PSA: Don’t Read The Comments, Even On A Fucking Recipe.

talking without brainsI read the comments this morning.

Not the comments here. No, I keep those well-moderated and have no problem slam-dunking someone into the Oblivion of the Block List if they act like an ass. And most of you are awesome, so, go you.

No, I made the mistake of scrolling past an article I was reading into the comments section.

I know. I know. Rookie mistake. You hate to see it.

Usually I know better. Hell, I used to have a browser extension that blocked the comments sections of websites unless I clicked to make them show themselves like the cowardly insects they are. It was great. No more accidental scrolling past the updates for the local library to see the barely-literate complaining that libraries are “obsuleet”.** No more looking up a book review and seeing the hate for characters that are anything but straight white cisgender men. No more sexist trolling on feminist journals. I switched browsers recently and hadn’t put the extension back up yet. No reason; I’m used to stopping before the comments.

But I was looking at a recipe, for fuck’s sake. I wanted to check other’s results making it. I thought that was safe.

Silly writer.

Anyway, after the devolution of a fucking recipe into a bigoted, slur-filled, all-caps screaming match, I am prompted to issue the following notice:

If you preface a sentence with “I’m not a racist, but…”, then you probably are. And a liar to boot.

Likewise for “I’m not a sexist, but…” and “I’m not a homophobe, but…” and “I’m not an ableist, but…” and and and…

I could really keep going forever. Just like those comments sections. Reading them is like swimming in raw sewage.

If you follow one of those openings with a comment that is racist, sexist, homophobic, or otherwise bigoted, then, yeah, you are that thing. You’re just trying to deflect the criticism with a half-assed attempt to show that you know those things aren’t cool. Which is somehow worse. You know saying those things is bad, but you can’t be arsed to actually stop saying them.

That behavior will get you blocked on this site, now and forever.

So, the next time you feel the urge to say “I’m not a [insert bad thing here], but…”, just don’t. Because you probably are. You’re just giving yourself an excuse.

*Immediately after writing this, I enabled Shut Up for Chrome. Ahhhhhhhhh.

**Not a joke.

No One Can Teach You How To Write

Heeeeeeeey! I’ve got some oil to sell you!

I imagine a lot of you got here—here being my little corner of the internet, complete with whiskey fountain and exploding mailboxes—the same way I got to my favourite writing blogs: you were trying to find out how to write.

I had a pretty good idea of the basics—put words one after another, try to make sense, try not to suck—but I’d run into some problem or another and I wanted to get another perspective. Sometimes the problems were mechanical, but more often they were procedural. What’s the best writing schedule? How do I keep the enthusiasm going on a long project? How do I know if this idea is worth devoting my time to? How do I become a writer?

When I Google’d those things, I came up with a few good blogs and a metric assload of self-promoting shills trying to sell me their Perfect Method for Creation. 

*Cue my skepticism face*

Lots of people will say they can tell you how to write. Some of them will even offer to sell you that secret for lots and lots of money. But you should look at them with the same scepticism you’d give a door-to-door cancer cure salesman. Yeah, they might have something worthwhile in that bag of Amazonian Snake Heads, but chances are you’re going to end up poorer and maybe poisoned.

This is not an indictment of writing advice. Advice is different from solutions. Advice says: “here is a way of doing a thing”. Solutions say: “Here is the only possible way of doing a thing and if you don’t see that you’re going to die alone and unloved and bookless, you hackneyed asshole.”

If you look carefully, you can spot the difference. 

No one can tell you how to write. Not even me. All I can do is tell you how I write. Some of that might work for you. Some of it almost certainly won’t. But the point is the take the bits that work and leave the rest to die by the side of the road. Take enough ideas from other people and add in some of your own and before you know it you’ll have a writing method of your very own.

Which will still fail you occasionally. No worries. That’s when you go back to the advice pool and see what you can dredge up.  

And remember: if it doesn’t work, throw it the fuck back.

How To Back Up Your Shit

That tower only had two weeks to retirement. Fucking shame.

I realize too late that the title for this post sounds like a cure for colon problems. Lest anyone get confused: THIS BLOG IS NOT ABOUT POOP.

…Most of the time.

Regular readers know of the horror which occurred recently: my hard drive shit itself.* It was entirely unresponsive without some side-load finagling, and even when I managed to access the drive, there was only one solution: erase it right down to the zeroes and start fresh.

Now, this was not the absolute shit show it could have been, because I back my work up. All of it. Multiple times a day. Because while I love technology, I don’t always trust it.

But this failure has made me re-examine my backup policy. Because, frankly, it could be better. And when this happens again, I will be more prepared.

Bare Knuckle Guide To Backing Up Your Shit

1. Go Offsite. You can back up to the Cloud** or some other service, but you should have at least one backup that isn’t in your house. Because floods/fires/earthquakes/catastrophic clown invasions happen, people.

There are a bunch of services that will do this for you. I use Crash Plan because it makes backing up automatic. I download the software, seed the initial backup, and then it runs by itself, only backing up the files that have changed every day. The only downside to Crash Plan is that both initial backup and remote restore can be slow. It took a week for my initial, and it will be five days before I get every single file back from its servers. If you live in the US, however, they also offer Restore To Your Door, where they just courier you a hard drive filled with your stuff.

Crash Plan–and other services–also give you the option of backing up to a friend’s computer, in case you’re connected to someone who doesn’t mind you storing copies of your shameful pornography collection on their hard drive.

2. Go Local. You want a local backup, too, if only for the restoring. This is where my plan lacked. I had an external hard drive, but I rarely remembered to back up to it because I had to plug it in, start the backup, and bitch moan whine. So I had no local backup. Which wasn’t a problem until now, when I have to restore nearly a terabyte of information at 7 mbps.

I have a new external hard drive. It holds more information and yet is small and portable, so I’ll be travelling with it in case the laptop decides to crap itself again while I’m on the road and away from wi-fi.

Get one. Back up with it once a day. You can even get wi-fi enabled ones, though they’ll likely take longer to back up.

3. Friend In My Pocket. I keep the files that I’m working on right this second on a thumb drive as well. Two reasons: one, if I decide I need to show someone something, it’s right there in my pocket, and two, I’m paranoid. You might think this is redundant, and you’re right. But redundant in the case of back ups of your work is not bad. It’s just good sense.

4. Evernote. I also store some projects on Evernote, especially ones that are in the editing phase. Then, whenever I’m stuck somewhere, I can pull out my phone and peruse, making notes as I do so.

5. Email. I know a fair amount of people who email documents to themselves to save them. I tend to go this route by accident: I email a file to someone else, which saves a copy in my ‘Sent’ folder. Not a bad way to go, though I find it cumbersome.

Extra Bonus Paranoia Points: Hard Copy. There’s nothing like a hard copy of your manuscript. But, unless you have unlimited space, you’re going to be limited to one copy of each. Even then, if you’re prolific–say, writing a blog three times a week–you’re going to need a big goddamn filing cabinet to keep up with that stuff. And then there’s the drafts, and revisions, and everything else. It’s a lot of trees to kill, but if you need a physical object in order to feel at ease, then do so.

Godspeed, little writers. May you never forget to back up, and may your hard drives remain uncorrupted.

*All right, maybe it’s a little about poop.

**A friend of mine had a little browser extension that replaced ‘the cloud’ with ‘my butt’. Yes, we are all twelve inside.

It Came From Twitter: Writers On Their Favourite Part Of Writing

Yesterday, comic writer Gail Simone* posed the following question on Twitter:

Screen Shot 2014-04-30 at 10.29.58 AM

If you take part in the Twitter—or even if you don’t; Twitter is public, as many celebrities have discovered far too late—you should go read the replies. You’ll learn that one, Twitter appears to be made up of at least 40% writers, and, two, that everyone has a different answer for this. Seriously. Fucking everyone.

Some of the answers resonated with me—characters, losing yourself in the zone—while others left me pulling a face best described as ‘bewildered’. It turns out there are people out there who enjoy world building most of all. Not that I hate it or anything, but it’s sure as hell not on the top of my list.

Fox’s favourite part is convincing people he’s Voltaire.

No, the top of my list is relationships. Characters are people, so they interact like people. Or they should, if I’m doing my job right. The relationships that develop between characters, especially ones that have known each other for a long time, are the best thing ever to me. I love writing the old friends meeting over drinks to shoot the shit. Or enemies talking at an arm’s length, every word an attempt to gain the advantage. Or the people who’ve just met, uncertain about what they think of each other.

Love, hate, contempt, admiration, uncertainty, mistrust, friendship…all these are gold to me. There’s nothing I’d rather write than relationships. And the fallout of relationships, commonly known as ‘plot’. Because that’s what gives the truest, most dynamic version of a story in my opinion: when the way people interact—they way they are—makes things happen. They’re not just reacting to a bunch of shit that happens around them. They made it happen, both the good and the bad. And now they have to decide what to do about it.

So, riddle me this, writers: what’s your favourite part of writing?

*Do you follow her on Twitter? If not, you should, if only to learn how troll from a master.

THIS IS SPARTA: Lessons Learned Getting to 300 Posts With Absolutely No Plan

I saw no warning sign around that pit.

A couple of years ago, I decided to start a writing blog. I still don’t remember exactly why. My mate Krys was starting hers, The Road To Ithaca, then, and maybe I caught some of her excitement. I also read a lot of blogs, so it’s possible I was inspired by something I read somewhere. Or maybe I thought, “I really feel the urge to shout and swear at strangers on the internet, but I don’t want to join Reddit. Hm.” Alas, that was before I kept personal journals with any regularity, so the motivations are lost to me.

One thing I do know, though, is that I came into this without a plan other than “write some stuff about writing and include some weird pictures and a lot of swearing”. Given that as my starting point, how the hell did I get here, to my 300th post in just under two years?

Some lessons I’ve learned along the way can just as easily be applied to your particular flavour of everyday writing. Let’s take a look:

1. Consistency. Also, consistency. I decided on three posts a week and stuck to it. I’ve missed the odd post here and there—mostly because of holidays or technical difficulties—but not many. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings are post writing; Tuesday and Thursday are post planning and research. Simple.
The best thing about the three-posts-per-week-come-hell-or-high-water strategy is that I’m always on a deadline. It gets me writing in the morning, and by the time I’m done the post, I’m usually ready to get my fiction on.

2. It’s both the size and how you use it. 300-500 words per post, mostly. Yeah, I have a few posts that run over—not many that run under—but for the most part they fall right in the sweet spot of what I can reasonably bang out in half an hour of typing time.* Keeping it to that length keeps me focused on the subject at hand. It also makes it seem more do-able. I’m far less likely to say “fuck it” and blow off 500 words than I am, say, 2000. Besides, if the ideas are too big, there’s always tomorrow’s post to get done.

3. The All-Judging Eyes of the Internet are on me. Admittedly, some times more than others. When I got Freshly Pressed a couple of months ago, there were a lot more eyes than usual. Likewise when seemingly random posts caught hold on Twitter or Facebook.  There was an audience out there, somewhere. That’s you guys, by the way.
Having people pay attention to stuff that you write is both cool and terrifying. But for the day to day writing, it means one thing: I better be damn sure of what I want to say.

4. Fuck it, ship it. Perfection is a magical unicorn that will gore you with its pearlescent horn and then stomp your perforated body into the dirt with its glittery, moon-dusted hooves if you spend too long chasing it. Getting content out on that schedule means I had no time for perfection. And so it ceased to matter. If it was good, it was good. Get it out there. No need to go unicorn hunting.

300 posts in and I’m still figuring this shit out. I can’t wait to see the updated lessons when I hit 500.
*Research and editing will add on to this, but it’s the rare and difficult post—or the particularly brain dead day—that I can’t finish in about an hour.

Pie-thulhu Comes For You: Trying New Stuff

This was the closest I could find to Cthulhu Pie.

The other night, Snowman and I had friends over. And while we were having the inevitable Serious Adult Discussions—the differences between robots and mechs, the inadvisability of storing smallpox in your freezer, the likelihood that I have an NSA file somewhere based on my internet searches— the subject of writing advice came up. I, of course, run this blog; my friend Kat, writer and movie critic* from over here, also gets asked by others for her thoughts on writing. I will now recreate our conversation in the name of giving you the most serious, high quality advice I can.

*Fires up the wayback machine*

Me: I think some people want a magic bullet—especially for shit like building an audience and getting published—but it’s really about time and patience. And, you know, not giving off an actual physical stink of desperation.

Kat: And diversifying. Try new stuff.

Me: Yeah, definitely that. It’s way too fucking easy to just get into a rut and only do the stuff you’ve done before.

Kat: You should get your fingers in as many pies as you can. And then make more pies.

Me: And then graft more fingers, until you’re a monstrous pie-finger construct, devouring all in your path, with freeway on-ramps for arms and a heart as black as coal!***

Rest of the Room: (dead silence and mildly worried staring.)

Whether or not you go the finger-pie construct route****, the advice holds: diversify. Break out of your tried-and-true and venture forth into the unknown. Novel writer? Try short stories. Try blogs. Try poetry. Try smearing the powdered dreams of your enemies on the walls of your cell.

And get out of your solitary little writer-cave. Go on social media. Become a commenter on other writing blogs. Join a writing group. Or, my personal favourite, start conversations with other writers on Twitter. I’ve had some great conversations with writers on every step of the road from Just Staring Down The Barrel Of That First Manuscript to Author Of A Goddamn New York Times Best Seller through Twitter. People are more approachable than you think. You know, so long as you’re not a complete douchecanoe about it.

This shift to new venues and new modes of communication does two things. 1) It makes you more versatile and broadens your horizons, not a bad thing at all in a writer. And 2) it gives you that many more possibilities for making money/getting published/getting noticed. More stuff on deck means more stuff to submit, which means better chances of one of those pieces finding a forever home, or at least an Until-The-Rights-Expire home.

And if you can make yourself into a Lovecraftian horror along the way? Hell, who’s not up for that?

*Also baker/librarian/weaponized disease enthusiast. I decided that if she had a Jaeger a la Pacific Rim, it would be Viral Cupcake.**
**Mine would be Caffeine Deathwish.
***With apologies to Futurama.
****Though why wouldn’t you? It sounds awesome.

Licking The Internet To Claim It As Your Own

English: A woman licks a man's face.

MINE. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been spilling my brain here for…what, a year and a half? About that. This blog had been one of my more consistent endeavors for a while now. So, why do I do it? Why take on another writing project? That’s what blogging is: another project that takes time and effort. Didn’t I have enough of those going on with the novels and short stories that are constantly clamoring for attention?

Here are three reasons why:

1) It’s a deadline. Committing to a regular posting schedule is a deadline. If I say I’m doing something Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, then by god there’s going to be a new post unless something fucked up happens. Or I’m on vacation.
Now, it’s not that I picture you lot anxiously refreshing the webpage until the new post goes up.* But there is someone, out there, who will notice if I don’t get it done. Someone besides me. So there’s a deadline.

Blogging can be a great way to get used to functioning within the constraints of other people’s time, and using it as a spur for your own shit. It’s easy to blow off a day’s writing if no one sees it except you**. It’s harder when there’s someone else watching, even if it’s someone you don’t know. Especially if it’s someone you don’t know, because your friends might forgive you. The internet will turn away in a second and forget you forever in the next ten.

2) It’s a sandbox. I write tons of stuff that’s never intended for publication. Journal entries, experimental scenes, characters that just wanted to say hi…seriously, my hard drive is full of this stuff. I have it all in a couple of giant files labelled Junk Drawer, 20XX. It’s stuff that’s fun and interesting and allows me to stretch a little.

The blog is like that. I use it as a way to sound out ideas, test theories, get my own thoughts in order about certain topics and techniques. Why did I like that first person narrator, and not this one? Why does this setting work, and that one fall flat? Why did this writing schedule work, and that one lead only to me banging my head against the keyboard in frustration? Why am I so constantly annoyed by the mewling ranks of wannabe writers who can’t muster the guts to put their words down?***

Ideas need to be tested. In an unholy gauntlet of fire and poison arrows and attack gibbons. Only then can they be useful. And even then, they might not be useful for very long. Writing about this shit forces me to test my own ideas, give them real thought, because once I hit ‘Publish’, all this shit it out there on the internet. And no one wants to look like a fool on the Internet.

3) It’s a soapbox. I love the sound of my own voice. Seriously, ask anyone.
No one wants to be a writer unless they’re at least a little bit arrogant. And I passed ‘a little bit’ a long time ago.
My words, my ideas, my story…it’s all about us. We think we have something important to say, and we’re going to do what it takes to make sure that other people hear it. Well, sometimes the stuff I have to say doesn’t fit into a story or a book. Hence this blog. It gets some of these thoughts out of my head. And it allows me to piss all over this little corner of the Internet and say, this is mine.

That’s what I got. Others, tell me: why do you blog? Or, if you don’t, what would make you consider starting?

*But if you do, then, you know, awesome.
**And, possibly, whatever NSA spy-bot is lurking in your hard drive.
***Okay, sometimes it’s an easy answer

Spring Cleaning: Your Writing Routine

Beach Head (G.I. Joe)

The other half of the battle is guns. (G.I. Joe) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you haven’t heard, Google Reader is going tits up sometime in July. Seems that the service is only used by a relatively small, if dedicated and somewhat insane, minority, and Google doesn’t feel it offers anything to the general public.

Guess who’s a member of that minority.

I am addicted to information. New stuff, old stuff, different stuff, the same stuff but turned upside down…you name it. And Google Reader was one of my primary information delivery systems.* It managed about fifty percent of my information streams, seriously cutting down on the time I needed to spend going out and finding shit. Learning to use it was the agriculture to my earlier hunter-gatherer style: it gave me more time to devote to other things, like culture, written language, and the development of city states run by the Spider God.**

But instead of rending my clothes and organizing a march on the Google offices, I decided to take this as an opportunity. My old system was going away? Fine. Time to experiment with some new ones.

The net result of this is that I spent about half the weekend looking through all my automated systems, information delivery and otherwise, and seeing if they could be better. No system is so perfect that it doesn’t benefit from experimentation. Even if you just go back to the old way, at least you know something that doesn’t work. And G.I. Joe taught us all that knowing is half the battle.

A routine can be great. It can provide structure to the otherwise structureless, which can be very helpful when doing something as fundamentally ephemeral as writing. But never make the mistake of thinking that the structure is anything other than a tool for ensuring something gets done. And, like all tools, there are other versions and upgrades, some of which might improve your experience.

And there can be other benefits. For example, I run most efficiently—that is to say, my fastest times—in the afternoon, so usually I run in the afternoon. But yesterday morning I got up and ran before breakfast, just for the hell of it. It was harder, and my time wasn’t as good, but I started the day feeling amazing from the endorphin rush. Plus, I didn’t have to make sure I left time for a workout later. Both times offer different, but still very good, results.

Experiment with your routine. You write in the evening? Try getting up early on a Saturday and writing in the morning, just to see what happens***. Edit a draft all at once? Try breaking it up into short chunks. Only write science fiction? Try a romance. Shake it up. Your routine will always be there if you want to go back to it. But it never hurts to stretch your legs a little.

*Information delivery systems trump even caffeine delivery systems in my day.
**I may need to review my books from my anthropology minor.
***’Just to see what happens’ is pretty much the reason I do everything.

In Which I Discuss Package Tracking Numbers

Living as I do in a small town, I do a lot of shopping online. I love that shit. No crowds, no lines, and they bring it right to your door. Sometimes they even gift wrap it for you.

But there’s one tiny little problem with online shopping: the tracking numbers.

To illustrate my point, and because I’ve used up all my good words slogging through the middle of my novel draft, I drew these in between hitting refresh on the courier’s website.

Getting packages in the mail before tracking numbers:

Even that fucking box is happy.

Even that fucking box is happy.

And getting packages in the mail after tracking numbers:

Tip: hitting 'refresh' every eleven seconds is not as helpful as you might think.

Tip: hitting ‘refresh’ every eleven seconds is not as helpful as you might think.

Note that it takes the same amount of time either way.  The package arrives at your house no fucking faster. But I can’t shake the feeling that, if I keep checking, I’ll make that damn box move out of the sorting room. As if there’s a little sensor on it that goes off when someone checks on it for the seven thousandth time and the people who work there go, “Well, shit, we’d better get this one on the truck right away because there’s an impatient asshole out looking for it.” More likely, if there were such sensors, those would be the packages destined to be dropped, shaken, deliberately sat on, and then lost, because you are an impatient asshole. And nobody likes that guy. Nobody.

Still can’t stop clicking it, though. If you need me, I’ll be over here, tracking the package after every sentence that I write.

Inspiration is Everywhere

giant motorized prozac cupcake

The other prescription for boredom. (Photo credit: yananine)

I haven’t been truly bored in about five years. Or, in other words, since I started writing full time. Oh, sure there have been times when I had to do stuff I didn’t want to. Or times when I just genuinely wanted to lie around and do nothing. But being bored, as in unable to think of anything that would entertain me or fill my time? Really can’t remember the last time.

If I had to put a cause to it, I’d say that it’s the writing. The more writing you do—in other words, the more that you open yourself to the creative possibilities of any situation—the less easy it is to be bored. Even doing shit like waiting at the doctor’s office. You know the scene: dog-eared magazines covered in disease, something unbelievably inane on the television, people coughing or sneezing or bandaged or just generally looking miserable. And that one kid who’s unbelievably hyper. So I pass the time by imagining how different characters would react to the place.* Hint: often not well.

Places like this would have been prime grounds for boredom once, but not now. Same goes for waiting at the dentist’s office, being stuck in traffic, going on a long drive, or just those inexplicably null hours where nothing’s happening. I just…can’t get bored any more. At least not by myself. I can be bored by TV shows or movies, bored by conversations, but time by myself? Not so much. I just…leave.

I realize that this does not sound particularly well-adjusted, but I’m okay with it. I’ll take escape into a private fantasy world over being forced to watch Mass for Shut-Ins at the doctor’s office any day.**

Also, let’s not forget that the world is amazing. Like Louis CK says, “Everything’s amazing and no one’s happy”.*** Inspiration, much like its sibling, Distraction, is everywhere. At the risk of classifying myself now and forever as a hippy, you’ve just got to look for it.

I do. All the time. I can’t stop it anymore. And, honestly, I wouldn’t even if I could. Because who doesn’t want the world to be a more fascinating place?

* I sometimes read, too, but I’ve noticed lately that, since I read on a Kindle, I get a lot more questions than I get reading done. Usually I don’t mind, since anything that encourages people to show interest in reading is all right with me, but it’s hard to answer questions with a sore throat.
**Yes, this is a real thing. And that’s its actual name. I thought it was a joke when it first came on, but, alas, the world is a very strange place.
***I love that skit. I actually ripped the audio of it just so I could put it on when I’m travelling and getting frustrated. It’s very hard to take that shit seriously when someone is yelling , “And then what happened? Did you you fly through the air majestically like a bird? Did you partake of the miracle of human flight, you non-contributing zero?” Alas, NBC made YouTube take down the one I ripped, that just has the travel part, but this one has the whole piece.