• resembles nonfiction,  writing

    NaNo Eve

    October 31st is, in many circles, Halloween or All Hallow’s Eve or Samhain or what have you. And don’t get me wrong, I’m in the United States, so I definitely dress up and eat candy. But October as a whole is more of the Halloween celebration, and October 31st is the transition from that season to another.

    That’s right. For me, the last day of October is National Novel Writing Month Eve.

    For those of you unfamiliar, NaNoWriMo (referred to in the rest of the post as “NaNo” because I can’t pronounce “NaNoWriMo” out loud to my personal satisfaction) challenges the participant to write 50,000 words of a story in the month of November. I have won NaNo a total of fourteen times and participated in the November event* sixteen times before 2019. The stories aren’t anything to talk about – frankly, I’d drop them at the bottom of the ocean if I could keep personal access to them and still hide them away from the world – but NaNo hasn’t ever been about the destination. It’s all about the journey.

    (*The nonprofit behind NaNo also runs an event called Camp NaNoWriMo twice at other parts of the year, and they used to run an event called Script Frenzy. I’ve dipped my toe in both on my multiple occasions.)

    As someone who has undergone the journey regularly in my adulthood (and once under the age of eighteen), and made it to 50,000 on most occasions, here are some of my tips to muddle through to the finish line. What this isn’t: a way to write a decent book during that time. Rough drafts aren’t decent by nature, and I’m still figuring out how to have one that I can take through edits on my own. This post is about the sheer mechanics of cranking out words and sentences and paragraphs over the course of thirty days.

     

    What is your goal?

    One of the benefits to NaNo is its formal structure. You have thirty days to write 50,000 words on one story, which means there’s some outside deadline if you can’t set ones on your own (one of my classic foibles), and that’s what you submit to get the winner certificate on the site. But my golden rule of writing – of doing anything, really – is this: there are no universal rules, and as such, there aren’t universal goals, either. The habit book I read recently, Atomic Habits, had a similar idea in mind when they touted the formula to getting better at anything: repetitive practice just hard enough to be a challenge, but not so hard that you can’t do it.

    Obviously, NaNo is within this sphere for me, at least where cranking out word count is concerned. It isn’t for a lot of people. I use a computer all the time even if I’m not formally writing, so I type almost as quickly as I think. If you’re going for the “write the same amount every day” method (more on that in a minute), you write 1667 words, and if I have specific story ideas in mind, I can usually do that in a little over an hour. Even if I don’t, I can make something up within two hours and move on with my day. That’s not possible for everyone, whether because their words-per-minute is low or because it’s hard to think in story form or a million other reasons.

    Have you ever thought, “Well, guess NaNo isn’t for me”? That doesn’t have to be true! It’s part of the NaNo culture to approach it in your own way; I can’t remember a time when the NaNo forums didn’t have a NaNo Rebels section entirely devoted to people doing it outside the greater structure. This can include:

    • Picking a reachable word count.
    • Writing a bunch of shorter stories throughout the month and using that for your formal word count.
    • Picking up an already-started story and continuing it for as many words as you can.
    • Cowriting a story. (I’m not actually sure if this is NaNo rebellious or not, but it’s not the image of the lone writer bleeding onto the keyboard I have in mind, at least.)

    Official NaNo isn’t a competition against other people, despite some low-level competitive elements. It’s a personal challenge. It’s trite to say “just showing up is a victory”, but that’s because it’s true. One word during NaNo is a word you didn’t have before.

     

    How do you work?

    NaNo can be just as much a personal exploration as a story exploration. Your life needs to fit writing where it possibly didn’t before, and even if you were writing already, there’s still the fact that every day starts with a bunch of writing you haven’t done. Knowing what that looks like to you, and how you address it, is key to reaching your goal.

    There are more ways to write than people writing, which I anecdotally know because of myself and other writers in my life having multiple ways to write. There are locations: home office, coffee shop, library, park. There are methods: computer, notebook, dictation. There are times: on a regular schedule on any potential part of the day/night, whenever you can squeeze in a couple words, a mix of the two. There’s sprint length: 5 minutes, pomodoro, an hour. There’s daily word count goal: the even 1667, double 1667, more words at the beginning and less at the end, vice versa. I have my ways to work: brainstorming by hand, outlining as much as possible, writing on a computer wherever I have the opportunity that day, sprinting when I can but always a fan of midnight sprints, writing a lot when I first have all my ideas and then less as I run out of steam and need breaks.

    Make it as easy for yourself as you can. What easy looks like for you might not be what easy looks like for me, and it might not even be the same thing two days in a row.

     

    Who can you talk to?

    NaNo is fun because it’s a personal challenge. But it’s also fun because it takes what is often a very isolating and lonely experience and makes it communal. If you want to gripe about how far behind your word count is, but you don’t want to change out of your pajamas, you can go on the NaNo forums or social media and find other participants going through the same things as you. Maybe you have family or friends that are also doing NaNo, and you can turn regular hangouts or communication into NaNo write-ins. Barring that, many areas – worldwide! – have in-person meet-ups where you can write as a group in public. I’m one of the most agoraphobic people on the planet, and I’ve still gone to write-ins where I knew absolutely no one. Even if you do none of these things, there can be comfort in knowing that, as unique as the challenge is to you personally, there’s someone else somewhere who is feeling the same things as you.

     

    The pep-talk portion of the post

    One of NaNo’s traditions is to post pep talks by published authors all through the month of November, encouraging you through all points of your journey. (The second- and third-week pep talks, where I feel my lowest and the other authors understand, tend to be my favorites.) The post as a whole is my version of a pep talk, but pep talks are (often) less mechanical and more motivational. So here’s the ra-ra section.

    You can write this. Even if you’re reading this a week into November, thinking “this sounds fun, but it’s too late and I have no ideas”? You can write! You can find writing prompts online, you can think through cause and effect chains, and you can get to 50,000 words. You can enter December with a printed winner calendar and a manuscript document on your computer (and an external saving device, and the cloud – always backup your writing!). You can tackle an idea that’s smaller in scope but no less of a challenge for you. You can do any of it!

    And I’ll be right there next to you this November, as I am most Novembers.

  • Diaries

    How I Didn’t Spend My Summer Vacation

    Idea #1: Going to Disneyland. Checking out Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge would have been part of it, mostly in the forms of getting a lightsaber and riding the Millennium Falcon attraction. Most of it would have been getting to laze in Disneyland in my favorite ways in the summer: fastpasses to the water rides, Pirates and Ariel in midday when it’s hottest and I’m about to go to the hotel to take an afternoon nap, seeing what new Marvel face characters are around that I like and haven’t taken pictures with yet. Maybe my dream of being on Space Mountain when it goes down, and getting to see what it looks like when the lights go up, might finally come true. And if I went down there, I could venture out of Anaheim and go to places in Los Angeles I’ve always wanted to visit, like the Ripped Bodice.

    Variation: Going to a non-Disneyland Disney park. Maybe Disney World, except…Florida in the summer? Maybe not. The dream would be either Disneyland Paris, which I could pair with other French touristing because I’ve never been to Europe at all, or Tokyo Disneyland, which I have been to but not since I was a kindergartener, and they have DisneySea there now. (Also, visiting Japan as an adult!)

    Why it’s okay I didn’t go: I’ve been to Disneyland a fair amount, and I prefer going in October or January. This is probably even more true with a new, very popular section of the park; the combination of summer heat (and a lot more humidity than my home turf) with on-season crowds are no joke even without Galaxy’s Edge open. And I’ve been having less fun on water rides lately. (Not that I ever rode Splash Mountain for anything other than the drops. That ride. Oof.) Plus, traffic down there is never exactly fun, especially if you are going into Los Angeles itself.

    Idea #2: Las Vegas. Frankly, all I would have to have is an AirBNB with a pool (or a hotel with a pool that isn’t also a club, I guess), but I enjoy so much about hopping on- and off-Strip. Maybe I finally would have done the New York, New York roller coaster that I’ve always thought about. I’ve also always wanted to see a big artist’s residency there, although I don’t have anyone particular in mind at the moment. The Super Rich Person’s Dream would be to do designer shopping, particularly at somewhere like Alexander McQueen. A more modest dream would be a helicopter ride, probably over the Strip, but hopping somewhere like the Grand Canyon would be fun, too.

    Why it’s okay I didn’t go: I’ve been in Las Vegas in August before. Ovens are more comfortable. (Late September has been a great time to go in the past, by the way. Like, Life is Beautiful time period, although I’ve never gone there specifically.)

    Idea #3: San Francisco, possibly during Pride weekend. It’s a big dream of mine to do a gay tour of the city; I’ve been there a few times, but I’ve never ventured anywhere near the Castro, for instance. There’s also more generic touristy stuff I haven’t done, like go to Alcatraz or art museums. I could sneer at the gentrification and tech bros that have ruined a lot of the city while also eating great food and pretending I’m in a less soapy version of Tales of the City (2019). And if I felt like venturing out of the city, I could walk amongst the redwoods, which I’ve never done, and visit Monterey again.

    Why it’s okay I didn’t go: Did I mention the gentrification and tech bros? I really do want to do gay things in San Francisco in the not-too-distant future, though.

    Idea #4: Seattle. I almost applied to Clarion West this year, and I’m really hoping I get an application together and accepted in the next five years. I’ve never been to Seattle, but I have some online mutuals there that I might meet up with, and even if I didn’t, I could get suggestions of fun things to do from them online. I don’t know that I have a lot of interest in things like the Space Needle, but I would definitely swing by the first Starbucks and the Museum of Pop Culture (to name just one museum—can you tell I like museums?). And yes, potentially pretend I’m in 10 Things I Hate About You. If I didn’t want to just stay in Seattle, I would absolutely cross over into Canada, and if I drove there and back, I could also go to Portland and meet up with some friends there.

    Why it’s okay I didn’t go: I don’t have a super overpowering urge to go to Seattle specifically, although visiting a new-to-me big city would be swell.

    Idea #5: New York City. Romance Writers of America is having their yearly convention there as I write this, and even if I didn’t go to the conference itself, I would love to meet up with online mutuals who are there for it (and other online mutuals who aren’t). There’s way too much in the NYC area that I would love to do to list; just the Broadway musicals I would try to see could be its own post. One thing I would definitely do, if possible, is Sleep No More. Immersive Macbeth! There would almost definitely be a concert I would want to see while I was there, and you’d better believe I’d go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and dream of Harry Styles as I walked through the Camp: Notes on Fashion exhibit.

    Why it’s okay I didn’t go: I follow enough NYC-based people online to know what a clusterfluff the subways are right now. I suspect everything I’d want to do would be super spread out, and I tend to like to go on vacation and stay in a closeish radius to my hotel, which would probably be even more true if the trains weren’t a super-viable option.

    So what have I done this summer? Go to a concert in Sacramento, mostly. Go to a movie and eat a giant soft pretzel. A lot of struggling to sleep in my own bed and failing. A lot of looking at the front door and shaking at the thought of stepping outside. Navigating breakups, both in terms of medical professionals in my life and the fallout of other people’s falling outs. Enjoying the cool summer evenings and the thunderstorm we had. Cuddling with a pit bull puppy and missing the cat who I used to cuddle with who died in the spring. Playing the Spider-Man game and seeing the sights of a fictional Manhattan. Playing the Sims 4 and pretending I could be a mermaid in a Hawaii-like place. Trying to regain the pieces of a life poor mental health likes to steal from me again and again.

    Why this is okay: I’m tired. God, I’m tired. Time to close my laptop and go back to sleep.

    (Big thanks to my Patrons for sponsoring this essay!)

  • resembles nonfiction,  slice of life

    Merry Christmas, Decorations

    The neighborhood in which Sara and I reside takes decorating for Christmas very seriously. And it is Christmas; there is nary a menorah, or any other hint of another culture or tradition, in sight. Snowflakes and snowmen and Christmas trees and red and green projections abound. Having an inflatable decoration is what counts as quirky in a place like this. Our cul-de-sac is almost a perfect loop of lights and Christmas cheer.

    The terrible next-door neighbors, who rev bikes and cackle loudly and have friends with visible pistols in our driveway in the middle of the night but complain about the noise of chickens, are a perfect example. They have fake candles in every window in the front of their house. They’ve crammed decorations in every bit of the small patch of grass that comprises their front yard. They even have wicker-looking reindeer decorations carefully placed in their backyard, near their soldier-kneeling-near-a-cross statue, which you can see from the path that runs behind.

    Here is what’s in the front yard of our house:

    Two white reindeer, one with its head detached from its body and lying on the ground. Both were lying on the ground in general for most of December, but someone who lives in the house had an enterprising moment and righted them again. (The head was not reattached.)

    Strings of lights that normally hang on the front of the house but are currently lying in a pile on the grass. They’re connected to a timer, so the clump dutifully lights up and turns off at the same time every night. What time is that? I have no idea. I’d have to look at the time or ask my brother-in-law, and who has the energy for that?

    I’m not sure if the Thomas the Tank Engine inflatable is still there. It was unhooked from its cables the other day, when we had a decent windstorm, and I stuck it in the little bit of porch we have to give it at least a little shelter. But I had a cold that day, and I still have a cold, and I just can’t make myself care if Thomas and Sir Topham Hatt are still here and didn’t soar away on the Nevada gusts.

    (I probably should have brought it inside the house. Oh well.)

    A line of plastic candy canes stuck in the ground with stakes and illuminated from the inside by lights. This should be the straightforward decoration—it doesn’t take the setup that every other decoration takes, after all—but what was a neat border is now haphazard, tilted, knocked askew by either children or weather or both.

    A holiday Schnauzer decoration, purchased to represent the actual Miniature Schnauzer residing in the house, lying on its back in the grass and dead leaves that we, of course, didn’t rake up.

    Now, I should say that this is not every year for us. Our decorations are sparing or slightly askew on busier years, of which we’ve had plenty as of late, but if we put decorations outside, we usually have them up in a manner somewhat acceptable to the neighborhood. But I have never been happier with our nod to the holiday than I am this year. You see them, and you think, Well, it looks like they’re going through something.

    Decorations don’t convey specifics. Our yard doesn’t say “Our eldest cat is recovering through a chain mastectomy she received to treat cancer, the youngest human in the house brought home head lice and swallowed a coin that earned him two hospital visits, Sara puked up blood twice and spent an entire week in the hospital while we waited for the doctors to take her internal bleeding seriously”, but you look at it, and you know something that reflects our reality. Our yard is a mess, a cry for help.

    I smile every single time I see it.

    But really, I’m not giving the other houses credit. I have no idea what their lives are like, and maybe that’s the point. Maybe they’re keeping their circumstances to themselves by fitting in. Maybe it’s a perfect expression of who they are as a family.

    Maybe they want a little light and normality while things are completely and utterly terrible.

    Our indoor decorations, by the way, are delightful. The fake tree is beautiful, there are strings of lights that keep the interior aglow even after the main lights are turned off for the night, and Sara’s eldest put ornaments on the drawer pulls (which, yes, are now scattering everywhere, but in that delightful child-chaos that the holiday season should be about). Don’t tell the kids, but I’m serving as their Elf on the Shelf, moving the toy around nightly in ways that I try to make more about fun and silliness and less about the surveillance state and holding children to an unrealistic standard of behavior. I even put a terrible joke on a board last night:

    What do you call a annoying reindeer? Rude-olph.

    (I had to put “a” annoying reindeer because I ran out of the letter n.)

    We have our competent bits, is what I’m trying to say. And there’s nothing wrong with making those bits the parts the world sees. But there’s also nothing wrong with keeping those parts to yourself, and showing the world that not everything is curated and perfect. That the lack of light outside can exacerbate the mental illness that was already exacerbated by a traumatic autumn.

    That, oddly, some of the brightest cheer can come from the biggest messes.

    Happy holidays, from someone who doesn’t want to celebrate the holidays but somehow ends up doing so anyway.

  • Diaries,  resembles nonfiction

    Things I didn’t tweet around Election Day 2018

    November 4th, 2018

    Hey, I actually deleted Tweetbot off my phone! I’ve never done that before!

    oh god I actually deleted Tweetbot off my phone what am I going to mindlessly click now

    menstrual cw // I’m spotting between periods! I’ve only ever done this once before: October 2016. I wonder what the pattern is?

    …Oh. Ohhhhhh.

    What do people who don’t use Twitter do with their days? Sleep more? (Actually, it is bedtime. Heh.)


    November 5th, 2018

    I’m drunk with power. I just deleted a bunch of the apps I don’t use off my phone. If I can take my connection to Twitter away from myself, what can’t I do? FEAR ME, APP DEVELOPERS

    If it wasn’t for Instagram, I probably would have reinstalled Tweetbot already. Come to me, beautiful bullet journal creators and bookstagrams.

    vomit cw // Nibling is home sick today. It’s not terrible timing, as such things go; he has tomorrow off because his school is a polling location, so two days off for the price of one. Hope this doesn’t mean I’ll be barfing in the next couple days.

    I’m going back to sleep.

    Oh crap, I slept until 2 pm. And I still feel like death.

    Walked Ichabod the miniature Schnauzer. He was kind enough to poop on our walk, and as I bent to pick it up, a van driving by honked at me. Nothing like a good bit of street harassment to round out your day.

    Bee Swarm Simulator, you’re my only friend.

    I take that back. Crackers are also my friend.

    And cheeseburgers.

    Posted my first Egregious essay. Maybe I should have waited to do that until I wasn’t taking a Twitter sabbatical?

    I want to write three-thousand words today for #nano. This does not count the five-hundred words written this morning when I was barely awake. It’s almost six pm. No way this could go badly.

    Sunset was way too early. As much as I’d like to believe I’m a vampire, I’m not.

    Still haven’t started the 3k words for #nano.

    Okay okay I snuck onto Twitter and I vaguely regret it I’m sorry I know better

    Got the 3k done, and now I’m just…done for the day. What on earth am I supposed to do with all this free time, besides fret?


    November 6th, 2018

    Woke up from a dream where I was on Beto O’Rourke’s campaign bus and I was asking to go home. Must be Election Day.

    Went back to sleep and woke up from a dream where I had a really great girlfriend. Can I go to that reality?

    Today is a great day to rewatch To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before.

    .@smreine is playing Christmas songs on the Echo again. YES AFRICA KNOWS IT’S CHRISTMAS, MAYBE IF WHITE COLONIALISM HADN’T STOLEN EVERYTHING THEY WOULD HAVE FOOD

    Nibling is home! He wore a charming plaid shirt today and went to work with Bro-in-Law. He showed me the pen that he put in his shirt pocket. CHARMING.

    How is today the first day this season I’ve heard All I Want For Christmas is You?

    It feels like someone is stabbing me in the eye. In other news, I have a sinus headache.

    I put off my #nano writing until later, when election returns are coming in. The theory is that I’ll get into my NaNo and not constantly refresh the news.

    7:30 pm, and guess who’s written just a couple hundred #nano words. (At least I’m not refreshing the news.)

    It’s a little on the nose to develop a cough while watching Moulin Rouge.

    Finally wrote, and it’s time for bed. It’s excruciating not checking the news, but I’ll feel better if I don’t until most things are solid.

    I’m in bed, on my phone. I can’t stop playing app games, not because they’re app games, but because they’re what I have access to instead of Tweetbot.

    This is why I deleted Tweetbot.


    November 7th, 2018

    Moment of truth. I’m pulling up the local newspaper’s results page. Breathe.

    Wait. Really? This is…good news?

    Before I say this next bit, I want to be clear. I did very little this election. I made sure to vote, I filled out some “I’m voting because” postcards for the ACLU, and then I went into hardcore bunker mode for my mental health.

    Pretty much anyone who spent even an hour organizing or canvassing did more work than I did.

    Having said that.

    I TOLD YOU SO, @deanheller. I TOLD YOU I WOULD LOOK FORWARD TO SEEING YOUR LOSS THIS YEAR. YOU STABBED US IN THE BACK AND I GOT MY RETRIBUTION.

    I HOPE YOU FEEL EVEN A FRACTION OF THE LOSS AND PAIN I FELT IN 2017, WHEN I WAS CALLING YOU CONSTANTLY ABOUT THE AFFORDABLE CARE ACT. I HOPE YOU *KNOW*.

    Gosh, I’m looking forward to deleting my Google Alerts about him on New Year’s.

    Back to Tweetbot.