No, Really… If you could do anything….

I ran into this TED Talk the other day.

And even though it was nested in among such gems as “Your Vagina is Not a Car,” a highly intellectual search for hidden meaning in Kubrick’s version of The Shining, and assortment of official and unofficial music videos, it stuck with me.

If you ask teenagers what they want to do when they grow up, about 80% of them say they want to be one of three things: Doctors, Lawyers, and Engineers. (Well, I think it said engineers. I’ve dated enough of them that there’s a semi-permanent censorship bleep over the word.)

And if you then ask them No, really, if you could do anything in the whole world you wanted, what would it be?

Uhm… well, about 80% (of the total, not just the Doctors, Lawyers, and whatevers) change their answer.

Okay. So 4 out of 5 people –already, in high school–are planning on doing something other than what they really want to do.

Or maybe… they have no sense of how to get from where they are to where they want to be.

I find myself looking around at the people I know–and people I think of as successful–and wondering which one is the happy one? If I have five people lined up, which one is doing what they actually want?

Remember that lecture from college? Look to your left… look to your right… One of those people won’t be here by spring.

This is more… well, add in the person in front of you… and behind you… and all four of those people will be spending their lives doing second-choice jobs in pursuit of stability and money.

And maybe I am the happy one. Maybe, even though I haven’t reached my goal–the fact that I’m still in motion counts for something.

Maybe the fact that I haven’t arrived at a destination I never wanted to get to in the first place matters more than I think.

And either way, so I’m in a job I don’t love, but somehow, maybe… I’m a little less alone than I thought I was.

After all… if 4 out of 5 people could do anything–anything in the world they wanted–it wouldn’t be what they are doing.

Comparing Yourself To Others (A Beginners’ Guide)

I get a whole lot of advice that says not to compare myself to others.

In general, the advice also includes some kind of admonition that the only person you should compare yourself to is you. And something that’s meant to be consoling, but which could almost certainly be said for anything from an infant’s first crayon scratches to Shakespeare. You are where you are.

I don’t believe a word of it.

What I do believe is that if you are going to compare yourself to others, it should be in a very specific way. I don’t, for instance think “I want to write like Shakespeare” is a healthy goal. It’s too big, too general… it’s something that eliminates your own style in the process. Wanting to be someone else isn’t achievable. But if you break it into specific elements you admire, some of it might be. “I should use the word thou more.” well, that’s achievable. (I’m not sure it’s advisable, but you can achieve it, if you want.)

I’m not being humble, here: It’s not where I am that tells me the heights that are out there. Or what’ necessary to succeed. Or where I could improve. Or how far I have to go. It’s looking at others.

And then, you sort out the things that are pure, dumb luck–the lightning strikes–from the things that are hard work. The things you’re willing to work for from the things you’re not. What can you have? What do you want badly enough?

I used to go out and shoot a few baskets, now and then. Now, let’s be honest. I was not good. And–I’m five foot zero and a half–so I’m never gonna be good. Not in any global comparison, anyway. If I’m comparing to Michael Jordan, that’s an impossible, lightning strike goal. He’s taller than me, prettier than me, and has better legs than me. But if I compare to Mike Miller down the street–you know, the guy who spends time with his kids, and gets some exercise, and has fun–well, I could do that. I’d be happier doing that.

And I dance. I can rattle off lists of the greats in this that and the other form, and shiver with awe for all of them. But on a personal level, I connect more with Ray Bolger than with Baryshnikov, and long-term… I want the social connections and longevity and fun of Frankie Manning more than then the elegance of Maria Tallchief.

I lucked out a lot more, when it comes to writing. More of the stroke of luck talent than I have for other pursuits. I’m probably capable of walking out on a professional court at some point. Some of that is lightning strike stuff, and some of it is hard work. I am where I am… but this is where I want to go. Not just one professional writer, but the collective, group of them. Professional-level writing all the way. The get up at three in the morning on a weekend and write crowd. The going places crowd.

What catches my eye when I read this book or that book, and am I willing to do the work to get there?

Electronics for the Fitness Conscious Writer

My fabulous (old model) Fitbit has arrived, and so far, I’ve downloaded some apps, fiddled around with some settings, and lied to it. Lied? Well, maybe not exactly. It asked me what I weighed, and the truth is, I don’t know. Haven’t kept track, since I quit dancing on a regular basis and actually lost weight. Well, whatever it is, I’d like to go down. Or up. I’d like to be more compact, in any event. Since there wasn’t a box for “more compact,” I checked lose weight, and made a guess. I really have no intention of finding out, but I will notice when my bras get looser.

It told me I’m probably going to die.

I also got in about two hours of stomping around the house, running up the pedometer excitement. I’m not sure if this is going to be a new leaf I’m turning over, or just the same ol’ playing with new electronics thing.

So, as of right now…

Writers Maybe Should Have it Because:

It will remind you to get up and move around instead of just sitting there, staring at your computer screen. I haven’t totally decided whether that’s a good thing, or just a Harrison Bergeron moment waiting to happen.

It also pulls the thought of exercising to the forefront, and breaks it into small, achievable goals, instead of hitting you in the face with “I must be eating kale and raw vinegar right now.”

I’d love to find a “Set non-fitness goals” option, and track my daily word count or editing goals that way, but as of right now, I haven’t found it.

The Good:

SURPRISE! The Fitbit App is actually small enough to run on my ancient phone. I didn’t even have to remove anything that was already there.

The thing is generally easy to work with, and pretty intuitive. I’m not looking up how-to’s every other second.

I also think that tracking water intake might have a tendency to make me drink just a little less other stuff which can’t be all bad.

The Bad:

As I said, I’m not really a “weight” person. The tracker is definitely weight conscious, and wouldn’t let me so much as begin without punching in a number. **shudder** It has also tried to sell me a wi-fi connected scale. (I might, actually track weight, if I didn’t have to know, myself… but apparently, not an option.) That said, it is possible to hide the “weight” tile in the dashboard.

Early Morning Word Sprints (Caveman Style)

I got up this morning and did a nice, long word sprint, instead of my usual blog post. I got a lot done, and wound up with enough of a scene that I didn’t feel particularly guilty about going out to play. It gave me something nice to put in my “progress charting journal” and really does… uhm… compliment the on-going “took a vitamin D capsule in the pretense that it’s actually morning when I get up”. It worked well, and there’s a fairly good chance I’ll do the same thing again, at some point.

Maybe I’ll be a little more organized about it and figure out I’ll put up that day at some time in the evening.

Word sprints are working out fairly well for me… well, when I remember to do them. I got two of them in, today. They were both an hour long, and that amounts to about six pages, all with teeny-tiny writing. (Don’t ask the size of the pages.) I’m doing the writing longhand, at the moment, which seems to keep me in a much more linear space, and it also puts the computer (and Twitter and the News and and my e-mail and my several writing forums) out of reach.

Linear is very, very good.

I’m reminded of that every time I pick up a section to revise.

Eventually, I’ll wind up with a stack of little yellow papers, and type them all into the computer (because nobody’s willing to accept a shoe box full of little yellow papers) and that will be like a first going over editing. As long as I can keep all of my little yellow papers together long enough to get them into the computer, this process could really work out well for me.

I did some word sprints socially during NaNoWriMo last fall, and then, a presentation by Jenny Marts (Writing Sprints Journal) at the Pikes Peak Writers’ Conference kicked me back into it. I haven’t gotten as far as chasing down sprinting buddies, because I’m not exactly sure what I’d have to report back to them, besides a number of handwritten pages. I’m also–not always, but frequently–going a lot longer with my sprints than we did for Nano.

In a weird way, writing sprints seem to be a thing I’ve always done. Not, perhaps, the organized, pre-emptive, I’m going to sit down and do this thing, but the last minute, NO, REALLY, YOU HAVE AN HOUR AND A HALF, NOW COME UP WITH SOMETHING COHERENT! thing.

So, there you have it. If you’re going to wait until the last minute to get anything done (and well, yeah. I am.), you should probably figure out a way to get yourself as many last minutes as possible.

Does anybody have any tips on how to make sprinting work for revisions? How to measure revision progress in general?

Dreams Without a Sell-By Date

I was talking to a coworker… or maybe this is a theme, and it’s just suddenly becoming obvious… But, it was one of those “At my age” conversations. So, here she is, in a job that she hates, coming off the last job that she hated, and which finally just hit the boiling point. Just couldn’t stand it, anymore, so here she is… And she was basically saying… what else can I do, at my age? (Her age is older than I am, but probably still about an eternity from retirement.)

The thing is, she had ideas. None of them are really things she’s passionate about, and most of them are things that you probably should be passionate about, if you’re going to make them your life’s goal. But they sound better than here, and why not?

Oh, yeah. That’ right. At my age… There are geographic factors, too. Kids, grandkids. Family in the dying little town we live in. We’re all good at finding reasons not to jump. Not to face the unknown.

The truth is, I don’t believe either one of us should count on our current job being here for long. Definitely not until I retire. Probably not even until she retires. And it’s really not that great a job to begin with. More of a devil you know situation.

Not everybody gets be an astronaut when they grow up.

And most kids… we pump them full of the kind of dreams that do have sell-by dates. How many years do you have to become a baseball player? I mean… you might spend your eighties tossing a ball around with the Senior Sluggers, but you’re never going to play for the New York Yankees. No, not even way out in left field. How long before you lose your chance to be a rock star? Do you even want to be President of the United States after you’re old enough to buy a beer?

Writing is different.

You can actually do that, regardless of age or geography for as long as you’re interested in doing it.

You can be better at eighty five than you were at twenty five.

There’s a lot of value in the idea that I can still make it, even at my age. Even at her age.

And I can make it doing something I’ve always loved.

I’m still working toward that goal.

In school, I got a lot of That’s Nice, dear… Have you considered this assessment-indicated career in forestry and wildlife management? Certainly more than anyone suggesting that writing could be a career path in itself.

 

So, I’m Going To Drown…

I went ahead and bought a neti pot. It’s one of those maybe it’ll help ideas that I’ve been toying with on and off for a while. On the one hand, it’s a really cool idea. In one nostril, out the other, and all kinds of pollens and allergens down the drain. It probably can’t hurt, and it might even help. The people who like it really do like it. The people who don’t already drowned, so they don’t get a vote.

The thin, dry air at the writers’ conference is probably what pushed me over the final bump, along with the idea of some recent studies that correlate antihistamines with Alzheimer’s disease. (And actually, this does make since to me, since Alzheimer’s appears about twice as often in women, and guess what one of the ingredients in Midol is, so goodbye, little pink pills.)

I had a friend… well, okay, he was maybe more of a two-legged house pet… or… class mascot or something… Uhm… well, I digress.

Once upon a time, I knew a boy who was able to insert the ink-tube from a ball point pen into his nose all the way up to the nib, so he’d look pretty much like he’d shoved the whole pen into his nose.

That’s really pretty much everything I remember about him.

Pretty sure Neti Pots can’t get lost in my sinus cavity.

**Crosses fingers**

I am pulling apart the recently finished, pared down, and still necessary scenes from my last butcher job, and adding them to the scenes that I found entirely missing.

I’m not sure what I have left, but it looks as though my word count will come out sane, at this point.

 

On Blog Hops and Challenges

April is shaping up to be a slightly above average month. It’s not fabulous, and it’s not dismal… just slightly above average.

I’m doing the A-to-Z challenge this month, which, all things considered, is not all that much of a challenge, since I make blogging a part of my daily routine, anyway. My theme is the letter M. No, I don’t know what I was thinking. The general idea is that each day, there’s a post with a different letter of the alphabet, and also an M. It’s not a bad idea. It keeps me from settling into the familiar, and I’m learning new things, mostly by diving into wikipedia at the last moment and searching for something—anything–that fits the theme.

I started the month with a modest spike in traffic. Several days a little bit higher than I usually get. And now, that seems to have trailed off.

The past couple of days, I’ve actually been lower than usual. That may be that my readers don’t really want to hear about basketball or physics, and it may be the fact that tracking down those subjects took me longer, so the posts weren’t out anywhere close to my usual time. I’m not sure.

I’m expecting another spike at the end of the week, when I do the StoryTime blog hop. Which, by the way, I’ve worked out a way to fit into the A-to-Z challenge. (So much easier when you get to make things up! Thank you, fiction!)

So, all in all, April will wind up being slightly above average. I’m not knocking it.

The thing is… I’m not sure to what extent it’s the challenge or the hop, itself that drives the numbers. I’m starting to think it may be the interaction, the going out and meeting people. The enthusiasm for it. The sheer convenience of having people listed in one neat, orderly place.

I wind up with good results, whenever I’m out there, starting conversations. But when I do it on my own, I’m looking for people I have a lot in common with, instead of just working down a list.

And I’m usually working on my own blogging platform, so it’s easier for people to follow me and interact than it is when I’m on somebody else’s list. (No, I don’t know whether that’s a good thing in the long run. From time to time, I’ve thought about running a mirrored site, so that one or two of the other platforms get in on it. I don’t know.)

So, I’m thinking about what my next steps should be, and honestly, I think they’re going to be more seeking out people than blog hops or blogging challenges. I know I need to get out there more often.

What do you think? How have you grown your websites and blogs?

Blogging Ahead

So, in order to get some blog posts queued up and ready to go on the days when I’ll be at the Fabulous Pikes Peak Writers’ Conference, I’m taking a quick peek at the A-to-Z Challenge schedule, and I find that if I include travel time, I’ll need posts V-Z while I’m there, and also one more post for the 1st of May.

April 26th also happens to be the StoryTime Blog hop, which means that letter V will have to be a short story in a sci-fi/fantasy/speculative fiction vein. It doesn’t necessarily have to be aimed at children, but it probably does have to avoid sex, violence, and language.

And I believe the theme for my alphabet challenge would be the letter M.

I don’t have the faintest idea what I was thinking.

Oh, well. Too late for buyer’s remorse, now.

The thing is, If I start early and stay ahead of it, I may be able to cram just about anything into my letter M theme.  If I slip behind, it’s going to take more and more time to find today’s appropriate letter. (As opposed to “hey, I can throw that over here.”)

The process might get me ahead of schedule for good.

The Great Theme Reveal

Anybody who’s read this blog for long knows I’m not much of a “theme” person. I have to drag themes kicking and screaming out of my novels, and most of the time, I have no particular desire to build or work with a theme. I’m not someone your tenth-grade English teacher would like. My tenth-grade English teacher(s) spent the entire year hinting about ways to do drugs in class, on the premise that stoned might be an improvement, and ultimately wound up being sainted for not killing me in my sleep.

At any rate, my theme for last year’s A-to-Z Challenge was a Fly-By-The-Seat-of-Your-Pants stroke of brilliance: Whatever the hell happens to pop into my head. It worked well enough. I made it through.

This year, I thought about doing an upbeat complicated relationships thing, because that always seems to work its way into my stories, but let’s be honest, I’m not really sure all my readers are up for a recitation of A-to-Z relationships, and quite frankly, it would almost certainly devolve into a list of rare and exotic paraphilias. Why no… I just needed something that started with the letter U. Why do you ask?

That could sure get thorny fast.

Do I really need a theme?

Okay, so the one that finally popped into my head was…

Words that begin with the letter M.

That doesn’t seem so unreasonable. I’ll need to add words that don’t begin with the letter M to make it fit the challenge, but with some effort, I think I can make it work.

Words that begin with the letter M it is, then.

If you want to join in the challenge, all the details are here.  Let me know if you’re playing along.

Revision In Rhythm

A while back, I made a list of twenty-three scenes that are either missing or completely fouled up that my novel needs to survive. I’m starting with the ones that don’t exist at all, and working my way back to the ones where there’s some material already done.

I’m writing longhand, and then typing into a project in my novel writing software.

I have three more scenes than I did at the beginning, and they’re running a little long. I have to figure out how much wiggle room I’m willing to eat up.

At this moment, the novel is scattered out across at least three projects; there’s one for the material I’m already more or less comfortable with, there’s one for the not-even close to finished scenes that I’m salvaging from my first draft, and there’s one for the shiny new scenes I’m writing right now.

Well, it cuts down on distractions, and it keeps me from looking at tens of thousands of words and being overwhelmed.  Other than that, no, I’m not sure it serves a purpose.

I also have some short-story excitement to type up.

And some short stories to write. I am slipping behind on the 52 week challenge. I’m trying to convince myself that it IS a priority.