While griping about never getting anything done and how all my creative efforts are for naught, my brother Daniel says, “Well, you’re on your fourth book, so you are getting stuff done.”
I nearly spit out my tea, but manage to sputter, “Wait, what? Fourth book?!”
He looks at me like I’m dense. “Yeah, there was that book you wrote for the Dark Crystal contest, which totally counts. There’s Courting the Moon, and then there’s Ravens and Roses. Even if that isn’t quite fully finished yet it’s, like, 98% done, and now you’re working on a fourth. Give yourself some credit.”
I’m stunned by this revelation. “Wow, what a great way to reframe that. Thank you!”
It seems that when I am working on a novel, especially during an intense stretch like NaNoWriMo, I should not be allowed to read, watch, play, or listen to anything that does not contribute in some specific way to that project. I get derailed way too easily.
For example, I was plodding along pretty well through most of NaNoWriMo this year, and stayed more or less on topic. I wasn’t actually expecting to reach 50,000 words this month, but I had hoped to reach at least 40,000. (Instead I got almost 37,000, which is still quite respectable, but a bit less than I would have liked.) If you follow my LeNoWriCha Logs, you’ll notice that I made two mistakes that severely cut into my word count. The first was at the beginning of the month when I watched Star Wars Rebels. That put me in the mood for Star Wars fan fiction, and my FC Tenko is very persistent in taking over my headspace. I managed to shake that off, and then made the mistake of going on Steam during their Cyber Monday sale. I got completely and utterly mentally derailed by an otome game called Amnesia: Memories for the last week of November. Like, the staying-up-until-3:00am-staring-at-the-computer-screen-until-my-eyes-felt-like-they-were-going-to-burn-out-of-my-skull kind of derailment.
It’s a little frustrating that I have to think twice before exploring any media because it can quickly blossom into an obsession (albeit a short-lived one) that drags my attention away from what I’m working on. But is that because I have an addictive personality, a short attention span, or am just bored by my current project? All of those reasons are a little depressing.
I’ve learned that I don’t do “intention” very well. Habit and convenience are extremely powerful and seductive forces. It’s easy to sacrifice long-term gains for short-term pleasures. As someone with an addictive personality who doesn’t handle discomfort well and struggles with self-discipline and depression, I feel pretty susceptible to these temptations. It seems like the bad habits, such eating too much sugar and compulsively checking Facebook, are the ones who gain a foothold. They sneak in and become difficult to dislodge, probably because they appear harmless and require little to no effort.
This year, I took a four-day vacation by myself to the beach. I decided to do a mini-digital detox by wearing a watch instead of keeping my phone with me and spend as much time outside as I could, as long as the weather held. I also planned to spend any rainy hours in a comfortable room continuing to write or read. But things didn’t go quite the way I’d planned. While the view of the ocean from the motel was lovely and the weather remained good, the room I was staying in was… well, not very pleasant. Musty-smelling, moldy, and so saturated with humidity that leaving anything outside a plastic bag meant it would be damp within a few minutes. On top of that, even though the motel technically had wi-fi (which I could get if I sat out on the balcony), I couldn’t get it in the room itself.
I was rather upset and frustrated at first, but I soon realized that this could be a blessing in disguise. A gross room with no wi-fi meant I had to stay outside during 90% of my visit. It forced me to be parsimonious with my time on the internet. If I was going to use it, it had to be for a specific purpose, not just random searching or mindless scrolling. Get on, get off, and save data for the GPS. On the beach, I discovered the joy of wearing a watch. You might wonder what the point of a watch is. I mean, you can just check your phone, right? But opening that phone also opens the temptation to “just check one thing” and before you know it, what was supposed to be a 2-minute check-in turns into a 2-hour deep-dive. A smartphone can do too much. A watch only tells time. That is it’s sole purpose. Using a watch instead of a smartphone and being cut off from the internet meant the number of distractions dropped to near zero. I literally had nothing to do except read, write, walk, and think.
The final round! This is the third installment of my DIY MFA Book Club responses, containing Prompts 10 and 11, plus 12 (which is more of a celebratory note than a prompt, but whatevs.) As I mentioned last time, there was a Prompt #9, but I skipped it because it depends on reading Gabriela Pereira‘s book DIY MFA. While I have posted answers to these prompts in DIY MFA’s Facebook group “Word Nerds Unite,” I’m also posting this last set of prompts and slightly more in-depth answers here on The Cat’s Cradle:
Welcome to the second installment of DIY MFA Book Club responses! This round contains Prompts 5-8. There was a Prompt #9 on January 26th, but because it depends on reading Gabriela Pereira‘s book DIY MFA (which I have not read) so I’m skipping that one. While I have posted answers to these prompts in DIY MFA’s Facebook group “Word Nerds Unite,” I’m also posting the second set of prompts and slightly more in-depth answers here on The Cat’s Cradle:
Week 3 of National Novel Writing Month has begun, and, as always around this time, I’m feeling kind of wrung out with the entire enterprise. Buckling down and pounding out words for a rough draft isn’t exactly new for me. I can’t say that it’s always been easy, but it can be done. I know because I’ve done it before. I did it for (most of) Ravens and Roses, the first book in the Mariner Sequence. I did it for my Dark Crystal novel contest entry, “Search of the Sun-Child.” I did it for the fantasy / romance / steampunk / political intrigue hybrid that is Courting the Moon.
I recently read a book called iDisorder, which was recommended to me by my onii-san, David Greenshell. It’s about how the pervasive technology around us has encouraged the widespread development of behaviors that have the same symptoms as mental disorders, such as OCD, ADHD, addiction, narcissism, depression, and schizophrenia. I highly recommend it because so many behaviors that seem “normal” now in relation to technology maybe shouldn’t be granted an exemption from concern.
Before I go any father, let me just say that I am not a naysayer to technology. I have this blog, don’t I? I also have numerous accounts all over the web, I own a cell phone (not a SmartPhone, thank God), and I probably spend more time than I should on Facebook and Twitter. I suppose I am a little different from the majority of my generation because I do not have internet access at home, nor do I own a laptop, tablet, e-reader, or any other device that would allow me ubiquitous access to the world wide web. Sometimes this is frustrating, even inhibiting. It’s hard to look for, or even consider pursuing, an online job without a constant internet connection, and my friends can tell you just how furious I was to hear that Diablo 3 didn’t have an off-line option like its predecessors.
It’s ironic that the three writers I look up to the most are also some of the most prolific. Mercedes Lackeyhas dozens upon dozens of novels. Many are collaborations, but many are not, and even collaborating takes a great deal of time and effort. Oddly enough, she started off as a writer of fanfiction and was a protegée of Marion Zimmer Bradley, one of the mistresses of sci-fi and fantasy. J. Michael Straczynskiwrites for 10 hours a day, every day, except on his birthday, Christmas, and New Year’s. He says, “If I don’t have an assignment, I’ll write a short story, I’ll write a spec script, I’ll write a novel. I just enjoy the hell out of it.” Out of the 110 episodes comprising Babylon 5, he wrote the scripts for 92 of them, plus all of the movies. Joss Whedon has created several cult classic television shows with some of the most unique and memorable mythologies and characters. He worked on Buffy, Angel, and Firefly as writer and director during the 2002-2003 television season, and said that he only feels his best when he’s writing:
“You know, I always get cranky when I’m not writing,” Joss admits. “I’ll be mad and I don’t know why. I just feel like I’m angry with everybody and I hate everything and life is a sham. Then I’ll realize I haven’t written anything. And rewriting doesn’t count. It has to be an original script” (Havens, 158).
I think humans have a tendency to name things and make up random holidays. Throughout the year you can find instances of this. Did you know that January 10th is “Peculiar People Day?” Or that October 28th is “Plush Animal Lovers’ Day?” How about August being “National Catfish Month?” A lot of these days and months have multiple names to them. Personally, I think there’s a government committee somewhere whose sole purpose is to make these things up.
At any rate, this obsession with naming led to November being called “National Novel Writing Month.” It’s rather nice having a month dedicated to the art and craft of writing, specifically novel writing, but for most people, this month passes by unnoticed. However, the Office of Letters and Light decided to create something special. They made a contest also called “National Novel Writing Month,” affectionately dubbed “NaNoWriMo” (pronounced “NAH-no-RHYME-oh”.) It challenges would-be novelists to write 50,000 words, the minimum requirement for a novel, in 30 days. There is no cash prize and there are no judges to evaluate your work.
The purpose of NaNoWriMo is to get writers to stop agonizing over perfecting each passage before moving on, to break the rut of perfectionism and procrastination that dogs the heels of authors. In order to help writers complete that first draft, the emphasis is on quantity, not quality. Now, granted, a writer could just sit down and type the same sentence over and over until they reached 50,000 words, but NaNoWriMo offers little incentive for such a path. With no cash value and no one reading your work beyond the snippets you choose to post, there is no reason not to sit down and write. All you have to enter is the number of words you wrote, and, at the end of the contest, an on-site word validator proves that yes, you actually did write that number of words. If you reach 50,000 words, you get bragging rights and the satisfaction of reaching your goal. And if you only wrote, say 30,000 words, or 20,000, or even 10,000, you still have more done now than you did at the start of November, which is an accomplishment in and of itself.