State of the ‘Chain’

Now that we’re half way through December, I think it’s safe to say that NaNoWriMo was a bust. Got to about 20k then gave in to the chittering monkeys clambering for a break. Which is too bad because it looks like every one of the dozen other participants I know finished this year. I think a big part of my failure was tied to a growing lack of motivation. Well, maybe next time I’ll get more involved with communal write-ins. That said, I hope to practice by continuing to write over the mean time. Maybe post some of it here.

Harking back to the roots of this blog, the next few posts are going to be book reviews. Hopefully this will once again become a somewhat regular occurrence (seeing as I’ve got about a dozen more books waiting to be read). As for Blogenning… well, everyone seems to still be recovering from NaNo, so who knows.


Something Witch-ed This Way Comes

So earlier in the week I challenged members of The Blogenning to do/eat/play/create/watch/verb something new.

My new thing: a trip to Salem, MA, which is typically known known as “The Witch Capital of the World”. For those of you unaware, a series of accusations and trials occurred between 1692 and 1693 resulting in a number of deaths. While trials for witchcraft weren’t completely uncommon in Europe or Colonial America, the Salem Witch Trials marked an atypical concentration, with over 150 people arrested and held on the words of neighbors. Roughly 30 were convicted of either being a witch or supporting witchcraft and the vast majority of them were dead before the Governor stepped in.

And now during the month of October, Salem conducts “Haunted Happening”, becoming the Halloween center of New England, if not the entire country. Promoting healthy family-friendly fun and tolerance, there are a number of Museums, attractions, and events. I was lucky enough to have some friends free for the day, so we all went together. Wax statues, carnival food, a haunted “Frankenstein’s Lab”, a candlelit tour of the haunted sites and graveyard, and kitchy souvenirs – what more could you ask for?! Well, except for the graves of the actual accused witches – but no one knows where those are. Instead you have The Burying Point, the 2nd oldest graveyard in the United States.

The Burying Point at Night

If you’re interested in visiting Salem for the amazing atmosphere, my only pieces of advice would be these:

1: Try not to go on Halloween weekend. I know that sounds counter-intuitive, but there has been an increase in drunken buffoonery the last few years, resulting in a large law enforcement presence and a 10:30pm curfew for Halloween night (streets close, but indoor celebrations continue). It’s also crazy busy with revelers, which I personally dislike.

2: Don’t be discouraged if you don’t have much of a budget – there’s plenty of fun to be had on the cheap.

3: Take public transportation. There’s a ferry, which is fun, but the train is faster, cheaper, and more frequent. Besides, you never know who might be driving.

Great finish to the night

And, of course, the most important thing is to have fun!

Live Dangerously

Every week a member of The Blogenning picks a topic for the collective to write a post about. Last week Ian started our second rotation with the topic of NaNoWriMo. This week is my turn.

While the last time I picked the topic it came to me pretty naturally, I was a bit puzzled at what to do for this one. And then it came to me. To not just write a post, but to try and do something: to issue my fellow Blogenauts (yes, I’ve just coined a new term) a challenge!

Now, now – just hear me out. I recognize that we’re all busy people and there’s no fun in forced obligation. So this challenge can be as simple or as time-consuming as you deem it.

The challenge: Try Something New.

I love new things. To explore, learn, and grow. To break from the monotony of routine and stretch your horizons. Personally, I think it’s a necessary part of living – providing an opportunity, however small or short-lived, to wake the brain, rekindle the senses, and rejuvenate the spirit. To make a memory that stands out, above the muck of the day-to-day. There’s even some research to back me up! My WTFood pieces are an example of how I try to apply this to my life. I love how much social networking has provided a means of discovering events and places.

So, fellow Blogenning members, here’s the challenge:

Try something new and then share it via a post. It’s fine if you don’t have a lot of time – it can be something small. Here’s a cultural example: two weeks ago was the Jewish high holiday of Rosh Hashana – the start of the new year. A lot of people are familiar with the traditional apple-and-honey custom – but there’s actually one far more interesting: the new fruit. As part of welcoming the new year, a person is supposed to eat a piece of fruit that hasn’t been eaten for at least a year. Judaism even has a blessing for every time something is done for the first time (Shehechiyanu), expressing thanks for the experience and opportunity to grow.

A new food – how difficult is that? But, just in case you aren’t the epicurious type, I came up with a few examples, breaking them into simple and challenging. The thing to keep in mind is that it should be new to you!

Simple: Try a food you’ve never had before; Play a type of instrument foreign to you; Take a new way home from work; Go to a new restaurant

Challenging: Bake a pie from scratch; Write an original song; Explore a new part of the city; Go to an ethnic restaurant with a type of food you’ve never had before (i.e. Tibetan, Ethiopian, etc)

See, none of those are particularly daunting! Okay, maybe the pie from scratch – that’s a bitch the fist few times. So embrace my challenge – who knows, you might even surprise yourself and enjoy it!


p.s. I’ll be posting my “new thing” later this week as a kind of ‘part 2’.

Can’t You NaNoWriMo Like I Do?

 This week’s Blogenning topic: National Novel Writing Month (AKA NaNoWriMo).

NaNoWriMo involves people from all over the world attempting to write a 50k word novel during the month of November. Specifically midnight 11/1 to 11:59pm 11/30 (a lot of sticklers). They say it isn’t as scary as it sounds, but that’s roughly 200 pages. That’s 1,667 words a day. Sure, it’s easy at first, but that number gets progressively more difficult to reach (to put it into context, one of my longest posts here was only 1,123).

The organizers do what they can to help participants. Letters of encouragement from famous authors, meet-ups arranged by local volunteers, web badges (though this year’s are kind of weak), comics, and forum threads meant to help a struggling author push through. And however much official pep they bring, there’s so soooo much more fan-made. LiveJournal groups, goal and idea calendars, badges and art – it’s really amazing.

There’s really only one goal for NaNoWriMo participants: to reach 50,000 words and finish. Some write more (there are people that aim for 100 and even 200k), but in the end it’s all about getting words on the page. Quantity over quality. That’s how you win. Sure, some people have managed to get their novels published, but really it’s about getting the practice in.

I first attempted NaNoWriMo back in 2008. At around 28,000 words, it was also my most successful year. 2009 was the year I got some friends involved, but only made it to about 16,000 words myself. Last year, barely 5,000. In the end there are 3 major impediments: time management, writer’s block, and plot doctoring.

I am not a fast writer. This post, by the end of it, is 650 words, and it’s taken me about 3 hours to write (admittedly, there have been a few distractions – laundry, cats, TV, etc, but I can’t write in silence). And NaNoWriMo simply takes over your life – every spare minute. Even when I do manage to write, I often run into writer’s block, which either forces me to stop or to write crap that is honestly just that. Which leads to my third problem. I go back. Either I’ve written something that was simply crap, or I’ve reached a part in the story and think “You know, this needs another character” and then go back and insert them. And then retrofit the remainder. It’s honestly my biggest flaw.

There are a few things I’m trying this year to help. First, I’ve actually started writing early. Not the story I’ll be writing for NaNoWriMo (that’d be cheating,  AHEM), but simple creative writing. I’ll probably be posting some of it here in the next week. It’s short, and goes nowhere, but it helps get the juices flowing. As November draws closer I might start fleshing out a bit of a plot, but it’s really characters and dialogue that give me trouble. How to figure those out beforehand – no clue. As for plot doctoring, I just can’t look back. If I think of a plot change, just make a note and move on as if I’d written it. Thankfully I’ve got a few friends participating this year and will probably take every opportunity to use them as a crutch.

All I can do is write. Keep writing. If I’m not sleeping, in the shower, or at work, then write (my new smartphone will make this a little easier). Honestly, I doubt I’ll reach 50k words. But for me that isn’t the point – the point is writing every day, not giving up after the first or second week. If not 1,667 words, then as many as I can. And I’ll post occasional status updates here or, more frequently, on twitter.

Oh, I can also try and get you to join. Come on, it’s fun! Just review the rules, create an account on the site, and take a creative, empowering stroll with the rest of us shut-in, hair-pulling, sleep-deprived Wrimos.

19 days and counting!

A Bewitching Guise

Yet another week passes, and with it, a Blogenning topic! This week’s: Halloween Costumes (set by Tom, who takes immense pride in putting together a top-rate ensemble).

Halloween isn’t really my thing. To you it means dressing up, going to parties, laughing with friends, binging on candy, and celebrating the highlights of Fall. To be someone else for a night. But to me, who’s spent pretty much every Halloween of the last decade working, it means streets packed with screaming 20-somethings carrying bottles of “Gatorade”, scantily-clad men and women puking on the sidewalk, and people using the holiday as an excuse to cause general chaos and mayhem. And waste. So much waste. It’s basically a Friday night on overdrive. But that’s what you sign up for when you work the night shift at an urban University.

That said, I’ve never really one for dressing up. Last year was the first Halloween I took off in years and I wore a suit. Meh. It isn’t that I dislike costumes – I have way too many friends who seriously pursue cosplay to be that obtuse – it’s just never been for me. I remember doing it a bit as a kid, and there was some small effort made for Purim, but at some point that childhood passion for whimsy shriveled. I can appreciate the effort and ingenuity some people invest in the night, but let’s face it – that isn’t even what the night is about for most people over 15.

Does part of me envy that sense of innocence and abandon? Sure. But most of me is simply too practical. There’s no endgame there that I’m interested in. And the rest of me… well, the rest of me could probably use some intense therapy, so probably best keep it under wraps. I know, shame on me for missing out. For not being able to cut loose and enjoy the moment. But that’d be wrong. I do enjoy the moment. In fact, on  a daily basis, I probably take more opportunities to do so than most (a fact I’m quite thankful for). I simply do it my way.

So maybe a visit to Salem this year. And, if whimsy strikes, an eye-patch.

Frustrations, Agitations, Aggravations

As a member of this merry Blogenning band, once a week we post about a communal topic. This week’s Blogenning topic, set byAndrea, is “Things I Hate”.

As Brandon pointed out, ‘hate’ is overused, not to mention that this blog is public so I need to be a bit politic. As he took the word ‘dislike’, I’m going to use ‘frustrate’.

But I’m also going to start with an exception.

First on my list is summer humidity. This tropical tango of heat and humidity doesn’t frustrate me – I loathe it. The cloying, sweat-inducing, moistness of it. It’s disgusting. Seriously, the number of showers I take in that weather is ridiculous.

Second, stupidity. Here I need to be clear. I don’t mean ignorance. Ignorance is a lack of knowing. It can be innocent or honest. Stupidity, however, is willful. It’s, for whatever reason, refusing to learn or apply knowledge/reason/logic when given ample opportunity or cause. Stupidity is mental laziness. And it is so very frustrating.

Next is laziness. Anyone who knows me will call bullshit, and I’ll be the first to admit that I can be a pretty lazy guy. But I don’t mean just plain laziness here – I believe there’s a time and place to relax just as much as there’s one for applying oneself. It’s innapropriate laziness that gets my goad. I’m not talking about taking that extra step, but just covering your responsibilities. Not shirking your duty. Not pawning it off on someone else with some flimsy justification. Not telling me you’re “prioritizing” and then balk when I ask what other priorities there are.

The thing is, all of these pet-peeves aren’t only things I can’t stand about the world – they’re parts of myself. I loathe humidity because it makes me sweat, but I need to get in shape. Stupidity is frustrating because there are moments when my own obstinance gets in the way. Laziness agitates me because it’s something I combat on a regular basis. But that’s just it –  I work at fixing these things about myself. I spend every day trying to better myself. And while I slip pretty often, I get back up – mainly because part of my brain starts chastising the other parts until they get off their lazy asses. And it usually works (this blog being an aggravating exception). And it frustrates me how many people don’t. How many give up (if they even try).

Hopefully one day I’ll have improved enough to serve as a worthy example. Until then, I’ll just keep trying.

Writer’s Block

As a member of this merry Blogenning band, once a week we post about a communal topic. This week’s Blogenning topic, set by Dave, is that dreaded curse known as Writer’s Block.

To be honest, I think everyone’s had a run in with Writer’s Block. Writing a paper for a class or an email to a friend or a part of your NaNoWriMo novel and suddenly there’s this… thing in the way. An emptiness that isn’t empty. Kind of like a Gelatinous Cube in your head, absorbing all your creativity. It’s a moment of furtive inner silence.

At the same time, I think the block can be different for different people. For some it’s the inability to produce any words or thoughts and for others it’s about quality; not being able to figure out the next piece to your satisfaction. But for me, Writer’s Block is caused by something far more fundamental: motivation. Well, more to the point, the lack thereof.

Take this blog. The last few weeks have been woefully short of posts. Sure, I could blame packing, moving, unpacking, not having a computer desk or chair, work, exhaustion, or a dozen other things, but the truth is that I just wasn’t motivated. There was nothing urging me on to write. The novelty of The Blogenning was starting to wear off and all those things just made it convenient to stop.

And that’s what happens when I write creatively. I’m excited, start piecing a plot together, flesh out some characters, and, at some inconvenient moment, lose my muse. The compulsion to create is gone and the story gets shelved.

Honestly, I think that’s the difference between an author and a writer. An author creates, but they do it when inspiration seizes them. Writers do it for a living. They press on. They overcome their obstacles. It’s at that moment when it seems the motivation is gone and hope is quickly flickering out that their best material comes out.

Because that block, whether short-lived or long-winded, is always there, lurking. And there’s no real telling when it’ll strike or what will cure it. You’ve only got two choices: push on through or retreat. And that’s why I restarted this blog – to help me build up the determination to persevere. Sure, I’m going to falter every now and then, but what’s important is that I can pick myself up, dust off, and keep going. If necessary, with the help of friends.