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.

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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.

Mini Update

NaNoWriMo isn’t going all that well. Just up to a little over 19000 words today, which is still a couple thousand under. And then there’s tomorrow. I’d like to catch up, but it’s so much easier writing somewhere else, where distractions don’t feel as acceptable.

Also, I’m back to obsessing over White Collar, the television show, and then the fan fiction of it, mostly because I have some great fan fiction ideas for White Collar which would be so much easier than trying to figure out this original novel thing I am at this moment attempting to work on. Like, White Collar, it has a genre, and I know the characters—as much as one can know a character as depicted by an actor, because at that point the character exists for so many people: the writer, the director and only then the actor. It makes for a fascinating (to me) philosophical discussion, but not really one useful otherwise. Maybe if I go into the philosophy of theater I can use it as a thesis. If that is already your goal, I may allow you to steal it so I don’t have to do the work.

But still, given my understanding and familiar with television show characterization and all attending issues, I can make do. Writing a new plot turns out to be the easy part, though I’ve always said it’s what I have the most trouble with. I suppose that’s because knowing the characters (however possible) and the setting and the genre. There’s already even a style there to build from.

This novel thing? At best the genre is a fantasy/dystopia*/magical realism and unfortunately even I don’t know exactly what that means, which is no good, given I’m the one writing it. In theory, I should have control over this sort of thing. And most of my characters don’t have names: even those who do only have place holder titles. One has just been dubbed O until I can think of something better. Also plot is hard. I have the beginning fairly down, and last week it seemed brilliant. This week, while I still have hope for the beginning I’m not convinced it’s possible to make it go anywhere.

Oh well, if I do ever manage to make it until the end of the month, I can go from there. At least I’ll have somewhere to start. It’s like discovering a new genus. I don’t have the full shape yet, so I can’t even start thinking of the connections to everything else.

*and google wants me to correct that to ‘topiary,’ which wouldn’t not fit either.

 

P.S. Can I add this to my word count?

Good Luck!

Because it’s time to start writing if you’re participating in NaNoWriMo. And I know from experience staring late causes all sorts of problems.

I started last night, right at midnight. Stopped at an even 1000 words, because it’s a nice even number. Instead of continuing, of course, I’m writing this post, both as it has been scheduled and also because I was introduced to an author today.

Sigh.

Apparently this guy is some kind of big deal, or at least an  author with influence, though fortunately I’ve never heard from him and don’t need to worry about having it color my reading of his work. Someone feels threatened.

Because that’s what happens. Published authors, are, of course, the only ‘real’ authors, and god forbid the dirty common people get their mucky hands over their white towers.

Do I sound a little bitter? I suppose I am. When I first found NaNoWriMo, I was thrilled by the almost innocent thrill of the organizers. It wasn’t some way to convince people anything they wrote would be worthy of publishing, but to show people writing, and by extension, authors, aren’t worthy of blind devotion simply because they’ve managed to get a few tens of thousands of words onto paper. Great authors deserve recognition for their work, their word play skill, their insight into the human condition. Challenging amateur writers to make a similar effort in no way threatens the respect we pay to dedicated authors who can change the way we see the world.

If you haven’t noticed, our culture has lately failed to honor the humanities it depends on to be culture. People have recognized that modern ‘literary’ authors and critics are out of touch, that they don’t relate to humanity at all—that modern literature can be little more than a circle jerk of mutual appreciation from student to teacher to student, and hardly anyone new enters the picture.

NaNoWriMo brings hundreds of thousands of literature lovers together actively in a way I don’t recognize. Not like universities, where you have a limited list of acceptable reading material: what my professor called ‘serious’ literature. As much as I liked him, that’s such an artificial and unnatural limiting of everything literature is and can be. For example, I recently read a non-professional critical article* on the qualities of the best science fiction versus what science fiction has become. Science fiction, especially is dismissed by ‘serious’ authors because it doesn’t realize with real stuff. Whatever that’s supposed to mean. And the article points out that the best part of Science Fiction speculates about how our world today will affect the world tomorrow. What could be more profound than that? The best science fiction provokes wonder from the reader, changes the reader, offers the world possibilities. Everything the best literature has always done. Do read the article, it’s a thought-provoking read with a great discussion afterwards. But somehow science fiction is just not good enough for real authors.

Back to NaNiWriMo, why do professional authors object to others knowing how difficult it is to truly craft a novel?  I’ve long heard complaints from authors about people pointing out they just get to ‘stay at home all day’ or that they ‘have a great idea for a novel’ that they just haven’t gotten around to writing yet. Even after NaNoWriMo, people will still say these things. But some of them will actually try. And maybe they’ll appreciate how hard their favorite authors, or even least favorite authors, have to work at their profession.

No, somehow it’s a challenge. It assaults their delicate sensibilities. Maybe it even makes it harder for them to be published…because if you’ve been published once, it’s your right to be published again.

The creators of NaNoWriMo have never, in my experience presented the challenge as the path to publishing. It’s always been nothing more than permission. Permission to write a truly terrible novel that maybe no one will ever see, that will never be graded, but that maybe, just maybe, could be made into something worthwhile. With work. Every year, successful NaNo winners—which really includes everyone who attempted any writing at all—to continue to improve, to edit what they have, to expand anything missed in the rush, to close up the plot holes. And unlike everyone trying to sell their self-publishing services, the NaNo crew has always advocated editing, once the work is to that point. As an editor myself, and a discriminating reader, I greatly appreciate that attitude.

So, Mr. Bertschy, I may well read your work in the future. I probably won’t even be reminded of this post. Heck, everyone’s allowed to say stupid things; it happens. Generally, I prefer to avoid attacking others on Twitter, because it sounds so much more cruel in fewer than 140 characters. I’m sure you’re not a terrible person. But I’m blogging about it instead of replying there because I’m not sure I want to engage directly with that kind of perceived elitism. If you do stumble across this post? It’s not personal, but I hope you understand why I disagree.**

Unfortunately, while you did back off a little when the ‘tongue-in-cheek’ part was pointed out, the tone of your first tweet hit a number of my berserk buttons when it comes to literature. I truely think the literary scene suffers from the artificial split between ‘literature’ and ‘genre’ and in insulated nature of the the big prizes. These thousand words are not a direct response to you. However, if you—or others of that kind of mindset—are willing to engage in a sincere discussion on the relative worthiness of fiction, I would love you forever. Seriously.

*”The Issue with Science Fiction Nowadays: Where Has All the Wonder Gone?” by Kyllorac (August 17, 2011)

**It is exceedingly unlikely, as I’m not going to tag the name, but as the entire post was in response to that Tweet, I thought I should clarify why I felt it necessary. Should he visit, I’d hate for him to feel attacked, but it’s very difficult to have a true discussion online.

P.S. Oh look at that! Back to the tl;dr posts—looks like the limited schedule helps. And I didn’t even start to talk about my own NaNo first day, which I must get back to, or the fantastic writer’s group I found. I know you’re all devastated to miss my over-sharing.