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

Monday, November 28, 2022

Where Would I Take a Guest (Non-Writing Mailbox)

15- If you had a friend come to town who’d never been here before, where would you take them that wasn’t necessarily a big tourist spot? Or maybe you would take them to a tourist thing. Who knows :) 

[Couple of notes: 

1- Non writing questions are going into a full 20 Questions post when I'm done with all of them, but there are way too many to not break them up into separate posts.

2- I'm still looking for questions to answer in my mailbox. Mostly writing questions, but you can send me anything and I'll get to it eventually.]

This has happened a couple of times, and I'm usually not much into the tourist spots myself unless there's a specific place that a guest wants to go. I'll take them to Alcatraz or to see Fisherman's Wharf or the Golden Gate Bridge if they are wanting that experience, but I'm much more likely to find something they like and tailor a local adventure to that. If they want to see the ocean, we head down to Half Moon Bay and take a hike along the cliffs and then down to the beach. If they want to see a museum I'll take them to the DeYoung (or Cal Academy if they're a big nerd). If they want a vigorous hike, I'll show them the Lafayette Reservoir rim trail. If they like to eat Mexican food, we go on a Fruitvale taco crawl. 

Still, I rarely do that either. A lot of my visitors are more of the "hang out and enjoy each other's company" type. We putter around locally. Maybe go for a hike. Or perhaps we just knock out some grocery shopping that I need to do anyway. We hit a few local restaurants. There's lots of talking. Maybe we watch a movie or something.

Friday, November 11, 2022

Can You Smell What the Chris is Cooking?

It's been a quiet week here, but I'm hoping by next week, you will understand why—or at least get the first hints of what is going on that I've been so busy with. Today was Treble and Clef's observance of Veteran's day, so I basically had about four and a half extra hours of childcare. And it looks like I've gotten nothing done this week. 

I'm not going to lie—I'm still stumbling more than I'm cranking out the word counts. It's been a long and slow road to recovery. But the posts are coming and a major project is in the works. 

Basically what happened is that my editor came to me with their part of something I had been hinting that I wanted to do for a couple of years now. They had done it. It was already completely finished. Suddenly, I was in a position to get a major non-blog project done. 

But there was a catch…

It was about NaNoWriMo. Which meant I had to drop everything and put it all into getting this project done if it was going to be done in time to be topical. Otherwise it would have to wait for an entire year. 

So that's what I did. I dropped everything and started working. I have a shit ton of editing and polishing and revision to do as fast as I can possibly do it, as well as two articles that are absolutely essential to round out the final version of this project. One of those will go live next week as part of the regular blog, and I HOPE this thing will get off the ground while NaNo is still a thing.

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

To Editor or Not to Editor (Mailbox)

Note 1: I still need more questions to help me with my multi-week, get-back-into-the-swing-of-writing mailbox-a-thon. Please keep sending questions for me to answer to chris.brecheen@gmail.com, and they may get featured in an answer post.

Note 2: The multi-week, get-back-into-the-swing-of-writing mailbox-a-thon will mean that I'm off update schedule for a while while we deep dive into answering your questions.

[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. Long questions? Short answers? I'm here for it!] 

Tyler asks:

First of all--I love your blog. It's helped me shape a lot of my writing philosophy. I read Brande. I started working every day I can on writing. I did the floating half-hour. It's all helped immensely, and over the past three years that I've been writing seriously, I've noticed that I've been getting better, and I have some thanks to give to you for your advice. Thank you for all you do, and hope soon you can return to blogging--but as I'm sure people tell you all the time, take care of yourself.

My mailbox questions...

Do you use an editor, or do you self-edit? What does this look like for you when you are posting 3 times or so a week?

I've been writing for three years, and have yet to publish anything. However, I've felt my writing getting substantially better over the last few months. I've been working on a short story/novella for 1.5 years or so, but while I've only recently been able to tell the story the way I want to. However, I feel that perhaps I am getting stuck on this one idea for too long. I'm not expecting to get my time back out of the work, but how do you decide when it something should be published? I feel I could wrap up the story in another rewrite or so, but when I try to work on other ideas I feel distracted by this work, knowing it is so close.

Thanks for all you do Chris, I look forward to seeing more of your work!

My reply:

I usually try to open my mailbox replies with a totally hilarious joke (and believe me, they are always absolutely brilliant), but I have just got to say that it's really touching to have been doing this whole thing long enough that I'm starting to get folks writing in who have been taking my advice for years. I have a whole bookshelf section of people's first signed books with a few words of thanks for all the "You should be writing" memes or blog posts or just general advice over the years. And while my suggestion to do things like write every day or maybe skip NaNoWriMo if you don't already have experience writing at a fevered pace have always garnered a certain level of…let's say "spirited disagreement" (usually from people who have yet to hit those goals they claim rank upon their most ardent desires), once in a while folks who have gone ahead and tried what I propose take the time to write me and let me know that it actually worked like a charm and they're writing regularly and feeling much better about everything.

So to all my naysayers. "Nyaaaah!" Where's YOUR fucking bookshelf of signed first editions, huh? 

Okay, that was petty. I'm being petty.

No, not TOM Petty.
Jesus Fucking Christ, who is in charge of picking the pictures on this blog? 
Why won't they back down?

So Tyler, it turns out your first question is a lot easier to answer. I work with an amazing editor. And it's a good thing too because if you go back to before we worked together, it's REALLY painfully obvious. Not only do I make lots of mistakes (particularly when it comes to where the commas go) but there's just this noticeable dip in quality. My editor doesn't just fix my grammar and spelling. She also helps me be….a better writer than I am—or at least the best writer I can be. She teases out what I mean to say and helps me sharpen and tighten my language. Once she's gone through a draft, it's just a much better piece of work. 

Occasionally I finish a post too late to get it in front of her before I need to post it, or it's just really short and I think I can probably keep it mostly error free on my own. (Narrator's voice: They couldn't.) This is inevitably when I end up finding a sentence I didn't even finish, an idea I expressed badly, and half a dozen grammar mistakes….in the first paragraph—of course that's after I've posted.

So yes, editor is good. And if you can't afford one, work out a trade. And if you can't work out a trade, at least get some peer review. And if you can't get peer review, at least get a second set of eyes from someone who isn't trying to bang you. This is part of the process for a reason. We all suffer from knowing what we MEANT when we wrote something. 

The more complicated question is when you NEED an editor (and how many drafts you should do), and that gets into the tricky land of revision. I hate to answer your question with a question, but how important is this writing? As my attempts to go forth without an editor indicate, you should probably have at least a second set of eyes for anything you expect to be read. 

Imagine a logarithmic graph….

Or just look at this one if you have trouble imagining 
calculus in your head.

So revision and editing is like this graph. The first draft to the second draft will be unbelievable improvement. VERY notice. Much improve. Wow! Then the change from the second draft to the third draft will probably be somewhat less noticeable but still quite apparent. From third draft to fourth, you might feel like you are getting limited returns even though you are still improving upon the work.

Your efforts to keep polishing will keep yielding a better and better draft, but the curve will start to flatten. To get a draft that is as much improved between draft 2 and 3, you would have to do draft 4, 5, and 6 (in addition to 2, and 3, of course). Yes, it will keep getting better. There is basically no point where another pass by an editor won't find SOMETHING, but how willing are you to put in that effort? Yes, the returns get more limited. It will take longer and longer to yield a significantly better draft. How much time and energy do you want to spend improving this? Is it your Great American Novel™? Or is it the content for a random day's blog post? Masterpieces are probably most discernible from what I call "popcorn books" because they go through somewhere around five to ten more drafts. 

And this is one of the painful truths of art. Perfection is a goal we must strive for but can never attain. We can just get closer and closer (like the flea in the thought experiment who jumps half the distance from point A to point B every jump). And eventually we have to decide that our work is good enough for what we're trying to achieve, call that work complete (as complete as it will be), and move on. 

Deciding that a piece is ready for publication is a very personal decision if you're self-publishing (and a very gatekeepery decision if you're traditionally publishing). Obviously, I can tell you when something is clearly NOT ready (draft one…maybe two…lots of grammar errors…maybe a few continuity problems…and a chapter that is basically your freshman composition essay on why Mario is a scathing indictment of capitalism), but as you clean up your work and improve it, this becomes an increasingly subjective decision. It really has a lot to do with whether you feel the work is ready to go out into the world, and there's almost no objective way for someone else to tell you. Even in traditional publishing—where you would think you would be getting a more "ready/not ready" objective value judgement—factors like how popular the genre is matter way more than some rubric of quality. Seriously, things get published (traditionally) all the TIME with glaring errors in grammar, confusing wording, and absolute shit prose. 

So I hate to leave you with a bit of a non-answer, but it's really up to you, your sense of how ready your work is, and how close to perfection you want it to be.

I will give you this one freebie though, Tyler. When writers are starting out, they tend to underestimate how much revision and editing their work needs. It is a tragically common error among new writers to assume that they just need a grammar polish. I promise promise promise pinkie swear that you (nor anyone else) will be the exception to the rule that you are going to have to do some big revision. For most starting writers, it will take a significant number of peers FAILING to tell them that they are unsung literary geniuses (and maybe even saying, "this was a little confusing and stilted") before they begin to put their ego to the side and consider editing and revision (with peer review) a crucial part of the process.   If you are new to putting your work out in the world, ERR ON THE SIDE OF TOO MUCH. Later…(much later)…you will start to kind of "revise as you write" and may find that some of your less critical work can be done in only two or three drafts. However, you'll still want to do multiple drafts for the important stuff, which for most of us will include any kind of fiction to be published. 

I hope that helps, Tyler. Good luck.

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Four Trips and a Funeral (Personal Update)

 [CN: Pet Death] 

While I wait for questions to roll in from my post on Tuesday, I thought I would share a little of what's been going on in my personal world. I'm not sure I can tie it into writing much without sounding like a broken record cliché from the last years or so. ("Hey life happens, folks. But you have to write. But you have to be kind to yourself. But not TOO kind. But not too mean. But kick your ass. But gently….)

One thing about the anxiety that came up for me after cancer and surgery was that I had a hard time being still with my thoughts. I was restless and had trouble concentrating on anything. For months afterwards, I really wanted to keep busy. I couldn't sit still (I would just lose concentration and start thinking about things I was anxious about if I tried), and I would dread being alone. So I was antsy, and mostly kept trying to keep busy.

Somewhere in there I started planning little trips. 

They weren't big vacations. A road trip here. A couple of days there. One planned a couple of months ago. One in the works since winter. One that wouldn't have been possible because of a train trip but then suddenly was when the trains went on strike. One practically a 17 hour (each way) road trip on a lark.

And because I wasn't paying attention to where I was putting the short trips compared to the trips that had been on the calendar for a lot longer, suddenly I had four trips lined up almost back to back in the span of about three weeks. 

If that weren't enough, somewhere in there, we lost a hamster. Which….like okay it's a hamster. But for the five and eleven year old, this is some of the biggest grief they've had to contend with. The feels were big and the impact wasn't easy. 

Maybe the worst part is that right before these trips started happening, I felt a shift in the anxiety. Like I know I'm not all better or done with my mental health journey or anything pollyanna like that, but I definitely felt like I was a little more comfortable in my own skin and could probably sit with my thoughts a little better and didn't need every moment of every day to be a distraction from the thoughts that would creep into my head if I dared to slow down. 

So there I am in a better headspace, and just a little better able to process and maybe starting to confront that I don't even particularly ENJOY having every moment filled up with socialization, and I have four trips out of town planned. (And though I wouldn't know it until I was half way through them, a very emotional funeral was going to be happening in there too.) 

It's been a weird month—nourishing and rejuvenating in many ways—but also stressful in others and a difficult schedule to carve a writing routine out of. I've had to keep reminding myself that not every day is going to be ten pages on the work in progress and promises to all my patrons, but at the same time, I've tried to keep writing a little something every day so that my skills didn't get too rusty. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Questions Needed (And Meta Update)


While you could put them in the comments where you see this post and I MIGHT even see them. But chances are I won't, so if you really want to get a question answered, it will be better if you click this link and follow the directions.

So, if you've been following us with even half an iota of attention over the last year, you know that I've been recovering from cancer and surgery and have been having a hard time getting back into a writing schedule. Some of this is scheduling logistics, but most of it has been the brain fog and anxiety that comes with these sorts of life altering (and particularly life threatening) experiences. 

One of the best ways I've found over the years to jumpstart a writing slump is to answer mailbox questions. They give me a topic and a jump off point, take a little less research than some of my deep dive posts, and are just a tiny bit more FUN for me. So I'm going to be doing a rash of question answering. At least a couple of weeks worth of blogging. Maybe more if I'm still struggling. Then we'll ease back into our regular update schedule.

I've got a few questions in the archives, and I'll be digging them out, dusting them off, and going through them for the good ones, but I will need MORE. Now is the time to get me your questions.

E-mail me at chris.brecheen@gmail.com and put "WAW Mailbox" in the subject.

Folks, that's not just me being fussy about submission requirements (although if you want to be published, you should learn YESTERDAY that you have to follow any and all submission guidelines to the absolute letter if you don't want your submission thrown out without even being read). I actually use those keywords to search through my fifteen THOUSAND emails. If you don't want to get lost in the immediate wash of Democrat fundraising spam, dating app notifications, Google calendar notifications, and promotions from the last ten years of shit I've signed up for, you'll put "WAW Mailbox" in the subject line, so I can find it. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Tuesday (but actually Wednesday) Report 10/12/22

The last couple of weeks have been frustrating. I took a trip to see a friend, came home for a day and change and then got on a plane to see family for what I thought was a final visit (turns out it wasn't). Trying to see everyone I care about before and after (and sometimes between) those trips, turned my normally pretty open schedule into kind of a nightmare. But I also made a lot of personal progress

Quick Personal/Health Update-  

It became obvious in the last couple of weeks that I was not managing my anxiety well, and it was beginning to affect my personal relationships. 

Some of it may have been all the travel, and some of it was definitely thinking I was visiting my mom for the last time (it's not actually that bad), but even though those things are less of an issue now, I think I could still use some extra help trying to regulate.

I've been doing better month by month since my surgery, and honestly, I've been having some genuinely good days and solid weeks lately, but it still feels like I'm only really okay if absolutely nothing goes wrong. If anything happens, suddenly I'm spinning out of control. 

So I started back up talk therapy, and went to my PCP to talk about pharmaceutical options. (She recommended a low dose med for the next three to six months to help me get a little further clear of the cancer and surgery.) 

Weekly Schedule Adjustments-

Our biggest schedule adjustments this week is working around the bank holiday—which shifts everything over one day. That means tomorrow I'll take the day off, and try to get something low key up on Friday. Next week I'm going to be in Monterey for three days, but I think I'll have as much time to work during downtimes as I ever do, so it might not affect much.

Novel Progress-

Old Draft 38,305

I definitely didn't get to the ol' novel these last couple of weeks. I barely kept my head above water.

Behind the Scenes-

I'm going to get this early access post written if it kills me. 

Monday, October 10, 2022

Happy Indigenous Peoples Day

I know we haven't exactly been nailing the update schedule around here lately, but just a reminder that bank holidays "shift" everything off a day. 

So I'll be taking today completely off (which isn't exactly true since Treble and Clef are out of school). Look for our Weekly Report on Wednesday, and a truncated update schedule this week.