(Standard spoiler disclaimer applies to Jurassic World.)
For a cynical bitch, I am quite a sentimental sot.
These are the shoes I wore for my wedding. I don’t normally wear heels, but the height was necessary to avoid expensive alterations of the dress. They’ve lived in the closet since then, but for our fifth anniversary bash in Las Vegas, I thought it might be nice to break them out.
Our plan was to walk from our room at the Bellagio to the Mirage for dinner, then to the High Roller at the Linq and back to the hotel for our Cirque du Soleil tickets. It’s a distance of about two miles all told. No big deal, right?
I collapsed into our table at Carnegie Deli in excruciating pain. We ended up taking a cab to the Ferris wheel, and would have done again to get back to the Bellagio except by the time we got back to the Strip to hail a cab we realized we were right there, so I tottered painfully across the pedestrian bridges until we reached the sanctuary of the hotel. Yes, I was that girl walking through the casino with high heels in hand, except I was doing it at 9pm, because that’s how long I lasted. The lovely blister I earned for my troubles covered most of the ball of my right foot.
So going into Jurassic World, I could kind of get why everyone was making such a big deal about the fact that Bryce Dallas Howard’s theme park executive Claire Dearing spends the entire movie in a grossly impractical pair of stilettos. Many have bemoaned the fact that she doesn’t ditch the shoes when danger arises. (Because running through a jungle barefoot is safer, apparently?) It’s just unrealistic for an operations manager to be wearing those sorts of shoes at all, let alone doing what she does in them, right?
Well, tell that to the actress who did it all for real, across multiple takes. The damn shoes are pretty much the only thing in the movie that isn’t CGI. Far from judging her, I was in awe of someone who could dominate Isla Nublar in shoes I couldn’t even walk normally in. I can attest to the sheer physical intensity of what she’s doing and can say unequivocally that she is by far the toughest person there.
What everyone, both the critics and her fellow characters, seems to be missing is that Claire doesn’t need to take off the shoes. Everyone assumes that the shoes will be a liability, just like everyone assumes that she doesn’t know how to run her park or that she’ll eventually come around to wanting motherhood. But the glorious thing about the movie is that everyone is completely wrong on all of those counts, and the frustrating thing about the movie is that this is never quite acknowledged within the text. It seems like Claire’s arc is less about her own growth than about forcing those who’ve belittled her to take her seriously, but it doesn’t actually pay off. I mean, Owen (Chris Pratt) reacts to her competently and efficiently saving his life by kissing her, rather than, say, thanking her. (In a testament to the generally solid acting on display, Owen does seem to treat Claire a bit more as an equal after that point, a performance choice too understated to come across in a movie that is Sharknado levels of unsubtle.) His gobsmacked expression as she lures a T. Rex into battle–thereby decisively accomplishing what he could barely convince his raptors to do–is satisfying, but that character development really needed a better coda than his lame line at the end.
One of my favorite moments is when Owen stops and reaches back for Claire to help her down some steps, since going down stairs is one of the most difficult parts of walking in heels, and she bolts right past him without hesitation. His action shows that his heart is in the right place, but hers shows just how thoroughly he’s underestimated her. From the second she steps on screen, Claire is fighting dinosaurs while effortlessly rocking a pair of heels. It really shouldn’t be surprising that she’s just as comfortable when the dinosaurs of gender politics get swapped for the scales-and-teeth kind.
Rainy Day Books, a local indie bookstore (whom you might have heard about when they got plugged by Stephen Colbert) puts on phenomenal author events. Seriously, I’ve been to more talks and signings since moving to Kansas City than I did the whole time I was living in Los Angeles. On Friday night, they hosted Chuck Palahniuk (he of Fight Club fame) at the Uptown.
When we picked up our tickets, we were given our goodie bags: they had the promised copies of Fight Club 2 Issue #1 and Make Something Up: Stories You Can’t Unread, conveniently pre-autographed. But there was also a pair of glow sticks and a strange white package…
This turned out to be a beach ball, which we were instructed to inflate, insert the glow sticks into, and inscribe with our names. And that’s when I knew we were in for a good time.
It was, put simply, one of the most delightfully insane nights it has ever been my pleasure to experience. The glowing beach balls were a scheme where the auditorium was turned into a giant colorful bingo cage, and certain people whose balls made it up to the front were given handsome prizes. (I would have done unspeakable things for the leather-bound signed first edition of Fight Club. Like, I wouldn’t have been able to quite meet your eyes afterward, but it would totally have been worth it.) Bags of candy were hucked into the audience–not individual pieces, but the entire bags. An ambulance arrived for someone who passed out during the reading of “Guts”. He brought gifts for random people’s pets. We sang along to “The Star-Spangled Banner”. At the end of the night, dozens and dozens of dismembered hands–grisly foam props, realistically detailed and each one autographed–were thrown to the rapturous crowd.
Now make no mistake, the night also had the trappings you expect of an author event. “Guts” was flanked by “The Facts of Life” and “Zombies”, and the audience was by turns rolling with laughter and struck dumb with horror. He took questions from the audience and delivered thoughtful answers about following your passions, forcing a visceral connection with the story, and being honest with your work. And he gamely attempted to get through the massive line of people wanting to take pictures with him pre-show. (Pictures in which each fan had to wear bunny ears, because reasons.)
But it definitely made me rethink what these sorts of promotional events can be. Granted, it certainly helps to have a massive backlist, loads of critical acclaim, and a sizable crowd of enthusiastic and devoted fans. And I wouldn’t want to steal ideas wholesale, especially given that the atmosphere of anarchy and a hint of violence (my neighbor took a bag of Hershey Nuggets to the shoulder) seems to be rather uniquely suited to Palahniuk. But still, I think there are general takeaways that can be applied. Rather than doing one topic at a time, the night bounced rapidly around between Q&A, neon beach ball raves, readings, and high fructose projectiles; breaking things up kept the energy high and the audience engaged. Everyone walked away with something extra, even if it was just a bit of candy or a beach ball with someone else’s name on it. And best of all, there was the sense that he was there to do something special for his fans, beyond just gracing us with his presence.
“Author event” is a kind of generic term, but this really felt like an Event. It was something riotous and unique and far more memorable than all the other polite, congenial interviews and autograph sessions. It’s the sort of thing I think more authors should aspire to.
Today is the day your NaNoWriMo fate is decided. Win or lose, it happens today.
It has nothing to do with your current word count. You can be up to 49,500 words and lose. You can be sitting at 500 words and win. (I’m not joking about that. There are multiple people in my region alone that can manage the entire 50K in a day or two.)
We’re now past the halfway point. By now, the shine has probably worn off a bit. You’ve discovered that a single idea, no matter how awesome, cannot support a novel. You’ve spotted some of the problems with your characters, your plot, your premise. You’ve learned that while parts of this process are exhilirating, a lot of it just isn’t as fun or glamorous as it might seem.
You’ve also seen how writing fits into your schedule–or how it doesn’t. The concrete decisions that you have to make when life intrudes. The cool stuff you’ve missed out on. The sleep you’ve sacrificed. Your word count as it relates to ass-in-chair time is no longer an abstract variable. The magic “words per today to finish on time” number is probably no longer 1667. Whether it’s much higher, much lower, or somewhere in between, you know how big a mountain you have left to climb, and likely have a better idea than you had at the beginning of the month of the effort it’s going to take to get there.
So, are you willing to put in that effort?
That’s all it really comes down to: how bad you want it. You have to decide, right now, with twelve days left to go, if you’re willing to pull out whatever stops need to be pulled to cross that finish line.
I must stress that if you’re not, that’s perfectly fine. About 85% of the people who sign up for this competition don’t finish, and we love our Fail Fairies. This is a glimpse into the life of a professional writer: a significant effort toward the goal each and every day, whether you feel like it or not. Not everyone is meant to be a professional, and that’s fine. I don’t have to start training for the Olympics to enjoy going for a swim. (This is also far from the only way to be a professional. Everyone’s process is different) And even if you don’t hit 50K, you’re still going to have a whole mess of words that didn’t exist at all 30 days earlier. That’s an undeniably awesome thing. Realizing that a winning word count isn’t going to happen doesn’t mean that you should stop, and your ability to share your story with the world someday does not hinge entirely on this month’s efforts. If you want to keep writing, keep writing. Don’t let the fact that you’re not willing to bend over backwards to crank out 5K a day stop you entirely.
But if you do want it that bad, if you can look at the numbers and your track record of writing sessions and the plot holes and pitfalls that stand ahead of you and still think, “Yes, bring it on! I will destroy you!”, if you need that little purple 14 bubble on your NaNo profile as primally as you need oxygen?
Ass in chair. No excuses. Make words happen.
Today, you decide how this month will end. After that, it’s just details.
Yesterday, I wrote 1800 words on my NaNoWriMo project, slowly chipping away at my deficit after a couple of terrible days early on. Yay!
In those 1800 words, my protagonist Tari was shown to her room and took a shower. So there’s that…
In general, the pacing of what I’ve written has been atrocious. I mean, it took nearly 15,000 words for the heroine to finally stumble upon the plot. There are stories that can make something like that work, but I highly doubt this is one of them. I fully anticipate that much of this is going to die quietly and unceremoniously in revisions. (Or possibly loudly, to the tune of much moaning and screaming of “What the fuck was I thinking?”)
And I’m okay with that. A lot of the detractors of NaNoWriMo say that the novels produced within such parameters are generally not very good, and I think that, on the whole, they’re right. I’m four for four on “wins” (meaning I hit 50K), and here’s the breakdown:
- One novel that came out clean and coherent; it went through several rounds of readers and revisions, but the draft that I’m now submitting to agents still has quite a lot of material from that November
- One novel that has gone through one sizable revision, but still needs some significant overhaul, largely due to a completely muddled setting
- Two unfinished raging hot messes
So my track record doesn’t necessarily speak to the quality of work produced in November. But that doesn’t mean that those three problematic drafts are complete wastes of everyone’s time. Sure, they’re not remotely what one would call publishable right now, but there are quite a few bits of brilliance in there, characters and setpieces and turns of phrase that are like beautifully faceted jewels set in a crown of damp wood pulp, worth fishing out, cleaning up, and putting somewhere more suitable.
And here’s the thing: Of those four novels, the first was the only one where I did any sort of prep work at all. Yes, that does make a decent case for plotting over pantsing, but it also means that no part of those other three existed in any form before starting their respective months. It wasn’t a case of me having an idea and then sitting down to get it out of my head; all of those bits of brilliance only came into being because I needed something, anything to write. In other words, without all that damp wood pulp, I wouldn’t have those gems at all.
Basically, for most of my NaNoWriMo career, it has served as an extended writing exercise, more for my own benefit than for the goal of producing anything someone would want to read. And you know what? That’s not a bad thing.
Circling back to my dire “getting ready for bed” scene, there’s actually quite a bit that I’ve gotten out of it:
- Identifying places where I need further research. So what I’m working on is a time travel story that, as far as I can tell, is going to take place largely in colonial Singapore. I did some fairly broad and shallow research into that location and era before I started (partly because I only had a couple of weeks), and as I write, I’m coming across all kinds of little details that are going to need some deeper investigation. Falling down a rabbit hole about turn of the century plumbing would have seemed like a waste of time before I started, but now I can see that it’s the sort of thing that might be useful in determining how my heroine would describe a modern bathroom. Rather than trying to become an all-around expert in a fairly broad field, I’ll be able to focus on the subjects that have a direct bearing on what I’m doing.
- Establishing worldbuilding details. I’m at the point in the story where Tari has found the time travelers’ hidden base and is exploring it for the first time. Digressions on room layouts and details of how they retrofitted this ruined building would be dead boring in a finished book, but I’m still trying to figure out for myself how all this stuff works at all. Once I’ve worked through it, I can incorporate those details in a more organic way (and only as needed) in later drafts.
- Figuring out the characters. Going in, I had a vague idea of what roles I needed characters to occupy, but as for who they were and what they wanted, not so much. Now, bouncing them off each other for a while, they’re starting to take shape; Tari is clever and almost suicidally driven, while lead time traveler Raf is awkward and compassionate to a fault. As they evolve and I get a clearer idea of where their arcs are going to end up, I’ll be able to go back and make sure those arcs start in the right place.
- Writing every day. I cannot overstate the importance of this. The only thing I’ve written all year has been revisions on last year’s manuscript and an abortive attempt at a novella during Camp NaNoWriMo. Forcing myself back into the saddle has been rough and painful at first, but it’s getting easier. Writing what is essentially filler is still writing, and as those dormant muscles get loosened up and strengthened, I know that I’ll start getting back into the groove of writing something I can use.
What is shaping up under my jittery hands is essentially a zero draft, something that isn’t coherent or cohesive enough to be properly considered a first draft, something that is likely to bear little resemblance to the finished work. It can be a bit disheartening to know that what I’m writing will rightfully never see the light of day, but I think it’s worth understanding that there’s value in the writing exercise. You can’t revise an empty page, and sometimes forcing yourself into a corner prompts unexpected creativity (cf. MacGyver). Writing a story occupies some nebulous place between art and craft, and in both you have to make mistakes and push through them to get to something special.
Really, if you secretly suspect that what you’re writing this November is crap, it probably is, and that’s okay. Embrace the crap. Then take a shower, because ew.
Greetings, programs! We’re only a couple of days away from go time for NaNoWriMo, so this is my final post on getting ready. You’ve ruthlessly examined your schedule, squirreled away some casseroles in the freezer, resigned yourself to a full DVR, and lined up your treats for winning. Aside from creating an outline or doing some research (because pshaw, pantsing), what more is there left to do?
Probably the most important part, that’s all. It’s time to start spreading the news.
Writing is, by nature, a fairly solitary activity. NaNoWriMo, on the other hand, is all about the community. Anyone can choose any time of the year to put nose to grindstone and crank out a novel, but this is when we all do it together, when you have a whole gaggle of writers eager to cheer your word count milestones and willing to help you when you get stuck. This is an extremely valuable resource, and if you want to get across that finish line, you’ll make use of it.
Google+ has an impressively large and active community of writers, and one of the great things that happens is the accountability circle. It’s very simple: on Monday someone will ask everyone what our writing goals for the week are, and on Sunday they’ll ask if we achieved them. Since everyone sets their own goals, they can be humble (like “write anything at all”) or lofty, easily achieved or major stretches. And let me tell you, what gets me pulling up the word processor on Saturdays frequently isn’t the burning desire to write, it’s the knowledge that otherwise I have to admit defeat on Sunday.
The brain works in odd ways, and sometimes aversion is a bigger motivation than desire. It’s not so much that I want to win NaNoWriMo as that I don’t want to have to tell people that I lost. And the more people who know you’re doing this, the more it’s going to suck to have to answer their inquiries by admitting that you couldn’t cut it.
This doesn’t mean in general conversation that you have to bring it up out of the blue. (“Man, it’s starting to get cold out.” “Sure is. Have I told you about this contest I’m doing, random stranger?”) But don’t be afraid to mention it to friends, family, coworkers, and so on when it is relevant. I’d advise giving a heads up to your nearest and dearest even if it doesn’t come up otherwise. NaNo often translates to burying yourself in a hole and ignoring all social obligations, which can lead to some very strained relationships if you’re not clear up front that this is not personal and not permanent. Remember, your loved ones are going to be some of the strongest supporters in your corner, but only if they know you need them there in the first place.
You may have heard of NaNoWriMo in some other writing community and think it started there. It’s an official yearly event backed by the Office of Letters and Light, a non-profit organization devoted to advancing literacy. So if you do nothing else that I’ve suggested, get ye over to nanowrimo.org and sign up. That puts you in the official tally of participants, and gives you access to the various shiny tracking widgets and your own personal statistics for the month. Official participants who validate at the end of the month with 50,000 words also receive access to the winners’ page, which contains various freebies and discounts on things of writerly interest (including half off the full version of Scrivener).
I’d also encourage each of you to buy something from the store or make a donation (or both!) at some point in the month. It costs quite a bit of scratch to make this thing happen, and most of that is going to come during November. If every novelist currently signed up donates $5 (or another $5 if you’ve already donated), they’ll hit their funding goal for the year. Be good to the community and give back.
If you’re interested in joining the craziness but not so hot on the guidelines of writing 50,000 words on a new novel, you can still sign up for the site. There are people referred to as NaNo Rebels who do rewrites, short stories, screenplays, memoirs, poetry… Whatever strikes your fancy, really. You can set your own goal and still sign up (though remember that if you don’t have the 50K to paste into the validator at the end of the month, you won’t have access to the goodies).
Signing up for the site gives you access to the site’s forums, which are in general a pretty awesome place to hang out, bounce ideas, and get questions answered. The most important forum for my money is your local. The world gets divided up into regions, each one managed by a handful of Municipal Liaisons (or MLs). These awesome volunteers set up all kinds of events in the area and keep an eye on their forum.
I cannot advocate enough for attending these local events. Networking with local writers is a valuable thing, especially when it comes to looking for beta readers and trying to get this thing out into the world. They’re also frequently very productive: you’ll have writing sprints and word wars where people try to beat each other’s word counts, and you have smart and creative people right there to help you out if you get stuck. Plus, it’s just bloody fun.
Perhaps you don’t live anywhere near any of your local events. Maybe you don’t work well out in public, or your schedule doesn’t really sync up with any of the official things. Never fear! There are all kinds of online events, like silent writing hangouts in the massive Writers Discussion Group on Google+ or hosted by other writers or communities. It sounds like kind of a weird thing to just stare at a bunch of people who are all working with their webcams on, but they’re a lot of fun and very productive and encouraging. If you don’t want to go the hangout route, you’ll also find writing sprints (writing as much as you can for a set amount of time) on Twitter where you just chime in with your total once you’re done.
Don’t underestimate the power of the hashtag! On both G+ and Twitter, hashtags like #NaNoWriMo, #NaNoPrep, and #AmWriting will take you to active and lively discussions. On G+, you can even limit your NaNo posts to just a dedicated circle so you don’t spam your non-writer friends. Regardless of where you’re posting, I guarantee there are people who are interested in seeing those updates. It’s always nice to have cheerleaders, and if you’re a writer, they’re positively everywhere during November.
And that’s it! If you’ve been following along all month, hopefully you’ve gotten some good ideas and have taken some time to get things in order and set yourself up for success in November. See you at 50K!
Greetings, programs! It’s time for another wonderful post on all the things you can be doing to prepare for this year’s National Novel Writing Month, even if you’re going to make up the entire thing as you go. We’ve already discussed strategies for figuring out all of the things that you can’t do in November because you’re too busy writing a novel. But a schedule is like a diet: the more restrictive it is, the more likely you are to crack and blow the whole thing off. So today, we’re discussing a point that’s very important to remember: rewarding yourself. Winning NaNoWriMo earns you some pretty sweet bragging rights, along with a draft of a novel that didn’t exist before. That’s not nothing, but sometimes it’s not enough on its own. Here are a few ways to refill your motivation tank.
Don’t drop everything fun in your schedule
The previous posts have talked a lot about all of the different things you can cut out to make time for writing, and taken altogether it can seem like that means cutting out everything. That’s not really feasible, and unless you need a lot more time than average to draft (or fall really far behind), it’s just not necessary. Your dealbreakers, the things that you absolutely can’t drop no matter what, don’t need to just be the work stuff.
For me, I meet up once a week with some friends for some pen-and-paper roleplaying. That still continues during November, because it’s an important part of my week (and because being down a player can really throw a wrench into the story, which isn’t fair to everyone else). I build my writing schedule around knowing that I’m not going to get any work done on Friday nights, and I frequently go into my Saturday writing refreshed because I got to step away from the story for a bit.
This is also where the balance we talked about last week comes in. It may seem easier to simply not watch any TV or completely avoid social media during November than to mess with the day job and housework, but by the second half of the month, it’s going to get really tempting just to pull them up and peek at what you’ve been missing, and then to get totally immersed and fall behind on word count. Building in a limited amount of time for the fun stuff holds off that withdrawal. You can also make adjustments to make it easier to cut down on the time you spend, like doing some circle maintenance on G+ to turn down the volume and create smaller circles of people whose posts you don’t want to miss (so you can safely ignore everyone else). For Twitter, you can utilize something like Tweetdeck to focus on limited lists and hashtags rather than visiting your main feed.
Bribe your way across the finish line
One of the reasons I don’t do so hot with the marathon sessions is that I’m very easily distracted. I have trouble focusing, and I can get completely derailed by a tangent. So I treat my muse like the spoiled little four-year-old that it is, and get things done by means of a system of petty bribery.
It goes something like this: before I settle in to my comfy chair at the coffee shop, I buy myself a drink and a tasty treat. (This, by the by, is standard etiquette for writing in public: If you’re camping out somewhere that sells something, you need to be a customer.) I’ll drink freely, but I’ll ration out the snack, holding out for as long as I can and then only getting a bite every 200 words. If I need a refill or need to get up to use the bathroom, I’ll make myself wait until the next nice round number in the word count to get up. Silly? Sure. Effective? Absolutely.
You don’t need to go quite so micro as all that. Set stretch goals that are still attainable (like an extra 500 words per day, or pushing through to the next even thousand if you’re close) and then reward yourself with something fun when you meet them. Find a way to celebrate milestones like passing the halfway point or working through a difficult scene. Reward yourself for an especially productive session with some solid goof-off time–just use a timer if you need to get back to work afterwards! Tying the fun stuff to your word count can give you a little bit of extra push to get through, and can help you feel less guilty about taking breaks because, hey, you earned it.
Big accomplishments deserve big rewards
As mentioned above, there’s not really a prize for finishing NaNoWriMo. So I like to get myself one.
Since 50,000 words isn’t really a novel, I split this in two. Once I cross that finish line, we go out to a nice dinner to celebrate. Then I promise myself something for when I actually finish the first draft, ideally something I’ve been wanting that’s beyond my normal impulse buy limit, but still within my means. It’s tempting to say that I’ll just go on a mini shopping spree and get myself a bunch of books or DVDs, but I like having one tangible thing that reminds me of what I accomplished.
It’s also tempting to make this reward something big I’m intending to get myself anyway; I’ve been saving up to replace my creaky old iPad, and hey, a new iPad is a heck of a reward! But the issue there is that if I fail, I’m still going to get the iPad, so it doesn’t really mean as much. The key with using rewards as motivation is the ability to withhold them if you don’t meet the self-imposed requirements. If it’s stuff you’re going to do or get anyway, it doesn’t really drive your word count forward.
Most of this stuff isn’t really “prep,” because it mainly involves little decisions you’re going to make in the trenches. But it’s useful to start figuring out some options, and you should definitely pick out your “prize” and make sure to start saving your pennies for it. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if you’re in it for bragging rights, the Scrivener discount, a Doctor Who box set, or a hundred brownies a bite at a time. If you leverage it well, it all gets you to a first draft.
Come back on Wednesday for my final installment in this series, where things will get loud. Sort of.