Monday, October 27, 2014

Countdown to NaNoWriMo—Are You In or Out?

Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month.

October is winding down and that can only mean that, once again, National Novel Writing Month looms ominously on the horizon. During the month of November, participants endeavor to meet daily writing goals of at least 1,667 words; by month's end, this will have added up to 50,000 words which is, for many a burgeoning writer, far more than they'd yet managed for a single work. While it's not a contest by conventional standards, NaNoWriMo is a competition with oneself—and against distraction and disillusionment, among other things—and the meeting or exceeding of that 50,000 word goal is a win no matter how you look at it. To the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo may seem little more than an extreme writing exercise, a means of practicing at the discipline of working daily toward a sizable word count. And it is that, make no mistake. At its heart, NaNoWriMo is, as officially described, a "fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing." Veterans of the annual event can tell you, as they well know, that it's also much, much more than that...

The Writer Who Went Up an Idea and Came Down a Novel

From the outside, it seems almost a simple thing, to add word after word until a desired total has been reached. For a few, I imagine this is all the WriMo really amounts to, the placing of one foot in front of the other until eventually you've walked somewhere. There's no stipulation as to the coherence of participants' novels, and one could just as easily ramble through a stream-of-consciousness fever dream of a story if thus inclined. Even then, with little thought regarding character development or plotting, this oversimplified view ignores the reality of watching as an idea grows across the mounting number of pages. There's a feeling—equal parts exhilaration and panic—which emerges as a realization gradually dawns on you: The power to write a novel is within your grasp. The sense of triumph at having discovered this power is awesome, in the classic sense of the word. Over time, of course, this feeling can wane and, I suspect, it's a desire to rekindle that sense of agency that brings many a writer back year after year.

It's Dangerous to Go Alone!

This isn't to say there aren't lions at the gates. It's an arduous task to set for oneself, one fraught with perils. There will be days on which the words will refuse to come, where every keystroke feels like a horrible misstep; other days, it will seem as if the world conspires to keep you from your computer, typewriter, or notebook; often, the grand conspirator will be you yourself, as the prospect of washing dishes or alphabetizing your library suddenly seems too delightfully tempting to resist. For those who choose to compose a more complicated plot, the containment and sorting of a host of ideas becomes a burden all its own. Over time, as the deadline looms, an understandable amount of stress can build; even the strain of writing at length itself can be enough to wear a writer down. It's easy to fall behind, given the myriad variables with which life can confront you, and there you'll find discouragement—in addition to whatever natural sense of self-doubt you typically harbor. Under these mounting pressures, many participants will drop out and fall to the wayside. NaNoWriMo is not without its casualties. Thankfully, with NaNoWriMo you're rarely alone.

For most of us, when the writing happens it's just us and the medium—usually a computer—but there are alternatives. Write-ins are a popular way of celebrating the WriMo spirit with others, and engaging in word sprints—furiously sustained bursts of output—can be a part of these write-ins or online events (I find mine on Twitter, via @NaNoWordSprints, @TheSprintShack and, of course, #WriteClub sprints with @FriNightWrites). There are Facebook groups, the forums on the NaNoWriMo website, message boards and blogs aplenty; the point is, at nearly any hour of the day, there are bound to be other WriMo participants somewhere out there, struggling as you struggle, stressing as you stress, and few will deny a shoulder or ear if you need a little support before leaping back into the fray. As I've remarked often in the past, a writing community is invaluable, and at few times more so than during NaNoWriMo.

You Can't Win if You Don't Play

With victory on one side, and an army of challenges on the other, it seems an uneven match, an uphill climb all the way. I won't lie, it is easier to not write anything at all. There may be guilt or shame in abandoning an interest that verges on a calling, but the inertia of doing nothing at all can be so simple to obey. Imagine all the television you could watch, all the reading you could get done, all the lazing about without concern for word totals or character's certainly tempting. But it might also just be a convenient way of masking fear and doubt. At the end of the day, only you can decide whether or not you have it in you to be the writer you dream of being. Maybe you won't reach 50,000 words this year, or maybe you will but you won't like the end result. I'm of the mind that you still win just by trying, but your mileage may vary. Either way, the only way to find out for sure is to give it a shot, to grant yourself the opportunity to see what you can do when the chips are down. And honestly, it really is a blast. Surviving a WriMo is like nothing else...

I have to confess, when I began drafting this post, I honestly wasn't sure whether or not I wanted to undertake another year's challenge. I haven't prepared the way I had last year, and under the strain of the year's difficulties my writing has suffered greatly. But I've talked myself into it, now. The potential rewards are just too great, even if I should fail in reaching the goal. After all, it's not in the absence of hardship that we find success, but in its endurance. So, while I may not have an outline (yet) or more than an inkling as to what I'll eventually write, count me in.

Now how about you?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-Thon: October '14 Comes to a Close

It's hard to know how to address the close of yet another fantastic Read-a-thon. This is, in part, due to the fact that I last awoke 24 hours and 15 minutes ago and am, quite understandably, more than a little tired. There's also some blame to levy against the fact that, in the previous two events, I at some point slipped into several hours' napping, and felt I'd somehow cheated on my way to the end. Every time, the experience has been unique, despite the persistent themes of revelry with fellow readers and a reverence for the written word. This is, perhaps, the first major takeaway; no matter how many Read-a-thons I enjoy, I imagine each will produce its own special flavor, bring with it its own unique rewards. First, the official survey, and then some final thoughts before resting my eyes a spell.

End of Event Meme

1. Which hour was most daunting for you? I'd have to say somewhere around hours 22 or 23. I'd really thrown myself into reading, and between the book's tone and my exhaustion, things took a rather dark turn.

2. Could you list a few high-interest books that could keep a Reader engaged for next year? I'd recommend the book I read this time around, but at over 1k pages I don't think it's necessarily the best idea, not unless finishing is low on your list of priorities. For science fiction fans and, to a lesser extent mystery fans, Asimov's Robot novels (The Caves of Steel, The Naked Sun, The Robots of Dawn, and short story collections like I, Robot) would be excellent choices. 

3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve Read-a-thon for next year? I did wonder, at one point, whether or not anyone had tried enlisting celebrity participants. Advocacy for literacy is a popular enough cause, and there are plenty of writers out there who enjoy engaging with their fans in ways that put their own fanhood on prominent display. Could you imagine a Read-a-thon in which Neil Gaiman shares updates on his favorite reads?

4. What do you think worked really well in this year's Read-a-thon? Everything. Honestly, this is no exaggeration. I've only participated in three Read-a-thons now, but this was by far the smoothest. If I absolutely had to single something out, I think the "home page" was tidy and efficient, from sign-ups to the lists of prize winners. But seriously, job well done by all involved.

5. How many books did you read? Part of one.

6. What were the names of the books you read? Stephen King's IT

7. Which book did you enjoy the most? I love IT so far.

8. Which did you enjoy least? N/A

9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year's Cheerleaders? I wasn't a Cheerleader, and the only advice I'd have is for them to make sure they check back to see if Readers have responded to their wonderful blog comments. Not to follow-up with more, really, just so they can see some sign of appreciation for the good they've done by cheering us on.

10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time? 100% without a doubt participating, barring major life crises and acts of nature beyond my control.

Final Thoughts

Although I have a great deal more reading yet to do before I reach the end of IT, I have two observations that have crystallized over the course of my reading thus far:

1. Stephen King is a far, far better writer than I can ever hope to become.

2. This by no means implies that I can't become a writer of that caliber. Exceeding my own hopes isn't all that different from exceeding my own expectations, and I do that every day, no sweat.

As I do following any fit of serious reading, I'm reminded of just how amazing it can be. But in this instance, more so than similar cases past, I find myself genuinely yearning for the reading of every book I've ever set aside for some indeterminate point in my future. I think of taking a year off from writing, or at least a year off from worrying about writing, and just spending day in and day out reading with an appetite as voracious as the awaiting book pile is tall. After this year's National Novel Writing Month, I might do just that; I should have enough to focus on compiling, revising, editing, etc. and can at least focus on that instead of the actual writing itself. Or maybe I'll just make reading my main priority, and let writing happen as it may, without pressure. Of the few books I've managed to finish this year, quite a few had been on my list for years. I think I should like to knock a few dozen more such titles off that long-standing list, instead of waiting for Read-a-thon to come back around and remind me, like some long-suffering amnesiac, that reading is so much more than fun. For me, and so many of us, it's essential to a well-lived life.

Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-Thon: Deliriously Entering the Homestretch

Despite the numerous and wondrous distractions which kept me from my goal of reading obsessively throughout the entirety of the Read-a-thon, this will be the first (out of three events) for which I will have remained awake for all 24 hours. I'm no stranger to insomnia, we're long-time friends, but it's usually the case that aiming for sleeplessness is the surest way to bring about a surprise 12 hour "nap". 

While the day hasn't succeeded in wearing me down, IT definitely has. I'm not surprised in the least that it's as dark and foreboding as I had ever indication to expect. What surprises me is how easily it's crept under my skin, along the length of my bones, up into my mind and down into my soul. As the grown members of the "Losers Club" find their memories returning, I too find myself recalling events past that I'd just as soon not remembered. To be fair, this is a welcome development, in that my writing is largely informed by my own experiences, bordering on memoir, and so to remember so much more of my childhood is a boon to the writing I hope to do during this year's National Novel Writing month. On the other's just a darn good thing I've got such a capable therapist to handle the aftermath of this book's reading. 

I'm not suggesting that anyone should avoid reading IT, but be prepared. Be more prepared than I was. Be as prepared as you can be, and then prepare some more. You must steel yourself if you're going to put yourself through the paces alongside these terrified children hiding behind the guises of capable and successful adults. King has a talent for exploring human nature that I had failed to recognize up to this point. I'm not sure what I could have done, had I known beforehand. I hope I'll know what to do after the fact.

Seriously, this book is messing with me. I need that, to some extent. I just hope there are a few doses of mercy along the way...maybe even just one?


Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-Thon: The Point of No Return

No matter how hard you try, there's just no accounting for every possible variable you might encounter in the course of any given day. Read-a-thon is surely no exception. As Jurassic Park's Dr. Ian Malcom, played by Jeff Goldblum, put it "Life, uh, uh...uh...finds, uh...a way." And I now understand it to be an unavoidable fact of life that there will always be something that puts a crimp in my attempts at an unabbreviated Read-a-thon. 

Now that it's passed, it's time to get down to business. 

Having won both a door prize and a mini-challenge prize, and with no more distractions in sight, there's nothing stopping me from tackling my chosen read in earnest. I know I won't finish, but that doesn't mean I can't take a sizable bite out of the remaining pages. I may find my mind wandering, I may grow tired, but I'm determined to fight my way to the finish. I'll keep checking in on Twitter periodically, to cheer people along and continue sharing in what has now surely devolved into a kind of madness, but reading's the thing until the Read-a-thon draws to its close.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-Thon: Hafltime Edition

Okay, technically halftime isn't until the top of the hour. Plus, I didn't really get going until about an hour into the event, so I am in effect posting this more than an hour before the actual mid-point of the Read-a-thon (for me). If we take an even closer list, I've easily spent more time blogging, tweeting, and reviewing the blogs and tweets of others than I have actually reading, which throws our entire metric way off. Thankfully the Read-a-thon is almost, but not quite, entirely unlike soccer, so no one is tallying up these extra minutes so as to apply them later after regulation reading time has expired. 

Mid-Event Survey

1. What are you reading right now? I'm still working on IT, completely entranced by it but moving therefore at a rather trance-like pace. 

2. How many books have you read so far? Can I get away with saying I've read from one so far? Zero just sounds ever so much more awful...

3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon? More of IT. I'll finish it without picking up another book, but by 8am tomorrow? Not likely.

4. Have you had many interruptions? How have you dealt with those? See preceding paragraph. Between challenges, posts, tweets, texts, food delivers, food ingestions, and the surprising receipt of an unbirthday present package with lovely Read-a-thon quality snackstuffs and a pair of even lovelier knit handwarmers, I've had a very full day of not reading IT. I dealt with them by leaping at the chance to engage in more Read-a-thon related hijinks and shenanigans!

5. What surprises you about the Read-a-thon most, so far? There was an hour or two there where I thought I was the only person still tweeting about it. Things have picked up in the last few hours, in part because I went ahead and followed a dozen more participants, and I expect to see #readathon among my tailored trends any time now. But for a moment there, I was worried.

Another hour to the real mid-point, but there's the gist. I don't expect it to change, except for having joined in slightly less hijinks. The book's really picking up steam now, and I'm falling further and further down that rabbit hole. Pretty sure there's no Wonderland at the bottom of this one, though.

Okay by me!

Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-Thon: Mini-Challenge Edition

One of the most fun—and most delightfully distracting!—parts of the Read-a-thon is the hourly Mini-Challenge. These games-for-prizes put on by participating blogs add a regular dose of whimsy to break up the monotony of reading page after page after page. This isn't to say our chosen reads aren't absolutely enthralling, but it's a blast rushing between chapters to assemble whatever a given challenge calls for and share it with the rest of the Read-a-thon world. 

So far, I've entered two Mini-Challenges. The first, Book Staging, hosted by Kimberly at her blog, On the Wings of Books, asked that we arrange a photograph of the book alongside something from the cover, or to do with the story itself. I decided to take the newspaper boat from the cover and first chapter of Stephen King's IT a step further, and posted a proud picture of the result.

For the second, Show it Off!, over on Dead Book Darling, Kay asked for a picture of one of our favorite, most beautiful or precious volumes. I chose my leatherbound edition of Robinson Crusoe, which is not only one of the oldest volumes in my library, it's easily one of the most beautiful.

Whether or not either of these entries leads to a prize remains to be seen, but winning's not entirely the point. As with the Read-a-thon itself, it's the sharing and revelry that matter most. Plus, as luck would have it, I managed to snag a door prize earlier in the day! Given my choice of a number of excellent prizes, I went for The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, The Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made, by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell.

"From the actor who somehow lived through it all, a “sharply detailed…funny book about a cinematic comedy of errors” (The New York Times): the making of the cult film phenomenon The Room.
In 2003, an independent film called The Room—starring and written, produced, and directed by a mysteriously wealthy social misfit named Tommy Wiseau—made its disastrous debut in Los Angeles. Described by one reviewer as “like getting stabbed in the head,” the $6 million film earned a grand total of $1,800 at the box office and closed after two weeks. Ten years later, it’s an international cult phenomenon, whose legions of fans attend screenings featuring costumes, audience rituals, merchandising, and thousands of plastic spoons. 
Hailed by The Huffington Post as “possibly the most important piece of literature ever printed,” The Disaster Artist is the hilarious, behind-the-scenes story of a deliciously awful cinematic phenomenon as well as the story of an odd and inspiring Hollywood friendship. Greg Sestero, Tommy’s costar, recounts the film’s bizarre journey to infamy, explaining how the movie’s many nonsensical scenes and bits of dialogue came to be and unraveling the mystery of Tommy Wiseau himself. But more than just a riotously funny story about cinematic hubris, “The Disaster Artist is one of the most honest books about friendship I’ve read in years” (Los Angeles Times)." —from the Amazon Book Description

I'd recently read an article about the debacle this film turned out to be, and with a reviewer claiming it to have been "like getting stabbed in the head", I couldn't pass up the chance to read the inside scoop. I can't wait to read it, although I just might do well to hold on to it until next spring's Read-a-thon comes along. 

Back to the day's fun, and more reading. Further updates to follow!

Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-Thon: The Long Hard Road into Hell

Initially, when considering my Read-a-thon options, I'd wanted something uplifiting, positively life-changing, to brighten the end of an otherwise difficult week/month/etc. I'd also wanted something substantial, however, and not many cheerful reads at my disposal were of the sort to be anything more than simply entertaining. There's nothing wrong with that, of course—it's preferable in most cases, I should think—but what I wanted most of all was some gravity. Boy-oh-boy, did I get it.

I slept hard last night, dreamt of zombie apocalypses (which isn't even remotely my style), and shortly after setting things up for the day's event discovered I had the sort of sinus headache that throws "Up" and "Down" out the window, leaving me disoriented, and painfully far from the sort of zeal I'd like to have when tackling the day. Add the cold and the gray outside to the dismal run-up, and honestly I can't think of a better personal setting for one of King's darkest tales.

It's been slow goings, but I'm enjoying it so far. I haven't read much of King's fiction, though I own at least a dozen works all told. Carrie and Christine each left me feeling sickly inside, somewhat sullied, as if I'd besmirched my soul by allowing their scenes to play out in my mind. I expect no less from IT, but hope that I'm more prepared to cope.

I see a lot of progress amongst my Read-a-thon compatriots, books falling by the hundreds; I won't be matching their speed today. But I don't mind. It's enough for me to spend the day reading, at whatever pace I can manage, and sharing once again in the celebrating of a love for literature. After a quick lunch, I'll get back to it, and with any luck at least take down a few more chapters before another update feels due. Until then, happy reading to everyone participating, and anyone else who just feels like curling up with a book this weekend.

Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-Thon: October 2014 Edition

Life has been a ceaseless jumble for the past few months, and that trend hasn't let up just to accommodate my autumnal habits. Read-a-thon, like so many other interests, will take some shoe-horning to fit in, but it will not be denied! I began my first Read-a-thon nearly an hour into the event, so by that measure I'm not doing too badly by drafting this post only 15 minutes late. Let's get going!

Reading Choices

The trouble I have in choosing a book for Read-a-thon plagues me throughout the year, and will likely continue doing so for much of my life. Having put together a sizeable personal library, I suffer from an abundance of options, such that it's rarely easy to select a fresh read. I decided soon after waking that my decision needs to satisfy three criteria:

1. It should be something I haven't read yet.

2. It should be something that, by all accounts, I should have read by now.

3. It should be something suitable to the season, i.e. mysterious, scary, or otherwise creepy.

...and the answer was staring me right in the face, before the first bookshelf came under consideration.

I should read Stephen King's It

I'd recently come across someone who reminded me that there are people deathly afraid of clowns, and the word "creepy" instantly led to an imagining of Pennywise's shark-toothed visage. I won't include it here, out of respect for the fact that coulrophobia—the irrational fear of clowns—is a real condition, and Read-a-thon should be an inclusive event. Also, the look of the man himself is sufficiently imposing, I believe.

Also, a bit handsome in this pic, don't you think?
I could go on about Stephen King's influence on my writing, the number of his books I have or haven't read, but it's already half an hour into the Read-a-thon and I'm still busy formatting the first post. Moving on!

Opening Meme

1. What fine part of the world are you reading from today? I'm participating in this year's Read-a-thon, as always, from the comfort of my lovely book-nook of an apartment in Youngstown, OH. However, thanks to recent developments, I can further specify that I'll be doing so from the added comfort of a cushy new (to me) recliner, my favorite of all reading locations.

2. What book in your stack are you most looking forward to? Given its size, I expect my first reading choice will comprise the stack entirely.

3. Which snack are you most looking forward to? Is coffee a snack? More of that. Lots more.

4. Tell us something about yourself! A little over six weeks in, and this year's beard is looking lush and magnificent.

5. If you participated in the last Read-a-thon, what's one thing you'll do differently today? Each of the previous two Read-a-thons lost me to sleep for a larger chunk of the day than I had planned. This is the first attempt for which I have actually slept an appropriate amount beforehand, and so it's hoped that the difference this time around will be my continued participation!

So there it is! My opening post, and hopefully the first of many updates on a tremendous amount of reading progress and the usual amount of fun engaging with so many others sharing Dewey's love for reading. A good Read-a-thon to one and all—let the reading commence!