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The not-entirely-random thoughts of Chris Brecheen about writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The 17 Rules Of Writing

1. Great writing involves great risk–the risk of terrible writing. Writing that involves no risk is merely forgettable--utterly.

2. When you fail–and you will totally fucking fail–don’t fail to learn. Then you can't really fail at all. That's the best way to approach writing...and life.

3. Follow the three Rs: 1. Read 2. Revise 3. Routine

4. Remember that being unknown is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.

5. Learn grammar rules so you know how to break them properly. This also goes for rules of craft and process. Actually, this goes for life too.

6. Don’t let a little problem like having to rewrite an entire story from scratch destroy your motivation. (Seriously, you were going to have to do it anyway.)

7. When you realize you’ve made a mistake, don't panic. You can go back and fix it in the next draft. Would that writing were like life in this way.

8. Spend some time completely alone every day. Turn off Facebook. Put down your phone. Your quiet thoughts are your most powerful creative wellspring.

9. Open your arms to criticism, but don’t let go of your confidence in the process. This may mean having to fashion your confidence into a cloak or capri pants.

10. Remember that it is only in your silence that others will tell you their stories. Listen. You'll be surprised what others will tell you about their lives when you stop telling them about their lives.

11. Write with all your heart. Every time. 

12. In disagreements with the page, deal only with the sentence in front of you. Don’t fret about the huge changes you'll have to make to the next draft and how much work is yet to come and how the task is huge and overwhelming. Just the one sentence.

13. Share your knowledge. Teaching others to write is the single best way to learn. And it's good for the soul and shit.

14. Be gentle. Be kind. (Unless you have a safe word.)

15. It's okay to keep a few irons in the fire–you don't have to work on one thing at a time–but never abandon something you're working on to do another project. It will become habit faster than you realize. You'll never get anything finished that way. Finish your shit.

16. Remember that the best relationship with writing is as an activity you love. Money, fame, fans will never fulfill you the way the writing itself will. Ever.

17. Judge your success only against yourself from yesterday. Any other yardstick will only hurt your soul.


In the interest of full disclosure this is heavily influenced by the 18 Rules of Living found in The Art of Happiness by The Dali Lama. I've changed all of them (most of them substantially), but if they strike you as familiar, that might be why.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Mailbox: Those Zany Superheroes

How can I call superhero updates "personal"?  

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer each Friday.  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. And I'll try very hard to be nice if you're not mean to me.] 

Matt asks: 

"I was one of those people who looked forward to hearing more about your life as a writer on Mondays, but I've been disappointed. How can you call it a "personal update" if you're just making up stories about superheroes?"

My reply:

Uh...

Hmmmmm.

Okay okay. Fair's fair. I only weaponize my snark when someone takes the first shot, so I'll play nice. But I gotta tell you for the sake of honesty Matt, I Spock-eyebrowed this one pretty good when it landed in my inbox.

I'm still reeling from my mid-week illness and trying to catch up on housework and writing alike, so I'm just going to write a quickie today. I've gotten a few extra questions in the last couple of weeks (including the dreaded writer milestone "What is your process?") but in order for me to get back to this mountain of dishes, clean the living room, finish the fiction that I want to put up on Sunday, wrap up a very special thank you letter to someone who sent me a Clawdia Wolf doll because "she's a writer like Cwis is," try to catch up on a dozen e-mails labeled "Can't ignore or shit will get real," think about my next post for Grounded Parent or Ace of Geeks before those blogs fire me with extreme prejudice, take The Contrarian for a couple of extra hours because everyone else around here was also sick and needs to catch up on their shit, vacuum, dust the banister, clean my room, and not do crystal meth to get through the day, I'm going to have to keep this one short.

Matt, I never promised factual accuracy. In fact, I kind of flushed it down the toilet before the cops pounded in the front door. And that was my first day of being a writer. What I promised was truth.

Writers lie to tell the truth.

Which is why writers often seem so disconnected with reality because most of the world spends most of its time using the truth to tell lies. They control where the story starts, where the story ends, they only show you certain facts, they ignore the examples that don't conform. It's not that they're wrong (usually). It's just that they have used "true facts" to perpetuate a grander falsehood.

A fiction writer does exactly the opposite. They lie through their teeth to perpetuate a grander truth.

I have even tried to explain the difference. Here at Writing About Writing I have always given you the truth. Sometimes I have given so much truth that the people I'm writing about have narrowed their eyes at me dubiously. One particularly tense moment involved a searing hot spatula, my left nipple, and the words "Did you really just share that with the entire world?"

The thing is, unless you are gushing (and only gushing) about someone, most people don't like their private life to be part of performance art. In my old LJ days (which only my friends ever read), I once literally said ten bombastically awesome things and one minor bit of criticism about an event with someone and got an e-mail thirty seconds after I posted that was like "If you had a fucking problem, why didn't you tell me?" Spoiler alert: I didn't have a problem–fucking or otherwise–but that's what people focus on.

So you either tell people how great they are or you save it for your tell-all exposé.

Thus, it's best when writing about one's life to make sure that loved ones are insulated and that the filter of one's own biases is perfectly clear. Otherwise you risk having your door kicked in by a pissed off friend with a flame thrower who thinks you were talking about them when you made that joke about chlamydia.

That or you end up sleeping on the couch and having a groupie threesome with yourself--which while still fun is kind of disappointing.

Did these events--rooftop battles, superpower blasts, strange psychic compulsions, babies with mind control, and more--really happen? They did. All of them. But you have to drop out of your literal mind. In every event I have described, you have gotten the true, emotional core. Now maybe I jangled a few details, crossed a couple of wires, and slapped up a coat of cosmetic paint to make it a teensy weensy bit more dramatic, but it's all very, very real.

Matt, I'm not going to hand you a decoder ring because A) there isn't one, and B) if there were, it would completely defeat the point of trying to protect my peeps behind creative nonfiction and superhero realism. When I talk about a character sometimes they are a person, sometimes they are me projecting and sometimes they are life conspiring in ways that fit that character. Do you really think I would ever get laid again, EVER, if I actually referred to everything annoying my girlfriend did under the moniker "Unsupportive Girlfriend"? Or do you notice that most of the time it is actually my own self-destructive habits that get blamed on her influence.

But here are a few hints to make you go Hmmmmm:

Hmmmmmmm.

  • I live with superheroes. Epically awesome people and I am like....a side kick/housekeeper. Maybe that can give you the idea of what I think of my family and how amazing they are.
  • Pay close attention to the super-powers of my cohorts. They may strike you, in many cases, as being very good, marketable skills. Hmmmmm....
  • There is a direct correlation in attacks from the arch-villain known as Miasma (who attacks with nano-bio-weapons) and the posts I put up where I tell people I'm sick and won't be writing that day.
  • I cannot resist Dim and Sum. That one is barely even a metaphor. 
  • OG really really supports me. Really. Perhaps you might go so far as to say she puts me on a pedestal a little.
  • The Contrarian showed up and immediately exerted mind control powers over me. I'm totally his buttmonkey. He wormed into my head and made me feel about him in stupid fairy tale ways I never thought I was going to feel about anyone. Bastard.
  • My nemesis is from the future, and likes to steal my time–the one thing in the world I'm constantly struggling to find enough of. 
  • The big strong, punchy dumb brute character named Wrecking Ball (who hits first and thinks later) shows up primarily when I have been getting too lax with my boundaries or my writing time is being encroached upon.
  • Most importantly, pretty much everyone in my life might have faults or flaws, but they all fight evil, and they all struggle to make the world a better place, and that's why I'm proud to be with them.
I hope that helps you, Matt. It's not an equation that will solve the cypher, but it should help you get at the truth.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Poll: Best Y.A. Fiction 1st Round Semi Finals

What is the best Stand Alone Y.A. Book?  

Our September poll is live!

I knew Y.A. was going to be popular, but I had no idea. Though I was playing with the idea of only accepting nominations with two or more "seconds," the inner council summoned me into the sanctuary room and from their shadowy silhouettes, dictated to me that I was to run a semi-final poll out of all the titles that had gotten a second.

This means the poll proper will run into the nomination part of October. I'm hoping we can all come together and handle such insanity.

No series made it without being seconded. There were some good ones suggested, but they just didn't have any support. Given the popularity of this poll, I'm sure it will come around again in a year or two, so remember that badgering your friends into seconding your nominations is always a great idea.

There's been some umbrage with some of the titles here–either that they are too young or too old to be "proper" Y.A. fiction. Remember that I err on the side of inclusive rather than pedantic.

Disclaimer: This is a vote on the BOOKS. Fully half these books have been made into movies, but this is not a question of whether you liked Gregory Peck more than Judy Garland.

The first round semifinals (This next week)

Perks of Being a Wallflower Stephen Chbosky
Ender's Game Orson Scott Card
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Betty Smith
The Wizard of Oz L. Frank Baum
A Christmas Carol Charles Dickens
Glasgow Fairytale by Alastair D McIver
The Lightening Thief Rick Riordan
Anne of Green Gables Lucy Maud Montgomery
To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee
The Graveyard Book Neil Gaiman
Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast Robyn McKinley
Are You There God? It's Me, Margret Judy Blume
The Outsiders S.E. Hinton

Second Round Semifinals (A week from today)

Into the Dream William Sleator
The Girl With the Silver Eyes Willo Davis Roberts
Talking to Dragons Patricia Wrede
The Neverending Story Michael Ende
Haroun and the Sea of Stories Salman Rushdie
Little Women Louisa May Alcott
Norby The Mixed Up Robot Janet & Isaac Asimov
Island of Blue Dolphins Scott O'Dell
The Hobbit J.R.R. Tolkien
The Phantom Tollbooth Norton Juster
Little Brother Cory Doctorow
The Westing Game Ellen Raskin

The poll is at the bottom left of the side widgets. It's long and black and we've already made all the jokes about it that can be made. Everyone gets five votes. The top five books will go on to our final round.

While you can take all five votes, there is no mechanism for "ranking" your votes, so you should really only use multiple votes if you can't bear to choose fewer. Each additional vote you take dilutes your best choice. Also, I'm only going to run these semifinal polls for one week each, so they will go VERY quickly. Be sure to vote right away.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Sick Writer is Sick

One of the disadvantages of blogging every day (and not having a few fluff pieces in the hopper, just in case) is that if something comes up, it usually interrupts my blogging schedule.

Monday night, I got redonkulously sick. I was so sick I couldn't really even focus on reading or writing long enough to put up a message like this one. I just had to hope you all would forgive me. When one of you eyed the pitchforks and torches, a calmer head would place a gentle restraining hand over their chest and say "Let's give him a few more hours."

Fortunately, I'm currently in a clear patch of lucidity as the antipyretics are doing their job, and no bodily fluids appear to be racing to evacuate my corporeal form as fast as they can. (Ew.)

I'm not even going to try to get something up today. Yesterday, despite 101 fever and a raging headache and a hair trigger reverse thruster on my stomach, I had to watch The Contrarian, who has not yet learned empathy. It was five hours of hell. And since The Brain appears to be infected too, I suspect I'm going to have to watch him almost the whole day today (Wednesday) before I try to drag my ass to work.

On Thursday I will be posting the poll for which you all have nominated so many great Y.A. books. I discussed things with the inner council (my friends on FB) and it was unanimous that I should do a run off semi-final poll. So everything with at least one second will be on there. That means you have about 30 hours to get any last minute nominations up, second any titles you'd like to see go onto the poll, or hector your friends into seconding something that you really want to see make it.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Kablamo!

Twice this week I have trudged up the stairs into the "junk room," crawled past husks of half built robots, defeated training bots that are never going to be repaired no matter what anyone promises, smashed bits of cinderblock and concrete, various helmets or crests claimed as trophies, martial art DVD's, strategy and small unit tactics books, punching bags with split seams, and for some reason, a deflated yoga ball to the little table at the back of the room where I have set up Vera. I opened her up, and then just stared at a blinking cursor.

If you ever want to know at approximately what point my writing becomes impacted, it's (apparently) about sixty hours a week. Cleaning The Hall of Rectitude and teaching English as a second language usually leaves me enough time to write, but when sixty hours blows up in your face, there's not enough left.

On Monday I heard a gentle and polite knock at the door, and I walked over and opened it without the usual DNA scan/photon shield security protocols. It turned out to be the biggest mistake I've made since forgetting to rearm the Chickadee's missiles before we went up against the Tween Titans–my god but those kids were obnoxious.

The first blast was nearly twenty hours in one hit. I flew back from the impact, feeling the entire week's worth of free time slipping away.

ChronoTron (my nemesis) stepped through the door. His scintillating midnight blue and black cape swirled around him, shimmering with its futuristic textiles. His stoic jowls couldn't disguise a glimmer of sadistic pleasure. "Well well well," he said.  "Chris Brecheen. Imagine that."

"I figured out the problem," he said, dropping a discharged time siphon to the ground. "When I'm stealing time from most people, the power cycle isn't a problem. They just stare at you like dumb sheeple as the siphon whirs up to full power. But you...you know better. You keep getting out of the way. That's why I invented these."

He pulled out two small, hand-held time siphons that looked almost exactly like pistols. "Smaller and faster. They don't steal as much time, of course, but their power cycles are so short that you won't be able to just dodge."

"So you're from like four thousand years in the future, right?" I asked.

"Yes," ChronoTron confirmed. "And we're out of time."

"Yeah, you mentioned that the last time you got your ass kicked. Or maybe that hasn't happened to you yet--time travel plots are pretty convoluted. But here's my question. In four thousand years, no one has realized that 'sheeple' is a stupid word and 'well well well' is a cliche that no one really says."

His reply was to start firing. I tried to evade, but he was right about the time siphons being faster. Every time I ran from one bit of cover to another a few blasts hit me. An hour here. Ninety minutes there. ChronoTron systematically syphoned away my week. My eyes flicked around for something to use as a weapon. But I just kept seeing little pianos or plastic blocks or other baby toys.

That's when the house P.A. system start blasting Miley Cyrus. ChronoTron looked up incredulously. I just smiled and sighed.


Despite the lawsuit, Wrecking Ball has gone right on using the Miley Cyrus song as his "dramatic entrance" anthem. He really works hard to time that first hit right when she first sings "WRECK..."in the chorus. After that, if he can time slamming someone with a sedan or an entire wall of sheet rock, with the same moment in later choruses, he'll try.

In this case he wouldn't need the secondary timing. The fight was over in a single hit. The Herculean impact of Wrecking Ball's anvil sized fists jarred ChronoTron so hard that his contingency time hop assumed he was being slammed by a big rig truck and bounced him several days into the future to avoid the threat. The time stealer is a wily opponent, but not too able to deal with a concerted counter attack.

Or maybe not that wily considering he walked up to the front door of a superhero headquarters and knocked.

"Wow, I don't think I've ever really hit anyone into next week," Wrecking Ball said. "I thought that was just a thing people said."

Then he turned to me."You okay, Chris? I got here as soon as I could."All the heroes around here are pretty dismissive of me until villains start picking fights, and then it's like a little brother thing.

"Yeah," I said, standing up and testing all my various bits for functionality. "But he got most of my week."

"You're still here," he said.

"Yeah, I'm still here," I said. "But he got the time I needed to write a couple of entries. And now I'm behind on everything, including housework and sleep. Hopefully I can catch back up by Tuesday or Wednesday and get back on schedule."

Wrecking Ball sat down next to me and sighed: "Nemesises suck," he said.

Wrecking Ball wasn't exactly the erudite orator of the Hall of Rectitude, but this time he'd said it all. "They really do," I agreed.