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

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The New and Improved Update Schedule

After a month of trying the new schedule, and shaking out a few bugs out of it, Writing About Writing presents...

The New and Improved Update Schedule for 2015

Writing About Writing will post something every day. 

Every single day there will be something here. Sometimes it might be a few inspirational quotes or a great Youtube video about writing, or just a picture of me looking stressed out and screaming because life is coming on a little too strong to write a blog post about it. It might be nothing but a picture wishing you well for the holidays. But there will always be something here. I will even attempt to schedule a little something during vacations when I'm out of town in a place with no internet. So if you're the type who lies in bed, staring at the ceiling, your stomach roiling with hydrochloric acid and twisted into tight knots over the thought that a post may have passed you by, you might want to follow W.A.W. on one of the "always update," media.

However, most days will not be major articles. You won't "fall behind" if you miss a few days or come back to thirty pages if you don't keep up on the weekends.

I can't promise that nothing will ever go wrong, what with all the intergalactic invasions and evil mystery hackers and such that W.A.W. fields in a typical week, and I usually miss a couple of posts when I go to Burning Man but we will try.

I also invoke the "toddler excuse"!  I'm writing for two blogs, writing forty hours a week most weeks, teaching, and I'm the househusband for my family. There will come days when I look up a half a second too late, only to find that every piece of every board game we own is in a huge pile in the middle of the floor. That might be a day where I get my post up late in the evening or switch out a heavy day for an inspirational Youtube and a couple of funny writing macros.

And I'm not talking about a pile made up of the little hat from Monopoly
and some Hungry Hungry Hippo marbles here.
There is a monthly schedule I follow where I try to rotate in and out through the various running segments here on Writing About Writing. Even in a given month, you aren't likely to see something from each category, but it keeps me from doing fifteen listicles in a row and not writing a prompt for months on. I was going to post that schedule here but it'll be better to keep it in my head since anything I write will immediately become wrong the minute the schedule starts.

Here are a couple of things you can count on though:

Mon- Mailbox! On Monday I will usually run the mailbox. (Ask me anything about writing at chris.brecheen@gmail.com) This enormously popular segment runs weekly (partially because the questions inspire me, but mostly because it's enormously popular and I'm an unrepentant page view whore). As long as I have questions, I will do it every week. There is a non-zero chance that if I start getting more questions (and the finances of W.A.W. support more hours writing and fewer doing day jobs) that I'll bump up to twice a week.

Fri- On Fridays I usually put out a "meaty article" (as in heft not shitty erotica euphemism).

Tues-Thurs- Tuesday through Thursday depend heavily on what else is going on in my life. In theory, I would love to tell you that except for Wednesday, when I teach, I will put out a major article each other day. I would love to tell you that I will do this because I diligently used my time during the weekend to draft articles and didn't waste a moment of it. I would love to tell you that you can count on me to be regimented and disciplined with my time. Unfortunately it might be hard to tell you this, seeing as I will be trying to say it through the tears of laughter.

If there's been a run of passive aggressive sighs in the kitchen from Unsupportive Girlfriend or my weekend involved the words,"I'll just play this Bethesda game for an hour or two and then I'll totally be productive and get back to writing," Tuesday through Thursday might involve shorter articles or revisions or ongoing projects to clean up menus and tab.

Articles? How about these amazing
Of course if you really want to hedge your bets for a good run of articles, a groupie threesome the weekend before will likely motivate me to write for hours, and turn into a week of exceptional productivity. No? Fair enough. Catch as catch can then.

Weekends: Generally, on the weekends, I'm working on whatever is going to go up the next week. Posts that go up on the weekend will usually either be a lighter fare or more of my "slow burn" articles. (That's an article that probably won't be popular at the time but picks up a steady trickle of traffic from search engines.) If you can't read W.A.W. on the weekends, you are probably not missing much, and it won't take you long to catch up.

In theory I will give you more than two solid articles a week, and some weeks it's four or five, but some weeks I'm hanging on to life like a cat caught in a screen door, and this new schedule is a little less overwhelming because I was falling behind in writing fiction and even reading. If I'm driven by current events, unfettered by chores for some reason, or simply exploding with inspiration, I will write more. If you're interested in more, high quality articles, the best thing you can do is to support W.A.W. so that I can work fewer hours of day job and spend more of them writing.

Or groupie threesomes. I really can't underscore enough how much that would work.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

What Is The Best Y.A. Series?

What is the best Young Adult series?

Only one day (and change) remain for our best Y.A. series poll.  Vote today!!!

I have to admit this poll is not shaping up the way I would have expected. I don't think I've seen Harry Potter on a poll where it wasn't at least in the top three--not since I started Writing About Writing.

The poll itself is on the left at the bottom of the widgets.

The poll closes when I wake up on the morning of the 1st, and I'll post the results shortly after. However, please don't forget that the polling program can only hold your ISP for a week, so if you voted early, you can vote again. (Since people were exploiting the bug, I might as well claim it's a feature.)

Also clear the turkey and gravy out from in between your neural connections to start thinking of December's write in nominations for best Y.A. author.

Friday, November 28, 2014

What is Avant Garde? (Mailbox)

Not always a compliment.
What does "avant garde" mean?

[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, but likely only if you ask a question. I can even define poorly defined artistic movements.]  

Holly asks:

You seem to know your shiz way more than most of the other students in my MFA program (and half the profs if you want my opinion). My classmates keep calling my work avant guarde[sic] in workshop, but I don't really know what that means or why they call it that. I wouldn't say that's what I'm going for and I thought it was like Kafka, Woolf, or Ezra Pound--old shit from before the sixties. 

What gives? You asked for questions, so here's mine. Give me the down-low in straight language and make me laugh while you do. Cause you're really good at both.

My reply:

When your honest opinion is so complimentary, of course I want it. When it's critical, you keep that shit to yourself. 

I guess the answer "Uh...I dunno, like Samuel Becket?" doesn't really help you, right? Okay, fine, I'll bust out the two dollar answer. But I must warn you.....there are only so many threesome jokes I can throw into an answer like this, so proceed at your own risk. Given the date, I'm sure this metaphor will not go amiss: I'll toss as much gravy as I can on this answer, but the turkey we're going to talk is a little dry.

"Avant garde" is probably one of those words that suffers from the elasticity forced upon it by people who don't really know what it means, so actually, there are several answers to this question. It's literally SO hard to define that entire books have tried to do so in the sixties, but were considered insufficient and have been added to and expanded and are still contested. I can fill you in on the broad brushstrokes, but it's going to be up to you to decide if your fellow MFA writers are the Machiavellian, back-handed compliment types, or if they might be trying to give you a high five on the down-low from "The Man." 

Or, you know, maybe they just think it makes them sound like they know what the fuck they're talking about.

You mean it doesn't mean whatever I say it does?

Avant garde literally translates to "advanced guard" in French. You know the yahoos that run in and take the first round of cannon fire (probably because they had a threesome with the general's wife and sister or something). I'm sure there's a metaphor for art in there somewhere....

The idea is that avant garde is a group of artists who are pushing forward, defying convention, testing new ground, experimenting, and innovating in the arts. It first sprang up in the early 20th century as a direct descendant of Dada (which was almost explicitly anti-"art") and in addition to the writers you've listed, includes ee cummings, Joyce, Ginsberg, Miller, Nin, Nabakov and a few others you've probably been stuffed with if you've taken 20th Century American Lit. But the timing is important because while the initial stages of the avant guard occur prior, the movement really didn't take off until after World War I.

"These guys are basically the hipsters of the art world."

Seriously there was a time when all the major players were considered avant garde. You were either avant garde or you were Robert Frost. Even Hemingway was playing around with things like having the central action of a short story occur outside the story.

The thing you have to understand about art at this time was that everywhere you looked, artists were saying FUCK YOU to the system. They weren't just bent out of shape because artists like to be snotty and yell at their parents, "you don't understand my pain!" The world, in a very real way, had let them down. The culmination of 100 years of modernism, militarism, technology, industrialization, social darwinism, and imperialism was not the utopia they had been promised it was all leading to, but rather even more capitalism AS WELL AS the worst war anyone could ever conceive of. The sense of chaos and of cultural rejection of the old rules was a driving force throughout the arts.

We were supposed to get flying cars; instead they gave us mustard gas and machine guns.

Now you have all the rules that ever existed getting goatse'ed by the heavy hitter artists. Surrealism and cubism are all over the visual arts. Stravinsky wrote a ballet that was so unlike anything else that it caused a riot in the audience. Plays were fucking with the three act structure (and sometimes even central tension). And writing was experimenting too, writers like Joyce and Woolf were playing with stream of consciousness instead of hard narratives. Cummings ditched grammar. Gertrude Stein wrote in the progressive tense with reductive style...thrice. None of the established art world liked any of this stuff.

Rodchenko's Dance is one of the most famous non-Picasso works of cubism.
Most people have never seen or heard of it.
So all the splinters of meaning that have come off of "avant garde" have this core theme of those who reject convention and experiment. It pushes the norms and conventions and challenges the status quo. So your classmates might just be saying that you're fresh and innovative.

Part of "avant guarde" will always be at its inception as any movement that takes a label, no matter how elastic the label is intended to be. (We still have modern innovations in jazz today, but the idea and flavor of the word "jazz" will always be rooted in ragtime and blues and the New Orleans bands.) Avant garde will always conjure images of Ulysses's stream of consciousness and T.S. Eliot's Love Song–that rich deep immersion into a character's mind that is sometimes devoid of narrative arc or classical plot tension that fucking drove you bonkers in high school and were the bane of your literary analysis in college. These works defy conventions of storytelling or poetry not for mere anarchy, but for the artist's own eclectic sense of order. So it is possible that your classmates are telling you that your work reminds them of the period of American literature between the turn of the 20th century and World War II with works deeply rooted in surrealism, expressionism, and (in literature) stream of consciousness explorations.

However the "avant garde" has also been "claimed" by several more specific movements since the fifties. It sort of shifted from "any artist at all who defies convention" and traced a more formal path through various post war artistic movements. A lot of people and movements have described themselves as avant garde at the time, but it really stuck only with a few particular movements, especially anti-establishment and radical artistic movements.

In the fifties, that means you're talking about Marxism and the Situationists. Yep, dirty commies. In fact, the face of "avant garde" became decidedly anti-capitalist and intensely political and social. Towards the end of the sixties the avant garde label was taken up by the Language Poets and even the Postmodernists. So it is possible that your classmates are suggesting that you are following along the post war "torch bearers" of the avant garde movement, and that your work has a Hemingway/Kerouac/beat poets feel.

At this point (if you know your artistic movements) you might be scratching your head. Or if you're a little melodramatic and flying on pumpkin pie, maybe you've flipped a table. Weren't the post modernists reacting to the modernists by bringing back some of the historical and classic artistic stuff? Yes they were. That doesn't sound like these rowdy group of socialist malcontents you've described at all, Chris. What the actual hell? See at this point what had been avant garde was becoming cliche so these malcontents reacted against the conventions....again.

I hope the theme of "avant garde" is becoming clear here. These guys are basically the hipsters of the art world. If something becomes too mainstream, they immediately rebel against it. They thought everybody's earlier work was better (before they sold out). They were the original "you've probably never heard of it," brigade.

That means that the definition is a moving target. If I wrote a Beckett style play today (and please shoot me if I ever do), people would call it derivative rather than avant garde. Many movements in art begin as avant garde by their nature but then fade as they become popular or mainstream. That's why the term becomes so slippery after the seventies. Everyone was avant garde...until they weren't. Then the conventions of old movements that are broken then become the backbone of new movements that are themselves rebelled against. And sometimes the most radical thing an artist can do in the modern world is to write an English sonnet in iambic pentameter with a proper rhyme scheme or do a novel with a classic three act structure, central tension, and an omniscient third person narrator.

Avant garde is about breaking the rules. It's about defying conventions.  Of course in literature, there is only so much convention you can defy before the text itself becomes unreadable. (But by god, they try.) Sometimes you have things like Avatar (not the Dances With Wolves remake with the blue natives, but rather a hundred and tenish page novel with no punctuation...at all). Some of these works can be intensely difficult to read and of very limited appeal to mainstream audiences. Modern examples of avant garde works that actually are popular would include Infinite Jest or House of Leaves.

But now we're getting into the territory of the three meanings that it is far more likely your classmates mean.

The intense anti-establishment, anti-convention, even anti ART overtones of avant garde means that in particular they hate the ivory tower.

Hate it!

I mean hate it so bad that if an avant garde artist and a professor in tweed see each other across a crowded room, you wills hear two lightsabers ignite, and only one of them is getting out of there not cut in half or falling down a bottomless pit. This antithesis is so pronounced that it is sometimes much easier to define avant garde by what it isn't–or rather what it stands opposed to.

They can fight on this rooftop.

University art programs look lovingly at the last generation of artists (which are now contextualized into formal movements) and of course, the classics, but you have to understand just how much the avant garde artist hates them for not encouraging (real) innovation and experimentation.  Avant garde artists rebel against everything university art programs teach. If crusty ol' professors call it art, they ain't doing it. And if crusty ol' professors say not to break X rule, you can guarantee they'll write an entire work based on breaking that rule. So it's possible that your classmates are saying that you are a raging rebel within your MFA program and calling you "avant garde" is their way of fist bumping your professor-ignoring pioneer spirit.

Oh Holly! You machine-raging rabble rouser you!

The other thing they might mean is sort of a back handed compliment. Avant garde is often tied intimately with modern art's trends of absolute incomprehensibility. These artists often try to be so different and so convention defying that they leave behind influences and recognizable themes, and end up with something that even other artists can't find the artistry in. An open jar of Hellman's Mayonaise sitting in the middle of an alkali desert is billed as "a bold take on avant garde expressionism." Now I don't know what that means, and I suspect the person who wrote it doesn't either, but sometimes the reputation for being complete bullshit is very well earned. People call bullshit avant garde because it's gauche to actually call it bullshit.

But it is actually bullshit.

When conservatives go after the N.E.A., it's always by pointing to some avant garde work and saying "You want your tax dollars to pay for this?" So it's possible what they're trying to tell you is that your work is so inaccessible that they can't think of anything else to call it that isn't laced with expletives about fecal mater.

Given that my tax dollar (and it's an exaggeration to assume I actually pay a whole dollar in taxes to the NEA every year)
 paid for maybe 1/10,000 of one cent for this particular work, it's probably bothering me less than you might imagine.
Plus this is kind of neat.

However Holly, here's my suspicion: they don't quite know exactly what they mean. The convention-defying nature of avant guard work, especially against conventions of structure, and its slipperiness with any particular movement since the 70s or so, mean that it gets used synonymously with "experimental" a lot. That is to say it often gets used instead of, "I don't get it."

Here's the problem: a lot of CW program students wouldn't know really experimental if it bit them in the ass. They put the established "rules" of a Cummings poem in the same box as someone who just puts the line breaks and random punctuation wherever the fuck because it feels "edgy." They can't tell the difference between Gertrude Stein's choice to repeat a sentence and an undergrad who just went through and picked out four random sentences. I've literally seen a workshop of MFAs students who couldn't tell the difference between a powerful literary choice and a grammar mistake.

Clearly this is brilliant....I think.
This isn't to impugn or besmirch your work or your classmates' abilities to read it. (Well, maybe their ability to read it.) It's just sometimes workshops of rushed, distracted young writers (who are mostly worried about their own work being seen for its brilliance) and who have read your work once, probably right before class, aren't the best audience with whom to try something radically different.

So any time a work is weird and a creative writing student doesn't quite know what to make of it, they often go with the vernacular they've heard around them instead. They toss out the "buzzwords" they know. They know that "Shit, man I don't get what the hell you're on about with the butterfly part," isn't going to sound very writerly of them, so they say "This is a very.....avant garde piece and I particularly loved the expressionist juxtaposition with the Dada symbolism you encapsulated in the butterfly and how the chiasmus of contrast gave relief to the part about the butterfly collector with the net. It reminded me so much of Marquez's Love in the Time of Cholera, which I've totally actually read."

So, Holly, at the end of the day, I know what avant garde means (kind of) and if you're not asleep yet, you do too, but when it comes to your classmates, I'm thinking an Inigo Montoya quote might be appropriate.

I'm thinking an Inigo Montoya quote might be appropriate.

I'm thinking an Inigo Montoya quote might be appropriate.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

Can we all just take a minute to appreciate the sadistic look on Spike's face?
Did I say Thursday for the mailbox? I meant Friday of course. I can't even get Grendel and his mom to come work the cafeteria on bank holidays. If I can't at least get hooked up with a Sloppy Turkey Joe and some powdered mashed potatoes, I'm not coming in to work.

Please have a wonderful holiday if you're a Yank, and a wonderful Thursday if you're not. Stuff a bird or just enjoy the stuffing, depending on what you're into. And I'll tell Holly why her fellow MFA students keep calling her "avant garde" tomorrow.

And I've been asked by the cheese guy on the third floor to convey his greetings in particular. He says, "What would go with Turkey better than some provolone? Happy Thanksgiving."  Yeah, I can't believe I actually agreed to that. But he was going to make me try this stinky Venezuelan beaver cheese if I didn't. I just wanted to get out of there.

I seem to be drifting slightly off the point. Have a wonderful holiday (or just day, depending), and we'll get busy with the snarky writing advice come tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


I'm going to shill another post of mine today on all the social media but for those who follow on RSS feeds or directly through Google, I thought today would be a good day to reblog Why Others' Stories Matter.

I live in Oakland, so last night instead of writing, I watched the protests. I don't mean I watched them on television either. I just looked out my window.  (At one point I had live coverage playing in the background and I heard a siren out my window and on my computer at the same time with that weird distortion effect--like when someone is talking to you on the phone from the same room. That's when I realized they were basically HERE.) Dozens of cop cars parked on my block and riot police jumped in and out of white vans to form lines as the Ferguson protests came within a couple of blocks. The Walgreens you may have seen with the smashed in door is a place I go once or twice a week. I often throw my sandwich wrapper from Genova's Deli into the trash can you saw on fire. The protestors set a trash fire on MLK (which local residents put out). I could see that from my writing room. I spent most of my writing time either watching the police form phalanxes and shift their fleet of cars or glancing at the baby and wondering if the feeling somewhere between helpless anxiety and wondering what the best makeshift weapon in the house might be.

There might be a Ferguson post in me, but I would just end up making a lot of the same points I've made recently about listening and empathy and not getting to tell people who feel betrayed by a system to sit down and shut up and love it. So I don't know. But I teach on Wednesday night and I spent last night hoping for the better angels of our nature to win among a people who have every right to be enraged enough to burn it down

So this rambling bumble is the best I can do today.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

On Our Last Episode....

I left a story dangling off a cliffhanger after life exploded (twice) but I never forgot that you all needed to know what happened.

Well, buckle up because the exciting conclusion is coming.

See shortly after someone asked a question about my process a couple of months ago, I realized that I was spending a lot less time working on my fiction than I wanted to because of all the time and energy I was putting into Writing About Writing. Naturally, this caused one of my enemies to inhabit the body of a sexy looking woman, grab a shard of the Mirrorshield, pretend to be the person who asked the question, and flash it at me so that I would be paralyzed while my nemesis (ChronoTron) destroyed me.

Like you do.

Wrecking Ball showed up and there was a brief altercation, and it looked like I was going to get my ass saved , but actually the thing is that Wrecking Ball also has a nemesis named Harbinger. And Harbinger had come to the party just to finish what he left undone before. And ChronoTron had perfected a time dilation field that made him immune to Wrecking Ball's attacks.

With me paralyzed, my nemesis about to suck all the time from me, and Wrecking Ball fighting the one person who has kicked his ass definitively in the last five years (and who only didn't finish the job because W.B. looked dead and needed months of traction), things are not looking good for our intrepid heroes.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Bizzaro Blog

The update schedule around here is going to be Bizzaro World for the next couple of weeks. Today, for example, will be taking the place of Wednesday's jazz hands. Wednesday will be the post I would normally put up on Thursday, and on Thursday I will do the Mailbox for this week (in which I will attempt to explain what avant guarde really means).

The Contrarian's grandmother is coming into town, and The Brain has been pulling double and triple patrols so that the streets are cleaned up enough to spend a little time with family during Thanksgiving, and I've been picking up a lot of extra slack. Once Uberdude's mom actually gets here, I will probably have more time to write than normal. Even though her crime fighting days are behind her, she is more than willing to watch the baby--even one with contradictory psychic powers, extraordinary ability to drool, and a burgeoning power to pick up every cold and flu bug in a five block radius that has us seriously considering renaming him The Petri Dish..

So bear with me. The end result of a little bit of jazz hands should be a spectacular fortnight of updates.

Unless of course something goes wrong.

But nothing ever goes wrong when a one year old's child care is concerned.


Sunday, November 23, 2014

I Am the Night...or Something

Listed as free to use with attribution.
Last night I did something I haven't done in over a decade.

I played a Vampire LARP*.

I'll let the few of you who have some sort of negative image of LARPing from the underground Youtube of the dude throwing hacky sacks and saying "Fireball!" think whatever you want. Frankly, there are some smart and funny people dressed in their sexiest ensembles, and I wouldn't want you to crowd in and crimp my style.

However, I suspect that what it might mean is that the fourth Sunday in the month might have a high concentration of reflections on the insight that LARPing provides to writing. Sort of like I've done about the one shot LARPS of gaming conventions. I already know that I'm almost certainly going to get sucked into this game (get it? SUCKED IN? never mind) and that it's going to be on my mind come the next day. I might as well exploit it shamelessly, and keep trying for that ever elusive groupie threesome.

Besides, this is probably going to be like the closest thing I will actually have to a life.

I can't pour out secrets of the characters--not even my own (lest the players who are a little less able to keep knowledge their characters should not know be too tempted to use it in game) or be too explicit about most details in an ongoing chronicle the way I would about a completed one-shot, but I'm sure I can still vaguefy the stories and eke out some wisdom. Cause I'm really ekey when it comes down to it.

*So true story: I'm headed out to this game (which will be my first Vampire LARP in over a decade) and I'm getting ready to go to the character's first Vampire court where my sire is going to present me for acknowledgement. I turned on my iPod, set it to shuffle all, and the first song that came up was "Welcome to the Jungle" by Guns and Roses.

That'll do iPod. That'll do.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Updated Bio

Today's entry isn't more than the changes I've made to Writing About Writing's bio page.

I made a few tweaks throughout, but the major difference is that I can no longer say I'm making no money and merely writing for the love of it. (Now I'm only MOSTLY writing for the love of it.) And while it's disappointing that making less than half of minimum wage probably sets me ahead of most writers, I can't go on pretending I'm not getting any benefit but love alone.


So maybe you’re asking yourself “Who is this whackadoodle, anyway?”

He posts about writing, but is there some reason I should read this blog? This one, out of the hundreds of other blogs with better cookie recipes and the tens of gagiligillion of other blogs of random, unsuccessful writers.

Why should I read THIS guy?

He's never gotten a book deal.

He’s not famous.

He doesn’t drop the f-bomb so many times that he makes uninspired ideas and cliché opinions sound edgy and chic. But he also doesn't avoid it enough that I would feel comfortable admitting sharing his articles on a Facebook post my Nana could see. It's like that perfect mushy sweet spot of horrible between edgy and classy.

He’s not even going to publish a good recipe for crab cakes.

Seriously, what the hell am I doing here?

So here’s the thing. I didn’t sit around for my first thirty-coughsomething years accumulating cookie recipes and dreaming of someday finding a place where I could share them one at a time, but I haven’t just been watching Nyan Cat that whole time either.*

What I CAN tell you for sure is I’ve been writing an average of two hours a day for nearly thirty years, and about four hours a day for the last decade, (recently, it’s gone up again—now it’s more like five or six hours a day on average), I will make up to 49% more pop culture references to MMORPG’s, sci-fi media, and generally “cool shit” than your average MFA graduate, and I’m totally not afraid to make up bullshit statistics right on the fly.

All this and my personal guarantee that I actually got the “Ethan Frome damage” joke from Grosse Point Blanke.


This is like UBERwhite fiction.It's the Wonder Bread of fiction.

I’ve logged in my “ten thousand hours” writing, and at this point I’ve clocked in a second ten thousand just to be on the safe side. I think I'm working on about my fourth or fifth set, honestly. That doesn't mean I'm perfect. I’m not above error. My first drafts are shitty. I use myriad as a noun.  I will use the wrong your if I'm not paying attention. But it’s pretty safe to assume I know what I’m doing when I start stringing words together.

I have a degree in Creative Writing. I graduated Summa Cum Laude from SFSU's fairly well-respected undergraduate CW program this Spring (2012). Technically that’s a “lit heavy” English degree “with emphasis in Creative Writing," which means I wrote my share of literary criticism when I wasn’t writing creatively. I know some people take Creative Writing for an easy degree, but I looked for the professors who demanded excellence and had a reputation for eating undergrads. When I found them, I took everything they taught. I didn’t get a 3.94 because I was coasting. I also didn’t take 18 more CW units than I needed to for my major because I just wanted to slam out a degree and bug out. I went back to school in my thirties to hone my craft and I decided to suck the marrow from the bones of every class I took. I even got some administrative side eye for how many non-essential classes I was taking on a Pell grant. The point is, I picked up a couple of things while I was there.

I’ve been a managing editor of a literary magazine. It wasn't the happiest time of my life, and I'm pretty sure my EIC was actively trying to make me cry, but I learned a lot, especially about how and why things get picked for publication.

I teach ESL and Developmental English. Teaching it has been the most liberating experience on the technical end of my writing that I could have imagined, and it’s brought a lot of cultural and linguistic nuance into my world and into my writing.

Age ten. Fourth grade. Halloween prompt. We got a paragraph start and it was up to us to end it. I wrote twenty-one college ruled pages (college ruled, mind you, not that wide ruled crap, and certainly not the handwriting practice paper with the big space on the top half for crayon pictures; I’m talking the real deal here mofos). It was the best feeling I’d ever had. (At ten, I’d never had a smoking hot threesome, you understand.) I knew then what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to be a writer. I never looked back. Every decision between then and now has been engineered with being a writer in mind. Not a lot of people I know, even the incredibly talented and successful artists among them, knew the score so soon. I’ve been writing ever since.


So very, very badly.

But I have been writing. And maybe a little tiny bit better than before.

I tried to be Stephen King when I was 12, writing stories of self-willed big rigs chasing little kids all over pastoral New England towns. It was crap of course, but if you've met the Creative Writing program at SFSU, you would know that it is actually a MAJOR boon as a writer that I have gotten the "I'm going to be Stephen King" phase out of my system.

I started writing works of 100+ pages in seventh grade. I finished my first real manuscript in eighth grade. I "wrote books" between the ages of ten and fourteen, but they were usually about twenty pages long

Perhaps the best thing that started happening in seventh grade with my longer "books" is that my friends wanted to read them. In high school I was pestered over whether or not I had written any more. In my junior year, I hit another bellwether on this front: a friend of mine read a manuscript I’d written as I was writing it, and when I was done he asked for the whole thing so he could read it...again. "I want to make sure I didn’t miss anything," he said.

I wouldn’t know it for a few more years, but smoking threesomes got nothing—NOTHING—on the feeling of someone reading your work again because they really liked it.

I wasn’t ever just about one art form. In high school I was in band and in choir. (Yeah, I was that guy.) I always loved music, theater, film, and even visual arts in addition to literature. I’ve always pursued arts and humanities with more than just a dilettante interest. (Not that I buy into the bourgeoisie “high art” aesthetic mind…) I find that an eclectic taste in arts has greatly informed my appreciation of literature and my own writing.

I actually am published. Technically. It’s not anything you could pick up at a Barnes and Noble, and most of it (that isn’t blogging) happened before the ubiquity of having an e-version of nearly everything, but it’s out there. It exists in a few dark and hidden corners. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that the Rubicon of almighty “publication” can be technically passed with a whimper in a way that feels like it doesn’t “count.”

I won the UCLA Comm. board award for an article I wrote in a student magazine.  The oddball thing about this was that I did this without actually being a UCLA student.  I just submitted to one of their news magazines that my friends worked on. If there was ever a moment I realized maybe I actually could write worth a flip, that was probably it.

I bought into the cultural myth of how to find happiness in my twenties. I took the advice that writing wouldn’t pay the bills and struggled through one “fallback, safety-net” job after another. I married for all the wrong reasons and divorced some years later for at least a couple of the right ones. I played the game by society’s happiness playbook, and it made me miserable.

So in my thirties, I told society's happiness playbook that I was seeing other playbooks and that I’d given it the clap. I let the Jonses pull WAY out ahead and dedicated myself to the things that bring me a whole frikton more meaning in life than trying to keep up with those tools.

I went back to school to improve my craft. I used my summa cum laude degree to become a househusband. Now I’m write for hours a day, and every night I fall into bed with a blissed out smile on my face from the hours of writing I've just done. I describe my life to most people and they scrunch up their faces and wonder what the hell I’m doing with it. I describe it to artists and the smile wistfully and say “that sounds absolutely PERFECT.”

I've been blogging for three years now, and I even publish some of my fiction here. I make money. It's not enough to live on, but it's more money than most writers make in three years (of seriously writing). It's hundreds a month (and I won't be gauche by telling you exactly how many hundreds). The total is more than most writers make in their writing career.

If you’re thinking: “Great. All that and a good Samoas recipe, and I might stick around until tomorrow,” that’s fine. All this sound and fury signifies nothing by way of authority. I probably don’t have any particular bit of knowledge that someone couldn’t figure out (and more) in an hour or two on Google, except maybe for some very esoteric theoretical floatsam about writing or literature I've accumulated by being an obnoxiously attentive student.

I’ve been around the block, but others have been around the block, toured the whole neighborhood, and even know a good shwarma place for lunch (where the lamb kababs are "totes magotes"). I don’t know much more than a Business of Writing class and a couple of day's research worth of information about the publishing industry. I can't tell you how to write a slamming query letter. I have no idea if there's a fast track to scoring an agent that doesn't involve sheer unadulterated nepotism or knee pads and a lobster bib.

But here’s what I do know, and I know it well:

I know how to be an unsuccessful writer.

I know how to not make it.

I know how to write day after day and not make a damned dime. Or to make a pittance.

I know how to keep going for nearly thirty years, and have the temerity to not even consider throwing in the towel.

I know how to write because not writing feels wrong, and that the parts of writing that are cathartic and meaningful and wonderful come in the act of creation not in the acquisition of an agent or the painful negotiation of a book deal. (Not that readers and affirmation and paychecks and fans and groupies and smoking hot groupie threesomes aren’t great, but they aren’t what make the artist YEARN to keep making that art.)

I know how to be artistic and creative for its own sake and to never let the world tell me that I “need” a white picket fence and a sensible car.

 I know how to set up my life to feed my art addiction without dejection over the unfulfilled fantasies of writing the Great American Novel and fat royalty checks and travelling the talk show circuit.

And I know what it means to write when there is no incentive to do so except the sheer love of transforming twenty-six letters and fourteen pieces of punctuation into meaning.

And now I know what it means to work and scrape and write for years, but then finally start to find some small measure of success.

I’m going to keep right on writing. I'm going to do it with forty thousand followers or four and with ten page views or ten million. And as long as I'm at it, I might as well try to make a few dollars along the way. It'll be an interesting journey, and I might learn a few things that I'll happily share. And I welcome you to join me. Perhaps we can even learn from, inspire, motivate, and challenge each other.

That's who this n00b is.

*In fact, I can only claim to have watched Nyan cat for about forty-five minutes at a stretch. Just so you know: I’m not proud of this achievement. The lengths I will go to procrastinate writing a literary criticism paper terrify even me. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Well Deserved

Several of you have noticed that I've been a little on fire this week. Entries (like Tuedsay) were supposed to be short and sweet were quite long and savory....uh.....or something, and even Wednesday's usual jazz hands were a little less jazz handsy. Yesterday's article on Shirtstorm was five thousand words of social justice bardery. That's about ten times longer than a typical Thursday post and even two or three times longer than my usual "big" articles.

So today, I'm going to have a floofy drink....with an umbrella....and a cherry and put my feet up.

Of course when I say "have a floofy drink," what I mean is write some fiction. And when I say "with an umbrella," what I mean is read for the first time in two days for more than a half an hour including a friend's interactive game because the feedback is needed by today at the latest. And when I say "cherry" I mean write some fiction and work on this weekend's articles because I've done nothing of the sort yet. And by "put my feet up" I mean do like five loads of dishes.

Because when my writing is a little on fire, it usually means the kitchen is too.