Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Practice Makes... *yawn*

So, NaNoWriMo is nigh, as is the end to the tyranny known as Daylight Savings Time. In recent years these have aligned such that we've already adjusted our clocks and gained back the extra hour of sleep so cruelly denied us at the start of Spring. No so this year, however, as we say farewell to DST between November 2nd and 3rd. As my normal writing time -- if anyone can call NaNo "normal" -- is first thing in the morning, before anyone is up, I trick myself by not adjusting my alarm clock, giving up that free hour in the name of mad drafting. This year, though, is different, so I'm easing in to the transition by setting back the alarm 15 minutes each day. Today is day three of that exercise, which means I'm up... um... *counts on fingers, squints at hand*... well, far earlier than I was a week ago, I'll tell you that. And I'll tell you something else, too. The house is cold and dark at this hour. Only the promise of a cup of incredibly strong cold-brewed coffee got me up this morning, but now the caffeine is coursing through my system, slapping around my synapses. Sweet, sweet caffeine. This easing-into-morning trick is new for me this year, though it's something similar to what we do with the kids when summer ends and school begins. That feels simpler, though, either because I'm already getting up for work, or because the sun has, too.

Anyhow, since I'm up anyway, I'm trying out another new-for-me setup, a wireless keyboard and a new piece of software installed on my little tablet. Now don't worry: I'm certainly not about to turn in my membership card to the Typewriter Brigade, that forum-swallowing monster that Mr. Moon wrought in a fit of inspired madness. But I am astoundingly busy with real-life concerns this year. I'm always a little busy, given the kids and the onset of the holidays -- we carved jack o' lanterns last night, the first harbinger of the End TImes (for the calendar.) Work has me positively hopping this year, due in a large part to the way the State of California implemented some of the finer points of the new healthcare laws. We have a houseguest coming for a day or two soon, which means no pre-dawn typing music, too. It's going to be a season of alternate technologies and stealth noveling, to be sure. So I'm practicing again, trying to coax my groggy brain into not only wakefulness, but into assembling cognizant sentences before breakfast. (I am cheating somewhat and using both the spell-check and the backspace, as a nod to the poor readers of this blog, both of you. I am not entirely heartless.)

I think you can see another reason why I like to tackle NaNo when all sane people are in bed: a tendency towards excessive wordiness. My internal editor is still snug abed, leaving very little censor between my fingertips and whatever thinking parts are currently sitting with their feet up in a metaphorical coffee bath. (The analogy centers are also still sound asleep, thanks for noticing.) Verbosity is an asset in this challenge, as you know by now, and I'm still hyper-competitive enough to feel that, although it's great to be encouraging and nice and supportive on the forums, I still fully intend to stay well ahead of the breaking crest of the wordcount wave. Uh, or something. (Analogies happen in the rewrite.) So, I'm still an over-wordy jerk first thing in the morning. At least that didn't require any practice.

There's still time! I know that many of you have the same story as I do, getting pulled into the madness of typewriters through the general insanity and all-Clemens echo chamber of the Brigade topic on the forums, and then sustaining that love after November is but a cold, dark, sleepless memory. And more than a few of you are Wrimos from the Dark Times before the rise of the Typosphere, yet I do not see you counted among our numbers. Maybe you're just hiding, or maybe you're scared off by my propensity to post replies to anyone that even breathes in our general direction. These are both fine reasons, but if you're not playing along because of business or lack of ideas or love of sleep... are these really true excuses? (Brand new mothers/fathers get a pass. You may thank me for my beneficence later, Mr. Speegle.) After all, the not-very-secret point of this exercise is to carve out a window of uncensored creative time in your incredibly busybusybusy adult lives, isn't it? I mean, imagine me, here on the sofa, our poor dog neurotically pacing through the house because I'm doing something unusual. Even my dog knows this is special, and she's about as smart as a sandwich. So what's your excuse for not partying with the rest of us? Even if your weapon of choice is a pencil, or laptop, or clay tablet. Why not? I certainly hope you're not letting that bastard Self Doubt set up housekeeping in your head.

Our local public radio station has a series they call "Perspectives" which is the favorite part of my morning drive. It's folks from the Bay Area, reading an audio essay aloud about whatever topic they feel like speaking on. One recently was about Art, although I doubt it was capitalized. More like "art", and making and taking the time to create it, even if you're not what would be called "an artistic person" and even if you make your living doing something non-arty. Like, say, fret about the Affordable Care Act and how it's playing merry hell with lower-income hospital patients. You don't much less "art" than that, trust me. I"ll have to see if I can find the piece, but in essence, the author was talking about those of us -- the inclusive "us" here, I'm sure he meant you, too -- who toil away at a secret creative process in our own time, time reclaimed from our daily routines. Art, that whether good or bad, allows us to be defined by something other than "he's a dad" or "he's our database guru" or even "he's my husband and he doesn't have sense enough to stay in bed when it's cold and dark out." Art done for the creator's own enjoyment, in short, and no one else's.

Someone on one of the forums (?) described the 30-days-50K-words NaNoWriMo goal as an "ersatz deadline." I like that, because if you stop to think about it, it's completely true. Why 30 days? Why 50,000 words? Why bother? Chris Baty, founder of NaNoWriMo, lays out the reasons for the numbers in his No Plot? No Problem! book, but your own personal reasons for playing along -- your own "why bother?" answers -- should, I hope, be something like these:

"Because of community."

"Because of creativity."

"Because a small plastic rhino tells me to." (That's me.)

"Because of art."

Note that "to get published" and "to become grotesquely wealthy and lord it over all those who have done me wrong" are none of these reasons, because, let's face it, most of us won't. We won't come anywhere close to those goals, and very few people do. And they are big and lofty and crazily desirable goals, but they also mean hours of effort and revising and commitment, and a lot of things that suddenly don't feel like "art" to me any more. They feel like work, and I have quite enough of that already, thanks. And I do so much of it that I forget there's another part of me that likes to pull out a page, be it real paper or virtual, and just romp around a while. That's the part that needs some practice now and then to stay healthy and alive, and that's the part that got me up out of bed, fired up the tablet, and sat down to type. That's the part I'm bringing to November. How about you?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Two Hands

Blink, and another ten or eleven days go by. November is nigh, the Rhinos are restless.I've got the shadowy form of a book in my head -- tall tales from a daredevil bicycle troupe set around the late 19th/early 20th century. There will be pigs, and hearts broken, and disguises, and ghosts, and chaos. It may be scary in one point (cf. ghosts) and silly in others (cf. pigs.) The Beast is situated, there's a ribbon inking in a baggie, the Rhino is perched and there's paper standing by.

Ten days. Two hands' worth of fingers. It's gonna go fast.

Friday, October 11, 2013


The weather appears to have finally shifted here in the Bay Area. Our blink-and-you-miss-it autumn is upon us, though I have to admit to missing the typical fall colors of my hometown deep in the rolls of the Appalachians, not to mention missing the typewriter get-together!

The typewriter bone was tickling today, and since I had an adoptee to send out to a fellow Nano-er, I went ahead and turned it into a Friday Thrift Lunchtime Loop. The antique shop where I found the wounded-warrior Noiseless has a glass-keyed Royal, for the princely sum of $125. (I paid less than a quarter of that for the Underwood.) The holidays are coming, and I suppose retailers are battening down the hatches for shoppers in need of a good gift. They could do worse than that Royal, though at that price, I touched it only with my eyes.

The other spotting was an electric Singer-branded Smith-Corona, in the now very familiar black plastic case. I only propped the lid open far enough to confirm the presence of a cord and the familiar push-button style keys, and let it lie as well. November is coming. I can feel it, even though I'm surrounded by eucalyptus and palm and sequoia, still wearing their staid summer greens instead of the chromatic riot of a hillside full of oak and sugar maple sequestering away their resources to ready for another winter.

I'm ready, slowly watching the pile of extra machines on the porch dwindling, and hoping I can get them all adopted out or under cover before the rains start in earnest. It's time to bring The Beast out of its off-season home and place it in the designated writing spot between coach and coat closet. I'm pushing to get my November book read for my online book club, and am about ready to gather all the leaves of ideas I have scattered around on index cards and notebooks and see what story I'm going to start this year. True to form, it probably won't be the story that I end with, but I like to go through my own battening-down stage to weather the process.

Three weeks, folks. Just three weeks. That time will pass in the blink of a Rhino's eye.

Caffiene bath

Friday, October 4, 2013

Alpha Omega?

While littering up the Nano 2013 site with my usual Rhino-based nonsense, I came across something in the AlphaSmart subforum that gave me pause. I checked it out, and the rumors are true:

We have reached the end of our NEO 2 inventory, and we will no longer be producing any additional units—but this isn’t goodbye.

File this under "I knew this day would come and I'm surprised it took this long." Yes, Renaissance Learning née AlphaSmart has ended U.S. production of the Neo 2, which I suppose makes it the final model of the line. For all the mock-rivalry between the Typewriter Brigade and the AlphaSmart Nano groups, I am truly sad about this news. I'm a Neo owner myself, after all, having traded in my pimped-but-battered Pro model last summer. It's become central to our homeschooling with my middle child, and I'm actually concerned about taking it away for the month of November as I attempt a multi-device Nano.

The AlphaSmart was and is a wonderful piece of single-purpose technology: durable, inexpensive, highly portable, and doggedly compatible with thirty years' worth of computing devices through the alchemy of cables and adapters. Their market niche has been eroded, though, through the advent of netbooks and (now) full-featured tablets that can be had at the same price point. Add in a $30 Bluetooth keyboard and you have a passable substitute that's also 'Net connected. What could be finer?

Of course that's just audience-baiting on this blog. I don't believe for a moment that a keyboard-and-tablet solution is an acceptable replacement. AlphaSmarts have always been praised for their insanely long battery life and their utter simplicity and utility. It's the modern typists' portable typewriter, a Lettera for a new age, and now, like its inky mechanical predecessors, it's been obsoleted. At least it's in good company.

Neo Rhino

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

A Nano Ditty

Thirty days until November!
Here's three things you should remember:

Using backspace makes you slow
Forward is the way to go.
When you're drafting: keep every word,
There's time in December to polish that turd prose.

Moar werdz

The Typewriter Brigade will form this year
In the forums again, don't you fear.
The Mafia keeps the riff-raff out
While the rest of us gambol about.
Don't be a stranger, come on by.
No pants required! (I don't know why.)

NaNoWriMo Pantsers?

The Rhino is a fickle beast:
Wants you to write when you want to sleep.
But he can't help you unless you're there,
So plant your butt upon your chair.
Roll up your sleeves,
Turn on a light,
Stop making excuses,
And write, write, write.