NaNoWriMo Pep Talk

It’s November, which means you’ve said a temporary farewell to your parents and friends, spouse and children, and you’ve locked yourself away in the stair cupboard with a electric lantern and your favorite writing utensils. Twice a day there’s a delivery of caffeine, cigarettes, and SunChips, and you exchange them for a Folgers can filled with your waste. A digital clock flashes its red face, mocking you, ticking down the seconds in the month, making your upper lip sweat and tremble. You will not see the light of day until 50k words make it onto paper, and nothing is going to stop you, not even God.

Or something very close to that, anyway.

It’s day 5 of NaNoWriMo, which, according to Google’s my calculations, means that you should be cruising right along to your 8 thousandth word, give or take a few hundred. (Yes, to strike that imposing target of 50k words in 30 days, all you need to do is to write a much more encouragingly diminutive number of 1,667 a day.) Congratulations! That’s a lot of words; it’s already technically a novelette, actually. Look at you, writing novelettes! I bet that person who thinks you’re weird for participating in these shenanigans didn’t write anything this week; they just ate sensibly and had social contact, like a big dweeb.

If you haven’t written 8 thousand words yet, that’s okay! Don’t start freaking out. It’s a long game, pal, and we’re just getting started. You can make up all the words that you missed in the next 25 days without too much additional pain, especially if you dole them out over the remainder of the month.

Suppose you only have 2 thousand words so far, that only means you have to knuckle down and write 1,920 words a day for the next 25 days. That doesn’t sound so bad, does it? 300 measly words is barely even an extra helping on your plate. It’s, like, a few more tater tots. You can eat a few more tater tots, can’t you? Of course you can, you’re hungry! You’re a ravenous word wolf!

The important thing to remember is that NaNoWriMo isn’t about brainstorming, or outlining, or revising, or perfecting, or–frankly–even thinking. It’s about writing. It’s fingers on the keys, pen on the paper, and words on the page, whether those words are brilliant or they’re absolute drivel (and they’re probably going to lean toward the latter).

Your plot hasn’t an ounce of logic to it and your characters are paper thin? Who cares! How many words do ya got? Heck, when in doubt, write your grievances down. “Sentient mops and brooms doesn’t make any sense at all, but I like the bit about the evil janitor.” That’s 20 more words toward your daily total, so well done.

Can’t think of an idea at all? Start there! Type out a journal entry about how you’ve no inspiration, and transition into whatever seeps out of that grousing. Hey, maybe your protagonist is the one who’s complaining? Yeah, they’re an author participating in NaNoWriMo, suffering from a serious case of writer’s block, and someone has hacked into their computer and is taunting them, threatening to kill them if they don’t complete their word counts. Talk about Write Or Die, amiright?

Also, check out Write Or Die.

Remember, NaNoWriMo is meant to show you that writing a novel is not only possible, it’s attainable, while conditioning you for the discipline required to be a professional writer; that is to say, writing every day, whether it stinks or it wafts like nonna’s apple pie.

More importantly, though, it’s supposed to be fun, so get back to your novel and go buck wild.  Add some sexy werewolves. Everyone loves a good, sexy werewolf.

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Dealing With Rejection

This post isn’t for “meninists” or “incels” or whatever is the current term for dudes who blame the world for their lack of mack tact. I just wanted to get that out of the way before we even get started, because the wisdom I’m about to put forth is only applicable to people with some sense and a general comprehension of morality. Also, an enviable skill-set, and a compelling life plan, which are also qualities that these categories of fella seem to lack. What we’re talking about, here, is rejection of one’s creative endeavors, not one’s poor hygiene and paltry pickup lines. I do not know how to be more clear.

It warrants early saying that rejection of one’s work is not rejection of one’s self, which is the sentiment that takes the most getting used to. There are dozens of reasons that an editor or publication as a whole might reject a piece, ranging from “we already published something similar recently” to something as ambiguous as “our sales and/or mission statement suggests that these kinds of stories aren’t as viable, for us.” All rejection really means is that the publication you submitted to couldn’t accept that particular piece at that time, not that it was an unacceptable piece.  Unless you’re one of these incel guys, in which case you are an unacceptable piece of…

I belabor the point. Let’s move on.

So, what is rejection to you, then? Market research. I know; we’re delving into some sexy stuff, now. Rejection is a depth charge that illuminates your radar, like a game of Battleship. What didn’t hit is as important as what does hit, because it refocuses your aim on specific parts of the ocean. Your short story about a haunted pizzeria didn’t get accepted to Strange Stories? Well, don’t submit your new story about a Dairy Queen run by a family of werewolves, but maybe Unusual Tales might appreciate it. You’re calling out letters and numbers, and marking everything with little white and red pegs.

That’s why I’d like to preach to you, for a moment, the importance of keeping an Excel spreadsheet. When you’re nipple deep in submissions, it’s helpful to have an organized document of all the publications you’ve submitted, when you submitted them, what (if any) feedback you received from the rejection, and when it arrived. Leave some room for your comments, too, because you’re not going to remember all this in a year, when you’ve submitted Spectral Pepperoni to 75 different magazines. You can be low-tech and use an alternate program like Notepad, or… [shudder] an actual notepad, but this is the sort of thing Excel was created for, so might as well get with the times.

Here you see the key: Tenacity. (Damn, I rhymed. Maybe I should take up poetry.) Your work is probably not going to be accepted by the first publication that you submit to, and it may not be accepted by the hundredth. That’s just how the pie crust flakes. If you give up after the fifth, tenth, or fifteenth rejection, you’re cutting yourself off from limitless possibilities for acceptance. You have no idea how many different people and places there are to submit in the world. I’d say it’s like fish in the ocean, but that would give these incel twerps and easily relatable simile.

What’s more than the amount of people to submit to? The number of readers who are waiting for your work. There are billions of them, and those are the folks who you’re really trying to reach. Everything else is just obstacle, but it’s obstacle that you can learn to traverse and overcome. You have to fall on your face a few times first, though.

Don’t make them wait any longer than they have to. Stick that rejection letter to your wall, like a certificate of your attempts, add the relevant information to your spreadsheet, and submit your work somewhere else.

They can’t stop you if you don’t let them.

Sleep, A How-To

If you’re like me, you have two problems when it comes to bedtime: You can’t fall asleep at all, even if you haven’t slept in weeks and the walls of reality waterfall around you like an impressionist painting, and/or when you finally do fall asleep, it’s the deepest, longest Odinsleep there ever was, and you’re buried alive in your family plot. Either scenario can be very distressing, particularly if it’s winter and the soil above your grave is frozen and very hard to disturb. Luckily, there are a few ways that one can manage their neurodivergent zombification, which, of course, is the scientific term for it.

Normally, when I can’t fall asleep, it’s because my brain won’t shut its damn fool mouth and allow me but a moment of solace. Such delightful interruptions to my night-night-shush-time include, “Everything is going wrong,” and, “Everyone you know hates you.” What’s more, who can forget that age-old classic, “Remember that thing you did 10yrs ago that has absolutely no bearing on your life now, but humiliated you back then? Well, guess what! It still does. I just thought you should know, hehe.” It’s on nights like these that I wish lobotomy was still a common medical practice, because having my prefrontal cortex scraped like a dirty dish into the garbage disposal at least sounds peaceful.

What you need is a little magician’s misdirection. Reading a book in bed might work, and has been the go-to for people preparing themselves for Morpheus’ embrace for centuries. Listening to audiobooks or podcasts is a modern innovation, and can be helpful if the narrator has a calming quality to their voice. I find that I enjoy reading and learning too much for those to be effective, so I stick with things that don’t quite enrapture me.

Television shows you’ve already seen, guided meditations and countdowns, soft, repetitive music, ambient sounds, and yes, even ASMR videos can distract your mind just enough to relieve anxious thoughts, but not so much that you can’t fall asleep for worry of missing something. If for some reason that strategy isn’t working, and you have the means, smoke a big ol’ bowl of that dank slumber shrub. That’ll tuck you in early.

The more challenging problem lies with rising from the dead once you’ve slipped into a depression induced coma. I simply will not get out of bed unless I absolutely have to. I’ll always wake up for work, but only at the very last opportunity, after pressing snooze every 5 minutes since the sun came up, but on my days off I will sleep for 14 hours and not give a single solitary fuck about it. Here’s where the routine we’ve spoken about becomes helpful in ways other than encouraging creativity. If you won’t wake up until you have to, the answer is to create reasons for why you have to wake up.

Preferably, these are plans that you simply cannot cancel, or at least plans that you don’t feel comfortable canceling. When I was broke(r), I wouldn’t prepare meals for myself at the beginning of the week, because I knew that would force me to wake up 2hrs before work so that I could throw boiled potatoes into Tupperware with shredded chicken, or whatever I had the energy to cook that afternoon. If I didn’t do that, I would starve all day long, and the promise of impending misery can be an excellent motivator!

It doesn’t have to be quite so extreme; you can make plans with friends or family (who you know will give you a hard time for being a flake), or buy tickets to a show or event (money spent is always more persuasive than something free), or make a doctor’s appointment, especially if there are consequences for late rescheduling. Maybe you have a pet who needs to be walked or watered, or a book due to be returned to the library, or clean underwear to pickup at the nearby laundromat. All of this can feel impossible to accomplish when you’ve been squeezed dry of hope, but every little bit of routine can help, even if all it accomplishes at first is getting you up at 2:30 instead of 3pm.

While we’re on the subject of routine; do try to rest your head on a pillow at a regular hour every evening. The Sandman isn’t going to keep returning to your bedroom to check if you’re done scrolling through Facebook yet, and ready to finally enter unto his realm. He has important people’s eyes to rub his magic dirt into, and those people need their beauty rest, too.

Stop Pirating Books

Ahoy! Let us parley, matey!

Pirating media has been a fact of life for almost as long as I’ve been released from the womb’s incarceration. I’m old enough to remember Limewire, and Kazaa, and yes, even Napster (prior to it being viciously savaged by James Hetfield). When I was a teenager, before Spotify saved all of our lives, I did my fair share of music downloading. Even now, I’m guilty of watching a movie without paying from time to time. What I’ve never done, however, is pirate a book, because pirating books is pure, unbridled evil. It sends you straight to Hell, just like Carl in Ghost. Do not pass God, do not collect 200 dollars.

Before I get any huffy comments from anyone, I’m not talking about educational resources. There’s a little moral grey area there. If some bespectacled sadist in a sweater vest assigns you a 150pg textbook that you can only purchase in the campus giftshop for the small price of a real estate mortgage, you have my permission to do what you gotta do in order to get that fancy certificate. Make me and your mother proud, honey.

What I’m talking about is recreational reading.  You really wanna find out what happens in the next book of your favorite series, but it’s only available for the time being in hard cover, which is currently priced at an unaccommodating 17 dollars. Woe is you, right? Better pop on over to your favorite torrent aggregator and find yourself a better steal, er, I mean deal. Wrong. You’re personally, brutally murdering the author, and no one can hear them scream.

I know this isn’t something any of us like to hear, but it doesn’t make it any less true: If you can’t afford something that is not a necessity, you can just… not get it. I think everyone on Earth is entitled to shelter and nutritious food and clean water, but if you can’t afford the new Stephenie Meyer book for whatever reason…. Just… Don’t read it right now. Maybe you’ll be able to afford it later; it’s not going to vanish from existence.

With that said, there’s a misconception that books are overpriced, so it’s okay to pirate them. I’m here to tell you that, actually, books aren’t that expensive, compared to other forms of media. At least, not when you consider that you’re paying for its entertainment value, not just a physical piece of merchandise, like a tricorne hat, or a cutlass.

If you bought each Lord of the Rings book for approximately 10 dollars, even including The Hobbit, you’d be shelling out around 40 dollars (27 dollars if you buy the paperback box set, but I digress). That’s arguably a lot of money–I certainly would experience a yike response–but you’re paying for approximately 31 hours of entertainment, if you read at the average 300 words per minute. At most, with the director’s cut, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies only add up to 17hrsYou pay a combined 120 dollars for the Blu-ray box sets of those moviesnot to mention the 90 dollars (approx. 15 per) that you paid for tickets when you saw all 6 in theaters, high off your ass and dressed as Aragorn.

This is fundamentally true across the board for movies vs. books, but the principle difference is that movies are pre-funded, their employees are already paid, and very rarely do they not receive a calculated return on their profit. When you pirate a book, however, you’re telling the author, directly to their blubbering faces, to go fuck themselves, because they’re only paid a measly advance (only a few thousand dollars) and subsequent 10% royalties on each book sold.

Remember those 15 dollar movie tickets? The studio receives more than half of those total proceeds, not including your buttered popcorn mixed with tropical skittles. Remember the 10 dollar book you didn’t want to buy? The author only would’ve gotten about a dollar from that. That’s one person losing the meager livelihood they’re afforded, because you couldn’t be bothered to go to a Barnes & Nobles. Not to mention that this actually hurts you and the rest of the fanbase by ensuring that future content cannot be created for that property, like box sets and extras. That’s all your fault. Yes, you!

The film and book industries have very different business models, and more can be said about how pirating is (or, more likely, is not) effecting the barrage of bad movies done unto us every month, but that’s a subject for a post in and of itself. What I will do right now, in summary, is ask you to please stop frolicking care-free through the harbors of Pirate Bay, curb-stomping the careers of hard-working authors just because your coin purse is a little light on gold doubloons that day.

It’s bad form, as Hook would say.

 

Show Up And Push

If you’re looking for the daily routines of famous writers, you’ll find over a million results on your favorite search engine. Everything from when Toni Morrison prefers to take a nap, to how many laps in the pool Haruki Murakami swims in the afternoon. Hemingway woke up to write at dawn, and Fitzgerald (hopefully) before midday. E.B. White never listened to music while he was working, but Stephen King listens to hard Rock ‘N’ Roll. How many lines of cocaine did Hunter S. Thompson do every day? At least ten, according to his biography. These details are certainly interesting, but they’re not very important. What is important, though, is having a routine of your own.

A routine can be one of the most helpful tools of your trade (whatever it may be). They’re sometimes difficult to institute, especially for people with mental illness, but they also offer great rewards. It’s like a car with a stalled engine; it may not be easy to push two tons of junk down the road–in fact, you may need some help–but once you get the sucker going it all but coasts on its own. Your job, as easy as it sounds, is just to just show up and start pushing.

It doesn’t really matter what your routine is, either. Wake up at dawn, or wake up at dusk. Work standing up, or work lying down. Treat yourself to a spaghetti dinner, or snack on the survival rations you found cowering in the husk of a military helicopter downed in a apocalyptic hellscape, hoping that the sounds of hooved footfalls fade toward the smoldering horizon. As long as you know where to be, and what you should be doing when you’re there, your productivity will increase, if only incrementally.

Suppose you have intentions to write the next blockbusting flick about Owen Wilson piloting a starfighter in the galactic war against High Emperor Vince Vaughn, and you’ve chosen 12pm to 3pm as the time slot to do it in. Well, be there on time, and stay until your time is up. Every day. Even if you only write one disappointing word, because that’s one word more than you had. Heck, even if you don’t write a single word while you’re there. The words will come when they know where to find you.

Which brings us to the most important part:

Don’t be afraid to fall short of your routine(s). We talked a few weeks ago in one of my first posts, Getting Motivated, about how sometimes excuses only serve as hair-brained justifications for us to sabotage ourselves. If you don’t believe me, check with anyone who’s ever made a New Year’s resolution. If you don’t give yourself some room for failure, you’re setting yourself up to not succeed at all.

For example, suppose you have a blog, not unlike this one, where you post every Wednesday, but you end up skipping a Wednesday, because… reasons. It’s very easy for you to then say, “Well, that’s that. I messed up, so I might as well just quit, now.” But that’s illogical; missing one day isn’t carte blanche to miss a hundred, or a thousand days. Instead, make amends tomorrow.

Stick to that routine, even when it falters. Show up and push as hard as you can, even if you don’t have any strength left in your arms and it doesn’t feel like it’s going to be enough. If the jalopy rolls backward onto you (and it will), dig your heels into the street and push even harder. If you keep at it, and you do the work, sooner or later you’ll find it rolling right along toward your destination.

You just have to take the time to build your momentum.

What’s Your Poison

Alcohol is bad for your brain.

If you’re under 25 years of age, this may not ring true to you. Not yet, anyway. The fleshy mecha that you walk around in is still spry and virile. You’re basically living inside of a big ol’ Brita filter that turns bad substances into pleasurable memories overnight. Usually, the worst thing that happens is that you don’t eat nearly as many buffalo wings as maybe would have been responsible, and you end up regurgitating a bucket of bulldog margaritas into the backseat of your Uber carpool. Hopefully there aren’t any videos floating around, but otherwise… It happens. You’re young, fun, and full of rum.

When you’re pushing 30, though, like me (and I imagine even moreso when you shove on by and full-on sprint toward death), it doesn’t quite add up to as much of a funny story anymore. Let’s be honest, no one wants to hang around that person who pukes in their cab every Friday. I just bought these kicks, Darlene! They’re from the Payless ShoeSource, sure, but still. They’re new.

See, just about midway through your third decade, that wrinkle-free skin suit that you’ve been wearing to and from Karaoke night and that creepy Ladies Drink For Free mixer, starts breaking down. Your warranty ran out, too. You were like some party-hungry Dalek out to exterminate all the bad times in the universe, but now an evening of imbibing spirits means a week of exorcising them.

This is doubly true for people who have depression.

I’m going to put on my Brain Scientist hat for this next bit, which really means my Google hat, so standby. Alcohol is both an intoxicant and a depressant, which affects the brain in complex ways. Even one little sip of crisp, refreshing Zima starts building up a surge of euphoria (“Surge of Euphoria” is my band name) and a reduction of your agitation and fear, which is a big mood and why people go absolutely banana daiquiris for the stuff.

When someone drinks to excess habitually, the brain compensates for the alcohol’s calming effects by releasing excitatory neurotransmitters, spiking your anxiety both during and in the days after you got your drink on, which is a microscopic mood for someone who already has that bummer of a condition.

Once we’re sailing on the choppy waters of High Anxiety, the island of Depressive Episode is only a few leagues away, and  nobody wants to get marooned on that floating turd. There’s no coconut radios or chicks in clam-shell bikinis or nothin’. It’s just that one scene in Cast Away where Tom Hanks tries to hang himself with rope he made out of tree bark, played over and over again.

A round of free shots can be difficult to pass on, though, if your deadbeat brain doesn’t ever produce even a drop of its own dopamine and serotonin. You find yourself saying, “Wait, so, if I drink this delicious bread water it’ll make me happy for a whole hour, and all I have to do is be miserable for a week or three afterwards!? Pfft, I’m already miserable!” It sounds almost worth it. Besides, you start telling yourself, if I do feel unwell afterwards, all I have to do is drink even more. [Taps forehead] If I never stop drinking, I’ll never feel sick. Loop hole, baby.

Except that obviously isn’t true, and you start disassociating while you nurse your seventeenth whiskey. Suddenly you’re the person who cries at parties, and if you agree that people don’t wanna chill with the puker, they most definitely don’t wanna hang around the crier. You’re bringing us all down, bruh. Try the dip.

The solution, unfortunately, is to abstain from the seductions of the sauce, like some kinda straight-edge nerd. I’m not going to lie to you and say that it doesn’t royally suck to show up to a function and resign yourself to being the Designated Pedestrian, but it’s better than talking to a bloodstained volleyball for a month, so there’s that.

And, anyway, it’s not like marijuana doesn’t still exist.

 

Turtles Two Thumbs Up

I’ve read every John Green book that there is over the years, and they’re repetitive in the same way that any author who doesn’t stray from their comfort genre tend to be. Stephen King is one of the most prolific authors of all time, but he writes mainly horror, and you could make a fairly damning flow chart of characteristics (more damning, I think, than John Green, for all the guff the internet gives him). In a lot of ways, his newest book, Turtles All The Way Down, is a quintessential John Green book, albeit missing the obligatory road trip. In other ways, though, it’s something more refined.

Turtles begins with the line, “At the time I first realized I might be fictional…” spoken by the 16yo protagonist, Aza Holmes. Aza suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and often loses her grasp on her sense of self when she’s caught in her own thought spirals. She spends most of the novel struggling with these kinds of intrusive thoughts, which she calls “invasives”, and fixating on a specific bacteria, Clostridium difficile, which she knows–at least rationally–that she could not have possibly contracted.  There’s a particularly good bit toward the middle of the book where Green illustrates this battle between Aza’s rational mind and her intrusive thoughts where he constructs it as one long, unbroken paragraph, devoid of punctuation beyond identifying italics.

The novel’s main plot appears to set up a straightforward teen detective story; a local billionaire has disappeared, and the authorities have offered a large reward for information on his whereabouts. Davis, the son of the lost billionaire, is also an old friend, and Aza contacts him for more information in her investigation. Quickly, though, the homages paid to fictional gumshoes (Sherlock Holmes, by way of her name, and Nancy Drew, by way of her car) become less about an external mystery and more about an internal one. Davis wonders whether it’s his circumstances that makes him who he is, and Aza wonders the same of her thoughts (not to mention the microbes living in her stomach). From there on, the novel veers itself into a more typical, but not unenjoyable, John Green tale of  tragic, young romance, such as we’ve seen in his prior work.

Turtles has a thin plot; thinner, even, than what is probably his most simplistic book, Looking For Alaska, and only topping it by a mere 60pgs. That isn’t necessarily a negative, however. Where it may be absent of the archetypal villain, try-fail cycles, and jaw-dropping plot twists (there are a couple of small ones), it’s filled with introspection and characterization. It’s also, you get the sense (if you don’t know it for a fact) a deeply personal book for Green, who also suffers from OCD, and experienced a relapse of symptoms after the success of his last novel, The Fault In Our Stars. Even the evasion from the more formal mystery is Green intending to subvert the common media trope of a disability or illness becoming a superpower. The beauty of the book is in the protagonist’s (and her author’s) frank openness and vulnerability on the subject matter.

Green is often criticized for his aphoristic ruminations, Hughes-like teenager banter, and tendency toward the cliche. Still, there’s something to be said for a novel opening with the protagonist questioning her own fictitiousness; a protagonist who suffers from the  very same mental illness that the author–whom she imagines might (even metaphorically) exist and control her every thought and action–suffers from. A protagonist who wonders how to define herself, as Green might consider how his body of work, and his own character, might be defined in the spotlight of his newfound success. In this way, Turtles All The Way Down feels like a John Green book reduced to a richness.

It seems to me that sometimes it’s forgivable that a cliche is unoriginal, if it’s meaningful.