Welcome

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

Monday, October 18, 2021

I Hate Everything I Write (Mailbox)

Note 1: I am currently going through some non-trivial medical issues. (Nothing to worry about long-term, but highly disruptive in the now.) I'm trying hard to work around it, get posts up on time (or at least get the right number of posts up weekly), and especially not take some sort of "medical leave" from blogging, but so much of Writing About Writing happens in Real Time™ that sometimes there is a high pain day or a three-hour doctor's appointment smack in the middle of my productive writing time, and I might miss a post here or there. Trust that I'm going to feel all kinds of internalized guilt about it, and I will be posting as much as is possible. 

Note 2: Normally I take Mondays off, but this post is actually from Friday. I'm going to switch the posting day on my update schedule. My writing times haven't really changed, I'm just not usually done with an edited post on Fridays by the time the east coast audience numbers start to go way down.

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox." I will use your first name ONLY, unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous.  My comment policy also may mean one of your comments ends up in the mailbox. I may not have all the answers for the truest of writerly existential crises, but I will try.] 

Just a note before I jump into this question. My queue of questions isn't EMPTY, but I can kind of "see the bottom," and like a cat, I'm absolutely sure that this means I will soon run out and perish. So if you've got questions for me, now's a good time to send them.

K asks: 

I follow you on fb and I love your posts, I'm sure you get a lot of messages but if you have time I just have two questions. What advice do you have for someone who has a good story idea, wants to write and be published, but every time they sit down they can only produce complete and utter awfulness? At least in my opinion. I had people read my story and they say it's really good and engaging and I need to keep going but I just hate everything that that I come up with. Is there a way to get past that?

My reply:

First of all, K, let me just tell you that I feel this so hard. The writer (the writer putting themselves "out there" at least) has the paradoxical job of remembering their flaws and fallibilities, being willing to hear criticism, facing the tough reality that they absolutely DO need an editor of some kind, and remembering that they are not God's gift to the written word. 

But…

BUT…

It is also true that writers (writers putting themselves "out there" at least) have to have just a little bit of moxie. They have to have a voice telling them "the world needs this" that is just a TINY bit louder than the one that says "this is crap." They have to believe in their work.

It's a tough needle to thread. And all around it are the bones of those who've let either their hubris or their diffidence be their undoing.

If I had a little bit of time, K, I'd be asking you a bunch of follow-up questions, but I think I'm going to take a leap here based on a couple of the things you said, and if my advice sounds wildly off from the problem you feel like you're having, write me back and I'll let you "jump the queue" for a clarifying/more accurate question. 

Fortunately for both of us, this isn't one of those times I just sit quietly with you through your existential writer crisis, hold your hand (metaphorically) and tell you platitudes about my years on the farm. (This is especially awkward stuff since I was never really on a farm—certainly not for years.) From the way you worded the question, it sounds like you're having a specific problem and fortunately there's an actual answer. And it's not even all that Master Po search-within-yourself-ish. 

The way to get past what you're going through is to TRUST THE PROCESS. Right now you're sitting down and trying to write something good, and that's never going to happen. I don't mean that to land as shitty as it does, it's just all of us writers really have to get over the idea of writing something good on our first try. No one ever writes something good. I can't even sit down and write something good, and I've been at this (professionally) for years. With a lot of experience, you might be able to sit down and write something passable. But for now, "complete and utter awfulness" is absolutely what you're going for.

Good comes later. 

Sometimes many many drafts later.

Revision is a part of the process. A crucial part. You can't just write something good. You HAVE to write something awful, get it out, and then begin the process of revising it INTO something good. And you have to get it out first, and you have to know that part is going to suck, and you have to be ready for the process to be annoying and messy because that process has entirely to do with how many times and how much you are willing to revise to improve the awfulness. 

Peer review is also part of the process. (And it sounds like your friends are great and encouraging, but might not be giving you the kind of constructive feedback you want or need.) You need peers who are writing and reading at about your level…maybe even higher (although you might have to pay for their skills). You need them to tell you what doesn't work and what could use some extra attention. You need them to be a whetstone.

Hating what you're doing is a common thing among writers (and really all artists). But the thing that separates the artists who are able to keep going from the ones who give up and just hate their own work is that ones who keep going are able to tell they've got something there that can be drawn out, nurtured, and kindled into a flame if they just keep working at it. They know "it's not good now….but it will be." They see, even in the roughest drafts, what can be worked with and developed. Which means they (usually) skip the hating part; they just recognize that there's a lot of work still left to be done. And then they get to it.

They trust the process. 

Friday, October 15, 2021

Schedule Tetris

I'll get a post up on Monday to make up for today. Given that this is the third time this has happened in a month since my big update schedule change, I'm probably going to swap out Mondays and Fridays as my day "off." At least that's what it'll look like to all of you. When the writing happens won't really change (I will still actually be taking Mondays off), but I don't seem to be ready to POST on Fridays when my non-writing responsibilities go a little topsy turvy, and I keep needing my weekend writing hours to finish up. 

It's not actually a change. It's more of knob-fiddle that does a lot superficially. I'm still getting the same amount of posts up each week (and I'm still doing the writing at the same time), it's just that Friday's is always late, so it's time to accept that's got to be part of the plan instead of something I can "pedal faster" and change.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Facebook Compilation (September)

For years, I didn't count all the bite-sized chunks of writing I was doing on Facebook as "writing." But it's a post here and a post there, and sometimes I spend an hour or more a day working on that writing, so it's high time I acknowledge the fact that it "counts."

I wasn't on social media much in September. I was in the middle of a move, living with people for the first time in years (including kids), and some big personal crap. But there were still a few gems that showed up.

Here is a collection of the BEST statuses (and a few of the most popular memes) from my public Facebook page over the period of September 1st-30th. (You're welcome to follow me there to see the not-quite-the-best ones,
but read up in the Facebook FAQ [last question] if you want to send me a friend request.) 



Everybody knows I practice ethical non-monogamy, right?

I hope this is not a plot twist for you. It’s been like 25 years. You’re not gonna talk me out of it.

You can have feels about that if you want, but I have a hard boundary if you don’t control your behavior. Unless I directly and explicitly solicit your opinion, if you slide in my PMs to give me anything other than support, a high five, sincerely ask for advice, or ask me out on a date—particularly if your opinions are married to dogmatic religion—our Facebook friendship will end before I even reply.

People lie.

And people REALLY lie about pretense and rationalization. They do what they **want** to do, and look around for the most reasonable sounding explanation afterward. So you kind of have to look at the "adjacent" issues they don't seem to care about to get a good sense of what they're actually interested in.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in lawmaking and politics. If restricting access to abortion were about reducing the NUMBER of abortions, we would see sex education, wide access to birth control, and comprehensive support after the birth so that it's not such a gut-wrenching financial or life-sacrificing decision. 

We don't see that.

If it were about the health of the fetus and those "precious baby souls," we would see mandates for more access to better prenatal care and comprehensive laws that decrease infant mortality rate outcomes in the medical industry.

We don't see that.

We also don't see laws that assign consequences to people with penises for being careless with their semen. 

What we do see—over and over—is an attempt to control the bodies of folks who have uteruses—to demand that they be nothing but incubators and that their body autonomy and right to choose be given up to be a vessel. 

These laws are about (and these politicians are talking about) taking sexual autonomy from folks with uteruses. About owning them. About treating them as things. And when you look at "adjacent" issues that laws and politicians NEVER talk about, work on, address or seem to care in the slightest about—and, in fact, will usually ALSO be opposed to—that impetus is clear as day.


Hey Texas peeps: 

If any of you have a sudden, powerful interest in a vacation to California—for, you know, whatever reason—Katie [my nesting partner] and I can help you out with travel costs. And while you're here, we can help with whatever it is you want to do. Rides. Carnivals. Places of interest. Funds for….you know, whatever the spirit moves you to do.

I'm not sure how many people I can help come to California to do….you know, whatever it is they're interested in doing. It sort of depends on how much help each person needs, but we'll keep going as long as we have the funds.


I live in a country where the people "winning" capitalism insist that Covid relief be cut off because people having their needs taken care of has driven the free market value of labor up above the below-subsistence levels. And those people winning capitalism require an inexhaustible labor force of exploitable workers in order for their business models to be profitable—a position that basically half of the government supports earnestly.

The rest of this is just smoke-filled coffee house crap.


Seriously, run a page for a couple of years if you don’t believe in systematic entitlement. Watch as it is always always ALWAYS a reliable 90% white dudes who bloviate about titles without reading articles or ignore the rules, even if they’re in the preview text.

Fucking always.


Protip: If you say, "Hey that's capitalism, baby—if it sells, it sells. If you don't like it, don't buy it" about the exploitative shit that you say you have a problem with but maybe deep down in places you don't talk about around your feminist friends, you don't have quite as much of a problem with it as you say…

Then beware:

You're going to look super, unbelievably hypocritical (and more than a little foolish) when you're out there whining like a four-year-old—who needs a nap—over the horrors of "cancel culture" when all most "cancel culture" even is is people talking to each other in the marketplace of ideas and deciding they don't want to spend their money on something—which is EXACTLY what you say capitalism and free speech is all about.




(In regards to the California recall election.)

Obviously, Gavin Newsom is a corporate tool, and the further left you go, the less any mainstream Democrat will represent you. But I still voted no recall.

And except for two midterms in my life—one when I was sick—I ALWAYS vote.

There are ways to effect change both in civic engagement, grassroots organization, and through civil disobedience. But not ONE of those things isn’t immeasurably harder under right-wing governance. Once the choice in a mainstream election comes down to a corporate tool and an anti-science dillhole party that literally makes it a part of their platform to harm my friends and loved ones, I may not be able to “get what I want,” but I can at least set the difficulty at a little less than nightmare mode.

Voting: it’s (literally) the least you can do.




Anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers are causing huge outbreaks that lead to overfull medical facilities—facilities so swamped that they can't handle non-Covid problems. They are getting people sick who don't have a CHOICE other than not to get vaccinated (including our children). They are driving variants that are more and more resistant to our vaccinations. (They cause the virus to spread which gives it more generations which gives it more chances to mutate.) They are literally worsening this pandemic and many of its outcomes worse and, by proxy, KILLING PEOPLE.

Quit acting like this is a twee little personal choice that pro-vaccine are giving folks guff to anti-vaxxers about because they have some broken sense of individual liberty. 

Your right to swing your fist has always ended at another person's nose.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Tuesday Report (Personal/Meta/Upcoming/Behind the Scenes)

This is what we're going to start posting on Tuesdays.

  • A quick personal and meta update. 
  • Any adjustments that are going to happen to the upcoming update schedule for the week.
  • Starting NEXT WEEK a word count update on novel progress. 
  • Plus what we're doing "behind the scenes" for that week. 


I've actually been having kind of a tough couple of weeks on a non-writing front. I got flagged on a routine blood test with some anemia and low iron between the first set of blood tests and the follow up labs to determine what might be going on, my numbers tanked enough to send my doctor into red alert. (Seriously the doctor's office called and scheduled ME for an appointment….the NEXT day.) So I've been doing follow up appointments and getting referrals and scheduling consultations doing and filling out intake paperwork and just generally feeling like my life has turned into some sort of medical bureaucratic nightmare. It's probably just that my diet turned functionally vegetarian, but they want to rule some stuff out, and some of it is a little scary. It's also been eating up a lot of what I usually carve out for writing time since those are all 9-5 offices. 

I've been thinking about how to handle weeks with a bank holiday on a Monday (we do Indigenous People's Day here in California in September instead of Genocidal Rapey Guy Day but this is still the federal holiday), and I think I'm going to eliminate the Thursday post when that happens so that I can get a day off too. I'm still behind where I want to be, but I'm starting to make headway, and what's holding me back this week is medical logistics, not burnout and motivation issues. 

Novel Progress here: (Starting NEXT week)

This week my behind the scenes work is finishing up our September newsletter (you know…before October is more than halfway over), and digging my camera out of the moving boxes so that I can start posting some of my hiking photos to the selfie tier of Patreon.

Friday, October 8, 2021

The Cost of Doing That Thing™ (Yes, We're Talking About the Kidney Post)

Here at Writing About Writing, I'm a little behind the "Issue of the day" curve. Where others have piping hot takes, mine are usually on the "extra chilled gazpacho soup" side. (That's "cold," in case Red Dwarf references are too 80s for you.) Somewhere in the archives, I still have a half written article about The Force Awakens. Just so we're clear what I'm saying, that's an article I started about the first movie of a trilogy that ended definitively almost two years ago…an article that ISN'T DONE YET. That's how long it takes me to get around to writing about some things—oh, I still intend to finish it.

Wait until I tell you about this Skyrim article….

But when I got asked on Twitter about my take on this New York Times article that I'd seen a bunch of people in my feed talking about (the article titled "Who is the Bad Art Friend?"), I decided to put aside what I was working on for tomorrow (today) and see if I couldn't at least drop something in the "luke warm to tepid" range for a change. 

Should a writer be able to draw on anything for the inspiration for their writing?

Well…yes, but the reason this particular story has gone viral—other than the Jersey Shore level drama between the two actors—is because there's much more than just this question going on even if it doesn't look like it.

I read the whole messy sordid story (twice). At first my jaw was just on the floor, but then I really tried to think about what would be a useful lesson for writers. I also looked around at a few of the higher-profile responses to see what other people were saying. I don't want to add to what I've already seen about who did what, and I'm not going to bother trying to figure out which of these two breathtakingly inconsiderate people was more to blame. 

I can't begin to untangle that trainwreck. It's like watching the first season of Schitt's Creek--you sort of just hope everybody gets hit by a bus.

I wouldn't even know where to start. There's so much culpability and bad behavior that it would be impossible to figure out where one person's assholery ends and another begins. Group chatting about someone behind their back is just bullying, awful, behavior, but it happens all the time, and suing over that… (I once became the Storyteller of a game with a heavy online component and was given access to the locked message boards, including conversations the former ST's were having about me. It was not flattering stuff.) Larson admits lifting text verbatim and not even changing it (which might not be legal copyright infringement, but it's definitely plagiarism—a no-no in ANY writing world). Dorland's inability to simply be pissed for a while that someone she thought was a friend was really (REALLY) not, and then let go instead of engaging in a sustained campaign of often litigious harassment and stalking panels and shit is petulant to the point of spite and rancor.  Obviously planetoid-size egos are at work here among both parties, one of whom seems unable to say, "I did do that, and I'm really sorry," and the other unable to say "I can't sue you into being a friend or a decent human, but I'm livid that you acted in such bad faith."

I'm NOT going to answer the question of who's the worst faith actor here. It is fundamentally unanswerable. Yikes on bikes all around.

But I want to point out something. Where to draw the line between being inspired by people and writing about them is a problem writers WILL have to grapple with, especially if they are borrowing from real-life events. And you can watch lots of people fall into camps about this. Writers will insist they can borrow from anything for inspiration. Anne Lamott famously said: “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

Other writers will point out that plagiarizing exact turns of phrase is not "borrowing from ______ for inspiration." And a huge majority of fiction authors this side of Truman Capote will point out that you better NOT put a character in a book that someone can recognize as themselves. You just better NOT do that. It's bad jujumagumbo. 

But here's the thing, and there's no getting around it. You'll never answer the question of how much is "okay" to borrow from people around you for inspiration. I can't answer it. Writers can't answer it. The ethics committee at Harvard law can't answer it. Because framing of it is always the wrong question: "Should a writer be able to XXXXXX." But the answer to THAT is always the same.

They already can.

This is the same dynamic as when dudebro SQuiD's show up and want to know why they can't fill their books with shitty stereotypes, cultural appropriation, or problematic portrayals (like using rape as a gritty backstory). 

They already can. 

Nothing is stopping them. 

There is no stereotype, appropriation, or problematica police that will come and stop a writer from writing absolutely whatever the hell they want, and there are no enforcers deployed to investigate whether a case of "inspiration" has drifted into "unethically mining someone's life to wring a story out of it." Short of libel or copyright infringement, a writer can write whatever they want, whenever they want, using as many details from the lives of the people around them as they want. And based on what DOES get published every day by every publisher and bloats most mainstream book lists, no such writing would even be a speed bump in a writer's career.

See, what these writers really want—what they're REALLY asking for—is not the ability to do something. 

It's the freedom from the consequence of having done it.

They want to never have to deal with anyone reacting negatively to their work in a way that makes their scalp itch or their fee-fees wibble. Ever. At all. They don't want to hear about it. Their ABILITY to write that was never in question. What they want is to never face an angry tweet or a pointed question at a Q&A.

And that is the same question that is really being asked in this situation.

As a writer, we already CAN take inspiration from any events we want. You already CAN take other people's stories and write them without permission. You can even write about a person who is clearly your spouse, drag them for every decision they made during their traumatic miscarriage, expose their secret habits, and reveal to their ex (who they're still really good friends with) that they were cheating (with you) for a year before the breakup. And as long as you don't name them and lie (thus committing libel), no one can stop you.

But I wouldn't bet the farm on your marriage lasting much longer.

This is the real question. It's not really "Shouldn't a writer be able to…." (They already can!) It's "Shouldn't I be able to do this without consequence?" 

And the answer to that is…well, it's never going to be yes. 

There are always consequences to writing. Always. Someone won't like it. Someone will be offended. Someone will take umbrage. You just have to leverage who you offend and how much against the things you want to get OUT of writing. I get death threats from time to time, but I'm not going to stop doing what I'm doing. People challenge me about what I write, and I pull up my big-kid Underoos and handle it.

I can't answer this conundrum for anybody but myself. (I would never write a recognizable event—I would always change enough details that it looked fundamentally different, even if I kept everything thematically identical.) Every writer has to find their own personal balance between bringing recognizable events and people into their fiction when they draw from real-life inspiration.

But I will warn you…

The second—the INSTANT—someone sees something they recognize in your work, they're going to be scrutinizing it to see what light it casts them in. If someone sees an event, they will be paying attention to what details you missed or made up. If someone sees themselves in something, there is a chance they will mention it, challenge you, get angry, become furious, or…(if they're a real piece of work) sue and low-key stalk you. Only by making things truly unrecognizable can you avoid people having personal reactions. 

And the closer you get to an event or person someone recognizes, the greater the chance they're going to be watching very, very closely. And if events are identical (up to and including some of the exact words used), they are going to have every right to think you are commodifying their lives and to tell you so.

There's no way of getting around this. Invoking "it's fiction" when someone sees themselves in your portrayal is about as useful as saying "I didn't mean it THAT way" when you use an ethnic slur. 

People have a right to react to your writing and if it upsets them, they have the right to tell you so. And while stalking a writer's panels and suing them is quite a bit extra, you don't have any special dispensation because you're a writer. Writers aren't issued a "hall pass" to negative feedback because "writers are allowed to draw on real-life inspiration." No one will say "Hey this really hurt my feelings and made light of some of my deepest traumas when I—oh I'm sorry. I didn't realize you were an artist. Please carry on."

So if you don't give a shit about whose feelings you hurt, then stick to your convictions when those people you've used for story fodder come knocking. Tell them to get over themselves, and maybe there'll be a career-boosting New York Times article about YOU some day. If you DO care (either about the people who think you are their friend or maybe just about your fellow humans with feelings), write with greater sensitivity for how the person might feel being the subject of your story, change a few more details, or communicate with the person. 

Like most ethical questions, you're going to have to find your way on this one by yourself. I can't tell you what to do or if you should talk with someone or change the details of the story so much that they don't recognize themselves in your work.

I can only tell you what will happen (definitively) if you don't.

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Best Stand Alone Classic Sci-Fi (RESULTS!)

The results are in! These are the books you all recommended (often more than once). I was really excited to see how active this conversation was. Unfortunately there were a lot of folks nominating outside of the rules—either books that were part of a series or books that were written after 1980 (sometimes both!), so as great as they were, I had to expunge them from our list. Tuck those great works in your back pocket for the day when they fit the nomination criteria. 

Thank you all so much for participating. Even I picked up a couple of books to add to the "To Be Read" pile this time around.  

Now on to the results…


The Best

The Gods Themselves, I. Asimov 4

Stranger in a Strange Land, Heinlein 4

Flowers for Algernon, D. Keyes 3

Frankenstein, M. Shelley 3

Cat's Cradle, K. Vonnegut 2

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? P. K. Dick 2

Kindred, O. Butler 2

Childhood's End, A. C. Clarke 2

The Lathe of Heaven, U K LeGuin

The Metamorphosis, F. Kafka

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, J. Verne

A Clockwork Orange, A. Burgess

Slaughterhouse Five, K. Vonnegut

War of the Worlds, H. G. Wells

Repent, Harlequin', Said the Ticktockman, H. Ellison

Day of the Drones, A. M. Lightner

Lord of Light, R. Zelazny

Nova, S. Delany

The Einstein Intersection, S. Delany

Blazing World, M. Cavendish

Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. In Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, J. Swift


Undersung Hero

The Dispossessed, U. K. LeGuin 4

Solaris, S. Lem 3

Roadside Picnic, A. Strugatsky 2

Wait It Out, L. Niven 2

The Man Who Fell to Earth, W. Tevis

The Cyberiad, S. Lem

The Long Tomorrow, L. Brackett

Woman on the Edge of Time, M. Piercy

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

A Day Off Kilter

Hi everyone. 

I've been dealing with some medical stuff all day including labs that might be "eat more of X" and might be "something kind of serious" or even "the C word" (unlikely but….) so I've been chasing my tail from appointments to getting the prescribed meds and stuff and a little distracted when I did have a moment here or there.

I'll still get the same number of posts up this week, even if I have to post on the weekend or next Monday. It feels too early in my new update schedule to start dropping the ball. But I wanted everyone (who's paying CLOSE attention) to know why I fumbled today.

I expect tomorrow will be what today would have been, and if I can get back on track Friday will be what Friday would have been leaving Thursday's post for either the weekend or early next week on my normal day off.

Friday, October 1, 2021

NWAW Update

If you're getting updates from Writing About Writing through email or direct notifications, instead of social media, today I did a post on NOT Writing About Writing about my recent move. 

Please enjoy. 

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Disregarding Grammar? (Mailbox)

Why don't I (Chris) care about grammar?

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox." I will use your first name ONLY, unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous.  My comment policy also may mean one of your comments ends up in the mailbox. I'll even tackle tough questions like what prescriptive grammar and racism have in common.] 

Just a note before I jump into this question. My queue of questions isn't EMPTY, but I can kind of "see the bottom," and like a cat, I'm absolutely sure that this means I will soon run out and perish. So if you've got questions for me, now's a good time to send them.

Lex asks:

Why don’t you care about Grammar?

My reply: 

lolwut? I R totes gram-fan, yo.

What in the world gave you the impression that I don't care about grammar? Is it all the grammar mistakes I make? Because I've been seeing an editor about that. We've been working together. I've made a lot of progress on my problem. "Hello. My name is Chris and I'm really sloppy with my commas."

Oh wait. Is it the fact that I refuse to be an elitist shitgibbon about mocking memes with typos or people who use non-standard grammar? That I point out that prescriptive grammar fits into an invisible system that reinforces a colonial hierarchy of English in which there is one "best" form of English—that literally comes from the same place that started all those colonies—and any non-standard grammar (particularly if used by people of color) is considered to simply be flawed or "wrong" even though it follows linguistic rules and has a system of grammar just like any language or dialect? And that I point out that what is right (or not) is usually both enforced by people in power as well as becoming one of the ways they maintain that power?

Because at least one of those, I'm probably not going to apologize for. 

Ironically, most people don't actually know the best form of English, or at what point in time they would like to "freeze" the inexorable march of linguistic drift. ("Sunday Sept. 18, 1983! Everything that changed in English before that is 'Duh, of course language changes and evolves.' Everything that changed after that is just made-up shit by kids who need to get off my lawn.") If they are from the U.S., they probably do not have a style guide they go by or know all the modern updates.  Actually having a metric for embracing new grammar guidelines and rejecting others would be complicated and would require some sort of forethought and conscious standard rather than just a snap judgement and feeling of superiority. They probably "salad-bar" the rules, taking what they like and deeming the rest to be the work of knaves. Mostly they just go by what they were indoctrinated with during high school and consider everything else to be a mistake of some level or another.

Perhaps worst of all (and most ironic?) is that this strict adherence to some grammar rules they locked in when they were teen-agers does absolutely nothing to enhance comprehension. They correct perfectly clear meanings and assume incompetence or stupidity, rather than ask for clarification, when meanings are unclear. Like most rules imposed by the ruling elite, they are only there to use as a cudgel to prove how backwards the people are who get them wrong. ("Oh my. You're not going to listen to THEM about privilege and marginalization, are you? Not when they end sentences with prepositions and their grammar—IF YOU COULD EVEN CALL IT THAT— uses a copula deletion of the verb 'to be'.") 

And through it all, people never seem to notice that they are falling into one of two traps. 

EITHER they are pulling the "My way of doing the religion is the only right way" move of thinking American (or British or Australian or….) is the most "correct" and the other main forms are either quagmired in antiquity and need to join language in modernity (if it says their own linguistic drift is incorrect) or are some bastardization that cannot be allowed to go unremarked upon (if it has drifted linguistically from what they themselves do)—each mostly dependent NOT on some sort of actual rubric, but simply on whether it agrees with what they learned in high school.

OR they have one idea for a "correct" form ("The King's English," basically) from which all other 160(ish) linguistically recognized English dialects are simply more or less error filled. Usually while failing to notice that the further one gets from the British Isles, and the more the people speaking the dialect are not white, the more the language is appraised as "impure" and lacking.

All while those who study linguistics are jumping up and down and screaming that every variation/dialect is valid and follows perfectly rational grammatical rules that just happen to NOT be in exact agreement with what rich white guys (mostly from England) think is proper. 

Do you…maybe….kind of….see how this….fits into broader contexts of classism and racism (and really most bigotry)? Now that the face of racism has changed from simply saying, "Of course X people are inferior," it gets rooted in an ethnocentricity that (big shock) only the colonizing and privileged powers live up to. (And you might not know this, but a lot of post-colonial cultures revel in how "bad" their version of their colonial language is.) People in power declare that the way they do life and living is the "right" way to do it, and then reject anyone else of being worthy of giving them input on their rubric*. So, no, of course, they're not RACIST, they just think upper-middle-class white people culture is the best. This is true even when it is only the privileged culture that really has access to the things they've deemed important. 

*Oh and by the way I'll be scrutinizing everyone who isn't white for ANY possible deviation I can point to discount them, and white people will get a pass. A double-standard phenomenon you actually see MORE acutely among Anglophones when it comes to non-standard grammar.

Anglophones really ought to know better too. English history is rife with anglo-saxon contempt for French and the former's steadfast refusal to assimilate during the Norman conquest. But the cultural IDEA that the French side of the language was more "proper" stuck around even after the Normans got booted, and a thousand years later we're still playing the "one true language" game that they taught us.

Now this isn't to say that a writer doesn't need to concern themselves with grammar. Writers have to care about grammar. They have to. A writer who doesn't care about grammar will not be taken seriously by gatekeepers (if traditionally publishing) or by readers (if non-traditionally publishing). 

And most writers who want to write in English are going to have to care about standard English if they want their words to be fully and easily understood by most Anglophones. Standard English dominates academia, professional writing, and most literature. At the very least they need to be able to write most of the grammar mostly according to standard English MOST of the time. (If you're using one comma rule from Cambridge and one from California or Hacker, no one is likely to notice except maybe an editor.) Yes, it's possible to write an entire work in nonstandard English, and some very successful works have been, but these were always conscious and considered decisions on the part of the author, and those authors almost always could code switch between their dialect and standard English without any issue AND have enough confidence to look at their editors or agents or publishers and say, "I did that on purpose."

But knowing that version of English—standard English—doesn't make writers better. It just means they know the version of English most often spoken by those in power. That isn't something that they need to be running around acting like pedants fartlickers about. And this writer doesn't try to lord that knowledge over people who make mistakes from time to time or have learned a nonstandard dialect. 

I mean, how would I feel if STEM folks snickered derisively about how worthy I was to pay any attention to when I failed to solve an equation with more than one variable?

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Best Standalone Classic Science Fiction (LAST call for "Recs" and "Secs")

What is the best stand alone Classic Science Fiction Book (published before 1980)?

It's my birthday today, so I'm going to drop a reminder and run. (And if you want to help me get a gift, my tip jar is always open.) This is your absolutely last chance to drop a recommendation for best stand alone classic science fiction books—so not a part of a series or a book with a sequel. Plus the recommendation that folks have already dropped need your seconds (and thirds and fourths). We'll be posting results soon.

Just don't forget to pop over to the ORIGINAL PAGE to drop that recommendation or check out the rules if you're unsure of them. If you put it here or on the social media pages where I'm sharing this link, it won't get tabulated and put on our list.

Also please keep in mind that we already ran a "could stand alone but doesn't" poll for science fiction. A few of our recommendations have sequels or are part of series, and even though they might have been written decades later, they disqualify the books from THIS particular conversation.

Thank you all for joining in our Book Rec Conversation. I've really love reading all your comments about the books you treasure and why.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Do Villains Need Redemption Arcs In Order to Be Sexy? (Guest Blog by Savannah Cordova)

[We usually take Monday's completely off, but we owe a post from Friday when there was a complete formatting fail.]

Can writers make sexy villains without having them redeem themselves? Check out today's guest blog from Savannah Cordova. 

Do Villains Need Redemption Arcs In Order to Be Sexy?

by Savannah Cordova


Everyone loves a bad boy. And by everyone, I mean “a lot of people, albeit with quite a vocally opposed faction on Book Twitter, as evidenced by the endless debate over whether readers are able to separate high-flying fiction from real life.”

And why in the world do we devote so much time to this subject? Because of fictional villains — specifically, the oh-so-sexy villains we love to hate, but just as often seem to genuinely love. I’ll be the first to admit I’ve been swayed by a sexy villain or two — hello, Jafar from Aladdin and Cillian Murphy in Batman Begins — but I never thought too critically about them until the past couple of years. This was when I began writing about character development and dynamics on a regular basis, as well as engaging with more media analysis overall.

In that time, hoo boy, have I seen some things re: Villain Discourse. Some of the FAQs, for those curious/fortunate enough not to have encountered them before: Where should we draw the line between questionable and indefensible? When a character has a romantic relationship (or even just chemistry) with a villain, what makes that relationship too toxic to abide? Is it even useful to evaluate villains through a moral lens — especially in SFF, where they’re often so exaggerated as to be almost completely removed from reality?

Despite my eye-rolling at those who claim that shipping unhealthy fictional relationships is equivalent to endorsing them in real life, I do think the answer to the last question is yes. But it’s not because I’m concerned about the IRL consequences of romanticizing villains; it’s more that I care about what makes for an interesting, complex villain in a story — and, on a lighter note, to what extent “interesting/complex” overlaps with good old-fashioned bangability.

This is where we arrive at the question of sexy villains and redemption arcs, of which I’ve posed a somewhat oversimplified version in the title. A better, extended version of this question would be: Does a villain need to undergo a full redemption arc in order to be widely considered “sexy”? Failing that, how much redemptive potential do they need to cross that threshold? And finally, if a villain is given a strong redemption arc — potentially even going all the way from antagonist to deuteragonist — does that make them sexier?

Let’s start with the first query, the most straightforward: does a villain need a redemption arc to be sexy? To those familiar with fandom, it should come as no surprise that the answer is “hell no.” Tons of fans, maybe even the majority, are fine thirsting over characters with no redemption arcs to speak of. From Dracula to Heathcliff to Tom Riddle and oodles of film villains in recent years (including, yes, the villains in the Dark Knight trilogy), these guys may be lacking in the morality department, but that doesn’t prevent them from being seen as sexy.

(Also, before I go any further, I should address the elephant in the room when it comes to “sexy” villains: pretty much all the prominent ones are not only guys, but conventionally attractive white or white-passing guys. Attractive white women are starting to get more sexy villain rep — Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, Emma Stone as Cruella de Vil — but with the enormous caveats that a) sexualizing women is a much more systematically oppressive, socially gross practice than sexualizing men [as we all know], and b) that these characters, if not quite good, do typically get more sympathetic explanations for their behavior than their male counterparts.

So for our purposes — because, sadly, there are limited examples of both sexy and immoral female villains, POC villains, and less-than-conventionally-attractive villains, and because the issues around them are weightier and not something I feel as qualified to talk about — this article refers mainly to the villains that dominate fandom discussions today. That said, I do hope to someday live in a world where more villains are considered sexy and evil regardless of demographics. Let’s manifest!)

Moving onto question two: just how redeemable must a villain be to maintain “sexy” status? In youth, I was pretty liberal about this (again: Jafar, Scarecrow, let’s not talk about it anymore) — and while I still don’t need a full redemption arc to invest in a character’s sexiness, these days I do want the author, showrunner, or filmmaker to throw me a few bones.

But plot twist: there are two elephants in this sexy villain room! Not only do most fans seem to prefer those Sexy White Male villains (which, to be fair, is a lot of what lazy creators are offering up), but so many fans also just… don’t care about what a villain does, who they hurt, or what goes on with them internally, so long as they’re nice to look at.

Kylo Ren, the bane of my pop cultural existence, is perfectly emblematic of this problem. (Serious Star Wars spoilers ahead!) As a disclaimer, I realize I’m unusually clear-headed about Adam Driver; maybe it’s because I first saw him as Hannah’s slightly odd boyfriend in Girls, maybe it’s because he’s got bizarre older-brother energy, but I’ve just never felt very attracted to him. The Star Wars fans do, though — and they overwhelmingly ship Kylo Ren with Rey (played by Daisy Ridley), despite their hostile and even occasionally abusive relationship.

I know, I know. Kylo renounces the dark side and helps Rey at the end of Rise of Skywalker — just in time to plant one on her (blech) and die cinematically in the rain. But not only does this eleventh-hour about-face hardly constitute a redemption arc, I would say that it’s not even a great redemptive moment. Critic Kayti Burt explains this much more eloquently than I do, but basically, Kylo Ren barely does any self-reflection or experiences any genuine remorse. He’s overpowered by emotion, yes, but the moment he joins Rey — and his other “redemptive” moments throughout the sequel trilogy, such as when he fights alongside her in The Last Jedi — are impulsive and self-motivated, not a considered attempt to atone for his sins.

What’s more, even before RoS came out and fans could only speculate on Kylo Ren’s fate, it had little impact on their perception of his sexiness — and, by extension, their desire to see him get with Rey. (Note that while shipping doesn’t always reflect fans’ personal attraction to one or both of the characters involved, in this ship — and in the others discussed in this article — it pretty clearly does.) Case in point: in November 2019, just before RoS’s release, there were nearly 11,000 works in the Kylo/Rey tag on Ao3. For context, today there are around 16,000… so if anything, fans found him sexier and more shippable before his redemption.

To be fair, there are other factors at work here — mainly, the fact that any long gap between trilogy installments is bound to be filled with fanfiction, and that the conclusion of said trilogy would leave many fans satisfied enough that they wouldn’t want to write anything more. But the fact remains that it didn’t matter whether or not Kylo Ren would be redeemed in canon. Fans loved him, wanted him, and shipped him unabashedly anyway.

So why does this bother me, someone firmly in the camp of “consumers are perfectly capable of separating fiction from reality”? Again, it’s not because I think every Reylo shipper actually wants to be in a relationship with Kylo Ren, or would put up with his crap if they were; it’s because I value strong, thoughtful narratives and well-developed characters, and that includes villains as well as heroes. Kylo Ren, and villains like him — those who receive the hasty, bare-minimum morality treatment — are an affront to the craft of storytelling.

“But what does storytelling have to do with pure, raw sexiness?” you press. I suppose I like to think that the combination of war-criminal-level degeneracy and a poorly executed redemption arc would preclude other readers and viewers, as it does me, from ever being able to find a villain particularly attractive. (You know, sort of like how the ridiculous and abusive dynamics in Fifty Shades of Gray make it tough to get on board with Christian.) Alas, this is not reality.

The good news is that you can hate a character, not find them sexy, and recognize that it’s okay for others to do so. Again, it’s still pure fiction; it’s not nearly as bad as, say, all those movies glamorizing Ted Bundy. But at the same time, I want readers and viewers to hold creators to higher standards — and it might seem silly, but finding weakly developed villains hot (and enthusiastically shipping them) does lend implicit approval to those stories and characters.

All that said, there’s still a ray of hope — one that arrives in the form of the answer to my third question. To jog your memory, that one was: even if not a prerequisite for sexiness, does a redemption arc still make a character sexier? The answer here, I think, is a tentative yes.

To my knowledge, there are relatively few mainstream villains who have undertaken a full redemption arc — which I define as a long period of reflection, internal change, and atonement (you can see why most melodramatic revelations in Marvel movies don’t qualify). I say this in part to justify the “tentative” qualifier, acknowledging that there’s currently not enough data to say for sure — and also to explain why the next arc I’m going to examine, purportedly in relation to sexiness, is technically about a late-teenage character rather than an adult character.

Certainly, I could have scrounged around a bit more and come up with a decent redemption arc belonging to a canonical adult character. But I’m certain those who have seen Avatar: The Last Airbender will agree: no one does a redemption arc quite like Prince Zuko.

For those who need a recap and/or don’t plan on rewatching ATLA anytime soon (can’t relate), here’s how it goes down, spoilers included: Zuko is an exiled prince who must capture the Avatar — a powerful master of the elements — in order to return to the Fire Nation and regain his father’s respect. In doing so, he will help the Fire Nation win the war they’ve been waging for 100 years to conquer the rest of the world. However, he slowly begins to lose faith in the Fire Nation, their goals, and their values… and over the course of three masterful seasons, Zuko goes from ruthless villain to internally conflicted soul to, finally, a complex deuteragonist who’s fully on the Avatar’s side, even when that means turning against his own family.

There’s so much to say about this arc and why it works so well, but the main reason is that it refuses to let Zuko off easy. He’s a deeply unlikable, annoying character at times, and the show doesn’t try to erase this in a scene or two; instead, he’s seen genuinely struggling over multiple seasons, experiencing setbacks and distrust from the “Gaang”, and only truly redeeming himself once he’s spent some time with them. Not to quote Hamilton in the year of our lord 2021, but one line succinctly captures the difference between Zuko’s redemption and other, less impressive ones: “Dying is easy, young man. Living is harder.”

By having Zuko live with his choices and work hard over time to counteract them — as opposed to flip-flopping to goodness at the last minute and conveniently dying before he has to do much else — ATLA offers up a much stronger, more fleshed-out villain redemption arc than 99% of fictional media. But of course, the question at hand is not merely whether Zuko’s redemption arc makes him good. It’s whether it makes him sexier.

This is harder to evaluate than with other characters because a) canon Zuko is younger than most villains (albeit much older-looking than baby-faced Aang), which makes people (rightfully!) less willing to sexualize him, and also because b) ATLA ended so long ago that it’s difficult to say how viewers felt about Zuko before he was redeemed. However, given contemporary discourse and all the aged-up fanart and fanfiction in the ATLA fandom — Zuko/Katara is by far the most popular ship, despite not being canon — it seems safe to say that his redemption arc is a huge part of how fans perceive him. And how they perceive them is, essentially, as sexy.

Yes, as we’ve established, there’s little direct cause-and-effect between redemption arcs and generally agreed-upon sexiness — and we would need more legitimate redemption arcs in mainstream fiction to draw a more concrete conclusion. But from what I’ve observed (and what the Ao3 tags seem to indicate) it does seem to be the case that the more a villain redeems themselves, the better.

TL;DR, lots of people are attracted to irredeemable villains. It doesn’t make you a bad person, and it certainly doesn’t say anything about your real-life preferences in relationships. But isn’t it more satisfying to love a thoroughly redeemed one? And while not every villain needs a full-on redemption arc, wouldn’t it be nice if we had a wider range of narrative outcomes?

Plenty of villains these days have sympathetic aspects to them: a rough childhood, an understandable objective taken too far, or some other trauma that drove them to the place they are now. All I ask is for more creators not to leave them there… and, if they want to redeem a villain with sexiness in mind, to remember that while looks are extremely subjective, character development — at least in this fan’s eyes — is always sexy.


Savannah Cordova is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects self-publishing authors with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers. In her spare time, she enjoys reading contemporary fiction, writing short stories, and marathoning ATLA.





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


Friday, September 24, 2021

Formatting FAIL!

For those following closely enough to notice when we miss a post, I had a guest post ready to go, but the formatting isn't working with copy/paste. (If you were paying really close attention, you may have even noticed it go live and then get taken back down because it was such a mess.)  I'll have to do it by hand, but I won't have a chance to get it fixed (and posted) until after the window of maximum engagement. (Most of my readers are still in North America, and the east coast starts logging off for the weekend pretty early.) 

So in order to give this post as much oxygen as it deserves, I'm going to do the work today but post the post on Monday (my usual day off) next week.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Best Standalone Classic Science Fiction

What is the best stand alone Classic Science Fiction Book (published before 1980)?

I'll be dropping the original page rerun over on WAW's Facebook page but for everyone else, here is a quick update post. If you haven't yet, please don't forget to pop over to the original page to drop that nomination, see what has been nominated already, second (all) those you agree with, as well as brush up on the rules—there are a FEW after all.

We're looking for Classic science fiction this time around, so there really ought to be a LOT of stand alone books. After all, the trend towards sequels didn't start after 1980, but it certainly wasn't as prevalent before. Plus…all the foundation literature that people rend their garments about is from prior to 1980.

Again, please remember to go to the original page to drop your nomination (and familiarize yourself with the rules if you haven't yet). If you put it anywhere else (including a Facebook comment on this post) it will not be counted.

Thank you all for joining in our Book Rec Conversation. I've really love reading all your comments about the books you treasure and why.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Schedule Update Fall 2021

While most of you just click the link I put on social media when you see that something I have written interests you, there actually IS an update schedule here, and as we enter a new phase of Covid, we are implementing perhaps the biggest, most significant update schedule change in the history of this blog. 

I might lose some patrons for this, but it's time for some significant changes. Both for my ongoing mental health and for my other long-term writing projects (fiction and some compilation e-books of our best articles). I am putting the days of seven posts a week and 70-hour weeks in the rear-view for good, and moving into a more quality > quantity phase of the blog. 


Yippee ki yay!

Writing About Writing consists primarily of one guy who takes care of a couple of kids, tries to keep up with some domestic stuff, is writing a novel, posts on another blog, posts a LOT on his Facebook wall, and sometimes does really wacky shit like try to play a D&D game with friends or get laid or something.

He's also a working writer, though, so he better stop making a bunch of excuses and make with the clackity clack. But that has generally not been the problem. 

This is the schedule we will generally make an effort to keep. I say "make an effort," but I have to be honest about three things. #1- I have written posts from my bed with 102°-fever or from coffee shops out of state while on vacation or during hospital visits to people with cancer, so it is very likely that no matter what happens, you will still get more than a couple of posts a week, and I really do mean MAKE AN EFFORT.  #2 I am absolutely balls at keeping on top of WHAT gets updated on WHICH days, and I am likely to start Tetris-ing the posts for the week if I SNEEZE too hard. #3 I am still working through the full effects of the global pandemic, including the massive, unrelenting, fully permeated burnout that comes from 18 months of 70-hour weeks. (At least one more vacation in the next month or two is badly needed, and after that I'm going to take them on a more reasonable schedule than I did for the first decade of this blog.)

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

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

Facebook Writing and Social Justice Bard

Most of my major writing ends up on this blog, but some of my more throwaway thoughts don't. If you particularly enjoyed our Social Justice Bard posts, I still have many bees in my bonnet.

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

I also have another blog called NOT Writing About Writing that I periodically update (once or more a week pre-covid, but now it's a couple of times a month in wild fits and starts), write personal updates, and post political thoughts that don't really tie into writing but that also aren't really short enough for Facebook.

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

Facebook Page Maintenance

Running my Facebook Page of over a 1.1 million followers as well as maintaining all the OTHER various social media (which is essential to the fact that I get to be a working writer) is basically a part-time job in and of itself. It just happens to be spread out so that the work happens in five-minute increments throughout the day, pretty much hourly, almost any time I'm not asleep. 

Mostly I've just done this AND my writing and not really acknowledged the ways in which the aggregate of all these five minutes here and there impact a weekly writing schedule. 

Prepare for More of the W.A.W Meta Plot

Just a quick note: if you've been around for a while (or have dug through a lot of the first-year articles), you may have noticed that we have sort of a running plot and bizarre cast of characters here at Writing About Writing. We're going to be getting back into these kinds of posts.

There is a shame spiral that I get into when I feel like I'm not updating enough, or significantly enough, and I feel like the meta plot posts are "too fluffy" and too fun. So I am more likely to try to push myself to post something significant. (Which is ironic because I'm then more likely to not make it and have to push back the post altogether.)

However my readers have CONSISTENTLY and UNSWERVINGLY said that they like these types of posts and that they make the experience of me writing an ongoing blog more cohesive instead of just being the occasional article they want to see. So I'm really really really going to try to shut off that part of my brain that is insisting that my meta plot posts are phoning it in, and post them more often.



THE UPDATE SCHEDULE

Monday

OFF!

While technically no "off" day is truly off (even the weekends) as I take my own advice and write every day, having Mondays off from the responsibility of posting an official blog represents all the hours I work on other jobs. I have spent far too long beating myself up because they don't "count." Not only will taking time off to acknowledge these things be better for my mental health and "overworked" meter, but they will allow me to attend to both them and my writing without feeling like I'm neglecting the other and getting overwhelmed because I'm not spinning all the plates perfectly.

So after much garment rending and self-reflection, and some deep thoughts about how much I will take on if I let myself, I have decided to take a three-day weekend free and clear. (Although, as I mentioned, I'm always writing—this is more about the obligation of getting a post up.) 

But, of course, once I write it out and look at it in the face, I would give any human being on earth I wasn't being too hard on the exact same advice.
  • Childcare side gig (10-12 hours a week)
  • Facebook Maintenance (10-12 hours a week)
I mean that should probably be two or three days off by the number of hours, but obviously, I'm not going to take THAT much time each week. I'll stick to one and try not to feel too guilty about it.

Tuesday

BEHIND THE SCENES (and an accountability post)

While I would love to get a blog up on every day that I'm clacking away in front of a computer, I also have a significant "behind the scenes" obligation to the folks who keep the lights on around here that takes time and energy. Ironically, if I give these kinds of rewards some dedicated time, I'm not only going to be better about doing them, but also about the blogging itself—they both have a way of distracting me from the other as I get overwhelmed and sit in front of my computer, unable to move in either direction because I feel like I'm letting down the other.

However, I consistently have parts of this job that don't involve dropping a forward-facing blog.
  • Once a month I cannibalize a day of blogging to write my Patrons a newsletter, and now that the pandemic is over, four times a year, I'm going to need to write TWO newsletters. (During the pandemic, I would forgo the monthly newsletter to do the quarterly one, but my goal was always to have both on those months.)
  • I absolutely need to spend a day or two every month just doing admin stuff for Writing About Writing (like catching up on emails, cleaning up menus, and the like), or it gets SO far behind, SO quickly. As it is, I sort of imagine we're going to take a year to "dig out" of the stuff I just put up.
  • My Patreon tiers are perpetually in need of their rewards. Whether it's an early-access post or just a selfie from one of my hikes, I need to attend more consistently to the folks who are devoting their financial resources to my ability to be a working writer.
  • Also, I have a couple of other writing projects that require my time and attention.
From time to time when we are having a VERY busy week and need a second day to clear out the admin issues so that they don't back up, you might see the easier of the two admin posts go up on a Tuesday, but mostly I'll be working hard in the background.

You WILL see an accountability post on most Tuesdays. I'm going to restart posting progress on other projects, and I will let everyone know what I'm working on behind the scenes. But it will be more of a bullet point memo than a post.

Wednesday

We need (at least) one dedicated day a week to kind of take care of what I call "jazz hands," although it might be better described as "admin-ish stuff that HAS to get done at some point." It's not necessarily Total Fluff™, but it usually isn't exactly a new article either.

We are constantly running some kind of "Best Book" discussion, and the calls for nominations and posting of results take up a day of post. The review of the best posts we did in the month prior takes up a post. Often we have some kind of announcement or meta news about what's going on or coming up. You might also see a single entry for the long-forgotten character lists or an update to one of the menus (along the top of the page).


Thursday
We have a number of "types" of posts that are just a little lighter fare. Everything from SHORT Mailbox questions to our aforementioned meta plot posts to personal updates. Not necessarily admin or "jazz hands" but probably a little less "chewy/crunchy" than Friday posts.

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. Longer Mailboxes, full craft, process, and sometimes even style articles.

NWAW

I used to write posts for NOT Writing About Writing and either drop them on my usual days off or post on both WAW and NWAW on the same day. I'm no longer going to be doing this. If I drop something on NWAW, I'll put a notice up on WAW that that is the writing for the day.

The Two-Post Commitment

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 conventionsspeaking engagementsinterviews, or podcasts. On the advice of my doctor, I'm trying to be better about the (literally) health-shattering 60–70-hour weeks I was working, and I'm working to whittle that number down a lot closer to 40. That's a needle to thread when you are your own boss and you know that people will lower your income if they don't feel like they're getting enough of the content they want. I can't promise every week will go down as smoothly as three posts like end-of-the-week clockwork, but I will try really hard to get three posts up each week, and I can just about promise that I will at least do two. They might just be posted off schedule––landing on a Saturday or Sunday, for example—but barring illness, injury, or fabulously unforeseen circumstances, I will try hard to hit three and at least do two.

The Return of the Monthly Dedicated Novel Writing Time Increase

You may have noticed that any effort to take blogging time to give to my novel was COMPLETELY on pause during the pandemic. But now it is back. The hardest thing I've tried doing as a blogger is keeping my fiction at a high level of priority. It's SO easy to just write a blog and call it a day. And that's what I'm getting paid for, so it's even easier.

But...as much as I've surprised even myself by discovering how much I fucking love blogging, I do want to write fiction too. Finding time as much time for both is impossible, so I have to borrow from Peter to pay Cliché. While I am getting traction out of writing an hour or so of fiction first (so that then I still have to do the blogging in order to do "a day's work"), there may still be times where the needs of fiction completely take priority over blogging.

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

I'm also going to try something new and interesting. Each month I'm going to take an ADDITIONAL, cumulative day off to sequester myself and work on my book (as well as possibly other fiction). This isn't the only time I'll be working on my book, but I'll be diverting my blogging time towards it as well. I'll start with one day in October, and then two in November, and three in December and four in January. I'll reevaluate how things feel to my patrons at four extra days off each month—at that point I would either be updating only twice a week (if I spread the days out) or taking a full week off every month (if I took them all at once). It might depend on how close I am to finishing or a draft or something.

Hopefully, I'll have something to show for these days off by the time Patrons might begin complaining that I'm not updating enough, but I hope that the transparency and gradualness both help in that regard.

Election Week

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

We're probably done with elections for a while, but I'm leaving this here for future updates.


More posts?

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

Reminders:
  • I still watch kids for several hours a week. Plus my host body occasionally succumbs to these pesky Earth illnesses and requires dental and medical maintenance to serve me well. And every once in a couple of blue moons I even just take a damn day off. 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.
  • I maintain a Facebook page for this blog that has over a million followers. From time to time a post I put up may intersect with a social issue, and then all the dillholes come out to play, and I have to spend a day basically babysitting the comments. I don't love it, but it has to be done or the bigots will chase off the people I want to be there.
  • This flexible update schedule should also cut down on the thing where I'm apologizing to absolutely fucking nobody that it's Thursday and I've yet to put so much as a taco video up. I know that some people are annoyed by how often I apologize, and the rest don't really care. But this also settles my own inner overachiever. As long as I get in all the entries that week, my readers (who have literally never said anything in six years about my update schedule) and myself can give me a break.
  • I invoke the Anything Can Happen™ real world excuse. In ordinary times, I usually have a couple of "emergency blogs" tucked away, but during the pandemic, I chew through them as fast as I tuck them away. So any bump in the road hits the blog update schedule in real time. 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, but instead of maybe HAVING them, I'm going to assume they're on and maybe POST instead. Since I'm not working Mondays and this would normally fall under the purview of a Tuesday "Behind the Scenes" post, I will take the first Wednesday of each month as an extra day if needed. 




Also......folks, if you like what I do, support your "local" artist. (In this case "local" means more independent, amateur, and two-bit than literally down the street.) The pandemic is winding down (as are my 70-hour weeks), but there's still a long phase of transition to work through, and I'm not in a financial position to completely give up my childcare side gig or pay someone to take over the admin of my Facebook page (both major time sinks that pull from my writing hours, but cannot be avoided without losing income). 

If you want to help me focus on writing (without all the side gigs), yeet a few dollars into that "tip jar" at the top left, or even better yet sign up to be a monthly patron through Patreon. (You'll also get in on the back-channel discussions about posting schedules, big changes, and upcoming projects.) I have bills to pay like any other starving artist, and though my schedule is a lot better than it was three years ago, even a dollar a month (just $12 a year) will go a long way.

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

So....yeah. I ABSOLUTELY KNOW that there is 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. It's cool. You do you. Posts such as this one are not my least popular kinds of posts (that honor is reserved for meta posts about why there's no regular post…for some reason), but on the other hand, not every post can't be the barnburners of me replying to social justice hate mail.  

However, I'm not going to stop posting them.

Let me say that again: 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, so there will always be an occasional hat tip to the meta. I want people to understand that writers struggle with their own productivity, schedules, and discipline. We are constantly dissatisfied with how much we're writing (or not) and trying to redefine ourselves. I want folks to see that someone who is making a paycheck doesn't have all the answers. I want them to see how their work/life balance matters, and how easy it is to fall into working TOO much or not enough, and either one causes problems. I want them to see that a successful blog doesn't require nine updates a week (and, in fact, that's too many). And I want them to see how artists are constantly struggling to fiddle with the knobs and get it just right because we are at once human with our ambition and drive, but also human with our INCESSANT need to eat and have shelter. We don't just eat rainbows and shit brilliant prose. Even if a follower or fan never uses my own update schedule or productivity demands on myself as a formula for their own success, let it be a comfort realizing how flawed and human working writers can be.

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

Friday, September 17, 2021

Schedule Readjustment

For those of you following our update schedule closely enough to know when I've missed a post, I'm currently undergoing a schedule change with new childcare hours and figuring out where the new writing time is. 

Now that I'm done moving, it's time to focus on the next big thing, and that is re-establishing my writing time. 

It looks like I'm going to need to get back into the habit of working a bit on the weekends and also making sure I have most of my week's worth of posts pretty much finished by Wednesday night. After that I kind of get swallowed by the childcare end.

I'm still adjusting to the difference in having 18 months of being alone about 140 hours a week. For that pre-vaccine part of the pandemic, it didn't matter much if I had nothing more than a paragraph to show for an entire morning. The only thing I had to look forward to was maybe a zoom chat or a new Mandalorian dropping. Now I have to get back to dedicated time and focused effort during. 

I'll also be doing some introspection about my current update schedule and whether it needs tweaking—or possibly a complete overhaul.