NaNoWriMo: Researching la vida loca

Ah, yes, here it is, November 11, and I’m clocking in at word 10,048 of my National Novel Writing Month story–only 8,000 words or so shy of where I should be if I were the type of person to worry about these things. Which I really am, truth be told, but worry isn’t the same as blind panic, so let’s just imagine me tossing my head in a devil-may-care manner and laughing merrily in the face of pressure. Or tossing back a stiff scotch in an oh-crap-time-you-are-an-evil-cow manner and whimpering less than winsomely in the face of cold, hard truth.

Or maybe let’s not imagine me at all. That might be easier.

Let’s talk instead about research and all that simply fabulicious advice that gets tossed around about how important it is to avoid diving into the Google brain-suck pool while trying to hammer out that first draft, even if you desperately need to know whether a Sig Sauer takes a magazine or a clip or if you load it by gripping bullets the size of fingers between your teeth and spitting them into empty chambers. Even if you want to know whether it’s possible to perform a Bilateral Cingulotomy on a brain with only a paring knife and a couple of toothpicks (not recommended, by the way).  Even if you think your story is doomed to explode into a million shards of fictive splatterosity  if you don’t discover right this very exact minute how many times a day Spongebob Squarepants has to take a poop.

The preponderance of interwebby advice seems to be, “Stop! Don’t jump! Step away from the Google and keep your eyes on the story. The gaps will wait till later.” (Tell that to Spongebob after he’s stuffed his spongy self with prunes and Metamucil.)

It’s good advice. Obviously. Why waste precious noveling time trekking through the webbyverse to find out whether the frontalis or orbicularis muscles are responsible for lifting the eyebrows and making the forehead all crinkly (it’s the former); or refreshing your memory regarding the more entertaining names for the highly poisonous Caladium plant (Heart of Jesus or Angel Wings; good grief, who names these plants?); or trying to nail down that perfect shade of blue for your villain’s eyes (ultramarine? viridian? glaucous? International Klein Blue?–go on, I dare you).

Obviously your story can wait for you to plug in those pivotal bits of plotterificness at a later date. No brainer, right?

Except–and you had to know this was coming–except sometimes the story can’t wait. Sometimes the story plonks its butt down on the big comfy couch and refuses to budge until you feed it a few tasty tidbits of knowledge, of lore and legend, of nourishing Google esoterica. Sometimes the story wants the facts, ma’am, and nothing but the facts will do to get it moving again.

And the other part of the “except” is this: sometimes this weird and wonderful detour into the land of rollicking factoids brings unexpected gifts, new directions, a previously uncontemplated story angle. Sometimes that “waste” of times pays off in unexpected ways.

Of course, that could well be one of the reasons I’m 8,000 words behind, too, so you might want to go with the experts on this one.

Linky goodness for NaNoers and non-NaNoers

At the last moment–yesterday evening, in fact–I decided, oh what the hey, why not dive into National Novel Writing Month again. It’s been a year or two or more since I’ve participated, and I always feel this little (okay, biggish) stab of jealousy when I read all the angst-ridden November posts about plots gone rogue, late night typing frenzies, and the general woe-ishness that comes from being 10,000 shy of the weekly target.

I’d considered it early October but thought, no, not this year. I don’t have a strong enough story idea bubbling away on the back burner waiting for the chance to upchuck itself all over the keyboard in 30 fun-filled days. But then last night I thought, well, so what? No percolated plot? No problem! I wrote a (very short) series of flash pieces several months ago, maybe 1,200 words in total, set in a dystopian not-too-distant future, and I’d always kinda, sorta thought of revisiting that world one day. Why not now?

And that was that. I’m in.

What about you? Are you dipping your toes in the NaNoWriMo waters this year for the first or the eleventy-first time? Well, if you are, and you’re looking for a little distraction or inspiration, I have some very tasty links to share with you. (And, if you’re not NaNo-ing, click anyway, because these sites have nothing to do with NaNoWriMo, and everything to do with being yummy brain food. Eat up!)

largehearted boy offers book reviews, contests, interesting articles, and (saving the best for last) a section called Book Notes where “authors discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.” In some cases this might be a playlist of the music the author listened to as she or he wrote, in others it might be the music that influenced the writing, or in still other cases the connection might be something else entirely. It makes for fascinating reading, whichever way you slice it.

The Public Domain Review was a new find for me this week, “an online journal and not-for-profit project dedicated to promoting and celebrating the public domain in all its richness and variety.” Here you’ll find books (such asThe Life and Adventures of James F. O’Connell, the Tattooed Man [1845] or A Dictionary of Victorian Slang [1990]), films (such asÉmile Cohl’s Fantasmagorie [1908]), essays, images and audio collections, all of which have made it into the public domain. It’s a gold mine of inspiration. Not to mention an almighty time suck, so enter with care.

Finally, if you’ve run out of stultifyingly boring dramas and brain-sucking sitcoms to watch on TV or on Netflix, check out Unplug the TV. Here you will find approximately a bazillion and four videos to nourish your noggin and help you wow your co-workers with your ability to pontificate about antimatter (does it fall up? Well, does it? Go on, watch and find out); dogs (and the three things they should not be doing), and the science of laziness.


Grammatical fanatical. Or not.

In the past week I happened across two videos that approach English usage from opposite ends of the should/should not spectrum. (And when I say “happened across,” it should not for a second be assumed that I mean I encountered the videos while squandering precious precious editing minutes prowling around the interwebs in search of grammatical hilarities and linguistic amusements, because of course I have far too much self-discipline and restraint for that. Except, of course, when I don’t.)

You’ve likely already seen the videos, because I tend to find myself choking on the dust of stale internet goodies as they stagger their way into oblivion following their nanosecond of fame, notoriety, or general wow-ishness. As I say, though, they were new to me, and what struck me about them (other than the content which is tasty and brain-pleasing in both cases), is their unexpectedness.

I mean, really. Who would have expected to see Weird Al weigh in as a champion of good grammar? Or Stephen Fry–one of the most eloquent, erudite and linguistically capable speakers of the English language on the planet, surely–to take up the cause of the poor, downtrodden grammar abusers? There’s a very pleasing symmetry of contradiction there, or so it seemed to me, anyway, which is why I decided to share the videos with you.

“Weird Al” Yankovic’s Word Crimes:

Stephen Fry vs. Grammar Nazis

Who wins the argument? I can be an insufferable grammatical pedant when the mood strikes, but I have to say I’m with Stephen Fry on this one. There is a time and a place to grab hold of  those pesky rules of grammatical rectitude and grapple them to your soul with hoops of steel (to borrow a phrase from Shakespeare, and, yes, I know Shakespeare was referring to friends, not grammar, but to some people those grammatical rules are as precious as friends, so I think he wouldn’t mind me borrowing, and, whatever, he’s dead, so there’s not much he can do about it, is there?).

So, yes, time and place, yadda yadda, rules of grammar, yadda yadda, but there is also a time and place for getting off the high horse and remembering that of all the many things that matter muchly in this mucky, messed up, heading-to-hell-in-a-handbasket world, meticulous attention to grammatical exactitude is really not so very close to the top of the list.

Of milestones and gratitude

Way back at the end of March when I was dithering about whether or not to sign up for the Blogging from A to Z Challenge, two someones (and, yes, I’m looking at you, Chris James and Jo-Anne Teal) suggested ever so politely that perhaps it would be a good idea to stop being such an asshat and to concentrate instead on wrapping up the first draft of my novel. Well, okay, the asshat part was entirely a matter of (mis-)interpretation, but the message was clear.

I have to admit that my first reaction was a bit of a knee-jerky “Wait a second, mister. Who says I can’t do both?” That lasted for approximately two seconds, and at the end of the two seconds I was mightily glad  I hadn’t embarrassed myself by voicing (so to speak) the question, because the answer was obvious: “No, clearly you cannot do both, you dizzy goombah, or you would have done so last April, or the April before, or at any given time over the last decade when you were futzing about doing everything possible under the sun instead of finishing your freaking novel.”

After pushing my petulance to the curb with a mighty, muscle-stripping heave, I began to have a long, hard think about all the things I’ve allowed to get in the way of my writing. I realized that all those many (many!) things could be reduced to just one thing: me. Me and my remarkable avoidance capabilities. (And those capabilities really are magnificent. If I could bottle them and force the entire planetary population to imbibe, every imaginable activity on earth would grind to a whimpering halt within a fortnight.)

My novel wasn’t languishing unfinished because the plot had become an unresolvable quagmire of triteness and unreadability, or because my characters were riding roughshod over their carefully crafted scripts, or because I couldn’t find the perfect way to describe the sound of rain thwacking against a dumpster. My novel was languishing because I wasn’t writing it.

Obvious, right? Honestly, sometimes I could smack myself into oblivion.

So, yes. That’s where I’ve been for the last bunch of weeks. Writing. Shunning the interwebs, except for the odd bit of research and to pin the occasional staircase on Pinterest (because that’s therapy and I deserve it, so there). I’m not going to lie to you and say I’ve been writing the whole time. I have a full time job that frequently punts my gnawed and useless brain straight from my roll-y office chair onto my comfy coma-inducing couch at the end of the day, and being gifted with special talents in the skiving department, I’ve often found myself lured from the task at hand by a host of other distractions (none of which, sadly, involved housework). But I refused to allow myself to dive back into the quicksand of social media. No blogging, no tweeting, no Facebooking, no reading of blogs, tweets or Facebook. The (almost) all or nothing approach.

And this Sunday I finished the first draft of my first full-length novel. I ripped the last scene out of my reluctant brain, word by bloody word, and at 2:38 p.m. I typed the magic words “The End.” It felt astonishingly good. Oh, yeah, it did.

I do realize that the first draft is commonly referred to as “the vomit draft,” and mine would definitely mesh with that description. Great whacks of extensive editing loom on the horizon. But, hey. It’s going to be so much easier to edit something that actually exists.

So, thank you, Chris, and thank you, Jo Anne, for seconding Chris’s advice. If you hadn’t shoved a stick through my spokes, “the end” would still be miles out of reach.

And, also? Yay!!!! First draft down! Only eleventy drafts to go! Tastes so sweet, I tell you.