Reaping the Rewards of Rebellion


So NaNoWriMo began today (wait, where did October go?) and like great swaths of the blogosphere, I am once again trying my hand at penning the Great American… Short Story Collection.

Yeah, oops. While I respect those WriMos who personally hold the “novel” part of National Novel Writing Month as sacrosanct, I’ve had fifteen years worth of experience to inform me that, hey, maybe writing a novel just isn’t for me. As someone who both has tastes and talents better suited to shorter fiction, as well as a distaste for the (somewhat elitist) attitude that the novel, as a form, is somehow superior to all other types of writing, I have decided to shirk that particular aspect and focus on just getting to (and hopefully surpassing) 50k of literary short fiction.

If your ambition is to write a novel this month, awesome. If your goal is to challenge yourself to penning an epic work, congrats. But for me, NaNoWriMo is simply the one guaranteed time each year when I am allowed the opportunity to be wholly, self-indulgently creative; it’s the one time each year I find myself actually and reliably producing something. I see no need to miss the opportunity – and the social camaraderie that works so well as a motivator – simply because my 50k is destined to be spread across three or four narrative instead of one.

Plus – and I speak only for myself, but perhaps other rebels will chime in – there are other benefits to rebelling, as well.

1.  It’s harder to write yourself into a corner. (Not impossible, but harder).

Long-form fiction generally has multiple narrative threads, and while an ambitious (and talented) short fiction writer may well be able to incorporate numerous plot threads into their story, there seems to be less of an expectation to do so. Short fiction, in general, adheres to a singular theme or event; even when narrative events occur out of chronological order, they still tend to orbit one central theme. It kind of follows naturally that a single ploth thread is much harder (though not impossible) to tangle, compared to a novel that must carefully interweave numerous plotlines while reaching a joint and satisfying ending (speaking of endings: I find that ambiguity and ambiguous “resolutions” are much more tolerated in short fiction than in novels, over all. Just saying).

2.  You don’t have to make those impossible choices about which plot bunny to chase down the rabbit hole.

I see the complaint on the forums all the time: the minute you sit down to write your NaNoNovel, a hundred other plot bunnies (none of them your wily NaNo Bunny) come hopping out of the forest of your mind, all cute and cuddly and ready to be written. Ugh, did you make the right choice? Should this be the story you should be devoting your time to this month? Wouldn’t it be awesome if you could just write the story that comes to you in the moment? Well, if you opt to rebel, you can. Hell, you can start a new flash fiction story every time you sit at the computer, if you’d like. If you are open to doing something beyond the boundaries of a traditional novel, no plot bunny is every a distraction – they’re just more fodder for your word count.

3.  When you hit a block in one story, there’s always another one you can start and/or add to.

Sometimes, it’s not even really about doubting whether or not you chose the wrong plot, or the temptation of a shiny new story idea pulling your away from your novel. Sometimes, things are going well, you’ve got into a groove in your story, pieces are falling into place, and then you just – stop. You reach a sticky bit of plot, or a character just isn’t sounding right, or your outline didn’t cover a particular turn your story organically (but unexpectedly) took. Maybe you step away, take a break, have a snack resolve to look at it with fresh eyes. Maybe you sit there and rewrite sentence ten times before you ragequit for the night. Maybe, you lucky duck, you can just power through it, and if you can, congratulations. But for some of us, hitting that roadblock and having to step away from writing for any significant amount of time means a loss of momentum, especially if you don’t write regularly throughout the year and November is an attempt to build a habit. If you’re writing multiple stories, there’s always one you could start or add to while the one vexing you is sorting itself out in the back of your mind.

4.  You’re more likely to emerge with a finished product, even if you don’t hit the 50k.

I look at NaNo,even my NaNo failures, as generally positive experiences. I usually have fun, and I often enjoy looking back and rereading what I’ve written in previous years. But I have to admit, it feels so, so much better to have a completed product at the end of the month, and honestly – and again, I speak only for myself – it doesn’t much matter it that product is a novel or a couple of short stories. The reality is, once the adrenaline of November wears off, once my calendar hasn’t been cleared and I don’t have the camaraderie of my NaNo friends to spur me on, there’s good chance that my project is going to languish in whatever state it’s in on December 1st into perpetuity. I’m not proud of that, but that’s reality, and I know from experience that while NaNo is always fun, it’s far more satisfying to have actually finished something – or a few somethings – in November.

5.  You can expand on those half-formed story ideas without having to pad to reach 50k.

Some people get ambitious in November and spend weeks or months planning and plotting epic adventure stories with an A, B, and C plot, a romantic side plot, a massive and eclectic cast of characters, and a fully-fleshed out fantasy world, and to them – I salute you. You are genuinely awesome. But while I have definitely made valiant efforts towards planning over the years – and while I have sometimes even been fairly successful at developing a decent plot and cast of characters – I have a lot of fun ideas that would take a hell of a long time to expand into novels, but would make great little vignettes or free-form poems or flash fiction. Sometimes, I want to use the momentum of November to finally pen those scenes that live in my head, no padding, plotting, or world-building required – just sitting down and writing what’s in my head, just to see how it looks on paper. Just to get it out there.

In the end, I fully believe there is no wrong way to NaNo. If the event moves you to write, then it’s done something wonderful, and I think at this point, we all need something wonderful in our life.


The Highest Aspiration?


It’s nearly mid-October, and the hardcore NaNo Fiends – and if I’m being honest, I have to count myself amongst them – are gearing up for the November run of NaNoWriMo.

I love NaNoWriMo.  I’ve written about it extensively, chronicled fairly painstakingly my experiences with it the last two years, offered advice, reflected, pondered, and extrapolated on my faults and foibles in my yearly (and occasionally – but ineffectively – more frequent) attempts at writing a novel.  I’ve done it every year – minus one – since 2002.

But there’s something that always bothered me, not about NaNo in particular, but about our attitudes toward writing in general, that I don’t often think about until I’m facing down the task of writing fifty-thousand words in thirty days.

I feel like there’s a sense, at least in the general population of casual readers, that the novel is – and should be – the apex of writing ambition.  You don’t often hear people talk about their desire to write the Great American Short Story.  People don’t opine their “someday” dream of composing the perfect sonnet.  It’s always a novel.

Maybe that’s because the novel is marketable, or at least mass-marketable; there are literary publications – zines and blogs and journals – that have a readership, sure, but people don’t generally grab a good literary anthology to read on the beach.

Maybe it’s because of my own limitations, or maybe it’s simply a quirk in my tastes, but even as someone who makes an earnest attempt most years to write a fifty thousand word novel, I harbor a deep resentment towards this attitude that the novel is the zenith of literary aspiration, as though it is the only form of writing that has value or merit.  How you are only a “real writer” once you have your first novel under your belt.

I love reading novels.  I love being immersed in the world of long-form fiction, love the journeys – literal and emotional – you are able to embark on in 50k or 100k words.  I love the lyricality of prose, and the word pictures a skilled writer can paint.  I love a slow burn.

But dammit, sometimes I like something that hits me full-on with blunt force.  Or something thoughtful and atmospheric that I can bask in briefly.  Sometimes I want a story I can read in an evening, in an hour, over lunch.  Sometimes I don’t have the mental or emotional energy to read 200 pages.  Sometimes I don’t have the time.  Sometimes I just want something shorter.

So this is just a reminder, as we gear up for the 2017 run of NaNoWriMo, that if you want to write a novel, that is admirable and amazing and I honestly wish you the best of luck!
But remember, if you don’t hit 50k, or if you rebel and write short fiction, fanfiction, poetry, or vignettes, it doesn’t mean you’re less of a writer. It doesn’t mean your efforts and ambitions don’t count.

LadiesCon and My Creative Self

This past weekend I went to a new-to-me (and over-all relatively new) con called LadiesCon, held by The Ladies of Comicazi at the Sommerville Armoury.  It’s lamentable the first con I’ve managed to make it to since Arisia this past January, despite my best intentions to get to Boston ComicCon (I almost, almost, almost made it this year!  It fell a week after Friendcation, though, which ate up a sizeable chunk of my budget, so I thought it’d be best to hold off on BCC one more year.  But, I digress).

LadiesCon had the effect that every convention in my con-going life has had on me, and that was the overwhemling desire to be more active in both the fannish and creative communities, and the overlap between the two.

The focus of LadiesCon was on female, LGBTQ, non-binary, and POC creators and indie artists.  As someone who falls at the crossroads of a few of those labels, I was thrilled to be among people who have been able to make a commitment that I am still working towards – a commitment to being their authentic artistic selves.  The variety – stylistically, thematically – of media present was a testement to the diversity within our communities.  There were sprawling space operas comix series, supernatural feminist steampunk novels, Lovecraftian-inspired jewelry, chainmail, knitting, handprinted micro-zines about growing up queer, and standalone visual novels about lesbain mermaid superheros.   Art styles varied dramatically, as did production values, but it was clear that every piece present was a true passion project, and choosing what to purchase (on a super tight budget) was an over-whelming experience that manifested intself in a legitimate anxiety headache.

I set out at the start of this blog – now almost a year ago – with the intention of track goals and chronicling the progress of my ambitions.  This has not turned out exactly as I had hoped.  I’ve been busy this year, and more social than typical (which was a goal in and of itself, and which I can’t actually complain about), but I have accomplished far less than I had intended to at the start of this year.  In the last few weeks, I have gotten better at this, but I have so, so far yet to go.

I need to find what I love to create, and I need to accept the fact that it doesn’t have to be any number of pre-conceived notions I have of art.

It doesn’t have to have a “deeper meaning.” It can be silly and kitschy and exist solely for it’s own aesthetic sake.

It doesn’t have to be thrilling and bombastic.  The best graphic novels I read in the last few years focused of very quiet slice-of-life and coming-of-age moments.

It doesn’t have to be polished.  People were snatching up those handprinted zines because of the the ideas inside of them, not because they hade really glossy covers or nice binding.

It doesn’t have to sound/look/feel like what everyone else is doing.  People will consume what I create if I create something that resonates with them.  There are billions of people in the world.  I don’t have to speak to all of them.  I need only speak of myself, and someone out there is bound to say, “hey, me too.”

This was LadiesCon’s second year, and I already eagerly await their third – hopefully including more panels (and a second day, which I know is really asking a lot, but I can hope??)  The next con I’m attending is the Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo on October 22nd, and then nothing, lamentably, until Arisia in January.  

Hopefully I can that one, at the very least, as someone already immersed in the culture of creation.

Paralyzed by Choice

My morning ritual is basically a walking tour of broken creative promises.

Get up, pack my notebook in my work bag – probably won’t crack it open today, but I should have it anyway, right? Just in case.

In the living room, sit your son on the couch to put on his shoes and extract from his (alarmingly tenacious?) grip your sketch book, three unfinshed sketches going on a week untouched, but obviously now’s not the time to be focused on that.  You’ll wrap them up later.

Down the basement stairs, step over the acryllic paints and canvases you brought home and dumped there a month ago, still shrink wrapped, foil seals in the paint still intact, brushes still bagged.  You’ll get around to them eventually.

Go to swap out the washer and dryer, glance over at the table covered in polymer, wire, and beads, two pendants mid-way through completion for the past three weeks.  You’ll find time to finish them someday.

One of the worst things about This Thing in My Head is, as difficult as it makes finishing projects, it makes it so exciting to start them.  And I have a broad range of interests – I love making jewelry, I love drawing, I love painting, I love writing, I love web projects.  Ilove the thrill of creating something.

But once the honeymood period of the project is over – when the real heavy lifting happens – This Thing in My Head nopes the hell out of there, and leaves me with yet another in a ever-growing list of things I’ll get around to finishing “someday.”

I’m learning to adjust to that.  Truly. I’m getting better at completing certain projects (especially hands-on and crafting projects), getting better at finding time in my schedule where things could potentially get done.  The problem I’m facing right now is – what?

I have finite time in my days.  Of that time, so much is taken up by work or my son – I have maybe two childfree hours a day, right before bed, and while I’m all for using those to work on projects – what?  What takes precedence?

How do you choose what to work on when you are creative in a variety of ways? The typical advice for writers is “Write every day,” but what if you are a writer who also paints and draws and sculpts, who makes jewelry and designs t-shirts and cosplays and collages, and only has a very small window of time daily to be creative? Do you cram it all in, forty minutes on X, forty minutes on Y, etc.?  Does that sort of jumping around effect the depth and quality of art you are able to produce?

Do you divvy it up by day, work on writing on Monday, do some drawing on Tuesday, paint on Wednesday, etc.?  Does that week long lull between sessions on any particular project impede gaining creative momentum, affecting the quality of the product while also prolonging the time spent working on it?

Do you wing it, say “as the Muse moves me,” and just hope to God that the muse will hit you, and when it does, it will be somehow related to an existing project and not what is sure to become yet another God-forskaen To-Do note on your calendar?

Throw me a bone, people.  I’m at my wits end. 

I May Have a Dollar Tree Problem

There are two things you should know about me right off the bat:

1.  I have elevated the act of on-line procrastination to a high art, and

2.  I have a borderline pathological obsession with the Dollar Tree.

These are essential points to understanding how I have wasted a sizeable chunk of my allotted monthly budget and most of my waking hours over the last two weeks watching Dollar Tree haul videos and making “little stops” at Dollar Tree.

Since our move in the Spring of 2016, I am now a three minute drive away from our local Dollar Tree, and honestly this has been both the best and the worst thing that has happened to my life.  I grew up more or less without money; my parents worked to put us through school (putting three kids through private prep school costs just as much as you’d imagine), so I grew up with a deep respect for good bargains.  I never quite understood friends – and there were quite a few of them – who turned their noses up at flea markets, thrift stores, dollar stores, and their ilk.  Meanwhile, I trawled clearance racks and secondhand stores to cultivate whatever look I was currently into, and was smug but silent at their inevitable compliments.  It made me love my little hobby even more, knowing I could be the envy of my friends while spending nearly nothing.

I’ve got friends breathing envious sighs at one day hoping to furnish their homes at Anthropologie.  I dream of the day where I purchase and upcycle all my decor from Dollar Tree and the local thrift shop.

So, it was inevitable that I eventually stumble upon Dollar Tree haul videos.  I dont even know where I found my first one – I’m a member of a Dollar Tree craft group on Facebook, so there’s a decent chance someone posted it there – but I’ve been watching them obsessively ever since.  They combine a few of my favorite things – the strangely voyeuristic pleasure of essentially looking in someone else’s shopping cart, the thrill of finding good bargains, and the challenge and reward of buying something cheap and tranforming it into something that looks like it cost a premium.  My favorite channel so far is Bargain Bethany (I think she’s cute as hell, has a good sense of humor, and I like a lot of her aesthetic (even the super “girly” ones, which might not be for be, but are things I could gift to friends and family), but I’m trying to find some other worthy channels to subscribe to (I know they’re out there, I’ve just spent too much time watching all of Bethany’s videos to do any real digging).

The problem with the Dollar Tree addiction is, “only a dollar” is “still a dollar,” and even those singular dollars add up.  It’s taking more will power than I’d care to admit not to go there and blow through half my monthly budget on the first day, but I’m doing my best.  As far as vices go, it’s probably less costly than most.  And it leaves you with a lovely tableu for your corner table.

I’m always on the lookout for good DIYs to tweak and incorporate into my home.  Anyone have any videos or websites to recommend?

Crowdsourcing a Bucket List

And just like that, I’ve missed all of July and half of August.

Logging onto social media lately is increasingly an exercise in controlling my escalating panic, and turning on the news is a pretty surefire way to elevate my blood pressure (which, really, does not need any help in the regard).

So, I’ve been away, as much as a person whose main connection to society is via the internet can be “away.”  Strangely, while blogging is the one social media outlet that doesn’t heighten my anxiety, it’s also the one I’ve been neglecting the most.

Maybe it’s because introspection is difficult in difficult times, both because it’s physically harder to sit still and write when anxiety is running high, and because the sort of navel-gazing I do on here seems trivial when placed in a larger context.

But I have to keep living my life.  Keeping a routine and carrying on doesn’t mean I don’t care about things beyond myself, it just means in order to continue being a functional human being and contributing to society at large, I need to take time to also indulge in myself.

And, in a lot of ways, indulge I have.  This has been the sort of summer I used to dream about when I was a poor college kid whose social life consisted of staying up until 4 am and having Halo parties with my siblings and a few friends who took turns practically living at our house back in those days.  I worked a five week program this summer, and the weekends have been full of cookouts, aquarium trips, movies, kayaking, hiking, swimming, pool parties, and dinners out with friends.  It’s been great, and I’ve enjoyed it…

…but I’m feeling weirdly unfulfilled.

I’m not complaining about the experiences I had, by any means – I got to do some things I’ve been meaning to do for a long time (kayaking! Socializing with new friends! Travelling!) and I am happy for the experiences.  I just feel like, I don’t know.  Like during my downtime, when I’m not doing these big social things (and trust me, even with Bear, there is plenty of downtime), I could be more productive in more personal ways.  Like I could learn more, make more, be more creative.

I turned 35 at the end of July.  That’s cool, that’s fine, whatever – the older I get, the younger 40 feels, honestly – but since turning 30, I’ve already watched one close friend, one acquaintance, and one former co-worker pass away, and they were all my age. Combine that with my overall existential anxiety these days, and, I don’t know, I guess I’m starting to think that maybe it’s time to make a conscious effort to get some stuff done while I have the chance?

I revived my DayZeroProject, which is a social bucket list, and I’m looking for suggestions of things to put on it.  I know bucket lists are, in some ways, inherently personal, but I also know (from experience) that there are things out there I would never have done because I didn’t realize they were even “a thing.”  Like, maybe you all can fill me in on experiences I’m not even aware it’s possible to have.  The one caveat is that money is a concern (it may not be in the near future; more on that pending), but right now it is.  I had a mutual on Twitter offer up “Visit Thailand!” and that’s a wonderful idea, but as it stands we’re scrimping and saving to visit family in Florida next year, and we’d be staying with them.  International airfares, ground transit, lodging and meals are a little outside of our budget at the moment.  But if you think it’s really a must visit, be specific about what/where it is, and we can, I don’t know, look out for a Groupon travel deal or something.

Also, if you are a listmaker, I totally recommend DayZeroProject, and if you have/make a list there, I’d love to follow it!

Camp NaNoWriMo and the Zero Word Count Week

(Photo by Thought Catalog)

The title is a bit of a misnomer; I actually have about 400 words, and with a goal of 20,000, I could easily knock my goal out in 10 days if I can get in a good groove.

I’ve always had a problem with starting; the beginning of anything is always anxiety-inducing (which is one reason I’m having heart palpitations at the mere thought of my summer program, which starts Monday – even though it’s literally an extension of what I do the rest of the academic year, even though I did it last summer, etc).

Beginnings mean a disruption of the status quo, it means venturing out beyond the comfort/stagnation (sometimes the exact same thing) of routine and doing/producing something new.  Often, it feels like a significant turning point, and as a result, the pressure to do it well – to get off to a good start, to create a memorable opening – is paralyzing.

I’ve finally settled on something I’m comfortable on opening with, so hopefully the “beginning” panic will soon segue into the “this is routine” placidity.

How have you chosen to open your Camp NaNo projects?  Favorite opening line, memorable opening scene?  Decided to skip that all together and start in at a totally different part of the story?  What are your favorite opening lines that you’ve ever written?