Thursday, August 29, 2013

Once might NOT be enough (Nanowrimo, revisited)

I've posted about Nanowrimo before, but not everyone reads all of my posts.  For those who don't know - Nanowrimo stands for National Novel Writing Month... although it's international not national, and you don't really end up with a novel. Nanowrimo can be summed up in 4 words...   50k in 30 days  (hmm, is that 4 words or 5?).  The goal is to write 50,000 words of fiction in the time from November 1 through November 30.  There are a huge number of participants, there are very few rules, there is no competition and there are no real 'prizes' in the traditional sense.  Those who run the event are very up-front about the fact that it's not possible to write anything of that length, in that time period, that has any quality to it.  At best, you will end up with something that doesn't even rise to the level of a first draft.

I have been a huge fan of Nanowrimo, and have exerted a lot of time extolling its virtues, as well as energy in trying to encourage others to take part.

Recently, I mentioned Nanowrimo to two gentlemen who are experienced and well-known in the world of digital publishing.   They exchanged looks, noted that they are NOT fans of Nanowrimo, and mentioned their webpage Nanowrimo Nomo!  Now, I don't always agree with these gentlemen, but I have found it's typically worth giving some consideration to their opinions.  So I headed over to their page to see what they had to say.

Hmmm...  turns out they're not really opposed to Nano, rather they're opposed to the concept of doing it multiple times.  They believe that once is enough.  You see - they are assuming that people are taking part in Nano in order to eventually become published authors.  And while there are certainly some who begin writing as Nano participants and end up publishing ...  that is NOT the goal of all the participants. In fact, I daresay that is not the goal of MOST participants.  I'll even go one step further, and suggest that many participants have no intention of publishing - ever.  They're not interested in editing, being critiqued, sharing their writing with the world, going through the effort of either getting an agent, or going the 'indie' route (ie, publishing on their own).

So why do people who do not intend to publish their work, take part in Nano? Well, there are a lot of reasons.  Just as I golfed with no intention of going professional, just as I do ballroom dancing without competing, just as I bake cookies without plans to put out a cookbook, enter a bake-off, or 'sell my wares'..  I take part in Nanowrimo, for the fun of it.  For me, it's exciting to take part in an event that is worldwide.  I like the idea of sharing a goal with hundreds of thousands of people.  I like the opportunity to 'meet' some of those people online.  I like the adrenalin of a deadline that is difficult, but do-able.  And -  I've discovered that I like writing fiction.  As a lawyer I do write every day, and I have a chapter in a published book - "Educating Children After Divorce" (I know.. boring), and I have this blog (hopefully, not boring).  But that's all very different from writing fiction.

But let's get back to the naysayers.  They hold the position that when someone takes part in Nano, that person's ultimate goal is/should be to get their work published.  They feel that Nano encourages people to write like crazy for 30 days, and then do nothing further, until 11 months later when they, again, write like crazy for 30 days... and the naysayers don't like that.  Instead of doing nano year after year, the naysayers think that people should take this habit of writing daily, and continue writing daily throughout the rest of the year.  They then encourage people to take what they've written, and move on through the various phases of editing, as well as designing a cover, putting your book out there for sale, and promoting it.  

Gentlemen, you're missing the point of Nano.  If you go to the nano website, you'll see statements from the Nano people like "Let’s write laughably awful yet lengthy prose together".   You'll see that the Nano people point out there are a lot of different reasons to do Nano, including " the glow from making big, messy art, and watching others make big, messy art, lasts for a long, long time. The act of sustained creation does bizarre, wonderful things to you. It changes the way you read. And changes, a little bit, your sense of self."  They talk about 'art for art's sake', and they talk about 'doing something just for the hell of it'.  Frankly, I would think that those would be concepts that would appeal to you.  And, given those concepts, there's no reason why once should be enough.

As a side note, gentlemen, I think you're also missing the fact that even those who might some day be open to the thought of publication, might not be open to that thought, quite yet.  It might take someone several times of going through the Nano process, before they gain the confidence, the experience, the ability, to write something worthy of editing, and worthy of being published.  And finally, you're ignoring the fact that without ability, I don't care if someone does write everyday, I don't care how many words they write each day, and I don't care how long they do this...  practice does NOT make perfect, and quantity does not equal quality.  Ironically enough, that's related to what I like to think of as the Nanowrimo motto ...  'Our goal is quantity, not quality'.

So, while I enjoy reading what you have to say, and I enjoy watching your podcasts and video chats and HOAs, and I often think you hit the nail on the head... this time, gentlemen, I think you left your hammer at home, and you're trying to hit a dragonfly with your beer mugs.

My goodness, that was far more serious than what I usually do, and it has left me unusually thirsty. Time for another cup of tea!  

Monday, August 26, 2013

Sleeping dogs and blackbirds

I know someone who uses the phrase "Let sleeping dogs lie and blackbirds fly."  On one hand, it's a funny phrase, but on the other hand, the first time I heard it I knew exactly what it meant...  You should allow people/animals/things to do what they want, and what they would naturally do.  If you try to make sleeping dogs wake up, or you try to prevent blackbirds from flying... well, they're going to object and get upset, and you may find yourself with a disturbance on your hands.

But as I sat here sipping my tea, I started wondering about the origins of some of these phrases that we use all the time... and I started exploring.  To my surprise, there is a lot of disagreement about the where and when and why of some of these sayings.

The phrase - to butter someone up - seemed pretty straightforward, to me...  just as you might slather butter on a piece of bread to make it tastier, so you would cover a person with flattery and praise, to make them friendlier.  And, indeed, that was one of the possible explanations.  But the more amusing explanation was the reference to an ancient Indian custom of throwing butter at statutes of the gods, to seek favor!(apparently, the gods of ancient India liked having butter thrown at them - go figure!)

I like the background of the phrase 'more than you can shake a stick at'.  

Most sources agree that this comes from when farmers would control their sheep by shaking a staff at them to show the sheep where to go.  If you had more sheep than you could control with your staff -- you had more than you could shake a staff (stick) at.

The origin of 'the whole 9 yards' is widely in dispute.  There's no question that it means 'everything'... but the theories of the source vary widely.  Some say that the phrase comes from the fact that World War II fighter pilots received a 9 yard chain of ammunition for each mission...while others point out that 9 yards is the contents of a standard concrete mixer, and still others hold that this is the length of fabric used in making a Scottish Kilt.  There are even those who argue that the phrase was originally 'the whole 6 yards', and the amount is irrelevant -- any random amount would work.  Me - I think I'll stick with 9.  I like 9.

But perhaps my favorite little bit is the history behind 'eating humble pie'.  You see, back in the Middle Ages, the lord of the manor would have a feast after a successful hunting expedition.  As lord, he would receive the finest cuts of meat.  The other nobles of his house would receive 'good stuff', although not the finest.. and so on.  By the time you got down to those of the lowest standing, all that was left were the entrails and innards.  These entrails and innards were baked in pies, so if you were eating that pie, you were of a humble status.
But wait - it gets better.  You see, those entrails and innards were known as umbles... so initially, it was umble pie, but then with everything that the pie implied, it became humble pie!

Well I've finished my tea and have errands to run, but thought you'd enjoy these little tidbits.  Wait - what's that you say?  What about the origins of "Let sleeping dogs lie and blackbirds fly"?   Funny thing about that... turns out there's no such saying.  The first part - let sleeping dogs lie - just came from a common warning to leave the dog alone... and that's pretty boring.  But the whole phrase ---  as familiar as it sounded to me --- was apparently made up by the person I heard it from.  Who knows.... maybe it will catch on.

Monday, August 19, 2013

The speed of time

Nope.. that's not a typo.... I truly did mean the speed of time.  And while it sounds like some sort of hybrid between 'The Passage of Time' and 'The Speed of Light'.... I meant exactly what I said... The speed of time.  If you think about it, you'll realize you know exactly what I mean.  I'm talking about the fact that the same period of time feels longer - or shorter - to different people, depending on what's at stake, and what's going on.

This notion of the speed of time was brought home to me recently, when an event occurred at normal speed, for me... but for others around me, it felt like a much longer period of time had elapsed.  I briefly thought of the saying 'Time flies when you're having fun'... except that I wasn't having fun.. and then again, time wasn't flying by, it was just -- what's that saying?  oh yeah, it was marching on.  Except that no one was marching, and there weren't any marching bands in the vicinity.

So then I started thinking of some of the sayings we have about time...  There's the phrase 'doing something in your own time'... that one always makes me chuckle... after all, it's not as if you can use someone else's time.  And if you did, whose time would they use?

Then there are the two phrases I already mentioned..  Time flies  (really?  does it fly coach or first class?), and Time marches on  (I envision a big clock head with two legs sticking out and little feet wearing soldier boots).  To my surprise, when I googled images, I couldn't find pictures for either of these concepts, although I did find this alternative view of time flies:

Hmmm... not nearly as funny as the picture of a clock flying first class... but maybe that's just me.

Then, of course, there's Killing Time  (what's the minimum prison term for that?), Saving Time (which bank do you use?), and Spare Time (that's at the bowling alley, and is related to when the clock strikes a certain time).

There's more to life than silliness, though, and there are some serious sayings about time. One of my favorites is "This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it."  That's from Ralph Waldo Emerson.  And to my mind, it's related to the quotation from Ecclesiastes - "There is a right time for everything".

But let me get back to the speed of time.  These last three weeks, I've had a lot going on in my life.... most of it good, some of it not so good.... but everything is working out, and life is starting to return to normal.  These three weeks have simultaneously gone by quickly, but also slowly.  And when I say they've gone by slowly, I don't mean that as a bad thing... I mean that a lot of things have happened, a lot of new memories have been made, and I can't believe we were able to do everything that was done in those three weeks.

And then I  look at my blog posts.  In my head, I've spent a fair amount of time on my blog... I have several partial posts that I started, I have notes for new ideas for future posts, and I've followed up on the postings of those I nominated for the Liebster award.   But as for putting up a new post on Teapot Musings -- I've only done that once.  You see, the speed of time got out of control for me. Things happened both faster and slower for me, than for the rest of the world, and I temporarily got out of sync.  I'm not saying that's a bad thing.... it's just a thing.  These last few weeks were a good time, and I knew what to do with them.  But "now" is the right time to get back on course.  Among other things, that means a few more blog posts.  So with a nod to Mr. Emerson, and a nod to Ecclesiastes, I'm back on track and back to my tea.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

'To be read', versus deja vu

Recently, I came across an online conversation where someone posted books that they liked to read, and re-read, and re-re-read.  To my utter astonishment, there were a lot who chimed in with their own lists of books they liked to read over and over.  This is not an attitude that I share, or even understand.

About 60% of my fiction consumption is by way of recorded books while I'm driving in the car.  A couple days ago I finished a book, so I grabbed the next and popped in the first CD.   I listened to the first 2 paragraphs, and a sense of dread began to creep over me.  I listened to the next 2 paragraphs, and now there was no doubt...  I had already read/listened to this book.  Oh Arrgggh..  I HATE when that happens.. Fortunately I had another recorded book handy, so I wasn't stuck listening to the sounds of silence.  And I thought back to that online conversation.

It's not that I can't stand any sort of repeat... I'm willing to watch Big Bang Theory episodes over and over, I've seen Thelma and Louise several times, and I've watched Dirty Dancing so many times I can recite much of the dialog.   I'll even do the same jigsaw puzzle more than once.  But for some reason, re-reading a book has no appeal to me.

As a young reader, one of my favorite books was One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, by Dr. Seuss. I was entranced by The Chronicles of Narnia, by C. S. Lewis.  I delved into the world of science fiction and became enamored with the works of Heinlein, and Asimov, and Norton and Farmer. Over the years, I expanded my reading to ...  well, you get the idea.  I read a lot, and I enjoy much of what I read, and some of it I enjoy immensely.  But I don't read the same book more than once.  Ever.

Part of the reason for this, is that I just don't.  But the other part is that my 'to be read' list is already huge, and it grows faster than I can dig my way through.  At this point, I figure I need to retire right now and live until I'm 103, in order to get through my TBR list.... and that's if I don't add anything new!

It's very easy to find posts  in which people highlight what they've read in the past month, year, whatever.  Frankly, I've done that myself... if you're interested, I posted my 2012 list in February.  And now I've found people who are posting books they like to read over and over.  So I thought I'd do something a bit different.  I'm not going to bore you with my entire TBR list, but I will share some of the entries.  I can't tell you whether any of these are great, mediocre, or bad since I haven't read them yet, only that they piqued my curiosity.

Wednesday's Child, by Alan Zendell.  A guy suddenly finds himself living his days out of order.
The Case Files of Thomas Carney, by Cleo Wolfe.  A guy dies, and starts working for an afterlife detective agency.
Harrison Bergeron, by Kurt Vonnegut.  Set in the year 2081, addressing Amendments 211, 212 and 213 to the Constitution, mandating that all Americans are fully equal, no matter what it takes to achieve equality.
Six of One, by Joann Spears.  A woman about to get married to someone who's had 6 previous wives, wakes up to find herself surrounded by the wives of Henry VIII, each with a secret to share.
The Years of Rice and Salt, by Kim Stanley Robinson.  An alternate history of the last 7 centuries.
Woman on the Edge of Time, by Marge Piercy.  A woman who has been declared insane is actually tuned to the future and able to communicate with the year 2137.
Indexing, by Seanan McGuire.  A world where fairy tale narratives become reality.
The Ups and Downs of Being Dead, by M. R. Cornelius.  The 'life and times' of the soul of a man who is cryogenically frozen, while awaiting the rejuvenation of his body.
The Gemini Divergence, by Eric Birk.  An alternative history involving the Cold War and Nazi UFOs.
In the Garden of Iden, by Kage Baker.  A sci-fi story set in the 16th century, about a group of immortal cyborgs.

Well, that's 10...  and that's enough, and my kettle is whistling.  I'm trying something new... Bewley's Gold Blend.  Smells nice, we'll have to see how it tastes.