NaNoWriMo: The Tough-Love Pep Talk

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NaNo Pep Talk: Tough Love

I warn you, NaNo brothers and sisters. This isn’t the pep talk you want. This isn’t the pep talk your fifth grade teacher gives you, along with a certificate for participating. This isn’t the pep talk Coach gives you, when you might not win the championship but thanks to Jesus, you’re learning all about your community and how to be a winner at life.

This isn’t the pep talk your girlfriends give you, when you feel like you’re fat but you’re such an amazing person ohmigawd don’t EVER talk down about yourself, like EVER.

Oh, no. This is an Emily pep talk.

To rephrase, for those who don’t know me as well: if I don’t lose followers on this one, I’m doing something wrong.

We’ll start at pissoff level and work our way forward from there. Here we go:

NaNoWriMo is not hard.

I know. You’ve already smashed your coffee cup against the battered edge of your writing desk. There are tears in your red-rimmed eyes.

You’re making this harder than it has to be, and that’s one of the prime reasons people fail at things.

Nano is 50,000 words in thirty days; or, roughly 1,667 words a day. Thousands look scary, right? I mean, if words were dollars, I could just take December off. However, look at it this way:

This post, so far, is 220 words. (Which, for the record, is utilities. So if words are dollars, I’ve paid my utilities for the month already). 

It’s taken me, like, ten minutes to type. So, if I do that eight more times–about eighty minutes, or 1780 words–I’ve done it, and a little extra.

Eighty minutes isn’t a lot of time. That’s lunch break time plus a few minutes while you’re waiting for dinner to cook in the oven. That’s two cigarette breaks at work and that hour you spend around seven on Facebook. I take a bus to work, so I use my time there to write, and guess what? A lot of times, I make my word goal on the fricking bus.

Some people’s daily word count takes longer to type than others. Some people take two hours to my hour and a half, some people take four hours. Some people take forty-five minutes.

You know yourself. You know about how fast you write. Can you do 50,000 words a day? Ask yourself honestly. Think of your day to day life.

Can’t make the time? Don’t do NaNo.

Maybe that sounds cold, but it’s true.

I’m not saying what folks’ll be assuming I’m saying with that: it has nothing to do with how serious a writer you are. It has nothing to do with how good you are, how dedicated, how strongly you’re bound to your Craft, or whatever faux-artiste chicanery you want to spread on the NaNoWriMo Wonderbread.

If you make a commitment, it needs to be a commitment. If you can’t make that commitment, you need to figure out a commitment you can make. But you knew that, right? You’re an adult.

For those who feel it’s a possible commitment:

NaNoWriMo isn’t a fun game, and it isn’t just a chance to finally blorp out that novel you’ve been swishing around for twelve years (though it can be that too, if you’re serious about it). It isn’t another badge on your Girl Scouts sash. It isn’t an artistic endeavor in which your plot needs both arc and trajectory. It isn’t Mount Everest, and you don’t need core training and special gear to climb it.

It’s learning to write a reasonable amount of words, every day. It’s learning to move past perfectionism and into the desert of the word-cruncher. I see a lot of happy blorping on the NaNoWriMo website about your ‘inner editor’, and, while that’s a very cute metaphor, let’s not personify our problems, shall we? Putting faces to our hangups just makes them more human, and Jesus, isn’t that the last thing you want them to be?

Your ‘inner editor’, much like your ‘muse’, comes from the same place as everything else you think. It comes from you. So turn it off. Learn to write slush, if that’s what gets you through. Writing slush is an important learning experience, too: your mind will run places you never thought it could run. And in that slush, after several hard months of editing, are unexpected gems you wouldn’t have come across any other way.

NaNoWriMo isn’t a heartfelt epic quest. You don’t pit your powers against an evil wizard, learn something about yourself, have a heartwarming denouement with medals and wine and dancing. You’re not throwing the One Ring into the fires of Mount Doom, Frodo. You’re just writing a novel. Not even a real novel: you’re writing a first draft of something that might someday become a novel. Think you’ve done something special? You haven’t. Unless you’re in a graveyard sitting between two tombstones, or in a preschool, the person to your right or left could do it, just the same as you.

Why do it, then?

Because not everyone cares enough to do it. You do.

Because you made the commitment: to finish the story, to get the rough stuff out of the way. To try. There are no trophies for participation (well–no real trophies) but there is the trophy of having that finished first draft at the end of the month, and knowing, should you decide to do something with it, that all it’ll take is some tweaking and editing. And, also, there’s the power of knowing you did it, and could do it again.

So don’t even ask yourself if you’re going to finish. Jesus, stop worrying about that. It’s only day eleven, why’re you freaking out about failure already?

Don’t worry. Just write.

Get into it. Write something stupid. Write five straight pages of dialogue. Take a scene to its ridiculous utmost limits. Who cares if it’s twenty pages before you hit your next page break? It’s just NaNo. The writing world’s ultimate freewrite. Enjoy yourself.

The more you enjoy yourself, the more you’ll find your wordcount doubling.

The final draft might be crap, but that’s what NaNoEdMo is for. (Don’t do National Novel Editing Month? I don’t blame you. I’m not sure it exists for anyone other than me, but it’s what other folks call January.) Just enjoy yourself.

I can’t say it enough. Just enjoy yourself. Writing is what you do, right? You’re not getting paid for this, you’re doing it for fun.

So why make it harder than it has to be?

Sunshine Awards

I don’t usually do these, but Dan Alatorre over at this blawg here said I had to, or…

…or.

Actually, I don’t know what happens if I don’t do it. But Dan said I had to. So.

I got nominated for the Sunshine Blogger Award. When you guys are done laughing at the idea of me getting nominated for Sunshine anything, I’m supposed to do three things:

1) Thank the Dan who nominated me
2) Answer Dan’s eleven questions
3) Nominate eleven (!!) bloggers to take my place in the eleventh sunshine circle of hell, and provide eleven questions for these eleven bloggers to answer.

Is that clear? It has numbers in front of it. Numbers are clear.

Without further ado, thanks to Dan Alatorre, for forcing a ray of sunshine into my ghastly-gloomy blog, directly after ALL that horrorflash. 🙂

Dan’s Questions:

1) Where is the strangest place you’ve ever made whoopee?
Now, Dan. My mom reads this blog. If whoopee means what I SUSPECT it means, I am unwilling to answer this question, because MOM I AM TOTALLY A VIRGIN.

If, however, it means farting (which is what I secretly REALLY want it to mean) then the answer is church. Oh, buddy. Church. See also: funerals. The stench-gas of sadness has eked out of my black-clad buttocks at more than one graveside service.

2) Share a blog post you wrote that meant a lot to you and tell us why you picked that one.
Here recently, it would probably be this underappreciated baby about the importance of proper word choice. I don’t see a lot of writing posts that deal with the actual mechanics of writing, save as pedantic grammar chicanery, and I hate to say this, but the basic mechanics are precisely what a lot of us need help with. I’m working on a post or two now devoted to metric feet, and the SOUND of metric meter in prose, to address more of these issues: it isn’t enough to simply look at good writing, say ‘that sounds good’, and move on. There are reasons good writing sounds good, and a writer should be able to pick out what those reasons are.

3) Kiss a stranger or eat a Scotch egg?
This is actually an incredibly complicated question for me.

On one hand, I hate touching other people. Does that sound antisocial? Yes? It probably is. But when a stranger touches my arm, or tries to hug me, my stomach does a sort of tribal knot-dance of terror and agony.

On the other hand, as per Scotch egg? I’m vegetarian.

I might have to go with kissing the stranger here, little though I want to. I think I’d actually prefer a kiss to full hug-contact, and if I initiate I’ll probably make it through alive.  Scotch eggs are, however, delicious, and if I still ate meat it would unquestionably be the Scotch egg.

4) Rob a Wal-Mart or wear a bikini at the beach?
Wal-Mart, I’m comin’ for you. All the paper towels I can wipe things down with sounds awesome.

5) What is your deepest fear about your writing?
I think this is the same thing for most people, in the end. I worry I’m not as good as I think I am.

6) What is your best book?
You know, I think folks expect to hear Aurian and Jin here, but actually? I’m going to go with one I’m working on now. Which no one else has read. Therefore: no one can disagree with me. I feel like I get a little bit better with every story I write, and that’s important.

7) Do you get manicures, and if so, when was your last one and what did it cost?
I’ve NEVER gotten a manicure, actually. Again with the people touching me. Especially pedicures—augh! How can you let someone that close to your feet? You walk on those.

Also, it’s a silly thing to spend money on.

8) Jacuzzi or dry sauna?
Getting drunk in a hot tub is one of the Five Greatest Pleasures of Winter. The other four are:
2) Getting drunk in bed
3) Getting drunk in a sweater
4) Getting drunk on New Year’s
5) Getting drunk at Christmas.

9) Who is your favorite author ever and who is your favorite that you’ve read this year?
My favorite writer ever is probably Ursula K. Leguin. The Left Hand of Darkness is a masterful novel, and the language is simple but elusively beautiful. Some of her other stuff verges on seventies woo-woo to me, but Left Hand makes up for all of it. If I could work with half of her skill and simplicity of phrase, I would be so happy I’d let strangers hug me.

Other favorites of mine, in poetry and prose: Dostoyevsky, Margaret Atwood, Terry Pratchett, Iain M. Banks, Pablo Neruda, Kasuo Ishiguro, Andrei Codrescu, Umberto Eco, T.C. Boyle, Muriel Rukeyser, Charles Bukowski, Wilkie Collins.

Best thing I’ve read this year has probably been Dan Simmons’s Drood, as long as we’re talking about Mr. Collins. I love Wilkie Collins, in spite of all advice to the contrary, and I can’t read his novels without thinking about the picture of him presented in this book now. Whether it’s a good or a bad thing I’m not sure, but it was damned effective, obviously.

10) What author or blogger would you like to sit down and have drinks with?
I’d like to buy a drink for my first creative writing professor in college. Just to say thank you, and to tell him that, in spite of me being an insufferable pain in the ass, a piss poor student, and full of absolutely undeserved arrogance, I heard him. The things he taught made a difference to me, and I’m forever grateful for his class, even if it looked like it was falling on deaf ears at the time.

11) If you have one piece of career advice to share with the readers here, what would it be? Lame as this sounds, and as often as this advice gets shared: keep the fire burning. You should have a passion for what you do, and even if you fail by the rest of the world’s standards that fire will keep you alive. I don’t advocate Hamsen-style starvation, but you need to do the things that make you happy with yourself, and not the things that sell. Having passion won’t get you money, necessarily, and it won’t make you famous, and it won’t sell your books. But you’ll have it. And if you think there needs to be some justification other than that, then you aren’t in the right line of work.

I’m not going to nominate anyone specifically here, because shyness. So you’re all nominated. All of you. Especially Dave Koster over here at On Writing Dragons and Chris over here at The Opening Sentence. Because I like you guys.

My Questions For You:

1) If you had to survive on one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
2) What’s more important in a story: character, plot, or voice?
3) What’s the first book you remember being deeply affected by?
4) How important is good grammar in a novel to you?
5) Would you rather get blackout drunk in front of
A) Your mother-in-law, or
B) Your boss?
6) In honor of the season, tell me one good memory you have about Halloween as a child. (The first year I was diabetic for Halloween, my dad traded me my candy for a guitar. My dad is, obviously, very cool.)
7) One word or phrase that really annoys you.
8) Give me five single words that describe your writing style.
9) What’s the best part of an average day for you?
10) If you’re writing, somebody somewhere encouraged you to do it. Who?
11) What makes you decide a story is bad?

Writing: The Wrong Word

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Writing: The Wrong Word

Something I need to tell you, for this story to make sense–in the real world, in my ‘real job’, I frame pictures for a living.
I know. I know. I’m the only person you know who does that, probably. But anyway.

A few years ago, a lady came into my shop. She had an oil painting with her, and wanted to get it framed fairly quickly. It was a nice painting–a landscape, I think. We chose a nice frame to go on it.

“Just to warn you,” she told me, “I only finished it a little while ago. It’s still wet.”

I touched one of the edges lightly. Sure enough, the paint was still gummy, as it is on a half-dry oil painting.

“Okay,” says I. “Thanks for letting me know.” And I wrote a few words on the ticket to let everybody else know, too.

I didn’t think anything more of it until I handed her a copy of the ticket. She looked it over.

Her eyebrows went way, way up. She was looking at the title I’d put on the piece: and, under it, at the condition.

Oh, shit, my brain said to me, as I realized what I’d done. She opened her mouth.

“…tacky?” she said. “You think my painting is tacky?”

Luckily, she was a nice woman, and once I’d explained it to her she thought it was pretty funny.

Why am I mentioning this? As a lesson, writer friends.

‘Tacky’ was, absolutely, the most accurate word to describe the condition of the painting. When an oil painting is half-dry, as that one was, the texture can hardly be described any other way.

However, in that situation, the most accurate word wasn’t the right word.

Why? Because no one wants to see a ticket with the word ‘tacky’ scrawled on it, describing their own artwork. If I’d taken a second and used my person-brain I would’ve figured that out. But I didn’t–I used my framer-brain instead, which is slow and socially inept, but really good at fractions and things like how to apply gold leaf. And my framer-brain, touching the picture, said tacky.

I got lucky. If I’d been in that lady’s place, a framer probably would’ve died that morning.

Some words, no matter how accurate they are, aren’t the right words in a story, for reasons your social-brain will tell you, if you give it a second. Tacky is probably never a good word to describe someone’s artwork, even if the texture fits that description perfectly. It’s better, in such a case, to say the painting is ‘wet’, even though it isn’t, strictly speaking. People will understand what you mean, and you don’t run the risk of misleading them with your word choices.

Another example: I’m writing a story which features twin brother exorcists (I know, I know). I wrote a scene recently in which they were debating a bunch of lies someone had recently told them, and this sentence happened:

“Oh, brother,” Deacon said.

Deacon is, of course, interjecting due to the ridiculousness. To his brother, Derek.

To his brother.

Is it an interjection? Is it a call for help? If I used that phrase, who the hell would know?

It’s exactly the phrase he would use in that situation. But it’s not the right one.

I guess what I’m saying can be summed up thusly: when you’re debating word choice, spare a moment of thought for the audience. The right word is, after all, only the right word if everyone understands you, and situational circumstances can affect whether people will understand you or not.

In a scene where someone is pooping, no one should stub a toe and say shit.

In a scene where two SeaWorld employees are feeding killer whales in a tank, neither one of them should talk about how they’re drowning in something plentiful, or how difficult it is to stay above water.

Sounds easy, no? It’s harder than you think. (A phrase which, in turn, shouldn’t be used if your geologist MC is cracking through rock strata).

The exception is, of course, when you’re going for a deliberate pun. I leave you guys to figure out when that’s applicable, as puns usually speak for themselves.

But there is nothing–nothing–more painful on this Earth than an unintentional pun.

There isn’t an easy way to avoid it, sadly–except to be on your guard, and have a beta reader or two. Other people tend to notice pretty quickly when an explorer makes ‘no bones about’ the skeleton he just found in the ruins.

Fun With Words: Electioneering Edition

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Fun With Words: Electioneering Edition

Well, guys, my little blackboard of words is full once more, so it’s tiiii-iiime…for fun with words. It’ll be especially fun for my American friends, who’re all probably just as sick as I am of election coverage…though the election itself isn’t for another year.

I noticed I was having a word-trend about halfway down and decided to go with it. After all, what makes your political opinion sound more justified than a few snappy words in there? The last one, in particular, will probably come in very handy as you debate the merits and drawbacks of our next potential commander-in-chief.

So hoist up your red white and blue, make up a brief statement about Our Great Nation, and enjoy the sensationalist and information-starved election coverage as it’s meant to be enjoyed: with a bunch of big snarky words, so you look smarter while disagreeing with everybody.

A NOTE: I’m not interested in your political opinion. Really, I’m incredibly not interested. I tried to keep my examples fairly cross-party, but of course more of them stick to Donald Trump than to anyone else. Donald Trump is like the statement piece in the well-to-do living room of election politics. You might like it, you might not–but you’ve got something to say about it, and it’s damned hard to pretend it just isn’t there.

Verjuice–a sour juice made from unripe fruit, previously used for medicinal and health purposes, now mostly used in cooking.
Example: Every time someone mentions e-mails, Hillary Clinton looks like she’s just taken a shot of verjuice.

Mendicity–The state of poverty or beggardom; the state of being a beggar.
Example: Bernie Sanders is very concerned about the current mendicity of the US–however, his Republican counterparts complain his platform would make the country even more mendacious.

Cavil–A petty objection.
Example: Ted Cruz’s cavilling might actually cost Planned Parenthood some funding some day.

Bunkum–Nonsense, empty talk. Particularly nonsense thrown about insincerely by a politician. Apparently, this word originated in Buncombe County, North Carolina–I love it when my people spawn something excellent.
Example: If I hear any more of Donald Trump’s bunkum about Megyn Kelly, I’m going to become a Fox News reporter myself and be twice as mean to him.

Quisling— A person who collaborates with an enemy force, thus betraying their own people. This word comes from a Norwegian army officer named Vidkun Quisling, and his story is worth a look.
Example: I’d support Hillary Clinton more if I didn’t worry she’d wind up being a quisling to the American middle class.

Pareidolia-– Seeing things that aren’t actually there because they resemble some other thing. F’rinstance, seeing the Virgin Mary in a piece of toast, or a face in the light and bumper setup of the car in front of you. This is another word you’ll want some background info for.
Example: I know my pareidolia is getting out of hand because every time I see Donald Trump, I want to shoot the two mad muskrats currently feasting on his skull.

Snuggery–a small space made to be comfortable and cozy, such as a den or a study.
Example: It’s sweet to see the snuggery Rick Santorum has made for himself in the Christian Evangelical Right.

Bloviate–To speak at windy and greatly exaggerated lengths about something. This is a word coming back into popularity lately: probably because it’s what our politicians do a lot.
Example: I’m sick of Donald Trump bloviating about his wealth.

Widdiful–Worthy of being hanged.
Example: If our nation’s presidential candidates weren’t such a widdiful bunch, I might have more faith in politics.