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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?

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Best Contemporary SciFi (Reminder to Vote)

What is the best science fiction book (or series) written in the last ten years? 

From your nominations we have constructed our poll. Now we need everyone to come vote. Only ten days remain to get your choices on record for our new series of polls where the results will stay posted until the next such poll (likely years later).

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.

[Note- We are currently only $70 dollars towards our fundraising goal. I know people think maybe I ask for money and it just floats down like manna from heaven or I click a button and hundreds of dollars shows up in my Paypal that day, but that's NOT how it works. While I would love more patrons, right now I am just trying to make $600 ($530 remaining) to fix the laptop I do my writing on and have enough to cover my taxes. If you've ever thought that you can't be a patron, but wanted to make a One Time Donation, now would be a great time.]

Monday, March 18, 2019

Vera's Sick, No Summer School, Molasses, and What Now? (Personal Update)

Ker-ack!
Seriously though this is what a broken
black back piece looks like.
Hi everybody,

There was going to be a guest blog today, but the author is taking some time on...uh kickstarting their Kickstarter and so their promotion tour is pushed back a little. We'll still get it (and I think it's going to be awesome), but it might be a couple more weeks.
That left me hanging a little, but it makes for good timing. Because I have some news....

THERE IS NOT GOING TO BE A "PLEDGE DRIVE" this year.

If you've been around Writing About Writing for a while, you may know that every year in the past, I went and taught summer school for six weeks because I needed the money. It was an extra thirty hours or more added to an already overcooked schedule and my posting here usually broke down around week two. There may have even been some sobbing during that period.

In the past couple of years since I added Patreon, I have used the six weeks to run a full court press of asking for donations and patrons. Each week for the six weeks, I cannibalized a post and instead made an increasingly intricate plea for financial support. There were plans for future income and all the bellwethers we'd passed so far and a little thermometer showing how close we were to hitting a goal.

Not this year. I'm not teaching there anymore. I kind of don't need that money (though it'll be a little tight without). But really the reason is more petty. My boss used "Think of the poor children to whom we give scholarships" to try and shame teachers into not asking for their agreed-upon raises or any materials budgets, (plus they were cutting more and more corners every year), and I wasn't really okay with that. So I'll be writing a regular update schedule during that time when this summer rolls around.

HOWEVER, we do have a fundraiser.

I need to cover the increased tax burden of a freelancer who can't write off anything this year, and the cost of repairing and replacing some of the things I moved out with three years ago are starting to break down. Many of these things I can just learn to live without (Apple watches are fun, but entirely too expensive to try to replace on my salary), but the computer that I write on needs to be fixed.

It's been SLOW going on Patreon. Almost every month involves the TINIEST of net gain, but the needle moves glacially slow. Usually before the month ends I end up with a couple of dollar raise, but not before a bunch of people cancel or modify their pledges down and then a slow crawl back to where I was and maybe a little more. March has been particularly hard. It doesn't take much backsliding to wipe out such incremental change.


We've been moving like molasses to our next set of goals––the very next one that was supposed to cover the increased price of health insurance and the fact that my income counts as freelance and I can no longer write anything off. (Yep, basically covering the cost of life under Trump.) I'm still over $100 shy––well $121, now.) Given how my friends who've filed THEIR taxes have been howling, I'm not optimistic. After the insurance/taxes goal, the NEXT goal was supposed to be to start helping with all the little things that have begun to to break and need replacing. A cost I didn't have to deal with when I first moved out with all new stuff, but which eventually catches up to you when you live in a system that depends on engineered obsolescence.

Right now my overall life is okay. I can still make a budget stretch with the best of them, and starting in April there are nanny hours that will help give me a few more years to hit those Patron goals before I have to decide whether to add advertising revenue or renege on my commitment to keep everything I write available for free. 

And, of course, what I would REALLY love is more Patrons. (Even a dollar or three a month helps create a firm "ecosystem" of small patrons so that I don't lose 10% of my income if one of my big patrons can't keep paying––not that I don't love my big patrons to bits.) They let me budget and schedule and plan in ways that flat donations don't.

But in the meantime, I'm trying to fix my computer and get my 2018 taxes covered.


So every one-time donation helps. paypal.me/WritingAboutWriting

The back plastic of Vera, my writing laptop, has a crack in it, which means the hinge has stopped working and the monitor part sort of "flops" back. Right now I have some Trader Joe's Pita Bite Cracker boxes keeping it at a 90-degree angle so that I can work.  Unfortunately, like everything with Macs, it's some laser-precision cut piece, and my research suggests I'm looking at $380 to replace it. Between that and taxes, I'm hoping to raise about $600. Every dollar helps.

And then hopefully before next tax season or the next thing breaks, I will have molasses-on-a-glacier crawled to the next Patron goal with my actual INCOME, and won't need to do this again.

Note: AS ALWAYS these posts do not do particularly well on their own merits in social media proliferation. If you want to help me, this blog, and my writing, and do not have the money to spare (or do have the money to spare but want to help me twice), please consider liking, commenting, or sharing this post so that it can be seen by more people who might have a dollar or five to spare.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Forewarning

Hi folks.

Just a quick post that won't be going up on social media. For those of you who see posts directly through blogger updates or email notifications or a subscription service like Feedly, I wanted to warn you of some updates coming that I won't be putting on social media, but that you'll see through those various updates.

This post: 25 Narratives We Hear After Every Mass Shooting (And Why They're Total Bullshit) is about to get a new look (and a polish). Each of the 25 arguments is going to become a link to its own section, and those I'll be writing on WAW's off days, probably one or at most two a week. It'll take a while to get it all done, and I just wanted to let everyone know it was coming.

-Chris

Thursday, March 14, 2019

BioShock Infinite: Your Argument Is Invalid (Conclusion)

Two quick reminders:

1- This is part 6 (and the conclusion) of a multipart article, and I’m jumping in with no recap. You can go back to Part 5 or all the way back to The Beginning

2- While I’m not decoding the end or discussing the plot directly, there will be spoilers.

And so…here we are…at the end. The Art Snobs are electrocuting Video Games with force lightning of elitism, but what they don’t realize is that the “dark lord” standing next to them is a geek with a degree in humanities who is going to use what he learned to turn on them.

Time to toss this “video-games-can’t-be-art" argument down a strangely placed bottomless shaft.

Okay.
Someone needs to stop throwing a tantrum about who gets to be special.
It's time for your nap and a baba.

There is so much more I could analyze about BioShock Infinite. More themes, more subtext, more elements that work to reinforce the vision, more failed topical social justice attempts. Each one of the parts of this could be telescoped out into ten more articles of examples. One could write a masters thesis on nothing but the idea of redemption as a driving motivation for nearly every character, or fill fifteen articles with careful analysis of all the symbolism without even breaking a sweat. I suspect a PhD dissertation arguing the inclusion of video games into the annals of art could be made with nothing but this one game.

However, my point was never to do an exhaustive critical analysis, but simply to show that it CAN be done. I don’t need to show all the symbols to prove that at least one exists. I don’t need to examine each element of video game design to show a couple that are working with the themes. I don’t need to examine every theme to show how they play into B.I.’s overall experience as art. I don’t need to unpack every critical review to demonstrate that the analytical tools being used to analyze B.I. are the same ones we bring to the table when we’re talking about film or literature (both “real” art forms).

I actually have the easy job here. I need only ONE solid example to disprove the claim that video games can't be art. I can kick my feet up, chomp some bonbons and write a (relatively) short article that illustrates my point. That is because I merely need to get the artistry of ONE video game on record. You don’t even have to agree that B.I. is “real art,” you just have to agree that it had the ability to be, so even the opinion that they fell short is, in and of itself, a success.

You see, in the final analysis, BioShock Infinite’s gestalt as legitimate art echoes its sociopolitical shortcomings. If the worst criticism leveled against it is that it failed in its ambition, then the medium’s potential must be acknowledged. A piece of art that has failed to live up to its potential must have had the potential to be art.

Checkmate, dillhole art professors.

No...
NOOOOOOOOOOO!
The position that video games can’t be art is quagmired from nearly three decades ago in the medium’s technological infancy when it literally did not have the ability to be artistic. (At least not in a way recognized by the ivory tower. A case could be made for the tension between impact and intent existing from the moment two rectangles and a circle were meant to be a game of ping pong.) And every moment since the 90’s has seen that claim become more and more absurd. Sure, there are disposable entertainment games, and no one is arguing that Modern Combat 27 is “real art” or that Navy Seals Commando 23 has engaging character arcs, no matter how breathtaking their graphics become. But the same continuum of artistic quality exists in every medium—there are literary books and throw-away books. There are engaging shows and mind-numbing shows. There are great films and Adam Sandler movies.

We can still be hard on games that are shallow, vapid, and unconsidered. Twitch-oriented offerings to the “hard core gamer” are seldom interested in symbolism or themes. But some games—some games—are rising above.

BioShock Infinite has a quadruple layering of almost every scene. The ostensible moment, the foreshadowing within the plot of the fact that Booker is actually in an infinite loop and everything is happening exactly as it has before, the sociopolitical implication of the cycle of violence (flawed as it may have been portrayed), and the thematic exploration of free will and the idea that we have any true moral decisions.

In parting, consider two moments:

One— half way through the game, Booker can be made to pick up a guitar and start strumming it. Elizabeth immediately begins to sing “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” Think about how much subtext is bursting out of that moment. In the song itself the “circle” is suffering and the question posed by the singer is if there is really a paradise in which there will be no more suffering.  (The fact that it is sung in the basement of a ratty bar in a shanty town right next to a kid living under the stairs is no coincidence.) However, the “circle” can also refer to the Delphian fate of Booker's 123 loops in which he has done the same thing over and over again. But it can also refer to the cycle of violence that perpetuates violence and the fact that Columbia is a city founded by—as well as entered through—acts of violence. But it can ALSO refer to the free will of the characters and their ability to do anything other than their nature and their circumstances predetermine.

And if that isn’t real art, I don’t know what is.

Two— I’ll let you do the analysis for this one on your own. Let the implications seep in (and a chill crawl up your spine) as I leave with the QUADRUPLE layers of artistic meaning in one of the game’s more popular moments—four (see what they did there?) white men standing on a floating platform (at exactly the time Booker gets there), singing in perfectly integrated harmony that God only knows what they’d be without....you.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Chris's Fortune Cookie Wisdom for Writers XVII

Editors are like therapists. Some people need to hit an unforgiving wall of heavy-hitting feedback. Some need to find one who knows how to aikido their bullshit. Some are ready for "This totally doesn't work" and some need "I'm not sure what you're trying to do here..." If they're too mean, you shut down. And if they're too nice, your shit doesn't get EDITED––you just feel better about it. Trust me that you can pay a lot less per hour to just get validating compliments. Shop your editors!  

To get those amazing themes that work with the other elements of the story, tease OUT what you find  in revision, don't shoehorn them IN right away trying to be hella deep. 

It's an incredibly frustrating thing to want to be a writer and be told to read more. Unfortunately, it is like doing scales in music or warming up before sports practice. It's a fundamental part of the process. What feedbackers usually mean when they suggest going back and reading a lot more is that there are LOTS of fundamental, core problems in one's writing and it indicates that one has a very difficult time intuiting the difference between bad and good writing.

If you think of a writer's career trajectory as similar to a doctor's for time-to-viable trajectory, you will be in good shape for how much effort it's going to take. You can substitute reading and hard practice for undergrad degrees and MFA's but you have to be The Punisher Season Two brutal with yourself about if you're putting in full-time caliber effort or diddling while you play Total War games until 3am. Four years of undergrad.  Four years of medical school. Three to seven years as an intern/resident years as an intern/resident. That tracks with the five years of solid effort at writing before you're making more than a pittance and three to seven more before you can pay the bills.

You have to read all the time. Trying to just write is like trying to only breathe OUT.

This isn't writing advice, but maybe it's communication advice. If someone's asking about best dates, you should really check and see if they mean best FIRST dates. Because they probably didn't want to know about the threesome and the MDMA even though that's deffo the one.

If you want to dream, dream. Have fun. If you want to reach your objectives, the trick is setting goals that are realistic, within your control and measurable.

You have a relationship with your writing that needs as much emotional labor as a real one to flourish. Although unlike most relationships with people, writing will still be there after you leave for five years, have a spring/fall romance, and buy a convertible. 

You know writing every day doesn't have to mean six grueling hours on your work in progress. Add some sparkle to an email. Make a Facebook post. Write in a journal. Knock out thirty minutes. Just keep your craft sharp for the days when you CAN give it more.

When Facebook throttles your content (and they will), just remember how well you did when people actually saw your stuff out there and had the option to click on it. Facebook wasn't making them click your link. It was just ACTUALLY showing your link to more people. They chose to read it. You're doing better than you think. 

No one will ever give you the permission you seek to go be a writer. You just have to do it.


Human beings tell stories. In really, really real ways, human beings ARE stories. History is a story of how we got here. Politics is a story of who gets what and when. Polemics is a story of what we ought to find important. Most human beings exist as the main character in a story about their lives. Everyone has a story about you they tell other people. When you die, the only thing left...is a story about who you were. Everything is stories. The words that will stay are written down. Writers are some of the most powerful people to ever exist. 

When you see advice you don't like, instead of saying no, unpack WHY your saying no and what you feel like you're risking to give that advice a good-faith try. You often discover something about yourself and what you most need to be doing by considering what you are avoiding.
The seep of culture has some powerful messages that are pretty rough on artists. And that's before the STEM cheerleaders come out and act like the humanities are soft and for losers. Most artists have a day job or three, and the art they do make has its own messages of value (or lack thereof) even if it does not profit them with a monetary value that is easily expressed by how much someone would give them to possess their creations. 


Keep reading. Keep writing. Don't give up. You got this.

MORE FORTUNE COOKIE WISDOM