that didn't make sense and then I spent nearly a thousand dollars on what you have called line editing and copyediting. As far as I'm concerned, I'm done. Now you're telling me the first thing I should have done is some totally different kind of editing plus some sensitivity read? What if I thought about my story before I wrote it and it's exactly what I want it to be? I would have to change everything and then do all the other editing again, right? Where do you get off?

My reply:

Usually in my bedroom. Some music on. A little bit of literotica on the iPad though sometimes there's an enthusiastic partner––

Oh you didn't actually mean...

Daniel, next to me I have a brand-new, newly purchased Lumen 4000 Sunshine Blower with an anal attachment. I can kick this bad boy up to maximum and blow 23 OCTILLION candlepower, or literally the brightness of actual sunshine, straight up your ass, and tell you that surely your story doesn't need developmental editing because you thought about it a lot.

But I'm guessing you'd rather I didn't. And I'm really, really sorry. The graveyard of unpublished works is filled with millions of drafts of folks who thought they were also the exception.

Think about all the movies or shows or books you ever hated. Did you hate them because of the camera work? Did you hate them because of the editing cuts? Did you hate them because you caught a few typos? You probably didn't. You probably hated them because they were boring. Because they had characters who were not compelling. A "plot twist" was so out of left field and unforeseeable that it just felt like a random drop of bullshit with no hints that it was coming––or so overtelegraphed that it was painfully obvious 100 pages before it happened. Because the stakes were too low or the efforts of the protagonist didn't matter because "the cavalry arrived" or something deus ex machina that made their efforts meaningless and they could have just gone for a drink on the first page and nothing would have changed. The plot got too convoluted....or maybe it was just too simple. The intellectual pretension was palpable. The moral lesson was....well, a moral LESSON. It was contrived. The exposition was ham-handed. Maybe they forced women or POC into stereotypical roles.

These are big problems. And no copy editor or line editor is going to be able to help you fix that stuff. (A line editor might be able to help you with some specific moments of a portrayal.) And you can absolutely have incredible technical elements in a story that is falling on its face in so many other regards from character development to rushed pacing to dreadful portrayals of folks typically struggling for some decent representation.

*presses lips together and stays conspicuously silent*
Image description: GIF of Game of Thrones shot where Daenerys appears to have wings unfurl.
But it is actually a dragon taking flight behind her. 
What you need is someone who is able to identify what's not working in a story, not what's not working in a sentence or a paragraph. These are actually harder things for writers to know need fixing than any misplaced comma. You need someone who doesn't KNOW your character to tell you if they're making sense or not. You need someone who doesn't understand the plot to tell you they're confused. You need someone who isn't in your head to point out that your words aren't doing what you think they are.

I know it sucks to have done the editing out of order. Now you have to face the fact that you're probably going to go through and change all that copyedited stuff. And then you'll have to redo the line editing and copy editing....again. This is part of the reason I try to gently suggest to people who are humping the walls to get proofreading of their first drafts that they really aren't even done writing it yet.

I'm really sorry to be the messenger. And if you don't believe me, give it a shot and see what happens. But I think if you want to get a book deal (or if you're self-publishing, to sell more than a few dozen copies to your family and friends), you probably need to think about that tough layer of content editing.

Anonymous asks:

You say that you can get good editing help through peer review, but you also seem to think a writer should pay for a professional content edit. I'm a bit confused. Which is it?

My reply:


I hate to be all "Only you know the roads down which you must travel, Grasshopper," with you, but I don't know what your goals are with your writing. I don't know what you're trying to accomplish. I don't know how good you want this book you're writing to be. Are you looking to get it published and move right on with the sequel? Do you just want money and readers? Is "good enough" going to be good enough for you? Or are you trying to leave an indelible mark on the world of literature by writing something that won't soon be forgotten?

I know a number of authors who make VERY comfortable livings writing what I call "popcorn books." They're fun and have a very light crunch, but they're not very nutritious. (Usually one reads them once and moves on.) Usually we're talking about fan service books, a series of some beloved characters or group of characters, and they come out with a new one somewhere between every nine months to a year and change. For any of these folks, the two grand or so that a professional editor might cost to do a content edit would cut into their bottom line.

If you're writing a popcorn book, you probably don't need more than some thorough peer review from a trusted group of feedback-givers. Get the glaring errors out, smooth over the roughest edges, publish and move on. No one is going to care if the 16th part of The Misliglemonth Mystery Series (the intrepid––and smutty––adventures of a half-succubus demon hunter named Misliglemonth)  involved a chapter that dragged. They're too busy rereading chapter four on their iPads in their bedrooms with some music on....erm.....ahem.

Or....is this the book? Is this the one you want to be special? Maybe your first book. Maybe the one you've held in your heart since childhood. The one you want to get RIGHT! In that case an investment in your writing might be well worth it (even if you have to barter or something or scrimp and save). I wouldn't start professional with your second draft unless you have twenty thousand dollars to burn, but after you've given it everything you can and maybe some peer review, and it is as glittering as you can make it, hand it off to a professional. These people know what they're doing. They are basically always also writers. They have degrees and experience. They have been giving feedback like this for years. And some of it might feel nitpicky, but you will come out knowing how to make your book the best it can be.

Only you know which nostril is stuffed up, Grasshopper.  Wait...what?

Charlie asks:

You said you traded content editing for massage. Did you mean massage or "massage."

My reply: 

I can't believe you write in to a second rate blog about writing to try to be titillated. Are you going to ask me if my refrigerator is running next?

Listen, Chaz, I'm firmly in the "Sex work is real work" camp, so you wouldn't be able to shame me either way. I want sex work legalized so that sex workers can get labor rights, so that traffickers aren't harder to find and prosecute because no one will report them for fear of legal repercussions, and so it is roughly a gajillion times safer (both health and violence-wise) for the sex workers themselves. Autonomy, dignity, fair labor practices, and access to evidence-based care are all reduced (not increased) by stigmatizing sex work and that includes giggling at the clients. You know what isn't reduced? The amount of sex work that goes on. Thanks for coming to my Ted Talk.

But in this case, I meant the kind that didn't end in an orgasm.

David asks:

I've just read your interesting response to Emma's query about developmental editing.

I can't afford a human, but I'm looking at Fictionary (the story-editing tool, not the game). Their subscription of $20 a month might be feasible, but I'm wondering how useful it's likely to be. (My MS will be around 200k words.)

Do you have any views on this (or similar) software?

My reply:

Short answer, David, I would probably not bother, but $20 a month is not that bad if it really helps you and not too much up front to be a risky venture. They even have a free trial. Just don't expect this (or any other program) to really do much heavy lifting.

It seems like what Fictionary does could be easily reproduced by asking yourself a few key questions about every chapter and character as you go along. However if you swear by organizational tools like Scrivener, you might check it out. It seems to have some line editing capabilities, to point out passive constructions, too many linking verbs, modals, pronouns, evaluate your vocabulary level, etc... It claims to be able to show you how your arcs are working in the overall story, but it also seems to ask you how certain plot and character lines are progressing, so I think you could be doing the same thing just by checking in with yourself every chapter.

Dubious Chris is dubious.

I had to do some research to try to answer this question, and I found a few red flags. I didn't plumb the depths of Google, but I took a cursory look around, and what I saw was that Fictionary had very few reviews and the only few I could find were either pretty clearly shills or were kind of like "Six tools to help your writing" type content blogs. I don't know if they get kickbacks from the apps they mention, but I think they might....so also shills(?). No shitty reviews. No plain-spoken authors who swear by it. No one who said, "Yeah it's okay, I guess, if that's your thing." Nothing.

Red flag #2: Fictionary makes some pretty lofty claims about what it can do for your writing. Don't get me wrong, we all want to sell ourselves, but being able to process beta reader feedback into exactly how to fix your work or how to change your non-selling-well-enough self-published book to boost your sales sounds like the sort of thing that requires some one-on-one with a tutor, not a computer program.

My problem with this program is the same as my problem with all unmanned programs of this type. The computer doesn't know what you MEANT. It can't possibly see what you're trying to do and help you get there. It is built of algorithms and word scans. It can tell you if you used passive construction, but not if you had a good reason for doing so. It can tell you that your vocabulary level is eighth grade, but not if you're getting the narrative voice right for your character who dropped out of high school. It can tell you that you're using too many modals, but not that you should because right now, your character is contemplating the future. It doesn't know if a complete non-sequitur chapter is a total derailment of the plot, or one of those delightful moments like the invading armada that gets swallowed by a dog in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. It's clinical. You can have a perfectly arched story with absolutely no humanity or an incredibly poignant vignette in which the only central conflict was getting up to get a glass of water.

It's like the literary version of ironically using an idiom and then running the text through Google Translate.

I know it's really frustrating to tell a writer who really wants to make it that what they probably need is another five years or more of reading voraciously. That this is what's really going to give them the sense of pacing and character. It's frustrating to young writers who think they are just a few punchy verbs away from a writing career, that they need more practice. But that's how these programs make their money. They improve things a little (they aren't useless), but then you still end up needing a lot of the direct help anyway. They're not as useful as years of grounding in reading or a human who's been doing this for fifteen years.

It is likely that Fictionary would be really good at helping you improve your second or third draft, but would not be able to take the place of a professional development editor (or really good peer review) further down the line.

On the other hand, $20 is pretty cheap. I can't even watch an IMAX Star Wars movie in the city for that little anymore. And it probably wouldn't take you more than a month to figure out if it were genuinely helping you craft a story or if were mostly just one of those subscription services where you are expected to sign up, be enthusiastic about for a few days and then "forget" to cancel.

Heck you could even sign up for the trial, run your second draft through it to get some revision suggestions and then cancel before the trial period is over. But don't tell them I told you so.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Moving Some Stuff Around (Personal Update)

I mentioned my really sweet schedule on Monday, but what I didn't mention (and forgot myself because I have a tendency to run full speed into the brick wall of my own ambitions) is that I still have the last of my pet sitting jobs to finish up.

I'm hanging out with a dog three days a week. That's a nice long walk (to help this 60 pounds of ripcord muscle good boy burn through some of his remnant puppy energy) and then some hanging out just to give it a little less time alone while one of its humans is out of town. He's a good boy, but the walks are about an hour, the hang outs usually an hour more, the drive out to south Oakland and back about an hour (Oakland is weirdly huge and you can easily drive 30 minutes from Oakland and still be in Oakland).

And this is three days a week. I can double dip a bit by writing during the "hang out" time, but I'm doing that thing I do where I pretend that quick jobs with drive times don't add up.

I'm also doing a pet sitting job (my last job) this week. That's got a dog who needs walking and a whole system of pet feeding that goes down twice a day.

This is just to say that since I'm trying to be better about this overworking stuff, and even though I can bring a great posting schedule to bear because of my current nanny schedule, I have to admit that I can't do the new schedule AND the old one concurrently. In order to try and keep this next week under 70 hours, I'm going to take it a little easy this week (and next).

So this is all I'm doing for today, and I'm taking Thursday off. There's still plenty of good stuff planned. 

There isn't much didactic wisdom I can drill out of this announcement, and I know that if I counted all the readers who give a crap about my posting schedule as anything more than a reminder that even working writers struggle to find their writing time, I wouldn't have to take off my socks to count them, but I will say this:

(And it is a paradox and annoying as fuck.)

I think part of the reason I make money from creative writing is, in part, because I am brutal about my self-expectations. And from what I've seen of other working writers, that is part of the cocktail of what makes a working writer. The ONE thing I see professional artists have in common over and over and over and over again is that they're driven. Maybe even just a bit more than fits into a good work/life balance.

I meet a lot of people who want to know the magic of paying the bills with writing (the side gigs are to have health insurance and brand name peanut butter). "How do you accomplish this sorcery??!??" they demand. But when I tell them to try their level best to write every day, they act like I've gone off the rails. Then they scratch their heads the next time my career bounces forward, and demand again to know how I've pulled it off.

I am always trying to walk that tightrope between the fact that I will be less productive if I'm overworked, overtired, or overextended, and the fact that I don't think I would be doing as well if gave myself permission to stop writing every time I worked a sixty-hour week, had to come home after a long day and do some writing, or took a break at the first hint of overwhelmed.

Like any athlete or artist or anyone who is professional in a world where most are hobbyists and largely unpaid, pushing oneself to be better is forever a decision to ignore the little voice that says to just take a break and instead be just a little bit "extra."

I want you all to be the best YOU you can be, and if that means realizing that you love writing, but not enough to give up free time, video games, Netflix, a social life, or to do whatever it takes to wrangle it into a career, go be happy and do other things with your life and know that you made a good choice to write when it makes you happy.

And if that means going all in, do it with full knowledge of the sacrifice, but be careful you don't overdo it, and once in a while––JUST ONCE IN A WHILE––go ahead and remember that 15 extra hours of side gigs is a lot even if you don't feel like "just walking a dog" should interrupt your writing or if those 15 hours are deceptively spread out over a week.

And give yourself a damn day off.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Types of Editing (The Very Basics)

Not all editing is created equal. And while many newer writers with the ink still drying on their first drafts think the only thing they really need is a quick revision and a careful proofreading, there are actually several levels of editing to go through. Proofing (usually called copyediting) is the last step. This is the opposite of what most new writers seem to believe, thinking a first draft really just needs a few well placed commas to polish it into the masterpiece it is. I actually get an email every week or so that seems certain that if the grammar were perfect, the story would blow the New York Times bestseller list away so hard, they would be the next James Patterson.

*Developmental (or Content) editing 1–5 ms pgs/hr $40–60/hr
*Substantive or line editing 1–6 ms pgs/hr $40–60/hr
Sensitivity reading 1-10 ms pgs/hr $30-60/hr
Basic copyediting (proofreading) 5–10 ms pgs/hr $30–40/hr
Heavy copyediting (proofreading) 2–5 ms pgs/hr $40–50/hr

*This is the kind of editing that your cute and cuddly Writing About Writing blogger Chris sometimes does freelance. Please don't ask about copyediting. It's not pretty. 

I will periodically update these prices.

Of course, even the range of these prices is not comprehensive. Unless you're getting a deal, I'd worry about the skill level of your editor if you're finding something at a substantially lower price than these (say more than $10 less). You might have found one of those amazing deals or someone who hasn't realized what they're worth yet, but it's just as likely the quality of their editing might not be professional. Of course you can find lots of stuff that's more expensive, even WAY more expensive. Everything from services that combine line and copy editing, charge $150/hr (but you get your stuff back by the next day), to writers whose names you might even recognize who will read your stuff (usually for $100-$200/hr or even more) and give you some feedback. (It's not necessarily worth that much more, but you get to say "Author McRecognizablename edited the first part of my book.") Just be careful. If you're paying much more than these prices, there should be a damned good reason, or you might be getting fleeced.

Developmental/Content editing: This is the big stuff. The character arcs that aren't working. The scenes that are redundant or dead air. The problems with pacing. The writing that seems stiff. The confusing setting. The tone that shifts. The dialogue that has no heat. The ham-handed exposition. This is the level of editing where you don't get told to make small changes (these people won't even circle a typo), but rather huge, massive ones. ("I would cut out this whole part. That entire character isn't working. Your story really begins at chapter 3.") It can be TOUGH to hear this about something you poured so much into.

This means this is also the level of editing most writers tend to avoid when they are first starting out and a little convinced that they are sitting on a masterpiece....or at LEAST will never have to do this kind of editing. (Spoiler: We all do.) It is paradoxically the hardest and slowest and most important level of editing to crafting a good piece of fiction.

Fortunately for your pocketbook, a handful of trusted peer review can save you from round after round of developmental/content editing. If you're writing the great American novel, you might want to have a professional take the last pass, but the more you trust your peer reviewer cohort, the more you can exchange your own feedback on their shit for the heavy lifting.

Substantive/Line editing: This is editing that is somewhere between the nuts and bolts of grammar and the lofty craft of fiction. It deals with the skillfulness of the writing itself. It concerns itself with "Is there a better way to word this?" The paragraph structure that is too monotonous. The sentence rhythm that relies on too many multiple clauses and not enough simple sentences for emphasis. The use of too many adverbs. A better word than that one for what you're trying to describe. Making it clearer what the action is, who is talking, or what they are trying to say.

When you change the font to read something with fresh eyes or try to read it out loud to yourself, this is the level at which you are hoping to catch mistakes.

Sensitivity Reading: This level of editing can weave throughout the other levels, even conceivably going into grammar if someone's speech patterns are reflected in their language. This is basically an editing pass for people who want to get their portrayals of typically-marginalized groups right without falling into cliché tropes or harmful stereotypes (even unintentionally). It may possibly point out how badly a work seems to be MISSING any kind of diversity. It is also useful to avoid a this-alien-race-is-a-stand-in-for-this-Earth-culture or the everyone-just-has-white-people-values-in-the-future trope. In an awful lot of "bold" science fiction written by men, for example, the women are still housewives and secretaries. Basically the more axes of privilege someone is on (white, male, cis, het), the more they should consider getting a sensitivity reader if they don't want to have an unintended impact that––post-publication––turns into the kind of criticism they never wanted.

Note: It would be extraordinarily INsensitive to try to get this sort of editing for free. You are literally asking someone to do something called "emotional labor" for you on a grand scale (you can look that up if you want to understand it a little better) People doing uncompensated emotional labor for hours and hours so that privileged folks (like straight white dudes) can understand "What's racist/sexist/homophobic about THAT?" is EXPLICITLY one of the problems of unequal power dynamics in our society. So pay them or barter something WELL worth it, but compensate them for this shit.

Copyediting/(Proofreading*): This editing gets into the grammar. Word form. Word meaning. Punctuation. Word order in some cases. Verb tenses. All that good gracious shit that you learned the names of in high school and then forgot but probably know better than you think you do if you're reading anywhere near enough to be a writer in the first place. We all make mistakes and a second set of eyes is vital for anything you want to submit. (And as the guy who has gotten more than a few shitty emails about my own grammar mistakes including not a few unkind words as regard to my ability to pass 11th grade, I would recommend it on anything you put out into the world at ALL if you can swing it.)

Copyediting tends to go faster the better copy is when it's received, so someone who has done their due diligence cleaning up their own copy can get several more pages per hour out of a copyeditor than someone who hands them a train wreck. Given that on a novel, this could be over a thousand dollars in editing fees, it's worth learning to clean up your own glaring grammar errors and hope that an editor just catches the few that get past you.

*That sound you just heard was everyone in the publishing industry clearing their throat. Though used 100% interchangeably in much modern vernacular and in most places that you'll try to find editors to hire, if you're elbow-rubbing in old-school or "official" publishing circles "proofreading" is often referred to only as the final pass before publication to catch the last of the mistakes before something goes to print. (It literally has to do with the proofs [or "galley proofs"] that typically had extra wide margins for notes, but are really not used anymore because the technology has changed.) In modern parlance, "proofreading" is a last step to clean up formatting errors and such. However, most people who aren't in the publishing industry mush the terms together and use them interchangeably (descriptive language being what it is) because they both become important at the end of the full editing process. No editor will be UNABLE to understand what you want if you ask them to "proofread" your manuscript (nor will they mock you for not knowing industry-lingo rather than using the word the same way every high school teacher on earth does when they tell you to "proofread carefully"). Strictly speaking though, proofreading should be only your very last step before publication (and looks for different kinds of mistakes) and is distinct from copyediting in that regard.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

I Can't Afford A Developmental Editor (Mailbox)

What do you do if you can't afford a content editor but you know you need one?

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer questions about once a week.  I will use your first name ONLY, unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous.  My comment policy also may mean one of your comments ends up in the mailbox. We are back and now it is time to dig into.....dramatic music....The Backlog.]   
Emma asks:

Hey Mr. Chris,

I've only ever weathered peer reviews during a single Creative Writing course way back in high school, and have recently met up against a wall when it comes to polishing drafts on my lonesome.  Editors deserve payment for the professional service they could lend a 100k-200k+ manuscript (which I can't afford just now), and any willing audience can't quite pinpoint when or why a particular chapter can't keep their attention, though technical mistakes are easily resolved with their help.

So far I've applied font swapping to help catch wrong-footed phrasing, and reading out loud to better manage prose and wordflow.  I take breaks when I'm stuck to read some new authors for a refresher, but it feels like we're all suffering from the same 'character-driven' plot anemia, like maybe the introspective nature of writing has left modern storytelling open to a self-centered sort of rambling that can dull thematic impact.

I have a bad habit of skipping over chapters in published works that feel like filler or pointless exposition, like the author could have done with an editor's help - but when my readers express the same, it's always a different chapter per dissent, so.

I have "if you're bored, then you're boring" tattooed on the inside of my eyelids; but any tips for helping the hermits of the craft apply fresh perspective to swerve their own blind spots?  The Google results are too frenetic.

Thanks For Your Time!

My reply:
Have you tried the head itch test? I swear by it. I'm only sort of kidding, but let's get to that in a moment.

[We interrupt your regularly scheduled Mailbox to bring you a quick announcement that Mailbox posts will be returning as a weekly segment (on Thursdays) thanks to our new schedule and the Patrons who made quitting pet sitting possible. As I work my way back through what is truly the most epic of backlogs, with some questions literally going back as far as 2013, and the very realization that statistically speaking, someone out there has DIED waiting for my answer, I will be mixing in both new and old questions. However, if you want to jump from the back to the front of the queue with a question from before that I seem to have forgotten about across the sands of time, just reply to the email or ping me again or whatever it takes to show me that yours is not a new question but an old question that I lost track of, and I will bump it up the list.]

Ah editing. We all need it and it's such a tangled thicket. That mysterious and hard last part of the writing process. This reminds me, I really need to get on with my next series of articles about finding, getting, and giving feedback.

Yeah, Emma, there's a reason the content/development editors move slower and are MORE expensive than proofreaders. It's $50-$80 an hour and you're going to get about 2-5 pages an hour on average.

[By the way, that's the level of freelance editing I do––that and line editing (sometimes called "substantive" editing), which is more what you're getting when you try to change the font or read out loud to catch mistakes. (I'm crap at copyediting; I don't even bother pretending I can do that.)]

There's a lot of sticker shock when you say "My rate is $50 and just your first chapter clocks in at 20 pages so I'm guessing it'll take me around four hours." (And that is at the far low end of both averages--it wouldn't be uncommon to hear more like $80/10 hours, and if you don't think THAT adds up quick.....) People don't even really get developmental editing. They don't understand why it could possibly be that high.

Of course then they keep proofing and proofing their work over and over again and not understanding why it doesn't get published.

Proofreading is vital, of course, but it requires less direct engagement with the text, and understanding a grammar rule is a lot easier than understanding why a character arc isn't gelling with the setting. The first thing you need to do with a text, though, is the big fixes.

I've repaved the stone walkway!
Image description: house that has burnt down
Content (or development) editing is substantially harder than most people realize. They see the big stuff as exactly the shit they're good at, or should be, think their story is genius, and worry most about where the commas go. In reality it should work the other way and the job of a content editor reflects that. As a development/content editor, I read the piece two or three times. I get a real sense of what the writer is trying to say. And then I have to go back to someone whose soul is vested and poured out onto that page to tell them where it didn't work. And while there are some writers who are like "Tie my writing up, and smack it with this flogger, sir," most are like "This is my first time; please be gentle."

I have not yet NOT undercut myself on a freelance content editing gig. Usually it's because I read the thing four times and I'm almost out of allotted time, but I know how much they paid, so I want to offer some substantive written feedback, and I spend extra time on that, ending up running an hour or so over.

I get the "can't afford it thing," and that's where shit gets tricky. I firmly believe people should invest in every level of editing for the art they want to be remarkable. (And that almost certainly includes a sensitivity read as well.) If they just want to write some popcorn books and have a cult following that pays a few bills, maybe they don't have to worry so much about that super professional polish and just get some good peer review and crank the books out one a year. But if they want it to be something special, they've got to get the best editing they can. Although that doesn't necessarily HAVE to be low five figures in cash.

You're onto something in your last paragraph, Emma. You skip over boring parts. So does almost every other reader. But let me ask you this. Have you ever kept reading once things got interesting again? Have you ever thought a book with a boring part was overall good? I can't even remember the middle of Snow Crash where the guy was talking to the computer for huge chunks of text, but the beginning and ending play like an HD movie in my head even 20 years later. Have you ever bought the next book in the series or another by that author? Tad Williams slow bits make me pull my hair out, but I have to know what happens next in Otherland. Having a boring part isn't the end of the world. Lots of books that people love have bricks of exposition, even in the first chapter. *turns and glares right at Dune*

So how do you, a writer who can't afford to hire a professional development editor, find and expunge the most anemic, rambling parts of your own manuscript?

Get it as good as you can before you worry about editing. People who spend ungodly amounts of money on editing start tossing cash at their manuscripts by like the second or third draft. That's too soon. You are basically paying someone for the process of revision (and peer review) when you don't have to be. There's only so much an editor can do. Walk through as much of the process as you can. The further along you hand them something, the better they can make it (and work WITH your vision instead of just teaching you the basics). 

Then I would consider other means of getting that professional editor. Especially if you're talking about a novel. ESPECIALLY if you don't have peer review that is like a cadre of published authors who all have published a novel. You're going to want this to be the best you can. Don't cancel your health insurance or anything, but if there's any other way to save up the few thousand you'd need, I'd consider it an investment into your own writing. I know it's a tough economy and we're all working 37 side gigs to keep the lights on, but if there's any wiggle room in your budget, I'd try to save a little for that. Also do a sample chapter first and DON'T be afraid to fire an editor if you don't like what they're saying or it's not a good fit.

But if pulling down the cash could really never EVER happen, I'd try to work around straight capitalism. Editors are people. Maybe one of them will do an exchange. I've done content editing for home cooked meals, art exchanges, a massage, and even for copyediting help since that's what I'M crap at. I may even have once traded my skills to someone who happened to have some extra ecstasy-inducing party favors sitting around after their trip to Burning Man. Possibly. My point is, they know what they're worth, but you can probably do a deal.

Peer review should be used exhaustively (this is also a trade like above, but you're just always trading the same thing: their feedback for yours). However, even if you hooked up a professional editor, you are right, Emma, that you're going to get different feedback from different people. Their quality varies. Their experience varies. Their interest in what you're trying to do varies. And if you give your work to ten people, you're going to get ten different opinions on what to change.

If all ten of them agree on something, obvi that's a problem spot, but chances are they'll all have different ideas. Billy hates description. Marge hates internal monologue. Cecil hates dialog that isn't snappy. Those are what THEY want, so you have to pick the one who matches what YOU want.

Pick the peer (or peers) you trust. Pick the ones that give you feedback you find helpful. Not nice. Not doting. Not complimentary. Also not ruthless. Not vicious. Not merciless. HELPFUL––and that's not something I can define for you. Pick them and kind of stick to them.

Some people like online writing peer review sites like Scriblophile. Some like their writing groups. Some like their MFA cohort. I keep up with a couple of my old classmates and have a few people I know like my writing but won't be kind if they don't who I look to after I have cleaned something up as much as I can on my own. The main thing is that you, first, pick people whose feedback you trust as not trying to rewrite something they way THEY would, but rather help you be the best you writer you can be, and, secondly, who are on roughly YOUR writing level. An important part of peer review is that they be....well.....peers.

Read something that is the kind of writing you want to be doing right before you edit. I know it sounds weird, but it works. If you want a tight, pounding narrative that doesn't let go, read something for a half an hour by an author you think has done exactly that. Then go look at your own writing. That boring shit will jump out at you. It will leap off the page and grab you by the upper lip. Never did I ever find so much to cut from my character navel gazing as after I had chewed through some Steven Brust before sitting down to edit.

And also you can also use the head itch test (but be careful because it takes a needle-thread of self-confidence and self-criticism). When feedback is bullshit, we kind of know it. We dismiss it. We think "They don't get what I'm doing." or "Whatever they're just a first year." But when they start hitting a little close to home, it makes our head itch. We KNOW that's a part we had trouble writing or that felt a little stiff when we were gutting it out. We know we worried about whether people were going to get that thing. That's when we know they're probably on to something and it's time to try to rework it.

On the other hand you can't be like "You plebs don't know what I'm doing. You are all the riff raff. I am a genius and apparently no one knows it. MY HEAD NEVER ITCHES BECAUSE I'M PERFECT!" That just leads to self-indulgent bullshit and you self publish and can't figure out why your mom owns the only fifteen copies you ever sold. But my instinct given how hard you're looking for feedback is that this is not YOUR problem, Emma.

Think of it like insults. If someone told me I didn't know how to write a decent paragraph, I would roll my eyes (and have when some Rando incel or Nazi tried). If they called me a commie, I'd shrug. (I'm not, but people on the right can't tell the difference between a 3% tax cut on the wealthy and communism, so I'm also not too worried about what they think.) If they told me I lacked confidence in my own fiction or that I don't double check my sources for outright lies when I'm pissed off about bigotry...THAT would actually start to get under my skin. I know I can write, so that doesn't bother me. I'm a democratic socialist so *shrugs* to the "communist" label coming from a fascist. The other stuff....makes my head itch a little. That's when I know someone is kind of getting close.

Your FACE lacks confidence in its own fiction.

The combination of as much professional editing as you can scrimp, save, beg or barter for, peer review you trust, and confidence (but not OVERconfidence) in your vision should steer you pretty well.

And I'll let you in on a little trade secret, Emma, just so you feel like you're getting your money's worth from my blog. The harder you work, the more professional quality help you get under the auspices of "PEER" review. I can't make any promises, of course, and you'll basically never be able to find the one person who will do a pro-bono edit from your second draft to "publishable" no matter how grim and determined you look ––because we all need to survive capitalism. But this much I've seen merit out time and again.

The harder you work the more you're going to find the staircase kind of forms as you go up. A lot of people spend a LOT on editing because they sort of want to skip a step, either in their development as a writer or the writing process of their Work in Progress or something. But if you work as hard as you can, take what feedback you can get, and work as hard as you can to apply that, improve your prose, put yourself out there, then go looking for the next "tier" of help, chances are that you'll you're going to find serious people notice you and want to help. You give better feedback, and then you GET better feedback so your peer review quality goes up. Also as you really put in the time, editing becomes more and more like polishing silver instead of working the kinks out of dented brass. It takes less time. More than one is the author I've seen people volunteering to alpha and beta read for because they were solemn at each step about making their work as good as it could be.

I'd still recommend you find a professional if you're trying to publish the great american novel, but you've got some options to keep it reasonable.

We all need editing (all of us), and I sincerely believe that its value to a writer who wants to put good art in the world is worth even dropping some money, but if you are resourceful, like most things in life, a wily scrapper can find some workarounds.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Best Post Apocalyptic Book (Or Series) [Final Round]

What is the best best post apocalyptic book (or series)?


I do want to stress one thing. This poll is about books. It is not about Gary Sinise and Molly Ringwald. This is about written literature. And if you thought that the books were a little slow, vote for something else.

This poll will be up for the rest of July, but THAT'S IT. So grab your friends, whip up those fan clubs, vote early and vote often.

Everyone get three (3) votes, but that there is no ranking, so using as few votes as possible is better.

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

I'm told if you're on mobile you have to click "webpage view" then scroll alllllllllll the way to the bottom, you can find the poll.

Best Post Apocalyptic Book (or Series) [Semifinal 2 Results]

The results of our second semifinal poll are here! Top four will go on to the final round. Bottom four will get some lovely parting gifts. It wasn't a particularly nail biting week, although I was a little surprised to see a fantasy take on post apocalyptic do much better than the science fiction ones.

Text results below.
[And yes, the free website where I do these polls changed the format to put more space between the pie chart and the text results so the text is smaller than it used to be and hard to read. Thankfully, as I said, text results are below.

One of the things I want to try to do as part of our new schedule here is not take two days to flip a poll like this. So stay tuned for the final round to go up TODAY instead of tomorrow. Yes, that does mean that from time to time we will be posting two posts. (I tried doing both things in a single post and the results were always ).

The Stand - S. King 39 46.99%
Station Eleven - E. St. John Mandel. 16 19.28%
Parable of the Sower - O. Butler 12 14.46%
The Uglies Series - S. Westerfeld 8 9.64%
The Postman Novel - D. Brin 3 3.61%
Book of the New Sun Series - G.Wolfe 3 3.61%
Swan Song - R. R. McCammon 2 2.41%
Road to Nowhere Series - M. Elison 0 0%

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Farewell to a Friend, New Schedules, And Random Assorted Things (Personal Update)

For those of you who remember my accountability posts on my book's progress, you're going to start seeing those again at least every other Monday. Unfortunately (though probably fortunately for the quality of the final product) I had something of an epiphany and started over. Though over-romanticized in movies and TV, true epiphanies are pretty rare. Most of art is just the daily work of transmuting the little creative flashes into something someone else can digest. I'd still call it my rough draft, but it's like 1st draft 2.0.

It won't always be attached to a personal update like this one. As two of the reward tiers for my patrons and the closest thing I have to exclusive content, many of my behind-the-scenes revelations and personal updates don't make it to the blog. But I'll couple it with some meta order of business or the occasional personal update, or a critique on cheese or something and you can see how messy the process gets and divest yourself of the belief that books are shat out by the inspiration fairy when lightning hits a writer and rainbow prose comes glittering out their ass.

So anyone who has been watching me on Facebook these last few weeks knows that I am over the moon about my new nannying schedule. If I had to come up with a perfect schedule for a side gig, I would sit down and write out the schedule that I have now. (Okay, maybe I would give myself a threesome day every other Thursday and a three-day weekend, but it would be mostly the same.)

I was working too much before––even after trying to cut back. The week was more hours than I needed and almost more than I could stand.  I also tended to sputter and glut because my schedule would be ten hours one day and then only three the next. I'm no good for a few hours after getting roasted either; I get home and just stare at the wall for two hours, thinking about how hungry I am, before I can even think about dinner.

On the other hand, I ALSO have a bad time (probably because of ADHD) when I have the entire day empty. I tend to waste it until the last possible second of a deadline. It's not even FUN procrastination either where I'm like "Fuck it. I'll do it later," as I go to the beach or play Fallout 4 for hours. It's the kind where I'm sitting in my chair and saying "Okay, I really, really, REALLY need to focus now" for the entire day.

The best schedules for me? About 20 hours a week. (Enough to supplement my writing income, but not so much it eats my writing time.) A little every day so that have a sense of urgency and pacing. No front- or back-loading of the week so that I'm constantly jacked on managing my time. The same TIME every day so that I can write at the same time every day––which turbocharges my ability to sit down and write without staring at the screen for an hour or two first. Not too early because I'm a bit of a night owl and good sleep is connected to creativity. A weekend on the actual weekend (not two days off in the middle of the week when I'm doing a lot of writing) so that I can do half writing days and it actually is rejuvenating.

My new schedule? M: 1-6 T-F: 2-6. 21 hours. Same amount every day (with a tiny variation on Mon). Same time every day. A little each day. Not too early. Actual weekend.

It's so perfect, I could cry. To be honest, I did a little, but when someone asked I told them I was cutting onions for a lasagna. Now all I need is that every other Thursday thing.

Well a new schedule for me means a new update schedule.

There's a link if you want to check out all the nooks and crannies. I'll put the big information at the end of this post. (Some people really like knowing the minutiae of how working writers set up their schedules and what they expect of themselves, but it's not everyone's cup of tea.)

I didn't expect to have any other news, but I woke up to some.

James Bond––not 007 but rather the scampliest scamp of a jellicle cat who was raised on the streets, wore a tuxedo, and rejected the gender binary (that's her in my profile picture)––died last night. She kept eating things that she couldn't keep down (because on the streets, that's what you gotta do), and I guess that caught up with her.

We met James about 9 years ago. She was a local "feral*" that showed up suddenly after a four-unit apartment next door was emptied for a major renovation by the owners who wanted to charge a lot more. Someone couldn't keep her and had just abandoned her to her the fate of the local neighborhood. And we would see her day after day chasing mice or just scrapping with toms twice her size.

*But not really. Read on!

At first it was just a bowl of food each day. But then she started showing up at food time and it wasn't long before she let me pet her, and even hopped into my lap after dinner was over to get some serious snuggles complete with chainsaw purring. Clearly she had had humans before and wasn't really feral.

Then came the rainy night where she showed up waterlogged on the front porch with a tiny "Mew!"

We never stood a chance.

And many vet appointments later for the worms and the abscesses in her teeth (that probably would have killed her within a month or two), her breath cleared up, her coat got glossy, and she became the sweetest lap cat most who met her had ever seen. She would always find a willing set of fingers, claim she had never been loved ever, and purr so hard you could hear her across the room.

At first we would wonder who on earth would simply abandon such an incredibly sweet cat, but very quickly we were just too glad they did.

She never did learn to keep her claws in when she jumped off a lap, she ate anything that hit the floor (and a few things that didn't), she hunted her toy mouse each night in the wee hours of the morning to stay sharp, and she always kind of acted like at any minute the good times would end and she'd be back to being a scrapper on the streets. We'd come down and find her guiltily wolfing down kale or cantaloupe seeds like she was getting away with murder. But after the initial layer of grime and fleas were cleaned off, and once she learned there were bipeds looking out for her, she turned into the sweetest purrbucket I've ever known.

Our new schedule (for those who give a shit about such things):


Fridays, for the most part, will be The Big Post™ of the week. If you're here for the hard-hitting writing advice (with the occasional examination of how language and narrative play into broader social issues), Friday is the day to tune in.

Tuesday and Wednesday

Wednesdays and Thursdays will be our smaller posts: calls to vote or nominate in whatever poll is going on, the best of the prior month, quickies, fortune cookie wisdom. Things I like to call "jazz hands."


Mailbox!  Far and away our most popular type of article here. It's time the mailbox had its own day again and we got to it weekly.


Harder to qualify than simply "big" or "jazz hands," Mondays are probably between Wednesdays and Fridays in their content and girth. They will be personal updates, smaller mailboxes, prompts, guest blogs, etc.

The Five-Post Goal

Some weeks aren't going to go down like clockwork and they might be front or back loaded with side gigs or other commitments. My writing career is also starting to open up occasional opportunities of interest like conventions, speaking engagements, interviews, or podcasts. I'm trying to be better about the (literally) health-shattering 80+ hour weeks I was working. That's a needle to thread when you are your own boss and you know that people will lower your income if they aren't getting enough of the content they want. So in the cases of major schedule upheaval, I will try really hard to get five posts up. They might just be posted off schedule––Thur, Fri, Sat for example, but I will try hard to at least hit five.

Priority to Fiction

The hardest thing I've tried doing as a blogger is keeping my fiction at a high level of priority. There may be weeks where I just straight up take a post off to work on my story. As you can see from the link through, that's what the majority of my Patreons said was okay with them. Now, I saw a slightly different reality reflected in the numbers of folks who reduced or cancelled their support amounts, so I'm going to try to keep more plates spinning thanks to this new schedule.

Facebook Writing and Social Justice Bard

Most of my major writing ends up on this blog, but some of my throw away thoughts don't. If you particularly enjoyed our Social Justice Bard posts, don't worry. I do as much yelling at clouds as I ever have.

I invite you to follow my Public Facebook Page (you can friend it if you send me a message, but it might be better if you follow it for a while first––unfiltered me is not everyone's cup of tea).  I post somewhat more "political and partisan thoughts" there (rather than just social ISSUES) and also often post "proto-versions" of what later become full blog posts (if you're interested in seeing how those things develop). [There's also personal updates and nerdery there.]

I also have another blog called NOT Writing About Writing that I update usually once a week or more where I put shorter media reviews, personal updates, and political thoughts that don't really tie into writing and aren't really short enough for Facebook. Also, fret not; there may be fewer SJB posts here on Writing About Writing since we'll be dealing with fewer available "posting slots" overall, but there will still be some.

Everything I ever write (and reruns of my best stuff) gets cross posted to that Public Facebook Page, so join me there if you want to stalk me properly.

A Sixth Post?

There MIGHT occasionally be a sixth post in a week. Usually this will happen when I need to cover some ground on "blog business." (Like posting the results of a poll or getting up the prior month's "Best of" posts or something.) In this case you might see an extra post pop up from time to time on the weekend or two in one day. Fiction will also usually go up independent of our regular schedule.


  • I still nanny for a five-year-old and a newborn––sometimes at the same time. Plus my host body occasionally succumbs to your Earth illnesses, so those five posts might not always happen like clockwork or may involve going off the rails of my usual updates. Until my Patreon pays all the bills, my reality is that I sometimes have to prioritize paid gigs.
  • This flexible update schedule should also cut down on the thing where I'm apologizing to absolutely fucking nobody that it's Thursday and I've yet to put so much as a taco video up. I know that some people are annoyed by that and the rest don't really care. But this also settles my own inner overachiever. As long as I get in all the entries that week, my readers (who have literally never said anything in six years about my update schedule) and myself can give me a break.
  • I invoke the Anything Can Happen™ real world excuse. I usually have a couple of "emergency blogs" tucked away, but I chew through them pretty quickly when the fit hits the shan. Health complications might crop up suddenly and have me needing to do a sudden unexpected several-hour shift or even an overnight...or maybe even more. Trust me, I'm going to feel ten times worse about missing a post than all of my readers combined.
  • Admin Long-weekends at least once a month will still be a thing. Usually just the Monday (but occasionally the Friday if I'm really behind) will be cannibalized. I need the extra time to answer emails, clean up menus, catch up on editing and such.

Also......folks, if you like what I do, stuff a few dollars into that "tip jar" at the top left, or even better yet, sign up to be a monthly patron through Patreon and get in on the back channel discussions about posting schedules, big changes, and upcoming projects. I have bills to pay like any other starving artist, and I'm working three side gigs to make ends meet, so even a dollar a month (just $12 a year) will go a long way.