One Word Goal for 2015: Ambition

hanging out at bidwell pool
I get all kinds of junk mail, and a good number of the self help variety. I hardly read of these emails, but I leave them in my inbox, just in case. And every once in a great while, one or two get read.

For example, Why You Need a Word for Your Year. Actually, I remember last year’s post too. I can’t say I found it particularly meaningful, but this time I liked the idea. Especially when the word “ambition” came to mind.

Ambitious is not one of my personality traits. I am a settled sort of person. So by ambition, I mean the drive to actually stick to some of my bigger goals. Like respecting my writing by 1) writing, and even better 2) keeping up with my writer’s group/buddies, even if I’m not as good as they are. Or like sticking with the exercise and good eating that was actually getting me somewhere.

If I do respect my writing, it may even show up here. Not because the audience for it is here, necessarily, but for the idea of an audience. Maybe there will be more blogging in general too, but it’s not really up there yet. If I get everything together…

So I’ll post my four most important resolutions early (is it really custom to only decide/share tomorrow?)

1: Respect the writing (write a real draft of last year’s NaNo manuscript)

2: Take care physically (eat right, keep exercise goals)

3: Actively manage budget (maybe get a downpayment started? after separate emergency fund)

4: Keep clean! (that means I want a proper closet organizing system and to not let clutter take over again, like it did this past month—the UFYH app already has started on that one. I look forward to a grown up sort of space instead of the one room and constantly moving I’ve had since starting college.

Your Premise was Outdated 10 Years Ago

I cannot believe Lucy is a movie actually being made today.

Now, maybe, if it had been made some ten or fifteen years ago I might have found it a thoughtful idea and been willing to accept the idea as a metaphor. But right now, today, after we’ve finally been able to study the brain this is ridiculous.

You already use 100 percent of your brain. OK? You do, I promise. It’s just that the parts of the brain have different functions. You don’t want them all trying to work at once because that is a seizure.

Why couldn’t they just blame it all on some magic system that over-revved brain activity? I’d rather like a plot that relied on young the brain power and the protagonist became able to influence others. Maybe even give other people heart attacks from the next room or something.

Tellingly, you’ll notice I’m not mentioning either throwing people around or stopping time.

Every time I see that movie’s trailer, I want to run screaming from the room or throw something. Or jump off the roof. Unless the Black Window is just trolling the mad scientist. That would be OK too.

The thing is, I have nothing to say

The last day of last month I lamented that I’d only finished one book, which, considering my year goal is 100, is a bit behind.

So where did that time even go?

Obviously the internet. And looking back, I was reading, just online, and there were at several hundred thousand words altogether. They just weren’t book words.

Also, Pinterest turned out to work marvelously well with my hoarding tendencies, so I’ve added quite a lot there, which somewhat justifies my time as not wasted, given that I was sharing knowledge with people. That’s my story and I’m sticking too it.

Other than that though, I have no excuse for not writing, and that’s done no favors for my mental health. I know why I haven’t, it’s because I can’t give my writing any ‘voice’ anymore, not when it’s mine. Writing fiction (when it’s not NaNo) is paralyzing, because I just can’t get over my inner-critic, who knows only all too well all the ways I can’t write.

Since then I’ve read two more books, and written, well, not much more than I had before. But I’ve got a story and I’m sticking to it, no matter little it works. At least until I finish. Then I can set it on fire.

(What happened to those days when I couldn’t write a blog post *shorter* than 500 words?)

2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,200 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 20 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Meanwhile, I was reading the intro to Sweater Quest this weekend, and the author could remember nothing that year she would put on her obituary. Well, I thought, there’s nothing in particular I can think of that would make my obituary interesting, but at least I’ve done stuff this year.

1: I finally got a job—Hooray for passive networking! Because that is one thing not on my skill list.

2: I wrote approximately 1.3 novels. Even if, for November’s National Novel Writing Month, finishing the 50,000 word goal meant typing about a third of that in six hours just before the deadline. Which is an accomplishment alone.

3: I read 132 books, seven more than my goal. Mostly they were not of the enlightening type of books and more entertainment, but that’s what I needed this year. Unfortunately, reviewing fell by the wayside.

4: I completed some knitting?

5: I at least didn’t gain any weight.

Eh, enough about the little things I’ve managed. I wasn’t completely oblivious to the outside world. Then again I’m still only going to talk about what interests me.

For example, while I linked to GoodReads before, I haven’t been using the site since it was purchased by Amazon in…March, I believe it was, and when the first major policy change lead to many user reviews being deleted, I’ve hardly visited. Even so, it is already clear that the site is transitioning from reader oriented to an author/sales focus. And a lot of the active users I followed really did leave, either deleting accounts or only posting links to reviews on other sites.

I made an accounts on BookLikes, and if I ever manage to get it up and running, I will link here.

Haven’t been to the movies much this year, but mid-summer realized that only two of ten trailers had speaking female characters, and of those one says evil and the other was eaten. When I watched Catching Fire, practically the same thing happened, only there was one more trailer with lots of women! And that, Divergence, sounded absurd. Apparently girls only get to watch other girls act out nonsensical plots. Once you’ve noticed, you’ll never be able to ignore it.

What else…the library’s book group is still hanging on, if only just. A few of the remaining members started a writing group as well. Speaking of, if I don’t bring a story to Thursday’s meeting, I’ll have to read my high school fan fiction. I have four stories in-progress because that will. Not. Happen.

And there will never be links to that.

Other book-related news, not too long ago, all the major online ebook retailers removed all “explicit” content books from their stores. Because no one wants to read erotica. All this in response to a vocal group in the UK. That’s not insane or anything. Look, I don’t read it (mostly because it’s not a genre known for high quality literature) but I refuse to accept censorship as the answer.

When you go from that to the NSA*, well. What else can I say? Isn’t that a note on which to end the year.

Let’s declare 2014 the year of intellectual freedom! Positive energy can’t hurt.

*My tablet tried to force me to blame the NBA which I know nothing about. Creepy.

Honor Thy Inspiration

So I meant to write, when I went to my room, but instead turned a book. This time to a book of arts in northern California. The danger in art books is the inspiration. Now I want to make teapots or bureaus or glassware. Someday I will fill my home with such items, handcrafted and individual. (Who needs unique?) That will take awhile though. After all, mass production was invented to make things cheap, and I’ll have a hard time giving up my parsimony.

Digression: One of the examples Miriam Webster gave for ‘parsimony’ was “She walked five miles to the store just to save a few cents on gas.” My first thought was that Americans are fast because unlike the rest of the world we won’t walk. Perhaps she enjoys the route and can take shortcuts impossible for cars. Or she just loves to walk and watch the seasons change, which you just can’t see from the roads. Or she’s older and retired and this is her day to get out of the house. But given the costs of gas anymore, and depending on where else she has to go, it might not be a few cents (apologies to international readers who may find their way here where Americans complaining about the cost of gas must seem unbearably decadent).

At any rate, if you’ve ever ranted over the epidemic of obesity in this country, you can’t make fun of someone walking too much.

Despite the inspiration that started this post, the middle has been endangered by my current exhausted lassitude. My thoughts move like molasses. A somewhat outdated metaphor, I suppose, because molasses no longer has much of a place outside the cliché. Which is unfortunate because molasses had much more flavor and even more nutrition than our beloved refined sugar. Back to the point, if you’ve ever poured molasses — a misnomer if I’ve ever heard one — you know it’s not merely slow but exceedingly sticky.

Given the associative state of the post, a more apt comparison might be to nearly empty bottle of honey turned upside down… slow and sticky, somewhat crystallized, and dripping from every side of the container. A messy subject.

I keep thinking to bring this to an end that will tie it all together in a nice complete package. But I can hardly remember the idea that started this post in the first place. More than just the emotion of arty and inspiration because I’ve been fortunate to experience it often… Though I’m rarely disciplined enough to do anything more than plan what I want to do with it.

There’s some advice for you. Don’t worry about being worthy of your inspiration, giving it the skill you might think it deserves. After all, no one will ever have your idea. Even a failed effort may inspire someone else at least. Why be disappointed in that?

I’ve just started on a topic I could easily turn into an entire series of posts on its own so it’d better stop myself. Except not to tell myself I can’t write it until I really know what I want to say, because that’s what I did last time when I betrayed my information, and then I didn’t post for more than four months.

Books for Writers Who Read Books on Writing

NaNoWriMo: Word count for today: 31,578.

Today, I should be at 33,333, though I still have two hours. I have already typed some forty-five hundred words; I’ve discovered my writing music is Irish Pub Rock, as Pandora calls it. When listening, I believe I type faster, and of course the tempo encourages me to keep up the pacing, which I don’t think is my strength at the best of times. But on a roll I can get up to two thousand words an hour, which

Now, the Sims is still on my other computer, because I didn’t actually end my playing session before coming out to watch NCIS and spin-off, but I doubt I’ll want much more time. My current pixel family has four horses with one on the way, and they’re time consuming, even more than the game alone.

Anyway, in honor of NaNo, I thought I’d mention a few writing books I have and have read recently.

  • The Writer’s Book of Matches Just a book of prompts, 1001, plus suggestions to modify them further. Most writer’s writers probably don’t need ideas, or so I hear. Ideas have never been my problem, at any rate. I get plenty. But my trouble is following through to the end. At best I get out slips of paper to jot down inspirations, collect them in any of a number of collector’s boxes. Sometimes I go so far as to write out a couple paragraphs, or even a scene. But finishing a story? The only time I’ve completed any fiction is through the two creative writing classes—and even then I often didn’t finish. But I’ve completed NaNo once, and I have crossed fingers for this year.

    Also, I have ideas for several genre-style fan fictions that I desperately want to complete. Mostly because my original writing tends to be about crazy people with mostly character development. Fan fiction on the other hand, demands more, because the readers already know the characters (except best case scenario, where someone discovers a new show after the fan story). Should be good for me. Goes hand-in-hand with the whole ‘complete’ problem too.

    Back to Matches. Personally, I found many of the suggestions to be rather tired, to be honest. Mostly genre—which, again, I don’t tend to write. But the appendix is helpful and just looking at someone else’s ideas can inspire your own. The Writer’s Book of Matches is put out by the Boiled Peanuts literary journal staff.

  • Next, I’d like to recommend The Storyteller’s Art by Francis Porretto. It’s available free as an e-book, check on Goodreads. For the sake of full disclosure, I will say it’s taken from a collection of blog posts from a blog devoted to apparently conservative and Christian values. It’s not a blog I read, so if that’s what you do like, go ahead and look it up, though I can’t personally recommend it; but if it is something you don’t like, pick up the book alone, because this is a book strictly about the craft of telling a story: not the workmanship of grammar and spelling, not the selling of the final product. This book gives the reader a different way to think about their own writing, their work-in-progress.

    I admit, however horrified my creative writing teachers would be to hear it, I enjoyed the author’s emphasis that you should not be writing ‘literary fiction.’ It does sound as though he writes genre himself, but his advice—to think about your theme and resonance  to be concerned about character, to complete the story—applies to any kind of fiction, short of deliberately changing every rule in some post-modern goal. But like Picasso, you should know the rules before trying to break them. Some people might be put off by the constant reference to himself as the ‘curmudgeon’, so they might want to read the original blog posts, if they’re still available. Otherwise, I found this readable and motivating.

  • I’ve read a few other free e-books on writing recently, but the only other one I’ll mention is Write Good or Die by Scott Nicholson. It’s also a collection of blog posts, but less well-formatted than The Storyteller’s Art. It’s also an anthology by several different authors on all parts of authorship, from the initial idea to publishing. Some are great, some had me looking at them sideways, but you may have the exact opposite reaction. With so many different perspectives, you’ll probably get something out of it. Even if you don’t, it’s free and you won’t even be out anything.

So if you like writing, I hope you’ll check them out. If you’re also in the middle of NaNo, well, you may want to look them up next year…or if you’re not waiting that long, at least until you’re finished whatever story you’re working on. Personally, I keep finding I’m much happier writing than I am when I’m not, but then I stop writing. Maybe this time will be different. I’ll keep writing best I can; maybe it’ll stick this time.

Great American Balderdash

Aside

Long day today: not just work, but the writer’s group and book discussion group meetings. Not to mention the approximately four thousand words I’m still behind for NaNo. But I have tomorrow and next week off, so I’d better use that time to catch up. It’s just so…stuck…at the moment. In the meantime, I’ve stumbled across a Huffington Post article all about the death of the novel. Well, when I say “I” stumbled across it, that’s something of a lie. I followed the link from Goodreads, because it’s safer for me for other people to do the online stumbling of things, because they seem to have better sources than I do, and I get little enough work done now as it is.

Anyway, back to the article. The author complains two major releases for the holiday season are both not that great and therefore our culture is no longer producing good novels. In fact, we should all just give up and go watch television, because what with technology and all, words aren’t important. Because “novel means new.”

Oh where to start with that argument. Well, first, the author made it for me with the referenced examples by Tom Wolfe and of all people John Grisham as “two of America’s greatest living novelists.” And that’s the crack in the foundation of his argument that takes it all down. All of the authors he names as ones who will be forgotten are the bestsellers: Rowling, Dan Brown. Even Wolfe, I’d say, falls more into the category of ‘good seller’ for the literary fiction side than actually fantastic fiction. Look, personally I have nothing against genre fiction, and in fact will argue passionately for its literary value. That doesn’t mean it’s a widely held critical opinion, by the people who actually get to make these decisions.

In other words, bestseller lists rarely coincide with literary value. If ever?

Just a few months ago, I read Literary Feuds, and in the chapter about Wolfe and Updike, the author made it clear  he wasn’t as impressed with Wolfe as Wolfe was with himself. There will always be differing opinions.

The article’s second thrust of the argument for turning to Twitter complained that only two books written after 1980 made it onto Modern Library’s list of 100 greatest novels of the twentieth century. This is, of course, because out of the say 50,000 novels published every year in those two decades, we know for sure what will be read by future generations.

Maybe you don’t realize this, but they’ve always published books that won’t last. Austen herself responded almost directly to the gothic fiction of her day with Northanger Abbey. Ann Radcliff could probably be called the female Stephen King of gothic novels back in the day. How many have you read her today? And she’s mostly remembered for starting the movement, there were plenty of other writers catering to the more lurid tastes of young reads. If you don’t believe me, it’s much easier to find all the newspaper articles of the time lamenting the terrible tastes of the masses. Elitist  Sure. But we still do it today. There is no reason marks on paper should be any less entertaining and more educational than any television show or movie. In fact, given the much larger budgets and intellectual contributions, screen media should require much more from its audience.

So if it’s not required for Hollywood, why ask the poor, lone author starving in her garret to do so much more work, when maybe she just wants to tell you a fun story? Because of English teachers and Harold Bloom, mostly.

I’m not ready to switch to Twitter yet. Mostly because so few people actually tell stories there—they just want to link you to real ones. Poor Levin, who clearly isn’t reading for his own sake, although I’m not sure for whose sake he is reading. If he is. While he seems to despise genre fiction (despite called Grisham a great author) as much as any other literary critic, he never references some of the great work going on in the literary arena. An acknowledgement of genre bestsellers hardly convinces when he never mentions names like Ursula K. Le Guin, who I’ll read for fifty years at least, or Margaret Atwood. Not even Updike, Wolfe’s old rival. No non-American authors either. Of course, he explicitly asks for the Great American Novel, which is not a thing I believe actually exists…

But I haven’t written that post yet.

In the meantime, if you are waiting for the Great American Novel of the last few decades of the twentieth century, find about, oh, twenty more years worth of books to read while the critics duke it out, and by then the readers will be reading what is still worth reading. And you’ll be ready, because while you were waiting, you’ll have been reading all the Great Novels for the next couple decades before the critics have recognized them!

Enjoy, and I look forward to your reviews on GR (I’ll take a hint, sure).