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

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Describing "The Vid" ("The Cove?" "The Rona?") [Mailbox]

Right now we are only dealing with questions that are about the intersection between Covid-19 and writing, but......

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer one a 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.  My comment policy also may mean one of your comments ends up in the mailbox. Just Covid-19 questions for now, but soon well be back to open season on any writing topic, so you can send in such a question if you wish, and I'll tuck it in the queue for later.]   

Stephanie asks:

So I have (luckily) been able to avoid COVID so far....not having first hand experience myself, how would I write about it? Interview people affected? Medical journals? I want it to be accurate. 

My reply:

First of all, congratulations, and may your streak continue. I had what could clinically be described as a "gosh darn mild" bout with Covid-19, it only lasted a week, and there is only one time in my life that I felt sicker and closer to death, and that was when I literally couldn't keep water down long enough to keep from getting dehydrated.

Don't take this the wrong way, but may you always have to do a little research to describe this one.

For the most part, writers of reasonable skill have an awesome tool at their disposal when it comes to writing about something that they've never experienced firsthand: they are also great readers.

Reading is.....well it's almost a superpower.

Reading is like the Swiss Army Buster Sword of knowing a little bit about just goddamned near everything and a LOT about anything a skilled reader set their mind to. There are doors reading alone can't ever open (we can't DO the math equations, we can't analyze the historical records with the discernment a historian has spent many years learning to cultivate, we don't have the medical knowhow to be epidemiologists, we can't conduct an archeological dig successfully, we can't command troops in battle, etc...), but we sure have it in us to have a really strong theoretical understanding of almost anything we set our reading to.

Reading with compassion is the great equalizer when it comes to trite advice like "write what you know." (None of us know what dragons or space cruisers are like, but writers have been doing just fine with them by using their reading, empathy, and imagination.) Because given time, a good reader can "know" almost anything. Not because we go through the experiences ourselves, but because those who do often write about them. And we have the whole of human experience at our very adept fingertips.

Obviously, there's a deep and almost endless honeycomb of nuance when it comes to limitations of reading to prepare a writer to describe something. Obviously, reading about a skill can't teach you the skill itself––only its theoretical application. (You might read six books on painting and understand form, content, and medium far better, but you would not be a better painter.) Obviously, reading does not confer muscle memory (whether it be for martial arts or playing an instrument). Obviously, some writers don't do their due diligence when it comes to research, even on simple things like basic science (I'm looking at you, Prometheus!). Obviously some experiences like poverty or racism are never going to be fully, completely understood by someone in a different circumstance (if for no other reason than these experiences fade away once the book is closed). Obviously, some writers assume they know how the world works, and do not listen to other people's stories before writing about "How it is™" (clouding their story quite noticeably with their ethnocentric judgement).

And it is worth mentioning that there are some folks who will never ever accept a writer who is not from a group telling the story as if they are ingroup, even as fiction, no matter how close they get it. (Look at the incredibly conflicted reactions to Middlesex if you want a perfect example of that.) And there are a myriad of valid but super-complicated reasons for that that I'm not getting into today.

But a writer willing to read with compassion and an open mind (and with ethnocentricity bound and gagged to a nearby pole by cultural relativism) can get really, really, really, really, REALLY close if they want make a good faith effort not to be a stranger and to portray with as much compassion and empathy as they can. Plus, when it comes to things like "What is a particular illness like," you aren't going to have the same reaction as you might if you try to tackle, "What is the lived experience of racism."

Which is my very long, choir-preaching, gotta-squeeze-out-a-whole-article-out-of-this way of saying that interviewing affected people or medical journals are great ways of learning what the virus does, what it feels like and how to describe it. Plus, what circumstances are very rare and would need to be mentioned as such. (It's okay if your CV-19 character were totally asymptomatic except for bad diarrhea (it CAN happen), but that is a very rare presentation, and you should probably have your story/writing reflect its unusualness somewhere/somehow.)

Also, unless you want to be on the cutting edge of breaking information, there will probably be a lot of secondary sources you can tap as well. You don't necessarily need to do interviews or dig through medical data. There are already people putting together blogs, mainstream news series, there are lots of accounts online––including mine. There are charts with collated data and statistical likelihood of each symptom. There are soon to be books with stories that try to bring home what's happening right now in a way that data points and statistics cannot. Probably we aren't too far off from CV-19 showing up in pop culture either. (And maybe an espionage thriller where it's been engineered by a pharmacologist who needs to be side kicked in the face by Tom Cruise.) A discriminating reader looking to make an accurate portrayal will have any number paths by which to make it as accurate and realistic as possible.

Good luck. And may you only ever be able to describe Covid-19 vicariously through research of first hand accounts.


Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Best of March 2020

I don't normally post a new post this late since most of the east coast has already gone to sleep and it's sort of hit or miss if they'll catch what I've done tomorrow morning, but I just found out I'm needed for an extra day of Job 2 this week so I need as much jazz hands as I can muster, it's only about 26 hours until freaking May, so it's probably about time I post March's best, final reminders and then poll results are about to happen along with a handful of other posts, and with with an Inside Scoop newsletter to write for my generous patrons, it's going to be a hail Mary to try and get a "crunchy" post up on Friday.

So let's talk about the three best posts from March that will go on to fame and glory in The Hall of Fame. The month started with me out of a roommate situation and into my own place, picking out some furniture from Ikea and reading these stories of a novel Coronavirus that popping up in the US, so wash your hands(!), and it ended with shelter in place orders, weird shopping experiences, and probably (unbeknownst to me at the time) the infection of Covid-19 that would be raging within me by April 3rd. But still we managed to punch out some good work, and here were the month's best.

Feel How You Feel-

Whatever you're feeling about Covid-19 and the world it's leaving in its wake, it's okay. Whether it's paralytic fear, inarticulate rage, or a sudden burst of creativity. No shame. No second-guesses. It's legit.

A Writer's Guide to Working From Home (Part 1 of 3)

If this is your first work-at-home rodeo, you might be a little surprised at how HARD it is to get an office-caliber day's work done. But writers have been doing this forever, and here's some advice about how to stay focused and productive.

Sketch Comedy Blogging (Mailbox)

What do third rate writing blogs and sketch comedies have in common? Well....we have a lot of "bits" we do over and over again....

Monday, April 27, 2020

A Writer's Guide to Working At Home (Part 3 of 3)

We're jumping in straight from 
Part 2

So pop back there if you want the middle section.

OR....head all the way back to 
Part 1 if you missed the introduction and the first few suggestions.

And apologies for the long break between parts. I managed to GET Covid 19 (at least I'm 95% sure of it) and recovery took a while.

6- Keep the Peeps Away a Piece (or "Not now, sweetie. Mommy has to write the great American novel.")

If there's one thing writers know––at least the ones who have figured out how to cobble together some kind of "success" (for whatever value of that they're using)––it is that absolutely every last human on earth that isn't them is a creativity-sucking time vampire who only wants to slurp the productive––

Okay, you know what..... I promised I would chill out about this and I'm pretty sure I'm being watched. So let's just say that with the possible exception of the loving spouse who pops their head in to say "You seem like you're on a roll so I did your chores for you, sweetie*.  Write on, you magnificent creative creature, and later we shall....."   Um....yeah....so with that exception, almost everyone wants to TAKE that writer's time and they have to set up twin, motion-sensor, auto-fire, machine-gun cannons from the director's cut of Aliens at the edge of their private space if they want to get any writing done.

[*Best not to let this happen either. If it's anything other than a fantastic one-off, so rare that it makes blue moons look pedestrian, and/or isn't reciprocated in kind (with a little extra something something because that was so fucking sweet), you're probably taking advantage of them. Goes doubly for dudes.]

I shan't play the slippery eel here. After I slam out an eight-hour day, I wouldn't really mind being "distracted from my writing" by a knock at the door by a special someone in stockings and garters who's holding a pizza. They can distract away. I am only truly annoyed by such a thing, which is totally real and not made up and has absolutely actually happened, if it occurs as I'm sitting down first thing at the beginning of a session.

Or if the pizza has jalapeños. (I mean jesus, I'm already going to need a double hit of Zantac––what the hell are you trying to do to me?)

But this dry, coarse (totally non-slippery) eel knows what's up. Those people out there may love you. They may support you. They may want to lift up your writing career, they may have the very best of intentions, but they will "just one thing" and "one quick question" and "since you can set your own schedule, would it be possible...." all the way to your inevitable "Where the fuck did my day go?"

It's a no-brainer when the friend who never shuts up calls during writing time. That's an hour of hearing about Gallup polls and local Covid statistics you are NEVER getting back, and once you've hit the button, you'll have an easier chance getting Eric Idle to shut up about package tours. Gotta let it slide to voicemail and call them back. But if it's someone in your house asking if you can spare a minute to do this or that, it's easier to make one exception, then another, then another. Suddenly, through no one's fault (except maybe yours for not saying no), you've lost a couple of hours in ten- and fifteen-minute chunks to several different folks.

And worse still, every time you don't say no, they're that much more confident about interrupting you the next time. (One day you turn around and it's, "Oh, honey, I figured you could spare a half an hour to help me pick out which cute hat to wear for my Zoom Teatime with the guys......")

I don't know where you work when the world isn't being ravaged by a global pandemic like it's the first victim in a slasher flick, but you probably either can't take calls or they have to be pretty quick. And if you are talking to someone for more than a couple of minutes, you're probably on sort of some kind of break. Your boss is only going to check in on you so many times to find you picking out cute hats for your partner's Zoom teatime before you get a call to come to their office.

You have to have that same mentality when you work from home. Whatever space you've made into YOUR space, you have to patrol that border. And not like a Canadian mounty who's coasting to retirement. More like....well, all the really poignant examples I can think of are unbelievably racist, so just be vigilant. If you've got a room with a door, go you. If not, you may have to gently but firmly remind people that you're "at work."

And you might have to do it a lot.

7- You Deserve a Break Today (or "I'd love to, Boss, but I got a bad cough *hack hack.* Don't want to get anyone sick.")

We writers have to face facts that we'll lose our edge if we don't "work out" every day by doing at least some writing. (And before someone drags me down the rabbit hole of trying to defend the semantic phrasing here, this blog is full of exceptions, caveats, and addenda. Do four days a week and make two of them arguing on Facebook for all I care! Let me know how that turns out.)  Most of us love writing in ways that would be codependent if writing were another person. We want to stay sharp. We don't want to get out of practice.

But your job probably isn't like that. You probably just want to get the work done (especially now) and don't worry too much about "improving your craft." (And, if you're keeping score, most writers who work every day have some kind of day off or half-day-weekends or something.)

So allow me to explain a pitfall that is all too easy to fall into––even for entirely hypothetical veteran working writers trying to punch out some articles for their blog instead of convalescing properly after having Covid-19, the disease that is causing a global pandemic.


Yes, as I mentioned above, you want to be done when the "bell rings." Yell, "Yabba Dabba Doo" and slide down the brontosaurus into your car. But you also want to take your days off. Don't slip into the office "just for a couple of hours" on the weekend. Don't work if you're sick just because you don't have coworkers you could be infecting and you are not running a fever high enough to fry your upper brain functions. Don't look up at the calendar and not even remember the last damn time you took a day off.

Chances are you ALREADY aren't getting enough time off to hit that sweet spot between rest and productivity. If you're in the U.S. and maybe, maybe, MAYBE get 30 days of paid time off (all added up between vacations, sick leave, floating holidays, and personals), that is certainly true. Even still, plenty of wage earners just have to find someone to cover their shift and not get paid. So they either make less or don't get ANY days off.

That thirty days? That should be a minimum.

That's how much they give you so that burnout or illness doesn't have you dragging one leg behind you in a shamble and calling out for brains by the end of six months. It's what some study said was the absolute least amount they could give you before your work output would actually suffer MORE than the time you spent on vacation. It might not be true (though it probably actually is), but unless you're in a ridiculously well compensated field, are upper management, or have, like, 20 years of seniority, you should just assume that if they could take a single day of your PTO away and put you back to work without losing more than they gained, they would do it in a cliché heartbeat. Hell, they would do it so fast, they would break the cliché and do it before the diastole.

Don't add to the maddening grind of capitalist culture's "PRODUCTIVITY" worship by working on your days off. Those are YOUR days off. They are hard-earned. You paid for that shit by participating in the world's biggest,-but-least-acceptable-to-point-out pyramid scheme. So take all your days off (weekends especially). Rest when you're sick. Take a vacation day if you've been working months without one. Take an afternoon off if you used to go home early once every few weeks. Chillax.

You'll be better for it when you're back on.


8- Commute

This might seem weird, but I'll swear by it.

Pinkie swear. With rainbow sprinkles so you know it's super cereal.

You probably had a commute before all this *gestures vaguely at everything*.  And whether it was hours stuck in traffic that you had to try to make bearable with a plucky serial killer podcast, a 45-minute stint on public transit where you hate-read romance novels and listened to Skinny Puppy, or a brisk walk down the road while singing show tunes, you probably had a routine.

Do that.

Do that thing.

Whatever it is, do it. Don't deny yourself that transition time because your "commute" is now ten seconds of walking down the hall.

Listen to NPR for a half hour. Fire up your iPod with Hamilton. Read for the thirty minutes. Walk through the neighborhood (with all appropriate PPE and personal distancing, of course). But whatever you did, keep doing it. You've probably created a sort of "ritual" for yourself that helps you mentally shift gears into work mode.

And it'll probably still work.

I call sitting down to my computer and just immediately working a "cold start." I can do it when I wake up bursting with ideas, but usually I have about as much trouble getting started as the name implies. It's like trying to get an old car started when it's below freezing. But even just ten minutes guilt-free in front of Facebook to drop a funny meme and a couple of absolutely hilarious (yet charming and ever-tasteful) comments, and I often feel ready to whip out my anvil and hammer and smith me some words.

Want to know the trick though (for me)? It HAS to be on my phone. It doesn't work if it's on a proper computer with a full-sized keyboard. That gives me too much ease of typing and too much creative open range. If I want to leave a comment, it's got to be short and sweet. I have to have that sense of "forget it––not worth it" on ideas that would take a full keyboard to type out. (Or, if that long comment is REALLY important, the "cost" of trying to type it out with my big thumbs on the phone's little tiny keyboard will be that it may take some ten minutes or more and half a dozen typos.) It's because I used to put my book away about ten minutes before my stop on BART or the bus (or else I would get distracted and miss my stop) and pull out my phone instead. So I strongly associate those last few fleeting moments of checking social media (and email), bite sized bits of data, and the subsequent need to pare down my thoughts with shifting into a work mode.

Whatever your ritual was, it was YOURS and, between myelin sheaths and routine, it probably worked somewhere in the liminal space between habit and almost like a.....meditation when it comes to bringing you into a productive headspace. (I'm not the biggest fan of the idea behind the phrase "self hacks," but this is about as close as something gets.)

Give yourself a "commute" and I bet you'll find your ENTIRE transition easier.

I hope you're sensing the theme here. You have to keep work space, work time, work mentality in its own container. Sequester yourself as much as you can, physically and mentally. Keep those worlds as separate as possible. The more you dribble that shit in with your life, the worse off you're going to be. (It's like the green and the brown on your color palette mixing––DOES NOT WANT!)

And also trust me that I don't give this advice because I'm so damned good at following it either. I give it because when my days go absolutely fucking pear shaped (as many of them do), it's always for pretty much the same reason: I let shit that wasn't writing dribble in.

Covid-19 should be changing everything, and I hope that you are being as absolutely kind to yourself as you can be, given that we're all undergoing a cultural trauma in real time and some of us are lonely AF and horny as a twenty-year old during Beltane.

But....um.....that's a lot of my shit I just laid out, and mostly let's focus on that cultural trauma thing.

There is a time to face the mirror and admit that if you have hopes and dreams about being a working writer, you're going to have to have a tough conversation about productivity and working hard, but the midst of a global pandemic and total uncertainty probably isn't it.

It's really really really okay if you just GET THROUGH this.

But if you don't have a choice about working from home (or if you're hoping to get a LITTLE something accomplished beyond seeing the "Are you still watching" message from Netflix more times than you masturbate each day), I hope these simple ideas that writers have been employing forever will help you out.

Source: Blcksmth (personal blog)

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Best Classic Sci-Fi Book (Or Series)

What is the best classic Sci Fi book (or series)?  

I know I don't normally post on the weekends, but time is getting pretty elastic for many of us, and I have a lot of these sort of "business/admin" type posts to knock out. I got pretty behind by being sick.

Only a few days days remain in our best classic Sci-Fi poll, so it's time to vote, vote again, or prepare yourself to stare at the results and know you could have had a voice, but you chose not to. I'm going to wrap this up with the end of April. I'm sorry I have to remind everyone so aggressively on these polls, but ever since Facebook fucked Page admins as a cash grab throttled the content of pages I have to do twice as many "Come and vote, folks!" to get half the response.

Everyone will get three (3) votes. Use them....wisely.

The poll itself is on the bottom left of the side menus, below the "About the Author."
If you are on mobile, you can switch to "web page view" and scroll all the way down. If that doesn't work (or you just prefer), you can also follow this link to the poll directly: https://poll.fm/10533632

Friday, April 24, 2020

WAWs Social Media FAQ

I really do love and appreciate the people who follow me. The ones who take time out of their day to send me a couple of nice words always get a few in return.  I don't always have the time to chat, but I try to engage with people who reach out in good faith. I know the tone of this can feel like I just want to be left alone and no one should ever message me for any reason, but trust me that a little good faith goes a long way. However....there are a handful of questions that make up about 95% of what people slide into my inbox to talk about, and I am indeed a little tired of answering THEM. 

1-What's with this blog you post to every day.

That's the whole reason this social media outreach is here at all: to get a few extra eyeballs (and maybe the occasional fan) on that blog....er....this blog. If it weren't for this blog, and the traffic that FB brings this blog, I would hang up all these puns and memes and go enjoy an extra ten or fifteen hours a week doing almost anything else. Fortunately if I can build an audience of a million, a few will click the links I post and maybe I can scrape out a few bucks a month....


Thursday, April 23, 2020

Call For Covid-19 Themed Writing Questions

I always need writing questions, but now I need your Covid-19 themed writing questions!

Once upon a time, I used to do at least one question from all of you a week, and believe it or not, that is where I'm trying to get back to. As a real time glimpse into a working writer's life, this last six months or so has been telling, hasn't it? Overwhelming nanny responsibilities. Shifting schedules. Moving suddenly. Global pandemics. Getting the disease in question. And though I've managed to keep SOMETHING grinding out no matter how weird everything got, I have certainly been affected.

I have so many questions filling up the questions queue. You all could stop writing me questions for the better part of a couple of years (not that I would want you to) and I probably wouldn't run out.

I have questions about process. Questions about craft. Questions that could generously be said to be more about interpersonal relationships. Questions that have led to massive undertakings of new craft essays that were then completely derailed by...*gestures vaguely at 2020*. I even have some hate mail down here somewhere, and you know what a hoot it is answering that.

However, what I really want is to stick with our current Covid-19 theme by answering your Covid-19 writing questions. I don't have the expertise to answer questions about the virus, so don't bother asking, but if you have questions about writing specific to global pandemics, sheltering in place, quarantine, existential horror, when to push the gas and when to give yourself a break, I might have a bit of folksy wisdom or three to dispense. And if the scheduling gods see fit to keep things vaguely manageable, I may even get back to my weekly fare of answering.

I may not get to all the questions. I have a tendency to have more rolling in than I could ever answer. So if you want to hedge your bets, keep them punchy, focus on one moving part, and attach them to a $30,000 Paypal donation. (Or two out of three would probably work.)

Send those questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Pointer to (----->) My Covid-19 Story

I'm mostly better (from both what I was pretty sure was Covid-19 and then the host of issues from true isolation) and starting to get back into a writing groove. I spent most of yesterday sleeping––despite a good night's sleep on either end. Who even knows how much stress I was carrying around.

The writing I did today was about having Covid-19, but since it wasn't strictly about writing, you can follow this link to read it at my other blog. 

Monday, April 20, 2020

A Quick Note: Schedules and Updates

I am now all better from having had Covid-19. (At least I'm 90% sure of it. Tests are still hard to come by if you're not experiencing life threatening symptoms or rich or a celebrity or––in my case––willing to drive over an hour each way. And at this point, I'm probably all better, so I need to wait for an antibodies test anyway.) My life is returning to "normal" today. That's Shelter-In-Place normal, not NORMAL normal, of course. 

The good news is that this means my total isolation (actual quarantine, not just Sh.I.P.) is about to end. I will be able to see a small group of folks on the regular (I only see them and they only see me). The bad news is I'm about to go right back to being busy as fuck. Twelve hour days or more were not uncommon during March.

So, even though I don't usually post on Mondays I want to return to commitments and reminders and tell you about last week.

  1. I took about a week to recover, but really two. I have been able to write a LITTLE during that second week but getting over this thing is a long slog, and being completely isolated created some of its own problems. I got much less done than I thought. I guess the two weeks was a pretty good timeline even if it was configured slightly differently than most people getting CV-19.
  2. I decided to make the second week of recovery the week I was going to give myself to write on my novel this month. So I won't be taking the week off THIS week. I probably won't be able to get in any solid sessions for that until May anyway.
  3. My schedule is very overwhelming. I'm going to absolutely keep writing as much as I can, but while we're still Sh.I.P.ing, my normal update schedule just isn't going to happen. 
  4. Keep an eye on the other places I do my writing. I have a lot of edited articles. Mostly written accounts of things I'd like to publish more officially than Facebook and such. I'm going to use some of the shorter writing sessions (where I don't have the time to sit and write a full article whole cloth) to work on some of these things.
  5. In particular, f you like my sociopolitical thoughts, you might like my public Facebook page (be sure and read up on the suggestions above before you send a friend request). That is often where I drop a quicker thought when I simply don't have time to sit down and write a full article.
  6. Though an official update schedule will be impossible to predict or maintain, I will still try to aim for at LEAST one good article a week and drop it on Fridays.
  7. Once this is over, I'm going to take some time off and some time lightly scheduled and focus on writing. I know that might sound like "I'll make it up to you," but....well, I really will try.

Friday, April 17, 2020

What To Do When You Can't Do (Personal Update––And Folksy Wisdom)

I know for a fact that part of the reason I'm a professional creative writer is that I work too much. In fact, I think if working creative writers could be said to have one trait in common (other than reading a lot), it is that they work hard––they write A LOT. 

However, before you think I'm about to foist some "let's be productive in quarantine" bullshit on you, I'm actually more likely today to make my "turn-this-stream-of-consciousness-personal-update" into the same advice that oracles have been giving since they became a literary device.

But it's true. The drive and dedication it takes to cross the Rubicon to most definitions of working writer is not weekend warrior effort (by its nature). I'd love to tell you all that my quest to find a healthy work life balance will eventually be a story where I ride off into the sunset, a slow ballad of having learned a tough but valuable lesson playing as the credits come up.

Nope. That's not going to happen. Well, the credits might, but I'm not going to get that ending.

The best I'm going to get is "knows the warning signs of drifting too far into the 'red zone,' and is a little gentler on himself when shit goes sideways."

I get asked a lot about how to build a career as a working creative writer. And after I am done explaining that the money I make could really only be considered a "career" in the most generous sense of the word, I usually find myself describing seven-day work weeks and twelve-to-fourteen-hour days when all is added up. (My weekends are four to six hours––they aren't really OFF.) It's rewarding. I love it. I'd do as much of it as I possibly could even if I weren't getting paid. But it's work.

Two things that have helped me to get where I am today (and I fully admit that right now I'm Texas-sharpshooting the two things I want to talk about––I don't want to ignore the facts of my privilege and the passing privilege I've lived most of my life with as well as just a fucking metric buttload of luck). Thing one is an absurd work ethic from a long line of workaholics (it was just my family culture growing up) and thing two is a piercing self-honesty about excusing myself from a day's work.

Oh it absolutely goes too far in the other direction––I have worried about doing some writing when I was still dealing with symptoms of the flu. And while I was a pretty normal kid about saying I was sick when I just didn't want to go to school I have to tell you that my mom did NOT make it easy. She was like the Auguste Dupin of illness.  (Hopefully I can tell this story without mortifying her too much––I'll tell the really embarrassing stories when she's died, thereby increasing her incentive to outlive me.) Except Auguste Dupin wouldn't be accurate. Maybe Inspector LeStrade would be more accurate. She was always skeptical to the point where she sent me to school when I was legitimately sick at least once a year. I would have 101 fever or be nauseated (one time I even had the chicken pox), and she would tell me to get up and stop faking it. She saw through my cunning ruse. When you're a kid, you get pissed off, but a lot of times you internalize the lessons despite yourself. I learned that only the worst, most unbearable of illnesses were worth staying home, and there was never, ever, EVER such a thing as needing a day off. (Unless maybe you wanted to lick the doorknobs at your sick friends' house.) All the swords are double-edged when it comes to formative experiences.

So here's to mom...I guess.

The thing is, I couldn't be a working creative writer without that work ethic and self-ass-kicking power fully uploaded into my software matrix. (So here's to mom, definitely.)

My patrons are INCREDIBLY generous and kind when I am going through shit. They're usually the ones reminding me to slow the fuck down, and that it's okay to miss a post or two. But when I'm chugging along at my normal clip, most OTHER writers wonder how I manage to get so much done. I've had Hamilton quoted at me more than a few times. ("Look....I do kind of need it to survive, and aren't we ALL running out of time, really?") When you create, content and quantity is king. Not everybody gets to be Fitzgerald and pop off the ONE good novel and call it a day.

So here's where it gets a little free-form, and I'm trying to use a lot of mortar to keep this post in some kind of shape.

It's been an amazingly tough couple of weeks.

[So now we stop to tell the story of the amazingly tough couple of weeks:

It started when I fell ill from what seemed like it was certainly Covid-19. And when you're running 103 fever without antipyretics and coughing up a lung, you really want someone to make you soup and "Poor baby" you.

But I live alone.

And trust me that I would have stepped up my dating game to have someone who might Sh.I.P with me, if I'd known a global pandemic was coming.

It also means that my nanny job got suspended for the duration. One of my clients had cancer (and radiation and chemotherapy) on her lungs a few years back, and she's got to be extra careful. (Which means I have to be very careful.) Basically, I only see them. And while I have been recovering, I haven't seen anyone. Like, at all.

Trust me, I can introvert with the best of them. I have been antisocial for weeks without skipping a beat. But deprive me of ALL human touch (and I don't have a pet here because I still sometimes watch other people's, and things go sideways pretty fast. Yesterday I couldn't even deal with posting my usual fire hose of funny memes.

I have been getting the shakes, losing my ability to focus, not sleeping well. I only have to make it until Monday, but.....]

It's been very hard to write.

I come down from the bedroom following all my own advice. I've showered. I've shaved. I'm dressed. I'm ready to work. I even have my socks and shoes on. I sit down. I stare at the screen. It's not that I can't write at ALL, for a lifetime of discipline has given me a word flow when and where I want it. The problem is that I can't make my brain focus on topics I want it to focus on. I'm all over the map.

Eventually I can gut out a few paragraphs. But not before I've written sixteen other things on Facebook and probably started a short story somewhere. And I want to be clear about this––my ability to sit down and just write is a long, hard-fought result of years and years of learning to focus and daily discipline.

Ironically, I know that once I go back to work, I will then be BUSY again, but at least I won't be suffering from physical side effects of skin hunger.

Many writers I know perceive themselves to be on an escalator. In polyamory, sometimes we talk about the "relationship escalator." Most monogamous folks kind of see their romantic relationships as "going somewhere."  Usually an increase in importance. With the apex being white picket fences, two point five kids and having a joint Disney Plus account. While polyamorous folks have no shortage of unhealthy relationships, many of us are more content to have a romantic relationship that is good right where it is––possibly indefinitely. It doesn't have to GO anywhere because there's no end game.

There's an analogy I see among writers. They always want to be more. Often they have very poorly articulated goals, and may even spend very little time reading and writing, but they want to be more of a writer than they are now. (More readers. More success. More fame.)  And I just want to make sure everyone knows you don't have to ride that escalator, ESPECIALLY NOT RIGHT NOW. It would really be okay for you to decide that you are exactly as much of a writer as you want to be right now.

There's nothing WRONG with wanting money, fame, fans if that's what you want to get out of writing. (But I hope you love writing for its own sake because there are a lot easier ways to get any and all of those other things.) It's just sometimes we get so inured with a state of always yearning for more that sometimes we don't realize how much damage our low grade pressure on ourselves is doing when it's time for "survival mode."

This isn't a "be productive during quarantine" post. It fact, it isn't even a "make your long-lasting life choices" during quarantine post. Some of us working writers don't have much of a choice about trying to be a little bit productive. We have to get back to work. There are deadlines, and even in a crowdfunded situation like mine, I notice I start to lose patrons if I haven't brought my A-game in a month. So we face the crucible and there are some long and frustrating days. But this would be a particularly bad time to fall into that trap of always feeling like you need to be more of a writer.

This is a good time to do art only as much as it fulfils you and brings you joy and happiness. There are a lot of factors kicking all our asses at this moment in history. We don't really need to add a log of anxiety and expectation to the bonfire. If we want to taskmaster ourselves later, it'll still be there in a couple of months. It would be okay to say, "This brings me pleasure on weekends and I love the feedback from the boards, but I don't need to spend ten years trying to make a career, and I CERTAINLY don't need to let my unrealized expectations be a source of stress while everything is so fucked up." Really.

Also, just to be clear, if you find this period extraordinarily productive and are experiencing your own personal Renaissance not despite Covid-19, but because of it, you are not a freak or a monster or anything. You just have different coping mechanisms.

Lastly, the reason the advice to write every day is so ubiquitous is because writing is a skill and creativity is analogous to a muscle. Either can atrophy with disuse. It's the same reason musicians practice an instrument almost daily or artists constantly doodle. But remember that you don't have to make everything so hard. The goal here is to stay sharp. Your work in progress will still be there when you're done with all the particularly horrible anxieties and feelings about a global pandemic. In the meantime, you can spruce up an email. Write a thoughtful idea on Facebook instead of just shitposting. Write something that will NEVER be published.

Unfortunately I had to wander too circuitously through the garden of these points to wrap this up with a NEAT bow, but I can probably try to do it with three:

  • It's not just you. I can't sit down and write a listicle right now to save my life, and this is my fucking job. ("Oh look. Another stream-of-consciousness post. Thanks brain!") A lot of creatives are having a hard time. (And a few aren't.) Despite the memes of writers before and after Sh.I.P. where it's an identical picture, this isn't a vacation up at the cottage; it's a global pandemic. We're ALL of us jealous of Stephen King talking about getting a lot of work done. (JFC that guy writes a book in six months when he's positively lollygagging. What the hell is "getting a lot of work done?" I mean, is he going to publish three It-sized novels this year? Um....anyway....) If you're having a hard time, you're in good company––even my professional ass. It doesn't make you not a writer or not "real" or something.
  • Life is hard enough right now. You don't have to make it harder with some expectation based on your vague and nebulous goal to always be progressing as a writer. 
  • Don't make it so hard on yourself. You can't pour from an empty cliché. Take care of yourself, and that might mean setting aside your usual workload and just writing a little something so that your mad skillz don't backslide.
Listen to what you want during a time like this. Listen to who you are. Be good to yourself because the world sure as fuck isn't going to. Manage your expectations and don't sign up for any existential angst that you don't need to be carrying around. Later on if you want to be tough on yourself, everything will still be there.

For now, know thyself. 

Monday, April 13, 2020

A Writer's Guide to Working At Home (Part 2 of 3)

We're jumping in straight from 

Part 1 

So pop back there if you want the introduction and the first few suggestions.

And apologies for the long break between part one and two. I managed to GET Covid 19 (at least I'm 90% sure of it) and it was a bit over a week for recovery.

Though you may be seeing a lot of memes and macros telling you to fuck the idea of getting into a working mindset as a capitalist trap, and that you should definitely be spending your social distancing time in pit-stained sweats and PJ bottoms eating Froot Loops on the couch by pouring them into your mouth and then taking a swig out of a gallon jug of milk, a few of you might be wondering if there's maybe a more effective way to knock out a day's work from the living room.

If that IS you, rock it, Boo. Feel how you feel! May the brie smell of your day-three taintswamp give you strength to know no productivity that isn't done by crossing animals. Be the fabulous, magnificent, effervescent languor avatar you have always known you could be if you JUST had the chance. Transcend in your glory.

In all seriousness, it will be enough that you make it. You do not have to listen to those cultural messages about productivity and usefulness. This isn't a vacation or even a sabbatical to write a book. This is a global pandemic.

However, I know a few of you have work you HAVE to get done, and some of you might want to maybe find some middle ground between cultural Orcs behind you singing "Where There's a Whip, There's a Way*" and emerging in ten weeks from the longest period without work you've had in your life without so much as another couple of chapters on your steampunk zombie novel written. Also, I don't want to overstep my bounds or anyone's glorious attempt to reach their couchpotato final form, but there may even be a couple of you ready for the psychological advice that being sedentary for days at a time might be making your mindset worse.

(*It's a metaphor, okay? It's just a really weird and clunky one!) 

3-Love It When a Plan Comes Together *puff cigar* (or "What would you say...you DO here?")

This is one of those things that more people should be doing IN GENERAL, but let's talk about it strictly in terms of Work From Home™ and writing.

Look, I know we live in a corporate culture where "being self-motivated" is some brilliant buzzword that everyone sticks on their resume, but it's just....bollox. It's not true. People are TERRIBLE at motivating themselves. We all want to be fabulous self-starters and most, if left to our own devices, do what we need to do and want to do and have a really hard time with anything we don't really want to do. We need direction, guidance, and a deadline, or we'll just sit there playing Minecraft and saying we aren't sure what to do.  It's a rare skill set to be able to kick one's own ass into motivation. That's why everyone wants it on their resume.

It's not a bad thing necessarily. Most of you only have to think about how your job was the last time the boss wasn't there. You probably goof off a LOT on those days. Probably the entire office didn't quite get as much done. It doesn't make you a shitty worker. We all work better with external motivation. (This is the entire reason that capitalism requires poverty––why it is considered "socialism" to just "give away" housing and food. If we did, there would not be an inexhaustible source of cheap labor on the edge of homelessness and starvation willing to do almost anything to survive.)

Well, writers don't have external motivation. We have to learn to be our own bosses. Some of us (like me) get a little carried away with that role and demand more from ourselves than we would anyone else ("Hey, me, what's happening? Yeeeaaah. Listen, me. If I could just get me to do those TPS reports, that'd be great. Thanks a bunch, me." *sips coffee*)

You may have some external deadlines pressing down on you to help. ("I need the DeLaney reports emailed to me by noon!"), but chances are if you're going to be mostly riding your own ass (sadly, not in the fun way, hur hur), you are going to need to learn to set some goals.

The best and easiest way to do this is to decide WHAT you want to do each morning before you start (or if you prefer, as your last task of the night before). You can always add things to this if you whip through it by noon (or shit....go enjoy the afternoon off if you can!), but it will at least give you a sense of what you want to accomplish so that it doesn't take you a week to do four hours worth of work. For the maximum effect, try S.M.A.R.T. goals because "writing two pages on the DeLaney reports by noon" is always going to be easier to accomplish than "getting something done today."

3b- This Can Help in the Other Direction Too!

If you're outrageously good at self-motivation, this will keep you from doing too much.

It's too easy to sit down and "work" without the slightest sense of what that means. I don't know how your job shapes out, but I'm pretty sure that if you have the ability to work from home, it's not likely that you finish up the last thing and you are done. That tends to happen only in the kinds of jobs that cannot be done from home.

Chances are if you're working from home, you work in a job where there is ALWAYS more to do, more you could be doing, or something you could be doing better. You could streamline those files. You could redo that spreadsheet. You could write that report and get it in early so that you can...start another one.

There's no sense in working more than you would if you were at a job with breaks, random co-worker conversations, a meeting or two a day, six trips to the water cooler, lunch, a mid-afternoon snack, shitting on company time, and a you-shaped-hole-in-the-wall-at-5pm.

4- Gaze Upon the Countenance of Mother Nature! (Or "Green shit is good for you, yo.")

Look, I'm not telling you to go become a mountaineer or go ragehike something like Half-Dome tomorrow. If you used to hiss at the daystar and hate the impudent audacity with which it ROSE and SHONE every day, you don't have to change your lifestyle, but I'm guessing most of you usually had at least a few opportunities to go from here to the sandwich shop, eat lunch at a picnic table on the second-floor veranda, walk around the block, or go out and clear your head in the little courtyard with the weird corporate art. Or sit in a place with a decent view, even if you were behind protective glass.

To someone, somewhere, this is some deep, deep shit.
Okay, let's start with the basics. Sun is the best way to convert cholesterol into Vitamin D (not the "hur hur" kind) which is essential in absorbing calcium. It's also being increasingly understood to be important for...wait for it...mood regulation. Which means if you're not getting the D on the regular, you might be feeling a bit depressed. (Oh, come on! Is there ANY chance I wasn't going to make that joke?) Some research goes as far as to say that just opening some windows and trading out your house's dust, mold, insect waste, dander, and such for some outdoor air can help with serotonin production.

Damn it, Jim, I'm a writer, not a doctor, and it's not like the Google searches on this turn up the best of sources, but with a few exceptions, most people just don't feel good if they stay inside all the time. People who feel like crap have a hard time getting work done. So it will actually be a good thing for you to get out of the house a bit if you can. Take a little walk (properly distanced, of course) and enjoy some fresh air for a few.

If you absolutely can't get out the door for a few minutes a day, a Seasonal Effective Disorder (S.A.D.) lamp can help, and definitely make sure you're getting enough foods high in vitamin D (like salmon or egg yolks).

5- "That's Not My Working Chair!" (Or "Carve out a spot.")

The most important six inches in my entire apartment exist between my Mac Air and my gaming laptop. (The most important five inches on the other hand is––you know what; this is getting out of hand.) Same desk. Same chair (I just roll it over to the right). But worlds apart.

Ne'er the twain shall meet.
Cathamel the Muse dragon sees to it.

Your mindset is more attuned to geography than you're probably ready to deal with. It's the reason you can switch rooms and forget what you were thinking of, but if you go back into the old room, you'll often remember. It's the reason that as soon as you come over the hill on the way to the next town over, you start thinking of how good that one restaurant is.

And it's gonna mess with you when you try to work from home.

You've got all those spaces that are for other things. If your couch is for relaxing, that's not a good work spot. If you basically only sleep in bed, even propping yourself up, you're going to be tired. If the kitchen table is where you eat, you're going to be hungry all the time.

We writers learned long ago to carve out a spot that's just for working.

Yes, but non ironically.

It would be great if there were always an office or a study or a room of one's own. But even just a part of the table that's for work will do. Remember, you probably don't have to do this for more than a few months, so a temporary spot will work nicely. And in fact, it can even be a time-sensitive spot if you're really strapped for space. ("From 9am-5pm, this end of the table is for Mommy. You all need to clean up breakfast by 8:50 and it will be reopened to dinner prep at 5:15. Mommy's wine does not count as food.") But someway, somehow, you need to carve out a little space that puts you in "work" mood/mode.

Also, it can really help to make it your space, especially if you're doing the thing where it's only yours for a certain time. Put up a clock or bring out a lap surface. Play the music you have at work. Stick up a picture of your kids. Little things can trick your brain faster than you might expect.

I'm still getting my swing back after having Covid-19 and dealing with a lot of isolation psychology issues (which includes rampant ADD), so I'm going to change this into a three-parter. 


On to Part 3

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Best Sci-Fi Book (or Series) [FINAL ROUND]

[Reminder: I am sick with Covid-19 (or at least I'm 90% sure I am). Today was a good day, and I was able to get a little writing done. But I'm told there's a pretty good chance this thing takes one more "swing" at me in the 7-9 day range. I'll keep writing as I can and posting "jazz hands" if I can't write but can do a LITTLE something and keep just resting and taking days completely off if I can't do either.]

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


Remember it's a poll. If you don't come to the page and vote, your comment will disappear into the ether of social media and be all but forgotten in a moment, but if you vote, the results will go on our results page for YEARS (at least until the next identical poll).

Also these choices have been pared down from two semifinal rounds and your own nominations. I didn't "leave out" your favorite. If I picked the choices, there would be a lot fewer white dudes.

I do want to stress one thing. This poll is about books. It is not about Sting in an 80s-style stillsuit. This is about written literature. And if you thought that Dune the book was a little slow, vote for something else.

This poll will probably be up for the rest of April, but THAT'S IT. So grab your friends, whip up those fan clubs, vote early and vote often.

Everyone get three (3) votes, but that there is no ranking, so using as few votes as possible is better.

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

I'm told if you're on mobile you have to click "webpage view" then scroll alllllllllll the way to the bottom, you can find the poll. But if that doesn't work either, you are experiencing a problem that is not common but is normal, and you can go right to the website here:  https://poll.fm/10533632

Monday, April 6, 2020

Poll Results: Best Classic Sci-Fi Book (Or Series)

Reminder: I'm about 85-90% sure I have Covid-19. (We still don't have ubiquitous and free testing, so it's difficult to get tested without really bad symptoms or confirmed exposure to someone with, but all my symptoms track.) Don't worry, so far it's pretty mild compared to the horror stories, but it kind of keeps coming and going. At this point the worst effect is that I'm getting grumpy that I can't sit up for long enough to write more than a paragraph or two before my coughing catches up with me and I have to lie down for a while. Mostly I'm just spending my quarantine binging Netflix (even low-grade fever makes reading hurt my eyes), playing video games, and trying to make meals out of one thing because I don't want to cook. I'm keeping close tabs on the breathing, and I have people who will check in on me if I go quiet. I'm pretty sure I'm one of the lucky ones. It could be worse.

What is the best classic Sci-Fi Book Or Series?  Here's what's going on to the final round.

I can't really write full articles right now (though I'm plugging away at my next one during the easy periods of this––it comes and goes), but I can still try to get some of my easier (jazz hands) posts up. And poll results are easy!  (Tabulating the nominations is a PITA that takes a little while, but that part has already been done.) So here you go.

Thank you all for taking the time to participate in this one. The top four will go on to our final round. Which if I'm not feeling too miserable, should go up tomorrow.
Text Results Below

1984 - G. Orwell 63 25.51%
The Disposessed - U. K. Le Guin 39 15.79%
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep - P. Dick 31 12.55%
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress - R. Heinlein 29 11.74%
Brave New World - A. Huxley 29 11.74%
Flowers for Algernon - D. Keyes 28 11.34%
A Canticle for Leibowitz - W. Miller 17 6.88%
The Day of the Triffids - J. Wyndham 11 4.45%

Saturday, April 4, 2020

If You're Reading This....

If you're reading this, I am not feeling better.

Last night I spiked a fever and started coughing. I wrote, and scheduled, a little post hoping that I would wake up feeling much better, and just unschedule it and get on with my regular writing.

If you're reading this, I did not.

I don't know if I have Covid 19. I know I have two of the symptoms as of right now. It might be regular ol flu. It might even be cat scratch fever (a cat jumped off a curtain rail and used my face as a springboard to get to the ground). And of course even if it IS, some people's experience is very mild.

If and when I feel okay, you won't be able to keep me from doing a little bit of writing. (If it is CV-19, my understanding is that it sort of comes and goes.) But I'm going to prioritize taking care of myself. And that might mean up to two weeks of interrupted and intermittent posts. And if it's over in a couple of days, then you might not notice much of a difference.

This will affect posts here, on the Writing About Writing page and really anywhere I'm constantly updating.

(Please please please no medical advice. I've talked to my doctor. If I go to the ICU, they won't even test me if I don't have more intense symptoms. They will just give me cough medicine and send me home to rest until/unless my fever spikes way higher or I have shortness of breath. I've got this. I just wanted to let you all know what's going on.)

Thursday, April 2, 2020

April, Covid-19, and Writing About Writing (Personal Update)

We're going to toss our regular schedule, and do a couple of weeks of "Elephant-In-The-Room" posts about Coronavirus/Covid-19. They might be a little roughshod (as I'M a little roughshod right now). They might be a bit stream-of-conscious-y for what you're used to. They may be "about writing" in only the strictest sense. 

Today, let me tell you about what to expect from April, May, June, probably July, likely August, and not without-incidental-chance September and onward.

I was hoping to finish Tuesday's article about working at home, but it looks like that might get moved to tomorrow (and, full disclosure, even THAT is if I'm lucky). I only have a couple of hours in the morning before I have to get going on other work and my schedule has been brutal.

I know this is just a fanfuckingtastically horrific time for a lot of us. The cracks in the social contract wall we sort of knew were there are gushing water, and the ones we couldn't see have begun to leak. It's easy to fall into the morass all this leaking and gushing water is forming and feel like there's no bottom.

But there is. I'm not going to tell you it will all be okay (it won't––it will be horrible), but I am going to tell you that it does have a bottom. This will end.

And as we sink to the bottom, I'm going to be one of those who're telling you to look at me as I do jazz hands and making joke the whole way down.

Normally, this is the time of month when I would be pointing to my Patreon and making an impassioned plea for financial backers. Of course, if you're still up for that, it would be amazing, but I know financial life is about to get super weird for all of us. Crowdfunding artists and entertainers is probably one of the first things to get cut as the global economy collapses. ("Well, we could eat this month, but then we'd have to stop paying this guy in California for his mildly amusing listicles. I'm sorry, Timmy. It's stone soup again tonight.")

However, I want to make a promise here and now. I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing here at Writing About Writing, and in all the other places I drop written thoughts or memes for days. Barring illness (or worse), I'll be here. I might lose some days to grief and I can't promise I won't get furious at some politician (like I did THIS morning) and spend the day writing about non-writing topics, but no matter what happens, I'm going to try and keep people on the other side of the Internet from feeling alone. I'm going to entertain you, hopefully make you think once in a while, flip my hair, jazzate my hands, and if I can get some snorts and giggles in such difficult times, I'll call it a big, big win.

I've got a handful of posts about CV-19, and then I'll go back to the About Writing part in earnest. And just so you know, I'll be taking some days off in April to work on my manuscript. (From the early results of Patrons' polling, it looks like overwhelmingly that is going to be a handful of days in a row instead of spread out through the month.) I lost a couple of days to that "What the fuck!" right at the beginning––just like everyone else––but if anything I'm spinning up and starting to run my engines hotter than normal. But, for the most part, I just want to assure you that I'm not going anywhere. I'll keep pumping out memes and articles and those terribad Airwolf and Knight Rider jokes as fast as I can.

I think most artists and entertainers mostly want to survive capitalism and if they make more than a shoestring living along the way, they're as surprised as anyone. In times like these, we artists and entertainers are going to keep arting and entertaining as hard as we can (harder even?) to keep everyone's spirits up. I'm right there with them. And if you want to remember us when this is all over, I don't think there's one of us who wouldn't love that, but for now, let's all just get through this. That guy will sing. That woman will read a poem.

And me? I'll make '80s and '90s pop-culture references and bad jokes while telling you about writing.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Best Classic Sci-Fi [Semifinal 2-Last Call for Votes]

What is the best classic science fiction book (or series)?  

I'll be tabulating the results and moving us on to  the final round in just a couple of days, so this is your last chance to vote for which titles should move on.

Please remember there's a whole first half to this poll before you snark it for missing the title you feel should totally be on there. (And remember that if you want to see a title on ANY poll, you need to nominate it during that part of the process.)

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

My plan is to post results and the new poll probably Friday (although this assumes I finish yesterday's article by tomorrow), but if I move it, I will push it back (Saturday) not forward.

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.