Keeping Score: December 4, 2020

So I didn’t win NaNoWriMo this year. It wasn’t even close.

But I’m not quitting on the novel. I’ve come too far not to see it through.

And NaNoWriMo has got me flexing my writing muscles again. After today’s writing session, I’ll have churned out almost 2,000 words in a single week. That’s not novel in a month pace, sure, but it’s a novel-in-a-few-months-pace, which is better than I’ve been able to achieve since the pandemic began.

Even so, I still feel pressed for writing time. I want to brainstorm for a bit, every day, before working on a scene. Or after finishing a scene, reflect on what might be missing from it, what I’ll need to add the next day. And that’s hard to do, when I’ve only got thirty minutes or so free to spend on the novel.

It’s good that I’ve got some vacation coming up at the end of the month, then. That’ll certainly give me more time in which to work.

But I want — I need — to carve out more time during a regular work day. Which might mean dropping some of my other hobbies (I’ve been brushing up my French, and learning Swedish) in order to make that time. Or maybe I’ll get up even earlier, so I can make that time at the start of the day.

Not sure what’s best. Gotta figure something out, though.

What about you? What do you do, when you feel like you’re not getting enough writing time?

Keeping Score: November 27, 2020

Did I say I could write at least half a day this week, free from distraction?

turns to self from last week: Oh my sweet summer child.

I’ve been able to put in a full day of writing just once. Once

Every other day, I’ve had my water shut off and construction going on in both the room right next to my temporary office (I’m currently working in the dining room) and above it. They’re grinding, sawing, singing, at random intervals, throughout the day.

It’s…impossible to concentrate.

Still, I’ve managed to squeeze some words out. Crossed the 11,000 word mark on the novel yesterday, which felt good.

But I’m nowhere near close to hitting 50K by the end of the month. According to NaNoWriMo, at my current pace, I’ll be lucky to finish by end of February 2021 (!).

So while I’m bummed about not “winning” NaNoWriMo this year, I’m still glad I did it, for two reasons.

First, because I was doing it, I was able to convince a friend to take the plunge, and try his hand at his first novel. And he’s won! He’s well past 50K at this point, and is on track to wrap up the first draft of his first novel. I’m jealous of his word-count, true, but I’m also overjoyed that he got it done. Can’t wait to read it, when (if) he’s ready for beta readers.

Second, because the time pressure for word count did push me to stop using outlining as an excuse, and just start writing. I was terrified of getting lost, of not being able to write it if I didn’t know where I was going.

I forgot that I’ve written all of my other novels without an outline. All of them. Short stories, as well.

I’m not a full-on pantser, but I do discover things while I’m writing that I don’t seem to think of when simply outlining. I need a plan to get started — characters, situation, possible ending — but once I’m in it, the plan gets altered so much that a detailed outline would be pretty much trashed by the time I’m 5,000 words in.

Outlining, for me, comes later. Once the first draft is done, and I’ve mapped out all the place I want to go, all the things about the world I want to see. Then I can pull together a detailed outline, find the weaknesses in the story, and use an updated outline to produce the second draft.

So I’ve learned a bit about my own process. It takes longer, this way, I feel, but at least it happens. Better to charge ahead and produce a draft that can be edited, then to spin my wheels creating an outline that’s going to get thrown out once ink hits the page.

And what about you? If you did NaNoWriMo this year, what did it teach you about your own writing process? Do you write better in the morning or evening? Do you need to outline it, or do you need to wing it? Can you write through distractions, or do you need a calm place in which to work?

Radicals Disguised as Conservatives

My wife and I are re-watching The West Wing for the first time since Trump took office. It’s been…revelatory, to see those people and those controversies again, after the last four years. To imagine (again) a White House whose biggest scandal might be some harsh words said to a fundamentalist on television, a White House where a single lie to the Press Core can occupy a character’s arc for a whole episode.

A White House that might hire Ainsley Hayes.

If you’re not familiar with the show, Hayes is a young Republican that out-debates a high-level member of the President’s staff on a political talk show. When the President finds out, he decides to hire her to work in the White House Counsel’s office. She refuses, at first, to come work for a Democrat. But after seeing them working in the White House (as part of being there to turn the job down) the Chief of Staff summons her sense of duty, and she accepts.

I love the Ainsley Hayes character. She’s an excellent counter-weight to the arrogance of the other staff members, she’s smart and witty and optimistic amidst the daily hustle and bustle of the administration. And she faithfully represents the Republican position on issues circa 2000, right down to her objections to the Equal Rights Amendment.

It’s during an episode where she has a casual debate with another staffer on the ERA that she articulates the Republican governing philosophy:

I believe that every time the federal government hands down a new law, it leaves for the rest of us a little less freedom. So I say, let’s just stick to the ones we absolutely need to have water come out of the faucet and our cars not stolen.

This is an absolutely accurate summation of what Republicans believed (and many still believe).

The problem is, it’s not a conservative stance. It’s a libertarian one.

Libertarians want to roll back the role of government to what it was in the pre-industrial period: foreign defense, a little bit of property law, and that’s it. That’s why the Libertarian Party wants to legalize all drugs: the War on Drugs is not in service of either of those goals.

Which is all well and good, but neither is Social Security. Or the fire department. Or public schools.

If you believe that more law means less freedom, then you have no interest in making good laws. Because the only good law is the law that never gets passed.

This stance has been masquerading as conservatism in the United States for the last few decades, but it is not conservative.

To try to recover the conservative position, let’s turn to the writer considered the progenitor of the movement, Edmund Burke:

Society cannot exist, unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without.

Hmm. Doesn’t sound like he thinks fewer laws means more freedom.

Nothing turns out to be so oppressive and unjust as a feeble government.

Oh? He doesn’t want to make government so small he can “drown it in the bathtub”?

Two more quotes, both of which, I believe, sum up the actual conservative position:

A state without the means of some change, is without the means of its own conservation.

And:

The greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse.

In other words: Modern Conservatism is opposition to radical change

That may sound like a small philosophy, but it turns out to be a big one. Burke was writing (from the safety of England) during the French Revolution, forming his philosophy out of opposition to the Terror.

He opposed both the refusal of the French aristocracy to change and the radical changes being made by Robespierre et al.

The conservatism of Burke fully believes in the power of government to do good. But it acknowledges the potential for government — like any powerful organization — to do evil.

It’s a combination of a skeptical view of the nature of people — government being necessary, in part, to protect us from our worse instincts — and a skeptical view of power wielded without check.

So while Burke might have opposed something like the ERA in his own time, someone like Burke dropped into the US of the 1970s, where women had been voting and going to college and having careers for decades, would have seen no issue with enshrining their equal status in law. In fact, he would have (rightly) seen it as a preservation of liberty against backsliding by the state.

Okay, one more quote:

The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion.

For a true conservative, one of the purposes of law is to firmly entrench the rights and liberties of the people. Thus more law can and does mean more freedom, if those laws are written correctly.

Also note that for Burke, liberty is not the freedom to do as we please. Burke believed that we could not be free unless we tamed our passions; that only a people with their emotions in check could be said to be free.

To take a more modern example, freedom does not mean the freedom to go without wearing a mask. Public health fits squarely in the realm of government, and those who defy laws written to preserve public health are not exercising their liberty, but inciting anarchy. That’s a true conservative viewpoint.

It’s difficult to see, after decades of the Republican party trying to put their stance into practice, but they are not conservatives. They’re radicals, shading into libertarians, wrapping themselves in a tradition they no longer follow.

Keeping Score: November 20, 2020

Slow but steady.

I’m at a little more than 7,000 words on the new novel so far this month. Behind where I need to be to finish NaNoWriMo, but further than I was a few weeks ago. That’s got to count for something, right?

Writing during the week has been difficult. Work has been…stressful, and I’ve needed to come in early and stay late, just to keep up. That’s obviously cut into my writing time, but it’s also drained my batteries before I even have a chance to sit down at the keyboard for the day’s words.

As a result, while on the weekend I built up to around a thousand words a day, during the week I’ve fallen back to a few hundred. Sometimes. If I’m lucky.

There’s light at the end of this tunnel, though. I’ve got a week of vacation coming up. A full week, when I can write at least half the day, before house and family obligations pull me away.

It might not be enough time, even then, for me to catch up to where I need to be to reach 50K by November 30th.

But I’m going to try for it, nevertheless.

Hope your own writing is going well, and if you’re trying NaNoWriMo, that you’re slaying each day’s word count, day by day.

Onward!

Keeping Score: November 13, 2020

Work on the novel has been slow but steady this week.

I’m not getting down more than a few hundred words a day. But I am getting them down.

The slow pace feels like a lack of time, for me. As in, I don’t seem to have enough time to gather together my thoughts about where the story should go, and then set them down. Like I have just enough time to do one, but not the other.

And for NaNoWriMo, I need to do both.

Hoping to be able to make up some lost time this weekend. Wish me luck!

Biden Defeats Trump

You love to see it.

Jesus, we actually fucking did it.

We’re kicking the Giant Orange Baby out of the White House.

This is an historic victory, for so many reasons.

First Black woman elected VP.

First South Asian VP.

First woman VP, period.

A record 74 million votes and counting for the winning candidate. In the midst of a global pandemic. And while the incumbent spent months casting doubt on the entire election process.

Biden’s also the most experienced President-elect we’ve had in a long time.

Obama was a one-term senator. Bush II had been a state governor, but hadn’t served in the federal government at all. Same for Clinton.

And we all know Trump hadn’t worked in government at all, not even at the level of parking attendant.

You have to go all the way back to George H.W. Bush to find a President with anything like Biden’s experience. Bush I had been VP to Reagan for eight years, and before that he’d been a Congressional Representative, the US’ Ambassador to the UN, and CIA Director.

It’s a good precedent. Bush I was a steady hand at the wheel, avoiding the quagmire in Iraq that his son would jump into feet-first, and navigating the end of the Cold War with grace.

But maybe a better parallel for Biden is even further back, nearly sixty years back, with LBJ.

Like Biden, LBJ served for decades in the US Senate before becoming VP to a younger, less experienced, but more charismatic President. And when he took office, he was seen as carrying the burden of finishing what the previous President had started. Just we look to Biden to consolidate and extend Obama’s legacy.

Thankfully, LBJ was a master at getting legislation passed, which is how a Texan ended up signing both the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act.

Biden’s going to need some of that skill to work with Congress, especially if the Republicans hold onto the Senate and McConnell decides to continue his role as Majority Roadblock.

We can only hope the parallel holds that far. Goodness knows we could use some good luck, here in the States, after four years of being cursed with the worst administration in over a hundred years.

Keeping Score: November 6, 2020

I thought writing during a pandemic was hard.

Turns out, writing during a tight election where one of the candidates has spent the last several months shouting “Fraud!” at the top of his lungs whenever someone mentions mail-in voting (while casting his own votes via mail) is even harder.

So I did start working on a new novel this week, for NaNoWriMo. And I have worked on it each day.

But I’ve made very little progress. Only 1,424 words to date.

I’m trying not to stress about it. I have enough to worry about already, from work happening on the house to day-job deadlines looming next week to the pandemic getting worse in my city to trying to help my wife convince her mother that no, in fact, Biden will not come personally to her house to confiscate the guns she doesn’t have and disband the police department.

It’s a lot.

But I want to tell this story. I’ve been thinking over these characters for a few months now, and I want to see where they go. I want to show you their world.

I just have to build it first.

What about you? If you’re doing NaNoWriMo, how is it going?

Please Vote

The Washington Post has a comprehensive run-down of everything the Trump regime has broken over the last four years. The list is long, and it starts from the very first day of their time in office.

We need to roll it all back.

But more than that, we need to fix the broken parts of American democracy, that have allowed a minority government to stall progress and enrich themselves at the expense of the rest of us.

We need to reform the Supreme Court. Justices should have term limits. And the power the justices have arrogated to themselves of deciding the constitutionality of laws passed by Congress should be removed, and placed in a completely separate, explicitly bi-partisan, Constitutional Court.

We need to abolish the Electoral College. We elect governors and mayors directly. We should elect the President directly, too.

We need to admit both Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico as states. They deserve the full rights (and responsibilities!) of citizenship.

Finally, we need to address the balance of power between Congress and the Executive. Congress should take back powers it’s given away, like the ability to declare a state of emergency.

And it should reduce the powers of the executive branch where they have been delegated. For example, border patrol agents should have no special powers to search and seize, no matter how close to the border we are. Federal police should not be able to deploy military weapons against citizens who have peacefully assembled. And moving funds between agencies or programs (when Congress has explicitly earmarked them) should be labeled a crime, and thus an impeachable offense.

All this, in addition to specific policy shifts, like stopping the provision of military gear to police departments, ending the abuse of refugees and migrants, and rebuilding the State Department as the primary driver of foreign policy.

It’s a lot. But it’s not impossible. We can do it, but it’s going to take all of us.

So please, vote. Vote not as the end, but as the beginning, of building a better country together.

Because none of us are free, unless we are all free.

Keeping Score: October 30, 2020

So I found a cure for the distractions last week: Stop reading the news.

I’m serious. Before last week, I’d check three different news sites in the morning, first thing, before sitting down to write. I felt informed, sure, but I also used up time in the morning that I could have spent writing.

So now I’m…not doing that anymore. I wake up and write, for about an hour, before doing anything else.

I still read the news, of course. I just do it after my writing is done, not before.

And so far, it’s working! I’ve been able to churn out anywhere from 800 to 1,200 words a day, doing things this way.

Which is good, because NaNoWriMo starts on Sunday, and I’ve signed up for it again.

I know, I know. There’s too much going on. I’ve already got a novel I need to doing additional editing passes on. And what about that series of short stories that I wanted to do, based on those horror writing prompts?

The thing is, I logged into my NaNoWriMo account last week, just to blow the dust off it, and I realized that every novel I’ve ever written started out as a NaNoWriMo project.

Even if I didn’t finish the novel during that November, I got enough of a start that I eventually finished that draft.

So I signed up. I think the previous short story idea I had, about a woman in the eighteenth century who fights to protect an endangered species — dragons — has enough there to be longer than a short story. I already put off starting it once, because the more I worked on it, the longer it grew.

Well, if I just call it a novel off the bat, the length’s fine, isn’t it?

As training, I’m working through Lisa Cron’s Story Genius. It’s got a series of exercises for drilling into the bedrock of your story and figuring out what really makes it tick, so (presumably) writing the novel itself becomes easier. For example, writing a full scene from your main character’s past that shows the origin of the internal issue they’re going to work through (in the course of the novel).

I’m doing it for the horror short story, for now, not the novel (not yet). First because, well, doing it on the novel would be cheating. Second because I’ve not used this book before, so I wanted to try it out on something small to see if it works for me. And third, because I was kind of flailing on the short story. I hoped some structure would push me forward.

And it has, so far. As I mentioned, I’ve been churning out backstory scenes, working through my main character’s personal issues so I know just what situation will push them out of their comfort zone (and into the plot).

I’m hoping to have enough worked through before Sunday that I can at least write a first draft of the story, and get it out of the way before I need to focus on the novel.

But if not…Oof. I’m not sure what I’ll do. Start the novel, I suppose, in order to keep up with the NaNoWriMo pace? And pick up the short story on the other side, in December.

If any of you are doing NaNoWriMo this year, look me up! My user name’s mindbat , let’s be writing buddies, and help keep each other’s spirits up!

Keeping Score: October 23, 2020

Distractions piling up this week.

First, there’s the upcoming election, which has my stomach in knots. We need to kick out the current regime in the US, but even if voted out, will they go? Even if they leave, what will they destroy on their way out?

Second, we’re having some work on the main bathroom in the house. Which has meant days where the water’s shut off. Days where the workers pounding on the floor right above my makeshift office feels like they’re hammering directly into my skull.

Third, the short stories I’ve been sending out, including the one that I feel is the best thing I’ve written to date, are getting rejected, one by one. I know I’m not supposed to take that personally, but they make me question myself.

I mean, what am I doing, really? Building a writing career out of fifteen minutes here, thirty minutes there? Who am I fooling?

The writers whose stories I know, the ones that have made it, all have spent more time on it. More time writing, more time editing, more…time, in general. I don’t know if it’s a constant source of tension with their families, but…I can’t take that kind of time.

So I’m down and doubting, dear reader. Unsure of myself, and this thing that I’m doing.

I don’t want to quit, but…if all my writing has is a weird half-life, scraped together from minutes in the day, is it something I’ll ever be good enough at? And if all I’m doing is doodling on scraps of paper that might end up on the fridge if I’m lucky, why am I doing it?