Room for Error

It's okay. The sloths still love you.
It’s okay. The sloths still love you.

I don’t think I’m going to finish NaNoWriMo this year. That probably doesn’t seem like a big deal. Thousands of writers who go into the fray don’t come out on the other side of November with the desired 50,000 words.

Do you see the problem with how I worded that? I made it sound like a battle. Like the ones who don’t reach 50k died, or failed in some way, like it’s the end of the world to not finish NaNoWriMo. I look forward to NaNo every year and I genuinely enjoy it, but whenever there’s a year that looks like I might not make it I start beating myself up horribly. I feel like a huge failure.

But why do I do that, when I wouldn’t view anyone else who didn’t finish like that? If someone doesn’t finish NaNo I just think, “That sucks, but it’s awesome that you tried at all!” and I really believe that. I know so many people who look at NaNo or at wanting to write a novel and think, “Hm, that might be cool,” and then never do it. Sitting down and making a NaNo account or deciding to do it unofficially and even writing a few thousand words is pretty awesome. Thousands of people take that leap every year for the first or second or fifth or tenth time and if they’re at all like me they learn something new about themselves as people and writers every time. Maybe they learn that NaNo isn’t for them, or they figure out that they approached it in a way that didn’t work for them and decide to try again, or they figure out a way to make their win something better for themselves. Isn’t that kind of fantastic and, in a lot of ways, more important than meeting the 50k goal?

So, why do I beat myself up so much? It’s not like I have a perfect record. I just act like I do This is my seventh year. I lost my second year, and not since. I beat myself up every year thinking that it won’t be like my second year. I’ll win this year. Every year, I’ve made it happen. But some of those novels ended up abandoned for good and the win didn’t feel quite as nice.

I talked to a friend about this when it first hit me on November 24th that I had six days and over 26,000 words to write, as well as working on finishing out what has been an incredibly difficult semester. I told her that I don’t think I can finish NaNo this year and that it scares me.

She told me that I should allow myself room for error, and she’s right. I’m still going to go into NaNo probably every year with the goal to win, but I can’t start hating myself because it’s not going how I want it to. Some Novembers I might just have to write at a different pace. Maybe there will be a November when I’ll write 100,000 words. Maybe most I’ll only get to 30k. But it won’t be the end of the world.

I think this is it. I’m declaring this November a loss for me, and I’m going to be okay with it. I’m going to keep working on this novel and whatever pace works for me, and I’m going to turn my attention to my short stories for the Dell Awards. On the bright side, as of this post I have written 4730 words on the blog. That counts for something, right?

To the rest of NaNoLand, I wish you all the luck. Just remember that it’s okay to give yourself some room for error.

A Writer’s Thanksgiving

It's okay. The sloths still love you.

I’m thankful for Pilot G2 pens and notebooks of all kinds.

I’m thankful for the advent of the word processor that led to my MacBook and Scrivener. I’ve heard enough stories from my mother of what it was like to type papers up when she was in college. I can’t imagine doing a novel that way.

I’m thankful to live in a golden age of YA.

I’m thankful for Mrs. Litton and the 4th grade school assignment that made me realize I wanted to be a writer.

I’m thankful for the crappy old laptop my dad gave me when I was around 8-10 that couldn’t do much more than run Word, and that was the point of it.

I’m thankful for Mrs. Wetherald, the high school teacher that encouraged my writing from the time I had her in freshman English.

I’m thankful for all the teachers that believed in my writing.

I’m thankful for Alpha, which advanced my writing more in two weeks than all of high school managed to do.

I’m thankful for Alphans, because we always support each other even years later.

I’m thankful for Twitter, which lets me talk to some of my favorite writers.

I’m thankful for parents that read to me since birth and never censored me or my reading.

I’m thankful for parents who happily let me major in creative writing even though many would think it useless, because they know it’s what makes me happy.

I’m thankful for all of the amazing people in my life that believe in me.

And I’m thankful for you, readers.

Happy Thanksgiving.

NaNoWriMo and Procrastination

Today’s November 19th. To most of you, that probably doesn’t mean much. But to those out there participating in the annual insanity that is National Novel Writing Month, today is when we’re down to eleven days. Wherever we are in our word counts, we have eleven days to reach that magical 50,000 mark.

To those who don’t know what NaNoWriMo is, here’s a quick intro. During the month of November every year, tens of thousands of writers embark on a quest to write 50,000 words in 30 days. That’s roughly 1667 words a day. There are people who have no trouble with it and actually write upwards of 100,000 words during November, and those people are dead to me. I think I’m more on the median of people who survive November. This is my seventh year – yep, I’ve been doing this every year since I was 15 – and I intend for it to be my sixth win. I have to claw my way to the finish line every year, but I make it. Except for, you know, that one year, which we won’t talk about.

I actually had a strong start to this year’s NaNoWriMo. I hit 10k before the end of the first weekend. Then, somewhere around 16k, I started stalling out. I’ve struggled to get to the 20k mark, and as of posting this, have barely cracked it. (You can see my progress throughout November in the sidebar.) In the first week, the NaNo site told me I was on track to finish on November 17th. Now it predicts a grim December 13th. So what happened?

To be honest, I’m not sure yet, but I’m going to bet a big part of it is my inability to keep the Procrastination Monster at bay. I open up Scrivener, and then I open up SelfControl and think, “I should set this for 30 minutes. I could bang out at least 1500 words in that time, and, hey, that’s almost all of my words for the day.”

But before I click start, I inevitably slide my cursor over to Firefox and wind up on Tumblr. My ‘About’ page notes that I would get a lot more writing done if I wasn’t on Tumblr so much, and that’s true. I start scrolling through my dashboard and then think, “Okay, Sarah, go write.” But then my dash tells me I have 30 new posts to look at. That’s not that many! I should go check them out. Ahahaha, wow, Homestuck fandom, you so crazy. What is that guy doing? How do cats even exist they are just so cute [insert keyboard mashing here].

Before I know it, I’ve wasted two hours on Tumblr. You’d think I’d kick my own ass and go write, but instead I think, “The new day has probably started on FuneralQuest. It doesn’t take me that long to play my turns.” That then turns into, “Oh, better check my webcomics.” Then, “I wonder what’s going on on Facebook…” and “Oh, I should play my Triple Town turns!” At this point, there’s probably 100+ new posts on Tumblr, and where do you think I end up? Throughout this, I probably have my full series re-watch of West Wing going in the corner. (I’m watching episode 13 of season 7 while I write this post. Shit’s getting real, yo!)

Unfortunately, this post doesn’t have a grand lesson or any advice to other writers struggling with procrastination. I’m still trying to figure those things out myself. I know I have to figure it out. I want to be a writer. I know I have to kick my own ass and start writing every day. It’s turning out that’s a lot easier said than done for me, and it’s making this NaNoWriMo win a tricky one.

Do you have any advice? How do you make yourself stop procrastinating? Is it easy for you to write every day, or do you struggle? How’s NaNoWriMo going, if you’re doing it? If you’re not, does it interest you?

To make up for a post that is more rant than advice, later this week I’ll be posting about apps and programs for writers that I’ve found to be incredibly useful. Right now, I’m going to try to write. See you tomorrow for Tuesday Reads.

The Trials and Tribulations of Owning a Kindle

You might have noticed that part of Tuesday Reads is telling you whether I read the book in a physical copy or on a Kindle (there are other options, but those are the two I use). That might seem silly and needless, but I do have a reason for it.

I own a second-generation Kindle. I’ve had it for years. It’s been replaced twice, covered in stickers, and it’s not quite as shiny white as it once was. It currently contains 216 books. Its name is Hermione Danger. It often spends most of the school year in a drawer while I’m consumed by novels for school (I almost always buy those in a physical copy, because it’s easier for me to stay on track with my teacher and classmates), but months will go by where it barely leaves my side.

But there are days when I hate taking it out in public. Almost every time I read it before class or in the student center or outside, someone asks me, “Is that a Kindle?” I’m always hopeful at first, and I get excited. I love my Kindle. I love to talk about my Kindle. So I say yes, and I show them how easy it is to use, how many books it has, how I can send Word documents and PDFs to it (great for critiquing stories), and I talk about how great Kindle support has been over the years. Every once in a blue moon, the conversation will end with something like, “Maybe I should look into getting one.”

More often than not, it ends in, “Oh, that’s cool, but I could never get one. I love books too much.”

Excuse me?

Is it wrong of me to take away from that the implication that I don’t love books? That somehow the fact that I own a Kindle means that books don’t matter to me? I know that the other person in that conversation hasn’t seen my bookcases, where books are stacked on books in an attempt to squeeze them all in. They don’t know that I can’t go into a bookstore without spending all of my money on new books, or that donating 500 books in high school barely dented my library.

But why should that matter? They haven’t seen my personal library, but why should they have had to? Why does Kindle owner equal book hater in so many minds?

There are stories where the medium matters. I couldn’t read graphic novels on my black and white second-gen Kindle. If the picture quality was comparable to that of a printed graphic novel and the interface easy to navigate, I’d have no problem reading them digitally. There are stories where interaction with the book itself is an important part of experiencing the story – for example, Theodora GossThe Thorn and the Blossom is uniquely bound accordion style. Open the book from one side, and you read the story of Evelyn. Flip it over and open it on the other side, and you read Brendan’s story. In the case of that book, I suggest you read it in the physical copy.

Most of the novels we read, though, ultimately don’t need to be read in a physical form. Yes, I agree that the feel of a book in your hands and being able to flip through the pages and doggy-ear and make notes and bend back the spine (which plenty of people would scream at me for, but I love) is a beautiful thing.

But shouldn’t the story matter more? If the story is the same from paperback to Kindle, doesn’t it matter more that we’re reading the story than if we’re reading it on paper or a screen?

I know that contradicts my idea of telling whether I’m reading a book in physical or digital form. That’s related to another peeve of mine in this whole ridiculous debate. People seem to think that if I have a Kindle, I don’t read physical books, or if you read physical books, then you wouldn’t ever have an e-reader. It’s true that there are people who only use e-readers and people who only read physical books, and that’s entirely their choice. I’m not here to insult them. What bothers me is that there are an awful lot of people who can’t seem to grasp the idea that someone might like both. That’s why I’m going to tell you what medium I’m reading a story on. It’s entirely possible to use and love multiple reading mediums, and I’d like to prove it.

What about you? Are you a Kindle owner who faces snide remarks from your fellow book lovers? Are you a book lover who just can’t abide by e-readers? Or, like me, do you stand somewhere in-between?

On Age and Writing


This sloth has experience.
This sloth has experience.

The Writers’ Center of Indiana recently held The 2012 Gathering of Writers – unofficial hashtag #GatheringofWriters2012 if you want to check it out – a one-day conference for writers both new and established. Cathy Day invited Ball State students to go with her, and I was among them. The keynote speech was given by Allison Joseph, and you can check out that hashtag for some great quotes. There were three sessions with three classes per session that you could choose between – one on fiction, one on poetry, and the last on non-fiction. Fiction is my concentration, so I chose to attend those classes. Melissa Fraterrigo presented on writing effective beginnings. Ben Winters talked about plot and structure. Sarah Layden discussed setting. Finally, the conference finished with Laura Baich talking about how writers should use social media.

When I started writing this post, I was going to give you a giant summary of the day. I was going to go session by session and tell you what was said. If there’s interesting in posts based on the notes I took in the classes I attended, I can certainly do that. But I don’t want to spend this post summarizing. I’d like to talk about something else. I want to talk about age and writing, and I want to call myself out on my own bullshit.

Ball State was not the only school represented at the conference. There were other students. Most of those attending, however, were much older. There were well-established writers who know more about writing than I might ever know. Others were just starting out. The majority of them had very little presence in the world of social media, but others were considerably better at it than I am.

I’m going to admit that I have a habit of comparing myself to writers older than me. I often decide that I’m probably behind in writing, but surely I’m ahead in social media. I was born in the internet age, after all. Shouldn’t that give me an edge? They have the advantage of being older than me and having had more time to write and build connections, but I have an almost instinctual understanding of the internet. Shouldn’t that mean something? Shouldn’t that make me better in some way?

At the conference yesterday, I had moments in the classes where I thought, “I already learned this. We discussed this in class. I figured that out through practice and reading.” Meanwhile, writers twice my age diligently took notes. I sat there feeling like I was better than them because they were so much older than me but just now learnings things I’d already figured out. Put me in a situation with writers younger than me, and I can’t help feeling a little snide towards them because I have more experience and they’re “just kids”.

Problem is, that’s bullshit.

It’s not about age. It’s about dedication. It’s also about talent, but Theodora Goss has a better post about that than I could write.

I’m 22. I think I’m a pretty good writer, and I’m okay at social media. A 40-year-old writer could have been writing since before I was born, but be baffled by the idea of running a blog. A 50-year-old writer could have been writing for two months but have thousands more Twitter followers than I could ever hope to gain. Plus, there’s always going to be amazingly talented writers who couldn’t care less about expanding their social media network. There are teenage writers that write 2000 words a day and are busy building a following.

None of this makes one writer better or more worthy than another. We’re all learning. We’re all trying, and we’re all doing it at our own pace. So what if I learned about writing beginnings before someone else did? Give them some time to practice and they might kick my ass at beginnings. I have no right to sit around feeling superior because I learned something first. Starting now, I have to change my attitude.

What about you? Do you find yourself discriminating against writers younger or older than you? Did I miss something, or is there more bullshit to be called out? Head to the comments and chime in.