the creative process, writing

Best of the Blog: My Top 10 Most-Viewed Posts of 2020

Insert “hindsight is 2020” pun here to launch this list of the top-viewed posts on this blog in 2020.

As it turned out, some of my most popular posts in 2020 weren’t actually written during the past year. For the sake of completeness, I’ve included these in the list – they were quite popular this year – but I’ve also marked them with an asterisk (*) to indicate they were written at some time prior to 2020.

I’ve also left off pages, like the “About” page, because they are…not blog posts.

Enjoy!

*10: If You Like It Then You Shoulda Put a Paycheck On It: My Real Problem With The Mighty

Written for the #CrippingTheMighty hashtag campaign in the mid-2010s, this post hits right at the intersection of two topics that are near to my heart (and life): Paying creatives, and recognizing disabled people’s work has value.

I don’t mean some intangible “all human lives have value” value. I mean recognizing disabled people’s lives have value in the only real language of value the capitalist world has: Cold hard cash.

You can read about my issues with the fact that “disabled voices” website The Mighty decided to invite disabled people to contribute to its site but not to pay them here.

*#9: Top Five Books for Figure Skaters

This post will be ten years old in June 2021, which means it’s due for an update. And by “update,” I mean I’ll be adding more books to it, because I still believe that the five listed here stand the test of time.

This post gets pushed into the top-searched posts by the advent of the winter gifting holiday season every year. I guess there just aren’t that many gift guides for figure skaters who also read.

Check out my top five recommendations for figure skaters here.

*#8: “Happy Birthday” Is the Worst Song Ever Written

I wrote this in 2019 because I hate the song “Happy Birthday.” You know the one. The one we all sing off-key at people when it is their birthday, not because we are all horrible singers (I am, but not everyone is), but because a song specifically written to be sung by anyone, anywhere, several times a year, is such a hot mess that it is practically unsingable.

I hate it. I hate it with the fiery passion of a thousand suns. Here’s why.

#7: The “Tea Party” Is Back, But It’s Not on the Side You Think

During the Black Lives Matter protests of the summer of 2020, I got so heck-dang-frack annoyed with people comparing the protests unfavorably to the Boston Tea Party that I did a little research on the Tea Party.

Turns out that if you’re rooting for the Sons of Liberty on that one, you’re…er…on the wrong side of history.

Angryclick my controversial opinions on the topic here.

*#6: How Much Is My Girl Scout Handbook Worth, Part One

I wrote this post about a decade ago, when collecting Girl Scout handbooks was my Thing.

And, in true ADHD fashion, I then promptly forgot about the entire series. I didn’t write Part Two until 2018.

The Internet has not, however, forgotten that at one time I tried to help folks navigate the collecting of Girl Scout handbooks. This post and a couple other posts in the Girl Scout handbooks series regularly show up in my “most-viewed” stats, and there’s always at least one search term related to Girl Scout handbooks in the mix every month.

You can read Part One here and Part Two here. Check out the posts on 1912 to 1947 and 1950 to 1977 too, if you’re into that sort of thing.

*#5: Using Brodart Book Covers: Or, How to Protect Your Investment in 6 Easy Steps

Another post from the early days, in which this blog spent far more time thinking about book collecting and less time on freelance writing, fiction, writer lifestyles and silly AI antics.

This one is pretty much exactly what it says on the tin: I walk you through how to put Brodart dust jacket covers on your dust jackets. Check it out here.

*#4: Keeping the Pace: Legal Writing Versus Academic Writing

I wrote this post during graduate school, exploring the differences between the legal writing I had been doing as an insurance defense lawyer and the academic writing I was being asked to do as an English literature MA candidate.

It’s also one of the most consistently-viewed posts on this blog. It’s also one of the posts that most often leads people here via search engine: “differences between legal and academic writing” and variations thereon appear in my top search terms nearly every month.

You can read what I was thinking about legal versus academic writing half a decade ago here.

*#3: Five Reasons I Hate Les Miserables (The Show, Not the Book)

I wrote this piece in a fit of pique nearly ten years ago, and it’s been one of the most enduring pieces on this blog. For some reason, hatred of Les Mis strikes a chord with viewers across time and space.

You can check out the five reasons I hate Les Mis (the show, not the book) here.

#2: How to Practice Social Distancing Without Losing Your Mind

I’m something of an old hand at social distancing, having grown up on a farm with parents even more introverted than I was and gone on to have a loner’s dream job of working from home on my laptop and (almost) never speaking to other humans.

When the pandemic began, I shared my tips on how to live this life. They’re still being passed around various social media sites, and you can read them here.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Before we get to the top blog post of the year, here are a few that didn’t make the top ten but that I’m particularly proud of or otherwise love:

  • How to Ruin Perfectly Good Books: If you don’t want to ruin them, do the opposite of this.
  • So You Want to Write a Book About Autism: I co-founded Autonomous Press, which handles books about neurodivergence, including autism. Here’s my advice from the perspective of someone who used to approve (or, often, reject) manuscripts about autism.
  • Notes From My Upcoming AWP Recording Session: This post hasn’t had a chance to make it into the top most-viewed posts, since it’s only been up for about two weeks. I recently recorded a panel discussion on “Neurodivergence in Literature” with several colleagues. Here’s what else I would have said if we’d had several more hours.

And, finally, the most-viewed post on this blog in 2020:

#1: What It’s Like to Have Auditory Processing Disorder, as Demonstrated By Auto-Generated YouTube Captions

This post was my most-viewed of the year not only here, but also on Medium, where it was shared in at least one publication.

I wrote it after trying to watch old reruns of BraveStarr (I wanted to see whether it was a real cartoon, or just a fever dream I had during the chicken pox) with YouTube’s auto-generated captions running. I needed the captions because, having central auditory processing disorder, I struggled to understand what several of the characters were saying.

YouTube, as it turned out, struggled as well.

The result was a sample of what listening is like for me on a daily basis. You can read this blog’s top post of the year here.


Help me bring you even better content in 2021! Leave a comment, share this post, or buy me a coffee.

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satire, fiction and humor, writing

How to Be an Aspiring Writer

There are I-don’t-know-how-many books, blogs and other resources for people who want to know how to become a writer. This blog even has a post or two on the subject.

What’s sorely missing, however, are any guides on how to become an aspiring writer.

Works on writing are for people who are already aspiring to become writers. They’re not much use for those who are aspiring to aspire to become writers. One has to walk before they can run, of course.

The demand for guides on “how to become an aspiring writer” is surprisingly high. I see two or three versions of that question cross my Quora feed in an average week. Yet these valiant souls, who aspire one day to aspire to write, get completely overlooked by an industry that’s, apparently, only interested in reaching those who have already begun the aspiration process.

So: If you’re dreaming of someday being the kind of person who dreams about writing a novel, a screenplay, a memoir or a collection of poems, here’s the guide for you.

Acquire the Necessary Aesthetic

Most of the energy cost of being an aspiring writer is spent on maintaining a “writer aesthetic.” This makes sense; after all, the most important part of being an aspiring writer is to look like one.

One’s aesthetic is about more than looks. It’s an entire lifestyle approach that communicates to the world, “I have Lofty Thoughts, which I might someday Write Down in the form of a Book.”

As a newcomer to the adventure of writer aspirations, do spend most of your time cultivating your personal aesthetic to live like you imagine a writer having deep thoughts about nature and the human condition would live.

Here are a few places to start:

  • Clothing. Dress the way you imagine a writer dressing when that writer is the kind of writer you want to be. If nothing comes to mind, opt for dark/muted colors, turtlenecks, and berets. Avoid jeans unless you have no choice or you’re going for a “working stiff by day, poetic genius by night” vibe.
  • Diet. To be an aspiring writer, it is of course absolutely essential to consume only the food, drink and substances that the writer in your imagination would consume. Be realistic: You can’t actually live on coffee, cigarettes and hard liquor, but you can certainly incorporate them into your public consumption and/or find convincing alternatives. Attention to consumables is essential to properly fuel the aspiring writer within.
  • Haunts. I’m going to guess that the writer in your imagination doesn’t do anything so mundane as work in an office or pick up the dry cleaning. You may still need to make money and buy groceries while you aspire to write your bestseller, but that doesn’t mean you need to be seen in those places any longer than necessary. Work on spending your free time in places you imagine writers would frequent, like coffee shops. Just remember that these places need to be public. After all, the point of being an aspiring writer is to be seen aspiring.
  • Interests. As an aspiring writer, your primary interest should be, of course, writing. But every writer needs something to write about. Cultivate an appropriately aspirational hobby, like collecting Victorian hair jewelry. If you’re short on funds, “observing the human condition” is a classic aspiring-writer hobby that costs nothing.

Need a shortcut to a full-on writer aesthetic? Look up “dark academia” on Pinterest. What you’ll see is pretty much just my life, but better, for the kids have made it an Aesthetic.

Read Book(s) on Writing

As the huge selection of books, blogs and articles on How to Write makes clear, there’s a huge market for writing advice. Who consumes this advice? Aspiring writers, of course!

To make the transition to a full-fledged aspiring writer, then, you’ll need to read at least one book on writing. It’s best to make this book a fairly recent classic that other people have actually heard of, and that has no unseemly words or phrases in its title, no matter how good the content it. (Sorry, Chuck Wendig.)

When in doubt, reach for a book like Stephen King’s On Writing or Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. Neither book will help you be a better writer unless you actually write, but that’s not your goal. Your goal is to be able to quote the book you choose as if it is the Scripture of your new religion: the Church of Aspiring to Write.

(You will meet members of rival churches. Be patient with them. Their benighted ignorance is not their fault. Lead by example, so that others may aspire to write as fervently as you do.)

Start a Piece (But Don’t Actually Work On It)

Finally, aspiring writers always have a piece in the works – but they don’t actually work on it. Or if they do, the work consists of anything except actually putting words on paper/screen.

Here’s the great secret of writing: Everything ever written got that way by someone putting down words, one after the other, until the piece was finished (or abandoned). But you don’t want to be a writer; you want to be an aspiring writer. And aspiring writers don’t write; they dream of having written.

To convince skeptical audiences, however, you’ll need to at least start a piece. Decide what you’re going to write, then create a title page. You don’t have to love the title. You don’t even have to have a title; you can call it “My Novel” or “My Screenplay.”

Write this down on a piece of paper, then put that piece of paper away somewhere and forget about it. Like a law degree, it’s only there so that you can inject it into conversations in order to score points: “I’m writing a screenplay.

You should, of course, strenuously avoid actually writing the screenplay. Go read another book on writing, or refresh Twitter, or Observe the Human Condition. Really, anything except putting words down on paper/screen.

Because if you start putting down words, you might become an actual writer – and nothing ruins a career as an aspiring writer faster than becoming a real one.


What’s your advice for becoming an aspiring writer? Leave a comment, share this post, or buy me a coffee.

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satire, fiction and humor, writing

Here’s How Many Calories of Turkish Delight Edmund Pevensie Ate

In my family, I’m notorious for loving Turkish Delight.

This Christmas, I ordered my own box of Turkish Delight, figuring that since nobody else in the family even likes the stuff, they’d go on ignoring my love of it like always. But, like every other decision I’ve tried to make in 2020 based on past information, “buying my own Turkish Delight” ended up being the wrong choice.

I woke up on Christmas morning to catch my husband putting the finishing touches on a batch of homemade Turkish Delight. And when our gifts from his parents (finally) arrived, there was another box stuffed in between the hand towels I’d requested.

For the first time in my life, I can say that I am in possession of “several pounds” of Turkish Delight at the same time. Which reminded me of someone else who once found himself in possession of several pounds of Turkish Delight.

In C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, second-to-last child and Judas Iscariot stand-in Edmund Pevensie finds himself in Narnia after chasing Lucy into the wardrobe. There, he meets a terrifyingly white woman who styles herself the White Queen, but whom Lucy’s friend Tumnus has referred to as the White Witch.

Her Whiteness not that into Edmund until she realizes Edmund is a “son of Adam” – that is, human. That’s when she invites him to sit in her sleigh and warm up. She gives him a tasty warm drink, and then offers him a snack:

“The Queen let another drop fall from her bottle on to the snow, and instantly there appeared a round box, tied with green silk ribbon, which, when opened, turned out to contain several pounds of the best Turkish Delight. Each piece was sweet and light to the very centre and Edmund had never tasted anything more delicious. He was quite warm now, and very comfortable.”

Over the next several paragraphs, Edmund eats the entire box. He leaves the White Queen/Witch feeling rather cross and plotting to exchange his brother and sisters for “roomfuls” of Turkish Delight. In the text, his bad attitude is attributed to the fact that the Turkish Delight is magic, and that given the chance, Edmund might have gone on eating it until it killed him.

Even as a child, I doubted magic had anything to do with Edmund’s desire to eat more Turkish Delight. There were plenty of sweets I would have eaten several pounds of at one go if I’d been allowed.

As an adult, I doubt magic has much to do with Edmund’s mood post-Turkish Delight, either. Here’s why.

According to the manufacturer of this particular brand of Turkish Delight, this is one “piece”:

(Image: a hand holding a teaspoon over a beige background. The teaspoon contains a small cube covered in powdered sugar. The cube fits entirely within the boundaries of the teaspoon.

Traditional Turkish Delight consists primarily of sugar, cornstarch, rosewater, and the occasional pistachio. Some types are made in flavors other than rosewater, but they’re all, at heart, a bit of sugar and cornstarch boiled down to a thick paste.

I usually eat one or maybe two pieces in a sitting. Occasionally I eat three in one go, but I regret it.

This is the box of Turkish Delight from which I took this piece (same teaspoon included for scale):

A box of “Hazer Baba Turkish Delight,” with a teaspoon resting on top. The teaspoon is a little more than half as long as the box.

This box contains 16 ounces, or 1 pound, of Turkish Delight. According to the back of the box, there are about 33 pieces in this one pound. Remember that number; we’ll need it later.

C.S. Lewis doesn’t tell us exactly how many pounds of Turkish Delight Edmund is supposed to have eaten. We know it’s more than one, because Edmund’s box contains “pounds,” plural, and we can guess it’s more than two, because the pounds are described as “several,” rather than “a couple” or “two.”

For the purposes of our math, I’m going to say that Edmund eats three pounds of Turkish Delight. He could possibly have eaten only two, or more than three, but he definitely ate more than one. Three boxes equals about 99 pieces of the size pictured in the teaspoon above.

The back of this box of Turkish Delight states that there are about 50 calories in each piece. One pound of Turkish Delight, then, is about 1,650 calories. This is, very roughly speaking, the amount a 165-pound human burns in a day of being awake, but sedentary.

Edmund eats (I assume) THREE of these in one sitting. That’s 4,950 calories, or more than three days’ worth of calories for a child Edmund’s size, made up entirely of sugar and a little bit of pistachio. Edmund ate six and a half cups’ worth of sugar. In one sitting.

No wonder Edmund has a bad mood and a stomachache when he finally meets up with Lucy!


Liked this post? Leave a comment, share on social media, or buy me a coffee to wash down this Turkish Delight.

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