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

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Spring 2019 Update Schedule

As of October 2018, Writing About Writing has undergone a major restructuring and now updates four times a week––usually on every weekday but Tuesday. 

Writing About Writing consists chiefly of one guy with lots of fake people running around behind his eyeballs (he also takes care of a 5-year-old, a newborn, pet-sits throughout the SF Bay Area, is writing a novel and a few other bits of fiction, and sometimes even does really wacky shit like try to get laid or play D&D or something), but this is the schedule we will generally make an effort to keep.

Friday

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.

Wednesday and Thursday

Wednesdays and Thursdays will be our smaller posts: calls to vote or make a nomination in whatever poll is going on, the best of the prior month, quickies, fortune cookie wisdom. Things I like to call "jazz hands."

Monday

Harder to qualify than simply "big" or "jazz hands," Mondays are probably between Wednesdays and Fridays in their content and girth. They will be personal updates, smaller mailboxes, prompts, guest blogs, etc.

I'm afraid on Tuesdays I have to spend 10 hours watching a baby. The baby sleeps a lot right now and I can probably squeeze SOME work in there, but there's just no way to make commitments.

The Three-Post Goal

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 your income depends on producing content people are willing to crowdfund. So in the cases of major schedule upheaval, I will try really hard to get three posts up. They might just be posted off schedule––Thur, Fri, Sat for example, but I will try hard to at least hit three.

Facebook Writing and Social Justice Bard

Most of my major writing ends up on this blog, but some of my throw-away thoughts don't. If you particularly enjoyed our Social Justice Bard posts, don't worry. I still 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 where I update usually once a week or more and where I put shorter media reviews, personal updates, and political thoughts that don't really tie into writing and aren't really short enough for Facebook. Also, fret not; there may be fewer SJB posts here on Writing About Writing since we'll be dealing with fewer available "posting slots" overall, but there will still be some.

Everything I ever write (and reruns of my best stuff) gets cross-posted to that Public Facebook Page, so join me there if you want to stalk me properly.

A Fifth Post?

There MIGHT occasionally be a fifth post in a week. Usually this will happen when I need to cover some ground on "blog business." (Like posting the results of a poll or getting up the prior month's "Best of" posts or something.) In this case you might see an extra post pop up from time to time on the weekend. Fiction will also usually go up independently of our regular schedule.

Reminders:

  • I still nanny for a five-year-old and a newborn––sometimes at the same time, sometimes have more pet sitting than I can handle, and my host body occasionally succumbs to your Earth illnesses, so those three 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 the constant deluge of "This is why there's no post today" posts and the rest don't really care. But this also settles down 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 only ever about my constant apologizing) 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, take care of Patron-only posts and such.


Also......folks, if you like what I do, 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 I'm working four side gigs to make ends meet, so even a dollar a month (just $12 a year) will go a long way towards freeing up more time for writing.

Note: There's a pretty loud contingent of "Who Cares!" from the other side of the internet, and I'll give you all a nod if this isn't your cup of tea. Meta posts such as this one are my least popular kinds of posts because other than about five people, no one but me actually pays attention to the updating schedule. 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 here. I want people 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). I want them to see that a successful blog doesn't require nine updates a week (and, in fact, that's too much) but it does require a steady, predictable output. 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 so dang human with their incessant need to eat and have shelter and anxieties if those things don't seem secure or stable. Even if a follower or fan never ever uses this update schedule as a formula for their own success, blog, or writing schedule, 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, April 15, 2019

Admin Week

Need to take a few days here to catch up on emails, rerun edits, menu updates, figure out a new schedule that gives me time off but also accounts for full days of side gigging on Tuesday and Wednesday, drop a Newsletter and an Inside Scoop, and do some behind-the-scenes mojo. You might notice some posts going up on various social media, but they will be updated versions of sticky posts.

And if you only get updates here, I'll pop back in on Thursday with links to everything that has been updated.

Will be back in earnest on Friday and starting to fire up "The Next Big Thing™"

Friday, April 12, 2019

When Writers Fail

In our culture we love a success story. And if we give a hat tip to failure at all, it is only as the "hero's lowest point," just before they end up rallying.  But what do you do when you're trying to work in (or break into) an industry where the most common motif is falling gloriously, spectacularly, outrageously, and frequently flat on your face?

Writers fail. We fail a lot. We fail like woah and then go back for seconds. Arguably, there is a hazing process between a hobbyist and a professional writer that involves years of just.....fucking failing. Much of the early process of revision is walking back through all the places we failed to write clearly or well, and trying to fix them. Missed deadlines. Unmet goals. Rejections. Trying to pick up people with the "I'm a writer" line. It's possible the career exists where failing even more often is a prerequisite, but writing certainly ranks.

There are a lot of reasons. From overestimating our abilities to our mercurial temperaments, we certainly set ourselves up for failure enough. It's hard to set realistic goals when your two modes are "Fuck yeah, I'm bulletproof!" and "Any second now everyone is going to realize that I'm a complete fraud." Our goals are often running away from reality faster than our plot synopsis that ends "....except with vampire pirates."

But mostly, that's just how it goes. You can't write perfectly on a first draft unless you're Marilynne  Robinson and channel your writing chi for ten years into one spectacular "HADOUKEN" of Gilead goodness. Years of rejection will be part of the process. Realizing that the guy who sold you the Moleskine journals was lying about how much group sex action writers get is so common as to be cliché. You never really can tell what's going to stick to the wall, and some of the ideas you are most excited about will be the ones only appreciated by that person who likes everything you post.

Mine is named Matt.
I love you Matt.

I am no different.

  • In the past three years, my life has collapsed (and been slowly rebuilt from its post-apocalyptic landscape). I've written only about fifty pages on a novel that was supposed to be done two years ago. Kickstarters show up on the top of my car demanding their money back and I have to go through car washes to get rid of them. "I want my two dollars!" 
  • In October of 2017, Facebook changed its algorithm so that page admins could be squeezed for more advertising money, and my numbers crashed by about 90%. I met NONE of my goals for the year. Not pageviews, which are like the gold standard of online content. Not followers. Not new patrons. Not one.
  • I constantly talk about posts that are going up "next week" or "this Friday" or "totally soon," and then completely fail to post them. Sometimes I'm months behind. Sometimes they sit undone like a growing monument to the Patron Saint of Fail.
  • The economy is taking a downturn (probably going into recession*), and the first thing people are going to cut out of their budgets is likely to be the entirely optional budgets they allot for artists who crowdfund like me. It might not be my fault, per se (and I'm going to have to try really hard not to react by going back down the workaholic rabbit hole), but watching one's income go down steadily sure can take the wind out of your sails.
  • I have failed for two years straight to reach a new plateau on my Patreon where the increases in taxes and healthcare are accounted for. I gain a little and then fall back. Gain a little and fall back. Two years this has been going on. Each night I go to sleep, my Patreon says, "Good night, Chris. Sleep tight. I'll mostly likely kill your dreams in the morning."

*I love me some NPR, and I seem to be in my car at 4pm a lot these days, so I hear a lot of Kai Ryssdal and Marketplace

And these are just the last few years! If you go back further, some of my writing failures involve people I love and respect looking me dead ass in the eye and saying "Chris, your novel sucks. Please don't send me part three." They involve writing instructors telling me that maybe I should pick a different dream. They involve friends handing me back my writing after a page or so and saying "Don't quit your day job, dude," as a joke without realizing that was exactly what I wanted to do. They involve high school teachers saying, "I'm pretty sure writers know how to spell" to my dyslexic, ADD ass. They contributed to the collapse of a marriage––a "year off" gifted to me on faith that turned into a manuscript that wouldn't have made a dime.

Oh how I have failed.

Of course, despite our cultural obsession with it, it is not our successes that define us. It is our failures.

The moment of failure is when we discover who we are and what we really want. It's easy enough to keep going when we're succeeding and everything feels great. The moment that defines us is when we fail, and it no longer feels so good. When we wonder if we have what we need to rise to meet the challenge. When we have to have real talk conversations with ourselves about our limitations. When we have to think authentically about what it is we really want.

Framed like a hazing test, though, this moment is just one more in the obsession about success. "Will you have the courage to endure, keep going, and pull it out?" Well, maybe. But maybe you'll have the honesty to admit your limitations. Or maybe you'll have the self-awareness to realize that you wanted the trappings of fame that you thought surrounded success more than you enjoyed the work itself. Or maybe you will have the cognizance to recognize that on a trajectory of never-ending success, you liked something well enough, but really once the failures started kicking in, it wasn't enjoyable anymore. And of course there's realizing that you maybe could reach whatever bellwether you consider to be "success," but you realize that you just don't WANT to (and that's okay!)––you would have to give up too many things that you enjoy, like free time and quality family time, and that's just not you.

When we fail, we reevaluate. And maybe we rise like the phoenix from the ashes or maybe we redefine ourselves. Maybe we think of a new way to get to where we're going or we realize that we were looking for something different all along. Doubling down on something without adjustment can be as ultimately self-destructive as simply walking away from something we love because we're not automatically good at it. Failure isn't a binary (give up or keep going). Failure is where the real story begins.

I can't tell you how many writers finish that first book or trilogy (or whatever) and send it out to agents or publishers or self-publish it, and then they get those first few rejection letters (or the self-published book nets them only [low] triple figures as friends and family supportively buy a copy). And it's just such a letdown from what they were expecting.

That's the moment things get interesting. Their mercurial pipe dreams are now sitting in the garbage can and even though they succeeded in writing a book (no small task), they failed to meet their own expectations. Now they face the very real question about whether or not they like the writing enough to keep going for its own sake. Was the success (or its presumption) integral to the value of the writing, or will the writing itself be the reward through all the failures?

Perhaps the one thing that separates the vast majority of working creative writers from those with burning hopes and dreams and frustrating unmet expectations is this:

When writers fail, they keep writing.


Folks, I'm "failing" right now too. As I mentioned, the economy is slowing down, and the let's-give-money-to-artists-whose-content-is-free budget is usually one of the first to go in an average household income. Right after the tastefully-displayed-crystal-bowl-on-the-foyer-table-but-of-gummy-rats budget. While at this moment, I technically make enough from writing to NOT DIE, I need side gigs to pay for many of the things I've come to rely on like cell phones, car insurance, and premade salad mix. A lot of people have cancelled or slashed their Patreon contributions in the last few months. I'm down almost 10% from just a couple of months ago. I know it's due to the economy and the tax season and the looming threat of dystopian Hunger-Games-esque social collapse and that it's no one's fault, but it's starting to hurt. I had to take on extra kid wrangling to make ends meet. That's going to take away from writing time no matter how hard I try to ensure that it doesn't. 

You can help. If you like this blog and the writing I do, and don't want to see me having to do less of it because I'm wiping butts and cleaning litter boxes, consider becoming a small patron. I know for a lot of people, $10 or $25 is not in the cards right now. But that's okay because as much as I love my big ticket donors, it's lots of little ones that actually stabilize my income. My ideal donor is someone signed up for $1 or $3 a month who sticks with that long term and the next time I have to figure out if I'm going to commit or take a pass on a side gig, I feel like my income is more reliable. A little support each month can have an enormous impact keeping me clacking away at the computer instead of changing diapers.

Become a PATRON!

Or if an ongoing subscription isn't possible, consider a one-time donation through PayPal.


Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Best Classic Fantasy (NOMINATIONS NEEDED)

What is the best fantasy book (or series) written before 1975?  

We're going back to some of our most popular polls of the past few years, but this time we're doing it with lots more voters (and we'll be keeping the results on display.) It's all part of our new Sticky Polls--the 2019 roll out for polls here at Writing About Writing.

But we're changing gears from the modern science fiction poll we ran last. And rather than just do the same time period with fantasy or the next time period with sci-fi, I decided to change both those things up since we're going to get to all of them eventually.


The Rules
(I know this is only the second round of polls we've done under the new rules, but now that we've done one with them, you can see what I mean by some of this):


  1. There is a new category of nomination. It is NOT a nomination for the poll. It is an UNDERSUNG HERO nomination. Basically it is for books you think are great, tragically overlooked, but maybe not necessarily the besty bestest best. I will be listing these books along with the poll results. However, if you nominate a book for our poll it will not be considered for the undersung hero list and if you shout out something for an undersung hero, it will not be counted as a nomination for the poll. (Someone else can nominate it.) Think about if you want to give a book few seem to know about a shout out or if you're tossing your fave into The Hunger Games.
  2. As always, I leave the niggling over the definition of genres to your best judgement because I'd rather be inclusive. If you want to nominate Flowers for Algernon, I'm not going to argue that it's probably better classed as sci-fi, but YOU have to convince others if you're going to get on the poll--nevermind win.
  3. Your book must be copyrighted 1975 or earlier. If it is a series, the ENTIRE SERIES must have been written before 1975.  Of course you can nominate the earliest novel in a series if you are trying to work around the rules, but not the series itself unless it's entirely published before '75. No small number of shout outs to Discworld have included only the books from the appropriate time frame. Why should we stop now? There will be other polls for newer books.
  4. You get to mention two (2) books (or series). That's it. Two. You can do ONE nomination for the poll and ONE UNDERSUNG HERO.  Or you can do TWO nominations. Or you can do TWO undersung heroes. But two is the total. If you nominate three or more I will NOT take any nominations beyond the second that you suggest. I'm sorry that I'm a stickler on this, but I compile these polls myself and it's a pain when people drop a megalodon list every decent book they can remember of in the genre. It is up to you how to divy your TWO choices. TWO.
  5. Did I mention two?
  6. You may (and absolutely should) second AS MANY nominations of others as you wish. THEY WILL NOT GET ONTO THE POLL WITHOUT SECONDS. You can agree with or cheer on the undersung heroes, but they won't "transform" into nominations unless someone else nominates that same book as "best" (and then they get a second). Also stop back in and see if anyone has put up something you want to see go onto the poll. 
  7. Put your nominations HERE. I will take nominations only as comments and only on this post. (No comments on FB posts or G+ will be considered nominations.) If you can't comment for some reason because of Blogger, send me an email (chris.brecheen@gmail.com) stating exactly that and what your nomination is, and I will personally put your comment up. I am not likely to see a comment on social media even if it says you were unable to leave a comment here. 
  8. You are nominating WRITTEN genre fiction, not their movie portrayals. If you thought the Lord of the Rings movies were the shiznit, but thought the books were a little dry and slow, nominate something else.
  9. This is probably well known by vets of this blog by now, but there will be no more endless elimination rounds. I will take somewhere between 8-20 best performing titles and at MOST run a single semifinal round. By "performing" I mean the seconds. So second the titles you want even if they already have one. (Yes, I guess that would make them "thirds," "fourths," etc...) The competition on this poll might be fierce. You may have to get your friends involved. Buy them a pizza. Make it real. 

Monday, April 8, 2019

But I AM Writing (Mailbox)


You say I should be writing, but I'm already writing! 

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer one every week or so.  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. Dear god how will anyone know it's a mailbox post without a picture of a mailbox. Madness!]  

In response to the posting of this meme over on Writing About Writing's Facebook Page Clare asks: 

Legit question, how does that help get lots of fans? I feel like I can write until words come out of my ears, and half of them can even be good, but, like... no one else gives a rat's ass. Trying to build my presence on social media and I just feel like another unwanted writer babbling about books that no one asked for. THAT's what I'm struggling with. Have any tips?  

My reply:

Clare, this is a great question, and it intersects with so many important points about running a page, giving advice, and things like making memes, writing blog posts about writing and answering questions that it's worth a righteous unpacking. So buckle up. You're about to get 387% more answer than you bargained for.

Generally, the more I know about someone, their situation, their hopes, their dreams, their limitations, and frankly where their rubber meets the road on writing, the closer any advice can be tailored to answer their questions. For example, if I ran into someone who thought writing every day was for chumps and it took the sparkle fairy magic away and turned writing into a chore, I would have very, very, VERY different advice if they were cheerful and happy about their success (or lack of) as a writer* than I might for someone who was super high-key frustrated that they weren't published, making money, and on the road to fame**.

*"Sounds like you're writing just about about exactly as much as you want to be happy. That's the dream. Go you."
**"Sounds like you need to get the fuck over yourself, my good dude."

Problem is, I don't get to sit down and talk shop for an hour with everyone who writes to me, "I want to make money writing. How do YOU do it?" If I could, I could meet that person where they are. Since I can't, I stick to the basics, but nothing is going to be panacea. (Except maybe "Read a lot/Write a lot.") I can sometimes pick up a few clues in a long email and sometimes people tell me enough to really adjust my advice, but usually it's just those few clues, and I can fine tune advice a little, but I still have to be pretty general.

And as true as this is when trying to write general writing advice or even answer vagueish questions that don't include a three-page bio, it is a billionty times more true when trying to curate a content stream over on Facebook for like 850,000 people.

I know that on a page that's pushing a million, not everything is going to land for everyone. Sometimes I post memes that are for beginners. Sometimes I post memes that are for veterans. Some are there to challenge the racism and classism of intolerant prescriptivism and holding one dialect as superior.  Some are there to give a wakeup call to the hubristic dillholes who think that grammar is for lesser beings and the publisher that snaps up their great idea will pony up ten large worth of copy editing because they couldn't be bothered to learn the right homophone. Some are there for people who need a direct infusion of confidence because they don't believe in themselves. Some are there for folks who need a boot in their ass. Some are there for the folks who are frustrated that their writing career is spinning its wheels. Some are there to remind people that not everyone needs to be on a "writing-career escalator" (ever going up) to be valid. And some are reminders that writers.....should be writing. And sometimes those ideas are mutually exclusive because a meme can't meet you where you are. A meme doesn't know if you're going through clinical depression. A meme doesn't know if you've already written for the day or if you are perfectly, exceptionally happy writing once a week for a couple of hours.

This being the internet, and WAW's page being one that has begun to succumb to the laws of large numbers, people don't always just flex their scroll wheel when they're not ride-or-die about some message or another. I get complaining pretty much no matter what I post. It's not the good complaints either like where they do a compliment sandwich or acknowledge a salient point or something. It's the internet kind where they kind of say "What the fuck is your problem for even considering posting this?" One of the ones that made me laugh recently was a Sarah Scribbles about fiction being escapism, and then I got a bunch of comments sanctimoniously informing me that good fiction did not ESCAPE from reality but held a mirror to it, and how could you have good fiction without conflict––just like life donchaknow. No one told me that a core part of my writing career was going to be screaming at my computer "Just laugh at the goddamned joke!"



Perhaps no place is more contentious than the "You should be writing" memes. I try to post one a day, and most people don't know this, but I usually do so when I am sitting down to write myself. But even though I could wallpaper a bedroom with all the thank-you notes I've gotten for them over the years, they also are the source of a lot of complaints––nothing I do seems to make everyone happy. Some people complain that it's getting old if I post a bunch of the same ones. They complain that they're too imperative. They complain that they're too judgy. They even complain that the meme is trying to get them to write when they don't want to. They complain that I––that's me, personally....Chris––am trying to make writing into a chore for them by nagging them. A few have outright insisted that these were no less than 75% of my posts even though, as I said, I limit myself to one a day, not even every day, and I usually post between 10-15 other things a day. 

If it sounds a little to you like folks are bringing their own feelings of inadequacy to a Rorschach inkblot test about how often they write, you're not the only one. ("I see one of those fucking "You should be writing" memes but Jensen Ackles looks really judgemental and he clearly hates me! Why would you post this???" "Sir, this is a Wendy's. That's a napkin with ketchup on it.")

It's a good thing that being asked what my "secret" is and then having people get mad at me when I answer the question isn't in the least bit frustrating.



Before I dive into your question, Clare, let me tell you a story about the most common interaction I have by the numbers. "Hey Chris. Can I ask you some questions about writing.""Sure." "I just....I really want to be a writer. I read that you pay the bills with your writing. How do you do that? How do you have so many readers?" "Well, I write every day and––" "That would make it feel like a job." "Isn't.....um.....isn't that what you WANT?" People constantly ask me for advice but then don't like it when that advice involves a calculating look at what it would take to get to what they say they want." Or maybe they tell me they love writing more than anything else in the world, and when I poke a little I find out that they spend no more than two or three hours a month doing it.  

By contrast, here's an interaction that NEVER happens: "Chris, I'm content with where I am and don't want to be rich or famous except in the most chimerical of fantasies. I prefer binging Netflix shows and playing video games to writing most of the time. I write a few hours a week and that makes me happy. I know I'll never be famous or rich, but how can I get my fanfic a somewhat wider audience?" Do you know how fucking REFRESHING this question would be? Like someone who is honest with themselves about what they are actually willing to give and has made their peace with how that will limit them to a dedicated hobbyist. Sure I'll give them a couple of tips on social media proliferation. That's no biggie. But nobody asks me that. Ever. It's been seven years; I'm still fucking waiting. Instead, they all ask me how to "make it." And that's why my answers so often come back to one common denominator.

It's actually pretty frustrating the way this squishes right up against most people's cognitive dissonance. There's a part of them that knows you can't have a day job in art by giving it weekend warrior effort, but many of them really, really don't want to hear that. And fucking shit, does this messenger ever get shot. Blam blam blam. Take that copper. Tell me I won't be famous, will ya!

In retrospect, I picked a pretty strange job for a maladaptive people pleaser who hates making anyone feel bad.

It's a very sad story. Don't even attempt to contain your tears. 

People get mad at me––like straight-up pissed off––for telling them it might take few years of practice before they're ready to try to get an agent or traditionally publish or that they probably need to put in career-caliber effort if they want writing to be, you know....like, a CAREER. Or that if they self-publish, they might not get the sales they want if they're not ready to put more time into their craft, do a lot more drafts, or spend a ton on editing. Basically if I don't say "Oh I'm sure you're going to be the next Jim Butcher. I'll be looking for your book in next year's list of upcoming blockbuster movies. Stay golden, pony-boy!" If I suggest that maybe they might actually be happy writing less and modulating their expectations accordingly, they will become furious. It's really hard and frustrating.

How did your tear containage go?

The cold hard truth is that most people want to BE writers a lot more than they want to sit down and write. Not everyone? But so damned many that people used to being leg-humped for their "secrets" (like me), in the absence of data to the contrary or when giving general advice, tend to assume that's a good place to start. 

I'm not a baker, but I'm about to make a baking metaphor, so for the next couple of paragraphs, let's pretend, Clare, that there are no substitutes for sugar. No agave. No jam. No honey. No sweeteners. There's just sugar. This isn't a realistic world, but it will make for a metaphor with less "Well Actually...." room in it. Let's all use our big, imaginative brains and imagine that sugar is the only way to make things sweet....

Now you come to me and you say. "How can I make the best cakes? Cakes like yours?" And I tell you "Sugar. You need sugar! A WHOLE LOTTA SUGAR! Nobody ever gets enough sugar. The problem in the world is everyone wants to be a baker, but no one wants to give their recipes enough sugar." 

This doesn't mean you don't need flour or eggs or chocolate. It doesn't mean you'll never need an oven. And it doesn't mean there's not a few people out there putting in enough sugar but making shitty cakes. Or maybe some a-hole that puts too much sugar in and forgets baking powder or something. (I think I better quit stretching this metaphor before it snaps back in my face like a broken bow string.) It means you've GOT to have sugar. No matter what else you do, you will not make the best cakes without sugar. If you make a cake with no sugar or some small amount of sugar, even if you use the best flour and the finest chocolate and the most magnificent, freshest eggs, your cake is going to be gross.

Now I'm hungry.

Since this is a really fucking advanced metaphor, let me whip out my decoder ring.

When I say "you should be writing," it doesn't mean that's the only thing you ever have to do if you want an audience or wish you were making money. It doesn't mean no other ingredients will be required to make money or find your fans. It means that it's always something you have to do, keep doing, have done, relentlessly pursue.

And I'm not just riding your ass to be a taskmaster. People try ALL THE FUCKING TIME to use social media branding tricks or "SEO hacks" or something when they don't actually write consistently. They're trying to promote a dozen articles enough to kick off a patreon and are pissed that it isn't working. Or they write three short stories and a self-published book and are annoyed that it's only family and close friends buying, so they hope to just start a FB page, learn some "trick" (that they think I know), and then they'll be lighting their cigars with Benjamins for all the days to come. 

But that's not how any of this works. Unless you're one of about four writers on Earth for all of time, you have to have a robust body of work to get fans, and you have to have lots of practice before that breakout novel is going to break anything but the hearts of folks who wanted it to be good because they love you. Unless you just want folks who stumble upon your work to read what you've got and move on, you really need to keep contributing to your larger body of work. Give them a reason to keep coming back. You could get everything else right, but if you're not writing, you got nothing. And that's what this meme means. Without writing, nothing else works. WITH writing, we at least have enough sugar. 

Now we have drilled down enough that I can lay some specific wisdom on you, Clare. I don't know the kind of writing you're doing––it sounds like book reviews––but if you keep putting yourself out there, you'll find your audience. That feeling that no one gives a rat's ass: it's just a feeling. It's called impostor syndrome and even best-selling novelists deal with it. If book reviews are the kind of writing you want to do, you keep doing it and keep putting yourself out there and slowly, over years, your niche will find you. (It took me five years to get to the kind of numbers that pay bills––blogs about writing aren't exactly hard to come by.) Have a little faith in yourself. Feel like a fraud half the time, but do it anyway. And put yourself out there.

Now here comes my straight up advice (mostly for Clare, but maybe for anyone who is actually writing "until words come out their ears" and looking to find their audience):
  1. Spend an afternoon figuring out your social media strategy. It's a lot at first, but the learning curve is really gentle. Different social media work differently and often have different types of engagement. A Facebook group is very different from a Facebook page, which is very different from making an account for your author persona. You don't really want Instagram––a picture format––if you're trying to link out to blog posts or something. Tumblr's loss of 800 million users in the wake of their FOSTA/SESTA overkill make it a bad choice of time and energy unless you're already well established there. Twitter is.......well it's Twitter. Take a day of work and suss out where you'll get the most bang for your buck. A lot of writers will spend their whole time managing social media but not writing (and then we're back to sugarless cakes). You can crosspost pretty easily, but you don't want to get sucked in to more than one....maybe two.
  2. How married are you to JUST book reviews? Like two kids, looking for a house, and picking out a destination for that second honeymoon married? Or maybe more like one of you is having an affair and the other one has checked out and you haven't had sex in over a year married? Because I can work with that second one. Could you do reviews for other things? Movies? Netflix shows? Popular culture? What about branching out to other topics? Personal updates? Writing about an issue that affects you personally? The wider you cast your net, the more people will find you, and they might read other things you write––things they wouldn't normally be interested in––if they like YOU and your "brand." I've got a shit ton of readers who have NO. INTEREST. IN. WRITING. They read me because I dip into personal updates, social issues, media review, and they will read my stuff about writing because they like my style. (Now I'm having an imposter syndrome day, and I'm not sure I always understand WHY, but gods fucking bless them anyway.)
  3. Could you see making some tweaks without sacrificing your art? If you're all in about book reviews, how much could you change and not feel that you'd sold out? Could you do a lot of new releases? Because that's what's going to snag the curious. Or really popular books. People love to read reviews of things they've read to see if they agree with your take? (And if they do, they might take your rec on something else.) Could you shift your tone to funny? Because that's always a draw. People love to laugh. Threesome jokes? Political rage? Listicles? How far will you go?
  4. Are you willing to spend a little money?  I hate Facebook, and I dislike most social media because my friends can't use metonymy to say men are trash without getting suspended, but the Nazi pages live on. However, I know that every writer has to self-promote. Even Stephen King goes on a book tour and spends SO long signing copies of his books that he gets blisters. Putting books on consignment, going to promotion events....EVERY WRITER HAS TO PROMOTE THEMSELVES. It's an endearing myth that writers are above "that money stuff" and they just let the art stand for itself and pick up a paycheck in the mail once a month. Even if you get a big five contract, part of your contract will be your promotional obligations. So if you have more money than free time (like I do), you might run a promotion on FB putting your work out there. Be smart: use all the little filters so that it only hits people interested in books or reading and only in English speaking countries (and narrow your demographic even more if you want). You don't need to spend much. A few dollars on a post will get it a lot of attention (too much and it'll just keep showing up in the same people's feeds), and what you really want is someone who's going to recognize your name and give your NEXT article a try. I know there's the whole thing about money flowing towards the author (mostly last-generation's advice because of vanity presses), but I'd rather spend $10 on a targeted ad than five hours a week at a reading.
  5. It's really really tough to get anyone to follow you if you share ONLY your work unless you already have a fan base who just wants to follow your work. Carts and horses, if you catch my meaning. So if you're still in the initial phases of trying to GET those eyeballs, try putting on a bit of a show. You don't have to do 10 memes a day like me, but maybe a quote here and a comic there and some article you find. Just get people in
  6. Buckle up. This is going to take YEARS. Yes, it can be like a snowball rolling downhill, but remember what a pain in the ass it is to get those fuckers rolling. The first thousand or so followers are going to take fucking FOREVER. It's just going to be that ONE friend with the foam #1 glove (mine is named Alisha), sharing your shit for....years. But then you'll grab one more. And then another. And then someone you don't know. And slowly––so slowly––you'll start to assemble this eclectic group that likes your shit even though you won't completely understand why. And then they'll share it when you really hit one out of the park (but to do THAT you have to keep baking with sugar writing), and that's just the long, slow, unglamorous, no secret, no trick, writingful way you do it.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Not Actually a Cook (by Mary Anne Mohanraj)

Not Actually a Cook
Mary Anne Mohanraj

I was being interviewed a few days ago for my new cookbook, and I heard myself saying, "I'm not really a cook."

Which makes sense -- I didn't go to culinary school, or train in a restaurant kitchen. (Though I did put in my time as a teenager at Bickford's pancakes as a waitress, and Papa Gino's pizza, as a cashier and dishwasher, which ought to count for something.) I have no formal training. 

But on the other hand, it's ridiculous. Of course I'm a cook. I've been cooking since I was a kid, from the first time I followed a recipe to make microwave cheesecake (surprisingly effective). 

I've been a cook since my mother stood over me, as I chopped onions for her curries, the only task she trusted me with in the kitchen, and even then -- "You're not chopping them finely enough. Do it again." (That same interviewer, a professional chef, told me that culinary school starts exactly the same way -- Amma knew what she was doing.)

I was a cook in the dorms at U Chicago, when I called Amma freshman year, desperate for something other than cafeteria food. She told me how to make beef and potato curry over the phone, and I cooked it in the shared dorm kitchen, over and over again that year. It was the only thing I really knew how to cook, but I still remember how my new boyfriend dug in, how my roommates and I sat at the table with a big loaf of Wonder bread and ate steadily, greedily, sopping up every last bit of curry sauce.

I was a cook when I was a starving just-graduated 20-something, dodging my landlord in the street because I hadn't found a job in two months of looking and as a result, was two months behind on rent. (I literally ducked into an alley once, because I saw him walking towards me.) Cooking that summer was mostly ramen, with bits of vegetable and hot dog thrown in, but it was tasty enough, and more important, it kept me fed. That's cooking too.

In grad school, I figured out the rotation. Make a big pot of beef curry on Sunday, along with rice.  (45 minutes) Add a vegetable curry Monday. (20 minutes) A different vegetable Tuesday. (20 minutes) A big chicken curry on Wednesday (45 minutes). New vegetable Thursday and Friday, and now we're scrounging leftovers or maybe making a sandwich on Saturday, and getting ready for the next week. Somehow I subsisted on $20/week of grocery money, in Salt Lake City in the 2000s, and managed a slightly different dinner every night. I felt like a cooking genius!

And now it's almost 20 years later, and I've been cooking forever, it feels like. Dinners with friends, and intimate romantic dinners with my husband on rare occasion. Plenty of pots of instant mac-and-cheese with the kids when they were small. Pasta bar for potlucks every Saturday on game night, when life isn't too hectic. 

Big Sri Lankan feasts for everyone I know on April 14th, Sri Lankan New Year, and again at Christmastime, when we do a colonial Christmas, a combination of Sri Lankan short eats, finger sandwiches, trifle and fruitcake. (For those last two, I start cooking weeks in advance, and freeze as needed.) It's a way to share culture, share community, that makes my heart sing. 

Even more important, the days I cook several curries and plenty of rice, and pack them up to drop off to a neighbor with a new baby, or someone going through cancer treatment. I remember when someone did the same for me -- I will always appreciate that mac-and-cheese and broccoli that fed my kids when I wasn't able to. All of this is cooking.

So when I say I'm not a cook -- that's ridiculous. Of course I'm a cook. I'm a cook, and a mother, and a writer, and a teacher. And sometime I feel like I'm not doing a great job with one or the other of those, or sometimes not with any of them. Imposter syndrome rears up its head, and denies me the very word, the 'title.' That's when you have to stuff it down again, that little, frightened voice. 

Natalie Goldberg has an essay in her wonderful Writing Down the Bones, where she talks about giving yourself permission to call yourself a writer. If you write, you're a writer. If you cook, you're a cook. If you parent, you're a parent. And if you don't do it as well as you'd like -- well, as my daughter is probably tired of hearing me say, just practice. 

You will, I promise you, get better, if you do it. Just do the thing, whatever the thing is. Take a little care, try to do it better, but mostly, just keep doing it. Someday you'll look back at what you did decades ago, and what you're doing now, and be amazed at how far you've come.


Mary Anne Mohanraj launched crowdfunding for her new Sri Lankan American cookbook on Tuesday night, and has been astonished and delighted by how well it's done.  She's aiming towards stretching goals now!  

Check it out on Kickstarter:  https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/feastofserendib/a-feast-of-serendib


Mary Anne Mohanraj is author of Bodies in Motion (HarperCollins), the Lambda-award-finalist SF novella, The Stars Change (Circlet Press) and thirteen other titles. Bodies in Motion was a finalist for the Asian American Book Awards, a USA Today Notable Book, and has been translated into six languages.  The Stars Change is a science fiction novella, and finalist for the Lambda, Rainbow, and Bisexual Book Awards. Previous titles include Aqua Erotica, Without a Map, and A Taste of Serendib (a Sri Lankan cookbook).  Mohanraj founded the Hugo-nominated magazine, Strange Horizons, and was Guest of Honor at WisCon 2010.  She serves as Executive Director of the Speculative Literature Foundation (speclit.org), has taught at the Clarion SF/F workshop, and is Clinical Associate Professor of English at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Mohanraj’s recent publications include stories for George R.R. Martin's Wild Cards series, chapters for Ellen Kushner's Tremontaine at Serial Box, and stories at Clarkesworld, Asimov's, and Lightspeed.  2018 titles include Survivor (a SF/F anthology, stories of trauma and survival), Perennial (a breast cancer memoir / romance), and two Sri Lankan cookbooks, The Marshmallows of Serendib and Vegan Serendib.  

www.maryannemohanraj.com





If you would like to write a thinly veiled promo for your own work 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, April 4, 2019

Current Poll Results

[Everything in brackets will disappear in a few days. This is the first of a new ever-growing list that I'm going to add to The Reliquary. Now that we have enough people voting each round, I'm going to start tracking all our poll results.

For the concerned, the kitty who was sick is doing much better. I don't know if she's completely out of the woods, but she's eating and has a lot of her strength back.

Next week, look for (among other things) the roll out of something a little different. Folks who like my social justice bard posts or political rants on my regular Facebook page may be particularly interested. 


Tomorrow we have an AWESOME guest blog.]  
Sticky Polls 

After many years of building an audience, we now have enough people voting in each round of our polls to track the results of ALL polls in one place and only replace them when we run the same poll again (probably somewhere around three years later for most of the popular polls).

Undersung Heroes

This will be a simple list under the results. Nothing that was voted on, and in fact to get something put on the "undersung heroes" list, one has to relinquish nominating it for the poll. These are not titles people feel are the BEST, but titles people feel are great but not well known or widely appreciated. They are the treasures that folks knew weren't going to win (or even make the poll), but wanted to give a shout out anyway.

BEST CONTEMPORARY SCI-FI
The best science fiction book (or series) written in the last ten years.

Results (in order of ranking):

The Martian - A. Weir
The Expanse Series - J. Corey
Imperial Radch (Ancillary) Trilogy - A. Leckie
The Three Body Problem Trilogy - Cixin Liu
Redshirts - John Scalzi
The Murderbot Diaries - M. Wells
Machineries of Empire Trilogy - Y.H. Lee
The Legacy Hunter - C. Heinicke and K. Reedwood

Undersung Heroes:
IQ84 - Murakami
The Coincidence Makers - Blum
A long Way to a Small Angry Planet - Chambers
The Manifold Worlds Series - Meadows

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

A Sick Bug

I'm pet sitting and one of the cats is sick. Really sick. I don't know if she's going to make it until they get back. Today's been long days of vet visits and subcutaneous fluids and none of it seems to have done much good.

This is further complicated by the fact that my clients are my ex-family, and this cat was basically MY cat for years. In the split up I took Princess Mononoke and James Bond stayed. But she still jumps into my lap every time I come over and reminds me that the spot for best scritches is right along the side of her face. 

So I'm not wording gud today.

And I might not be tomorrow.

Likely it will be Thursday before I'm no longer swinging and missing. That'll mess up my entire schedule, but I'll do what I can to start getting SOMETHING up before too long.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Best Contemporary Sci Fi (RESULTS)

The results are in!!!! The best science fiction book (or series) in the last ten years is official (at least for now). These results will be posted tomorrow on a new page and ever-growing list where they will be immortalized until the next time we run the same poll. I kind of hoped something a little more softish might get the nod, but I have to admit that The Martian was a fun romp. (And no shit, I know Andy Weir.) It took an early lead and never let go.

Text results below.

The Martian - A. Weir 138 29.18%
The Expanse Series - J. Corey 103 21.78%
Imperial Radch (Ancillary) Trilogy - A. Leckie 77 16.28%
The Three Body Problem Trilogy - Cixin Liu 58 12.26%
Redshirts - John Scalzi 44 9.3%
The Murderbot Diaries - M. Wells 42 8.88%
Machineries of Empire Trilogy - Y.H. Lee 10 2.11%
The Legacy Hunter - C. Heinicke and K. Reedwood 1 0.21%

Friday, March 29, 2019

Last Call for Votes on Best Contemporary Sci-Fi

Eat my Martian dust, every other book.
[This part will disappear in a few days- Hi everyone! I currently still have $385 to raise towards our fundraising goal. I'm trying to fix the laptop I do my writing on (the plastic piece that holds the hinge is broken so it flops all the way open unless I put something in the way). I'm also hoping to have enough to cover my taxes. Of course I'd love patrons as well, but if you've ever thought that a One Time Donation fits your budget better, there would never be a better time. The "Conspicuously Placed Tip Jar™" (on your left) will work. Or click here.]

What is the best science fiction book (or series) written in the last ten years?  

At this rate The Martian's going to win. You okay with that? Either way, you're almost out of time in this poll. Remember that unlike our polls to date, this poll is going to have its results posted on a special display page that people will look at for years (until the next time I run this exact poll again).

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, March 27, 2019

Sick.

If you're following WAW on some social media or another, you already know this, but I caught a bout of food poisoning.  I'll try to catch up on our posts this weekend, but I'm rubbish today at anything more than some personal writing and maybe a glance at fiction.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Updates (A Potpourri of Updates Personal, Meta, Blog, Fiction, Equinox, and More)

Beardwatch 19: Definitely past the "just scruff" stage.
Epiphanies, changes (big and small), a deplorable lack of group sex, and tons of ham-handed didactic writing lessons doled out in bite-sized pellets like a Pez dispenser. This is one of those posts that would be several posts back when I was posting six or seven updates a week, but now I just put it in a blender and serve it up like a thematic keyword smoothie.

Equinox-

I do something like New Year's resolutions, but I do them on the solstice. It's less some promise that I'll start or stop something I know I should be doing but don't really want to (that I'll break in three days anyway) and more a realigning of my values with my goals and objectives. It's been a quarter of a year since I stood on the edge of the Lafayette reservoir during a cold sunset and stared at the grey sky so sharp it could cut your eyelid. That day I committed to four life changes: working less, hiking more, getting out and seeing more movies, and finishing my novel.

I evaluated how I was doing on the equinox. Standing the same place at the reservoir, looking at the same tower, this time under a bright blue sky with a brilliant sun trying hard, but not quite succeeding, to show me that winter was over.

Working less has been my most important goal because it was advice that came from multiple medical doctors. No surprises, it's the one I've done the best executing. I don't take double books on pet sitting. I've been clear about boundaries in my other side gigs. I don't write for sixteen hours a day on the blog anymore, frenetically trying to dazzle readers with a never-ending stream of content.

The others have middling success. My hiking has been about as good as it can be, weather permitting. I'll hike more as the rain takes a break and trails dry up. I bought one of those subscription things where you pay $20 a month and get to see 3 movies a week. I'm getting to them on the regular, but I want to be better. Regarding my novel, I found a distinct distance between my priority and my behavior, and I required some serious adjustment.

Shoehorned writing advice- Evaluate your goals and progress regularly. If your life isn't a reflection of your priorities, are they really your priorities? (It's okay if they're not, but if you're not writing that book one decision at a time, you may have to be brutally honest with yourself, or take a greater effort to MAKE time.)


Fiction-

I've started writing on my novel before I do anything else in the day. Okay, that's a terrible lie. I will stumble into the bathroom and curse the heavens that my bladder rules me. Then I will try to sleep more, fail, and grudgingly get up. I will glance at my email and FB messages, not to DEAL with those things, but to make sure that I'm not cheerfully posting "You should be writing" memes while someone I love dies of mange in the hospital. I will then probably check the comments just to make sure there are no raging infernos of hate going on in my comments. This will lead to getting sucked into the eternal void that is Facebook for at least a half an hour. There might be an argument with some friend of a friend who mistakes being an insulting shithead for persuasive points. I will block them, but not before I've been super petty and checked if they are following "Writing About Writing" because then I'll ban them from that too. (Assholes should be deprived of hilarious memes until they learn to be less assholish, I firmly believe.) At some point I will get some water, open the fridge and stare at a bunch of food but close the fridge without eating any of it. Then I will actually POST that "You should be writing" meme. And I will reply to some text or voice message that I am entirely too busy to deal with their shit until at least 4pm. Possibly if I fell asleep reading, I may need to finish up the chapter. And definitely the Bloons 6 daily challenge needs a poke.

THEN I will absolutely get to work on my novel right away. So it's practically the very first thing.

I used to do my novel writing at the end of the day, but all the other fucking bullshit that I piled up on my plate would just leave a little tiny space (like that most people would put a garnish or some cranberry sauce). I would wind a blog post up at six or seven after nine or ten hours or run chores and side gigs for eight to ten hours and then look at the clock and decide to forget it. I was only getting to it two or three nights a week and then only for maybe an hour at the most before I got tired. Before my equinox realignment, I had a couple of hard weeks and hadn't written more than a couple of pages. That was part of the reason I knew my life wasn't matching my values.

Like most returns to a slightly stale project, it started slow. That first day, after six hours, I had to content myself with rereading what I had and gutting out half a page. But it has since picked up steam. I used to do some word count updates here, and I'm going to get back into the habit of those at least once a month.

Shoehorned writing advice- Even professional writers mix it up. Don't be afraid to find your own personal process that works for you.


Fundraising-

If you're just joining us or missed last week, I'm trying to round up enough to cover my taxes and an expensive repair on a laptop. So far I've got about $110. That leaves about $490 left. I know some people think I just press a button and the donations flow in, but I don't even have CLOSE to that kind of star power.  If you've always thought to yourself that I'm entertaining, educational, and worth a dollar or few, there would never be a better time.  My Paypal is paypal.me/WritingAboutWriting

Shoehorned writing advice- If you want to make money as a writer, don't be afraid to crowdfund a little bit.  It might feel kind of humbling, but you'll get to "solvent" a lot faster than through traditional publishing.

Meta-

I feel good. The irony is when I feel good, I generate lots of ideas. WAY more than I can write down. The more energy I expend doggedly trying to do everything, the less creativity I have. Yes, I do think there is a reason that the Venn diagram of writers who overdo it a little and writers who pay the bills writing is almost a perfect circle, but if you can't find some semblance of work life balance, you'll just flame out like The Human Torch dealing with a hostage situation in a gasoline and fireworks factory.

Shoehorned writing advice- I dunno, nothing lesson-y jumps out at me from this section. Don't forget to floss, I guess. Oral hygiene is important.

Personal-

This week I had to jump in for some Nannying side gig action. (Parents are still on maternity/paternity leave, but something came up.) I got a good look at what my weeks will probably look like once I'm back on kid wrangling. I'll have to be conscious of time management since my busy times are clumped and there's this every-other-week alternating thing, but as long as I stick to my guns on boundaries, I should still have plenty of time to get the writing done as well.

There was no group sex, I'm sorry to report. Deplorable.

Shoehorned writing advice- Much like the cake, the group sex is a lie. Better love writing for its own sex sake.

Blog- 

Two bits of news on the blog front.

I'll be for sure running four posts a week. I'm losing a lot of patrons (probably because of tax season but I don't really know and I always understand that surviving capitalism is the first priority of we prisoners), and even though I know they almost certainly didn't leave because I'm "not writing enough," trying to woo replacement patrons is always easier (and feels more honest to me) when I'm putting out posts at a brisk clip. I've been doing four posts forever anyway––with one usually being some sort of revision––so this is not really more work. Just making it official.

I'm blogging on another platform. And I'm not rolling it out for probably another couple of weeks, but anyone who made it this far in a personal update gets to see the "soft opening."  It's called NOT Writing About Writing, and it's going to be a place where if you think really hard, you can probably figure out what kind of things I'm going to post there. Some political thoughts, some personal thoughts, some thoughts that just don't fit the writing mold (even if I say the word "narrative" a lot). The occasional idea that just isn't writing-related but is just a BIT too long for Facebook's more-nuanced-than-Twitter-but-still-pretty-bite-sized usual fare.

Yes, that's an India URL, and yes I'm trying out this platform because someone is paying me to sprinkle my mojo in their milkshakes so they get some love in their yard. I'm trying everything I can not to have to host ads here. If something feels skeevy or exploitative, I can pull the plug on the experiment. But they pitched an interesting idea for a new platform (somewhere between Medium and Patreon) and I told them I would give it a shot as long as I didn't have to take on a whole new dimension of blogging. A post a week was agreed on, and here I go.

Shoehorned writing advice- Know what you're worth. Artists die of exposure. Get paid. But also, it's probably good to know what you will and won't do for money before you're put in that position.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Best Contemporary SciFi (Reminder to Vote)

What is the best science fiction book (or series) written in the last ten years? 

From your nominations we have constructed our poll. Now we need everyone to come vote. Only ten days remain to get your choices on record for our new series of polls where the results will stay posted until the next such poll (likely years later).

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.

[Note- We are currently only $70 dollars towards our fundraising goal. I know people think maybe I ask for money and it just floats down like manna from heaven or I click a button and hundreds of dollars shows up in my Paypal that day, but that's NOT how it works. While I would love more patrons, right now I am just trying to make $600 ($530 remaining) to fix the laptop I do my writing on and have enough to cover my taxes. If you've ever thought that you can't be a patron, but wanted to make a One Time Donation, now would be a great time.]

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Will You Do Infinity War? (Mailbox)

[Spoilers for Infinity War]

Do Infinity War!

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer a couple each week.  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. I will even "do" pop culture if you give me like...a year.]  

Hey can you work your mojo on Infinity War?

How about a review of Infinity War?

Your Thor: Ragnarok review was spectacular. Do Infinity War?

Why haven't you done any MCU reviews since Thor? Would love your take on Black Panther or Captain Marvel if you've seen it.

From a writer's perspective, what did you think about Infinity War?

My reply:

I'm not going to write a full review of a movie that is really only half over, but I'll jot down some thoughts:

  1. I took the look I did at Thor Ragnarok because it an is indictment of white supremacy. I felt like I had something to say about that. While I'm capable of examining the afrofuturism of Black Panther, examining it through a post-colonial lens, or unpacking the extended metaphor of feminist defeat of dudebro control, seeing past social gaslighting, emotions-mean-you're-wrong, and holding women back from the strength they have had all along that pits Captain Marvel against an extended metaphor of sexism, I think other voices (namely of black folks and women respectively) are doing a much better job of unpacking those movies than I could. 
  2. Marvel did something that threw a lot of critics off. They did not even attempt to make a stand-alone film. For the first time, you really were going to miss a lot of context if you hadn't seen some of the movies before. Not just a few wayward details that you could probably muddle through, but really...you were going to be a bit lost. The criticisms I saw that it was too much action and too packed with characters and had little in the way of their development (other than Thanos) rarely seemed to acknowledge that in a lot of ways the MCU itself is "The Story" and "Infinity War" is its climax. (This has some interesting implications below.)
  3. Also they aren't done. The two-hour movie (and 250-page novel) is losing its hegemony as the entertainment medium of choice. Many people watch what are essentially 8-15-hour "movies" on Netflix or enjoy multipart films that tell a single story. In addition to being the "climax" of the story of the MCU to date, Infinity War is also much more directly part one of a two-part movie, and there's not really any way of getting around that. So I think a lot of the reviews and criticism tried to judge Infinity War as a standalone when it isn't. I left the theater thinking "Shame it's going to be a year to see what happens." It's hard to know if this was a good movie or not when the catharsis is still four hours coming.
  4. Thanos is the protagonist of Infinity War. That's just the way it's written. I realized that even before the interviews started saying things that verified that read. He's got the want as well as the need. He is the proactive agent going after what he wants. Everyone else in the movie is an obstacle he has to overcome––literally, the Avengers are the antagonists getting in the way of his moral imperative. He sacrifices everything to attain his goal. His people all die in service of the cause, and he has to fight alone in the final reel. He appears to fail multiple times, including a moment where it all seems lost at the end. And then, almost miraculously, he succeeds. 
  5. What Thanos ISN'T, is some tragically misunderstood moral agent. His Malthusian aims to save resources, besides being UTTERLY fucked up, wouldn't work. Anyone with knowledge of population growth would tell Big T that he really only bought the universe maybe 50-100 years at the most, given how quickly a population doubles if it's not at its carrying capacity. Unless he's going to show up and do his uberasshole death snap every half-century or so, it is at best a VERY temporary solution. Perhaps more to the point, that's not why resource scarcity is a thing. His snap, which will inflict the entire universe with PTSD and outrageous grief at once (causing at LEAST as much suffering or more as he claims he will ameliorate) will not double everyone's allotment because it does nothing to shift the have-nots into haves. Rather, without some sort of social leveling mechanism, it will just make rich people richer as they still "own" all the resources. 
  6. Thanos is an analogue for genocide. Why not just double all the resources? I mean, if you have literally ultimate omnipotent power over time and space, why use it to kill half the sentient people in the universe rather than shrinking everyone to half size or giving every race a extra planet of resources per million people? (In the movie, Thanos is not trying to get Death to notice his huge, throbbing...deeeeeeeeeeeestructive power.) Because Thanos isn't, as many have suggested, misunderstood, tragically misguided but trying to help, an antihero, a good ends with a crappy means, or any of that shit. Thanos kills people because Thanos is a stone cold fucking murderer. He never entertains other options because he decided what he wanted to do and then came up with a reason that fit. That he describes his objectives to mass murder HALF the universe in this trauma-bonding way that he had no choice and it was for the greater good, should be sending chills up people's spines (and does except for a bunch of folks who've never been on the working end of genocide or like-atrocities and think: "Dang, this guy has some good points.") Watch what people say when they ACTUALLY commit genocide, and you'll realize that Thanos's dialogue is not random. "I had no choice. There weren't enough resources. Too many mouths to feed. Impossible decisions had to be made. I offered a final solution." 
  7. Thanos is also an analogue for abuse. (Which is why a number of people walked away wishing there had been a content notification.) Thanos tortures one daughter to get the other to do what he wants. He tells people he's hurting them for their own good. He isolates his daughters from their support and family so they have only him to rely on and then tortures them. After each act of abuse (dragging Gamora around or hurting her), he trauma-bonds with her by saying how much he loves her. He stays almost philosophical about HORRIFIC acts of violence (until he is out of control and then he becomes enraged). And he loves like an abuser loves––deeply for the idea of someone so long as they obey completely...or he'll hurt you––which is to say, he "loves" her only in the palest sense of possession. Even in the reactions to Infinity War people essentially continued to gaslight Gamora by proxy, describing Thanos's relationship to her as "tender" and "loving" even though she herself described in visceral detail how it wasn't. Thanos delights in pain, but rather than have the decency to admit it, he obfuscates it, like an abuser (or genocider), behind the idea that he is doing something for people's own good. 
  8. I don't know if they're going to get into this or not, but if half the people on Earth die, a lot more than half the people on Earth are going to die. It's not like we keep going like we are now but we get twice as many Kit Kat bars in a pack and mostly are just WAY WAY sad because half our peeps vaped into ash piles. In fact, the agencies that track things like epidemics and diseases (like the CDC and the WHO) say we're in big, big, BIG trouble if we lose more than 10% to some kind of plague. Removing 1/2 of the people at a restaurant when only half the customers are coming in might not be so bad, but removing half the people who work at a hospital, a power plant, or a water distribution pump is a liiiiiiiiiiiitle bit different. Once our infrastructure stops working, and once people don't have clean water, power, medications, or even a grocery store with food in it, civilization basically begins a domino collapse, and a shit ton more people end up dying in secondary ways. We'd bounce back before things got to Walking Dead season 7 levels, but for most of the developed world, the estimate would be around 90% casualties.
  9. A couple of above clues show a way in which Marvel is working with the meta-narrative. For example, when it comes to Thanos being the protagonist or people in the AUDIENCE actually treating Thanos the way folks treat abusers and those who commit crimes against humanity  ("Well, he does make some good points.") there is some fascinating new rules––or lack of rules, I should say. The meta-narrative of Infinity War broke the established rules of the MCU. And it does it AS THANOS GAINS INFINITY STONES. In the first TWENTY movies, basically the plot was your standard KNOW THYSELF romp of Joseph Campbell's hero's journey. The protagonists needed to learn who they (really) were, what they stood for, how to work together, or some variation of learning that they had the power to stop the antagonist all along. Infinity War turned this on its head. Quill (Starlord) got a lot of shit for screwing up the attempt to kill Thanos, but he did what he was supposed to do. He completed his full development arc and pulled the trigger to kill Gamora. He grew as a character and learned what was more important than his feels. He learned what it meant to serve something bigger than Starlord. By the 20-movie-precedent set by the MCU, he should have won in that moment.....but it didn't matter It was as if the Infinity Gauntlet reached through the movie screen and Thanos altered simply changed the laws of MCU itself. The more infinity stones Thanos gains, the more rules of the MCU he can break, culminating, of course, in the complete meaninglessness of a tearful sacrifice scene (which always works in the MCU) and at the last, evil totally achieving its objectives.
  10. I'm looking forward to seeing what happens.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Vera's Sick, No Summer School, Molasses, and What Now? (Personal Update)

Ker-ack!
Seriously though this is what a broken
black back piece looks like.
Hi everybody,

There was going to be a guest blog today, but the author is taking some time on...uh kickstarting their Kickstarter and so their promotion tour is pushed back a little. We'll still get it (and I think it's going to be awesome), but it might be a couple more weeks.
That left me hanging a little, but it makes for good timing. Because I have some news....

THERE IS NOT GOING TO BE A "PLEDGE DRIVE" this year.

If you've been around Writing About Writing for a while, you may know that every year in the past, I went and taught summer school for six weeks because I needed the money. It was an extra thirty hours or more added to an already overcooked schedule and my posting here usually broke down around week two. There may have even been some sobbing during that period.

In the past couple of years since I added Patreon, I have used the six weeks to run a full court press of asking for donations and patrons. Each week for the six weeks, I cannibalized a post and instead made an increasingly intricate plea for financial support. There were plans for future income and all the bellwethers we'd passed so far and a little thermometer showing how close we were to hitting a goal.

Not this year. I'm not teaching there anymore. I kind of don't need that money (though it'll be a little tight without). But really the reason is more petty. My boss used "Think of the poor children to whom we give scholarships" to try and shame teachers into not asking for their agreed-upon raises or any materials budgets, (plus they were cutting more and more corners every year), and I wasn't really okay with that. So I'll be writing a regular update schedule during that time when this summer rolls around.

HOWEVER, we do have a fundraiser.

I need to cover the increased tax burden of a freelancer who can't write off anything this year, and the cost of repairing and replacing some of the things I moved out with three years ago are starting to break down. Many of these things I can just learn to live without (Apple watches are fun, but entirely too expensive to try to replace on my salary), but the computer that I write on needs to be fixed.

It's been SLOW going on Patreon. Almost every month involves the TINIEST of net gain, but the needle moves glacially slow. Usually before the month ends I end up with a couple of dollar raise, but not before a bunch of people cancel or modify their pledges down and then a slow crawl back to where I was and maybe a little more. March has been particularly hard. It doesn't take much backsliding to wipe out such incremental change.


We've been moving like molasses to our next set of goals––the very next one that was supposed to cover the increased price of health insurance and the fact that my income counts as freelance and I can no longer write anything off. (Yep, basically covering the cost of life under Trump.) I'm still over $100 shy––well $121, now.) Given how my friends who've filed THEIR taxes have been howling, I'm not optimistic. After the insurance/taxes goal, the NEXT goal was supposed to be to start helping with all the little things that have begun to to break and need replacing. A cost I didn't have to deal with when I first moved out with all new stuff, but which eventually catches up to you when you live in a system that depends on engineered obsolescence.

Right now my overall life is okay. I can still make a budget stretch with the best of them, and starting in April there are nanny hours that will help give me a few more years to hit those Patron goals before I have to decide whether to add advertising revenue or renege on my commitment to keep everything I write available for free. 

And, of course, what I would REALLY love is more Patrons. (Even a dollar or three a month helps create a firm "ecosystem" of small patrons so that I don't lose 10% of my income if one of my big patrons can't keep paying––not that I don't love my big patrons to bits.) They let me budget and schedule and plan in ways that flat donations don't.

But in the meantime, I'm trying to fix my computer and get my 2018 taxes covered.


So every one-time donation helps. paypal.me/WritingAboutWriting

The back plastic of Vera, my writing laptop, has a crack in it, which means the hinge has stopped working and the monitor part sort of "flops" back. Right now I have some Trader Joe's Pita Bite Cracker boxes keeping it at a 90-degree angle so that I can work.  Unfortunately, like everything with Macs, it's some laser-precision cut piece, and my research suggests I'm looking at $380 to replace it. Between that and taxes, I'm hoping to raise about $600. Every dollar helps.

And then hopefully before next tax season or the next thing breaks, I will have molasses-on-a-glacier crawled to the next Patron goal with my actual INCOME, and won't need to do this again.

Note: AS ALWAYS these posts do not do particularly well on their own merits in social media proliferation. If you want to help me, this blog, and my writing, and do not have the money to spare (or do have the money to spare but want to help me twice), please consider liking, commenting, or sharing this post so that it can be seen by more people who might have a dollar or five to spare.