Interview with Chris Brecheen (Writing About Writing)

First off, tell me about yourself?
I wanted to be a writer since a Halloween prompt in fourth grade. I think we were supposed to write at least a page response. I wrote twenty and fell in love with the feeling. Then I spent almost thirty years trying to figure out how to make it happen.

I ended up with a few unpublishable manuscripts, no success to speak of, a chain of jobs that I enjoyed but left me without much writing time, and a growing sense of frustration, so I went back to college to pursue a Creative Writing degree from San Francisco State University. When I finished, I started Writing About Writing (that was 2012).

Okay, so tell me about Writing about Writing, how long have you been running it and what inspired you to create the site in the first place?
Well the first post was in early Feb of 2012, and we hit the ground running within just a couple of days.

One of the things I noticed when I was doing my degree was that right around 40 (which was a little older than I was at the time) there was this remarkable shift between “old guard” and “new guard” writers. The old guard were still talking about traditional publishing and The Formula™ with which writers achieve success (short stories, cover letter, agent, book deal…). All the younger writers were using the internet to break those rules. They would blog or write interactive story apps or self-publish and promote online. A few of them had traditionally published books, but most were cobbling together non-traditional, crowdfunding, and only tangentially pursuing what the old guard would recognize as a traditional career path.

So I decided I was going to blog to promote my own writing. And having done little other than food service and hospitality management before I went back to school and tutoring English and teaching English as a second language to put me THROUGH school, I couldn’t think of anything I had more expertise on than writing itself. And, like many journeys started, I discovered that I loved doing that. Now I would blog (though maybe a little less often) even if I had a successful career as a novelist.

With over 1 million followers on Facebook, first off how does it feel to have such a visible metric of your progress and success? Is it everything you’d thought it would be? And what are some pros and cons to having such a massive audience?
I wish I could say it was more enjoyable. I mean it’s a kick to hit those big numbers, but my page has grown at at a very similar rate to Facebook’s throttling of page visibility, so in a lot of ways that matter, I’m not getting the blog engagement or new patrons or anything and I’m still at a fraction of the page views that I had before their biggest throttle in September of 2018. It’s like running on a treadmill that is faster than your pace. The last time I was really excited about the number was when I ticked over a million followers, but I caught myself at a panel a while back saying “these days I only grow by about ten thousand people a week” and half the audience looked at me like I’d grown a second head. I realized I’d kind of become THAT guy.

I kind of figured my financial success would be further along when I started making big numbers like this one. While I can technically (barely) write for a living, if I want to have a car and go out to eat a few times a month, I still need a side gig. I kind of figured most people leveraging such big numbers against a career were at least….comfortable. Turns out, not so much.

Still, the pros are tangible. Some visibility is better than none, and I do not think I would be a working writer if it were not for Facebook. I can kind of “make” things go viral if I’m sparing with the power and really put my internet back into it. Unfortunately those same big numbers mean the laws of large numbers when it comes to people seeing my work. Someone out there just got out of an argument and read it in bad faith. Someone skipped lunch and is cranky. Someone is just a troll. And I get the pleasure of dealing with all of them.

What are some of your most and least successful pieces of content on your site, and does their success or lack thereof surprise you?
It’s so weird what goes viral and what doesn’t. I sometimes pour my heart and soul into posts and they only get a smattering of interest, but then I turn around and write a post about why I don’t really have a post for that day, and THAT ends up becoming the best performing post of the entire month.

Probably the best example of this is my best performing post of all time Changing the Creepy Guy Narrative. If I had had any idea it was going to reach 3500 people (never mind 355 THOUSAND), I would have written it to a broader audience and not done that ham-fisted “this is still about writing….somehow” thing I did with “The Narrative™” But then I woke up to 40,000 pageviews and things were really just getting started.

What are some rules that you have set for yourself as a writer, how do you feel they serve you as a writer, and would you recommend them to others?
The one that I talk about all the time and generates the most controversy is that I write every day. It’s not always a blog post or many pages on my work in progress, but I always try to spend at least thirty minutes to an hour writing something, even if it’s only a Facebook post or a thoughtful email.

Recently there have been a lot more rules about how to handle people who contact me. (Proto-fame is getting weird.) But “writing every day” is the one I feel has most served me and what I most recommend to people who are hoping to have some kind of typical success as a writer.

Speaking of which, do you have any tips, tricks or advice for someone who wishes to run a successful site like you do? And speaking more broadly for a moment, do you have any pearls of wisdom you want to share with your fellow writers? (again feel free to drop links to your site)?
It is *literally* harder today to launch a page that becomes successful than it was nine years ago when I began. In September 2018, Facebook throttled an algorithm that already showed a given post only to a fraction of a percentage of the followers who were interested in the content. Overnight, I noticed about a tenth of the people saw any given post.

I haven’t seen anything to indicate that small pages get better engagement, so I think pretty much anyone who was big before “the snap” is just going to be that much harder to catch up to.

That said, I spent years putting up memes and puns and stories and stuff–an average of one an hour every moment I was awake–and slowly but surely the audience grew, so I don’t have any tips or shortcuts beyond that. Just keep them spread out enough so that people don’t feel spammed by your page, but still frequent enough that you are showing up regularly.

What do you think about social media and its increasing saturation and integration with modern writing?
I know I’m supposed to say that it’s this terrible, awful, no good development that is sullying an otherwise pure art form, but writers have always had to promote their work. The idea of a writer who just writes and picks up royalty checks because the work speaks for itself is a pleasant fiction. Unless a writer were rich and could afford to be a “gentleperson of leisure,” they had to drive around putting books on consignment or network by rubbing elbows at literary events for months and years before getting a drop of that sweet, sweet nepotism. Even household names have book signings and release parties and such as contractual obligations and believe me they’re a lot less fun after the first ten minutes.

All that sounds like some kind of torture compared to just dropping a few memes a day.

I notice you really like writing memes, what’s your favourite(s) and feel free to share it with us?
I’m not sure I could ever pick just one, but honestly the ones I laugh the hardest at are just those terrible, awful “Dad jokes.” They’re just so, so bad.

WAW Meme (from Crystal Lowery Comedian)

Moving away from writing for a moment, what do you do besides writing and running your site that keeps you busy (this can be hobbies, other jobs etc) and how do you balance this with writing and running your site?
I have a second job that basically pays for my car and some extra spending money (although for the entire length of the pre-vaccine pandemic, it accounted for more like 30+ hours a week instead of 10ish). I do a little part time nannying.

I love to read, although it’s been really hard to read more than a novel a month or so since 2016. I’m kind of hoping that comes back. Mostly I read a lot of online articles and news.

I play a lot of video games, although not as many as I used to. It usually takes me a month or three to work through a game I’m really enjoying, and some of those huge open-world games take even longer.

If you are able to talk about it, what goals and plans do you have for yourself over the next 5+ years?
I’d like to get my income to a place where I’m comfortable giving up the side gig. Even ten hours a week would make a huge difference in my writing output, and even my post vaccine much-better schedule is more like 15 hours most weeks. Plus, I absolutely have to finish the book I’m working on. In fact, in five years, I hope to have finished the NEXT one too.

I believe that you are working on a book, and if I am correct it was kickstarted, how is that going and can you tell me a little more about it, and why you selected crowdfunding to help you complete the book?
One of my current deep shames as a working writer is how long it has taken me to get this book written. Something kept coming up…for years. Literally the last huge life change I made was done with great logistical upheaval and inconvenience to arrange my nanny schedule so that it would perfectly complement my writing schedule and I was going to get so, so, SO much work done. That was February of 2020. So I guess you know what happened before the ink had even dried on THAT plan.

And at the risk of embodying that meme that says “Adulthood is saying ‘after this week things will not be so busy’ until you die,” I really am looking at a much easier schedule now.

The reason I picked crowdfunding is that the original idea was a lump sum that I could slowly dip into over the year or so that I was writing. I was going through a big breakup, moving out on my own, and writing did NOT pay all the bills at that time (not even in the “barely” capacity that it does now). I thought the Kickstarter money was going to keep me afloat maybe for a year. I ended up in a childcare situation that not only supplemented my writing income, but was a little overwhelming and MORE than covered what I needed. I may still end up using the Kickstarter funds for something very similar and if not, it will go into helping me with self-publishing costs.

I also believe that you are avoiding traditional publishing with your book, why is that? And would you recommend self-publishing or alternatives to others?
I would…but I also think that traditional vs. non-traditional publishing is a very, VERY personal choice. There are huge pros and cons of each. I talk about that a lot in this post.

For me, given my privilege, I chose to avoid traditional publishing even if I ever “make it big” simply because voices like mine are already gunking up so much of traditional publishing. I’d rather thumb my nose at one more industry with deep seated biases, and if possible, “give up my seat” to someone who’s had to work harder for the same opportunities.

On a related note, please feel free to tell me more about, and share more of your writing?
Here are a few of MY favourites (although not always the best performers):

Tell me about some other writers you like and/or admire and why?
Oh gosh. So many. I can’t read enough Octavia Butler or N.K. Jemisin right now when it comes to fiction, but I really like Jeff Goins as a blogger (literally a blogger about writing) who I look up to. I think Stephen King has probably done more to contribute to my understanding of what it takes to BE a writer than any wordsmith alive, and Dorthea Brande (Becoming A Writer) has done more than any writer there ever was. Ta-Nehisi Coates is an incredible journalist and author who I try to read more of whenever I can.

Okay, that’s us coming to an end, so a little bit of fun, please share a quote(s) which has really stuck with you, and why?
Oh this is SO hard! I used to collect writing quotes back in the before times before compilations of them on web pages. Over the years I’ve held so many to my heart. Can I maybe narrow it down to the top three?

“I think all writing is a disease. You can’t stop it.”
William Carlos Williams

“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
Toni Morrison

“Writers Live Twice”
Natalie Goldberg

Lastly, please share and/or promote yourself by dropping links to your social media, Patreon, PayPal or whatever you want people to check out?
Of course there’s my blog about all things writing which you can check out here, and my other blog which is about all things NOT writing which you can check out here. I’m always looking for new Patrons (as I said, the budget is a little shoestring around here) and if you want to follow me on social media, I have a page about where I am and what sorts of updates I put where which you can check out here.

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