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

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Misery Podcast (Pop Culture Confessions)

I was in a podcast! Pop Culture Confession's Podcast, to be specific!

We've got something a bit different this week (and out of order because of holiday timing), but I was in a podcast and we talked about Misery. 

It was the movie, not the book, we were chatted about, but I got to be a part of it to bring in some of the writerly perspective (that my impostor syndrome can't believe they think I have).

This week's confession is so big we had to call in an expert! For the final episode of Spookytober, Chris Brecheen of Writing About Writing joins your three hosts to talk about Misery, which (yet again) Amanda and Hannah have never seen. Thankfully, we've got a Certified Writing Expert on hand to answer questions like: Is losing your life's work worse than having your ankles sledgehammered? How realistic are Paul's writing rituals? What does a greasy protein bar have to do with good writing? And more!

Here's the episode I did on Misery.

All 19 episodes (and counting) of Pop Culture Confessions are available on iTunes

You can also follow them on Twitter: https://twitter.com/pcccast Or on Facebook.

Will I be in YOUR podcast?  Sure. Just drop me a line and if it's about writing in some way (or maybe social media outreach), I'll be happy to schedule something.

I put this up today because it's Halloween and the last chance to be spoooooooopy, but tomorrow expect the results of our poll to go up (and Friday we'll start gathering nominations for the next one). Which means IT IS ABSOLUTELY YOUR LAST CHANCE TO VOTE!!!!

Monday, October 29, 2018

Moving Day

*two buff guys carrying a box that says "VLOGS" past much of the Writing About Writing staff*

Chris: That definitely goes in the pile.

Cedrick: You sure?

Chris: Three posts a week? We're not going to have time to get back to VLOGS. Some things have got to go, my eight-armed friend. It's time to clean house, and some things have to go.

Cedrick: Do you have to get rid of it though?

Chris: A lot of this stuff will still exist. And we might even make more. We'll just fold it into other posts. I mean, do we really need a whole category and menu and stress over something we've written three articles about in the last seven years?

Cedrick: Some of the guest bloggers are a little nervous.

Chris: Well, some of them should be. I need you to fire Twizlefizzlepop and The Pointer Sisters.

Cedrick: WHAT??

Chris: Come on. They were totally our most problematic segments.

Cedrick: Yeah, but....

Chris: Look, both of them had great input. I liked them. But if we're cutting our posts down by about half, we have to be honest about the fact that we weren't really doing them anyway. And a bit with a book recommender who used to be a pimp before becoming a feminist was ALWAYS going to be a tough sell. We have to get rid of some of this stuff. It was just....raw ambition.

Leela Bruce: You know what getting rid of The Pointer Sisters means?

Chris: I believe it means....you're back on protest hiatus because of the "sausage fest" that is the guest bloggers around here.

Leela Bruce: The ones that exist outside of the compound are great, but the ones that live here....

Chris: I got it. Too many dudes dudily duding up the place.

Leela Bruce: As long as we're on the same page. And I don't have to kick open your door.

Cedrick: Please call it a dor. We honor the great Dor around here.

Leela: How can you HEAR what I call it?

Cedrick: I just can. Now....Chris...are you sure about firing those guest bloggers?

Chris: Let's be real. Three posts a week. We weren't getting to them anyway. And we can fold the links into a Potpourri if we really want links. It's time to make tough choices. At six posts a week, we could pretend we were getting around to all that stuff any minute. At three....we gotta be more––oh hey (*shouting at the movers*) no...NO! Leave The Mailboxes where they are, those aren't going anywhere.

Mover: You have stars all over the Social Justice Bard stuff? What's that about?

Chris: Okay, I need two of those boxes put into my car. I'm going to pretty much move them over to Facebook and Tumblr; keep them there, but one box stays here. We're not getting rid of it completely.

Mover: Chicken soup?

Chris: Pile.

Mover: Grounded Parents?

Chris: Pile.

Mover: Ace of Geeks

Chris: *deep sigh* Pile.

Mover: Ivory Tower?

Chris: Defending or attacking? Actually it doesn't matter: pile.

Mover: Fortune cookies?

Chris: Keep. Those shouldn't even be in boxes. What the hell?

Mover: Glossary?

Chris:  Unnnnnngh.....let's pretend I'm going to finish it––keep.

Mover: And you want everything else? Prompts? Product reviews? Polls? Patreon appeals posts where you beg for money each month because otherwise you'll have to keep going on a zillion side gigs and have less time to write? [By the way, this is it for this month, so please sign up to throw us a dollar or five a month if you like what we do here so we don't have to keep doing a zillion side gigs to keep the bills paid and can do more writing...for YOU!]

Chris: Keep it all. Unless you can get rid of the Jurassic-Park-Style velociraptor on the third floor with the eye laser.

Mover: *blinks in anime*

Chris: Yeah, okay. I should probably not press my luck since you're willing to be paid for this job with only cheese.

Mover: And Pizza Hut coupons. Very important! I'm a big fan of cheese, but if me and my whole crew can't upgrade our medium pizzas to larges for only a dollar, we're out like trout.

Chris: Wouldn't want that.

Mover: No.

Chris: Okay then.....AND Pizza Hut coupons.

Mover: That's it, then. We're all done.

Chris: Okay, well, if that's it, let's get this show on the road.

*the boxes have all been loaded up on a boat which Chris pushes out to sea
Leela Bruce produces a bow and quarrel arrow, lights it, and fires a burning arrow into the boat, flames ravenously consume the boxes and boat as it floats further out to sea*

Chris: From the imagination we came. From hopes and dreams...and ambitions. From stories we were given life. And to the imagination we will return. From now, till the end of time. We therefore commit these stories to the deep.

[Thank you all so much for your support through this transition. Please consider Patreon if you like what I do and want to be a part of the NEXT conversation about future projects.]

Twizzlefizzlepop's voice from burning boat: This is deeply uncool!

Friday, October 26, 2018

Faith and Priorities by Claire Youmans

I now live in Japan, and my books — The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy series, with five published and one in the works — are set in Meiji-era Japan. How good is that? 

It’s darned hard to get a visa to live in Japan, nearly impossible if you don't have a job or attend school full time. I found a new bit of law and slipped in for a couple of years.

Permanent residency is extra-hard. It takes ten years of non-student residency to get PR unless you can somehow meet a “points” requirement to fast-track yourself.

I took a very high level part-time job with a school hoping to get myself fast-tracked for PR using a new program I am developing. I have lots of “points," but I cannot work enough to create the “points" I still need through Japan-based income.

Today, I started crying because I was in so much pain from getting across town on a commuter-time train for my single half-day of hands-on teaching. Last week was so bad that my single half-day kept me writhing for two more. I enjoy the work. The program is interesting and important, something Japan needs. I get out, I meet people, I learn things, it’s fun. But I am old and handicapped. I try to ignore those factors, but they are true, and that’s been brought home to me recently. I can’t do this. I certainly can’t do this and be a productive full-time writer.

I used to travel to Japan a couple of times a year for research, but that’s not something that’s viable for me anymore, if I can’t even manage being shoved into a sardine can commuter train for half an hour. It’s time I acknowledge that and make sure my priorities are in order and my life reflects that as best it can.

My top priority is my writing. That’s obvious to me. Further, I need to have faith in it, and that’s now obvious to me, too. I need to have faith that I can renew my visa when the time comes, four more times if necessary. I need to have faith that my books will sell generally, will actually be translated, will sell well here, and that my semi-fictional universe will expand and grow, maybe in the direction of anime and film — to some extent, its natural home. I need to believe in my work, my talent and myself. I need to always remember my writing is my top priority, and make these things so.

All too often we as writers get caught up in the day to day. We get caught up in other work, family, kids, school. Our priorities can’t be like those of other people. We are writers, and writing must come first on our priority lists.  We must arrange our lives around it, so we can do it and keep on doing it, because it’s important. If we don’t believe in ourselves and our work, we might as well stop now. This isn’t an easy life. I can’t say if it’s one we chose or if it chose us, but we must have faith in ourselves and our work, and make sure it’s our top priority. 

Also check out Claire's blog and FB page and available books here (book one in the series is always free!!!):



Facebook:  The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy

Amazon:  http://www.amazon.com/The-Toki-Girl-Sparrow-Boy-Claire-Youmans/dp/0990323404/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top?ie=UTF8

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

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Last Call to Vote (Best YA book or series not by a cishet white man pre 2000)

What is the BEST young adult book (or series) written by a woman or POC or member of the LGBTQIA+ community before 2000?  

Please follow this link if you're wondering why this poll has some particular limitations.

With everything going on with major restructures, maybe you forgot we were running a poll, but we didn't forget and the results will be up probably next Wednesday.

Everyone gets three [3] votes, but as there is no way to "rank" votes, you should use as few as you can stand.

The poll itself is in the lower left at the bottom of the side menus.

If you're on mobile you can scroll ALLLLLL the way to the bottom and click on"webpage view" to see the side menus and get to the polls.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

2020 Update Schedule

While most of you just click the link I put on social media when you see that something I have written interests you, there actually IS an update schedule here, and in The Age of Covid it's going to have some pretty significant changes.

Writing About Writing consists chiefly of one guy who takes care of a 5-year-old and a toddler, is writing a novel, posts on another blog (and only then when his thoughts are a bit too prolific for his Facebook wall), and sometimes even does really wacky shit like play D&D or even try to get laid.

Outrageous, right?

He is also a working writer though, so he better stop making a bunch of excuses and make with the clackity clack.  This is the schedule we will generally make an effort to keep. I say "make an effort" but I have to be honest about two things. #1- I have written posts from my bed with 102° fever and from coffee shops out of state and while on vacation, so it is very likely that no matter what happens, you will still get something.  #2 I am absolutely balls at keeping on top of WHAT gets updated on WHICH days, and I am likely to mix things up if I SNEEZE too hard. #3 Global Pandemics Suck Amirite? I'm working too damn much at my other job, it's a good day when I am aware of the passage of time, and the chances that I stare at the wall wrapped in a towel after any given shower have jumped up by 67%. Which is all to say that I'm doing my best and it's going to be less.

Thanks to my patrons, I have been able to quit part time teaching, pet sitting*, and cut back on the amount of nannying I do as a side gig to focus more and more on writing. If you would like to help us write more and better updates, even a dollar a month helps me budget.

*I still have a couple of close, super-easy clients, so you might see me post about this stuff, but I don't run all over the Bay Area anymore.


Fridays, for the most part, will be The Big Post™ of the week. If you're here for the hard-hitting writing advice (with the occasional examination of how language and narrative play into broader social issues), Friday is the day to tune in.


Mailbox! Now that the chaos of the last few months is settling into the new normal, I'm going to give our most popular type of article the weekly post it deserves. Usually it's only one question, but sometimes I can tie a few shorter ones together with a theme. If you'd like a question answered, write us at chris.brecheen@gmail.com


We need (at least) one dedicated day a week to kind of take care of what I call "jazz hands," although it might be better described as "admin-ish stuff that HAS to get done at some point." It's not necessarily Total Fluff, but it usually isn't a new article either. We are constantly running some kind of "Best Book" poll and the calls to nominate or vote go here. The review of the best posts we did in the month prior. Often we have some kind of announcement or meta news. You might also see a single entry for the long-forgotten character lists or an update to one of the menus (along the top of the page).


Monday is going to be Schrodinger's Post for now.

I'm not saying yes. But I'm not saying no either.

I have a new schedule, and I probably could do four posts a week. But here's the thing....it's probably better if I leave it alone and see what shakes out.
  • Once a month I cannibalize a day of blogging to write my Patrons a newsletter. 
  • I am OFTEN in need of a second "jazz hands" day in a given week. 
  • I absolutely need to spend a day or two every month just doing admin stuff for Writing About Writing (like catching up on emails, cleaning up menus, and the like) or it gets SO far behind, SO quickly. 
  • Also, I have a couple of other projects that require my time and attention including this little novel I'm only three years late in writing.
So before I dive into a blog posting schedule that has me singing "Livin' on the EDGE*!" I'm going to just say that Mondays exist in an ambiguous quantum state.

(*And honestly, I'll tell you, I'm just going to end up singing "Livin' in the Fridge" by Weird Al and no one wants that.)

The Four-Post Committment

Some weeks aren't going to go down like clockwork and they might be front or back loaded with side gigs or other commitments. My writing career is also starting to open up occasional opportunities of interest like conventions, speaking engagements, interviews, or podcasts. I'm trying to be better about the (literally) health-shattering 80+ hour weeks I was working. That's a needle to thread when you are your own boss and you know that people will lower your income if they aren't getting enough of the content they want. So in the cases of major schedule upheaval, I will try really hard to get four posts up. They might just be posted off schedule––landing on a Saturday or Sunday, for example, but barring illness, injury, or fabulously unforeseen circumstances (usually involving toddlers and five-year olds working their chaos engines in tandem) I will try hard to at least hit four.

Priority to Fiction (The Monthly Increase)--NOTE: ON PAUSE DURING PANDEMIC

The hardest thing I've tried doing as a blogger is keeping my fiction at a high level of priority. It's SO easy to just write a blog and call it a day. And that's what I'm getting paid for, so it's even easier.

But...as much as I've surprised even myself by discovering how much I fucking love blogging, I do want to write fiction too. And that needle is going to be one I work hard to thread. While I am getting traction out of writing an hour or so of fiction first (so that then I still have to do the blogging in order to do "a day's work"), there may still be times where the needs of fiction completely take priority over blogging.

I'm firmly in the "Write Every Day" camp. But how much I write, what I write, and what I'm impassioned to write, sometimes can still be a creative ebb and flow of being at my Muse's whim.

I'm also going to try something new and interesting. Each month I'm going to take an ADDITIONAL day off to sequester myself and work on my book (as well as possibly other fiction). I'm calling the time on the train January. In February, I will take two days off completely from blogging. In March it will be three. Etc....

(Hopefully I'll have something to show for it by the time Patrons might be complaining that I'm not updating enough, but I hope that the transparency and gradualness help in that regard.)

Election Week

I'm adding something that I basically realized today (3/5/2020). I'm going to take a break in our "regularly scheduled program" during election weeks. Midterms, primaries, obviously the presidential ones. I just need to acknowledge that the writing that happens will be on other blogs (like NWAW) and in other places (like my Facebook page) and that unless I am backing someone polling at 90 points, it's very, very, VERY likely I'm going to have at LEAST one day where I need to go back to bed into a pillow fort with ice cream.

Facebook Writing and Social Justice Bard

Most of my major writing ends up on this blog, but some of my more throw away thoughts don't. If you particularly enjoyed our Social Justice Bard posts, don't worry. I do as much yelling at clouds as I ever have.

I invite you to follow my Public Facebook Page (you can friend it if you send me a message, but it might be better if you follow it for a while first––unfiltered me is not everyone's cup of tea).  I post somewhat more "political and partisan thoughts" there (rather than just social ISSUES) and also often post "proto-versions" of what later become full blog posts (if you're interested in seeing how those things develop). [There's also personal updates and nerdery there.]

I also have another blog called NOT Writing About Writing that I update usually once a week or more where I put shorter media reviews, personal updates, and political thoughts that don't really tie into writing but that also aren't really short enough for Facebook.

Everything I ever write for any medium (and reruns of my best stuff) gets cross posted to that Public Facebook Page, so join me there if you want to see everything I write.

More posts?

There MIGHT occasionally be a fifth or even sixth post in a week. Usually this will happen when I need to cover some ground on "blog business." (Like when I revise an old article so much that it deserves a fresh post, update a menu, write a new answer for our F.A.Q. or otherwise do something that needs to get done, but doesn't fit into our usual posting schedule. In this case, you might see an extra post pop up from time to time on the weekend or two in one day. Fiction will also usually go up independent of our regular schedule.

  • I still nanny for a six-year-old and a toddler––usually at the same time. And I do so for more hours than I want or really can handle because I'm the only Nanny in the tri state area that lives alone and can be in a super safe Shelter in Place Pod.  Plus my host body occasionally succumbs to your Earth illnesses, so those four posts might not always happen like clockwork or may involve going off the rails of my usual updates. Until my Patreon pays all the bills, my reality is that I sometimes have to prioritize paid gigs.
  • This flexible update schedule should also cut down on the thing where I'm apologizing to absolutely fucking nobody that it's Thursday and I've yet to put so much as a taco video up. I know that some people are annoyed by how often I apologize, and the rest don't really care. But this also settles my own inner overachiever. As long as I get in all the entries that week, my readers (who have literally never said anything in six years about my update schedule) and myself can give me a break.
  • I invoke the Anything Can Happen™ real world excuse. I usually have a couple of "emergency blogs" tucked away, but I chew through them pretty quickly when the fit hits the shan. Health complications might crop up suddenly and have me needing to do a sudden unexpected several-hour shift or even an overnight...or maybe even more. Trust me, I'm going to feel ten times worse about missing a post than all of my readers combined. 
  • Admin Long-weekends at least once a month will still be a thing. Usually just the Monday (but occasionally the Friday if I'm really behind) will be cannibalized. I need the extra time to answer emails, clean up menus, catch up on editing and such.

Also......folks, if you like what I do, support your "local" artist. (In this case "local" means more independent, amateur, and two bit than literally down the street.) Stuff a few dollars into that "tip jar" at the top left, or even better yet sign up to be a monthly patron through Patreon and get in on the back channel discussions about posting schedules, big changes, and upcoming projects. I have bills to pay like any other starving artist, and though my schedule is a lot better than three years ago, I'm still working two side gigs to make ends meet. Even a dollar a month (just $12 a year) will go a long way.

Note: Hi there Mr. Elephant. I guess we should address you.

So....yeah. I ABSOLUTELY KNOW that there are a pretty loud contingent of "Who Cares!" from the other side of the internet, and I'll give you all nod if this isn't your cup of tea. It's cool. You do you. Posts such as this one are my least popular kinds of posts. I'm pretty sure I could film me trying to use toenail clippers to deal with an ingrown toenail and get more hits. 

However, I'm not going to stop posting them. One of our mission statements is to keep "The Process" transparent and give you updates in real time as WE learn them, so there will always be an occasional post about the meta. I want people to understand that writers struggle with their own productivity, schedules, and discipline. I want them to see that someone who is making a paycheck doesn't have all the answers. I want them to see how their work life balance matters and how easy it is to fall into working TOO much or not enough and either one causes problems. I want them to see that a successful blog doesn't require nine updates a week (and, in fact, that's too much). And I want them to see how artists are constantly struggling to fiddle with the knobs and get it just right because they are at once human and also never satisfied but also so dang human with their need to eat and have shelter. They don't just eat rainbows and shit brilliant prose. Even if a follower or fan never uses this as a formula for their own success, let it be a comfort realizing how flawed and human working writers can be.

I want you to see how messy and non-magical it all is.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Atop Death Hill (Personal/Meta Update–MAJOR CHANGES)

Pictured: Death Hill probably.
Actually pictured: half dome.
Probably every kid has a Death Hill.

I don't mean that probably every kid has some metaphorical analog to Death Hill. I mean literally 90% of kids probably had at least one hill somewhere in their childhood called Death Hill That's how kids name things. Ridge of Doom. Slaughter Creek. Massacre way.

When you're thirteen, the world is in danger of becoming a lot more pedestrian than you hoped it would be, and that sense of adventure is hard to come by.

My Death Hill was a bike path on a half developed (and then abandoned for some reason) housing tract. The ground was level at the top and level at the bottom and on the hill between them a flattened section of the dirt hill made a passable bike path. We all knew a friend of a friend from the town over whose cousin had totally died on Death Hill. And each of us was sure we were the only one lying about personally knowing that kid.

Let me drop some truth though: even though my personal Death Hill was conquered back in the eighties before kids would be caught dead wearing helmets, I'm pretty sure you would have to strap some sort of explosive device to your bike to do anything more than skin your knees and forearms but good. Perhaps....perhaps there was some grain of truth to the legends, but Broken Arm Hill didn't have quite the same gravitas.

I would be the first of us over Death Hill that day. I was always racing where angels feared to tread––more a testament to my foolishness than bravery as private property, high security government contract campuses, and the occasional not-abandoned building were on that list. That day would be no different. And halfway down Death Hill, when I realized for the first time, it was possible I wasn't actually going to crash (unconsciously reinforcing some formative lesson about risk versus reward) I felt like I had smiled at the face of mortality.

What I remember most was looking over the edge. It was probably a 45 degree angle at the outside, had been pressed pretty flat, and might have been an elevation change of 20 feet at most, but when you were looking down it for the first time it felt like half a mile straight down....with jagged outcroppings ripe for the impaling. We all looked over the edge for a long time until, one by one, we found our courage.

Today I'm looking over a new edge.

Writing About Writing (and my writing career) is about to undertake the most major change it's ever had since this blog's inception. We're not just fiddling with the knobs this time. We're going back in to rebuild some of the core assumptions about content.

This last week I didn't get much posted, but over at Patreon, the back channels were alive with chatter. ("And tier rewards too if you want to get in on that!" he said with his best salesman pitch.) This is part of a longer conversation I've been having with those who help keep the lights on around here (and me fed) about what they'd like to see from me and how often. A few months back, I posted a question about quality vs. quantity. As always, I was harder on myself than my patrons would even dream of being.

The short version is I've been working too hard. I've had no appreciable work/life balance as I slam out 50,60, and sometimes 70+ hour weeks. I was perpetually reminding myself to take it easier (and finding I actually had difficulty doing so). Probably chasing blog analytics helped me not feel like such a fuck up after what pragmatically amounted to a divorce, but it also affected my mental and sometimes physical health. It was just so easy to keep going...to always be behind and overwhelmed. Then you don't have to slow down and listen to the voices.

This is as much a process happening between me and my therapist as it is a blog reorg.

Also, and perhaps most frustratingly, I ran out of time to cannibalize for ever more writing, and still wasn't getting to the writing I wanted to be doing. I've been so busy writing blog posts (and doing all the various behind-the-scenes maintenance) that I wasn't getting time for the fiction projects I want to be doing including a VERY overdue book a lot of people were very generous about Kickstarting.

There was no "Coming to Jesus Moment" but over the last two months, I have realized the center wasn't going to hold. To criminally mix metaphors, I'm pedaling a flying machine that is overloaded and I'm pedalling faster and faster and faster but still losing altitude. The problem isn't how fast I'm pedaling. The problem is I need to jettison some baggage. So I checked in with my 200+ bosses, and now I'm going to be majorly altering the structure of this blog.

You can see the latest poll results in that screen cap above, of course, but this wasn't my first poll on the topic (I've sort of been asking the same question in different ways for several months) and I've gotten a lot of good feedback from Patrons and friends over the last few months.

  • I'm too hard on myself.
  • No...way way WAY too hard on myself.
  • Seriously, fucking stop being so hard on yourself, Chris.
  • If I want to keep internal deadlines, fine, but no one else––even the people paying me to write––really gives a shit, so I really don't need these "Mea Culpa!" posts describing how behind I am.
  • Writing six posts a week and shooting for seven is overwhelming to followers. It's TOO much and is actually STRESSFUL to try to keep track of a blog that is so prolific. 
  • Quality over quantity will merit out.
  • People give me money because they support me as an artist and a writer, not because they expect to see "output" from me like I'm a factory worker.
  • Pretty much unless I disappear for weeks, that support will remain.
  • People know fiction isn't going to go up at the same speed and they're okay waiting.
  • I need to consider my political ramblings on my personal Facebook page to be writing. I put in hours on some of those posts. They count.
  • Folding in downtime should be considered an essential part of my process. I write better and write more interesting things when I'm refreshed.
  • Many of you have mentioned that the QUALITY of my writing is noticeably better when I am taking regular breaks.
  • Really dude, way too hard on yourself.
I'm going to modify the Patreon goal tiers and change the update schedule officially for Wednesday's post, but we're going to go to a M-W-F update schedule with only occasional T-Th-Sat light and fluffy, jazz hand shenanigans. You can expect our hard hitting post to land FRIDAYS. I'll still be writing, but I'm absolutely going to be clearing out more time for me, and I'm going to be prioritizing other writing projects.

*stares over the edge a little longer*
*deep breath*
*hits publish/pushes off*

Here we go...

Friday, October 19, 2018

9 Writerly Things No One is Going to Give You (But We All Need) [Part 1]

In the world of writers, we ask for a lot of things from other people––book deals, money, a few more minutes of WiFi and power outlet riding before the barista demands we buy another cup of coffee....  But there are are things no one can ever give us, things no one ever WILL give us, and things the world will do its very best to take away from us if we let it. We writers always and forever have to find these things, make these things, create these things from sheer force of will, forage for these things from the blistering fires of our own determination, and hunt down these things, wound them, track them until they collapse from exhaustion, pounce on them, and bury our teeth in their jugular, worrying them until they....uh.....

Um....proverbially of course.

So here are a few things that no one is ever going to give you.


No one is going to give you permission to be a writer, to write, to declare yourself a writer, to give up your day job and go for it even if you need fifty-three side gigs to keep the electricity on. No one is ever going to say "Lo [insert your name here], thou art now a writer." There is no cabal that you will stand in the middle of and they will use force lightning to sear your flesh with The Mark of the Writer™.

No teacher. No mentor. No parent. No other writer. No Facebook page. A million people could give you encouragement, but no one will ever give you permission. You have to take it for yourself.

Yeah, you might have to check in on yourself with some brutal honesty and make sure you're not trying to fake it until you make it in a self-deceptive way if you're trying to BE a writer more than you actually write, but even that is between you and you. You are never going to find anyone else who will decide that you have done enough and usher you into the VIP lounge.


You can get validation, but let me let you in on a little secret: it'll never be enough.


Unless you forge that shit One-Ring-to-Rule-Them-All-Style and just decide for yourself that you are valid enough to rock rock on like the magnificent Cheat Commando you really are.

 Most writers deal with impostor syndrome at some point and many deal with it a lot. It doesn’t matter if they scribble furiously in journals that they systematically burn when full, if they just tossed off their first anonymous fanfic, or if they are New York Times best sellers.

Even at the other end of the scale where you have those arrogant snots who strut around and say “genius can’t be taught” are really just insecure and expressing it in a different way. The truly self-confident have (perhaps temporarily) found the way to validate themselves. 

No one can do it for them.


JK Rowling macro replaced with extreme prejudice.
People will only do one thing when it comes to your time.

Take it.

No matter how much they love you. No matter how supportive they are. No matter how much they relate to your artistic eccentricities. 

Don’t worry. It’s not their fault. That’s the way the universe unfolds according to physics. You will never walk away from an encounter with another human having GAINED time. Unless they flit through your life like a shade, they can only ever take your time. Though the rare benevolent angel might find ways to free up some time commitment on a writer’s plate, all will take somehow from somewhere.

The real shit sundae of it is that most are not so kind. They take without consideration. The blunt and odious may say shitty things like “But you don’t have a real job,” as they demand your help with airport rides or call in the middle of your writing time, but even the best intentioned will likely wonder if writing can’t be moved around. They will act as if because your schedule is flexible, your time isn't important. 

It gets even shitacularer-er! The true demon here is not another person. It lives in the beating hearts writers themselves and fills their days with activities that push their writing to inconvenient or implausible times, assuring folks that it’s no big deal and they can take a few minutes (or a few hours) to do something “just this once.” Surely I can do five hours of writing from 8p.m. until 1a.m. (even though I go to bed at 11 and my brain checks out for any task more involved than watching The Walking Dead after 9p.m.).

No one will give a writer time. Writers have to take it. They have to hoard it. And they have to guard it with ferocity oft reserved for Black Friday sales.

Which is why you have to go out and look for that shit in the backwoods like the world's most motivated truffle pig, gather it into tight bundles, put on woad paint, and bare your teeth and set up Aliens-style motion sensor auto-firing machine gun turrets at anyone who comes close. Time may very well be a writer’s single most precious resource and the one most people feel most entitled to take in bits they think are no big deal. No one can give you time. It marches on no matter what you do. So fight for it.

The Advice That Will MAKE You Write-

No one can give you this because it doesn’t exist.

It. Does. Not. Exist.

Writers quest for this advice like it is The Holy Grail. Some go on great expeditions, seeking the knowledge of the writers who have come before. That somewhere, some writer, some motivational speaker, some creative will have that one gem of insight that will blow away all the excuses, all the rationales, all the distractions and the angels will sing out in an immaculate chorus, and sitting down to write will never be hard again.

They nod sagely when every single one of them says some variant of "Put your ass in a chair, and write daily." And then they go to find the next writer and ask them the secret.

There IS no advice that will make you write. You have to treat it like a job (and you may have to do this for years before it actually is a job). You get up. You write. You get better at it. You keep going.

On to Part 2

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Best Classic YA not by a Cis Het White Man (Reminder to Vote)

What is the best young adult book (or series) written by a woman or POC or member of the LGBTQIA+ community from before 2000?  

Please follow this link if you're wondering why this poll has some particular limitations.

I'm doing a shit ton of work this week behind the scenes with Patrons (and their various reward tiers) as well as trying to work out the logistics of some big changes on the horizon with them. (They're basically my 200 "bosses" so I want to run things past them.) I know that means there's a little less going on "On Stage" but it'll cost you at least a dollar a month, if you want in on the backchannel stuff. Plus, I have a weird week of several [though short] Sidegig #3 shifts, so today I'd just like to remind people to vote if they haven't yet, AND (as if that weren't enough) I am recording a podcast this week––the deets of which I will get you as soon as I know. So....today I'm just going to remind you all to vote in this poll (and if you wanted to ensure that Rowling doesn't spank Cisneros, I'd really be okay with that), and get right back to it.

Everyone gets three [3] votes, but as there is no way to "rank" votes, you should use as few as you can stand.

The poll itself is in the lower left at the bottom of the side menus.

If you're on mobile you can scroll ALLLLLL the way to the bottom and click on"webpage view" to see the side menus and get to the polls.

Monday, October 15, 2018

The Vagaries of Experience (The Renown Margin)

Reminder: I'm not famous. But because of having such a big Facebook page, and several viral articles, my life is starting to bend towards some level of kinda, sorta Internet fame, and (as this blog exists in part to share in real time my experiences of writing with the very deliberate attempt to find an audience and make a living) one of the experiences I will share with you is my foray into the liminal space between complete unknown and some Q-list celebrity status. 

One of the most interesting experiences, as I push against this membrane of quasi-fame, is having a dawning realization of why actually famous people do (or don't do) certain things. ("OH. THAT'S WHY!") I realize why they don't open themselves up to random criticism from strangers (there's way too much of it), why they accept a revolving door of their fans (too many to try to please), and why they compartmentalize their private lives (some people's obsession can be harmful).

I've stumbled on another one: the reason people in a spotlight so rarely mention products by name unless they are getting paid endorsement. They often speak in vague terms of A store or A restaurant or AN online company run by the richest human on Earth, even when they're being quite specific about some level of criticism or some level of enjoyment. It's not that they never name names, but it's much more calculated. Usually they describe their experiences with carefully curated vagaries.

I started noticing it innocuously enough, but even at my not-quite-Q-list status, it's gotten to the point where I want to back off on the casual. If I'm going to drop a name, it needs to be worth it. I'm ticking off too many people just by telling them how my day was at that level of specificity.

See, the good words are basically low-key commercials. Point at something and gush, it's basically unpaid advertising, and folks who have begun to understand what their social capital can command may not wish to do this over something trivial or to essentially use that social capital to lift up capitalism and be a commercial.

But where it really gets hairy is the less than stellar thoughts. That's where the shit really goes down. I have enough friends, followers, fans, and people generally watching "The Show™" that if I talk even casually about my experience with some company or product that has let me down, I'm going to make SOMEONE's head itch. Maybe they work for that company, have a lot of brand loyalty, or just generally have some vested interest in not letting it stand, and suddenly you feel like you're arguing over whether how and why you're not really having a good customer experiences with someone.

And I get it. I do. Personally I find memes about how teachers never teach anything important annoying because I'm a teacher. And it's just not that simple. We are teaching you that the blue curtains represent sadness for a reason (often several reasons). So if I've eaten my Wheaties and I see someone post about how teachers never teach anything useful, I try to add some informative nuance about being pinioned between district curriculum and rising class sizes and so sorry that you were personally reading two years beyond the rest of the class and this wasn't a useful lesson.....blah blah blah (you get the idea). So when you realize that someone in your audience probably works for or loves to bits the company or thing you are about to share a not-so-hot story of (and may have had THEIR Wheaties), you begin to question whether you need to actually include the product name. Is it really that important that it be Cold Stone™ and not just "we went out for ice cream...." Is it vital in the story you want to share, that you name the phone you are frustrated with (and thereby invoking the Apple vs. Android battle royale in the comments of your post.

I've even had people who MADE something grief me before. I was MORTIFIED.

I have this friend. This friend works for and owns a significant chunk of stock in a company. Let's call this company Quince. If I complain about something that Quince has done (no matter how many I statements I use or how personal my experience was), my friend is always right there complaining that I don't know the whole story––that I'm attacking poor, innocent Quince (who has ne'er done anything untoward) and that I simply have completely unrealistic expectations and an illogical grasp of what any company can provide. And while, as a general rule, I'm pretty much here to bathe in nuance, I could not help but notice that many of the points my friend makes––sometimes including STRINGS OF IDENTICAL WORDS––came right off of Quince's public relations page––the end result of millions of dollars Quince pays to control the narrative that anything unethical that ever happened with regard to Quince was always everyone else's fault but theirs. My friend is offended when I suggest that they might not be, in a manner of speaking, the most unbiased person ever to speak on the subject of Quince, and so they end up in this cloud of fuming anger. This is the same friend who will ALWAYS jump in if I say "companies should treat their customers better" and has even AGREED WITH ME when I shared stories about Quince, but left out Quince's name. So every time I have a problem with Quince, I sort of spend at least a little time considering if it's worth it to name names.

You can kind of see how this would telescope out as fame levels rise. Chances go way up something's going to get back to someone who cares about what you've said. Add in the perception of an attack to a peripheral issue--say if you didn't enjoy your day at Disneyland, a bunch of Disneyfans quickly start telling you that you clearly should have gone on Tuesday and used a counterclockwise motion to get the important fast pases first as you used the line tracker app to maximize.....and it wasn't DISNEY'S fault they regularly let more people into the park than can conceivably enjoy it simultaneously! Quickly you wonder if naming names is even worth it. Particularly the more specificity the story has. Even speaking out against something like Amazon not paying taxes can result in an Amazon employee making sure I know how happy they are at their job, and will I please leave Jeff Bezos alone? LEAVE HIM ALONE!

It's not that I won't still say these things or call out some shitty company for a bad decision, but I've come to understand that it is a trade off. This is directly launching a bee into SOME bonnet and the more bonnets are out there, the bigger the chances that a bee grenade will have some unintended side effects. You have to weigh your interest in having that caliber of encounter, and if you just weren't that happy but "whatever" it's not worth it to bring up that level of specificity.

I'm just a little guy with a little following, but suddenly I understand why so many celebrities speak in such vague terms and often project a bit of this "above it all" vibe. It's because of what happens if they're not.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Broken Mirror (by Shadow)

shadow2 copy
Every public conversation I've ever seen or engaged in around representation of minority populations in literature and other media has drawn at least one (if not many) dissenters with arguments that range from, "It doesn't matter. It's not that big of a deal," to rabid defense of the status quo.

Well, it does matter.  It is a big deal.  And new voices and perspectives aren't erasing the ones that already exist.  Diversity doesn't devalue the majority, it adds to the richness of our collective fabric.

I have been writing stories since I was five years old. I grew up reading "classic" science fiction. My imaginary friends were Asimov's robots. My dream was to become an astronaut and discover Rama. I wrote stories about Star Wars characters and Heinlein's Puppet Masters and undiscovered aspects of the Ringworld.

But I also wrote other stories. Stories I understood from a very young age that I had to keep secret. I wrote about power and punishment. I wrote about spanking and obedience. I wrote about love and surrender.

I didn't understand at the time exactly why these things had to stay hidden, but I knew that they did. Those kinds of stories weren't on TV or in movies. There weren't characters like me in the books I read... not any of them. Not even in the most distant speculative worlds did I see characters who had the feelings I had, had relationships like I had dreamed about and written about since childhood. So, I kept my stories secret. I burned each piece of my writing as soon as I finished it. I lived constantly under a shadow of fear of being discovered. But still I was compelled to write.

As I got older, I began to understand that there was an "underworld" of people who were, ostensibly, similar to me. I saw it in police procedurals, in medical dramas, in horror stories - sadism, torture, perversion. I saw myself but as if in a broken mirror, distorted and grimy. I saw myself through a haze of shame and perversion. I saw myself in characters written as outcasts, as criminals, as psychopaths without empathy or morality. I saw myself in characters slanted to "loose" values, and questionable morals, at best, outsiders, at worst, killers.

I got even older and began to understand the politics of sexuality. I saw Matthew Shepard tortured and strung on a fence post for being different. My own father sneered at two men holding hands (just holding hands!) on the street. "Disgusting!" he would say. I watched the way the world treated people who were gay and I recoiled. But despite the hate, there were gay and lesbian authors telling their stories. There were movies and TV shows that were changing the narratives around what it meant to be gay. They were in places where I could see them, see the reflections they offered.  The narratives grew slowly, painfully, imperfectly, but they were there… trying...emerging through the hate.

Hopeful, I waited for stories about me. I searched for them. I snatched at false hopes only to be disappointed by stereotypes, false equivalencies, and clich├ęs. There were no authors I saw who shared my identity. No TV shows changing the narrative of what it meant to be like me. I feared what it meant for me, about me, a person whose public stories still centered entirely around caricatures of sexuality, and none of them positive. I feared what would happen to me if anyone, fed steadily on these false representations, discovered who I was. To save myself, I tried to exorcise the part of me that was different. I tried to bury it and forget it existed. I tried to be normal, to be vanilla, to pass.

I failed. I kept coming back to writing, compelled to spit out the secrets inside of me. Compelled to see myself clearly even if only in my own words. I turned thousands of pages to ash and berated myself for my weakness and cloaked myself in shame.

Then I came upon a piece of advice about writing. It was from an author whose name I can't remember, but it resonated so deeply I cried. She said, "Write the stories you want to read. Especially the ones no one else has told."

I realized that, while the rest of the world didn't see me, didn't understand me, discriminated against, pathologized, and even criminalized people like me, I could write the stories no one else had written. I could write the stories of people like me. If I had never seen myself in the stories of others, maybe others could see themselves in mine.

I stopped burning my writing.

I was young. My writing was horrible (dear God, so horrible), poorly crafted and full of immature  angst and drama. But it was the first writing anywhere that I'd ever seen that told a true story of people like me. It was the only mirror that didn't show me broken and dirty in its reflection.

I kept writing.  I kept refining my craft and my mirror. Eventually, it wasn’t enough for me to write only for myself.  Eventually, I began a blog and started sharing my stories with the world.

Now, I write about my Sir and my Sub Brother and our life together. I write about our relationship and our dynamics. I write about power and punishment. I write about spanking and obedience. I write about love and surrender.

I also write about cooking dinner, and living with depression and PTSD, and navigating a triad, and buying groceries, and staggering under crippling anxiety. I write about being a human being who was born out of the mainstream.

I write about being more than a caricature of who or how I fuck.

I write the stories I wish someone had written for me. I create the mirror I wish I could have looked into growing up.

Because I have to keep this part of myself compartmentalized, very few people who know me in real life can know I write these stories. I lie to my family, my coworkers, and my friends. I censor everything I say on social media. It gets lonely. It gets depressing. It feels thankless and pointless at times to keep going. To keep forging this path through untamed land, without guides, or even footsteps to follow in. Sometimes it feels like too much and I want to give it all up.

Then, every so often I go into my analytics and I look at my visitors and I see the visits... sometimes one person in one night reads 30 or 40 or 50 of my posts. I see people visiting again and again from India, from Saudi Arabia, from Singapore, from Egypt, from Brazil, from all over Europe and North America. I never hear from these people, they don't leave comments or any mark of their presence. But they visit. And they visit again. And many of them will revisit certain posts again and again. And I realize that, even never knowing who they are, what their stories are, mine have resonated with them. The stories I write, about people like me. The stories that didn't exist for me. The stories that largely still don't exist for me. I'm making them exist for other people.

And maybe, just maybe, someone who grew up like me, seeing themselves reflected in that broken mirror through a film of shame and discrimination will find my writing and realize they are not alone, that their stories matter, their lives matter, the way they love matters, is seen, and is real.

When authors write the stories of the people who have been made invisible, when the people themselves who have been made invisible write their own stories, when the stories of the invisible people become visible, we take another step toward visibility ourselves.

It matters that we can see ourselves in the stories of our world. It matters that we can see ourselves in the authors of those stories. We have a long way to go as collective humanity to bring us all into the light. As of today, the laws of my state still make my partner legally vulnerable to prosecution for spanking me. Race and gender and all of the axes of identity and intersection still push people deep into the shadows, press people down into the darkness, make people invisible, even to themselves.

So I write my stories and send them out from the shadows. I leave my footprints for others like me to follow. I reach out for the ones forging their own paths, creating their own mirrors, and I reach down to lift up the voices rising from deeper than me in the darkness.

It matters that we tell our stories. It matters that we lift up each others' voices. It matters that we support each other, particularly those reaching out from the deepest shadows.

Representation matters. Visibility matters. We matter. Our stories are the mirrors, unbroken and untarnished, that we all so very much need to be able to see ourselves in.

- Shadow

Shadow is a writer and blogger at https://sanctumia.com/.  She maintains a “vanilla” blog as well which must remain nameless for purposes of mystery and intrigue and because discrimination is still a thing.  She has been writing fiction for 35 years and discovered the power of narrative nonfiction writing 10 years ago.  She writes in the intersections between mental illness, power exchange relationships, and social justice.  

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

Thursday, October 11, 2018

The Buy-Me-Lunch Answer About My Gender

Image description:
Writer looking just ridonkulously cute.
I wasn't going to write this post. Honestly. I had a totally different plan for today. But then it was National Coming Out Day and I sat down and before I knew it I had used up three hours of my writing time and written a post about gender. So rather than just beat myself up about how shlub I'd been on the writing front today, I took one of those deep cleansing breaths, and Upper Forebrain Supervisor me reminded my inner taskmaster, "Hey, Chris just spent about 3 hours on a 750 word post about gender and some political thoughts over on Facebook, so Leave Artist Chris alone! LEAVE HIM ALONE!"
If you're wondering why I'm POSTING the "buy-me-lunch" answer, it is simply because so many people who touch my life are far away and will never get the chance to buy me lunch. And then it fit so well when I shaped it into language that I went more public with it. And then I realized I had spent all day writing it, so instead of what I planned I will add this as an addendum to my bio page. And we'll do the guest post I was thinking of tomorrow.

This first part is easy:

Imagine you live in a world with a gender binary that is rather rigidly defined. (I know. Tough to do, right?) And imagine that there are lists of what men are like and what women are like. And some people cleave to the list, but everyone knows them. And even people who think the lists are crap still work off of them for a lot of things.

(So far you don't really have to "imagine" this so much as simply NOTICE it.)

Now imagine that without dysphoria or major identity crisis you've spent your entire life noticing that your list of traits and attributes is the WRONG LIST. You are compassionate, kind, nurturing, good with kids, introspective, emotional, accommodating, passive in matters of courtship––flirty so they come to you but rarely making the first move, easily connected with people, loyal, pliant, enjoy cleaning (and what little cooking you can do), like jobs such as teaching, and love doing emotional labor for loved ones. You kind of like jewelry and feeling "cute."

You eschew much of list that you are supposed to take on. Tough, powerful, "rational," competitive, unemotional, afraid of committment, unattached, aggressive (or "assertive"). Blech. Get that bullshit away from you.

You even find your own quiet, inward-focused way to be ambitious that doesn't require comparing yourself to others.

Yes these are stereotypes, particularly at their extremes, but enough people buy into them directly, and those that don't do so directly ("You're a house husband? When are you going to man up?") do it unconsciously. ("Women would like you if you got yourself a real job*, and were more assertive.") It's literally inescapable no matter how many "Very Open Minded People™" you surround yourself with.

[A "real job*." Cleaning and chasing diapers all day is not real--and certainly not for a man.]

Imagine that your entire life, even your most intimate partners have said things like "He's the woman in this relationship." or "Oh you're pretty much a chick." They said it in jest, but they said it in jest a LOT. It didn't bother you....but it did make you wonder about that list. And they're not wrong. That was ALWAYS you. You wanted an easy bake oven so you could have food ready for mommy when she got home from work. You were the househusband for the two families you were a part of in your adult life.

Imagine your step-dad hated that about you and constantly told you to stop being prissy and stop being girly and quit talking about your feelings and quit being a momma's boy. And he made fun of those parts of you––mocked them ruthlessly–– in favor of cultivating, within you, his own version of stoicism and masculinity.

Now imagine that you're about 38ish and you've had it up to your eyebrows with basically every assumption of the society you live in and are cheerfully blazing your own trail with everything from abandoning "proper" work to write to non-monogamy. Fuck everything they told you about what would make you happy––"they" haven't been right yet even once. (And frankly some of that shit is built on millenia of oppression.) About this time when you're throwing out every single assumption you ever had, the community around you starts to confront the social constructs of gender.

A lot.

Not just its performative nature in general, but many of them reject the binary outright and begin embracing genders that are no gender or all genders or different genders on different days or different genders than they were assigned at birth. They make you think long and hard (I mean REALLY long and REALLY hard about this list and what it means to you...and about what it means at ALL.)

Imagine that your long hair gets you misgendered four or five times a week and this not only doesn't bother you, but kind of connects you to the list you DID get. You find yourself quietly pleased that there's an outward expression of this ambiguity.

And somewhere in your early forties you realize "SOD the list." "Fuck what "men" are supposed to be!" You're not feeling that shit anyway, and you never have. So you just GO with it. You just go with all that "wrong list" energy you've been doubting and fighting all your life and suddenly you feel like coming home after a long and frustrating vacation.

THIS is who you are. THIS is who you've always been. What is it? I don't know but that list sure is wrong. And the other one is way more accurate.

So I don't have a label, and I'm not shopping for one (so feel free to share your experiences, but you don't have to suggest anything). You can still use he/him or any other pronouns if you wish (I prefer they/them) and really it's all good. And I will NEVER fail to acknowledge the privilege I carry when I pass as a man or even the tremendous privilege of not experiencing gender dysphoria. And I absolutely KNOW what I look like, especially when I'm rocking a beard. But I'm really becoming more and more aware that unless this whole society upends ITS concepts of gender, that "man" thing really doesn't quite fit, does it?

It just doesn't quite FIT.

And some days you want to stand on a table and say "Men can be THIS too. Nurturing. Loving. Compassionate. Caretakers. Soft. Witness my non-toxic masculinity" and then you spray paint your teeth silver and go take care of a baby for eight hours while doing domestic chores. But other days you want to say "Men suck, and too many of them don't know how to be non-toxic and not suck. I don't want to be one anymore! Because, as I mentioned, they suck." And that's the place where you live, vacillating between the two expressions that both feel so right.

So if you held a gun to my head and demanded a ten word answer, you'd get words like "genderfluid between man and nonbinary" or "demiguy," but I really feel like they miss the flavor, so there's the buy-me-lunch answer...lunch optional.

(But if you want to buy me lunch, you can always stuff a couple of dollars in the tip jar.)

Come check out The Buy Me Lunch Answer About My Sexuality!

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Poll: Best Classic YA Book (or series) Not by a Cis Het White Guy

What is the very best young adult book (or series) written by a woman or POC or member of the LGBTQ+ community before 2000? 

Our latest poll is live!  Come vote!

This poll is from our Year of Diverse Polls. If you have any questions about the limitations of the poll, just follow the link.

We finally got enough nominations to fire up this poll and boy does it have some tough choices on it!

The actual poll is on the left hand side at the bottom, beneath the "About The Author" section. Mobile viewers will have to go aaaaaaall to the very bottom of their page and switch to "Webview" in order to access the poll.

Everyone will get three (3) votes.

There is no way to rank votes, so please consider that every vote beyond the first "dilutes" the power of your initial vote and use as few as you can stand to use.

This poll will be up for a couple of weeks. You can vote once a week. Since I can't stop shenanigans, I encourage as much of it as possible. Vote early, vote often.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The Writer Who Would Not Be Mugged (Personal Update)

I may be smol and unbearably cute,
but I bite and kick.
Today is a really personal update. I don't have a way to really make it about writing. The last time I tried to shoehorn a personal update this visceral into a post about narratives and subverting tropes and stuff, the meta ended up being slightly embarrassing as the article went viral as fuck, and being kind of a silly way to tell a pretty basic story that didn't really have a lot to do with writing. So just for today I'm going to put down the "about writing" motif for a moment and just tell you a story about this weekend.    

Saturday night, someone tried to mug me.

I'm down six dollars, but I avoided getting into a fight.

He came from behind me as I was leaving a little mini-mart/liquor store on the corner of MLK and Ashby. He waited until I was a bit away from the store across the street and walking into a less lit area. He was about a foot taller than me (around 6'6"?) and had clearly been drinking. Reeked of it. Bloodshot eyes. He demanded my wallet and phone, or he would kick my ass.

My fight or flight response has never been very...let's say *wise* when it comes to bullies. It's gotten me in trouble. It's gotten me hurt. And it's put me in situations my loved ones were not at all okay with. And I kind of wish I could turn it off because the contents of my wallet are never going to be worth it if someone pulls a weapon or easily follows through with their threats.

But I hate bullies. I hate them so, so much, and they remind me of every helpless, frustrating conversation I didn't have the emotional power to resist and how when it was someone I couldn't fight back against, I would just pull further and further into myself until it was over. I think half the reason I won't shut up is because social dynamics are just a macro and cultural form of bullying. And when people expect to get exactly what they want just because they're bigger or more powerful...it infuriates me.

I pulled out my wallet, thumbed through the cash so he could see it, and told him I had $126 dollars and whatever he could get for my iPhone 4 (I actually have an iPhone 6), but I was going to make him work for it. And I'd be imagining his face was Brett Kavanaugh the entire time. (I didn't get the impression he knew who that was.)

"Forget it," he said.

Apparently, I was not the roll-over-and-die easy mark he thought I was going to be.

"Here," I said, and handed him the six bucks. "You're going to get killed doing this. Be careful."

I was already dealing with the first of the adrenaline dump, my voice was shaking, I was more yelling than speaking, and I turned and left too fast to see how he reacted.

(No, I didn't call the cops. No, I'm not going to.)

Someone on Facebook asked me why people try to mug me so often. I thought about this a lot on Saturday night as it took me a couple of hours to calm down enough to get to sleep. (Once I fell asleep though, man it was hard and heavy and AWESOME.)

Twice when I was doing my PR-24 and basic training for security, and once in a seminar type martial arts class, I got pulled out of the audience (by three instructors who didn't know each other or me) and told that I was the guy they wouldn't try to mug. Everyone in the audience kind of laughed because I was short and small and even back when I was doing all kinds of martial arts, I was a bit rounded on the edges. Thus, what I suspect is that I was actually the guy who looked most ostensibly muggable at first, while still making their point.

I'm fairly certain some of those six foot eight guys who looked like they had to lift the actual gym equipment itself to get a reasonable work out weren't getting mugged on the regular.

What they said was that I was the guy they couldn't peg. I didn't carry myself like prey. I was the one they were going to misjudge. I'd end up having twenty bucks in my wallet but even if they kicked my ass, I'd cause more than $20 worth of medical bills going down. Not worth it. Move on. Find someone easier.

Which kind of makes me wish the muggers of the world had their insight because, to date, I have lived through seven attempted muggings and I'm getting pretty fucking sick of it. None has ever gone down quite the way the muggers expected. About half have gotten physical in a way that someone got hurt. I remain unscathed and officially unmugged (at least un-successfully-mugged.)

But upon further adrenaline-fueled pre-sleep reflection, seven is not really that high. I've been walking all over since I was six or seven and my parents let me go out of their sight. (And yes, a couple of those mugging attempts were before I was even an adult.) I walk a LOT. Hours a week. If I have time, I walk to the store instead of driving. And I regularly just take off and do a circuit around the neighborhood or take a small hike. I try to get to bigger hikes when my schedule permits. And I'm rarely careful about when and where I walk. I also check my phone constantly if I'm not pushing a stroller or crossing the street. I'm sure being apparently distracted has contributed to an uptick in the last decade or so.

From a pure walk to attempt-mug ratio perspective, I'm doing pretty well. I've also nearly been run over probably 100 times, which might sound like I have the worst luck in the universe until I tell you that it probably happens like 1 in every 200 times I go walking (and those are just close calls––no one's ever actually hit me), or perhaps 1 in every 500 miles of walking or so. In terms of risk vs. reward, I'm doing pretty good. I've been attempt-mugged on average of once every four years. Which, if you consider that each of those four years represents about 2000-2500 hours of walking, is really not that much, given that Oakland and Berkeley are among my stomping grounds.

But also....maybe those guys were on to something. Because usually sober people don't try to mug me. I think the last time they did, it was three youngish people late at night who I really don't think were experienced at what they were doing. They clearly didn't want to upgrade to assault, so I just vise-gripped the phone one of them was trying to yank out of my pocket, kept walking until I was under a streetlight, and they realized we were in a lit, crowded intersection making a lot of noise. That was over a decade ago. Maybe it's drunk people who are usually missing some of the subtler cues that I don't smell like prey. Or maybe those security/martial art teachers just needed someone small but a little squishy to make a point about profiling and it had nothing to do with how I carried myself.

Either way, I like walking, so I'm not going to let this ruin it for me.

Anyway, I'm fine. And life proceeds apace. In these situations I always get a bee in my bonnet and fight back (even when it's not always wise of me to do so), but I survived another. And perhaps that mindset has something to do with with why I haven't let the incredible failures of writing or a life in art beat me down either. Something something something subverts the tropes and changes the narratives. [Insert folksy writing wisdom here.]

Friday, October 5, 2018

The Mortality Machine (Ryan Hart on Writing in a Whole New Artform)

I tell people… I’m never going to write a novel. 

I used to try, and I’m certainly capable of writing books. Some of the designs I’ve created are novella-length in terms of word count. I even wrote a book as a prop once. But when I try to tell a story, I can’t do it that way. I need help: I need people to move around, act it out. I need them walking and talking doing things. That’s how I see stories. They’re told through action and through time and space. I have a problem translating that, artistically, to a page.

I’ve done traditional drama in various locations and various forms. I love it; theater is passion. But I’ve never supported myself in the theater. It’s never been my day job. Instead, I learned to tell stories in cooperative groups, improvising all sorts of fantastic plots about vampires, zombies, heroes and villains. I grew up doing this. For twenty years, I’ve been telling stories by convincing friends to play pretend with me. So I’ll never write a play, because it’s so much easier for me get a bunch of people together and tell the story cooperatively.

And, after twenty years, I think I’m actually decent at it. But am I a writer?

My name is Ryan, and I “write” larps… live-action role playing games. I used scare quotes because really, I design larps. I could put in 100 hours of work, and the written part is less than five pages long. I could bang out 100 pages of prose and consider it a minor task. However, the activity definitely resembles writing: I’m putting words on a page, and telling a story.

If I wrote a novel, I’d be a novelist, and you’d call me a writer. If I wrote plays, I’d be a playwright, and would call myself a writer. But I’m designing an immersive experience, something that’s just the beginning and bones of a story, so I hesitate to call myself a writer. And I’m not entirely sure why.

There’s a phenomenon, which happens everywhere but is often associated with Australia, called culture cringe. It goes back to the 19th Century, when to be taken seriously, an Australian writer had to be read in Britain. Even then, the Australian writer would be labeled in reference to an English or American writer (i.e. “the Australian Kipling.”) The feeling of inferiority became internalized, and Australians came to cringe at things that were identifiably “Australian” (ergo the term, “culture cringe.”)

In geek culture, I think we’ve taken it a step farther sometimes.  We don’t internalize inferiority, we internalize defensiveness. We assume others will think less of our writing if it’s in a comic book, despite the fact that comic book franchises are the biggest thing in entertainment. I hesitate to call myself a writer, not because I think what I make is necessarily less artistic, but because I think other people would. I hesitate to use the word “larp” in general because I fear it conjures certain images in people’s heads.

For example, I’m working on a high-concept larp that combines dance and immersive theatre here in New York. It’s intended as an artistic piece, and going up in a theatrical venue with a cast of nine professional actors and dancers. It’s an expensive project, and we’ve worked with a number of people on the marketing. And the marketers were divided on one point: do we call it a larp?

There was a clear divide between marketers who had been to a larp, and those who hadn’t. Without exception, all the larpers came down one side, and the non-larpers on the other. The interesting thing? It was the non-larpers who said we should call it a larp. “It sounds cool, new, different,” said one of them. “It could start a trend.” It was the larpers that were adamantly against it.

I’ve talked to hundreds of people, in person, about the project, and there’s still a moment of hesitation before I call it a larp. I’ve never seen any sort of negative reaction when I do. So where does the hesitation come from? It’s not really culture cringe or imposter syndrome: I believe in what we’re doing: it’s artistic and new and exciting, and it’s definitely art. It’s more an expectation about the person in front of me. There’s lots of legitimate reasons to be careful around other people, particularly with the current political climate. But as “geek” becomes cool, what does it mean when we start conversations expecting derision, and none comes our way?

We’ve settled into using the term “live-action roleplay” in our marketing, mostly because the word “larp” is a little weird in and of itself. And I’ve started to call myself a writer, even though I’m not sure I’ve internalized that one. And I’ve started looking around at little fragments of writing: well-crafted photo captions, the backside of toy packaging, greeting cards. Hell, my daughter writes fanfic (she’s 12 and has absolutely no hesitation to share that with her friends). I realize that there’s the ability to be artistic in almost any medium, and I have every right to call myself a writer.

Or a larpwright. Because I think that sounds cool, too.

Ryan is, officially, a larpwright. He lives in New York City with his cat, Roxie, who is a one-and-a-half year old tortoise-shell who responds to her own name. His human family members all respond to their own names, too. You can find out more about his upcoming larp, The Mortality Machine, here.

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