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

Friday, September 25, 2020

Sentence Structure Importance (Mailbox)

How important is sentence structure?

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox." 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. I usually do one a week, but we might step it up for a few weeks while I get my mojo back.]   

Cindy asks:

How critical is it to get sentence structure right these days? 

I recently relocated to Belgium for my husband's job. We are renting a house in the middle of nowhere. It checks all the desolate writer boxes: alone, abandoned, rainy weather and no job. Oh, and intermittent internet. So after decades of waiting to find time to write, here I am. But I lay awake at night fearing I won’t be able to construct a sentence. All I see is editors murdering my work with a red marker. 

Advice for the people afraid of grammar police, please and thank you. 

My reply:

Well, you did just fine on this question, Cindy, so I think there's hope.

I have to ask, though, did you mean "sentence structure" as in SENTENCE STRUCTURE or did you mean "sentence structure" as in all kinds of grammar? So I'm going to take this one bit at a time, but I actually see three things here worth discussing.

1-Sentence Structure

The structure of English is generally pretty intuitive to native speakers and reasonably so eventually to folks who immerse themselves as second language learners (rather than trying to translate in their head). It's always the same pattern (for any given language), which is why a five-year-old might make vocabulary errors but mostly gets the structure right. To give a sentence more detail, you add phrases in an order that might be difficult for a native speaker to ARTICULATE, but that almost all will intuitively know how to do.

Having flashbacks. So thanks for that, Cindy.

I took a class on this ("The Structure of English") in college, and I did it for the worst reason imaginable for someone with A.D.H.D.: because it fulfilled a credit and fit into a T/Th schedule--giving me five days off per week. My interest in linguistics is non-trivial but is very casual, and this was A) not casual and B) clearly designed by someone who thought there wasn't enough math in English. To make matters worse, there was one test. One. That was the whole grade. We technically had a mid-term, because department policy required our grades be based on at least two assignments/tests, but it would only count if the grade on our final was worse. Otherwise the entire class was this one test grade. I learned somewhere around that midterm (on which I got a C) that this was only "technically" an undergraduate class. It was "actually" one of those classes that satisfied a prereq for the linguistics master that MOST people never took as undergrads, so they ended up taking it during their first semester of master's coursework. There I was, sitting in the room with a bunch of linguistics graduate students who were themselves confused out of their heads.

This class could not have been more my nemesis if I had designed it myself with the express intention of thwarting me. I had no interest in the subject. It happened at 8am. The teacher had the inflection modulation of a white-noise machine. And I was not taking any Creative Writing classes, so the whole semester felt like this huge waste of the entire reason I was in college to begin with.

But it was outrageously hard. And while that would trip up most people, I am one of those mutant weirdos who get all fucking stubborn and stimulated when something is a plausible but "very difficult" challenge. So fuck that "graduate class" right in its boring ear. I was going to kick its ass.

My college experience was many things, and I put in a lot of work on some of the papers I turned in, but because of my major (English), and the classes I would take if given the choice, I didn't really have a lot of tests. So this was, by several orders of magnitude, the hardest test I had in my entire college career. With papers, you write them, and you can look at them and say "this isn't good enough" and go make them better. And usually you have a rubric, so you know exactly what the paper is required to do. And you can just keep making it better. With a test....you never QUITE know if you've studied enough. I basically locked myself in a room with some snack food for FOUR DAYS and put in the biggest, best, most unbelievable study session I had ever done or would ever do in my ENTIRE LIFE. And I rocked that test. To this day, that class was one of my proudest A's. 

Okay, that was way too much story time. Sorry Cindy. Let's get back to your question...

How important is this structure? 

Pretty goddamned important.

It's the reason people who are just translating in their head sound WRONG when they say things in English. It's also the reason automated translators (like most of the online ones) still sound pretty clunky. The words are all out of order. Because other languages have a different grammatical sentence structure. It's the reason we make jokes about how Yoda talks. Because in English we basically always put a subject before the verb--even if the subject is a filler (It is raining), the subject is implied (imperative case), or the subject is NOT the agent (passive voice). You don't need to understand that last sentence to know that Yoda sounds funny, but I'm telling you it's because his sentence structure always puts the Verb Phrase before the Noun Phrase acting as the subject.

If you know what you're doing when you break the sentence structure, you can earn it.  Annie Proulx won a U.S. National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize for The Shipping News and, like, half the sentences in it did not have subjects. (They weren't in imperative case either, if you're wondering.) You could tell what the subject was because it was borrowed from the sentence before (or before that or before that), but it was a very jarring read for several chapters, as English pretty well insists on subjects to the point of putting filler subjects when discussing weather or time. Annie Proulx isn't just making mistakes, though. She knows what she's doing.

If you're a native speaker or a fluent second language speaker though, I'm pretty sure you're going to be fine or mostly fine. In that whole class I did not learn how to write* so much as learn how to label, understand, and categorize things that I, as a native speaker, intuitively understood already.

*I will also say this. Because of that class I have a MUCH greater understanding of high school grammar (and its limitations). Particularly because of its introduction to the concept of "agent," I finally, comprehensively, definitively understand passive voice. 

2- General Grammar (*salute*)

Now if you're asking me about general grammar (*salutes*), things get dicey. You need to know it. But you probably already DO know about 90% of what you need to know. You just don't KNOW that you know it. Sure, it sometimes helps to know the difference between a subordinating conjunction and a conjunctive adverb, but I promise it doesn't really come up when you're actually writing (and sadly not at parties when I'm chatting up the ladies either!). 

It's LESS important that you get this stuff absolutely right than actual "sentence structure." I make enough money to live (outside of the Bay Area and a few other cities) with nothing but my writing income, and I start sentences—even PARAGRAPHS—with coordinating conjunctions all the time (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so). I have also read enough to know mostly what I can get away with and what I can't. Some rules are archaic dinosaurs that need to be taken out back behind the chemical shed (ending a sentence with a preposition is totally something modern readers will put up with), some are hard and fast and will make you look pretty foolish if you break them (like use the wrong form of a word), and some are highly contextual (like when to boldly split an infinitive and when it sounds awkward to unthinkingly and while being unaware of the ramifications do so).

Notice that I didn't say I'd "studied enough grammar" to know which ones I could get away with. That's because that's not what gives you a SENSE of what you can get away with. You have to get that from reading. A lot. 

But once you have a good intuition of which rules are more flexible, you'll only ever annoy blue-hair English teachers. And the chances are, you already know most of what you can get away with. 


3-Editor Fear

You're afraid of editors, Cindy.

As gently as I can put this: stop that.

Editors are your friends. As a general rule, editors do not murder work; they breathe life into it. They are the healer in your raid party. They are the medic in your platoon. You can't do it without them. (You technically might be able to, but you shouldn't. I mean you really really really shouldn't. If you want to be published traditionally or—if you self-publish—read by more than a few friends and family, you shouldn't.) I can't stress enough how important they are for even a veteran writer. We all have ideas we could be expressing better.

Editors read your work, figure out what you MEANT, and help you to say it even BETTER. My editor takes my jumbled thoughts that are sometimes a disorganized splat and spins them into gold. I am SO much better a writer because of her efforts. Not just because of the commas I forget after introductory dependent clauses (although, yes, also that), but because she pays attention to what the subject was when I'm writing one of my prolix sentences and tells me when the verb and subject don't agree. And even MORE because she says, "I think you meant this" or "this isn't clear." (And even more more more so when she says "I'm really not sure this is what you want to be saying about this topic," but not every editor is going to be able to content edit while they line edit and/or copyedit.)

Still, the days of red ink meaning that you're getting a worse grade are over, Cindy. Now it's just a color that you can't miss as your eyes flick over the page. Think of your editor like the single best professional colleague you could ever hope for. They are there to make you better. (And if they're any good, they so, absolutely, unbelievably will.)  

Now I will mention one thing because it's a very ubiquitous misconception. You have to carefully edit BEFORE you submit. A publisher's editor is there to polish your silver, not notice your six mistakes on page one. That shit will just get your submission round filed. But editors are absolutely worth the investment, and you can probably find someone who will trade or work a deal if you can't afford one outright. 

This is the round file, in case you didn't know.

So yeah. Depending on what you mean, "sentence structure" is either important or VERY important, but you might have a better sense of it than you think you do, and even if you DON'T, I'm going to sing "Don't Fear the Editor" to the tune of "Don't Fear the Reaper" where I try to crassly cram "editor" down into two syllables so it will scan. 

But there will be so much cowbell, you won't even notice.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Switching Thursdays with Mondays

Really the only big updates (other than officially acknowledging that the pandemic is here to stay for the duration and it WILL be affecting my update schedule) is that my clients have fallen in love with this thing where I come later on Wednesday nights, stay over there so I can take the baby on Thursday morning, let them sleep in, then catch a nap between 10-2 and tag back in until 6pm. And it makes Thursdays absolutely untenable for writing anything as complicated as a blog post. So I'm switching my day off to Thursday, and switching the "Schrodinger's Post" day to Wednesday. I think after five weeks in a row of writing "I will get you something on Monday to make up for this, it's time to make it official, no? 

While most of you just click the link I put on social media when you see that something I have written interests you, there actually IS an update schedule here, and in The Age of Covid it's going to have some pretty significant changes.

Writing About Writing consists chiefly of one guy who takes care of a 5-year-old and a toddler, is writing a novel, posts on another blog (and only then when his thoughts are a bit too prolific for his Facebook wall), and sometimes even does really wacky shit like play D&D or even try to get laid...or these days try to get someone to sigh wistfully and say "If it weren't for this pandemic, we would totally need a 70s 'wakachicka' track to keep up with us."

He is also a working writer though, so he better stop making a bunch of excuses and make with the clackity clack.  This is the schedule we will generally make an effort to keep. I say "make an effort" but I have to be honest about two things. #1- I have written posts from my bed with 102° fever and from coffee shops out of state and while on vacation, so it is very likely that no matter what happens, you will still get something.  #2 I am absolutely balls at keeping on top of WHAT gets updated on WHICH days, and I am likely to mix things up if I SNEEZE too hard. #3 Global Pandemics Suck Amirite? I'm working too damn much at my other job, it's a good day when I am aware of the passage of time, and the chances that I stare at the wall wrapped in a towel after any given shower have jumped up by 67%. Which is all to say that I'm doing my best and it's going to be less.

Thanks to my patrons, I have been able to quit part time teaching, pet sitting*, and cut back on the amount of nannying I do as a side gig to focus more and more on writing. If you would like to help us write more and better updates, even a dollar a month helps me budget.

*I still have a couple of close, super-easy clients, so you might see me post about this stuff, but I don't run all over the Bay Area anymore.

Friday

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.


Monday

Mailbox! Now that the chaos of the last few months is settling into the new normal, I'm going to give our most popular type of article the weekly post it deserves. Usually it's only one question, but sometimes I can tie a few shorter ones together with a theme. If you'd like a question answered, write us at chris.brecheen@gmail.com

Tuesday

We need (at least) one dedicated day a week to kind of take care of what I call "jazz hands," although it might be better described as "admin-ish stuff that HAS to get done at some point." It's not necessarily Total Fluff, but it usually isn't a new article either. We are constantly running some kind of "Best Book" poll and the calls to nominate or vote go here. The review of the best posts we did in the month prior. Often we have some kind of announcement or meta news. You might also see a single entry for the long-forgotten character lists or an update to one of the menus (along the top of the page).

Wednesday

Monday is going to be Schrodinger's Post for now.

I'm not saying yes. But I'm not saying no either.

I have a new schedule, and I probably could do four posts a week. But here's the thing....it's probably better if I leave it alone and see what shakes out.
  • Once a month I cannibalize a day of blogging to write my Patrons a newsletter. 
  • I am OFTEN in need of a second "jazz hands" day in a given week. 
  • I absolutely need to spend a day or two every month just doing admin stuff for Writing About Writing (like catching up on emails, cleaning up menus, and the like) or it gets SO far behind, SO quickly. 
  • Also, I have a couple of other projects that require my time and attention including this little novel I'm only three years late in writing.
So before I dive into a blog posting schedule that has me singing "Livin' on the EDGE*!" I'm going to just say that Mondays exist in an ambiguous quantum state.

(*And honestly, I'll tell you, I'm just going to end up singing "Livin' in the Fridge" by Weird Al and no one wants that.)


The Four-Post Committment

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 conventionsspeaking 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 four posts up. They might just be posted off schedule––landing on a Saturday or Sunday, for example, but barring illness, injury, or fabulously unforeseen circumstances (usually involving toddlers and five-year olds working their chaos engines in tandem) I will try hard to at least hit four.

Priority to Fiction (The Monthly Increase)--NOTE: ON PAUSE DURING PANDEMIC

The hardest thing I've tried doing as a blogger is keeping my fiction at a high level of priority. It's SO easy to just write a blog and call it a day. And that's what I'm getting paid for, so it's even easier.

But...as much as I've surprised even myself by discovering how much I fucking love blogging, I do want to write fiction too. And that needle is going to be one I work hard to thread. While I am getting traction out of writing an hour or so of fiction first (so that then I still have to do the blogging in order to do "a day's work"), there may still be times where the needs of fiction completely take priority over blogging.

I'm firmly in the "Write Every Day" camp. But how much I write, what I write, and what I'm impassioned to write, sometimes can still be a creative ebb and flow of being at my Muse's whim.

I'm also going to try something new and interesting. Each month I'm going to take an ADDITIONAL day off to sequester myself and work on my book (as well as possibly other fiction). I'm calling the time on the train January. In February, I will take two days off completely from blogging. In March it will be three. Etc....

(Hopefully I'll have something to show for it by the time Patrons might be complaining that I'm not updating enough, but I hope that the transparency and gradualness help in that regard.)


Election Week

I'm adding something that I basically realized today (3/5/2020). I'm going to take a break in our "regularly scheduled program" during election weeks. Midterms, primaries, obviously the presidential ones. I just need to acknowledge that the writing that happens will be on other blogs (like NWAW) and in other places (like my Facebook page) and that unless I am backing someone polling at 90 points, it's very, very, VERY likely I'm going to have at LEAST one day where I need to go back to bed into a pillow fort with ice cream.

Facebook Writing and Social Justice Bard

Most of my major writing ends up on this blog, but some of my more 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 but that also aren't really short enough for Facebook.

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


More posts?

There MIGHT occasionally be a fifth or even sixth post in a week. Usually this will happen when I need to cover some ground on "blog business." (Like when I revise an old article so much that it deserves a fresh post, update a menu, write a new answer for our F.A.Q. or otherwise do something that needs to get done, but doesn't fit into our usual posting schedule. 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.

Reminders:
  • I still nanny for a six-year-old and a toddler––usually at the same time. And I do so for more hours than I want or really can handle because I'm the only Nanny in the tri state area that lives alone and can be in a super safe Shelter in Place Pod.  Plus my host body occasionally succumbs to your Earth illnesses, so those four 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 how often I apologize, 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, support your "local" artist. (In this case "local" means more independent, amateur, and two bit than literally down the street.) 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 though my schedule is a lot better than three years ago, I'm still working two side gigs to make ends meet. Even a dollar a month (just $12 a year) will go a long way.

Note: Hi there Mr. Elephant. I guess we should address you.

So....yeah. I ABSOLUTELY KNOW that there are a pretty loud contingent of "Who Cares!" from the other side of the internet, and I'll give you all nod if this isn't your cup of tea. It's cool. You do you. Posts such as this one are my least popular kinds of posts. I'm pretty sure I could film me trying to use toenail clippers to deal with an ingrown toenail and get more hits. 

However, I'm not going to stop posting them. One of our mission statements is to keep "The Process" transparent and give you updates in real time as WE learn them, so there will always be an occasional post about the meta. I want people to understand that writers struggle with their own productivity, schedules, and discipline. I want them to see that someone who is making a paycheck doesn't have all the answers. I want them to see how their work life balance matters and how easy it is to fall into working TOO much or not enough and either one causes problems. I want them to see that a successful blog doesn't require nine updates a week (and, in fact, that's too much). And I want them to see how artists are constantly struggling to fiddle with the knobs and get it just right because they are at once human and also never satisfied but also so dang human with their need to eat and have shelter. They don't just eat rainbows and shit brilliant prose. Even if a follower or fan never uses this as a formula for their own success, let it be a comfort realizing how flawed and human working writers can be. 

I want you to see how messy and non-magical it all is.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Send Me Your Questions (Possibly AGAIN)

Hi Everyone,

I'm headed out to gaze adoringly at water and hump a tree or something in honor of the equinox, but I thought I would put out the call for questions. That's right I need YOUR questions for my Mailbox segment. And here's the really good news for most of you: now is your chance to get some of those old questions answered that I never got to. You see one of the things I definitely DID lose when my computer died was my giant list of all the questions people had sent me. It was up around 100 questions and there was quite the queue. All gone. So tragic. They look like big, strong hands, don't they?

Questions are a great way for me to come up with article topics while I'm waiting on my new computer to ship (some of those ideas and starting articles are technically in the cloud, but I lost a lot). They kind of jump start the whole process of picking a topic and introducing it. But this text file I had was just a big list of questions, some going back years.

So now is your chance!

If I ever missed a question or said I'd get to it and then it seemed like I forgot. Or if years went by and you're pretty sure I forgot, now is your chance. I'm going to be running more than one question a week for a while, so I need LOTS! 

It's tabula rasa. Now's your chance to get yourself at the front of the queue and see your question answered in days or weeks instead of maybe months or years.

Of course, I get a lot of repeats, so unless there's a fresh angle, I usually don't answer those. It might be worth checking to see if I've covered it already. And the super repeaters end up in my F.A.Q.

Send them to chris.brecheen@gmail.com and make the heading "WAW MAILBOX" (that's not arbitrary; it's so I can do a search for them and find them all at once). It's particularly important for folks on my Facebook page to not drop a question in the comments and expect me to see it. PLEASE send an email. 

Now if you'll excuse me, I have a hot date with an oak and some splishy splashy.



Monday, September 21, 2020

One Million Likes [Insight, Advice, Warnings, and Gratitude]

Note: I was just about reaching for the "Post" button on Friday when the news about Justice Ginsberg hit, and it just seemed like terrible timing. So, with apologies to anyone who was waiting for a Friday post, I decided to postpone it across the weekend, go ahead and post it on Monday even though I usually take Mondays off. I was able to get a lot of writing done this weekend, but as often happens during "interesting times," they were in biter-sized chunks on my Facebook page and may not turn up here until a compilation post from the end of September.

Before the MOST recent cascading waves of bad news about computers, data loss, fires, heat, and smoke-filled air (to say nothing of the during news of pandemics, more fire and smoke, fascism, murder hornets, and meth gators) and JFC the news from Friday about Justice Ginsburg, there was some really great news, and I want to share the good part before it gets obscured any further in the mists of time, and Galadriel starts talking like a turbostoner about how things were forgotten that should never have been.

Over on Facebook in the early hours of September 3rd, I hit 1,000,000 likes. Just like that: "Achievement Unlocked: Minor Internet Fame." It was a huge milestone, and I celebrated by buying myself a bunch of books, games, and a (very rare since Covid) treat of some decent take out. 

I'll spare you the details about how my digestive system is no longer acclimated to that kind of food, and simply say that I will probably celebrate with some quinoa and kale chips next time. Or bring some....you know I promised to spare you the details. 

Still, it also had a surreal banal quality. I know we like our big, round numbers, so even though 1,000,000 hasn't offered up too many logistical differences with 968,212, it's always going to feel like a milestone. And yet, it feels unreal in a way. Like watching someone else reach a goal.

I thought I would be happier or swing on a chandelier or speed down the road and have to change the channel until I found an appropriately "Fuck Yeah!" song for my mood like I was Jerry Maguire. 

But it kind of felt like Thursday. (Which kind of feels like every other day with the shelter-in-place Groundhog's day effect of the pandemic.)

In September of 2018, Facebook throttled their pages even harder than they had been before. They guard the algorithm carefully, so it's impossible to know exactly what they did, but my page growth, post engagement, and success of blog links here to WAW all plummeted by about 90% across the board. (And they were already only reliably at less than 1%.) Suddenly, everything was crawling along at 1/10 of what it had been. Facebook told everyone it was so they could see more of their friends and family but that was the customer outreach propaganda division saying it. These were pages people had CLICKED to see, and Facebook was showing them less. The REAL reason was so that, behind the scenes, they could tell page administrators (like me) they could get their numbers back if they paid Facebook for advertising. Mark Zuckerberg had apparently completed his transformation into the next Antichrist incarnation and felt it was time to unleash the next wave of evil on an unsuspecting world. And while that might be a reasonable approach to multi-billion dollar conglomerates who are using social media to basically run free commercials, they had no way to tier the throttling. Smaller pages (like for the local cupcake store) were all but shut down (and abandoned), and pages like mine that generate TONS of non-self-promoting content got treated basically like Nike or McDonald's. 

"That's a nice reach you got there. Be a shame if something........happened to it." 

-Zuck "The Reducer" Erberg. 


Watching it coming for weeks (and even months) at a predictable--but glacial compared to two years ago--pace meant it wasn't a surprise or anything. I knew it was going to be that day by three or four days before, I went to bed knowing I would tick over in the night, I woke up the next morning and saw that I'd made it. It almost felt strangely perfunctory. My brain made the good chemicals for thirty seconds. I did a fist pump. I made plans for where I would grab take out from to celebrate (alone because of Covid). And then it was time to go downstairs and get to work. And it was a day like most any other. 

But this is Writing About Writing so let's unpack this moment a little as a writer, pull back the curtain, look under the hood, mix the metaphors and show you that it's not pixie dust and unicorn jizz that make a working writer, but it's actually a lot of work, a little bit of intuition, and no small amount of luck.


How did I do it?

Getting to a million in eight years is less possible than it was before because of the aforementioned algorithmic changes. So the first thing is just to shake a fist at the sky, shout "Damn you, Zuckerberg!," and understand that the crapitalistic imperative to vacuum ever more cash out of this social media thing will be preventing your reach. I don't know how long it would take these days, but based on how quickly I got to one thousand, ten thousand, 100k, reached the first 875k, and then how long it took me to get the last 125k, I'd say it's going to take you at least two to three times as long. Which I'm sorry to say is around 20 years. Lord help us if we haven't moved on to a new platform by then. 

I spent some money back when I had much more discretionary income, but I will warn you that spending money on Facebook advertising will create a feedback loop that probably isn't what you want. You will get better numbers for the ONE post or the time you're promoting the page, and then they will dip down to WORSE THAN BEFORE. There's this whole theory about WHY--the people you "gain" with paid advertisements are not authentic fans and will not engage subsequent posts so they become a "waste" of your infinitesimally small organic visibility. This forces you to spend MORE money to be seen by the same amount the next time. And so it goes.

What I observed early on was, if I only posted one or two things a day, growth would only happen on geological time. (David Attenborough: "Humans are simply incapable of understanding how long it takes a page to get a thousand likes at two posts a day. If every century were a second, it would STILL be a thousand years in this primordial soup of not-very-entertaining pages.")  But even worse was posting too many things at once. FB would show fewer and fewer people and the followers would get annoyed seeing your name come up in their feed over and over again. No matter HOW good a post was (how funny, how original, how unlike your last post), and no matter how much they wanted EXACTLY what you were providing, if they saw your name over and over again, it would be like seeing the same commercial on Hulu for every break or hearing the same song on the jukebox four times in a row. They would get annoyed and unfollow. 

And the magical number when both human and FB algorithm appeared to stop being annoyed seemed to be ROUGHLY every hour. 

So that's how I did it. 

I tried to put something up about every hour. Every. Single. Hour. Unless I was asleep or just could NOT. I even made sure I had some memes saved to my phone when I went to Disneyland or Gilroy Gardens for the day. I would excuse myself during dates for just a moment like one of those assholes in the movies. ("Hang a tick, babe, would you? Gotta check my portfolio. Chaz....talk to me!") I would stick something up before and after I watched a movie in the theater. 

I was relentless. 

There's no trick. I don't know "ten ways to hack the algorithm." I didn't find the recipe for the special sauce. I just spent hours (aggregate) every week making sure I was on some device or computer roughly every single hour (or if I was really planning ahead, scheduled one) to drop something that kind of had something to do with writing a little. I've since eased off the throttle a little (and I talk about why below), but that's how I got HERE. 


I'm hardly writing my own ticket.

A lot of people seem confused that minor Internet fame is somehow the same as on-camera type fame. (It's not.) Or they think that a million likes on FB means I make a lot of money. (I don't.) Or that I can in some way write my own ticket. (I can't.) The truth is fame (even at the relatively low levels of a Facebook admin of a "big" page) doesn't really look like most people imagine. I get ghosted on OKCupid (a lot). I'm lonely on Friday nights. I need to work a few hours a week at a second job to afford Bay Area prices. 

A million likes on Facebook might feel a little empty because it didn't really come with anything. I know that every one of those million is a real human being, but with everything being online, it's like having 50 Million Bells in Animal Crossing. It's fucking cool, and the people with 300 bells think it's unbelievable, but my life hasn't actually changed much, and what has changed has done so very slowly and gradually OVER those eight years so I usually don't even notice the good stuff. (Kinda hard to not notice the uptick in online harassment.

Certainly, I have some Patrons only because my FB reach got to their eyeballs and they found me worth supporting, and some folks even say they're mostly supporting the page and don't really read my blog. So in some ways I must give the devil its due. It's just not the life of glitz, glamour, and wealth here at one million. Perhaps at TEN million, things will look a little more like so many assume it does now.


I would actually warn people against reach exceeding content.

If I could somehow go back and time to do it ALL again (assuming I could only give myself philosophical advice and not warn myself of more logistical things like, "Look, FB is actually going to become SUPER evil right around 2016 and all the kids are on Tumblr anyway"), what I would tell myself is that maintaining a delicate balance between reach and content is as important one way as the other.

A lot of writers have the problem that they don't have a platform. They write perfectly well and then they don't or won't self-promote. And even if they're still stuck in the last-generation model of traditional publishing, they aren't spending enough time having release parties, going to readings, or pounding the pavement to put their books on consignment in bookstores. (Usually because they have this mythical idea that good writing will sell itself and a true artiste never gets dirt under their fingernails. All bullshit, BTW.) So they have this really good ability, multiple novels, dozens or hundreds of short stories, often PUBLISHED work--occasionally even in prestigious venues--and no one knows about them.

I have the opposite problem. 

I have a blog, and it is quite a monument, but I'm still working on my first book. It is likely to get a lot of attention when it's finally done, but given the pandemic and my current life circumstances, that could be years. In the meantime I have this absurdly huge platform that is mostly just quietly promoting a couple of blog links a day. My "reach" FAR exceeds my content. I know when I'm writing more and HAVE WRITTEN more, I'm going to be grateful for all the interrupted dates and Disneyland trips, but right now I sort of I feel like I'm killing mosquitoes with a bazooka. I have more likes than many NYT bestsellers, and there are days when that feels simply ridiculous to me. I'm a small-time writer with a huge platform that is a big time commitment just to maintain.

That means I more time moderating comments than I do writing fiction by a factor of ten. I won't just let the comments descend into the wild west and hateful bullshit because if you invite wolves and sheep to sit at the table, you end up only with wolves. Plus, people are focused on my every move so that I can't post something that is mostly true most of the time for most writers without some jackhole getting RIGHT up in my face about it because I have had the audacity to post something that does not apply exactly to them. Or if I nuance something like NaNoWriMo or getting an MFA or don't let people cast aspersions all over fanfiction. And don't even get me started about how I can't post a point about how linguistics affects social equality without having to babysit the responses from SQuiDs all day long. 

If there's an air/fuel mixture to self-promotion....   One where most writers have too much ability but not enough reach to show those abilities off..... One where finding new readers is good, but it's still mostly about your work.... 

I went too far the other way. 

So what I would tell past me is to relax a little. Take more days off from social media. Just ENJOY the damned day at Disneyland. Post every two hours instead of every one. It's not going to matter if you have half a million likes instead of a million if you still have just as many READERS of the blog. (Hopefully because you're cranking out just as much or more quality content.)

But I did it this way. Live and learn. And now that I'm here, I wouldn't give it up for the world. I understand the pervading love that artists and entertainers have for those who follow their work. 


Lastly, thank you.

I know not all of you are coming from Facebook, but there are other milestones at least as arbitrary and you ARE the reason for those. Plus most of you are (coming from Facebook, that is), and I couldn't have done it without you. I mean I literally couldn't have done it without each and every one of you. 

So inasmuch as this has been a time of quiet reflection and perhaps the acknowledgement of a few zigs where I should have zagged, it is still a breathtaking moment and a huge milestone and thank you all so, so very much. 


Reminder the second: I'm currently working on a clunky older computer made for gaming (not writing) while my new Mac Air is on order. I will keep working, but it's a bit like pulling toffee. Nothing QUITE works as well and every step takes extra time. So please be extra patient with me as I navigate that in addition to all the pandemic/fire season/quarantine/rising fascism stuff. And if you like what I'm doing and have always wanted to donate, helping me offset the costs of buying a new computer is a great time to do so.  My Paypal:  paypal.me/WritingAboutWriting  Of course, if you really want to help, become a patron at a level you can handle monthly, because that is money I can factor into my budgets. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

In Case You Missed It (Logistical Follow Up To Yesterday's Post)

If you missed Monday's post about losing data you may not know the latest gonads slam that life has thrown at me (on top of the fires, the overworked, the pandemic, the terribad air quality and the Mordor-skies).  The facts were tucked between a sort of metaphor for how "Art" likes to kick me around and demand I sacrifice things to prove my love and the practical advice for the modern writer to simply know and prepare for the fact that their computer (and more specifically data loss) is just a fact of life to prepare for as best one can. 

I spent yesterday trying to troubleshoot the problem myself (no dice), and to fire up a VERY old, very clunky, very hard to use MacAir and see if I can figure out how much was on the cloud. (More than I hoped. Not as much as I feared. A dreadfully large number of half written articles and notes which is going to be quite a setback.) Said MacAir cannot just step in either, I'm afraid. It's just too damned old. The touch pad requires almost smacking it to get a left click, and a couple of the keys are REALLY twitchy. Plus it does NOT love what modern programs ask it to do. I ride my computers hard and put them away wet. I write every day and some of those sessions are 12 to 14 hours. It's a miracle the thing still turns on at all. 

A new Mac Air is ordered and on the way. They usually overestimate and adjust, but who knows with everything else going on, if I'll even get it by Sept 30th. While its arrival will not solve every problem that the death of the old computer has caused, I will at least be able to pick up some pieces and start at square ten (instead of one). Right now I'm at square two.

Still, I'm not at square one. I have a band-aid laptop. It's really more for gaming, and I hate writing on PCs because I'm a walking, talking writer cliche, but it has a keyboard which will create the wordshapes. I will start some articles from scratch and try to reassemble a few from memory. It's slow going though, so my writing is a bit like pulling taffy.

Until I get my Mac Air, expect most of my main articles to drop on Wednesday and Friday. (And more and more over at NWAW for the next couple of months as the election looms and my brain is consumed.) I imagine the rest of the days will be a combination of posts that are lower impact for me (like compilations or poll stuff) and just nothing. Empty days. I'm going to work hard to keep posting, but stack enough speed bumps on top of each other and they start to look like a wall. 

I'm definitely going to need tomorrow off. Although if I think of the next poll topic, I might make a quick call for nominations. 

Writing for money isn't like I imagined. It's better at times, but there's a lot of days where I feel like I'm treading water, wasting time with the not-writing stuff, or spinning my wheels. I mean obviously the pandemic wouldn't be something anybody really PLANS for, but some days I'm a little surprised at how much you have to ignore a missed post or a bad week and take it to the wide angle lens to assure yourself that you really ARE a writer, and things are just particularly shitty right now. 

Hang in there if you're having trouble. Setbacks--real and terrible setbacks--are part of the cost of doing business, but writing is a lot like flossing. If you don't worry about a missed day or a terrible week, but keep doing it as often as you can, you'll still have pretty good um.......gums.


Because of all your support, I was able to just order a new laptop immediately without angst or wondering how I was going to pay rent. (It took some budgeting and saving too, but that money wouldn't have existed without my Patrons and supporters.) If you'd like to be a part of the next laptop rescue fund, please consider becoming a Patron (even a dollar or three makes a big difference), or if a one-time donation is more your style, this is my Paypal

Monday, September 14, 2020

The Muse Wants What the Muse Wants (Three Things to Remember When Surviving Data Loss)

I guess Paul's muse didn't wear a leather corset.       
The Kiss of the Muse by Paul Cezanne 1860


[CN: My relationship with Art reads like a D/s relationship, so if that squicks you, skip this one. Or at LEAST bounce down past the italicized part.]


She was sitting astride me, leaned over with her face hovering over mine when I woke up, her fingers already woven through the hair at the back of my neck. As soon as my eyes fluttered open and I started to "Wha--", her fists clenched, and yanked me back into the pillow with a yelp.

"Oh good," she said, her smile growing just a little sinister. "You're awake."

"Yeah, do you think maybe- Ahhhhh!"

Her hands gripped tighter. "We never talk anymore. Let's chat, shall we." Her face was right over mine, but she leaned in even closer. "It's been a little rough these past few weeks. All that nanny work you've gotten up to."

I nodded with what little head motion I could muster.

"And this whole pandemic," she added. "Poor little you."

"Uh...." I didn't like where this was going.

Her head went down and her teeth found my earlobe. They slid over it, gently at first but with rising pressure.

Through clenched teeth holding my ear, she whispered. "I think it's time for me to remind you of all I do for you. But more importantly, it's time for you to show me that our love can overcome a little adversity."

My breathing was quick and jagged.

"It can, can't it?" She asked shifting her hips along mine.

"Yes...", I gasped. "Not that you're not totally overdoing this, but yes."

Her eyes narrowed.

"Good," she whispered as her hands clenching my hair relaxed. "Very good...."

This is one of those mornings where the chapter heading could be "But the Universe Had Other Ideas."

My MacBook has died. Dramatically. Suddenly. Thoroughly. 

Of course, I was being careful with some of my information, and less so with others. I lost some half-written articles, notes on many more. About a zillion pics and memes for the Facebook page. Some stuff will be in the Mac Cloud that I don't expect. Some is gone forever.

It's a pretty severe setback. 

But today I talk to you writer to writer. Because if I can't eke some folksy writer wisdom out of a personal tragedy, what are we even doing here?

1- Life will challenge the "sunk cost" fallacy of pursuing art. 

This isn't  new experience for writers. It's been happening since the wind blew a hand-written manuscript into the fire, or the only physical copy of something was lost in the move. Computers haven't helped that much. Data corrupts. Even saved files die. Personally, I've been through this half a dozen times in my 30 years writing with ever better technology every time (and it never gets any easier). The worst was a total purge of Dropbox (yes, I'm naming names). But even with clouds and triple redundant backups and USB thumb drives and everything else, you're probably going to lose some stuff.

And if the only reason you're writing is because you have put so much into it, that's going to be a really rough moment. You're going to want to quit, and if the only reason you were slogging on is because you'd come so far, it's going to be a pretty GOOD moment to be spectacularly self-honest. 

I'm not saying you SHOULD quit. I'm just saying that you're being leaned over one heck of a psychic volcano. 

It's normal to be upset. To flip a table. To abandon a project. Maybe even to give up for a while. But what happens then will be the most interesting part. Did you write because you had all this effort sunk into it? Or did you write because not writing was terrible or because that story was desperate to get out?

Have the reasons you write been obliterated, lost in some pixel (or ink) graveyard? Or will you come back to the page for the same reason you did before?


2-Just know it's coming and prepare for it.  

You will eventually lose your work. You will. It is going to happen. Just be ready for it and prepare for it.

If you don't believe me.... If you think you can be careful enough.... Check with any other working writer ever. One of the worst ones I remember: a friend went through a power surge that killed every autosave, leaving only the last dedicated save.....three months prior. (And that was three months of high-octane writing too.) When I saved all my shit to three USBs and Dropbox, I thought I was untouchable. Guess who discovered that he couldn't find two of those USBs and one was corrupted when all his work disappeared from Dropbox? 

I probably got too careless about some of those articles, and like a farmer with the cow, I'm going to be a lot better at it for a while. But what I didn't do was forget that certain LARGE files needed to be backed up in the cloud. That's why this is going to be intensely inconvenient for me rather than utterly tragic. 

So just keep a couple of redundancies and know it's going to happen. I don't save to six places every time I work, but periodically I update a Google doc......just in case. And I spend the six dollars a month to have an Apple cloud. If I lose data like today, I'm out a week or two of notes and maybe a mostly written article or three and the last few days on my manuscript rather than months or years of work.


2b- Just know it's coming and prepare for it. Money version.

You should also know your hardware won't last forever. Especially if you're using Apple--which I love like the cliche writer I am, but the engineered obsolescence is no GD joke. Some of their shit basically celebrates its third birthday by breaking. (My Pro had already had a battery changed and was falling apart at the hinge.)

Writers don't spend $100-$200 a month on art supplies or driving around to auditions, but we should still work the cost of our art into our budgets as much as is possible. Instead, we have to come up with $1500 or so once every couple of years and pass it all at once like a kidney stone. If you're not planning for that to be an expense, it can be rough. (It's quite analogous to our taxes since we don't have employers. We always owe, and it's always a lot, so if we're not saving, it's going to hurt like a root canal.) I know a lot of writers don't HAVE an extra hundred or two a month, so it's even more important to sock away a bit here and there when we do.

Economically, I was ready for this. I don't make a lot of money, but I can stretch a budget. I just assume my heavy use of whatever writing laptop I use means that I'll be buying a new one every threeish years, and I drop some money into a dedicated savings account. I have access to other ways to blog in a pinch (like today), but basically I can't go long term without it, so I just make sure it's a priority. 

If you're curious, I'm probably going to get a MacAir instead of a Pro. I don't do video editing or anything and I don't use my writing computer for games (unless it's Bardbarian uploaded so the smol will have something to do). All the reasons I had the more powerful computer are no longer apropos. I stream things on a donated flatscreen through my Playstation now. So a MacAir will probably do the job nicely. 


3- Take heart.

This has got to rank among the most frustrating experiences for writers. Even rejection feels different and has a kind of death-by-a-thousand-cuts feel that one strong wallop of data loss doesn't often achieve. And you have every reason to be frustrated. To perhaps even sulk in bed over ice cream and abandon your daily writing for a week.

But there are things no data loss can take away. You practiced and improved your craft. You improved your ability as a wordsmith. You learned how to sit down and put in the effort until you had something you would lament losing. None of those things can be lost. You will remember more about the things you lost than you think you will if you decide to rewrite them. You may even find whole sentences are still rolling around in your head, but certainly most of the beats are probably still there as soon as you start working.

Perhaps most importantly of all, while you might feel that you really nailed it with a paragraph or three, and you can't seem to get that particular magic back, one thing you will notice is that, for the most part, your rewrite will feel better. (It's the same reason you really ought to completely rewrite a first-to-second draft instead of just going into the old file and trying to revise.) You will have an easier time abandoning things that weren't working or trying completely new approaches, and for the most part, you're going to find your finished post-data-loss-product is better for it. 

I won't go so far as to say this might be the best thing that ever happened, but it's probably not as bad as it feels. Take a moment. Breathe deep. And if you were going to keep writing anyway, hopefully you took some precautions that make this not the worst thing that has ever happened.


If you would like to help me pay for a new writing laptop (or technically help me get started on the saving fund for the NEXT one), a one-time donation through PayPal is always most appreciated, particularly in these difficult financial times. And, of course, I will always be most appreciative of even small ongoing contributions through Patreon as they allow me to budget.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Best Contemporary Fantasy!

Text results below.

Best contemporary fantasy book (or series)? The results are in!

We're still dealing with air so bad that even with an air purifier cranked to max in the same room, staring at a screen for too long causes burning eyes and headaches, so for today, I'm just going to post poll results and keep my everything crossed that we get some tiny kind of wind or relief or something over the weekend so that I can start writing again. Otherwise, I'm going to have to buy four additional air purifiers per room or something. 

I was really sorry to see Jemisin do so poorly, but the competition for this one was stiff. Only some real power houses got through the nominations and the semi-finals. And thank you to SO. MANY. PEOPLE. for the participation. 

Sad news! I'm back on the hunt for a new free polling program. Anything that can handle the numbers of responses and the number of choices is asking me for $30+ a month, which is entirely too much for the one or two times a month I actually run a poll. So our future polls may have some logistical differences (and will almost certainly have cosmetic ones). I might have to limit things to fewer choices or run them on Facebook or something. 


The Innkeeper Chronicles Series - I. Andrews 2052

44%


Discovery of Witches Trilogy - D. Harkness 1501

32%


Ghost Story - Peace Talks - J. Butcher 566

12%


The Stormlight Archive - B. Sanderson 365

8%


Broken Earth Trilogy - N.K. Jemisin 124

3%


First Law - J. Abercrombie 25

1%


Middlegame - S. McGuire 23

0%


Circe - M. Miller 20

0%


Riyira Revelations - M. J. Sullivan 13

0%

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Sometimes the Bar Eats You (Personal/Meta)


Somewhere around here there is a posting schedule where I warn everyone about days like this.

This is our air quality right now. And that's accounting for how it gets a little better after dark. Ironically, the reason we were getting a blood-red apocalypse sky yesterday was because of a cool marine layer keeping all the crap way above us where it could blot out the sun. Now it's all down here with us on the ground. 

I did eight hours today at my other job. I often stay over and tag in with the baby as soon as he wakes up, which is sometime between 5am and 7am. Usually I'm tagged out by 10 to nap so that I can do an afternoon shift. There was a miscommunication. I wasn't going to be able to do the afternoon shift because of appointments. I thought it just meant a short day. Instead, I went straight through to the eight hour mark. 

AND THEN I bounced out the door to not one, but two adulting appointments. Since I have to go into quarantine for my clients' sake before I go back to work every time I have a dental or doctor's appointment, I decided to double dip so that I wouldn't have to take any more time off. So after waking up at six, and eight hours of work, I went to back-to-back dentist/doctor appointments. All while dealing with air quality roughly akin to not moving when you're standing in the campfire plume. 

However, this is the beginning of quarantinication! I have a week off! I'll post something on Monday next week to make up for this bullshit (even though I usually don't), but this is one of the days I warn everyone about. When I'm sitting in my apartment with the air purifier turned up to eleven (and haven't been running around in visibly shitty air for thirteen hours) I'll get a lot more work done.

And if you need your moment of writerly zen, it's this: can't win em all. Some days you have to look at the clock after a longer shift than you thought at your second job, and two appointments and a nap that you WOKE UP FROM after 8pm, and just say "It's not happening today." 

(I mean.....except for THIS.)

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Better Vote While You Still Can (Best Contemporary Fantasy–Last Chance!) [Personal/Meta Update]

What is the best fantasy book (or series) written 2011 or later?

I know Bay Area weather isn't something most of you follow, so you wouldn't know how abuzz we've been for the last few hours, but this is the sky outside my house this morning at 10am. Apocalyptic Blood Red. You can see that the streetlights are on because it's actually about dawn/twilight dark right now. (Most of the light the picture caught is actually light pollution bouncing back off the clouds, not sunlight getting through.) Some of the official stories in local papers have even better photos, but most are paywalled if you want to do more than see the headline and pics. It's a layer of ash from the fires up in the atmosphere, and it's supposed to go on all week. 

I mumbled something like "Blood has been spilled this night" in my best Orlando Bloom impression (I'm so terribly clever) and got up to go to the bathroom, thinking it was still sunrise and I'd be shuffling back to a few more hours. But then I saw 9:45 on the clock. 

That couldn't be right! But my iPad said the same thing.

I don't know if you've ever experienced not being able to see daylight/sunlight, but it REALLY messes with the internal chronometer. (I can't shake the feeling that it's midnight, not noon.) Plus, the air quality is maybe not as bad as "apocalypse sky" looks like it ought to be, but it's pretty bad. [At least it's not still hot.] And I also gotta tell you, I sort of wish "blood red apocalypse sky" on my September bingo card was a joke because with everything else going on, it is really tough to just shake one more thing off and keep going. It's fucking up pretty much everyone. The sky is SO unsettling that we're all dealing with various levels of anxiety from it. Personally, I want to gather my friends like it's the last night on Earth and sing "Drink With Me" from Les Misérable. Not get to work like it's any other day.

I mean it's REALLY not just me.

But, HEY, that's no reason not to remind everyone to vote on our poll!

It is absolutely your last chance to vote! 

Given the ONE MORE THING effect of apocalypse skies, I'm going to give myself until Friday even on one of my Facebook compilations, so these results are going to be what I post TOMORROW!  One more day to vote.

Everyone will get three (3) votes. Use them....wisely.

The poll itself is on the bottom left of the side menus, below the "About the Author." 

If you are using a mobile device, you can either switch to web view and scroll all the way down, but if that's not working, is too much trouble, or you're having any other issues, you can go directly to the poll through this link: https://linkto.run/p/GUDJIQEX