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

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.