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

Monday, June 14, 2021

The Best of Jan/Feb and March/April

Since I've forgotten to do this for a couple of months running, you get a double dose today. FOUR months worth of our best posts (with the book recommendation posts filtered out). 

As a reminder, we just haven't been able to hit our pre-pandemic posting schedule with all the extra nanny hours that have been happening, and as a result, instead of dropping the best three for each month, for the past 16 months or so, we've been doing the best three for every TWO-MONTH PERIOD.  Likely July will be the first month we have enough posts on a regular enough basis to get back to our old way of doing things. 


Dealing With the Inevitable

I'm not sure when my appeals post became the most popular posts I write, but I guess I'm getting good at titling and preview text that piques interest.

A New Disclaimer: Capitalism Ableism and "Making It" as a Writer

Prescribing daily writing can be ableist. But it's also the best way to hit the goals so many writers speak of wanting to achieve. 

Facebook Compilation (Top of December)

My Facebook compilations are a nod to the fact that I do, in fact, spend an awful lot of time writing smaller posts on Facebook and making a "bundle" of all the best writings and memes. 

Special Mention

That Which Will Never Come Again

A special nod to a post that actually did better than many others even though it was just a small announcement of a terrible situation that would mean many of my posts went unedited for a while.


Facebook Ban

For some reason me just getting pissed off that I couldn't post and that I wasn't going to bother trying was the most popular thing I've written in months.

Facebook Compilation (Bottom of February) 

My Facebook compilations are a nod to the fact that I do, in fact, spend an awful lot of time writing smaller posts on Facebook and making a "bundle" of all the best writings and memes. 

"I Shall Return" (Personal/Meta/Damned Good News)

We're AAAAAAAAALMOST to the point where the nanny hours come back to the writing schedule and we can start posting at our old pace again. 

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

F.A.Q. Will I Post Your Writing Blog?

Question: Will I use my platform (here or on social media) to post/promote your or your friend's article/blog about writing?

Short answer: With all the kindness I can muster, I'm sorry, but probably not.

Long answer: I want to make sure I answer this with all the love and kindness and compassion that I possibly can. Because I was you eight years ago, looking everywhere to find an audience for my writing and posting my articles anywhere I could—sometimes even getting myself banned for self-promotion. It's really hard and I want you all to know that I understand and want you to succeed. I want all of us to succeed.

However, in a very real way, what you are asking me to do is (with no reciprocity or compensation) to use the platforms I've spent years building….to promote my competition. Not that I see this as a zero-sum game, but chances are that I've tackled that very subject on my own blog (or intend to). I get a lot of articles that are kind of carbon copies of each other. Listicles without style or flair. Webcontent. Flat prose. I'd like folks to read MY words on the subject. Not that I am the be-all end-all of writing advice, and certainly not that everyone wants one of my pervy jokes thrown into their tips and pointers, but I do sort of have a stake in hoping that people turn to me. And I don't want people I've promoted thinking I've stolen their ideas when I tackle the subject myself or rerun the article in which I did. When I DO point at other writers and their writing advice, it's generally in the form of a guest blog here on Writing About Writing, so while I might not promote your article whole cloth, perhaps we could talk about a guest blog or an exchange.

So, while trying very delicately not to sound like your local mercenary or Lionel Barrymore or something, and sincerely wishing you all the luck in the world if you're trying to get your own writing blog off the ground, I regretfully have to say that if there's no kind of "one hand washing the other" or if you don't have some REALLY novel take on, well….writing about writing…then I'm most likely going to feel like you're trying to use the platform I built over nearly a decade in order to directly compete with me. 

And that doesn't feel very good to me.

Check out the rest of my F.A.Q. here.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Best Sci-Fi Book That Is Part of a Series But Stands Alone

What is the BEST science fiction book (or short story) that absolutely could stand alone but was technically part of  a series or had/was a sequel? 

I'm going to be gathering up the results of this list and posting them very soon, so if you want to get in on our conversation, time is running out. Remember there are no more polls. We just have a conversation about some good books. Next week (Tuesday probably), I will publish the two lists: one of "undersung heroes," (the books that aren't the best but that you love and want to see more people know about), and the BEST, which will have no ranking other than being listed in order of which got the most seconds.

You can also check out our growing Master List for great recommendations in lots of different categories! (It's also a great way to see the what the results of participation here will look like.) Come check it out!

Please remember to go to the original page to drop your nomination (and familiarize yourself with the rules if you haven't yet). If you put it anywhere else (including a Facebook comment on this post) it will not be counted.

Thank you all for your input. I've really love reading all your comments about the books you treasure and why.

Monday, June 7, 2021

Schrödinger's Monday—Patron Day

Schrödinger's has spoken today and this Monday there will be no regular blog post (other than this). I'll put reruns up on the various social media. Today I need to to cannibalize our regularly scheduled post to spend some time "backstage" working on those small ways I try to say "thank you" to the folks who keep the lights on around here and enable me to eat something other than Top Ramen. 

So today is an admin day. Well technically, today is a variant on the admin day—Patron Day. I need to touch up May's newsletter before it goes out (later today/tonight). I need to get a chunk of Friday's Early Access post done—it's going to be a big one. Some selfies need to go to the selfie tier. Plus, I'd really love to be a step ahead instead of getting things to my editor, and then posted, at the absolute last minute. 

Let me also put some dates in your mind. The week of June 28-July 2nd, I'm shutting it ALL down for some time off. The blog. The Facebook page. It'll all go quiet for a few days. Be prepared.

Friday, June 4, 2021

How Can I Get Prose Like Yours [Mine]? (The Mailbox)

[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. Feel free to tell me how much you like my writing as often as possible.] 

Just a note before I jump into this question. My queue of questions isn't EMPTY, but I can kind of "see the bottom," and like a cat, I'm absolutely sure that this means I will soon run out and perish. So if you've got questions for me, now's a good time to send them.

Amanda asks:

I'm not a pro writer, my job involves a good amount of making myself understood in writing (emails, slacks, project proposals, documentation). I really admire the clarity of your writing style. Do you have any advice for non pro writers about writing clearly and being understood? 

My reply:

I know the answer you're just DYING to hear isn't "Thirty years of experience," so I'm going to do my very best to talk you through some of the places I lost time and spun my wheels during my own journey. However, I do want to emphasize that a lot of effort and practice and time spent finding my own voice as a writer has gone into the sprezzatura in front of you. Writing is never ever EVER as easy as experienced writers make it look, and the irony is, the easier writing is to read, the harder it probably was to write. The elevated vocabulary and purple style that look sophisticated are actually kind of rookie mistakes that ends up being more prolix and clunky than anything.

The best advice I can give you to find your voice and style without taking 30 years is similar to most of the general writing advice out there.

  1. Read constantly
  2. Practice practice practice
  3. Get feedback
  4. As your unique voice develops—tease it out
Of course the basics of reading and writing constantly are things I extol constantly in this blog for anyone who wants to "get better," "be great," or certainly "make it." 

You have to read a lot. You just HAVE to. You can't be a good writer if you're not a voracious reader—it's just part of the cost of doing business. No musician runs around talking about how they don't like music very much or painter says they're not that big into painting. No filmmakers hate film. It's only this weird anomaly in the writing world that you find people who will expect to be decent writers without reading all the time. Get it out of your head that you read enough in high school and now you're moving on to the writing phase of your existence. (That's not directed at YOU, Amanda. Just at sort of a general attitude that seems ubiquitous.)

You have to write a lot. Look, one of the ironies of most writing programs or writing groups is that there are a peculiar number of people who want to be writers seemingly more than they want anything else in life—BUT WHO DO NOT WRITE AND GET MAD IF YOU TELL THEM THEY SHOULD BE DOING SO. There are no shortcuts around this, and anyone who says otherwise is selling something. No writer worth their salt will suggest differently, even if they don't share specific advice about how to HIT that goal (like trying to write every single day). If, however, you're maybe not wanting to take the long-ass, 30-year route to Easyprose™, one of the things I can tell you is not to take long breaks from either writing or reading. Much of that 30 years involved me not writing very much, not reading very much, or both, and I would have gotten better faster if I had kept with it. I started taking my writing VERY seriously about fifteen years ago. I do not think it's any coincidence that about nine years ago, I started making some money and about five years ago, I started making real(ish) money. 

My trajectory as a "real" writer really began when I started getting feedback. I started with professors in a writing program, then peers, and now I have the whole internet making sure I unequivocally have no doubt of when they don't absolutely love something I've written. Still, as good as getting feedback can be, my greatest "learning moments" actually came from giving it. When you have to think consciously about why you like or don't like something, it converts into a specific lesson for you (to do or not do). As long as you are afraid of feedback, convinced of your own genius and unwilling to be edited, more argumentative with peer review than grateful, or generally see the process as antagonistic from a place of ego rather than as helping you to get to the best writing you can create, you will never take your writing to the next level. 

Your writing voice won't be exactly like anyone else's voice. Even as flattering as it is that you like mine. When I taught English, I would tell my students to imagine getting a call from a complete stranger who had a device that changed their voice to sound like someone who they often spoke with on the phone. Would they be able to tell after a few minutes that it wasn't the person? They always said yes. The turns of phrase. The emphasis on certain words. The way they had a certain pace. And then I told them to believe in their hearts that a person's writing carries the same distinctive voice. Of course, that was a lesson about plagiarism and how stolen words immediately had a different "resonance" that stuck out like a sore cliché. But it's as useful a lesson to experienced creative writers. Your voice is unique. So if it's a bit more elevated, that's okay. If it's a bit more folksy, that's okay. If it's a bit more terse or a bit more byzantine, that's okay. Anthony Hopkins has an amazing acting range, but every role he plays still has that distinctive voice. Most experienced writers can take the level of their writing up or down a few notches or be more playful or serious, but their voice will always be their own. It is when you're comfortable in your voice that your writing will flow and find its clarity—even if you send someone to the dictionary once in a while. Simple doesn't always mean easy. Find your own voice, even if it's not like mine (or someone else's) and lean in. 

Dale asks:

I was SO excited to see the article on types of dialogue that alluded to something more coming. I am so verklempt [about] the W.A.W. version of dialogue advice that I may need people to talk amongst themselves for hours. Your craft articles are always really easy to understand and SO helpful. When will we see the main article?

My reply:

Nothing like a reference to a somewhat problematic early 90s SNL skit to out a fellow Gen Xer, eh Dale? 

A jazz hands article typically takes me an hour or two. A mailbox, maybe four to six. Many of my lengthier articles take between five and eight hours. Craft articles typically clock in around 16-24. I do research. I compare notes. I look up what fifteen people say about the topic. I check the latest sources to make sure there hasn't been a shift in the way people look at it since I last studied it. I find examples. I spend a significant amount of time annoyed that I'm only going to get ONE article out of three fucking days of writing effort and be back to feeling guilty for not posting by the next day. 

Only fiction takes longer.

Which is just to say that it's going to be a couple of weeks for the article to go live. I'm hoping to get it done by next Friday, but then my Early Access Patrons will get the first look at it. (They've been as patient as saints through the whole pandemic.) After that it'll probably go live the FOLLOWING Friday. 

Thank you so much for your kind words and enthusiasm, though. I feel like someone just handed me a mana potion.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Don't Forget Your Book Recommendations for BEST SF Stand Alone Book (That is Technically Part of a Series)

I've got to duck behind the scenes for a couple of days If I hurry I can get the May newsletter out less than a week late and break my pandemic-long streak of being over a week late on the newsletters. Plus, I have a written interview I agreed to give that I need to reply to (which of course I will link to when it gets posted and it will be like a dozen mailboxes at once). 

In the meantime I want to remind everyone of our current Book Recommendation Thread of Best Science Fiction book that could stand alone but is technically part of a series. 

(I'll be dropping that link directly on my various social media. I just wanted to make sure folks following the blog directly got the reminder as well as a heads up about what's going on for the next couple of days.)

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Types of Dialogue (The Very Basics)

[Everything in italics will disappear in a couple of weeks. This article was supposed to go up on Friday. But then (for reasons still unknown) I woke up after two hours of sleep on Thursday night and just NEVER got back to sleep. Then it was going to go up on Monday to make up for missing Friday—because I don't usually post on the Monday of three-day weekends because of low traffic. And something something something best laid clichés, and by about 5:30 when I was finishing up, I decided that I was going to lose just too many readers to get it up after some bedtimes on the east coast….on a holiday… and subject to a suppressed level of—Okay you know what? Shut up, Chris! Here it is now. Ta da!]

There are many ways to break "dialogue" into various subcategories, some of which we will do in the follow-up craft article, but in order to set that up, we first need to break down dialogue in its most basic form—its level of directness—in order to then analyze the stylistic choices of each. However, it is useful going forward to know that each of these respectively conveys less narrative distance. From this perspective, the types of dialogue are summary, indirect, and direct.

Please note: this is not a primer in how to use quotations in cited works. That involves making it clear what the source is, usually some kind of foot- or endnote, and rules that vary depending on whether you're using APA, Chicago, MLA, or what. This is about dialogue in fiction.

Second note: In the examples below, if it doesn't have an attribution tag, I made it up. 

Summary- The most indirect form of dialogue is summary. It allows a writer to condense a lot of conversation into a few lines.

They talked for hours, discussing the different branches of philosophy and delighting in the other's views of how metaphysics shifted so dramatically when the tiniest changes were made to epistemology. 

In the early years, they spoke incessantly of their someday-vacation. Where they would go. What they would do. How they would maximize each day. Friends upon whose hospitality they would impose to save a few dollars. Over time, they spoke of it less and less, until one day Jerry couldn't even remember the last time it had come up.

The group strategized into the early morning, proposing and throwing out one idea after another for how to get past the indomitable walls of the outer keep. 

The plan we'd come up with to test Ruth's theory was very simple: we—the six of us in on it—would lie in wait for Madame somewhere, then "swarm out" all around her all at once.                                                                                    -Ishiguro Never Let Me Go 

Indirect- Indirect speech is a bit of a hybrid between direct and summary dialogue. It is reported by the narrator and carries the feel of the exchange, without quotation marks and the actual words of everything being said. 

My doctor told me to try yoga. I told her yoga was not an answer to problems that required medication. She smiled and said she'd be happy to write me all the scripts I wanted…after I'd tried yoga in good faith first. 

Would I please open the door for her? I would, but not if she was going to sound so entitled about it. What was my problem? My problem was that the day before she had sniffed derisively when I tried to open the door; maybe she didn't realize that was me. Did I think maybe the difference was that yesterday I was couching sexism in gallantry and today she had her hands full and was a human in need? That was ridiculous—I am the least sexist person I know. Forget it; she would get the door herself.

Mike said that he was hungry. Jane asked what he would like to have for dinner. They settled on Thai food.

 She said she would be there at the first hint of dawn, prepared for anything.                                 -McPhee, John. "Elicitation." The New Yorker, April 7, 2014 

Summary and indirect speech are great ways to get quickly to the central tension of a scene, or portray a conversation that goes on at length or becomes tedious—without writing the entire thing out and dragging a reader along through the tedium.

Direct- Direct speech uses quotation marks and contains the exact words that were spoken. In fiction, MOST of the time when the dialogue contains the possibility of decision or discovery (drama, basically), it will be written in direct speech/quotations. In fact, be very careful to avoid summary when the reader will most want to experience the drama of the dialogue. (Such as: During that long night sipping cosmopolitans and speaking of the forgotten dreams of their 20s, Winter realized she was falling in love. —this can be earned [though not easily] but it is TELLING the reader instead of letting them come along and kind of fall in love too.)

"I would like to be informed about any future lapses in your judgement prior to being informed of their consequences," John said.

"Villains!" I shrieked, "dissemble no more! I admit the deed! —tear up the planks! here, here! —It is the beating of his hideous heart!"           -Poe, Tell Tale Heart 

“I buy hair,” said Mrs. Sofronie. “Take your hat off and let me look at it.”        -O. Henry, The Gift of the Magi                              

"Proud?" Sula's laughter broke through the phlegm. "What are you talking about? I like my own dirt, Nellie. I'm not proud. You sure have forgotten me."                 -T. Morrison, Sula  

Combinations- Of course these three forms of dialogue can be used in any combination. 

She asked me if I'd like anything to drink. "Vodka martini," I said. "Stirred. Not shaken." (Indirect/Direct)

We reviewed our plans until we were certain we had prepared for every contingency. "What if we get busted by the cops?" Derringer brought up. (Summary/Direct)

"You will be tested to your limits," the instructor said, launching into a lengthy description of how hard his class would be. (Direct/Summary)

"I would like to see a dessert menu," she asked. She informed me that she had once had a decadent flourless chocolate cake that tasted just as good as a regular one at Skipolini's when Jeff had taken her there for THEIR first date—but of course this place was not as good as that one. (Direct/Indirect)

I remember we talked for hours about topics ranging from movies with more nostalgia than hold-up power and reaching all the way to our plans to travel. Our voices grew softer. Our pauses longer. Our conversation grew more and more intimate. What did I regret she asked me. I told her that I regretted the love I'd let get away before I knew what love really was. I thought real love would always be effortless. She laughed but nodded. "We are two peas in a pod," she said. Our eyes met each other through a long silence. "To never missing love again," she said pretending to lift a glass and yanking her eyes away from mine.  (Summary/Indirect/Direct)

Though there are lots of philosophies of dialogue and ways to approach it from a craft standpoint, it is important to know the very basics before getting into that level of detail.