NaNoWriMo Retrospective

This November had so many issues that if it were a person, it would be waist-deep in therapy, hopped up on dubious psych meds, and answering a lot of kind-yet-probing questions from well-meaning-yet-irritating family and friends.  Despite this, I managed to pull out a National Novel Writing Month win by writing 12,000 words this past weekend while also finishing moving out of my old apartment.

Here are some of my NaNoWriMo highlights:

Accidentally naming a character “Feta.”

Yes, like the cheese. This came of fiddling around with random syllables to name characters in my fantasy world. It worked out in my favor because writing her name “Feta” eventually made something click in my head and I thought, “Ooh, what if she isn’t using her real name?” Thus, a sinister plotline was born.

BTW, in 2010, I accidentally named a character Sean Astin. Yes, like the actor.

Successfully writing a jump rope rhyme

Poetry ain’t my thing. Saying “ain’t” ain’t my thing either, because that felt awkward and self-conscious. I’ve always envied fantasy with Tolkien-esque rhymes and songs, so penning a creepy little jump rope rhyme for my fantasy world was a milestone for me.

The Coffee Crawl and Writing Marathon

Not only do I participate in the online aspect of NaNoWriMo, I also co-run events for my local region. This was our 4th annual writing marathon, a 12-hour event that we spend hopping between coffee shops and writing all the way in a state of gleeful, caffeinated madness.

Writing in my new office

November was also the month I moved to a bigger apartment. I now have an office, which was probably meant to be a mud room.

Soap opera conflict

For all the faults of soap operas, I can’t help but enjoy gloriously convoluted soap opera plots. Like: Stanley is marrying Nancy but he slept with her twin sister Valerie, only it was actually Nancy pretending to be Valerie because Sasha blackmailed her and meanwhile Dirk is embezzling money from Stanley’s brother, Cal, who has a secret in his lake house that Dr. Van Shrubbery discovers when he pays a house call to Nancy who only called him to make sure he wasn’t home so Barbette could search his files for evidence of Sasha’s secret younger brother who was adopted by a family in France and is looking for money but only so he can use it for revenge on Valerie, who went to France once and broke his heart.

I didn’t manage anywhere close to that level of soap opera conflict, but the much smaller dose I added to my novel was a lot of fun.

Dungeons & Dragons & Depression

Excluding my flower inspiration message, it’s been three weeks since my last post. One might think that I haven’t had anything to say, that nothing noteworthy has happened in my life or crossed my attention for the last several weeks. The opposite is true. As of this writing, I have 49 post ideas in a file, with 20 posts already started, some even mostly completed, that I haven’t bothered to upload.

Depression saps energy, takes up a lot of mind space, and is also damn boring. Medication has its uses, but comes with its own set of issues. Coping without medication involves frequent exercise, activity schedules, journal-keeping, and doing CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) exercises. All of which have been proven effective, and take a buttload of time to complete.

I’ve found that if there’s one thing more difficult than fighting against depressive lethargy, it’s prioritizing the time I have left to me. There are a lot of things I want to do with the remaining time in my day: back exercises; write blog; write novel; write current short story; edit other short story; work on assignments for How to Think Sideways; learn more about graphic design; learn more about locksmithing; do vision exercises; learn more about current events, electricity, meteorology, geology, and car repair so I don’t have to be embarrassed when these subjects come up; go on adventures; practice drawing; search for new job; search for new apartment; research yurts instead of searching for apartments; and practice drawing.

In other words, it’s the same dilemma I run into when I make a Dungeons and Dragons character. More often that not, I play skill based characters, like rogues and bards. Choosing between the many skills is both annoying and difficult. And for every single skill on the character sheet, I can come up with some kind of excuse for why I need that skill.

What good is Hide if you can’t hack your Move Silently check? Points to both!

Handle Animal? If we run into an animal, this will be so useful.

Bluff? Well, what if I have to lie to an animal? And if it has the same number of points as Diplomacy, I don’t have to worry if I’m lying or telling the truth!

Use rope? I’ve absolutely got to be able to use a rope. Every nerd remembers how important Samwise thought it was to have rope. But what good is it if it just sits limp in my hands because I can’t fathom the deep mysteries of how to operate it?

Disguise is a particular weak spot for me. I always imagine that putting points into disguise will result in something like this:

When in fact I don’t tend to find a lot of opportunities for Disguise at all.

And on, and on. Every single skill has some kind of useful appeal, except Listen and Spot, which are generally ignored by the bulk of my group. The end result is a character who has two points in everything except Listen and Spot, and consequently, never does anything because someone else in the party specialized in whatever skill check is needed, and is the more logical choice to make the check.

I’m sure by now you think you know what direction I’m going with this fairly obvious analogy*, but you’re wrong. I’m not going to compare the minutes in the day with a character’s allotted number of skill points, or state with flashing lights-obvious double meaning that true strength of character comes from prioritizing, choosing what is truly important over what is simply nice to have.

No.

Here’s my take-away from all this soul-searching and blogulating and youtube video-seeking: Put all your damn points in Disguise. In D&D and in real life.

But of course, you’ll need a few in Bluff also, so you can speak in disguise. And Diplomacy, in case you have to tell the truth. And Escape Artist, in case you get locked up anyway by the guy who was the sheep.


 

*Because you’re crafty, and you put due skill points into Knowledge: Obvious Analogies that Show up on Blogs.

Adventures in speech recognition

QWERTY-Dvorak keyboard

A keyboard set to Dvorak is a great way to mess with people using your computer. Cy jab anor x. a p.annf ocmln. .bjpflycrb ofoy.mv

The other night I found myself with a bit of wrist tendonitis. It was the final day of Camp NaNoWriMo. I had 3500 words to go, and seven hours to write them in. Not really an insurmountable obstacle, until my wrist flared up. I had a lot of trouble with wrist tendonitis about five years ago, and after doing some research, I decided to switch to the Dvorak keyboard layout, which is supposed to be easier on the wrists. It was designed to be faster for typing the English language, with vowels on the left side of the home row, and the most commonly used consonants on the right side of the home row. The least frequently used letters, including J, my own personal Scrabble-bane, are all along the bottom, the most difficult row to reach.

I’ve never been sure how much the Dvorak layout helps alleviate wrist problems. Soon after switching over, I discovered that the source of my problem was all the Plants vs Zombies I’d been playing. The constant clicking was tough on my mouse hand. I stuck with Dvorak anyway. Though it took me awhile to adjust to it, I’m now a faster typist.  104 wpm, according to the typing test I took a minute ago.  Better than my QWERTY high of 86.

The other night, my wrist flare-up was from drawing right-handed. My rule is that if I have even the slightest hint of tendonitis, I don’t type. Maybe Dvorak is better than QWERTY, maybe not, but either way it can still irritate an already-aching wrist. Most days, protecting my wrists from worse problems (I’m a wimp. I’m not going down the carpal tunnel.) is more important to me than getting another 1000 words. But most days aren’t the last seven hours of Camp NaNoWriMo. I wanted to hit 29,998 words, and I was willing to do the unthinkable.

I was going to shut down Linux Mint, and boot into Windows 8 for a purpose other than playing games that I didn’t feel like configuring through Wine. I was going to try transcription software. Dragon Naturally Speaking was out of the question, because I’m poor. So by transcription software, I mean the default speech recognition application that comes with windows, used not with any kind of decent microphone, but with my computer’s built-in mic.

It quickly became obvious that I would need to go through the software training to tune the software to my voice. The software training involves orally reading a lot of dull facts about the software, with an awkward amount of enunciation. 

In order to make it understand what I was saying, I needed to use the same strategy that Avatar Aang used against Koh the Face-stealer.  “Show no fear. Show no emotion at all. Show no hint of a Massachusetts accent, and for fuck’s sake don’t speak as fast as a Rhode Islander.”

In between repetitive suggestions that I speak like a newscaster and improve my diction, a few of the sentences set off warning bells.

Outbound Flight by Timothy Zahn

Mitth’raw’nuruodo, before he was Grand Admiral Thrawn. Similar to how my laptop is a nascent tactical wizard.

The training says that if you correct a mistake the software made, it’s “unlikely to make the same mistake again.” In other words, the speech recognition software is not only sentient, it’s better at life than the vast majority of all humans. Including myself.  It also says that the spelling dialogue, used for correcting words, is “very efficient and powerful.” Like a wizard, or Grand Admiral Thrawn.  When speech recognition software turns my laptop into a bona fide lifeform, this is going to be an inconvenient personality for it to have.  This is what file backups are for.

Although the software training appeared to go badly (and I also didn’t do all of it), I decided to attempt writing fiction with it. After all, I only had six hours left at this point, and I hadn’t shaved off any of those 3500 words.  I could go on at length about how stupid it looks when your dialog is surrounded by the words “quotation marks” instead of the real deal, or the many variations I had to go through for every single word. But I won’t do that. You can probably get the gist. It was like the longest game of telephone ever, where everyone playing is also on speed.

Still, the real reason I don’t want to persevere with transcription software (besides the fact that my wrist is now just fine), is the same reason I never tried it before now. Writing well is easier than speaking well. Why would I demote my writing down to the level of my speech?  With careful typing and a lot of rest, I was able to write most of the 3500 words.

Reach for the stars?

DSC02326Setting goals always involves a strategic game of self-manipulation. This is difficult to do, since I know I’m doing it, and I can predict my every move and counter-move.

I have a bad history with setting writing goals. While I’ve participated in National Novel Writing Month for seven Novembers in a row, and reached 50,000 words for six of them, I never seem to do well with writing goals outside of NaNoWrimo. What happens is that I fall short of my goal, get depressed, set a smaller goal for next time, fall short of that goal also, get depressed, and then repeat the whole cycle until I’m at the point where I’m telling myself, “This’ll be a good writing month if I can just get a period at the end of that sentence I wrote a couple months back.”

July is Camp NaNoWriMo, the free and loose version of the main event in November. On the website, I set my goal as 60,000 words for this month. A goal, as it happens, that I had no intention of actually reaching. If I set 30,000 words as my actual goal, I would likely fail and only reach 14,000. Then get depressed, and shoot for 7,000 next time. See above. So this month, I aimed for 60,000 words, hoping to fail and land at 30,000 instead. Until now, I had even managed to trick myself into thinking this was my actual goal. I had charts and lists to show how much work I would need to do in a day to reach my false goal, and so I believed it was real. Like the Velveteen rabbit. Or not. Pinocchio? Lt. Commander Data?

Anyway, my goal of 60,000 words was alive to me. I believed in it.

That’s the kind of mental chicanery I need to pull with my pessimist’s brain.

Orange Marshmallow Apocalypse is my novel-in-progress about outcast middle schoolers trying to stop the bizarre and devastating effects of a nuclear bomb detonated in upstate new york, in an alternate world where said detonation is activated by magic. Right now, it’s a little shy of 40,000 words, 10,000 of which I wrote this month. I’m still wrestling with how I want them to find out that they may be able to reverse some of the magical effects of the detonation, though not the most tragic ones.

I’m also working on a children’s story about a girl who helps a trio of goblins save Halloween. This one is going better at the moment, although I know I’m going to be way off my word count. I have to choose between a smaller, simpler story that fits the picture book model I agreed on with my friend, the illustrator, or a larger, spookier, awesomer story that will probably be twice as long.

Camp NaNoWriMo has eight more days, counting today. I have 13,000 words left to fail at my official goal by 29,998 words but meet my actual goal, which I am pretending is not my goal.

Locally sourced, hand drawn profanity

Because sometimes, muttering curses under your breath just isn’t enough.

Fuck this line art.

And fuck that, too.

Sometimes, I feel thirteen again and want to scribble vulgarities all over the back of my science notebook. Maybe an A for anarchy, or a doodle of an angry cow. It’s possible this is happening more lately, as I’m writing a novel about middle school outcasts thrown into an enormous nuclear disaster, but with sinister magic. Inhabiting their mind-space is kind of a mental time travel. And maybe one day, I won’t be able to come home again.

This gave me the instant gratification of pretending to draw a diagram of a mitochondria, while instead angrily writing “fuck fuck fuck” in the margins of my notebook with the kind of grip that embosses the penciled words into the paper. I always hated when teachers insisting on collecting and grading my notebooks. I nearly always had to tear out pages at the back, where I kept my secret life of comics, ranting, and doodles of demonic animals. Also, the out-of-control games of MASH I played with my best friend.

Close up of fuck this line art; "HI"

HI! Look how innocuous I am now.

And yet, the forty-five minutes of drawing it took me to do the linework mellowed me out so that I no longer felt angry about the incident. At least, I didn’t feel angry until I went home and told the story to my partner. Am I allowed to call it linework, or is that reserved for professional illustrators? Am I putting on airs by using this term?

I covertly drew this during my break at work as a number of people passed by, and felt both juvenile and powerfully defiant doing so. But to me, this is what art and writing are all about. Taking raw emotions and persistent problems, then hacking at them with rapid typing, or drawing over them in colored pencil. Juvenile it may be, but it’s also the only way I know to actually deal with my emotions rather than allowing them to drive my life until they expire and fade away.

The fact that other artists and writers exist makes me think that, maybe, I’m not the only one.

Drawing this did end up inspiring a moment in my novel, when one of my protagonists draws a similar picture, then rips it up during an assembly so her mother won’t find it later. I’ll have to draw that one next time I have something to rage about.

The Index Card-a-Day Challenge

It’s now July 4th, and despite my Mr. Freeze-level hatred of warm weather, I haven’t been having such a bad time. I’m not even dreading the rest of July too much. This is partly thanks to the Index-Card-a-Day Challenge at Daisy Yellow, which I have participated in for the last two years.

Index-Card-a-Day is a challenge which involves making some kind of art on an index card every day in June and July. It’s not about making fantastic artwork (although that can absolutely happen), but rather about having a small, cheap canvas on which to do *something.* Daisy Yellow explains this in more detail, and with better pictures.

Color pencil index card color wheel

Index card color wheel, for reference.

Last year, I used ICAD as an opportunity to learn more about color theory. As a writer, I no longer have favorite words. They all have their uses. You can’t just use the word “defenestrate” because it’s your favorite when you’re writing about something it has nothing to do with, like coffee. Or your family. When I used to make art, I would mostly use black and grey, blue and purple, seeing as they are my favorites. Now I know how to make something yellow and brown, if what I’m trying to express has nothing to do with black and grey, blue and purple. Last year, ICAD was a great, low pressure way to learn more about color hands-on. So on a given day my assignment might be to “make something orange!” but other than that, I did anything I wanted.

I also learned how to make nice mini-collages from magazine pages that I clandestinely ripped out at work. At a cookout* I went to around this time, a guy I remembered from high school as being both really nice and having an enviable biking-places-doing-art-wearing-hoodies lifestyle confirmed what I had begun to suspect: the secret to a good collage is not to think, to go by instinct, to quash any impulse towards lining things up and adjusting the everloving fuck out of cut-out lampshades and bulldogs.

Tropical fish collage with blackout poem

Blackout poetry, but with fish.

So this year, I have been doing the ICAD challenge again. June was a crappy month, and I didn’t do as much with ICAD as I wanted. Since I’ve been working on my drawing this year, I may end up using the rest of ICAD to further that learning. Soon I will probably post the index cards I have made so far on my flickr. National Novel Writing Month has always been a time for me to dedicate to writing, no matter if I’ve had a poor writing year. Now I have the Index-Card-a-Day challenge to fill the same function for my art. Instead of being the classic security guard with the magazine, when the building emptied for the night, I was the security guard with the gluestick. And as someone who is prone to depression, participating in ICAD is a great way to make myself feel better during a time of year when I tend to stay indoors and get less sunlight. Yes, I have Reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder. Clinically, I don’t know if that’s a thing, but I’m sure I’ve got it. So yeah, treating RSAD with ICAD.

This month is not only the 2nd half of ICAD, but also Camp NaNoWriMo. So my big dilemma for the moment, after I finish this post, is whether I should go draw something, go write something, or put off both and get some more coffee.


 

*where cookout is short hand for night time outdoor gathering with a big ass fire, and liquor.