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

Friday, June 25, 2021

Best Stand Alone Book (That is Technically Part of a Series) [Results and Some Meta]

[This blog is about to go on vacation until July 6th. There will be one post next week to make up for yesterday, and there might be a surprise or two along the way. Plus, I'll be doing a little bit of work each day behind the scenes, so you may notice some edits happening to some of my "ever growing lists," and Patrons will likely get some updates. Social media posting will also be sporadic and light, and mostly but for already-mentioned exceptions, I'll be posting reruns and enjoy my vacation.]

The results of our book recommendations are in, and it was a REALLY good list of really amazing books. I even got a few for my own TBR pile.  Thank you to SO many people for participating and making this our best book recommendation post yet. Results will go onto our massive compilation post in the next few days.

On to the results…

Favorites (Remember, there was no voting, so the only "order" I've put them in is how many seconds they've gotten.)

Dune - F. Herbert, 5

Annihilation - Vandermeer 3

Startide Rising, D. Brin 2

Consider Phlebas - I. M. Banks 2

The Forever War - J. Haldeman 2

All Systems Red - M. Wells 2

Hyperion - D Simmons 2

Oryx and Crake, M. Atwood 2

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - D. Adams 2

Small Gods - T. Pratchett

Heroes Die - M. Woodring Stover

Neuromancer - W. Gibson

The Quantum Thief - Hannu Rajaniemi

Vurt - J. Noon

This Alien Shore - C. S. Friedman

Foundation - I. Asimov

Robot Dreams - I. Asimov

The Warrior's Apprentice - L. M. Bujold

The Three-Body Problem - L. Cixin

The Sparrow - M. D. Russell

Emergence - David R. Palmer

This Alien Shore - C. S. Friedman

Who Fears Death - N. Okorafor

Crescent City - Sarah J. Maas.

Undersung Heroes (not the "best" but books folks think everyone really ought to read):

The Stainless Steel Rat, H. Harrison, 2

Emergence, D. R. Palmer

That Irresistible Poison, A. Hazard

Not Your Sidekick, C. B. Lee

Go sit in the corner

Incredibly problematic author is incredibly problematic, but I will report the results of our nominations as they were written: Ender's Game - O. S. Card 5

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

"This Time I Will Absolutely Positively Without Fail Turn It All Around And—" Explosion Sounds (Personal/Meta)

[Quick reminder that I will be taking a vacation next week and there will be NO official blog entries (though I'll be working, so Patrons might see some stuff going on behind the scenes). Social media posting will also be sporadic and light. Any posts that go up will be reruns.]

New schedules, upset tummies, and love. Is it possible to keep writing through all of it? Last week was a massive upheaval that broke a fragile new writing schedule I'd JUST established, and as always, I will take the woeful tale of my massive failure and spin it into some plainspoken advice—both from a working writer and someone who's been doing this a LONG time.

No matter how much writers post "hashtag accountability" or have writing friends or groups, get pestered by hardass agents or editors willing to take on the drill sergeant aspects of encouraging them, or maybe even ask our good friends to show up in leather gear, holding a riding crop, and telling us that we've been bad for not writing enough (um….even though that's not exactly a deterrent to procrastination and…you know what, let's move on), ultimately every writer has to develop an internal locus of motivation. And the reason that so much of many writers' frustrations are because they cannot find the magical way to simply….make themselves sit and write (and also the reason a suggestion as wild as "practice daily both for discipline and the craft on this thing you want to be great at" is met with such virulent hostility) is because this is incredibly difficult.  

Most people have bosses. They have clients. They have folks who will ride them (and not in the fun way) if they stop doing their jobs. They have external loci of motivation. They will get immediate feedback if they don't fill out their TPS reports. Most people have someone who arches an eyebrow even if they spend too long around the water cooler. And even a lot of people who are self-employed or work in some kind of situation where they don't have a bossy boss, have some sort of direct feedback

Artists don't get this. Even the ones who will eventually stop getting paid if they stop making art have to find ways to be their own boss and….um….ride themselves. 

No. No. No.
I said NOT the fun kind.
I was very clear about that.

We reinvent ourselves a lot. We try out a new schedule. ("Now I'm going to write at nights!") We recommit a lot ("From now on more shenanigans, no more tomfoolery, no more ballyhoo!") We change the goals a lot. ("Okay I'm just checking FB too much, so I'm switching from six hours per day to ten pages…no matter how long that takes.") If you think we land on one answer and that just never needs tweaking….excuse me while I laugh like I'm watching a first season episode of New Girl.

So we must pause here for a moment just for background. Your intrepid (and devastatingly cute) blogger is in love. The kind of "in love" where you dewy eyed run into walls and you have a pavlovian reaction that you are going to burst from emotion even when they send you a selfie….even if they're asking if they have anything in their teeth. But also the kind of love where you look up from a pleasant mind wander and it's three hours later or you catch yourself saying "I miss you already. I know we have plans Saturday, but what are you doing later?" The kind where it's just a little hard to focus on….um….ANYTHING ELSE and even though it's delightful and usually met by giggles by everyone around you, you kind of find yourself dropping the ball on at least a couple of things that matter. 

Because you know…your mind is kind of on other things.

You people have filthy minds!

Okay, now let's ALSO realize that I made some bad habits over the pandemic that I'm still working on cleaning up. A serious case of not taking my own advice. My "scheduling hygiene" grew incredibly slovenly during the pandemic. I could just put things off until a weekend (when I only had one four-hour time commitment) or until an evening when I was always home alone anyway. Because that was the lonely reality of my pandemic—I had nothing else going on. 

This is like a metaphor, see?
For my time management. 

So my writing time oozed out and took over the whole week. Sure, I could stay up until 3am the night before and spend two hours lounging around in bed the next morning because I could just work until seven or eight that night. I could let my writing sessions dribble in with too much Facebook because I'd just go longer on the other end. I would say yes to every Facetime call, social Zoom meeting, and online game because what else was I going to do?

You can already see these two trains accelerating towards each other, right? Now if one leaves Tampa travelling at 70mph……

It's been a tough transition getting back. I think it's been tough for all of us because we don't really know the full extent of the collective social trauma we just endured, and way too many people think it's just going to be an "everything's back to normal" reset button. (Complete with being entitled dillwankers with folks who are showing the slightest reluctance.) But I've had some extra tough dynamics. Not only am I sixteen months behind on some serious rest (working 60-80 hour weeks during the pandemic), but the phase-in of the other nanny took some time, and my "eyes are bigger than my stomach" when it comes to realistically projecting what I'm going to be able to get done when I'm working 15 hours a week at my other job instead of 25. For some reason, I think that gives me an extra 20 hours. 

Probably because I took math for liberal arts and my final project, for said math class, was an oral presentation on fractals.  

Aren't they pretty? 
I got an A.

The end result is that, while things are quite a bit better than—say—last November (right smack in the middle of the full fury of the pandemic), it's still going to be a while before we're back to pre-pandemic productivity. And the kids I nanny for might have to be back to school in fall before I can think about pre 2016 output.

No, that's love enter.
Where do you FIND this stuff?
Enter love. No wait….that part is absolutely spectacular and breathtaking in all the right ways. Enter love's impact on a schedule I'm holding together with spit and bailing wire and trying to make accomplish way more than is possible, especially considering that I'm letting my work ooze out all over the place.

So then I started dropping balls and missing deadlines (self imposed, but for a perfectionist like me, it still stung), and realizing that the whole thing was going to implode if I didn't do something quick. So I did something quick. I puffed a cigar like Hannibal from the A-team and loved it when a plan came together (preferably a plan that doesn't involve biscuit grenades). 

And so I came up with a plan. I could have it all—dates, time to myself, even a robust writing career—if I started treating my writing time with the utmost integrity. If I started waking up at a proper "dayjob hours," knocked out a workday by four or five, and kept evenings to myself. It could all be mine!

Thus began my new schedule. 

On day two of my new schedule, I got sick. Technically I got overmedicated for a minor gastrointestinal issue but the end result is about the same. I was very sick for a couple of days and you do NOT want details.

I don't know about you, but there's almost nothing I hate more than when something legit uncontrollable goes wrong in that first moment right as you're getting your shit together. It's like when you finally realize you're not leaving for work on time and that's why you're always late, then you leave ten minutes earlier and this is going to be the start of a new chapter, but there really IS an accident. And your boss is like "It's. always something," and gives you that LOOK. And you're like "BUT THIS TIME I REALLY DID LEAVE ON TIME!" 

Um…this is a really specific example. I may have some baggage around that job at Magic Mountain.

Han gets it.

Back now (although it's just this week, and then I'm on vacation), but the new schedule really IS working. It's just a matter of pushing through bullshit. It's not a sign to give up. It's just a little bit of lost momentum at a dreadfully inconvenient time.

The "lessons":

1- The first thing I want you to notice is that professional writers screw up. Often we manage to hit external deadlines and OVER TIME, we accumulate enormous bodies of work because we don't make excuses day after day for not doing anything, but we are not machines. Not every week, month, even year (as this last 16 months have shown us) are created equal. 

2- Writers are constantly reinventing themselves and their writing time. "Okay, this time, I'm really really gonna be the productive dynamo I want to be." Constantly. We do not simply pull this shit magically out of our asses and ride the unicorn jizz rainbow to 2500 word days. We have slumps. We start over. If you catch yourself doing this, it's not because you're not "really" a writer or that it would just….WORK if you really wanted this. It's absolutely normal, and for many of us, part of the process. We don't have bosses or clients, so sometimes we have to find a constant stream of novel ways to fight our inclination to be lazy when it's not all pixie orgasms and furious, late-night, Adderall-fueled benders.

3- Shit happens. Shit MIGHT even happen the day after you boldly reinvent yourself because you notice you're fucking up, and make you feel like a complete failure. And you just have to stand up and dust off and keep going because there's no one outside of you who is going to say, "Hey pal. What's happening? Yeeeeeeaaaaaaaah. Listen. We're going to need you to kind of….bring it up a notch if this is going to stay a good fit. Let's circle back to this in a bit and synergize some solutions, okay? Yeeeeaaaah. Thanks a bunch!" It's on you. But don't worry. A writing career is like your oral hygiene: it's how often you remember to floss OVER ALL, not the one missed day that you should be worrying about.

4- It's okay to fall in love. In fact, I kind of recommend it. You'll be able to at least get a day of work done again in just a few weeks…even if the pleasantly running into walls part lasts for a while.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Best Stand Alone Sci-Fi That is Technically Part of a Series (Absolutely Last Chance to Vote or Second)

Folks following us through the Writing About Writing page will get another rerun of the original call for books (which is where you should go if you have a nomination or want to make seconds) but for everyone who gets updates from other places, directly, or through email, I wanted to make sure that you knew that this is really really the last chance to nominate for our current category.

I'll be making and posting my compilation of our lists on Thursday.

Don't forget to head over to the original page to check the rules, make a nomination, or second any of the nominations that are already there.

Also, just a quick reminder that I will be taking a vacation next week and there will be NO official blog entries (though I'll be working, so Patrons might see some stuff going on behind the scenes). Social media posting will also be sporadic and light. Any posts that go up will be reruns.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Meta Schedule Tetris

Quick reminder that I will be taking a vacation next week and there will be NO official blog entries (though I'll be working, so Patrons might see some stuff going on behind the scenes). Social media posting will also be sporadic and light, and everything you see go up in those places will be reruns.

I think because of the HEAVY nanny hours last week and the fact that I was QUITE ill for a couple of days and fell behind. PLUS I have a vacation coming up and a light week this week, so I can burn the engines a little hotter since not only do I not have a lot of nanny shifts, but I will also be able to relax once it's over. All that combined, we're going to go mix up my update schedule this week. Instead of taking Thursday off, I will POST on Thursday, but I need an extra day (today) to kind of do the things I normally would have done last week, but didn't get to because I was nannying about double my normal hours during the hours I wasn't sick.

And yeah, I know no one REALLY cares about this except me as long as I eventually post something. But it's important to me to keep showing you how gloriously messy the whole thing is. Working writers work hard (and a lot) but we are hardly machines. What comes out our productive output tube is less a "smooth pour" and more globs and drizzles and gushes and drips. 

Friday, June 18, 2021

Bottom of April (Facebook Compilation)

I was sick this week on top of about twice as much nannying as normal so that clients could actually leave the house and do an anniversary celebration for a couple of nights, so I'm going to catch up on another compilation post. 

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 hours a day working on that writing, so it's high time I acknowledge that fact that it "counts."

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 April 16st through April-30th. (You're welcome to follow me there but read up in the Facebook FAQ [last question] if you want to send me a friend request.) 

Do you ever write a status, and it's totally getting love-bombed with heart reacts by like.....everyone.

And then you get that one just plain ol' LIKE react. Like it broke your perfect streak even though it doesn't really matter at all and you try to imagine you don't care about FB reacts.

And you don't REALLY think this because you're not a horrible, self-absorbed person, and you would never ever ever EVER say it out loud (unless you're some weird writer type), but there's still this teeny tiny, mostly-joking part of you that is like:


2020 Memory

My doctor to me: "Good job getting out of your client's place as soon as you knew you were sick. In the zombie apocalypse, you wouldn't hide the bite."

You're goddamn right.

Chris's Pass/Agg of the day:

To be absolutely honest, I wish you WOULD treat it like it's some sort of sacred martial art knowledge, because at least that I could work with:

“You have failed to see class in the context of race, Grasshopper. Return when you have learned about intersections of privilege and oppression, of which class is certainly one, but race is another. Without all, one will always be incomplete.

“Your travels will take you to the Garden of Another Tab where you will train under Master Google, who will spend “a good afternoon” training you in the Ways of the Intersects. Only then can you unlock level three knowledge and understand why your life may be financially hard—and the wealthy are oppressors—but it is not financially hard BECAUSE you are white...nor because you are cishet...nor....

THEN, Grasshopper, you will have learned

Next two are in relation to the Derek Chauvin case.

Remember the world we live in. 

An agent of the state extrajudicially murdered an unarmed, cuffed, human who was begging for their life, ON FILM, and because of the races of the parties involved, the fact that he suffered a consequence was literally an absolute shock to almost everyone (especially HIM) and a "major moment in history." It was a shock to the people who wanted him to be found guilty and it was a shock to the people who didn’t. All that evidence of a plain as day murder, and it was a SHOCK.

That’s the world we live in. 

Fellow white people, we have an obligation to dismantle this world we've built, and not hold this up as some laughable and ludicrous "proof" that the system works, that it's time to rest, or that this moment is some sort of turning point.

Isn't it amazing watching the "Just let the justice system do its work," crowd suddenly have an intimate knowledge of all its shortcomings. 

It's almost like—bear with me here—there might be something else at work.


If you want to play that game where a stone-cold racist takes advantage of your good faith and walks you around the block five or six times with that "you can't prove I DON'T believe it" shit…..because you can't absolutely look into their soul of souls and prove their constellation of just-happens-to-have-totally-racist-outcomes race adjacent positions isn't TWUUUUUUUWY forged in the fires of racial animus, you go right ahead. 

I've done that walk a few hundred times and I know the whole neighborhood and I'm getting too old for this shit. I just call them racists and watch their face turn that delightful shade of purple.

Memory from 2020

You know, I've had "really hard jobs" before but they all involved consequences for my failures. I cannot think of a single job I've had where if I failed so badly that I actually broke the law, I would then be protected from the consequence of even having to be arrested, charged, and tried––never mind not being fired on the spot.

Today a major chunk of the police force of Atlanta is basically saying that none of them will do their jobs if ANY of them should ever face so much as due process for extrajudicial murder....ever. (Also a classic echo of the "Fine, I'll just leave" abusive response to having bad behavior so much as pointed out.)

With a few exceptions, the. ENTIRE. Force.

But sure, let's talk about how these bad apples are so, so few.

CN: Abuse

My younger years were marked by a number of emotionally abusive relationships, and one of the things I noticed as I was getting therapy and getting better is that people on the outside who were enabling that abuse would often deconstruct a moment that had happened at the height of my frustration and anger and desperation.

When I was younger, it was a slammed door or raging tears, but as I learned that my emotions would be used against me, and that I had to shut them down, it might only be a raised voice or a badly chosen word. But the point was, it was always something. THERE WAS ALWAYS SOMETHING I HAD DONE IMPERFECTLY.  

These people would ask why I had done that, ignore the entire context leading up to the moment and say, "Well, no WONDER they were upset," and use that moment to disregard the entirety of the abuse. To their minds, unless I was the perfect victim (which I could never ever ever EVER be by their rubric), I had to go back to the abuse and further endure it.

I think about this a lot when I see white people arbitrating that civil unrest means the entire struggle for equality is nullified. White supremacy is abusive, but white complacency enables that abuse.

It's time to kill the interns. 
It's time for death and strife
It's time for conflicts of interest 
On Grey's Anatomy tonight

It's time to be all sexy
That's what doctors do right
It's time to die from hiccups 
On Grey's anatomy tonight.

Why do we always come here? I guess I'll never know. 
There's a non cursed hospital down the street where I would like to go.

It's time to get things started
On the most sensational, confrontational, operational, anti-educational
This is what we call McDreamy SHOOOOOOW!

I like this but it doesn't go far enough.
Also no:
Reluctant yes
"I guess" 
"I should probably go."
"I really can't stay."
Cajoled capitulation
A yield after begging
Acquiescence to avoid a fight about it
Being in a power differential that could make a no difficult/uncomfortable/knotty
If it's not a "HELL YES," it's a no.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

The Writer is Sick

Hi folks.

I'll spare you the details—and believe me, you WANT me to spare you the details—but I'm going to be down for the count for at least a couple of days. I usually take Thursday's off anyway, so no change there. Depending on how fast I recover and get back to writing, Friday will either be the smaller post that I was planning for today or the bigger post that I actually WAS planning for Friday. It'll be a slower-than-normal day on my various social media as well. 

Also, a bit of unsolicited advice…

If you're taking medicine for gastrointestinal issues, start with the lower dose on the label and work your way up if it doesn't work. That's not stuff you want to overcorrect for. 

Monday, June 14, 2021

The Best of Jan/Feb and March/April

Since I've forgotten to do this for a couple of months running, you get a double dose today. FOUR months worth of our best posts (with the book recommendation posts filtered out). 

As a reminder, we just haven't been able to hit our pre-pandemic posting schedule with all the extra nanny hours that have been happening, and as a result, instead of dropping the best three for each month, for the past 16 months or so, we've been doing the best three for every TWO-MONTH PERIOD.  Likely July will be the first month we have enough posts on a regular enough basis to get back to our old way of doing things. 


Dealing With the Inevitable

I'm not sure when my appeals post became the most popular posts I write, but I guess I'm getting good at titling and preview text that piques interest.

A New Disclaimer: Capitalism Ableism and "Making It" as a Writer

Prescribing daily writing can be ableist. But it's also the best way to hit the goals so many writers speak of wanting to achieve. 

Facebook Compilation (Top of December)

My Facebook compilations are a nod to the fact that I do, in fact, spend an awful lot of time writing smaller posts on Facebook and making a "bundle" of all the best writings and memes. 

Special Mention

That Which Will Never Come Again

A special nod to a post that actually did better than many others even though it was just a small announcement of a terrible situation that would mean many of my posts went unedited for a while.


Facebook Ban

For some reason me just getting pissed off that I couldn't post and that I wasn't going to bother trying was the most popular thing I've written in months.

Facebook Compilation (Bottom of February) 

My Facebook compilations are a nod to the fact that I do, in fact, spend an awful lot of time writing smaller posts on Facebook and making a "bundle" of all the best writings and memes. 

"I Shall Return" (Personal/Meta/Damned Good News)

We're AAAAAAAAALMOST to the point where the nanny hours come back to the writing schedule and we can start posting at our old pace again. 

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

F.A.Q. Will I Post Your Writing Blog?

Question: Will I use my platform (here or on social media) to post/promote your or your friend's article/blog about writing?

Short answer: With all the kindness I can muster, I'm sorry, but probably not.

Long answer: I want to make sure I answer this with all the love and kindness and compassion that I possibly can. Because I was you eight years ago, looking everywhere to find an audience for my writing and posting my articles anywhere I could—sometimes even getting myself banned for self-promotion. It's really hard and I want you all to know that I understand and want you to succeed. I want all of us to succeed.

However, in a very real way, what you are asking me to do is (with no reciprocity or compensation) to use the platforms I've spent years building….to promote my competition. Not that I see this as a zero-sum game, but chances are that I've tackled that very subject on my own blog (or intend to). I get a lot of articles that are kind of carbon copies of each other. Listicles without style or flair. Webcontent. Flat prose. I'd like folks to read MY words on the subject. Not that I am the be-all end-all of writing advice, and certainly not that everyone wants one of my pervy jokes thrown into their tips and pointers, but I do sort of have a stake in hoping that people turn to me. And I don't want people I've promoted thinking I've stolen their ideas when I tackle the subject myself or rerun the article in which I did. When I DO point at other writers and their writing advice, it's generally in the form of a guest blog here on Writing About Writing, so while I might not promote your article whole cloth, perhaps we could talk about a guest blog or an exchange.

So, while trying very delicately not to sound like your local mercenary or Lionel Barrymore or something, and sincerely wishing you all the luck in the world if you're trying to get your own writing blog off the ground, I regretfully have to say that if there's no kind of "one hand washing the other" or if you don't have some REALLY novel take on, well….writing about writing…then I'm most likely going to feel like you're trying to use the platform I built over nearly a decade in order to directly compete with me. 

And that doesn't feel very good to me.

Check out the rest of my F.A.Q. here.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Best Sci-Fi Book That Is Part of a Series But Stands Alone

What is the BEST science fiction book (or short story) that absolutely could stand alone but was technically part of  a series or had/was a sequel? 

I'm going to be gathering up the results of this list and posting them very soon, so if you want to get in on our conversation, time is running out. Remember there are no more polls. We just have a conversation about some good books. Next week (Tuesday probably), I will publish the two lists: one of "undersung heroes," (the books that aren't the best but that you love and want to see more people know about), and the BEST, which will have no ranking other than being listed in order of which got the most seconds.

You can also check out our growing Master List for great recommendations in lots of different categories! (It's also a great way to see the what the results of participation here will look like.) Come check it out!

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 your input. I've really love reading all your comments about the books you treasure and why.

Monday, June 7, 2021

Schrödinger's Monday—Patron Day

Schrödinger's has spoken today and this Monday there will be no regular blog post (other than this). I'll put reruns up on the various social media. Today I need to to cannibalize our regularly scheduled post to spend some time "backstage" working on those small ways I try to say "thank you" to the folks who keep the lights on around here and enable me to eat something other than Top Ramen. 

So today is an admin day. Well technically, today is a variant on the admin day—Patron Day. I need to touch up May's newsletter before it goes out (later today/tonight). I need to get a chunk of Friday's Early Access post done—it's going to be a big one. Some selfies need to go to the selfie tier. Plus, I'd really love to be a step ahead instead of getting things to my editor, and then posted, at the absolute last minute. 

Let me also put some dates in your mind. The week of June 28-July 2nd, I'm shutting it ALL down for some time off. The blog. The Facebook page. It'll all go quiet for a few days. Be prepared.

Friday, June 4, 2021

How Can I Get Prose Like Yours [Mine]? (The Mailbox)

[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. Feel free to tell me how much you like my writing as often as possible.] 

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.

Amanda asks:

I'm not a pro writer, my job involves a good amount of making myself understood in writing (emails, slacks, project proposals, documentation). I really admire the clarity of your writing style. Do you have any advice for non pro writers about writing clearly and being understood? 

My reply:

I know the answer you're just DYING to hear isn't "Thirty years of experience," so I'm going to do my very best to talk you through some of the places I lost time and spun my wheels during my own journey. However, I do want to emphasize that a lot of effort and practice and time spent finding my own voice as a writer has gone into the sprezzatura in front of you. Writing is never ever EVER as easy as experienced writers make it look, and the irony is, the easier writing is to read, the harder it probably was to write. The elevated vocabulary and purple style that look sophisticated are actually kind of rookie mistakes that ends up being more prolix and clunky than anything.

The best advice I can give you to find your voice and style without taking 30 years is similar to most of the general writing advice out there.

  1. Read constantly
  2. Practice practice practice
  3. Get feedback
  4. As your unique voice develops—tease it out
Of course the basics of reading and writing constantly are things I extol constantly in this blog for anyone who wants to "get better," "be great," or certainly "make it." 

You have to read a lot. You just HAVE to. You can't be a good writer if you're not a voracious reader—it's just part of the cost of doing business. No musician runs around talking about how they don't like music very much or painter says they're not that big into painting. No filmmakers hate film. It's only this weird anomaly in the writing world that you find people who will expect to be decent writers without reading all the time. Get it out of your head that you read enough in high school and now you're moving on to the writing phase of your existence. (That's not directed at YOU, Amanda. Just at sort of a general attitude that seems ubiquitous.)

You have to write a lot. Look, one of the ironies of most writing programs or writing groups is that there are a peculiar number of people who want to be writers seemingly more than they want anything else in life—BUT WHO DO NOT WRITE AND GET MAD IF YOU TELL THEM THEY SHOULD BE DOING SO. There are no shortcuts around this, and anyone who says otherwise is selling something. No writer worth their salt will suggest differently, even if they don't share specific advice about how to HIT that goal (like trying to write every single day). If, however, you're maybe not wanting to take the long-ass, 30-year route to Easyprose™, one of the things I can tell you is not to take long breaks from either writing or reading. Much of that 30 years involved me not writing very much, not reading very much, or both, and I would have gotten better faster if I had kept with it. I started taking my writing VERY seriously about fifteen years ago. I do not think it's any coincidence that about nine years ago, I started making some money and about five years ago, I started making real(ish) money. 

My trajectory as a "real" writer really began when I started getting feedback. I started with professors in a writing program, then peers, and now I have the whole internet making sure I unequivocally have no doubt of when they don't absolutely love something I've written. Still, as good as getting feedback can be, my greatest "learning moments" actually came from giving it. When you have to think consciously about why you like or don't like something, it converts into a specific lesson for you (to do or not do). As long as you are afraid of feedback, convinced of your own genius and unwilling to be edited, more argumentative with peer review than grateful, or generally see the process as antagonistic from a place of ego rather than as helping you to get to the best writing you can create, you will never take your writing to the next level. 

Your writing voice won't be exactly like anyone else's voice. Even as flattering as it is that you like mine. When I taught English, I would tell my students to imagine getting a call from a complete stranger who had a device that changed their voice to sound like someone who they often spoke with on the phone. Would they be able to tell after a few minutes that it wasn't the person? They always said yes. The turns of phrase. The emphasis on certain words. The way they had a certain pace. And then I told them to believe in their hearts that a person's writing carries the same distinctive voice. Of course, that was a lesson about plagiarism and how stolen words immediately had a different "resonance" that stuck out like a sore cliché. But it's as useful a lesson to experienced creative writers. Your voice is unique. So if it's a bit more elevated, that's okay. If it's a bit more folksy, that's okay. If it's a bit more terse or a bit more byzantine, that's okay. Anthony Hopkins has an amazing acting range, but every role he plays still has that distinctive voice. Most experienced writers can take the level of their writing up or down a few notches or be more playful or serious, but their voice will always be their own. It is when you're comfortable in your voice that your writing will flow and find its clarity—even if you send someone to the dictionary once in a while. Simple doesn't always mean easy. Find your own voice, even if it's not like mine (or someone else's) and lean in. 

Dale asks:

I was SO excited to see the article on types of dialogue that alluded to something more coming. I am so verklempt [about] the W.A.W. version of dialogue advice that I may need people to talk amongst themselves for hours. Your craft articles are always really easy to understand and SO helpful. When will we see the main article?

My reply:

Nothing like a reference to a somewhat problematic early 90s SNL skit to out a fellow Gen Xer, eh Dale? 

A jazz hands article typically takes me an hour or two. A mailbox, maybe four to six. Many of my lengthier articles take between five and eight hours. Craft articles typically clock in around 16-24. I do research. I compare notes. I look up what fifteen people say about the topic. I check the latest sources to make sure there hasn't been a shift in the way people look at it since I last studied it. I find examples. I spend a significant amount of time annoyed that I'm only going to get ONE article out of three fucking days of writing effort and be back to feeling guilty for not posting by the next day. 

Only fiction takes longer.

Which is just to say that it's going to be a couple of weeks for the article to go live. I'm hoping to get it done by next Friday, but then my Early Access Patrons will get the first look at it. (They've been as patient as saints through the whole pandemic.) After that it'll probably go live the FOLLOWING Friday. 

Thank you so much for your kind words and enthusiasm, though. I feel like someone just handed me a mana potion.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Don't Forget Your Book Recommendations for BEST SF Stand Alone Book (That is Technically Part of a Series)

I've got to duck behind the scenes for a couple of days If I hurry I can get the May newsletter out less than a week late and break my pandemic-long streak of being over a week late on the newsletters. Plus, I have a written interview I agreed to give that I need to reply to (which of course I will link to when it gets posted and it will be like a dozen mailboxes at once). 

In the meantime I want to remind everyone of our current Book Recommendation Thread of Best Science Fiction book that could stand alone but is technically part of a series. 

(I'll be dropping that link directly on my various social media. I just wanted to make sure folks following the blog directly got the reminder as well as a heads up about what's going on for the next couple of days.)

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Types of Dialogue (The Very Basics)

There are many ways to break "dialogue" into various subcategories, some of which we will do in the follow-up craft article, but in order to set that up, we first need to break down dialogue in its most basic form—its level of directness—in order to then analyze the stylistic choices of each. However, it is useful going forward to know that each of these respectively conveys less narrative distance. From this perspective, the types of dialogue are summary, indirect, and direct.

Please note: this is not a primer in how to use quotations in cited works. That involves making it clear what the source is, usually some kind of foot- or endnote, and rules that vary depending on whether you're using APA, Chicago, MLA, or what. This is about dialogue in fiction.

Second note: In the examples below, if it doesn't have an attribution tag, I made it up. 

Summary- The most indirect form of dialogue is summary. It allows a writer to condense a lot of conversation into a few lines.

They talked for hours, discussing the different branches of philosophy and delighting in the other's views of how metaphysics shifted so dramatically when the tiniest changes were made to epistemology. 

In the early years, they spoke incessantly of their someday-vacation. Where they would go. What they would do. How they would maximize each day. Friends upon whose hospitality they would impose to save a few dollars. Over time, they spoke of it less and less, until one day Jerry couldn't even remember the last time it had come up.

The group strategized into the early morning, proposing and throwing out one idea after another for how to get past the indomitable walls of the outer keep. 

The plan we'd come up with to test Ruth's theory was very simple: we—the six of us in on it—would lie in wait for Madame somewhere, then "swarm out" all around her all at once.                                                                                    -Ishiguro Never Let Me Go 

Indirect- Indirect speech is a bit of a hybrid between direct and summary dialogue. It is reported by the narrator and carries the feel of the exchange, without quotation marks and the actual words of everything being said. 

My doctor told me to try yoga. I told her yoga was not an answer to problems that required medication. She smiled and said she'd be happy to write me all the scripts I wanted…after I'd tried yoga in good faith first. 

Would I please open the door for her? I would, but not if she was going to sound so entitled about it. What was my problem? My problem was that the day before she had sniffed derisively when I tried to open the door; maybe she didn't realize that was me. Did I think maybe the difference was that yesterday I was couching sexism in gallantry and today she had her hands full and was a human in need? That was ridiculous—I am the least sexist person I know. Forget it; she would get the door herself.

Mike said that he was hungry. Jane asked what he would like to have for dinner. They settled on Thai food.

 She said she would be there at the first hint of dawn, prepared for anything.                                 -McPhee, John. "Elicitation." The New Yorker, April 7, 2014 

Summary and indirect speech are great ways to get quickly to the central tension of a scene, or portray a conversation that goes on at length or becomes tedious—without writing the entire thing out and dragging a reader along through the tedium.

Direct- Direct speech uses quotation marks and contains the exact words that were spoken. In fiction, MOST of the time when the dialogue contains the possibility of decision or discovery (drama, basically), it will be written in direct speech/quotations. In fact, be very careful to avoid summary when the reader will most want to experience the drama of the dialogue. (Such as: During that long night sipping cosmopolitans and speaking of the forgotten dreams of their 20s, Winter realized she was falling in love. —this can be earned [though not easily] but it is TELLING the reader instead of letting them come along and kind of fall in love too.)

"I would like to be informed about any future lapses in your judgement prior to being informed of their consequences," John said.

"Villains!" I shrieked, "dissemble no more! I admit the deed! —tear up the planks! here, here! —It is the beating of his hideous heart!"           -Poe, Tell Tale Heart 

“I buy hair,” said Mrs. Sofronie. “Take your hat off and let me look at it.”        -O. Henry, The Gift of the Magi                              

"Proud?" Sula's laughter broke through the phlegm. "What are you talking about? I like my own dirt, Nellie. I'm not proud. You sure have forgotten me."                 -T. Morrison, Sula  

Combinations- Of course these three forms of dialogue can be used in any combination. 

She asked me if I'd like anything to drink. "Vodka martini," I said. "Stirred. Not shaken." (Indirect/Direct)

We reviewed our plans until we were certain we had prepared for every contingency. "What if we get busted by the cops?" Derringer brought up. (Summary/Direct)

"You will be tested to your limits," the instructor said, launching into a lengthy description of how hard his class would be. (Direct/Summary)

"I would like to see a dessert menu," she asked. She informed me that she had once had a decadent flourless chocolate cake that tasted just as good as a regular one at Skipolini's when Jeff had taken her there for THEIR first date—but of course this place was not as good as that one. (Direct/Indirect)

I remember we talked for hours about topics ranging from movies with more nostalgia than hold-up power and reaching all the way to our plans to travel. Our voices grew softer. Our pauses longer. Our conversation grew more and more intimate. What did I regret she asked me. I told her that I regretted the love I'd let get away before I knew what love really was. I thought real love would always be effortless. She laughed but nodded. "We are two peas in a pod," she said. Our eyes met each other through a long silence. "To never missing love again," she said pretending to lift a glass and yanking her eyes away from mine.  (Summary/Indirect/Direct)

Though there are lots of philosophies of dialogue and ways to approach it from a craft standpoint, it is important to know the very basics before getting into that level of detail.