That sound you just heard was everyone who can read a CT scan sucking in their breath at once.
Last October, Sonic Gal had some trouble bursting into sonic motion. At first she was just winded after a big fight, but then she started to have trouble going from Hell's Kitchen to Gotham in under two seconds. It took her more like five.
And then ten.
By the time we figured out that Miasma had hit her with a carcino-bio-agent dart (hoping to take her out long term so that a dimensional gateway to the world of goateed robots would provide an army to rule the world), her tumor was big enough to vote in some states. This CT scan shows it at its largest, just before treatment started. The white ovel is her rib cage and the bump in the back in the middle with the three prongs is her spinal column.
It was big, and really scary. Her oncologist/hematologist missed it–looking for a blood disease instead. Fortunately her nurse practitioner caught it just in time. And I don't mean just in time like everything is "just in time" when you write superhero realism. I mean while we waited for tests to come back, there were cardiothoracic surgeons who had been briefed on the tumor's location standing by for the hail Mary in case that bad boy shifted half a centimeter. It was that much of a time bomb in her chest.
Fortunately she's four rounds of chemo in, and at last check the softball (with a chunk wrapped unmercifully around her aorta) was looking more like a lemon with very few living cells. It's great news. And when she's not laid out from the chemo drugs or the meds to help with the chemo drugs, she's feeling a lot better. Oxygen is so awesome for living things.
But if you've been through chemotherapy, you know those drugs are not fucking around. Even a superhero can't just shrug them off.
Sonic gal did four rounds of chemo, and like a rockstar, just kept kicking ass and taking names at doing light patrols and fighting local crime. She let me and Uberdude do some of the real super-villain stuff, but you'd never have suspected she was in cancer treatment if not for her oft-changing hair color and sudden incorporation of brilliantly colored scarves into her Sonic uniforms.
However, the pain, the bone aches (from white blood cell repopulation), and the overwhelming fatigue is starting to catch up in a way that's harder to ignore after round four. Moving at sonic speeds takes a lot of energy, and when she does get hit (which happens more now that her Sonic Dodge power has slowed down) there's a lot of ache already there that makes it worse. If only she had super-endurance or uncharted healing factor or something.
And there's still two rounds of chemo to go....then radiation.
She kicked ass hardcore for months, but now she's filing for the superhero disability fund that lets her take some time off from hardcore crime fighting without being taken off the official national registers. She will of course still stop shoplifters and if she's in a bank when its robbed, she won't just let it happen, but dealing with The Death Vortex or La Muerte Eléctrica (a new local team of electricity supercharged Mexican Wrestlers who black out whole city grids by suplexing each other into power pylons) is too much right now.
The second half is just going to be a lot worse. So if you've got a good thought or three sitting around for The Hall of Rectitude or especially Sonic Gal, we sure wouldn't mind.
For my part I'm on increased patrols and Contrarian shifts–even from the last time I said that. I'm really going to keep trying to update M-Th for sure and some weekends when I can, but we're getting into the really hard part of the treatment, so there might be days here and there where I drop the ball or REALLY settle for jazz hands.
While you head over to vote in the last couple of days of our best series poll (yes you should go vote!), we also need to gear up for our April poll.
Almost every character in literature is either a man or a woman, but not every character is. This month we call on nominations for the best portrayal of a character who is outside the gender binary.
1- As always, I leave definitions up to your best judgement because I'd rather be inclusive. While gender is a social construct and a little slippery, the gender binary is fairly well defined as cisgender, and covers probably 99.9% or more of literary characters, the umbrella that "cisgender" doesn't cover is vast and diverse. There are many expressions of gender that are outside the binary from agender to transgender to genderfluid. I do not wish to host arguments as to whether whether a feminine presenting intersex character "counts" unless they "truly" question their birth designation or whether a gender fluid character is fluid enough. If you nominate it, and it is not clearly ridiculous ("Harry Dresden tried to get in touch with his feminine side that one time...."), I will trust your judgement. 2- While the story doesn't have to be like Middlesex, which very much revolves around gender, this is a call for the best portrayal of characters outside the gender binary. An alien who simply says, "We don't have gender on my world," once during their introduction onto the page, and proceeds to act like a fairly typical dude for the rest of the book (but you think is cool because they broke all those cyphers and figured out the plot twist) would probably not make a good fit. However an alien race with three genders that are explored, even if the main story were more about repopulating the Earth, would be. Please be careful with aliens–their non conformity to the gender binary should be something portrayed, something considered, and something that contributes to an exploration of the human condition and the idea of gender, not simply something "weird" to make them other that is mentioned once or twice and never has any real bearing. 3- You may nominate two (2) characters. (Remember that I am a horrid and unyielding power hungry monster here at Writing About Writing. To encourage reading and reading comprehension I will NOT take any characters beyond your second nomination.) If you nominate more than two characters, I will only take your first two and consider any beyond that to be "pre-seconding" for a future nomination. 4- You may (and should) second as many nominations of others as you wish. No characters will be going on to our poll that doesn't get at least one second. 5- Please put your nominations here. I will take books nominated as comments to this post on other social media; however, they may not get the seconds you need because no one will see them.
6- If your ideology is trans exclusionary, stay the fuck out of my space! You are not welcome here and neither is any kind of shoe-horning a transantagonist agenda into the comments on this poll. Anything like that will be insta-deleted.
I want, in particular, to invite any call outs or course corrections the genderqueer community might feel I need in the wording of this post. If I have phrased something in a less-than appropriate way or done something that erases a group, please let me know and I will edit. I'm still pretty 101 on gender stuff.
What is the best single story arc in a multi book series?
March is coming to an end, and that means so is our best multi-book series poll. It's your last chance to vote...or vote again....or get your friends to stuff our relatively modest ballot box for your fav.
While Lord of the Rings has a rather commanding lead (though I've seen twice as many votes cast in a last day sprint), and the spread between 2nd and 6th is also pretty big. The spread between any TWO of the positions between is fairly small, and I've seen comebacks much bigger happen in less time than remains. The poll description can be found here.
The poll itself is down on the left hand side at the bottom.
Please don't forget that our poll program will only track your IP address for one week, so since I can't stop shenanigans, I'm asking for as much of it as possible. Vote early. Vote often.
It is an element within a work of art that either breaks the tone or exacerbates it to an exquisite, puncturing point. And if that sounds like meaningless post-modern bullshit, you're not alone in being confused. It's really hard to describe the punctum because it's such a tough concept to define. But it's not hard to point to something and say "THAT! That's punctum!"
Take this picture. In the midst of what is probably some kind of war zone with gunfire smoke thick in the air, we see a soldier holding a sub-machine gun and jumping with a smile on his face. How many millions of gunfire-smoke filled pictures have you seen from war ravaged spots? Probably so many they hardly even penetrate your heart anymore. It's not that your heart is cold and dead and unable to feel. It's just that everything in those pictures is establishing one emotion (in photography it's often called the studium). However, the presence of this jumping, smiling guy, it just....changes the whole thing. It somehow takes away from the gravitas of the immediate, but at the same time makes the whole subject more poignant. Now he's not just one more grim face. He has survived another day. Now he's a little more human and the tragedy of the whole thing resonates harder.
Or is he crueler? Enjoying the battle? Being less humane? Bringing out the subject matter of the rest of the picture by not languishing in it, but enjoying it?
Maybe someone with more research skills knows "the answer," but it's a perfect example of punctum.
Here's another one. To get this one, I had to do some deep Internet digging and listen to a pop song about six million times. I'm now hearing it in my sleep. But nothing is too much for all of you! Some people have said that I'm hearing things with this "read." Others went wide eyed and said it was spot on. Maybe I'm chasing shadows, but if I'm not, here's a good example.
Unless you live in a cave or never do radio, you've probably heard A Great Big World's version of Say Something. Just in case, here it is: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-2U0Ivkn2Ds). You'll notice that there's an extremely enunciated "I'm givING up on you." This will actually be the way it is sung in almost every single version you can find. In case you aren't familiar with the song, it's a duet but the people aren't really singing TO each other. Each one is giving up on the relationship and waiting for the other to make the first step to some kind of reconnection or reconciliation. It's a tragic and common tale in break-ups where both parties feel aggrieved, and each might be willing to keep working if only the other would only come back to the table with an olive branch. Neither does–each waiting on the other–until it's too late.
However, I want to talk about how Sam Redden chose to sing it. First take a listen:
Did you hear it?
When Sam is singing the solo parts of this song, he lets his enunciation slip on "giving"...a lot. It's so crisp in the source song, but he lets it slide. Actually it kind of sounds more like he's saying "Given," which is the past participle. It alludes to the idea that his decision is already made. "Given up." And it changes everything about the tone of this song.
There's no WAY this is an accident.
First of all, the enunciation is so clear in the other versions. Probably to avoid exactly this confusion. When you make a cover of a song that has such a crisp and conscious choice, changing it is absolutely a decision. Secondly, the female vocalist (who I could not find the name of to save my life, and I'm sorry and annoyed about that) is enunciating her "ING" quite well. But here's the real kicker. In the middle of the song, when they're singing together, Redden and the other singer are actually saying the word differently. That's a mistake a first-year high school choir student would notice–unless of course it's not a mistake at all. The Redden version also makes one other very conscious decision from the A Great Big World version and most other covers. Instead of both singers ending the song as a duet, the woman drops out and Redden sings the end solo. This highlights the choice.
(The lyrics are even in the link, and it says "giving," so take this interpretation with a grain of salt.)
But IF it's true, from this ONE TINY little syllable being said differently (by only one of the parts), we get the portrayal of an entirely different relationship dynamic. Here is a guy who is done. But the woman is still in the process of letting go and threatening to leave if nothing is said. And instead of just walking out, the guy is pretending that he too is still hanging on.
For her, she is waiting for him to say something. But for him, nothing she says would matter.
So how does the punctum show up in writing? And how can a writer incorporate something so subtle yet important? Well, let's look at this opening line by Orsino in Twelfth Night by Shakespeare.
If music be the food of love, play on;
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.
That strain again! it had a dying fall:
O, it came o'er my ear like the sweet sound,
That breathes upon a bank of violets,
Stealing and giving odour! Enough; no more:
'Tis not so sweet now as it was before.
O spirit of love! how quick and fresh art thou,
That, notwithstanding thy capacity
Receiveth as the sea, nought enters there,
Of what validity and pitch soe'er,
But falls into abatement and low price,
Even in a minute: so full of shapes is fancy
That it alone is high fantastical.
Here's Orsino, who Shakespeare is lampooning for being more sentimental and florid about the idea of love than actually feeling love itself. (Shakespeare does this a lot.) He's talking about listening to love songs so long that his love grows, but the second part of the quote carries the metaphor into this idea that too much of the music can make one disgusted. Ostensibly too much food, but the metaphor is about love and he goes on to say that the spirit of love can also be overwhelmed. But now look at that last line. What Orsino is saying is that the idea of love is itself a fantasy.
Think about that in terms of everything that Orsino just said and the entire play that is to come.
Orsino gives away the game in the FIRST LINE of this play. Not only is he more in love with the idea of love, but he KNOWS it's bullshit. The entire play takes on an entirely new meaning (slightly more whimsical, and quite a bit more fucked up considering what happens) now that we realize that Orsino is actually fully aware that he is less interested in Olivia than simply the game and the chase and the spurious emotions of courtship. That simple line: "That it alone is high fantastical." changes the whole character of the play.
It might be difficult to consciously add punctum to a piece of writing, but if you know what you're looking for, you can tease it out through the process of revision. Don't be afraid to let your characters show that they are deeper (or more shallow) than you might have thought.
And don't be afraid to trust your audience. You don't need to hammer them over the head with winks and nudges. One tiny line. One ambiguous word. One tiny pinprick in the totality of your writing is all it takes to change....everything.
That is the punctum.
I leave you with the favorite cover I found when digging through versions of "Say Something." And yes, the first singer does the punctum I mentioned above. Though interestingly enough, both singers are basically saying givEN. This tiny choice actually changes the meaning again. Now it has the tragic feel of a relationship where both parties have checked out but are trying to get the other one to care enough to try to get them to stay–a mirror to the all too common break-up situation where even though two people are leaving something mutually, each one wants to know the other wanted them, and will be torn up by their absence.
With the chemo day moved to Monday, and already 30+ hours of toddler wrangling even going into the weekend (usually it's about 18-20ish heading into Friday), plus a stack of dishes and a swath of destruction in the living room, this Friday is more Fridayish than even other Fridays. I'm going to work hard this weekend though to puff the fluff, and get some good stuff prepped for cooking next week.
I am an Amazon Best-Selling Author. Yes, The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy series achieved Amazon Best-Selling status. Impressed? I’m not.
Amazon divides its genres so narrowly and so precisely that there simply aren’t that many titles in any given group. If twenty people to buy your book in a single day, WOO-HOO, your book is likely a best-seller. In its group. For the day or week or even month.
In fact, this has happened to me and I didn’t pay it any mind. It just didn’t seem to be that significant an event.
Many authors are now touting their status as Amazon Best-Selling Authors. I guess I should be doing that, too, on the off-chance there is somebody out there who might click through and buy a book. I might even keep track of sales to see if my slow but steady pace of sales improves thereby. I’ll let you know if I do. This is a status that sounds better than it is, and that’s true of much in the book-selling biz.
I want to sell books. I want to sell MY books particularly, but there’s room for many books in my Kindle’s Cloud and I read a lot, so I need other people to write and sell books I want to read, too. Yet, connecting books with readers is very hard, not least because there is this huge industry out there committed to separating writers from their money. It’s almost impossible to separate the wheat (something that helps sales) from the chaff (expensive stuff that doesn’t actually result in sales.)
There is a whole lot of chaff out there. While these myriad services will do exactly what they say they will — Tweet 5 days to 50,000 fellow birds, Instagram your cover to their 23,000 followers — the real question is the conversion rate. What kind of click-throughs result? How many of those result in sales? Too few for what these services cost, I think. I get so many book-related newsletters I can’t possibly keep up with them, and I’m highly selective in what I sign up for. I also try to pay attention to what’s in my Inbox, because I know some poor writer is out there scrimping to afford this publicity and I want to give that writer the respect of at least looking, even if it’s not a genre I read.
I’m a working writer and that’s the perspective I take in what I write here. I am writing a series, with Book Three coming out this summer. I research, I have a budget and I try to spend my PR dollars wisely. Whether it’s editors, copyeditors, formatters, artists, reviews, agents, or independent soup-to-nuts pay-to-play publishing houses, look carefully at what they’re offering you and look carefully at their products. Don’t pay for useless services. Don’t pay for bad products. Don’t pay for poorly written reviews. Don’t pay for what you don’t need. Don’t overpay for anything. Be especially careful with editing. Most of the ads I see promise copyediting only; full editing is frightfully expensive. For that kind of money, I want a real, serious professional editor I can actually work with, not any random person no longer working for a Major who fills out a form. Be careful with reviews. Read many reviews before committing your money for a paid review (almost all of them are these days, unless you are a Big Name published by a Huge House). Make sure they don’t read like middle-school book reports, but can at least pass as serious professional reviews. Be careful with “marketing and publicity,” too. Don’t settle for being in some marketer or reviewer’s throwaway spam mail or email newsletter that nobody ever actually reads. A listing in a catalog or on a website means nothing unless people actually read it. How many catalogs do YOU get? How many do you actually read? How many go straight into trash or the recycle bin? What do you think happens to the hundreds of catalogs and emails regularly sent to agents, editors, publishers, teachers, libraries and bookstores? Especially the ones marked “Independent and Small Publishers,” or, worse, “Self-Published”? The connection between the services actually offered and the results implied is largely illusory.
You’re a writer. That means you get no respect and no support whatsoever except from your nearest and dearest and probably not even from them. You have limited time and limited money. Use them wisely. Even if you continually work towards The Breakthrough Book and are willing to Build Your Brand over time, even if you write really good books, even if you are an Amazon Best-Selling Author, be wary, do your research and be very careful with your funds.
That huge predatory second-tier industry out there doesn’t care if you sell a single book. As long as they can get you pay for what they offer and do what they say they will so they don’t get sued, they couldn’t care less. Since they don’t, you must. Do your homework before you spend your money, and don’t get taken.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Remember, keep sending in your questions to email@example.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer a couple each week. I have a LOT of backlogged questions right now, but I will try to eventually get to all of them. 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. Subjective questions will be deconstructed and answered only abstractly.]
My friend is a writer but refuses to call herself one. The furthest she'll go is to say she's a hobbyist, and that she only "tells stories", whereas real writers are concerned with art and craft. I realize that labels are not the most important thing in the world, and people should be able to call themselves whatever they want, but I can't help but feel that if more writers thought of themselves as writers, they would feel better about what they spend so much time doing. Anyway, she spent many years world-building for her novels and has written a few, including one recently that is 150,000+ words long and is really good. As soon as she was done with it, she moved on to the next one. She has created unique cultures and documents with intricate conlangs [sic] for each people, and has a detailed understanding of the history of the people she writes about. This work of planning and writing goes on weekly, and always yields results. I would like you, in your finite but considerable wisdom, to answer, once and for all, whether or not my friend is a writer!
My reply: From my vaunted seat of pure office chair spinning pleather.....With the finite, but still considerable and holy, wisdom granted me by the avatar of the "true writer" who held aloft her mighty pen and shone its authority upon me through a beam of incandescent radiance.....I gaze my countenance upon thy question and bequeath my arbitration in the matter. Lo, I doth declare thy friend.....
Before I do this, let me grab a Mexican Coke, some Girl Scout Cookies (Samoas), and some Cheddar and Sour Cream Ruffles, and see if I can't break this shit down. Breakfast and nuance are the most important meals of the day.
First off, labels are sort of funny. Some of them are important. Some are not. Some are wrong. Some are right. And some are deeply in the eye of the beholder. A dude with a strip of untanned skin on his left ring finger telling you that his wife and he fall under the label of "polyamorous," but no, you can't call her or talk to her or have his home number or ever call him after six....in that case "polyamorous" is probably a bad label. Someone who decides that despite their assignment at birth, they are actually the gender they most feel like: that's a label you want to take very, VERY seriously. Most of the other labels are somewhere in the middle, but given the fact that labels are basically nouns or semiotic signs and the proclivity of post-structuralism to break them down into meaningless oblivion, it's probably more important to know what your friend means when she says she's not a writer.
But I do understand that you were sort of hoping to telescope this out to other writers as well, Callie, so this also goes out to all those people who think they're not writers even though they write.
Like most communities, the writing world consists of people who attempt to control their bona fides by challenging those of others. In the same way weightlifters sneer at the people on the cardio machine as not really working out, baseball players think softball isn't a real sport, or the Tai Kwon Do folks talk about how much more effective side kicks from a real martial artist would be over joint locks when dealing with muggers "on the street," writers will spend a lot of time concerning themselves with what is "real writing."
I'll give you a hint. "Real writing" is pretty much always what they're doing, and not-"real writing" is what other people are doing. If they're really into their elitism, no one who's doing the same thing as them, but with less success, counts either. I know web content writers who think "real writing" is making money. I know published authors who think "real writing" means a book deal (but never self publishing). I've been in the Ivory Tower of a writing program so I know way way way too many people who think "real writing" is the literary genre and the rest of it is fluffy crap that you ought to be sneering at. I've even met someone who had published a handful of stories who said that a writer doing the same thing, but with half a dozen fewer publication accolades wasn't "real" yet.
And don't even get me started on how often someone says blogging isn't real writing.
I've tried getting these various groups to fight it out so that once and for all we can know what "real writing" truly is, and have even provided arenas with tarps and oil for the massive wrestling fest, but the contestants always end up pointing out that I've selected only ridiculously hot folks (of all genders) to do the fighting, that the uniforms are "a little skimpy," and impugning my pure and unimpeachable quest for knowledge with the accusation of some sort of ulterior motive. (Of COURSE the uniforms are a little skimpy. We need to make sure no one is hiding weapons.) The nerve!
It seems like maybe you may have just happened to have found someone who has internalized some of those rampant messages about the difference between writing as a hobby and "real writing" to the point that she thinks she isn't a real writer. Or at least that she hasn't the slightest interest in the aspects of writing that she has attached to that label (like considered revision, craft work, and possibly also the considerable not-actually-writing work that goes into the business of publishing and monetizing writing). And that's okay.
Personally, I think being a writer has more to do with earning your er, and it sounds like she's done that a few times over, but if she would like to self-identify more as a hobbyist because of some kind of negative connotations she has with "writer" (or "Writer"), that's okay too. She seems to have the signifier part down, even if she rejects the sign. (Nothing like a little Saussure joke to liven up the ol' blog!)
However, I will say this: perhaps more importantly than labels or elitism, your friend has latched on to something even more fundamental to 99.99% of creative writing than worrying if it's real or not–the fact that the simple act of it brings her pleasure. And at the risk of annoying her, I'm going to suggest that (in my book) this makes her one of the realest writers of all. ....probably a writer.
Image description: Sonic gal during chemo with a rainbow afghan.
Everyone is doing as well as can be expected after a round of chemo. If you've never gone through it, they are pretty tough on the patient and cause lots of nausea and lethargy for days afterward. Plus there's usually follow up for fluids which involve going back for a couple of days and take a couple of hours each. I did a full day of toddler wrangling and a bit of housework myself yesterday (minus a tag in for a nap), and I'm about to jump in for more of the same.
I was able to get a bit of writing done this morning, but not enough for a post. Unfortunately when I'm stressed and emotional, even though I still write, I have a tendency to be easily distracted and write a little bit on a lot of different projects or make Facebook posts or do very stream of consciousness writing. I'm less able to sit and focus for a few hours. That's the reason I updated Social Justice Bard today, but didn't get a post here. Hopefully tomorrow I can get something up, even if I have to do some jazz hands and get the really real post up on Friday.
I am happy to report we DO have a guest blog for Thursday as well.
And don't forget to vote on our poll. Even though Lord of the Rings is almost certainly going to win (and I'm learning all over again that month long polls just don't have enough wind in their sails), second place is still up for grabs.
If you noticed, I turned on the seatbelt light. Please return to your seats and put your seatbelts on. I'll be sending the flight attendants around to make sure those are done up properly and to collect any trash you'd like to get rid of at this time. Please also put your tray tables and seat backs into their full upright positions. We're coming up on a little bit of turbulence.
Normally we would route around the chemo thermals by scheduling them for Fridays, and the worst days of recovery would be a weekend where no one is expecting much of the blog anyway; however, white blood cell counts on Friday caused a shift in the projected thermal layers. So we're heading into them on a Monday, and they may very well screw up the entire week since not only will the chemo itself be on Monday, but the heavy, rough recovery days will be Tuesday and Wednesday.
We've got some great maneuvers planned; let's see how many of them we can actually execute.
A lioness behind several different kinds of flowers.
Every once in a while there is a fringe benefit of having a running blog and a bit of reach on social media. And that is when I get the privilege and honor to share the creative endeavors of my friends and fellow artists.
Ashly is a long time peep who has even illustrated one of the older posts here on Writing About Writing (Why Others' Stories Matter), and is now working on trying to Kickstart her own project.
It's an adult coloring book, and it's shaping up to be a pretty damned cool one too. (If you're new to adult coloring books, that's a book that's got a lot of smaller spaces and careful detail and is a bit more involved than most kids can handle, not a coloring book that would get an NC-17 rating or anything.) This one has got animals in it. There's nothing that says a younger child can't use them either. They just have a bit more detail. I've seen five year olds enjoy coloring them. And forty-five year olds.
For just $15 (not that much more than you'd pay for an adult coloring book anyway) you get a book and to support an independent artist with a project.
Blogger and embedded videos don't get along, so if you want to see the Kickstarter video, you'll have to follow the link:
Thursdays is usually for our regular bloggers like Claire, Amy, and Bethany, or one of our many guest bloggers, but I'm digging through the e-mails and I don't see any articles left, so I guess today is a day for encouraging more people to join our diaspora of voices.
Got something to say about writing, art, inspiration, creativity, motivation, process, craft, literature, reading...or possibly cheese? Got something that writers or book lovers REALLY need to see?
Want to respond to something I've written, even if it's to completely disagree with me and tell me I smell like soup? And not that I smell like the good kind of soup that reminds you of childhood winters, but something with weird goat cheese, too much salt, and seasonings that make you wonder if the meat has maybe gone off.
Want to take advantage of my (currently) 50,000+ page views per month and advertise your own online endeavors in a thinly veiled self-pimp-a-thon wrapped in the "sheep's clothing" of an article? (For which I will only demand a shout out in return.)
Want to put an article or three out in the world, be read by lots of readers, but without having to start your own blog and lose all your friends by pimping yourself on Facebook all day long? ("Ugh. All they do is talk about themselves! They don't take pictures of their lunch like me!") Or just want to try blogging on for size a few times before you start one of your own? Then I want you!
Bring it! Drop me an e-mail. (firstname.lastname@example.org) As long as what you want to write is mostly coherent, at least obliquely about writing, no more than 82% horribly offensive to white males, non-abusive to other readers, doesn't make me cry (except in the good way), contains at least one vulgarity, innuendo, or salvo of F-Bombs to maintain the crucial lack of decorum, and is more advanced than a lesson I might teach my middle schoolers, I will totally publish your article. I can't promise that if you write an article on why I'm wrong about everything ever in my face that I won't write some kind of rebuttal or addendum, but all opinions on writing are welcome--even ones antithetical to mine. (I do reserve the right to refuse a post for any reason, but I promise that reason won't be because I disagree with you.)
And...if you're one of my regular guest bloggers, I'll even give you your own link on The Reliquary.
Here are some guidelines so we don't waste each other's time:
If you send me offers to do web content, I mark your mail as spam. I know when I'm looking at a legitimate offer for a guest blog. Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me fifteen times and destroy my hard drive so that I have to get a new computer, shame on me.
If you are a robot I will mark you as spam. Unless you can do dishes. Robots that do dishes are welcome.
If you can't figure out what this blog is about, and offer to do articles about steam roofing or something, I'll mark your mail as spam. I'm not just web content here; this blog has a theme and everything. Make it about the inspiration and creative process of steam roofing AT LEAST!
Please read the paragraph below the bullet points very carefully.
Your writing is yours. I'm going to ask that you let the post run on my page for a while before you cross post it, but ultimately I respect that as the generator of the creative effort, your writing is yours. If you ask me to remove it, I will. If you repost it somewhere else, that's okay.
There are no author passwords to Writing About Writing--you'll submit your articles to me. I will post them if they are good enough to post.
If you skipped all that dull text up above, this blog is about writing, art, inspiration, creativity, motivation, process, craft, literature, reading, and maybe cheese. Don't skip the paragraph below though.
I will be as liberal as I can about gate keeping, but you do have to be able to write a little. An incoherent rant about the tyranny of grammar probably won't be approved.
You don't have to agree with me, particularly about writing stuff, but I'm not going to post wildly divergent social positions, humor that punches down, or deeply problematic phrasing. Anything I post here isn't an "I agree with this 100%!" endorsement, but if I hit publish on it, I'm going to be the one to answer for it. If you want to write about how the PC police are agents of "Obummer the Mooozlim," and they won't let you even use the word "tard" anymore, go start your own blog.
I won't make any content changes to your writing, but I may make some copy edits. If a proofreading change might change your meaning, I will run it by you.
Please fucking read the paragraph below.
When I say "I will make some edits" I want you to understand that I'm not a copy editor even though I can do okay (on writing that isn't my own). I'm not here to fix up a post from scratch that you didn't have time to proofread. Clean it up.
You may link out as much as you want (even self-promotional links), but I'm going to check them all--if they go to spammy shit, I won't publish your article.
Please, for the love of all that is holy, and in the name of Zues's godly butthole, read the goddamned fucking paragraph below.
If your post is a giant fucking commercial for some product, then you need to be paying me for advertising space. And if your product isn't awesome, that's not going to happen anyway. Thinly veiled self promotion under the auspices of something that at least resembles an article is totally okay though–just know that it might not get a lot of hits. I only get about 200 views on articles that aren't liked or reshared through some social media. If my readers don't like something, it will NOT do very well. If they do like the article, well they know where the share button is.
Seriously, read the paragraph below.
The very important paragraph: W.A.W. makes no money from ad revenue. All our revenue is from donations and it amounts to a few dollars a day. However, I will not take the hard work of a writer with nothing but the promise of "exposure." It might not be more than a dollar or two for a solid article or a few bucks more if something goes viral, but I will pay all my writers something. Even though thus far, all my guest bloggers have asked that their blogging payment be counted as a donation to W.A.W., if you want or need your couple of dollars, I'll be glad to Paypal you (or work out something else if you don't do Paypal.) Plus of course if someone sends me a donation earmarked for a guest blogger, I will pass the money onto them and even cover the Paypal fee–that's for them, not me. It may not add up to much (unless you get millions of hits or write for me a lot) but if it came from your work, I'll make sure I'm not taking advantage of you.
Image description: Mailbox with a letter coming out of it.
What if I want to write, but I just can't seem to do so?
[Remember, keep sending in your questions to email@example.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer a couple each week. I have a LOT of backlogged questions right now, but I will try to eventually get to all of them. 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 will redo old questions with fresh to death jokes if I think they're common writerly problems.] S asks:
I'm 40, and a late-onset epileptic. Before that, I was a fairly prolific writer of fanfic & working my way into original fic. 8 years ago, I had a seizure driving home from work. I crashed into a guardrail at about 70, totalling my car. This was exactly one week after I found out I was pregnant (baby survived - I'm trying to get her to eat her dinner now, lol) and 4 months after I'd had major surgery. I've been on permanent disability since....and I thought that it was a great opportunity to write full-time, rather than as an amusing distraction between tasks. But in all these years, I've tried to devote to writing, and I find that I just can't. Not original fic, not even fan fiction. I don't think this is normal "writer's block", and I don't know how to shake it. So many of your posts have gotten through that... fugue, I guess... and I was hoping you might know of a way that I can get away from that lassitude.
Some of my most unproductive periods have been times I was blissfully unburdened with daily commitments. It's that idea that there's always more time to get started on something. Of course, some of my other most unproductive times have been when I was too busy to see straight with two year olds and cancer and barely time to squeeze an hour in here or there. That's why discipline is a writer's best friend whether they are squeezing in a session or making themselves sit down to work even though they've got a whole day ahead to get stuff done.
I answer this question or variations of it a lot (and if you want the pre-cancer, pre-toddler, full-throated version of what I'm saying, go there [and follow all THOSE links too] because that's where I've really laid it out.....plus Karate Kid clips!), but it's always good to get a fresh coat of paint on one of writers' most common frustrations and ubiquitous problems.
I do want to mention something before I start. I have zero knowledge of epilepsy beyond "very special episodes" of shitty eighties television, which I have my reasons for being skeptical of. I know it has to do with neural connections in the brain, and that is where even my layman's knowledge meets a wall like Wile E Coyote running into a picture of a tunnel he forgot he painted.
So what I'm wondering is: Is it possible that timing on your difficulties might not be coincidental. Could this be a problem with a physiological cause? Maybe medication with a side effect?
Now able bodied, cishet, white, Christian, males can make an awful lot of money getting on stage and telling people that they can do anything if they just try a little harder (which might make the critical thinker wonder where all the queer women of color motivational speakers are), but that advice is ALSO actually a little ableist. For people with chronic illnesses (be it fibromyalgia, osteoporosis, anxiety, depression, or even cancer), sometimes trying harder or blithely ignoring your limitations can make things a lot worse. Powering through your arthritis flare up because "whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve" is a pretty good fucking way to end up in the hospital on a corticosteroid drip and unable to move without agony for a month. I think epilepsy is considered a disorder, not a disease, but if you don't know for sure that it can't mess with your ability to sit and write (especially on a computer?), you may want to check with your doctor.
If that's out of the way, here is my advice. It's not the only advice. Your affectation, your rituals, your "magic" might work better, but this is something I know works for many (most?) and has ended my writer's block completely for 25 years...
1- Take your work in progress, or your ideas about what you want to write someday or whatever you've got so far that you think you ought to be writing but can't seem to actually WRITE. Hold it in your hands or if it's not even a page yet, just imagine you're holding it in your hands. Give it a big hug and kiss, and tell it you are going to miss it terribly.
Now put it in a drawer.
(Don't worry; it's not forever.)
2- Start writing every morning when you wake up. Wake up early if you need to, but do your writing before you have a chance to interact linguistically with anyone or any book or Facebook or online articles or anything. You may have precious life giving essence of coffee, but don't do anything that would require talking or reading. The voice you write with after you've slept is the rawest, purist, most uninfluenced YOU voice of writing that you have.
Don't worry about what you write. Write anything. Write about cheese. Write about how it's too fucking early. Write about how your story is going to bury you in groupie threesomes. Write about how you can't write. Just get the words flowing onto the page.
You will probably notice that you start to slow down after ten to twenty minutes. Stop writing at this point, no matter how much you feel in the groove. You may get the urge to keep writing or to do another session later on. It's important (right now) not to listen to that part of you.
3- At some point, somewhere between a week and six weeks, you'll probably notice that your ability to write at speed "stretches." You might be able to write for more like thirty minutes to an hour before you are slowing down. Keep writing about anything, and keep ending your sessions as soon as you slow down no matter how much you feel like continuing. This is very important because you are training your muse (or creative lobe, or spark, or whatever the fuck you want to call it) that it answers to you, and not the other way around. This "stretching" is what you want. When you can easily write for about twice as long as you used to be able to, you're ready for the next step.
4- By now, it's probably been a month or more. Take a look at that old W.I.P. (work in progress). Give it a read. Think through your ideas. Let your mind play with it. Don't write anything yet. Just....think about it. Give it another hug, and put it back.
5- Next we're going to move your writing time around. Before you put it where you like it, though, we're going to put it in a bunch of places you really really don't. And yes, we're doing this JUST to fuck with you.
Well actually we're doing it to get you used to the feeling of the words coming as soon as you sit down, but in order for that to happen we have to fuck with you. You need to control your flow, not the other way around. Skip your morning writing, but schedule 30 minutes sometime in the day.
Here's where this gets messy: You're going to try to fuck with this time. ("Oh what's the difference if I start at 3 or 3:30 as long as I do thirty minutes, right?") You WILL find excuses, you will try to change it. You will try to talk yourself out of it.
This is your muse trying to struggle against anything that feels like actual work. Consider this one of the most important exercises in artistic self-discipline: the ability to start working the minute you want to instead of being at your muse's capricious whim.
Do this for a couple of weeks, picking a new half-hour time slot each day all throughout the day, and unless you are fountaining blood or a family member has turned into an actual zombie (not just the coffee-less kind) that is the time you sit down and write whatever pops into your head...for thirty minutes.
This is going to be hard, but it's one of the most important parts.
You might feel like you're not writing enough during this period where you're only doing a half hour a day. This is a good feeling. That means the medicine is working. But resist the urge to do "side sessions" for now. It'll come.
6- By now you're probably noticing that you start to feel creative the minute you sit down to a session. This is what you've been working for these past couple of months. This is the money shot. You are in like Flinn. If you ever fall out of practice with writing, just repeat steps 1-5.
7- Take a break. Three days. Any more and you risk falling back out of your good habits. Any less and you won't be properly primed. Think about your W.I.P. while you take your break but don't read it again. You want to be detached from the words themselves.
This might be the hardest part of this exercise--even harder than the floating half hour. Writers who don't write get a little messed up. But let your creative energies build.
8- Now, schedule a session of writing at any time you want and try to write a completely crap version of your W.I.P. If you haven't written much, start over–especially if what you've got is less than thirty or forty pages. That might seem like a lot to redo, but it's better to get free of your old work's confines. If you've written a LOT on your WIP, restart from the last chapter or last major section that you can go back to.
It's really important to feel like this is a clean slate. If you have a fresh project, you might pick that one instead.
Now write forth, but write crap. Write the most crapfully crap you can crap out. Should you include ACTUAL fecal matter, in your prose, I want the quality to be undiminished.
Don't worry about quality, spelling, punctuation, cohesive plot, believable characters....anything. Just write the worst shit that comes to mind and kick the story off. See how much you can just write before you slow down. You don't need to limit yourself in any way. Remember this isn't for anyone to read. This is just you kind of getting some stuff out on paper. Have fun. Enjoy.
9- The next day do the same thing at as close to the same time as you can. Keep writing from where you left off, and keep writing what you think of no matter how bad you think it might be with absolutely no expectation of publication or audience. Just let it all flow out. Have fun. If you get stuck, just see how bad you can make it. Let yourself be imperfect. In fact, make mistakes with the gleeful anticipation that some of them might lead you to a surprising moment of genius.
Image description: A mouth with fangs and shiny blue lips with a tongue touching one of the fangs.
"I Am The Night" is a series of writing insights that come from my monthly Vampire LARP. I played the game itself on the 27th, and am just now getting to the write up part.
Vampire LARPs would make dreadful vampire stories. And unfortunately most vampire stories also make dreadful vampire stories.
It's not that nothing happens. Far from it. Too far from it, in fact. Shit happens. All kinds of shit happens. So much shit happens that it's a little unrealistic and certainly bad characterization of a creature that by all rights should be able to do the mental equivalent of "thinking about things over spring break" only to find that most of their problems have died of old age.
Between the last game and this most recent one, a bunch of players got together and tried to kill a very powerful character. Most of them involved in the action were killed, including a couple of those played I game with. Everyone I saw about their character's death was very cool (it can be tough and emotional to lose a character you've been playing for months or years), but it still got me to thinking about how human it was to form a strike force and try to go after this big bad.
For humans, finding out the location of some enemy and sending a strike force makes a lot of sense. Probably most humans would send some people (like military forces) who's job it was to do exactly those sorts of things and avoid the risk of death or injury themselves, but they would likely move on it. Human have finite lifespans and will sometimes, if pressed, wager their remaining years against quality of life issues or certain core values.
For players in a game it makes even MORE sense. There's no actual risk (other than a night of whisky sours and listening to country music...the music of pain). Everyone knows that the game will only last four or five years at most, so they have a limited time to do all the neat things they imagine and explore their character's arc. Some people want to get in on anything or anything interesting, elevate their character's station with glory and honor, and many are struggling with some level of character boredom. Human players pretending to be vampires can't really wait twenty years to see if a problem takes care of itself.
Unfortunately, for an actual vampire, this makes almost NO sense. Unless your vampire is a spectacularly burnt out adrenaline junkie, there is almost no conceivable reason that a creature who would live forever (if it didn't die from violence) would willingly put themselves in harm's way. They would find every excuse to avoid violence (beyond predation, of course, but presumably a human they're feeding on wouldn't be able to kill them). They would exhaust every possible solution that didn't involve violence before even considering it. And they would be absolute masters of patiently waiting to see if the problem just sort of went away. A vampire of any age at all probably wouldn't even consider most problems worth dealing with unless they had been going on for years or even decades.
A lot of writers have successfully dealt with this issue. Anne Rice's vampires often DO avoid violence unless it is thrust upon them or they essentially frenzy over some kind of last connection to their humanity being taken from them. Dracula is painstakingly careful to avoid risks and just happens to encounter a human (Dr. Van Helsing) who knows what he is–even then he wisely runs home, but the group follows him to exact revenge for Lucy, and has eliminated his ability to run further by destroying the dirt he sleeps in. (So really it's their human impulsiveness that leads to the final violent encounter.) Some writers give vampires an animal-like instinct that can boil their blood and take over their rational thinking process. Some make the stakes extra high (though the "true love" of a human thing has been way overdone, so be careful of that one). Some make the vampire protagonist very young so that their impulsive humanity hasn't been bled out of them–and sometimes even successfully portray their frustration at the measured patience of older vampires, which they perceive as apathy.
However, a lot of writers don't deal with vampires particularly well. They treat them kind of like superheroes with fangs, gleefully taking risks left and right despite their age because it makes for cool fight scenes or facing down mortal perils simply because a human (probably not even most humans, but maybe a jacked up trained human soldier with a death wish and nothing to lose) might do the same thing with the same risk versus reward. Having a 600 year old vampire who is going to live forever unless it gets ganked go to war with an equally powerful werewolf who is probably going to die in like a "week or two" doesn't make much sense. Why not just report a rash of feral dogs in the sewers to the local authorities and go alternate between the arctic circle with it's six month night and Puerto Williams the other six months for....oh maybe ten or fifteen years? Let the whole thing blow over while your bank account earns compound interest.
These quick-to-violence characters are unbelievable.
No I mean they are literally impossible to believe. They're ridiculous and goofy. And writers writing them this way should try a lot harder to find a reason that they would risk immortality–because a pissing match doesn't make a lot of sense.
If you have a character that sees the world as vastly different than you do (like for example that they are going to live forever if they don't die from violence, or even other things like having no sense of propriety or no concept of property or an overwhelming sense of empathy), you have to work extra hard to motivate them in ways that make sense to their altered perceptions of reality. They can't just be written as humans with a quirk. Not if you want them to be believable.
What is the best single story arc in a multi book series?
We're already almost half way through March already (oh my god!) and it's just about time to start the nomination process for our April poll, but first I want to remind everyone to vote in March's poll.
So for about the fifth or sixth Friday in a row I've reached Friday just a little too exhausted and a little worn out. Thursday (guest post day) is supposed to be where I catch up to write something profound, but it ends up being more like the last gasp where I get behind enough to need the weekend to catch up. And there's always something going on on Friday. It's chemo day every three weeks, and on off weeks, it's often the schedule of other doctor visits, strange tag ins with The Contrarian, and weekend prep.
I'm still trying to get some low key stuff up on weekends and one solid post a week, but maybe it's time to admit that cancer is making a seven day schedule pretty impossible.
So if you see me slacking on Fridays until mid-June(ish), that's probably what's going on.
[Everything in italics will disappear the next time there's a post from Bethany.]
Since Bethany has written a couple of posts for us here at Writing About Writing (and has promised that she's got at least a few more on the way), it's about time we got her her own menu for The Reliquary.
Bethany F. Brengan is a freelance writer and editor. She lives on the Olympic Peninsula and enjoys medium-long walks, tea, and overanalyzing comic books. Before going freelance, Bethany worked for the lovely people at Bluegrass Publishing in Mayfield, Kentucky. Her writing has appeared in The 2015 Poet’s Market, Poetry Quarterly, TheCrucible,The Upper Room, Cicada, Scrapbook Business Magazine, etc. She is a contributing writer to Dick Grayson, Boy Wonder: Scholars and Creators on 75 Years of Robin, Nightwing and Batman (McFarland Books).
Information about her editing business—Bethany Brengan, Editing Services—can be found at www.brenganedits.com.
Today's post is a mostly-rant to the folks over on my Facebook page who decided to participate in an event called "The Triggering" and pretty much dared me to do anything about it.
My banhammer arm is getting quite the workout today over on Writing About Writing's Facebook page. Apparently I'm a target for having the temerity to tell the fine folks who follow me there to let me know if they see anything particularly awful going on. Because today is a day of particularly awful behavior from a certain slimy corner of the troll incubation chambers. (Full grown trolls are much more sophisticated.) These particular troll babies call themselves, apparently with either prescient self awareness or an attempt at irony that they don't realize is a double scoop, the Shitlords.
The Shitlords have, of course, attempted to elevate their churlish campaign of bullying abuse into something noble and cast themselves as the victims of unfair persecution. Because running around spewing hate speech is something that everyone should have to tolerate from them all the time...in every space. Also because that's what bullies have done since time immemorial to avoid facing the fact that they are getting off from hurting those over whom they have power.
"Here are people on a page about writing, trying to tell a writer (among a group of other writers) that words have no real power."
In this case though, they chose a particularly ill conceived rallying cry: that words can't cause any real harm.
Honestly this is the basis of their entire philosophy and their actions are some kind of reactionary swing against the liberal and "SJW" (which they still seem to think is an insult) spaces for violating their free speech and kicking them out. "How fragile you must be that my mere WORDS can cause you harm!" they say.
I mean sure they've got this whole other facet of their rallying cry about doing it for "freeze peach!" and fighting censorship and shit, but honestly it is so facile that it's not even worth mentioning. If you can't tell the difference between being banned from a Facebook page and government agents silencing you, you don't belong in the big kid pool in the first place.
But really is their other argument any less jejune? They seem to have latched on to the idea that if the sound waves themselves aren't ripping flesh from bone like some X-man's mutant power, that a word has absolutely no power to do anything but offend someone and that offense is just an emotion that people need to get over. Here are people on a page about writing, trying to tell a writer (among a group of other writers) that words have no real power.
Because here's the problem: most shitlords have demonstrated pretty spectacularly that they actually don't intellectually grasp the difference between "offense" and "harm." Dead baby jokes are offensive. Telling them at a wake for an infant causes harm. The idea that no "mere" words can cause anyone harm is spectacularly ignorant of how words work.
As I banned one after another for transmisogyny, racism, sexism, and generally mocking people's ability to handle their bullying (in that textbook way that bullies, when called on being bullies claim they were just playing around and the other person is just too sensitive), I noticed something. Of course I was only looking at user icons, so I don't know for sure what these people looked like, but I noticed that they were ALL young, white men. And I'm talking about banning about forty to fifty people at the time of this writing who were ALL young white men. (Well except for the Bill Cosby icon whose user sent me a rape fantasy–but I have my reasons for thinking that one might have been a young white man too.) And given how many seemed to have nothing to say other than the fact that there are only two genders, I suspect that they are all CISHET white men as well.
Of course this doesn't surprise me.
I'm sure the Shitlord movement isn't exclusively white or exclusively male or exclusively any demographic but it trends like that (probably upwards of about 90+%) for the same reason Gamergate did or the wankers who were harassing people about Shirtstorm did. Because those who are marginalized tend to understand how words actually work and how slurs strip them of their humanity and make more egregious life-altering discrimination more socially acceptable. They know that there is a direct Rube Goldberg-like chain between dehumanizing slurs and sentiments and the discrimination or even violence that becomes daily events in the lives of those with less social power. Those who understand how this works often even have the empathy to extend this understanding to those slurs that don't target them directly. Not that there's never been a bigot among the marginalized, but at least they seem to have given up on the idea that a word can never really be harmful.
The reason young white men think that words can't harm people is because there are far fewer words that can harm them. No words we have harken them back to generations of racial violence or erase their identity or question their body autonomy. And in an act of narcissistic indifference to the words of others, they assume that their experience as young white men is universal, and anyone who tells them otherwise must be lying. They can't tell the difference between a word that offends them and a word that contributes to their institutional and systematic harm because they have only ever experienced the former, and the intellectual rigor with which to grasp the latter would take at least a few hours and an open mind. So they go right on demonstrating that they don't even actually comprehend what a trigger is or how a slur harms people and mocking anyone who does. If words had no power, the world would have no emotional abuse.
But they go right on suggesting that words have no power.
Ironically these will be the same young white men who go gooey in their hearts and hope to throw knives and karate chop evil oppressors when they see a comic book hero talk about the power of words to start revolutions and unlock perspectives, but let's not be too hard on them. Those fight scenes were awesome.
Because while the truncheon may be used in lieu of conversation,
words will always retain their power.
Words offer the means to meaning,
and for those who will listen, the enunciation of truth.
Those words have no power, and people are wrong to ever ask you to stop using them.
Fuck it. Imma just throw a knife at your face.
Words shape people's world views. They form the basis of prejudice good and bad. They are so intractably connected to how we think that as humans we literally cannot grasp concepts if we don't first have the vocabulary to do so. They are the building blocks of the stories we use to explain literally everything we see and experience. They let us evolve beyond other primates. They shape our loves and hates and root into reactions so knee-jerk that those reactions occur in our brains before our conscious mind has fully registered what it's even perceiving. They form the internal story we keep to describe who is good and who is bad–who is persecuted, and who is oppressive. Words are so fundamental to human experience and perceptions that those few truly without them are the subjects of study.
If we thought for even a moment that slurs had no ability to do harm, we would look around a world and see no correlation between the number of slurs and the social hierarchy or between the prevalence of particular slurs and the violence enacted upon the targets of those slurs. The opposite is true.
The opposite is ALWAYS true.
There's a goddamn fucking reason that FREE speech was such a revolutionary concept. And those rights are still enshrined even if every damned corner of the internet hasn't provided space and a podium for every last repugnant thought. If speech had no power, people wouldn't be crawling over themselves to defend their rights to use it. But they know it has power and have, with resplendent sophistry conflated their every loss of venue with censorship. But if the words you are saying are so revolting that the best thing that can be said about them is that they are not technically illegal, and they are doing harm to the other guests, don't be surprised if many whose hospitality you are enjoying show you the door.
Every genocide, every war, every apartheid, every codified discrimination, every civil rights movement, every marvel of human engineering, every thing we have done as unified front of people...in all the world....in all of history....began with words.
To say that words, any words, are "just words" is to display only the most breathtaking ignorance about human's relationship to language.
Now if you'll excuse me. I gotta go ban some people.