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I reached both THE END and 50k. So by the terms of the challenge, I win!
But I had my own terms, and they were less successful.
I dreamed of finding a way to sit down to do the writing more easily this month, and that didn’t really happen. At all.
I secretly hoped — who wouldn’t? — that the finished novel would be tolerable. That didn’t really happen, either. At all.
But oh, geeze, did I ever learn stuff.
1) The brainmeats don’t work very well if the bodymeats are under-slept, poorly fed, under-exercised, and sick. Of course not. It’s easy to forget that brainmeats are just another kind of meat. I need to build a much stronger physical foundation to support the writing.
2) Shiva nata is amazing for writing. I already knew that, but had further proof in the eleventy billion words we wrote after each of my Shiva NaNo classes. It was incredible.
3) I work best with companionship. Many thanks to E. Catherine Tobler, who did countless 15-minute sprints with me, helped with tangled or non-existent plot points, and urged me to keep trudging.
4) Speaking of trudging. . . you have to keep trudging, no matter what. This novel refused to behave well. My very solid outline went to hell by the end of the first day. I threw away 5000 words of a lifeless start and tried again. I pretty much gave up halfway through and started killing off characters just to get their insipid dialog out of my life. It was all very, very bad. But I kept trudging, despite the obvious pointlessness, and much to my surprise, over and over again, I found little treasures. A bit of plot that made sense. A bit of decent characterization. A resonant theme.
I can’t just think up decent stuff; I have to write my way into it. And that means I have to write. Even if it’s stupid. Even if I hate it. Even if it’s total crap.
5) Not all good stories are mine to write. I had some great material to work with here — 1930s! Feminism! Aviation! Ecology! A panoply of monsters from myth and legend! But when it came down to it, it wasn’t the story of my heart. So I need to be more aware of what my heart wants to do, and more nimble at getting back to my heart when I go astray.
And if my heart really wants to write the completely ridiculous noir parody Poutine Cop? Well, then, it’ll be a magnificent lesson in learning to trust my heart.
6) Best of all: somehow, despite the brutal slog, despite all the things that were awful, I came out of November more deeply engaged with writing than I have been for a long time. This project didn’t work, but I’m very eager to find another project that does work.
Tired of the Black Friday hype? Think it’s stupid to line up at Wal*Mart for three days to get twenty bucks off a DVD player or something? Think it’s all bullshit?
It’s time to say Fuck Black Friday again. I was going to wait until it was actually Friday, but since Black Friday itself is creeping into the rest of the week, why not start now?
Last year, instead of having some fancy sale, I just started giving stuff away. I ended up giving out a handful of Shimmer copies, a few shiva nata lessons, a picture of my cats, and a couple hundred bucks to various charities, ten bucks at a time. A lot of people matched the donations I made, and I got some cool stuff from other people as well. It was a wonderful antidote to the relentless commercial pressure of the season. Let’s do it again.
So here’s how it works.
Leave a comment with your request. I can offer Shimmer copies, spots in a Shiva Nata class, my own fiction, charitable donations, poutine-making lessons, and lots more. What would make your life better? What would make the world better? (Note: I totally reserve the right to refuse requests. I’m not gonna give you a million dollars, and I’m not going to donate to your local KKK Rapist Fathers Advocacy Group. Yanno?)
If you’re feeling the spirit and have something you’d like to give away, go ahead and offer it up. Absolutely no commercial pitches. Totally free stuff only. You’re also more than welcome to help grant requests of other commenters, too. There’s so much need.
So let’s go. FUCK BLACK FRIDAY.
What can I do for you?
I do have to work on Friday, so won’t be able to hover over this post every second, granting wishes like a grumpy fairy godmother, but I promise all requests will be addressed.
We are making an absurd amount of food for Thanksgiving. It’s just the two of us — but we each have firm opinions about what’s essential for Thanksgiving indulgence, so the menu grows quickly. I don’t eat meat, but Sean does, so that further expands the number of dishes. The only thing we really have in common is the mashed potatoes.
We both avoid gluten, so have substituted GF bread for the stuffing, brown rice flower to thicken gravy, etc.
Really we need to make more local friends, so we can share this ridiculous feast. We also cook the hell out of Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
So here’s the plan.
What’s on your menu?
Oh, this novel. It’s not going well. I’m behind on wordcount, the plot is virtually non-existent, the characters are insipid and leaden, and my well-researched historical detail consists mostly of characters occasionally reminding each other that it’s 1935. I’ve remembered three or four other novels that would be a lot more fun to write, and am completely convinced this novel is hopeless.
Apparently this is normal. Apparently just about everyone goes through this. Apparently I’m not at all special in my awfulness.
I do not want to believe this. I am a special snowflake, damn it! Even if what I am special for is being the worst writer ever. The worst, I tell you.
There’s a peculiar attraction to being the worst. Yep, that’s the biggest black widow I’ve ever seen, the exterminator told us a few years ago. Yep, that’s an especially huge infestation of yellowjackets in your walls. Yep, your back is astonishingly screwed up, the physical therapist tells a friend. Yep, your balance is 75% damaged on one side and that’s really bad, says specialist at the ear and balance clinic.
It’s almost comforting to have someone agree that your fear and pain are real. External validation FTW! It’s not just you lacking courage and conviction; there’s really something wrong.
And when the expert agrees that there’s a problem, he or she can get to work on fixing it.
But that doesn’t work with writing.
Because I’m not a precious snowflake, delicate and unique. There’s nothing special about this particular kind of suffering. Everyone goes through it. (And the people who say they don’t are great big liars and I hate them.)
Because there are no experts to fix it for me: I have to do the work myself.
Because the solution is the same, regardless of how awful the novel is: sit down and write some more words. When it’s done, revise the suck out of it.
So all I’m doing with this catastrophizing about how terrible I am is wasting time and freaking myself out.
It hurts to let go of the story of my precious specialness and get down to work. But I bet it’ll hurt a lot less in the long run than just giving up.
1. Last night, the United States voted against misogyny, rape apology, racism, the Koch brothers, and theocracy, and voted for equality and progress.
2. Yesterday afternoon, my novel came unstuck. It’s finally my novel, not a plodding alien wasteland. And it is a delight.
3. We are having poutine for dinner tonight.
I’m not gonna lie: my novel is a mess.
I think I figured out why, the other day. Usually, the stories I write have a sort of introspective core (Jerkbrain: I believe you meant to say “maudlin and mopey,” there.), and an element that cracks me up (yes, Jerkbrain, I’m not saying it’s funny to anyone else, just that it has to crack me up). This novel? Not so much. It’s historical, and my lack of knowledge of the period keeps tripping me up. As if that wasn’t enough, it’s a fairly straightforward action story with lots of monster-fighting, and action’s never been my strong point.
So it’s hard. My characters lurch woodenly from one stupid infodump to another, occasionally pausing to pontificate about the injustices they face. Then they go muddle through an incoherent and probably impossible action scene. There’s no glee in this for me, just struggle.
The Jerkbrain, always helpful, has an easy solution for the struggle:quit.
In the pain of the moment, I tend to listen. I tend to get caught up in the energy of despair. And I forget that there are other solutions besides the one the Jerkbrain proposes.
Dance of Shiva makes it easier to interrupt the pattern, and spot other solutions. It’s also practice in staying with things even when they’re too hard and you’re fucking it all up.
There are lots of solutions the Jerkbrain just isn’t seeing.
I could, for example, add the humorous element that I’m missing.
I could add the introspective element that I’m longing for.
Or I could take this as a challenge to write in a different mode. Hell, I used to be a technical writer, so I know that writing without humor or
maudlin moping introspection is not fatal.
I could just make shit up instead of getting hung up on historical accuracy. Or I could take this as an opportunity to learn more about my period, and learn how to smoothly incorporate it into the novel.
And I could remember that this month is almost more about learning how I write novels, than it is about having something tolerable at the end. It’s the journey, not the destination. Already I’ve learned a lot about what kind of stories I feel most comfortable writing, and where I feel out of my depth. I’ve also learned that it’s really really hard for me to do anything later than early evening, so I need to get my words in early, and work on strategies to have more energy and focus later in the day. I’ve learned that it’s really hard for me to get going again after long interruptions — so I need to get my words done in one big burst, and work hard on strategies to get rebooted.
I’m learning more about my ideal conditions, but also learning ways to expand my ideal, so that I’m not such a delicate fucking flower.
So how’s it going for you, Gentle Readers? What obstacles are you encountering? How many ways around them can you find?
Yesterday was November 1, the first day of NaNoWriMo. My NaNoWriMo dream is to be able to write with less fuss and bother and procrastination, to be able to just sit down and write. So how did yesterday go? Well, it took a good four or five hours of procrastination, but eventually I started, and managed to eke out 1681 slow, awkward, painful words, plus another 450 words of false start that I discarded.
Does that mean my Nano dream is a failure? Hell, no. It means it’s the first day, and I haven’t quite mastered the skills involved yet. Rome wasn’t built in a day; when you learn to walk, you fall down a lot; blah, blah, blah. Reasonable and Logical Me knows all this.
But Unreasonable and Reactive Me? She’s terrified. She’s sure this November will end up a dismal failure. This isn’t a rough beginning so much as an omen of despair. The pattern’s too big, too entrenched, too hard to shift. I’m doomed. DOOMED! I gotta say, all that DOOM is pretty scary; no wonder she’s trembling. She’s the secret terror at the heart of the Jerkbrain.
So, one cool thing about the Dance of Shiva? It’s supposed to be hard. If you’re practicing a particular pattern, and it’s coming easily, and each movement flows naturally into the next, and you never make mistakes — well, I’m sorry. That kind of practice feels nice, but it isn’t doing your brain any damn good. It’s like an advanced weight lifter doing bicep curls with a 1-lb weight.
You deliberately make it harder every time you practice. You deliberately set yourself an impossibly hard pattern to master, and work at it until suddenly everything clicks into place and it’s too easy. And then you start working on another impossible variation. All this is very good for your brain, and you learn control and coordination and agility, and you create gazillions of new neural connections — all the good stuff.
But it’s also incredibly useful to get comfortable with doing things that are too hard, with failing. Every day you show up and every day it’s too hard. Every day you think today is the day I master this! and every day you’re wrong. (It’s also a lot of fun — but it’s never easy.) This sucks!you think, and you’re not wrong — but slowly, slowly, you start to notice something.
You notice that failure is a little less scary, a little less risky.
You notice that the things you were failing at a few months ago are easy now — you’ve expanded your comfort zone.
You notice that failures are becoming information, not a judgement — so you can say, well, let’s try something different next time, instead of I am terrible and doomed to die alone under a bridge.
You notice that failure stings less.
Slowly, patiently, I am teaching this to Unreasonable Me. And slowly, slowly, she’s learning, in a deep and physical way, in her bones.
Yesterday was hard. Yesterday I procrastinated a lot and failed to find the ease I was looking for, and the words themselves are thudding and ordinary. But that’s ok, because I know: failure ain’t that bad. So today, instead of moping about how hard yesterday was, I’m going to settle in and write the next installment.
I’m teaching a Dance of Shiva class for NaNoWriMo participants in November. If this sounds awesome to you, join me. There are still a few spots left in Saturday’s class.
Hooray! My story “Food Truck of the Zombie Apocalypse” has been accepted by Silvia Moreno-Garcia for the Dead North anthology. It’s about a woman who sells poutine from her food truck in the aftermath of the zombie apocalypse.
I first learned about poutine when we went to Calgary for the World Fantasy Convention in 2008. Gravy and french fries? Holy crap, sign me up. We only had the poutine at the hotel bar, and while I’m sure there are much more delicious poutine offerings elsewhere in Canada, it was enough to make me a fan.
So when I heard Silvia was doing an anthology of Canadian zombie stories, I knew I was going to write about poutine.
Salt Lake City only has one restaurant serving poutine that we could find, and it wasn’t very good, so we had no choice but to make our own. Luckily, it’s not hard. Here’s how.
I start by making my own vegetable stock (yeah, not down with the meat, here): onions and garlic and carrots and celery and other good stuff, cooked for an hour or two or three until I get a rich golden stock. If we’re in a hurry, I use Better than Bouillon not chicken base, which works pretty damn well.
Next, start the gravy: melt butter, stir in brown rice flour (no gluten here, either) and cook for a few minutes, then slowly add the delicious stock, stirring constantly. The ratio is 1 TBS butter to 1 TBS flour to 1 cup stock; scale according to your needs. Cook another 5 or 10 minutes, stirring often, until properly thick. Add additional seasonings as desired. I suppose you could make gravy from a package, but it’s a lot tastier to do it from scratch, and not much more effort.
Meanwhile, send your husband out to buy fries, and shred the cheese curds. When the fries appear, sprinkle with cheese curds, and top with gravy.
DINNER! Lock the door to hold off the zombie hordes, and chow down.
This year will be my twelfth time participating in NaNoWriMo, an annual event where writers bang out a 50,000 word novel. I love it because I’ve learned over the years that when I have permission to write badly, I actually write, instead of listening to the Jerkbrain tell me how much my writing sucks.
And the final product? Not perfect — first drafts rarely are — but it turns out that when I get out of my own way, and stop letting the Jerkbrain rule the show, I can write a decent novel. (Then why haven’t I published any, for fame and fortune? That’s a whole ‘nother issue. Take it up with the Jerkbrain.)
See, Jerkbrain? I can write!
That’s nice, says the Jerkbrain. But you can only write with this absurd scaffolding. You have to trick yourself into writing with word wars and other foolishness.
On the one hand, so? Writers throughout history have done more ridiculous things than NaNoWriMo to get their novels written; who cares how it happens? Suck on it, Jerkbrain! I see what you’re doing.
On the other hand, the Jerkbrain is not entirely wrong. Jerkbrains usually do have a tiny kernel of truth in them. The trick is to find that kernel without getting caught up in the rest of the message. In this case, I think the Jerkbrain is pointing out that NaNo is hard. It’s true that I can type my 1667 words in 30 or 40 minutes — but it takes a hell of a lot of effort to psych myself up for the effort. It’s exhausting — much harder than the actual writing. It takes so much work to get that point of gleeful freedom.
I want to drop the story that I can only write when I whip myself into a frenzy.
I want to drop the story that I can only write after four hours of screwing around on the internet.
I want to drop the story that I can only write in a rush, with a manic glint in my eye.
I want to drop the story that I need drama and pressure to force the words out.
I want to find flow.
I want to find steadiness.
I want to just show up and write the damn story, instead of being caught up in the stories in my head about why I can’t.
My best tool to make this happen? The Dance of Shiva. This year, I’m going to consciously and deliberately use the Dance of Shiva to help me write my novel. It will help me ease into flow more quickly, help me find solutions to problems of plot or character, and turn the Jerkbrain down to a whisper.
I’m going to practice right before each writing session, and see what spirals out onto the page. I’ve used the Dance of Shiva for remarkable progress in other areas of my life; now it’s time to use it to fill my November with ease and delight.
I’m also teaching a set of Dance of Shiva classes this November — every Saturday from 2-4 mountain time. We’ll dance for an hour, and once our brains are fired up and our jerkbrains are quieted down, we’ll write for another hour. If that sounds awesome to you, check out all the details.
Is it crazy to teach a 4-part class in the middle of November, when I should be writing my novel? Maybe. But I know how incredibly useful the Dance of Shiva is, so I’m positive that teaching this class will only help me.
Will it help you, too?
In September, I had the opportunity to attend the first week of Andrey Lappa’s teacher training, in Leesburg, Virginia. Andrey’s the guy who systematized the Dance of Shiva, a moving meditation practice that is one of my very favorite things in the whole world, so I was eager for the opportunity to study with him. I had no interest in being a yoga teacher, but I do enjoy yoga a lot, so I figured it would all be good.
It was intense. This wasn’t just any old yoga teacher training, because to Andrey, “yoga” is not simply a physical practice, as is most often taught in the United States, but one part of a complete science of enlightenment. And enlightenment? SRS BSNS. Andrey is not screwing around.
Each of the six days had a very challenging 3-hour asana practice. I’m used to much more comfortable practices — but spiritual advancement is rarely comfortable.
I began the practices with a host of limitations. I’ve been slowly recovering from a serious illness last May, and though most of my overt symptoms have disappeared, I still tire easily, and I’m not nearly as strong as I used to be. My yoga practice has been haphazard, and I’m usually too tired to practice when I get home from work. I’m not nearly as flexible as I used to be. I hurt my shoulder once and don’t want to reinjure it.
The first one did, and the second one left me in tears. Then the third practice was a little easier, and the next day was impossibly vigorous but somehow I hung in there.
Andrey asks us to practice with our eyes closed, so we can pay better attention to our own sensations, without the distractions of the other students. He constantly exhorts us to be present and aware. It’s hard to pay attention when you’re two hours into a hard practice and even your shins are sweaty — but it’s also hard not to pay at least a tiny bit of attention when you are constantly being instructed to do so by a stern Ukranian.
Slowly, I started to notice: hey, this isn’t so bad. I started to pay more attention to what my body was doing than the old stories my brain kept retelling. I started to pay attention to what was really going on right now, instead of what I was lazily assuming was going on.
I started to notice: wait, I’m ahell of a lot stronger and more capable and more energetic than I’ve been telling myself. I’ve been playing this stagnant story over and over again, and it’s just. not. true.
So yeah. In some ways, this week-long training changed nothing: I still want to teach Dance of Shiva, I still don’t want to be a yoga teacher. But it changed everything, because I learned, in a really visceral way, that most of the stories I tell myself are total bullshit.
The story that I’m too weak to do intense yoga? Bullshit. The story that I’ll never really recover from when I got sick last year? Bullshit.
The story that I don’t know enough about marketing to teach Dance of Shiva? Bullshit.
The story that everyone else writes better fiction than me, so why bother? Bullshit.
The story that I don’t know how to write blog posts? Bullshit.
All the other stories I tell myself about why I can’t do things? Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit.
Oh, I still have a lot of unexamined stories, and I still catch myself telling the same old stories again and again. But now I know what it feels like to really drop a story, however short the time is before I pick it back up again.
It feels like the easiest, truest thing in the world.