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

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Cope. Yes, I Definitely Need Some of That.

Let me tell you a story.

It's a tragical story of tragic tragedy, so do not even attempt to contain your tears.

It's the story of a writer just barely managing to squeak by.  He would crank out an article-–usually at the last possible second-–for his blog. He wrote some fiction, but not as much as he wanted to, and even though he got a post up almost every day, he never quite managed to write a couple of days ahead (like he wanted) so it wouldn't be such a big deal if he got sick or to give him more time to revise and edit. He got the chores done around the house, but never quite as much as matched his ambitions. He managed to keep the dishes from exploding out of the sink, kept the bathrooms sanitary, and scooped the cat boxes before the cats rebelled by shitting on the floor (usually), but he never quite got around to scrubbing under the refrigerator by hand or deep cleaning his room. He was always just a little behind or hanging on by a thread, depending on how you looked at it.

Then The Contrarian showed up.

If you've been following this blog for the past few weeks, you already know that the plot twist is that this writer is actually me. (I know I know it was hard to tell where I was going with that, but it's true.) This is my challenge right now as a writer. In fact, you're probably getting a little bored with the fact that I don't talk about much else on Wednesdays. (I tried to warn you that my personal life was boring as hell. If I only ever told you about the Bon Bons and the anal/DP orgies, I'd basically just be lying.)

It's been a month now, and I know that this isn't something I can fix by pedaling faster. My flying machine is actually aerodynamically unsound.

I don't regret this challenge. I know I'm going to get through it. (It might take eighteen years....) Actually, I embrace it, because if anything the "equilibrium" meant that I didn't have to grow. I got comfy. I let myself slide into complacency. Once I figured out how to ride the last minute posts, I was doomed never to get ahead. So even though it's taking up all the bandwidth right now, I welcome the problem. These are the moments in life where I have to take an honest inventory, and I usually find that there's plenty of crap I don't actually mind throwing overboard.

I'm still writing. I write every day. But getting a dedicated post up has really been a trial. Not only that, but the dishes are piled up. The cat box is a disaster. And I wake up each day and force choke a new minion basically just because I'm grumpy--I mean they didn't even come out of light speed too close to the planet's surface or anything.

I'm probably going to end up completely revamping the current Update Schedule, and I may even end up posting some updates on the weekend but not promoting them until the weekdays or something.  Of course all you awesome peeps will be the first to know!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Schedule Adjustment

So here at Writing About Writing we still delight when we clear $150 dollars for a given month.

If you've tried to live for a month on $150 in the Bay Area, you know that even Frugal McThriftkins could only make that last about half a week.

And that would be a live-with-roaches-eat-raman-don't-even-buy-a-new-book kind of week.

That means I'm still beholden to the jobs that help me pay rent and feed myself and stuff. (I know that makes me a sellout materialist, but fuck do I ever love not starving.) Jobs like teaching and being the househusband, and my most recent shift to stay at home "dad" duties that I've been writing about for weeks now. Taking care of The Contrarian has given me access to things like health care and a retirement plan. I don't know what it is about imagining myself still teaching teenagers how to join clauses when I'm seventy, but it just brings out the miser in me.

Gumtoothed voice: "Back in my day we only had seven coordinating conjunctions. We called them FANBOYS. And we LIKED IT! You kids today and your eighth coordinating conjunction. You have it way too easy!"

I still write every day, and I'm still going to post five times a week, but I have to work that effort around all that stuff-I-do-to-not-live-on-the-streets crap. It's not very Bohemian of me, I know, but I'm getting too old to shoplift cat food and sleep under the stars...at least when it's raining and there fucking aren't any.

Anyway, as I do after most major life events, I will be adjusting the Update Schedule slightly. In this case, to shift my "main" article from Monday to Tuesday. That gives me a long weekend to write it (and write all the other things that get done on weekends), which seems to be shaping up to be important in the new world order.

Tomorrow I will be finishing 30 Ways for Writers to Be (And Stay) Miserable.  Stay tuned!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

TPS: Writing Links

[After a little over a year of them doing nothing but hanging out here at Writing About Writing and mooching off the free room and board.  And because Leela Bruce will kill me if I don't do something to end the sausage fest around here, it is my honor to introduce our newest guest bloggers: The Pointer Sisters*!  Pointing you toward some of the best links about writing that are on the web today.]

*Not to be confused with the wonderful R&B trio from Oakland.


Grammar Girl (You all need this bookmarked. All of you.)
Mike Rowe: Life Advice (I'm sure you can get how this could apply to writing.)


Chomsky: Media Manipulation Strategies (Don't fall prey to these machinations.)
E.B. White: The Role and Responsibility of the Writer (In as much as there is such a thing.)


What Speech Do Americans Like Best? (Much "incorrect" English usage is just unapproved dialects.)
Popular Social Justice Books (Lots of good stuff here for people who care.)


Neil Gaiman's Make Art Speech (This is breathtaking.)
Vonnegut: Motivational Posters (Some are silly, but some will inspire you.)

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Mailbox: Why Don't They Write?

Why do you think so many writers are so antagonistic towards the idea of daily writing?

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer each Friday.  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 can even do pop psych analysis.]    

Lenée asks:

Hey Chris! So tell me, why do so many writers--and I use that term loosely in this case--balk at the write everyday philosophy? Sometimes they can get very defensive and pissy. If it's your dream/goal, why wouldn't you want to write everyday? If you want to be a professional writer, shouldn't you treat writing like another job or career? Is there some envy, anger, resentment behind this kind of behavior. Thanks! Still loving the page!

My reply: (I added the link to the question above. Lenée wrote this to me on Facebook.)

It turns out this is kind of a complicated question, and I obviously can't answer for the deep psychological foibles of every person, but I'll do my best. But it might be a kinder thing also to turn the ol' elitism dial down a notch or three.

First, a disclaimer: I don't spend any time trying to dissect the truth from writers as to whether they are "real" or not. I think I know what you're getting at, but I sort of hate the "I-art-writerer-than-thou" elitism that is so endemic in aspiring writers. If people earn their "er," they're writers. I'm not the writer inquisitor sent to judge worthiness.

I certainly don't have dark robes and an official seal, if that's what you're asking. How absurd.

If people want to write on weekends for fun and fulfillment, I don't think they're not "real" writers. And if they want to burst into tears when they see themselves in the mirror because they know their whole life is a pathetic sham, that's their business. I'll pretend I don't hear them snurfling up their own snot, and that I don't see their tear streaked cheeks or their bloodshot eyes. I'll nod understandingly like I don't really know what's going on. And they'll be in bed that night, wide awake, and they'll wonder if I saw right through their veil of lies as I watched them in my dark robes and.....


But as you have mentioned a different bellwether--professional writing--I'll go with that. That's easier to work with than concepts like "real" or "fake."

The super simple reason: Many don't really want to.

Frankly put wanting to "BE A Writer™" as an identity often exists for years (even decades) within some folks without facing the fundamental reality that at some point the desire to write has to overcome the desire not to write. If there is always something more fun, more pressing, more interesting, more distracting, or even more stressful then maybe someone doesn't really want to write. All writers tangle with discipline and time management, some reinventing the wheel of their writing regimens constantly. But some folks don't really realize that when the years start coming and they don't stop coming, that's not unforeseeable extenuating circumstances. That's life.

Many writers try to pump up their contributions to put in professional levels of effort instead of amateur levels, and "get serious." And some writers fall out of writing for months or years because they haven't established creativity and discipline as a habit (like flossing) but all are drawn inexorably back to the page at some point.

If all of life is more fulfilling than writing, maybe that person really needs to face facts that their vociferous passion may be more talk than walk if video games and Tarantino movies always win out. I sure won't be giving them my seal of approval while wearing robes that I totally don't have.

Still, it doesn't really serve anyone (even ourselves) to be shitty to people for whom life happens you know? We can't all casually set aside hours a day or keep plugging away while going through crises. It can be downright ableist to sneer over your typewriter at someone who can't make the identical sacrifices. Maybe they really have had just an unfathomable three years. The balance between "life happens and this isn't a priority" and "life happened and I can't do this" is quite thin and very quite not our business.

The slightly more complicated reasons (a writer may have one or more of these):

1- Writing is the path to something they actually want.  Usually this comes in simple packages like "fame," "money," or "groupie threesomes," but it can also take on slightly more complicated shapes like "validation" or "exhibitionism" (that's the mental kind not the one where you tie your partner to a chair and make them watch a stranger...um...you know what--I'm getting distracted). Some people just want to tell a particular story. But their desires for these things are WAY bigger than their actual desire to write.

Most art looks easy from the outside, and writing is particularly seductive in this regard since almost everyone can do it a little bit. It's fun to imagine being famous and comfortably rich doing a job where you don't have to wear pants.

2- Someone once told them they were good at it. Some people write, even though they don't actually like it very much, because they really want to be good at something. They want some way in which they stand out and are special and someone told them once they were good at writing (probably by invoking the dreaded word: "talent"). Everyone wants to be special.

3- They don't know any better. So there's some pretty weird shit that happens around writing that doesn't really happen around other arts. I can't tell you why, but it's seeped into the writing culture to the point where it's as invisible as heteronormativity to most people. You've got plenty of actors working community theater with a day job. You've got plenty of musicians who just play for fun. You've got plenty of painters who fiddle with oils and acrylics and never have a gallery or a show. They work at it, even work hard at it, because they love it. But there isn't really any honest sense that one day they're going to turn it into a career. It's a hobby.

Put the gun away, bro.
It's actually okay to be a hobbyist.
People don't really do that with writing.

A few do. I can't make a generalization that broad without being wrong. There are some bloggers who write for pleasure alone, and I know one woman who loves writing hand written letters--she writes two or three a day. But I don't think most people have a real sense that they could write mostly for their own pleasure. And that missing nuance has infected the whole culture of writing. People either want to be working novelists or they don't even bother. So sometimes it doesn't even occur to someone that they could enjoy writing without taking on the mantle of being "A Writer™."

So I think the writing world is filled with a lot of writers who have hobby commitment (and are very "real") but their default expectation is career results.

4- Effort Sticker Shock. They want to be a writer, but they have no idea the gulf between the draft of the novel they write and being a working novelist. It can be pretty horrifying to realize you might have to be a dedicated writer (at hours a day) for something like ten years before you might make real money. Or that publication doesn't mean you've "made it" in most cases. That revelation, whether it comes all at once or piecemeal, can be tremendously frustrating.

5- Failure fucking blows (even though it's awesome). The reason I think most people call themselves writers who maybe don't write very much, express florid love of the idea of writing but partake in the act only once a month or so, or who dream of that day when they write fiction to pay the bills, but never treat writing like a job is because dreams are fragile and delicate and they shred easily when exposed to the big bad world. The less realistic a dream is the fewer exposures to reality it will take to tear holes in its gossamer exterior. And it is so, so much easier to avoid those encounters and be forever on the cusp of taking that leap. "I'm going to write my novel as soon as...."  "I just need a new writing space." "When Billy is older, I'll have free time." "When I retire."

Because as long as someone hasn't made the effort and found themselves lacking (or outright failed) then the dream is still alive. As long as they haven't tested it's mettle they can still cling to that fragile hope. Most people would rather never try than fail. Because as long as they never try, they always have that reason ("Well, I haven't really tried yet!") The idea that they may come through failure galvanized, perhaps with a better sense of how to achieve their dream, or maybe even with a better dream isn't worth the risk.

Why are they cranky, pissy, defensive, angry, envious and resentful? They probably just figured out that the groupie threesomes were a joke.

This is a disconnect that is particular to certain forms of art. You don't get many aspiring professional musicians (as in orchestra, not rock bands) who aren't aware that daily practice is a must. You don't see a lot of aspiring professional actors who don't spend hours a day memorizing lines or working on blocking. You certainly don't get aspiring professional visual artists who think they can work a few hours a week (or month) and pay the bills.

Pie in the sky dreamers maybe, who are obviously kidding themselves, but not the ones actually making some modicum of effort. They seem to know what they're getting into.

You see this a lot with garage bands and writers, and I don't know why. Even the people who think they're going to break into Hollywood seem to know they're signing on for a life of long hours and hard work. Rather than a job that needs to be worked at people kind of think of it as trying to hit it big. Everyone secretly believes their story is at least as good as Harry Potter.

What they don't seem to really realize is how much work anyone who ever hit it big has put in. (Rock bands and writers alike!)

The most frustrating thing you can do to someone who is convinced they're convincing (even if they aren't fooling anyone) is to blow their cover. Maybe they've even convinced themselves and you've become one of those meteor showers of reality, ready to shred the diaphanous wings of their magical fairy fantasy. A lot of people don't want to hear that they can't command a "day job" salary with a "weekend warrior" effort simply because it's a pleasant fiction and you're harshing their motherfucking squee.

It's probably best not to bother engaging them (unless you maintain a blog about writing or something totally masochistic like that).  It's basically a waste of effort for as much as it will change their minds. They're sure they're right. They're like teen agers being told that spending their college money to buy an ice cream truck is a bad idea when they've been romanticizing it for the last week.  (Not...uh....that I would know anything about that.) It's just a good way to get hit with backlash and cliche statements like "well what do you know?"

I let them go on about how beneficial it is to a writing career to not actually write while I do the work. I check back in on them periodically to see if they've actually somehow discovered the secret of being a writer without writing, but, shockingly, I am never disappointed. There they are when I check back (years, sometimes even decades later), still just about to take that jump, still sure they're going to make it. Still not doing the work.

And also (shhhhhh, don't tell anyone), I secretly learn to cherish the looks on their chimera loving little jealous faces when I mention that I'm making money or have a thousand readers a day. But I don't like to admit that part in public.

And once you're done with all these generalizations about some types of writers that might keep you warm at night in righteous fire, just remember this too: everyone has a story, elitism is an ugly trait, and the only writer you really need to worry about is you. (And maybe the one who you give your work to for feedback.)

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Only YOU Have The Power

Just because they're in space......
With less than a week left in our Modern Science Fiction Series Poll, it's time to get those votes in or when the Science Fiction Pedant Patrol blows into town and opens a notepad with your list of infractions for being a "True Sci Fi fan" they may have to say:

"On April 24th, 2014, you did knowingly not participate in a poll wherein Discworld won by three times the vote," one will say.

"Discworld isn't sci fi?" you'll ask.

"It's comic fantasy, bitch" the other will say.

"On April 24th, 2014, you did knowingly ignore a poll where Vorkosigan was one of the choices."

Your girlfriend will gasp and clutch her pearls.

"De Sci-fi-anizer ray," one will say. The other will take your powers of One True Way™ Sci-fi fandom away from you.

And then Scott Pilgrim will kick your ass because without your powers, you'll just be socially mainstream and may not have even watched every episode of Firefly.

Don't let that happen. Vote today!

The poll is at the bottom left, everyone gets two votes, and there's only a week left! 

Also, because of a quirk in Polldaddy (the polling program) it can only hold your IPS addy for a week, so everyone who voted over seven days ago can vote again. (Better to tell everyone than let some exploit it.) Vote for new books that you love just as much, or show the books you voted for before some extra love by voting for them again.

Vote early! Vote often! 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Shots Fired–The First Casualties

The war has begun.

Cathamel and Unsupportive Girlfriend are now in open hostilities. Each has marshaled forces to their side, participated in an arms race, and been vocally supportive of the other while surreptitiously undermining the others' efforts.

For a while there it looked like an uneasy truce might hold, give me some time to make some adjustments, and some peaceful intervention might still be possible between their demands.

That hope is now gone.

Last week Unsupportive Girlfriend's out of the way patrol came upon one of her troops--a dedicated lieutenant named Pastaparty. The Lieutenant's squad lay in shambles and she was half dead. She said that she was ambushed by a "gang of Cathamel's thugs."

"If you hadn't planned this patrol," the Lieutenant said, "I would have been a goner."

"Can you make it?" Unsupportive Girlfriend asked. "Maybe just like half?"

"Barely," Pastaparty said. "But I suppose so."

Retaliation was...inevitable in the volatile climate. U.G.'s forces launched sixteen G-T-140 rockets (Guided Unerring Incendiary Lightheartedness Terminator–To Reduce Indulgence Positivity [or G.U.I.L.T.–T.R.I.P. for short]). They tore up Cathamel's forward base of operations and forced her to deploy full defensive countermeasures from deep within her subterranean lair where her defenses are impregnable. She hadn't expected to have to wage a defensive campaign and wasn't prepared for the overwhelming fury of the retaliatory strike.

Tired of being held under Cathamel's boot, U.G.'s forces are filled with fresh rage and entitlement. It's always "no time" this and "too busy" that. The latest temporal downsizing was just too much. They want more time–and if it must come from Cathamel's loss, so be it.

No series of escalating skirmishes this war will be. Both sides have dropped to Defcon 1 and are preparing for their next major encounter. The skies are heavy with dark clouds and thunder grumbles across the landscape. A storm is brewing.

The Brain has been wringing her hands over the whole affair. She's tried to sue for a separate peace with both sides, knowing that The Contrairan's day care is responsible for shaking up the regional stability. With the extra 20 hours, both sides could maintain a tenuous peace along the Maginot line of my time management.

I tried to warn her that this would happen, but now, as the engines of war roar to life around me, and the skies blister with fire, "I told you so," tastes like ash in my mouth. Now one of them must be capitulate to the other–my creative life or the last vestigial semblance of a social life. The worst part is that when one of them loses (and one of them must) they will turn their defeat into the rallying cry to strike towards me. With kids in the mix, there can be no balance. Someone must prevail.

And no matter who wins, I lose.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

W.A.W. on Tumblr

Writing About Writing is now on Tumblr! I'll be updating my Follow W.A.W. tab to include it in a week or two, but my existing readers get the first crack at feedback and knob adjustment. (Hur hur....knob adjustment.) Plus, I've never been on Tumblr before so it may take me a bit of time to get adjusted to the ebb and flow and site Netiquette.

So...on my Facebook page most people will not actually see most posts. A given post is shown to 20-30 of the page's nearly 14,000 followers. Or roughly 1/4 of one percent of those people who WANT to see. (Does that seem right to you?) My die hard fans might set the page to notify them when it updates or stop by periodically, but most people actually won't see my posts anymore. Post engagement (likes, shares, comments) seem to only add five or six more views each. And when I saw what had become of my Facebook generated blog hits, a single tear rolled down my face. But it was a manly Aragorn-just-watched-Boromir-get-triple-penetrated-by-orc-shaft kind of tear.

That is FB's new way to try and get page administrators to pay money to be seen by more people. It did not have the effect that Longshanks profit grubbers intended. What it actually did was make me take my money somewhere else and then look for a new place to put the content that I provide that makes them so popular.

Seriously, I want to lead a Facebook rebellion. I want Facebook to become a desolate wasteland of promoted posts and your friends' weird right-wing, Fox news rants. I want to overthrow their oppressive rule, yell "freedom" when they black out the posts I want to see, and throw a sword.

I really want to throw a sword.

                                                        You have fled from Myspace. Now flee with me!

Hence Tumblr.

Most of the content between Tumblr and Facebook will be identical, so if you're on both, you may find yourself looking at a lot of redundancies; however, I'm not putting quite as many of the images to Tumblr. Facebook has throttled their content to the point where most people don't see most posts, and Tumblr doesn't do that at ALL to my knowledge, so I'm focusing on quality over quantity on Tumblr.

And did I mention GIFs?

And this is one of my GOOD sessions.
I do, however, give you one word of warning. 

Facebook does have one sort of "advantage" over Tumblr. I can split myself into facets without having entirely separate accounts. I have my Writing About Writing Page, and I have my personal FB account, and I can just switch between them. People who are there to get their grammar memes and "your" vs "you're" snark don't have to put up with my thoughts on anything but writing. Unfortunately, Tumblr just has one long stream.

Here at Writing About Writing, I try focus on the writing. And on my W.A.W. FB page that's true too. Now anybody who's been paying attention surely knows exactly where I lean on certain issues--based on anything from the fact that I still won't see Ender's Game, to the subject matter of some of my fiction, to the type of polls I'm always running, to the books I review, to the other blogs I write for, to my actions on public transit that are the subject of my most popular post.

But I'm following people like Wil Wheaton and Veruca Assault (among others) on Tumblr, and you can expect that I may reblog some of their posts from time to time. While I'll try to keep things clear of partisan rancor (which is really bad here in the U.S.), outright political rhetoric and uber esoteric geek fandoms, if you don't want to be more directly exposed to my progressive social values, social justice causes like "that uppity feminism crap I'm always on about" (thanks Anon--hateyousobad!) as well as my various geek fandoms, you may want to steer clear of Tumblr. Turns out when I'm not blogging about writing, I'm kind of a feminist geek.

If you're okay seeing the occasional post that guys should be capable of not raping women no matter how short the women's skirts are, bigotry isn't something awesome that people should be allowed to feel as long as they aren't burning crosses on people's lawns, and ten year old can't-let-it-go Firefly jokes, you should follow me right away.

Monday, April 21, 2014

One Fantabulous Potpourri of images.

And mom said 8am was too early to drink!
This jazz hands potpourri episode has been brought to you by my working on some fiction (next part of Demon's Rubicon), continuing aggravation in trying to deal with the new schedule and the baby (Wednesday I'll be telling you all about how "first blood" has been spilt in "The Scheduling Wars"), and the fact that I've been handed a baby grenade.

I wish "baby grenade" was a cute euphemism for how The Contrarian "burst" into tears after Mom handed him to me, but unfortunately the truth of the matter is that a mere five seconds after the pass off, the little guy went off in what I can only assume is the next generation of military grade weaponry. An ear piercing sonic blast shattered my ear drums as I was caught in the wake of a double ended projectile bioweapons "event" that eviscerated my will to live via the nasal passages.

For those of you who know the horrors of a blowout, think triple layer compromised. Baby's clothes. My clothes. Even the carrier is in the washing machine. For those who don't know what a blowout is, think of this scene from Frozen and enjoy the sweet innocence of your ignorance.

Ima Lister promises that the conclusion of his article about how to be (and stay) miserable will be posted next week.

Obviously Disney copyright. (Will remove upon request.)
Frozen 2013

Little fuckers can move!

I could stand to hear a little more.

Wink wink. Nudge nudge.

The irony is, I've been able to tell people were falling in love before they knew.
I've known from across the room someone was interested in a friend. And at least once that they weren't.
I'm GOOD at reading people and noticing little things............as long as it's not me.
When it comes to me, I have had people sitting in my lap, and not realized they were interested
So...yeah, this would actually probably be useful...and possibly necessary.

                                                               Worth the 20 minutes if you have it.

[Do you want to be featured in potpourri along with a few words from me about how awesome you are? Do you know a great writing link that I should share? Please send it to me at chris.brecheen@gmail.com, and I will post it along with a shout out singing your praises (unless, of course, you don't want one). There are four caveats to this. Please read them before you send me stuff. If I've posted anything that you feel is "yours" (or "your client's" --eeep!) please just ask and I will take it down if you wish or preferably give you credit and a link back to its source. Most everything here is some kind of meme, so it would be quite difficult for me to do proper attribution.]

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Rage Against the Brecheen

By_XxDaimonxX on Deviant Art
(listed as creative commons with attribution)
A Tall, Cool, Frothing Glass of Haterade

For some reason, people like watching a train wreck of hate. The online world provides the voyeur the perfect vantage to watch people who like to go to Hater Joes and buy Hater-tots in their old "Hate or Die" t-shirts while listening to "Hater Than Us All" on their iPods as they hurry home because they want to see the Hate of the Union address.

More than any of the other topics I cover in "The Best of the Mailbox," the hate mail I receive--and my response to it--can be counted on to generate almost shocking numbers (for such a small blog). It's almost as if people find the drama of conflict compelling or something.  As hate mail has become "THE BEST of The Best of The Mailbox," I thought it deserved its very own menu. And the more readers I get, the more common hate mail seems to become, so I don't think it's going away any time soon.

Hate Mail (Or LOVE Mail?) My hate mail cherry gets popped. I have arrived!
You're a NoWriMo H8er!
Attack of the Strawmen
This Unseemly Money Stuff
You're a Mean One...Mr. Chris
Why Don't You Become a "Real Writer?"
You Don't HAVE to Write Every Day! (they insist)
How Could You Pick E-Pub? How COULD You?
You Evil Self Promoter!
Really Hateful Hate Mail
What is my problem with....? (Part 1) (Part 2)
Personal Attax!
Not All MFAs
The Hugos Were Robbed!
On a Slow Week

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Mailbox: You Evil Self Promoter!

I know you pay to promote your Facebook posts!

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer each Friday.  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 even reply to world famous detectives.]     

Anonymous (of course) writes:

I am disappoint, Chris...if that is even your real name. Back when I was growing up, my parents (both professional writers, in case you were wondering) drilled an idea into my head: "money should flow TOWARD the writer." They said anyone could publish a book if they spent enough money, but a real writer would make money. But you, you're a faker! A sham! A fraud! 

I deduced that you promote your posts on Facebook, falling into that age old of traps for people to pay to be famous. My first clue was how many Egyptians like your Facebook page. Clue number two was how fast your page grew. Then I noticed that I always saw the links to your blog even if I rarely saw one of your image macros. From there it didn't take me long to investigate how well certain blog posts did. I compared the number of likes over the last few weeks on YOUR posts with comics and other linked post. Clearly there can be no doubt. You promote your posts. Don't bother trying to deny it.

That makes you a fake artist, my friend. How dare you give advice to people about how to make it when you can't even make it yourself without paying to have your posts promoted. 

Good day, sir.

My reply:

Are you fucking for real?

Okay Hercule Poirot, you totally found out about that thing that I was making no effort to hide. While you were doing all this "expert" detective work, did you also notice that promoted posts say "sponsored" right in the post? Cause that would have been my first clue. I totally wrote to Mark Zuckerberg (call him Em'ly Z-man cause we're that close) to see if he would keep that shit on the "DL," but thanks to you meddling kids and your dog, now everybody knows.

Yes, I have promoted some of my posts, and let me give you the reasons for that:

1- It's a brave new world. And I love my family.

It's a brave new world.

I don't know exactly when "back when [you] were growing up" was, but I'm going to guess that it was before the rise of social media since you would otherwise be about twelve. And while your being twelve might explain...uh....a few things about your e-mail, you're probably older.

If I go with this assumption, that means you grew up and were given this advice from your parents before the most recent upheaval to the publishing industry and before computers changed...well....everything. Because this was also the prevailing advice for writers when I was growing up and doing a lot of WANTING to be a writer (and a lot less writing) back in the 80s and 90s.

I'm also going to assume you grew up after Cabbage Patch Kids because no one over thirty would use "I am disappoint" non-ironically in an e-mail they expected to be taken seriously....by anyone.....ever.

Back "then," self publishing only meant vanity press, and there were a lot of scams. Not a few dollars to see if you could advertise something, it was more like $20,000 to publish your book and then you still had to buy individual copies. (Though if you're keeping score, John Grisham, published through vanity press and sold his own books out of his trunk at the start of his career.) These days, that advice is as outdated as playing your boom box outside a girls house after she's broken up with you.

Today, they call this "stalking."
What's this world coming to?
Oh all those scams still exist (and there are even a few new ones in the form of "promotional packages" when you do self publishing), but there are plenty of legitimate opportunities as well that have been brought about by computers and the extremely low cost of new printing technology. Self publication isn't the demon it once was, and e-publication has completely changed everything. Self pub is a REAL thing now. Your book gets an ISBN number and everything.

If I've taught you nothing it is that this One True Way™, "holy grail," canon advice path to success through the brambles of traditional publishing will only lead you to Bullshit Mountain. It's one way. It is not the only way. Not any more. That advice is from a time before you could push a button and make fifty copies of something and from back when printing costs meant you needed a 2000-book run to even have a chance to recoup expenses (10k-15k if you're a big six with a bloated legal budget). Today you do a print run of ONE book, sell it for ten bucks, and have enough profit to buy a value meal.

Print-on-demand makes many arguments invalid.

Much like this shark.
Writers who fetishize the validation of a book deal or their big five contract might be fixated on traditional publishing as the "right way," but anyone willing to flip the bird to that "real writer" crap, can make money, be published (in every way that matters), and have groupies right along with the "real" writers. If you want to join them Lord Peter Wemsley, in turning on each other like starving hyenas and competing for fewer opportunities in a retracting and myopic industry that is renowned for its anachronism, elitism, and whitewashed, sexist gatekeepers, be my fucking guest.

Me, I'm okay with ignoring a twenty-years outdated sense of elitist propriety if it means I get to be a writer for a living.

No writer just sits and writes all day and has their agent whisk their manuscripts off to be published. No working writer's skill set is limited to writing and picking up checks from the mailbox. Not even old guard or megastar writers who everyone wants to be in their wet dreams get to do that, and certainly not anyone starting their career in 2014.

To put this into perspective, your stigma went out with jelly shoes and slap bracelets.

This is how hip you look right now.  (topshop.com)

I love my family. 

Okay, Sam Spade, here's where you have to pay extra attention so that you can "cleverly deduce" how well your One True Way™ bullshit holds up when you really look at it.

Every writer has to promote themselves.

Let me say that again.

Every writer has to promote themselves.

It's part of the cost of doing business. In order to find the readers who love your style and subject matter, you have to pique their interest. You want to sit around, writing your stories all day, and never taint yourself with self-promotion? Fine. You will make a dedicated hobbyist. You may write quite well. You may even publish. But without learning the business of writing, you will never pay the bills with your fiction. If you want to do that, you will have to promote yourself. Fact.

Every writer does it. We all have dirt under our fingernails. Cope.

Actually, that's not entirely true. A number of writers never needed to sully themselves with such a thing because they were already independently wealthy (or married money). But for those without the luxury to sneer at writers who dare to tarnish the purity of the craft with their plebeian need to eat and have heat, spending some time promoting oneself is a vital part of being a working writer. These working rich have dominated the culture of writing with their disdain for money for far too long.

Even in your perfect 1980's, traditional publishing world (which these days resembles Alderaan after its encounter with The Death Star), a writer would still have to promote themselves. They would go around to book signings, and do readings and generate interest in their work. Stephen King still does cross-country book-signing tours even though he could write his name over and over on eucalyptus leaves and have a best seller. I've personally watched NY bestseller authors sign books until their hands blistered--usually for fans who want to point out some continuity flaw in something they wrote a decade earlier. It's a part of being a working writer. Most writers hate it, but their publishers and agents haggle out certain promotional obligations.

Small press? You'll have to self-promote even more! There are more books (even in a small run) than the retailers the publisher contracts with. A writer has to run around and get other bookstores to carry their book on consignment and do readings and hit up everyone they ever knew to buy a copy. If anything an author in small press will be more involved in their own promotions than with a big six.

Heck, a book's launch party is just an excuse to try to sell a few hundred copies to friends and family.

Every writer has to self-promote. A five to ten hour week is a pretty reasonable clip for a serious writer with something to sell. I mean Stephen King might do 10 hours once a week at a full day event with a line of fans out the door (all wanting to tell him why The Stand was his last really good book). Reader McWordy might do four hours, twice a week going to a couple of literary events (one to read at and one to watch because it is considered gauche to only go to literary events when you're reading [and will get you un-invited]), and Oldy Oldschoolson might be walking up and down the city going into every local book store to see if they'll sell books on consignment or host a "Meet the Author." But let's pretend that everyone who is serious is going to be spending the same ten hours or so a week doing something that isn't writing for the express purpose of promoting themselves.

And in case it hadn't occurred to you, a writer is probably likely to spend money during these other promotional efforts doing things like buying lunch (or having a couple of drinks if they go to a literary event), so how does that factor into your flowing money equation, Miss Marple?

Oh and here's the money shot, my intrepid investigating friend. All that promotion that your publisher does on your behalf? YOU STILL PAY FOR THAT. Did you think that money came out of the ether? Or maybe that the publisher just pulled the money out of their own pocket? Actually it comes out of your royalties with no choice or control over how it's spent.

I'm totally promoting my latest urban steampunk vampire novel!
Right now.
It's called networking. Shmoozing. Making contacts?
I'm a writer goddamn it!

Many writers in our brave new world use social media to self promote. Actually it's pretty awesome. They have Tumblrs and Facebook pages and Twitter accounts and they share lots of fun things to get followers and then promote their work periodically once they've gathered all the eyeballs near by. George Takei has a massive following on Facebook and uses it to pimp out his books a couple of times a week. Social media promotion is incredibly effective--even more so than the physical versions of yesteryear--because it can target people who are actually interested in the work an artist is doing.

Social networking is actually time energy friendly compared to many of its physical counterparts as it can be done in a few minutes and leave the writer free to do more writing.

So yes I'm curious about which social media work best and which are sucking my efforts like lampreys. I watch my analytics closely and I know which media are very useful (Stumbleupon) and which are not worth the amazing amounts of effort they require (Reddit/Facebook). I was curious about how a paid promotion might affect my numbers and so I put a modest budget into Facebook to see how it would work. (Turned out, it was great for finding new Facebook followers but took more money than I wanted to spend to affect my blog numbers.)

I gave up on Facebook (ironically after their most recent attempt to get more pages to pay) and now I'm trying my "advertising" budget through Stumbleupon. Again, it's a modest budget of "imaginary" money that I'm kind of entitled to by virtue of all the babysitting I'm doing, but if it jump starts my numbers and helps me gain visibility (which is absolutely the obstacle in the beginning) then it could be money well spent.

You tell me Sherlock:

What is the difference between going out and spending five to ten hours a week of self-promoting in the "traditional ways" that are considered to "count" where no money ever "flows away" from the "real writer" and clicking a button that costs me half that time (and gets results that are far better because they are targeted to people's interests)? I'd rather spend the money (earned by being with my family) that then frees me up to spend more time with my family.

Or write or read or watch FFM porn.

Seriously, Marlowe, is there any reason other than some anachronistic principle (championed by those with nothing to lose if they were poor in their lifetime) to cling to that outdated advice? Pragmatically, is there some fundamental difference to a writer between the hours spent networking physically and the hours spent watching a baby so that I can network via computers? These aren't $20k scams, conning people desperate to see their name in print; they are measured promotions of a few dollars that may or may not help a writer jump start their career (and can be stopped if they don't work). Is there actually, logistically any appreciable difference between these paths?

And just for the record Nancy Drew, I haven't spent as much money as I've made yet, so money still is flowing towards me. I just happen to reinvest it since, like most writers, I have to have a day job to make ends meet.

The problem with this One True Way™bullshit made a little bit of sense back before the Internet. It was true back when there actually was only one true way. Twenty years ago if you were paying to be published, you really were being taken for a ride. But it's just not true anymore.

Now, that's just a lot of bad advice, straightjacketing talented people into thinking there's some "real" way to go about pursuing their passions and nothing else counts.  I hope we writers, as a collective, get the hell over the publishing industry's stranglehold on our own cultural legitimacy. Because it leads to complete sanctimonious cretins like you.

Good day to you, sir.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Guest Post: The Man with the Golden Pen

[Please join me in welcoming Laura Shefler as a guest blogger here at Writing About Writing. I hope you all enjoy her elegant, direct prose and poignant story as much as I did.]

The Man with the Golden Pen
by Laura Shefler

How proud I am to have you as a daughter. Something in the circled sentences on the attached page tells me that you haven’t learned one of the most important tricks of the writing trade. I was twice your age before I learned it. If you want to talk about it, let me know.

This was a note that I got from my dad when I was in my mid-twenties and working as an associate editor for the University of Pittsburgh’s alumni magazine. Written on a piece of dad’s mini-stationary, the message came stapled to a photocopy of an article had written for the latest issue. He had indeed circled a couple of sentences, and I couldn’t see anything wrong with them.

Pitt Magazine was a vehicle for public relations fundraising, yes--and a publication with high literary standards, if I do say so myself. We worked long, intense hours, the editorial staff, most of us graduates of Pitt’s equally intense writing programs, rewriting, clarifying, polishing, banging out heads against the wall to try to dislodge a witty transition or sparkling headline. Only years later did I realize that not everyone has to put in that much effort to earn a living.

Anyway, my dad’s note was a clear violation of the agreement that he and I had reached that he would stop pulling his golden Cross pen from his shirt pocket and marking up my already-published articles. When he did this, I felt tortured. In those days, I was simply excited to have written something. Even more importantly, I had said something about the importance of some professor’s stem cell research or the tension at a campus event where US Vietnam War veterans had met with a visiting veteran of the Viet Cong. (The Americans were asking the visitor about months and years and places, trying to figure out, in all earnestness, whether they and he had been trying to kill each other.) At that point in my life, I wanted acknowledgement for my content rather than tips about style.

But I have so much experience, he had pleaded with me. I just want to give you what I have to offer as an editor.

I already have an editor, I answered. I need you to just be a dad.

It was true that he had a lot to offer a young writer. From his Depression-Era, no-heat, dandelion-leaf-eating, outhouse-using urban childhood, he had made himself into one of Pittsburgh’s best-regarded corporate writers. The vigor of his prose, along with the relatively lavish business culture of that age, enabled him to command an hourly rate that I will never see, even after decades of inflation.

He wielded an elegant and encyclopedic fluency with grammar and style, and I took to heart the five-page memos he used to hand me when I was in high school on issues such as comic timing, the pros and cons of the Oxford comma, and the proper use of that and which.

All the same, this unexpected note, sent through the U.S. postal service even though we lived only a few miles apart and saw each other once or twice a week, made me scream with aggravation when I read it. In the privacy of my narrow apartment kitchen, I doubled over with the kind of family-motivated rage that I knew was better to exaggerate than repress. I let loose with the kind of obscenities seem to be required for a guest post on this blog, but I’ll leave them to your imagination.

In general, I believe that writer should receive feedback with grace and maturity. Accordingly, I went to next day at work and gracefully, maturely yanked his subscription to the mag.

Six months later, though, he mentioned that he hadn’t been getting his issues, so I put him back on the mailing list. We worked out a new arrangement, where he would do his editing right in the printed magazine and then put them on a shelf in a seldom-used small bedroom. I was free to look or not look at what he had done. Eventually, as I grew more self-assured, I did check his suggested changes.

Most of the time, his edits were dead-on. Other times, where he was applying out-of-date standards, overly formal for magazine writing, I could see the reasons for his not-quite-appropriate advice and shrug it off as no big deal. Still, I never asked him about the circled sentence on the attached pages. I needed him to know that I was serious about my boundaries, and so one of the most important tricks of the writing trade went with him to the grave.

Ultimately, though, the most nurturing gift that my father offered me as a fellow writer was his jealousy. In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott writes eloquently about the green-eyed loathing that one writer feels for the success for another. My corollary is that being on the receiving end of the envy provides shameful, delicious satisfaction.

One day he just came out with it, my dad. He, too, was a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, as were many of his old friends, and they, too, got Pitt Magazine. (And so did most of the educated folks in the city. You know you’ve made it in the ‘Burgh when your doctor’s receptionist recognizes you from your byline.) Some of them were also writers. One was a Third Circuit federal judge.

They were phoning him, my dad finally informed me, and leaving messages on his answering machine about how much they were enjoying my writing. Why, my father blurted, aren’t they leaving messages about my writing for me? Consummate bluffer that he was, he could have hidden his feelings, but he chose to share them, for my benefit, I’m pretty sure.  Confiding in me, albeit in this plaintive tone, was his way of letting family bonds take precedence over collegial rivalry.

Still, in my imaginary Hall of Fame for difficult relationships, Father-and-Daughter and Writer-to-Writer wrestle for the title of Most Fraught, stirring up a ruckus in my soul.  It’s a good kind of ruckus, though—a resource for me as a writer, an inner thrashing that works through me, enabling me from time to time to throw a few energetic words onto a page.

[Laura Shefler is a writer, artist, writing coach, and tutor in Albany, CA. She blogs about life forces, creative processes, and the occasional identity crisis at Title to Come (http://laurashefler.net/blog). She also plans to stop procrastinating and get a better blog title, really, really soon.]

If you would like to guest blog for Writing About Writing we would love to have an excuse to take a day off a wonderful diaspora of voices. Take a look at our guest post guidelines, and drop me a line at chris.brecheen@gmail.com.