Thursday, October 23, 2014

When writers discourage writing

So I've decided to give National Novel Writing Month another shot this year. I did it in 2012, had a lot of fun, made many friends and did, in fact, hit the 50,000-word mark (though the story was far from finished, to say nothing of its quality).

I'm not sure yet if I'll continue with If That's What You Want or start something new. The manuscript might decide that for me. I wont bore you with that process, opting instead to bore you with what results from it.

Calling yourself a writer opens you up to all sorts of Brian Griffin jokes. George Carlin claimed running wasn't a sport because "My mother can run! You don't see her on the cover of Sports Illustrated!" Writing is very much like running — most people can do it, and it's healthy, but few work up to a professional skill level and even fewer can claim it as a legitimate meal ticket.

And like running, many people will groan if you're giving constant writing updates to everybody. Indeed, the very first article that comes up in a search of NaNoWriMo (after its official site) is titled, "Attention, #NaNoWriMo Fans: No One Cares How Your F***ing Novel Is Going." The premise of this article seems to be, "Keep your tedious novel updates of the Internet because no one cares, and there are cats to be seen." But I tend to err on the side of, "Let people ignore you." The logic about groaning over updates can apply to literally anything anyone shares. In that respect, people accomplishing a goal, like writing or running, tend to be ahead of the pack. I'm certainly more interested in that than in inside jokes or what someone's drinking at the moment. But those people can keep on posting too, because freedom of expression isn't governed by what I'm into.

That's a lesson that Laura Miller should heed. In her article "Better yet, DON’T write that novel: Why National Novel Writing Month is a waste of time and energy," she makes a multitude of claims that not only rub me the wrong way, but could permanently discourage promising writers:

"I am not the first person to point out that 'writing a lot of crap' doesn’t sound like a particularly fruitful way to spend an entire month, even if it is November."

Well, to quote Dave Grohl, "Musicians should go to a yard sale and buy an old f****** drum set and get in their garage and just suck. And get their friends to come in and they’ll suck, too. And then they’ll f******* start playing and they’ll have the best time they’ve ever had in their lives and then all of a sudden they’ll become Nirvana. Because that’s exactly what happened with Nirvana. Just a bunch of guys that had some s***** old instruments and they got together and started playing some noisy-a** s***, and they became the biggest band in the world. That can happen again!"

"Writing a lot of crap" is exactly how good stuff gets written. Even if the manuscript itself can't be saved, the practice is equity. I have piles and piles of awful writing in a closet allocated specifically for that purpose and on numerous thumb drives (and here) dating all the way back to childhood that ensured that some of what I write now is readable. Every creative process — hell, pretty much every process — requires this. Why on Earth would anyone discourage that?

"Why does giving yourself permission to write a lot of crap so often seem to segue into the insistence that other people read it? Nothing about NaNoWriMo suggests that it’s likely to produce more novels I’d want to read."

Ah, she's apparently inundated with manuscripts. Everybody can stop writing now.

"NaNoWriMo is an event geared entirely toward writers, which means it’s largely unnecessary. ... Writers are, in fact, hellishly persistent; they will go on writing despite overwhelming evidence of public indifference and (in many cases) of their own lack of ability or anything especially interesting to say."

I'm as self-motivated hellishly persistent as any writer, but those 50,000 words I wrote in November 2012 would not have existed had I not jumped into the NaNoWriMo fray, where I got to meet fellow writers, received feedback and was motivated to try something different. Isolation fosters composing, but it isn't a virtue in and of itself. Indeed, some feedback during the process can help steer a story into readability before it has a chance to careen off the rails.

"Why not direct more attention, more pep talks, more nonprofit booster groups, more benefit galas and more huzzahs to readers? Why not celebrate them more heartily?"

Interesting logic that writers are supposedly narcissistic for seeking motivation but readers benefit from it. I have no problem with reading groups (which exist in droves), but let's be consistent here. Both writers and readers can function with a support group and both without. Everyone's different, and sometimes people are different within themselves. Why slam on people for doing what they want?

"After all, there’s not much glory in finally writing that novel if it turns out there’s no one left to read it."

Any good art is done with the intention of expression. Anything that comes after that is gravy. 

I've been writing long enough to have confidence in my processes — and to know which advice to heed and which to ignore. But I worry that someone else — a first-timer, perhaps — will read these anti-NaNoWriMo screeds and be discouraged from even trying. They'll think that writing is something they have to get perfect every time, and that interacting with peers is narcissism. They'll believe that they'll get lost in the fray and readers don't even want to have time for them. They'll take the words of an overworked literary critic at face value and snuff out their fire before they have a chance to strike the match.

Those are all the wrong reasons to quit.

I'd rather endure a million bad novels than kill one good one. Not everything can sell, but creativity is an infinite resource. If you have that drive, in any endeavor, try it! Even if no glory ever comes of it, you've added some color to the world — something to enjoy, dissect, talk about. Even if you or no one else ever sees it again, it's served a purpose. 

Just do it.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

When feet and arms don't cost an arm and leg

Two years ago, when I was living in Baton Rouge, one of the feet on my laptop broke off. When I took it to the Apple Store, they told me the only way to fix it would be to replace the entire bottom panel. They were adamant that the feet weren't a standalone item. That prompted me to make this graphic:

Not long after, a second nub broke off. Being uninterested in dropping $87 for the privilege of fixing it (and having since acquired a ventilation support stand), I left it half-footed for the next two years. 

Fast-forward to last month. I brought my laptop to the Reno Apple Store to get a long-overdue new battery. The Genius Bar guy asked me if I wanted two new rubber feet while I was at it. He could just pop them on after putting in the battery, though they'd cost $10 extra. 

How I managed to say yes with my jaw dropped, I don't recall.

I don't know if enough people complained to Apple, or if the previous technician didn't know his stuff and/or assumed I didn't know mine, but I was glad that something I considered a lost cause had worked in my favor.

I was reminded of this yesterday as I set out to replace my rear windshield wiper. It's a custom item on my car that, for years, you had to buy as a complete piece from the dealership for $78. I got around this too-frequent expense by buying a wiper refill, cutting it to its nonstandard size and slipping it into the supposedly unrefillable arm. Apparently enough people did the same, so now you can buy the perfectly sized rubber refill from the dealership for $11 (and probably much cheaper elsewhere). I fixed it in minutes.

Both of these minor annoyances were once major expenses, and now they aren't. I like to think that these companies reached the limit of what customers would tolerate, and acted accordingly. Or that in being thrifty, I avoided a grift until it was a grift no longer.

Either way, it's the small victories that often get me through the day.

Dear mom who drives badly

Hi, I'm Ian. You cut me off twice within seconds in traffic yesterday — first when you sped up behind me on the on-ramp, giving me little space to merge where the second lane ended, and again when you jarred left and flew past me, preventing me from merging left (and nearly forcing me to make an unwanted exit).

When I turned to glower at you as you passed by, I noticed that not once did you swivel your head, in my or any other direction. That didn't surprise me, as many people who cause problems for others on the road tend not to be aware of their environment, like those baffling people who don't look toward oncoming traffic when making turns or walking across the street. What's up with that? I'm asking the wrong person, aren't I?

Anyway, as you screamed by me in your red minivan, I noticed that you had stickers representing your many children on the back. I'll bet you're a loving and devoted mother. You raise your children right, aim to keep them happy and healthy and would no doubt do anything to protect them from harm. You probably pack the latest in car-seat technology in that minivan of yours to ensure that end as far as transportation is concerned.

But apparently, no one else's children matter to you. Yes, I'm a grown man, but my own loving mother texted me throughout the day to send pictures and make sure I was doing all right. Because I'm her kid. 

I have no children of my own, but I try to treat everyone on the road fairly, not just out of common courtesy and decency, but because everyone matters to somebody. It's not just about "me and mine" on the road; it's about all of us being safe and reasonable. I get that. It's time you did as well.

If that means you have to think of me as a child, well, so be it. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Revised Saints prediction, part IV


(Last prediction: 6-10)

When the Saints were up 23-10 over the Lions in the fourth quarter, I was ready to adjust this to 9-7. I figured the Saints would win every home game and perhaps that one road game against the Lions. But after that gut-wrenching meltdown, I'm pretty sure they blew the best opportunity they'll have all year to take a road win. Seriously, they had zero excuses to lose that game. A lot had to go wrong, and it did. (To say nothing of how well-rested they were. That makes it that much worse.)

So now, I have no confidence they'll win any road games this year. And given what a loss like this does to a team's psyche, I expect it to seep into at least a few home stands as well.

The Saints are showing signs of life, but their inability to close only seems to be getting worse.

What a bummer time to be a Saints fan.