Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Problem with Barbie

Millions of girls grow up with an ideal of what they should be when they grow up. They play with her, brush her hair, develop stories around her love interests and her friendships, and hope one day to have her do-anything-look-perfect kind of life.

Of course, I'm talking about Barbie.

She of the impossible waist, the feet bound and shrunk for high heels, and the flowing golden locks. She's one of the first toys girls get and the one they hold onto for the longest time.

Many play with her by putting her in her dream Corvette, drive her to her Dream House (tm), and arrange perfect dates with her dream man Ken. They pay attention to her dresses, the accessories they can buy, the many different personalities they can try on with a new outfit and new friends.

Me? I built her a cardboard box and sent her down the waterfall in the creek in my backyard. And when that cardboard melted and sank, I realized I'd have to rethink my engineering.

I built Barbie tree houses in the bushes in the backyard, hid her under the jack-in-the-pulpits and pretended it was a rainforest, cut my own clothes for her out of fabric scraps, and had her kidnapped by a wizard (but because I had lost my Ken doll, she had to save herself).

Any response to playing with a Barbie doll is appropriate. Whether you want to take her on wild jungle safaris or give her the damsel in distress role, she's a doll. The only limit is your imagination. Barbie can be a mom, a CEO, an explorer, an astronaut, a movie producer, a builder, or a writer. She's a foil, a tool, a plastic model, and she can become what the girl wants her to be.

The problem comes when people start to ascribe a certain personality or role to us based on Barbie's body shape, plasticity, or general silence. The idea that women should hold to a "quiet dignity" as the plastic doll does is insulting to all women, no matter the roles they choose in life. The idea that we should aspire to her body destroys young girls' self perceptions and their health.The idea of Barbie as a role model limits us to her pre-approved career packages and personality types.

Barbie isn't the problem. A world of people who want to be seen as merely dolls and nothing more is.

I took my Barbie and imagined all the things she could do. As a stand-in, she became my heroine, my warrior, my damsel, my mother, my child, and my ingenue. She was a toy for a world I created, and the ideas I spun in those days of early childhood still inspire me today.

It's when she becomes more than a toy that she becomes a problem.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Feminist Character Struggle

While procrastinating my work today, I stumbled across something on Tumblr.

It struck a bit of a chord with me because I've been struggling with this same dilemma. I'm writing a science fiction story centered around a war. However, though the military features significantly in my story with several characters having military backgrounds and interacting with various battles across the plot, it is not military fiction. It is a story about a cast of characters thrown into difficult circumstances and how they manage to balance their own needs and desires and the needs of the worlds around them.

It's a very character driven story, but it is very much science fiction. Aside from the obvious signposts of multiple planets and space travel, the science of this universe plays very heavily in the story. I spent nearly a full year learning the basics of physics in order to build a system of space travel that seems possible. In the past few weeks a good friend of mine helped by building accurate stats for my planets including escape velocities relative to the planets' masses, the orbital periods, length of rotations, and more. It's a character story with many of the key elements of hard science fiction.

Still, as a woman writing for a largely male-dominated field, I have to consider how much of what I'm writing will be perceived. I want my female characters to be strong, independent, and utterly competent, but how one goes about that can be difficult in this genre.

The temptation for a lot of writers is to write strong women as indistinguishable from men. They write their women scientists and engineers as identical to men. If a man wouldn't say a certain thing or be treated in a certain way or portrayed in a certain light then they don't portray their women that way. But is that right?

My struggle falls in line with the second panel of that comic. If I make my women strong am I somehow implying that traditionally "feminine" features are negative? For instance, my main character is a woman. She is a pilot, an incredibly brilliant woman who does her job well and isn't distracted by concerns about romance or friend drama. She sleeps with who she wants to, has no desire in being a mother, and has a tendency to be emotionally distant. She also has severe insecurity when it comes to her past and an incident that has haunted her for years. The one time (so far) that she breaks down and lets anyone see a glimpse in her armor, she is immediately seen as fragile and in need of comfort and protection. In fact, several of the males in the story have protective feelings toward her.

Is this because she's a woman? Am I inadvertently contributing to the weakening of this character and the relegation of her to someone needing protection from the men in her life?

I don't think so, because, for one, she is just as likely (or more so) to come to the rescue as anyone else in the cast. She is strong, competent, and fiercely loyal. She takes the lead, can be combative, and is an agent of the plot rather than its object or victim.

She's also not the only female on the cast that is like that. On the ship are three very different women:. And then I introduce another. The fourth woman, a mercenary, may look to fit the trope of the warrior woman, but with a name like "Millie," an effervescent personality, a love of cooking, and a girl-next-door look, she's hardly the standard action girl. So how do I write them and not fall into the trap of writing tropes instead of people? How do I make strong women without decrying "feminine" traits or eliminating them altogether?

Of course, I go through similar processes with my male characters, so I guess I avoid the trap of the third panel. My suave primary male character is constantly trying to prove himself and has a fear of ending up alone even as he pushes people away. My other leading man is loyal and protective and incredibly kind, but for most of the time, that's a problem. He is too used to playing second fiddle and doubts himself. There's a warrior male, too. Stoic, intimidating, gruff. Am I falling into trope categories with these characters, too? Are the limited in who they are and am I failing as a writer?

Then I remind myself to just keep writing, and let the characters grow and change. They each have their own motivations. If I stay true to those, who cares if I'm writing characters that are female or male, feminist or traditional? They'll be real, and they'll be honest. In the end, I think that's what matters.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

We're All Leading Players

Yesterday I watched the reunion show for Project Runway. Typically these reunion shows are a way for producers to eke out just a bit more drama from their cast of players with low production costs. They show recaps, poke some open wounds, and spend a lot of time asking the cast members how it makes them feel.

During the show, though, I noticed a phrase repeated continuously. "My journey." They kept thanking the other contestants for being a part of their journey. How they felt this was such an important part of their journey. That even if they didn't compete as well as they hoped, they were so thankful for their development in their journey.

Every single one of them was talking as if they were the lead roles in their own stories.

That's how they see themselves. 

It's how most of us see ourselves. 

In The Culture of Narcissism by Christopher Lasch, he describes a unique phenomenon that occurs in modern Americans. Because we are uniquely separated from our past, our histories, our communities, we all seek to feel significant in our own selves. A desire to stand completely apart from others and declare that "I am important." We are all engaged in these "private performances" and trying to develop what Emerson called "an original relation to the universe."

Lasch wrote of this phenomenon in the 1970s, but if anything it's more true now. Each of us is desperate to be the stars of our own lives, but in order to make that performance authentic, it has to be recognized by everyone else. With social media, reality tv, and -- dare I say?-- blogs, it's all too easy to position ourselves for the recognition we think we deserve. We are poised to make ourselves the center of everyone's understanding of ourselves instead of positioning ourselves in the context of history, society, family, or anything else that might embed us in something other than individualism.

We demand recognition. As Chuck Palahniuk wrote in Fight Club"We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off." Each of the designers who didn't win the big prize was shocked to find that the show wasn't about them and their journey, and you could watch them struggle with that in real time. 

As a writer, I struggle with this daily. The number one piece of advice writers get is to put themselves into the story and to write what they know. Well, guess what? I make a lousy lead player. I spend my life behind a computer screen and homemaking for my family. My life is simple and happy and utterly boring. No one wants to read about me or what I know! 

Yet, time and again, I find myself modeling characters off of myself. I think, "what would I do in this situation?" Or "how would I react?" 

At least at first.

Thank the gods they never remain so simple. Within a few pages, my characters tend to do the opposite of what I would do. By the time they're thrown into the plot, they take on their own lives, and I can torture them from a distance.They grow, they become something else, and I spend as much time as possible trying to distance myself from these crazy lunatics who are running towards the fire instead of away. 

Still I wonder. Is it a bad thing that we're so often the leading players in our own stories? Should we attempt (as I find myself doing quite frequently) to be a better supporting character? Are our lives and the lives of others made better by sometimes viewing ourselves as the leading man's best friend? Or maybe even the villain?

Friday, April 19, 2013

On Turning 30

Well, hell. I went and got old.

I'm not entirely sure how this happened. I tried to stop it. I tried eating right, exercising. I meditated on being young. I thought young thoughts. I watched the Twilight movies.

None of it helped. And now I'll never get those hours back.

Here it is. 30.

I'm older. But am I wiser? Better? Happier?

Yeah, I think I am.

Now more than ever, I have a better idea of who I am and what I want out of life. I'm blissfully happy in my marriage. I have the most amazing family I can imagine. I have friends I don't want to ever be without. I am working on a novel I think I can truly be proud of, and every day I make more progress on it.

And I have nothing but hope for the future.

I'm ready to start the next chapter in my family life, building a life for me, my husband, and our (hopefully) future children. I'm ready to take the next step in my writing by diving into much more ambitious freelancing opportunities while concentrating on my own writing projects including a set of e-books, magazine articles, and, of course, my novels. I'm finding new ways to improve my health by eating better, working out, and generally taking care of myself. And I am doing best to enjoy every minute of every day.

So, yeah. I might be older, but I don't know if that's a bad thing. In fact, it might be one of the best things.

Here's to another year. Here's to more learning, more growing, more loving, more laughing, and more living.


Thursday, February 21, 2013

RuPaul's Drag Race

Recently I was introduced to an amazing show called RuPaul's Drag Race. It features famous drag queen RuPaul and her search for the next drag superstar. A group of drag performers compete against one another with dancing, acting, costume making, character building, and lip syncing, attempting to outperform each other for a chance at the crown.

And oh my goodness! There's so much talent, comedy, and subculture insight in every single moment of this show. The queens featured on the show mug and preen and provide so much entertainment, I can hardly look away.

The last few weeks, though, I have been living for one of my best friends' blog recaps. She puts together screenshots, GIFs, and videos that sum up everything you could want to know about the show. If you like drag, camp, witty commentary, hilarious GIFs, or just pure entertainment, I encourage you to check out the Dilettwat's blog:

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

An Amazing Teacher: Randy Lynn

The most important message I received in high school was the one that I was most prepared to reject. The message came from an overly enthusiastic, impossibly uncool teacher who knew way too much--and more importantly, cared way too much-- about his subject matter.

His message is one of three messages I've kept with me.

"If anyone is going to change things, you are."

When I was in high school, I knew there was only one subject I wanted to pursue for the rest of my life. I loved literature, and I was going to be a writer. I took every English and literature class offered including honors courses and Advanced Placement courses throughout my high school career.

The thing is, though, they don't let you get away with only taking language and literature classes for your entire career. It turns out, you have to take other subjects to get a wide selection of experiences before you commit to a career. You have to take science, math, physical education, and even history and political science before they let you graduate with a full degree.

As I was moving into my senior year at Harrison High School, I was through with the other classes. I had taken science, math, history, and everything else. I'd taken advanced placement versions of everything so that by the time I reached my last year of required schooling I didn't have to take anything I didn't want to.

So I signed up for nothing but English and Chorus classes. Sadly, there were only two of each offered at my level each semester. Since I had block scheduling and had finished most of my other requirements, that meant I had a few choices. Each semester I could take two classes outside of English and Chorus to round out my senior experience. My first semester, I choice AP Government, and AP Physics.

Physics worked for me because I was already marginally interested in science fiction, and, frankly, the background has helped me immensely. I was interested in government because it was an election year. My senior year of high school occurred during the incredibly 2000 election.

So I signed up for the class, thinking nothing of it.

The class changed my life.

Every previous class in government or history had presented the facts and even made them interesting to me. Only Mr. Lynn made me feel like government was something I could touch with my actions. He made government real, tangible, and changeable. For him, an election year meant not just completing one's civic duty, not just having a single voice, not just filling out a ballot.

Participating in an election meant being a part of history. It meant being an American. It meant having the power to affect everything that would effect our lives.

I didn't vote in 2000. I was only 17. Legally, I wasn't allowed to.

But Mr. Lynn filled me with a desire to make my voice heard. He let me know that being a citizen means having a responsibility to the people around me. Having a vote meant more than being a person. It meant that I was a citizen. I had a voice. I had a duty to my neighbors.

I couldn't WAIT to vote in the midterm elections in 2002.

Every year since then, I have voted. I have voted in every presidential election, every congressional election, and even most midterm state elections. I even vote in runoffs, local jurisdictions, judgeships, local referenda, and utilities agreements. (I think I've missed 8 elections in the past 12 years over two states, which means I vote 4-5 times a year, every year.)

What's more, is because of Mr Lynn's influence, I pursued a degree in political science. When I got to college, I was still convinced I'd be a writer. I took several English classes along with my core classes and imagined that words alone were enough. But when I was confronted by empty holes in my schedule, I signed up for classes in politics.

At Berry, I found that Mr Lynn had only begun to prepare me for a love of the political process.

In college I discovered that politics was a slippery snake, with facts and fictions as slippery as myths, and foundational ideas that tried to redefine the world. Still, the truths with which Mr Lynn had armed me, the scaffolding of our Constitution, the cornerstones of our ideals, and the eternal truths of our ethical heritage stuck with me.

I graduated with a degree in government and philosophy and continued on to a Masters in Political Theory and Philosophy at the University at Virginia, though I stopped just short of a Doctorate.

The man's passion stuck with me.

Even after I spent some eight years in school studying and exploring the concepts of political science, I couldn't leave well enough alone.

By the time I graduated grad school, I hated politics. You don't even know the depths to which political entities will sink to get reelected/win subsidies/win votes in committee/receive free lunches. Politics is so disgusting, and I've seen so much of it first hand.

And every time I tried to get away from it, I heard Mr Lynn's optimism. "If anyone is going to change things, you are."

Dammit, that's too much to lay on a high schooler.

But it's the biggest truth anyone ever laid on me in those days.

And I've followed it.

Through college. Through political internships in DC. Through work with think tanks in DC. Through political work in DC. Through graduate school.

I have even participated in the legislative and judicial processes. I have worked on a few campaigns including serving as a campaign manager for a US congressional campaign and as a social media manager for a judicial candidate. I lost one, but I won the other. I've affected politics at the national, at the state, and at the local levels.

And I'm not going to ever give up.

I may be more focused on my own writing (See, I told you I'd be a writer!), but I have no doubt about Mr. Lynn's words. If anyone is going to change things, I am.

I only had three high school teachers that affected me this way. Mr Randall Lynn, Ed Deavers, and Anita Hanson.

Ed Deavers taught me that dedication, passion, creativity, and grace in the face of defeat mean more than any easy wins. He taught me that I have to take risks and put myself on the line to succeed, and that the more risks I take, and even the more times I fail, the more likely it is that I will survive.

Anita Hanson taught me pure, practiced, and developed expression can change the world. That honesty and creativity take sacrifice, and that true dedication to art will render beauty. Her words, her encouragement have made me the write I am today.

But it's Mr. Lynn that gave me something to write about.

Randy Lynn taught me that every revolution, every movement, every moment of growth starts with a single person. It takes dedication, it takes passion, it takes conviction, but it is possible to change the world if you care enough. If this world is ever going to change, then it starts with me.

Thank you Mr Lynn for teaching me that. My only regret is I didn't get to tell you how much you taught me.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Figuring Out Gravity

I’m struggling with my science.

I'm currently working on a science fiction novel as I mentioned here. One of the primary things that one needs to contend with in any science fiction novel is the existence of artificial gravity and propulsion through space.

I know. I know. Everyone else ignores it. And those that don't really mess the whole idea up.

In StarTrek, you have gravity plating on every deck of these massive ships. They use energy currents to produce a stimulating effect on gravitons to pull the crew and objects towards the bottom of the ship. The force can even be fluctuated to increase or decrease the pull. But how do you not have increased pull the higher up the ship you go? Or why are the gravitons only working in a single direction? Doesn't gravity pull objects towards it no matter what direction they are oriented? Why don't things close to the plating at the ceiling feel a pull upwards?

In Defying Gravity you use magnetism in the astronauts spacesuits. While that is extremely likely to be a direction we take the problem of gravity in the near future of space travel, it leaves multiple problems. For instance, is EVERYTHING on the ship magnetized to keep it from flying away? And magnetic hairspray? Ugh. They were lucky I liked the story.

Other stories such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Ringworld, and Babylon 5 attempt rotation, but that requires HUGE ships that can rarely be docked and certainly cannot travel close to or in the atmospheres of other planets.

Some have even used super dense material such as black holes and acceleration around, toward, or away from them to create the force of gravity.

So I'm struggling with gravity.

The thing is, so is science.

With the completion of the LHC and the discovery of the Higgs Boson, we are only just beginning to discover the foundational principles of mass. The Standard Model upon which the existence of the Higgs was predicted does not even begin to account for theories of gravity, its relationship to mass, and whether it can be isolated.

In fact, our understanding of gravity is currently limited. We don’t rightly know if it’s a force, a form of acceleration, or a function of mass.

Theories exist that express gravity as a force. In these theories, gravitational forces are similar to the electromagnetic force that attracts inverse charges in atoms, electrons, quarks, and gluons. We’ve managed to isolate and explore such forces down to the tiniest levels we have just discovered, but when it comes to such a force on larger bodies, we are left clueless.

The idea is that everything that has mass has gravity, and that is proven. We all exert forces on one another, and just as I am pulled to the center of the earth, the center of the earth is pulled toward me. The more massive the object, the more its gravitational pull. That’s why planets have stronger pulls than moons, stars have stronger pulls than planets, and more massive stars have even stronger pulls.

The use of mass to produce a field of gravity, then, would hardly be artificial. It would be actual gravity that could be manipulated by manipulating mass. You could use (as I suggested in my previous blog) a flow of energy to stimulate Higgs bosons to generate mass. If enough energy was used, or the Higgs on certain elements were used to create more massive or denser particles, one could, given several hundred years of scientific development, produce enough gravitational force to simulate the acceleration/force of earth’s pull on the human body.

However, if you introduce gravity in that way, there are some serious problems. If a station generates the same massive gravitational pull as a planet, there's no way the station could be situated anywhere near a planet. Already the pull of the moon seriously affects both people, animals, and natural cycles on this planet. Adding an artificial moon with the gravitational pull of an earth-sized planet would wreak havoc on a planet's eco-system. The stations would have to be established outside of the reach planetary orbits.

There’s also no way to use it in spacecraft. For one, it would make it very difficult for one spacecraft to interact with another, such as a docking station. They would have competing gravity fields, which would make coming into any sort of contact difficult. Conceivably, the smaller ships could moderate their fields as they approach planets or stations, but they would be affected by the station's gravity once they got close enough. Their approach would have to be carefully orchestrated to dim their gravity as they approach, and their orientation would have to be based on the station's center of gravity. That would determine the "down" position for the last stages of the flight. 

(Of course now that I've typed a lot of that, that would be a great way to establish a principle of gravity. In fact, if I cannot find another way, I may be revisiting this idea!)

In order to generate a form of artificial gravity, one would have to simulate gravity without mass. 

One theory is to use linear acceleration. After all, we experience gravity as a form of acceleration. We are pulled toward the earth at 1 standard gravity (1g) or 9.81m/s2. That means that in free fall, we approach the center of the earth with an increase in acceleration of 1g. The only thing that stops us from continuously falling is the physical barrier of the earth. 

Conceivably, if you continuously increased a ship's acceleration by 1g for ever with the floor oriented away from your direction of acceleration, your inhabitants would experience earthlike gravity. But as soon as you slowed or, God forbid, stopped your inhabitants would immediately feel it and either begin floating or slam into the ceiling.

So that's out.

What's a science fiction writer to do?

Manipulation of the Higgs could create mass, but we have the problems mentioned above...

Perhaps the problem is I've been thinking of gravity as a force that attracts and pulls. Could I use an alternative force that pushes? Maybe an extrapolated use of the Casimir Effect? It along with an understanding of large mass gravitational force is already forming the basis for my outer-orbit propulsion systems.

Do I go with the very, very limited understanding of gravitons and extrapolate ad nauseum until it looks more like science fiction hand wavium?


If you have any ideas, and I know my friends are smart, please help.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Words Matter

Words matter.

I truly believe that. It's one of the principles upon which I live my life. I know that the right words used in the right context can change the world when deployed correctly.

It's just sometimes hard to believe that my words matter.

I find it so easy to neglect my writing. If I'm only writing for myself, or ranting away into an unhearing void, then what obligations can I have to maintain my blog?

I tell myself that no one really cares what I have to say. That my words don't matter yet.

I don't think I can say that anymore.

This morning I received one of the most meaningful emails of my life. A friend and former coworker of mine told me that my words had actually made a difference, that something I had written changed her perspective on an issue and gave voice to things she had trouble saying herself.

"Your writing matters .... You're making a difference."

I don't think there are any better things you can say to a writer.

Guess I'm out of excuses.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Body Shaming

Yesterday, while avoiding work, I came across a personally upsetting story. A 13-year-old girl in St. Louis was having trouble with bullying. Classmates had been taunting her and sexually harassing her because she happens to have large breasts. When the girl's mother reported the issue to the school and the school district she was given the most appalling piece of advice. Instead of sympathizing in any way with this poor girl, the school district instead suggested that they consider getting the girl a breast reduction.

I'll let that sink in.

Not only was the school's response wholly unsympathetic to a very real problem of sexual harassment and bullying, but they contributed to it. They blamed the girl's body for the problem. "Kids will be kids," they seem to say, " and if your daughter had a less sexual body, she wouldn't be facing this problem in the first place."

I cannot tell you how much this angers me, in part, because I've been there.

I hit puberty a bit earlier than most of my peers, and by seventh grade had fairly pronounced curves myself. I was wearing a bra long before any of my friends and had size C breasts before any of my friends were out of their training bras. I was actually nicknamed curves and got a reputation for being promiscuous before I even bestowed my first kiss.

So I know exactly what this girl is going through and what she will face moving forward. People will assume she is a very sexual creature before she even has an idea what that means. People will accuse her of wearing revealing clothing, when she is wearing the exact same things as her friends. Boys will claim she is flirting with them simply because in their minds they have sexualized their interactions with her. And people will blame all of this on her simply because of the shape of her body.

I was actually discussing this with a friend of mine the other day. Our looks play a huge part in how people view and judge us, even though there's nothing we have done to develop these bodies. The friend I was talking to about this has a very boyish figure, with very small hips, no ass to speak of, and  small breasts. She was complaining that she could never fill out her jeans to her satisfaction and would give anything to have my curves.

Another friend of mine has an incredibly lithe athletic body. She's petite and adorable, and, in my opinion, has one of the best bodies I've seen. She complained that she wanted my breasts and was actually contemplating a boob job to get them.

I told both of them that while I love my body (you know, when I'm not actively hating it), my curves have created problems for me that they would not appreciate.

For instance, a short time after college, I worked in an office with a very conservative manager. I was told when I began working there that they expected a very modest style of dress, and that I should do my best to adhere to it. I had no problem with that. I had no interest in looking sexy for the office, and I promised to choose my clothes carefully.

Still, about two months into working there, I was taken into my boss's office and told that my outfit that day was far too revealing and that I would either have to put on a cardigan (provided by the boss's wife and about 3 sizes too large) or go home. I was shocked, but agreed to put on the cardigan.

The offending outfit? A pair of loose-fitting slacks and a turtleneck sweater. Apparently the sweater that covered me from neck to wrist displayed my breasts in too enticing a way for my boss.

Two weeks after that, I was called in again. Another problem with a revealing outfit. The long sleeved sweater I was wearing was an over-sized loose knit. Because it was flesh-toned, though, the boss claimed it made me look like I was putting my body on display.

Even though I had a shirt on underneath it, he claimed it was far too sexual for the office.

Another cardigan.

I was not wearing anything sexual to that office and had made a particular effort to wear conservative clothing every day. Yet, because of the shape of my body, even those conservative outfits were considered sexual.

As I told my friends who wished for larger breasts, I'm constantly asked to reevaluate what I'm wearing because it might be considered too sexual.

Button up shirts? Nope, the buttons strain, drawing attention to my breasts.

Turtlenecks? Suddenly I'm a 50s sex kitten.

Tshirts? Let Laci Green tell you about that. 

V-necks? Draws the eyes right down.

Scoop necks? Displays the cleavage perfectly.

And every time, it's somehow my fault for the way my body is.

So to the school that actively blames the 13 year old girl's breast size for her bullying, to everyone who attempts to derive someone's character or motives because of the shape of their body, to anyone who has made someone ashamed of their body, grow some decency.

Our bodies are none of your business. How we dress or don't dress does not grant you license to draw conclusions about our character.  The shape or size of a woman's breasts, hips, stomach, thighs does not give you an excuse to treat her any differently. If you sexualize someone, then that's on you, not on her.

So knock it off. It's not appreciated.

Thursday, November 1, 2012


In case you don't actually know  more or haven't spoken to me in more than a week, today started National Novel Writing Month, known affectionately as NaNoWriMo. During the month of November, writers are encouraged to take on the impossible/insane/fruitless task of writing 50,000 words in 30 days. Every year hundreds of thousands of people across the country and around the world attempt this task, and every year hundreds of thousands fail while some tens of thousands manage to produce 50,000 words that must be edited, proofread, or completely rewritten before anything comes of them.

Every year for the past 4 or 5, I have participated in this exercise in insanity, and only once have I succeeded in writing the full 50,000. Granted, I write more than that on a fairly regular basis these days. Every week I have work assignments that fall between 10,000 and 20,000 words, and I write regularly on my novel and various blogs and journalling projects that are designed to keep my writing muscles flexed. So one would think that 50,000 words would be nothing.


HA! I say to you smug know-it-alls who have never attempted such a task. NaNoWriMo regularly kicks my sorry ass and proves to me that there's a reason I'm an aspiring novelist instead of a published one. Writing 50,000 words on a single manuscript inside of a month requires the creative juices that most muses will never bestow. It requires determination beyond even what is required to finish a graduate degree. And try doing both at the same time! (Actually, don't. There is probably a good reason I quit the program that year.)

Make no mistake. NaNoWriMo is intense. More people fail this task than fail to make it to the gym every week in January. More fail to write 50,000 words than fail to count their calories every day for a full week.

It's hard.

But it's also inspiring. I've spent the last two or three weeks preparing myself for this mad sprint, readying my plots and character ideas, figuring out where my novel wants to go so that I was ready to hit the ground running. Just these few weeks of intense preparation and brainstorming have allowed me to accomplish more of my writing goals than anything else this year. Last night, when NaNoWriMo launched at midnight, I was actually able to write almost 5,000 new words, finishing my first chapter and beginning my second. I haven't done that much work on the damn thing since I started writing this story over the summer.

If you have any task you've been dying to accomplish but have lacked the motivation and system of deadlines that would allow you to actually accomplish it, I encourage you to use NaNoWriMo as a template. You don't have to write 50,000 words. You don't have to write at all. November can be your month for accomplishing impossible tasks. Take on a new challenge. Have you wanted to knit all of your friends scarves for Christmas? November is perfect for that. Want to learn a new language? Become conversant by December 1st.

My husband is actually joining me this November with his own project. He's creating a graphic novel based on the Decemberists album Hazards of Love and he's documenting the endeavor at I'm so excited that he's joining me on this journey, and I really hope he keeps with it. I think that by having both of us setting these impossible goals, we'll be able to hold each other to it. He'll encourage me to get my writing done instead of finishing up the latest season of The Borgias, and I'll make sure he sticks to his goals instead of playing another season of FIFA.

Now, because I know I"m using this blog entry for procrastination from getting into Chapter 2, I should wrap up. Wish us luck! And go and encourage James in his project as well. I'm looking forward to seeing what he comes up with. :)