Archive for the ‘ Writing Life ’ Category

Five Years of Blogging at the Void

ma101-logo-geoffrey-cubbageDo you know, I almost missed this year’s blogoversary?

That’s not what the cool kids are calling them now. The cool kids now don’t even have blogs. But here we are, five years after the first post went live on what was, at the time, supposed to be a blog about writing fiction. (Years later I expounded, honestly I think, on why that was a terrible idea.)

I sometimes feel like WordPress has changed more than I have over these last five years. The design changes; the content stays about the same.

That’s not a bad thing. I like my content, by and large. I’ve perhaps grown more critical, leading to more and more posts discarded as not quite good enough for the public (which has led in turn to less updates), but the ones that survive usually strike me as relevant. Sometimes even a little important, who knows? At least two (the one about street harassment in World of Warcraft and the one about Belle Knox’s Wikipedia page) prompted action elsewhere. I can legitimately claim to have changed the face of the internet, and not just as a citation on Wikipedia’s “Hot Toddy” entry.

Not bad, for a pro bono gig by a guy who thinks “pro bono” is giggle-worthy.

It’s a mark of professional growth, I think, that the blog is becoming more of a professional liability than an asset, but I don’t plan to take it down or stop posting any time soon. Quod scripsi, scripsi. Call it a useful safety net for my sanity: it prevents me from taking a job with any outfit so hopelessly conservative that they’re going to hold, say, a post about a porn star’s historical relevance against me.

Here’s to five years, in other words, and perhaps to five more. Who knows what the internet will even be like by then? Perchance I’ll be beaming my dick jokes directly into your brain.

Onward to Year Six!

Want to Test-Read a New Fairy Tale?

No misanthropy or media studies today, my darlings: for once, MA101 needs to go back to its roots as a platform for my modest writing ambitions.

I’m looking for test readers willing to read through a 32,000 word novella and return their thoughts on the reading experience in a fairly timely manner.

The Deets:

This is a whimsical, slightly surrealistic story about a young girl who becomes the prince in a fairy story. With fairyland itself coming apart for reasons no one seems to understand, it doesn’t work out quite the way it’s supposed to.

It’s novella-length, meaning you could read it in one long sitting or several short ones. Either will work. It’s a single, contiguous story: no multiple acts, no jumps in time or “moving line on a map” transitions, and no straying outside the experiences and perceptions of the main character.

It’s also going to be a bitch to sell to anyone, but that’s my problem, not yours. If you’re interested in reading such a thing, and you think you could get through it and fill out a short response sheet for me in a two-week window, let me know! There will be thanks, gratitude, similar reviewing services in return as needed, and drinks on me if you’re ever in the area as payment, at least one of which has cash value.

Contact info, if you don’t have it, is just my first name and my last name, separated by a period, at the ubiquitous Gmail. Though if you didn’t know that already I’m surprised (and flattered) that you’re interested in my fiction writing projects.

The Singular They: Another Grammatical Hang-Up You Can Get Over Already

pronouns-he-she-they-itThe legacy of the nit-picking late 19th and early 20th centuries is with us still, in the form of armchair grammarians. You would think sometimes that the English language had been shat whole and complete out of H. W. Fowler’s clenching sphincter.

We’ve already talked about “literally,” and how it can mean literally any degree of literalism you want; now let me clarify another grammatical misconception for you: the singular “they” has been with us from the beginnings of modern English, and no one has ever been confused by it.

Chaucer used it. So did Shakespeare. Jefferson, Austen, Dickens, Thackeray, Shaw…pick a famous English-language writer, and somewhere in their works you’ll find the singular “they.” (See what I did there?)

And really, why wouldn’t English writers rely on the oldest and most common gender-neutral pronoun in their language? Taken as both a singular and a plural pronoun, “they” is just one more English word out of thousands with multiple possible meanings.

It’s not like there are better alternatives. English lacks a gender-neutral singular pronoun with no alternative meanings (other than “it,” and an emotional separation between humans and all other objects is encoded too deeply in the rest of the language to ever let that one catch on).

A purportedly gender-neutral “he” isn’t gender-neutral, obviously (try a construction like “everyone hates getting a run in his stockings on the way to work” to see the absurdity of it), and if we were to use a gendered pronoun as the generic, “he” has worse odds of being accurate than “she” in our slightly female-skewed population. If reducing ambiguity is your game, that’s not the way to go.

“He/she” has obvious readability and efficiency issues, and while more inclusive than one gendered pronoun is still not particularly representative of modern gender identities (which could be better shortened to “fuck it; who knows?”).

And perhaps the reformists who want a brand-new pronoun will have their day eventually, but the cause would be drastically helped by moving away from really odd and under-used English consonants that produce ambiguous pronunciations: none of us old farts give enough of a fuck to figure out what the difference between “ze” and “zhe” is, or how you say either one, and they’re both a pain to type. Until a very widely-read author or publication picks one option and throws all their weight behind it, those will remain an alphabet soup of wistful good intentions.

So until something better comes along, please — use the singular “they” with confidence. You could probably come up with a sentence where the numerical disagreement created ambiguity if you really tried, but it would be a tortured construction that no one would realistically use in their day-to-day speech.

See what I did there?


The Freelancer’s Holiday

martin-luther-king-day-of-serviceWorking from home is an odd beast.

If you read the entrepreneur blogs (and there are a lot of them, most of which appear to have an audience consisting entirely of other entrepreneur blogs), the self-employed are the real overachievers of the modern economy. You are your own toughest boss, &c., which let me tell you as I swig my beer and scroll through Tumblr porn in another tab is total bullshit, but it’s a nice-sounding idea.

(Or maybe not a nice sounding idea, depending on how you feel about work. But the point is that these self-employed gigs are supposedly the ones where there are no days off and every workday is a 12-hour-plus day. Your mileage in terms of actual productivity may vary, based on how many of those twelve hours are spent fondling your crotch.)

So I take all of that with a grain of salt, or several grains of salt gracing the rim of my afternoon margarita. But I will say this much about working from home: it really takes the fun out of federal holidays.

Seriously. King Day and all those others aren’t holidays; they’re workdays plus I can’t run down to the bank.

Ah well. Over the last few years of federal holidays I’ve called Veteran’s Day “the most awkward holiday of the year,” listed “making out with your sister-in-law” as a traditional Memorial Day observance, and castigated Labor Day as a watered-down bread-and-circuses distraction designed to separate American workers from the international labor movement (which it is). Reverence for national days of celebration is clearly not in me.

At least I can fill that bank run time I’d scheduled with another beer from the fridge.

Four Years of Misanthropology

ma101-logo-geoffrey-cubbageThey say it takes ten years to truly master a skill, so only six more to go until I’m actually entertaining!

Yes indeed, it’s been four years here at MA101, which remains to this day one of my least-monetized assets. Still, the savings in therapy bills are considerable. I don’t know why everyone doesn’t get themselves a digital soapbox from which to rail.

Rather than bore you all with tedious recounting of my triumphs as a blogger over the years, I shall celebrate the anniversary with a well-deserved “throw some crap up and leave the rest to the comments section” dodge.

Readers: Do you remember the post that first brought you here? Share it in the comments! Or just pick a favorite, if you don’t remember what got you started. You can tell me what it was about and I’ll hunt the link down if you’re feeling lazy.

Don’t be shy! I’m genuinely curious what I’ve written over the last four years that people actually liked.

Freelance Writing: Q4 Projected Earnings May Look Great, But Try Telling Your Landlord That

If I were a company, now would be a great time to buy stock in me. (Cue the obligatory lefty-liberal jokes about incorporating oneself to get more constitutional rights than individuals enjoy, etc.)

My earning potential looks fantastic. I’ve got long-term, big-payout jobs dropping in my lap left, right, and center. More and more people keep hiring me. I’ve been turning down jobs and raising rates just to keep the workload manageable.

On the other hand, between the “long” part of those long-term jobs and the $900 or so in auto work I shelled out today, cash reserves are pretty well wiped out and we’re looking at what’s demurely called a negative cash flow for the next few weeks.

So, to put it another way: I’m glad I stopped at the Asian Midway from some fancy ramen on my walk back from the garage, because apparently that’s what I’m eating for the next little while. I’d feel guilty about shelling out for the good stuff, but damn if that extra ten cents doesn’t get you a way better bowl of ramen.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go see how many words I can write in the next couple hours.

3 Reasons New Writers Shouldn’t Start “Writing Blogs”

blog-penRemember back when MA101 was ostensibly about writing?

That was a stupid idea.

Writing blogs are a popular stupid idea, at least, but by that measure I should take up smoking, too, which would at least make me look cooler than blogging does.

Nonetheless, people are still starting new blogs-about-writing every day, and there are lots of authors, publishers, and agents out there encouraging the trend.

They are wrong, and here is why:

#1: You Don’t Know Shit About Writing

This was true of me back in December 2009, and to a great extent it’s still true about me today.

If you’ve got some success in the business, people want to know how you achieved it. Writers who’ve made a decent living (or at least a decent critical impact — the two don’t always go hand in hand) have some authority when they talk about their process. The process worked, demonstrably.

Until your process has worked out for you, however, both critically and fiscally, you’re not in a position to dispense advice. Accept that you don’t know how to make your career work yet, and figure that out before you start writing how-tos.

#2: There Isn’t Enough to Say

Just how long are you planning on running your blog? And how many times a week are you posting?

If the answers are “at least a year” and “at least once,” you already need a bare minimum of fifty-two unique, writing-related topics. And if your writing process has fifty-two unique steps in it that you can talk about, you’re a hideously inefficient writer.

You can keep the writing focus and move beyond your own experiences by keeping an eye out for writing-related news and other blog posts — but at that point you’re putting quite a bit of time and effort into becoming an aggregator of stories that other people already covered.

And did you really go into the writing business to become a content aggregator? If you want to do that, go aggregate fuzzy kitten pictures for Buzzfeed and make some real money.


#3: The Audience That Cares Is Useless to You

Who actually wants to read writing tips?

Aspiring writers, and pretty much no one else.

That means that your primary audience is A) your competition and B) probably pretty broke. Neither one is likely to make them want to buy your books, in the event that you actually start publishing some.

I’m not saying you won’t acquire any loyalists who just love your blogging style and will feel they have to try your books — but you certainly won’t be attracting the thousands and thousands of them you’d need to make a discernible bump in your sales.

So Don’t Do It

Blog all you want. Blogging is fun, it can attract audiences that will want to buy books, and if you work hard at it you might even be able to sell some on-page ads for a couple bucks a month.

But get over the idea of a “writing blog” sooner, rather than later. It’s overdone, it doesn’t interest anyone outside of a small and relatively poor echo chamber, and there are already a couple of seriously established heavyweights filling all the content-aggregating demand. Go write about something unique instead.

Or just post fuzzy pony pictures — that’s worked out okay for me.


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