Ramping up for NaNoWriMo 2011

30 10 2011

Astute readers of my last post will have read, close to the bottom, a word that they probably have never seen or heard before: NaNoWriMo.

Don’t worry about it, 10 days ago I had never heard of this word either. But that was before I went to a writers’ conference, where each of the 800 participants was talking about it like it was some kind of holy grail.

Nano what? Nanotechnology? No, that’s something different. Nanoseconds? Uh-uh.

NaNoWriMo is “National Novel Writing Month,” also known as “November”. The movement was founded in the San Francisco Bay Area (where most of the world’s great, innovative and ground-breaking things tend to be founded) 12 years ago as a challenge to get people to sit down and write. Just write. Not edit, or research, or read, or rewrite, but WRITE.

Yup, I'm in!

The goal is to put 50,000 words down on paper (or a computer screen) during the 30 days of the month. For those who are wondering, that is a tall order, even for folks who do this kind of thing all the time. Sure I can bang out a blog post of 400-600 words in maybe an hour or so.  But NaNoWriMo will demand a much higher level of proliferation (folks also sometimes call this “verbal diarrhea” or “literary vomit”) and most of all, discipline.

50,000 words means a daily tally of 1,667 words, for 30 days straight. That is more than three blog posts. Every day.

That is like running a marathon each day for a month. I would be pretty sick and tired of running after that, I think. Of course, my hips and knees will have called a strike halfway through.

I’m sure by the end of November, I will be sick and tired of words, and my computer screen, and my keyboard, and that damn voice in my head, and that devil sitting on my shoulder. Am hoping my fingers, wrists and nerves survive to see the end of it too.

But the good thing about NaNoWriMo is exactly that – the deadlines, the pressure, and not wanting to give up because nobody wants to be a quitter.

The organizers have a great website with motivational strategies to fight the beast that will beset each and every one of us sooner or later…. the beast called: “There-Are-A-Million-Other-Things-I-Must-Do-Right-This-Very-Second-That-Just-Can’t-Wait”. Organized write-ins will up the peer pressure and make sure participants are not just staring at a blinking cursor on a blank computer screen for three hours a day.

The Zurich write-ins are at a local Starbucks. I see my caffeine intake peaking.

By virtue of the fact that I am telling you about this means I am making a silent and solemn pledge that I will finish the project to the best of my ability. And I’m basically unemployed now, so hey, I have the time. Maybe I could cheat and include blog posts in the 50,000 word total. In the end, I think any sort of writing is accepted by the kind folks in Berkeley. They are a tolerant people.

So for the next 48 hours I will go away and mentally prepare myself for my month of marathons. I have no idea yet what I will write, or about whom. In any case, at the end of it, I will be 50,000 words and one fascinating life experience richer. What I do with all that remains to be seen.

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Writers’ Conference 101

24 10 2011

I am just getting back from my first ever real live Writers’ Conference. Well, I did go to another conference about two years ago, but it was kind of local and small, and I only stayed for two sessions. So as far as I am concerned that didn’t really count.

At this conference, for which I flew close to 6,000 miles, I was one of about 800 participants. We took over an entire Sheraton hotel, and arrived on the day that two former U.S. Presidents graced that very same establishment (different conference) with their presence. Along with a rag-tag group of “Occupy Xxxx (insert criminal corporation name or location here)” protesters that big names like Bush and Clinton seem to magnetically attract, wherever they go.

Our reception committee.

I went with a friend, who has been attending for the past three years – she introduced me into the protocol of this kind of event. For her, this year’s meet was a massive success story. She snagged herself a book agent faster than you can say: “million-dollar advance”.

I sort of had a writing project to pitch, but not really. So I was somewhat overwhelmed at the wheeling and dealing going on, at every available moment, even in the Ladies’ rooms and the bar, late into the night.

Some of the workshops sounded a lot like RW1, the iconic initial reporting and writing course at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism that I attended 20 years ago. But even though I have a bunch of skills and experience already, I did learn a lot about the industry and what it means to “get published” in the day and age of social media. It truly is a jungle out there.

So here is some of the stuff I took away from the conference, stuff to think about for the future:

  • Bookstores are dead.
  • Physical books are dead.
  • Long live the e-book.
  • Every single person has at least one great story to tell (or write), probably more.
  • Every single story has been written before, just not by you.
  • Media piracy is not necessarily all that bad a thing.
  • The continuum of lies in memoir-writing – it’s okay… go ahead and use it. (I think that is the most liberating thing I heard all weekend.)
  • Agents are the gatekeepers, and they seem to think they can play God, even in the brave new world of self- and e-publishing.
  • Most aspiring writers sacrifice an unbelievable amount of time, nerves and energy in order to write. Good thing the actual act of writing is FREE.
  • Twitter is evil but it ain’t going away, folks. Further resistance is futile.
  • NaNoWriMo.
  • There are a couple of very cool folks out there whose ideas are absolutely priceless, and whose work is pretty darn impressive.

And finally the kicker, don’t ever forget this one:

  • This day we write.




Kindle vs. I-stuff

24 01 2011

A few months ago I became the proud owner of a KINDLE DX graphite, latest generation. I had been a fan for a while, and the first time I held it I was truly in love. A fantastic toy, an ingenious product – exactly the piece of electronic equipment that my collection (laptop, blackberry, cell phone, digital camera) has been missing. I’m still trying to figure out all the functions, but that hasn’t stopped me from taking it pretty much everywhere with me, safe and snug in its sky-blue leather carrying case.

Save a tree, buy a Kindle.

Perhaps part of the reason I’m so obsessed with my new toy is that the first books I downloaded were real page-turners (or rather page-clickers). I did my bestseller-duty and soaked up last summer’s oh-so-popular Stieg Larson Millennium Trilogy  that was all the rage on beaches across the country and around the world. Light, yet gruesome Swedish murder-mysteries – the perfect way to while away long lazy afternoons.

A friend asked me why I (or rather my brother – it was a birthday gift to me) bothered to spend several hundred bucks for a product that displays in black and white, and whose functions are severely limited compared to what else is out on the market these days. And this friend promptly tried to lure me over to the dark side: the I-cosmos.

No thanks.

To understand my decision, you must understand that I am a decidedly un-“I”-person (a.k.a. a Luddite). It was only with reluctance and great reserve that I accepted a first generation I-Pod Nano as a gift five years ago. (Some younger colleagues thought it was time I moved forward into the 21st century.)

Since then, I have not paid the slightest attention as one after the other, I-products of all shapes, sizes and capabilities were released to great fanfare. It seems that every time a new I-thing is launched, the media stands open-mouthed and awestruck as the I-community  kneels and praises the I-God in an effort of ridiculous I-dolatry.

The only I-product in my posession.

Camping out in front of the Apple store for days just to be the first to hand over your credit card and shell out wads of hard-earned cash for an overpriced piece of plastic and LED screen? Are you serious? Get a life!! I-phones leave me cold (and I hear they’re not that great to make calls with), and the I-pad does nothing for me. I don’t watch a lot of movies and I don’t care for apps. And besides, the day only has 24 hours! Where do you people get the time to occupy yourselves with this stuff?

For those who will assume I never held an I-pad – you are wrong. I have, and I maintain my aversion to the I-craze. Sorry. I’m totally the girl in the legendary Kindle ad. (The sunglasses are next on my shopping list…)

In the meantime, my Kindle has flown quite the number of miles already and my collection of electronic books is growing almost daily.  And it’s amazing to see how much space I have in my luggage for all sorts of other goodies from foreign places – space that used to be occupied by a bunch of dead trees.





The pursuit of happiness

11 10 2010

I’m currently in the middle of Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book “Committed”. You know the name – Gilbert is the author of that blockbuster of self-reflection: “Eat, Pray, Love” (now a major motion picture).

 

The Book.

 

If you are one of the three people on the planet who have managed to escape the EPL hype so far, the story is this: After a messy and very distressing divorce, Gilbert found peace in Italy – where she ate, India – where she prayed, and Indonesia – where she loved. (FYI, the movie’s OK but the book was better.)

“Committed” is an intellectual examination of the institution of marriage, and Gilbert lists the many reasons she never wanted to go near it again. Bad luck for her, the U.S. government intervened, basically damning her to wed her foreign lover, even though both were aghast at the idea. Initially, anyway.

It’s easy enough reading, and I’m entertained. Light vignettes, good storytelling, interesting facts about something that I never bothered to research the history of. I’m only about halfway through, so please nobody tell me how it turns out… I’d like to read for myself. (I assume she and Felipe get married in the end, but I’d like to know how they found their way there.)

In 2007, even though R. had already asked me to marry him (on a cloudy New York afternoon, at the bar in the Boathouse restaurant in Central Park), we never really seriously discussed it in detail. We were both modern, enlightened 21st century adults who didn’t need a piece of paper to certify our relationship. Kids weren’t on the horizon (“Are you getting married because you’re pregnant?” is a really rude first question, by the way – and you’d be amazed how many people ask precisely that question), neither of us needed a visa for the other’s home country (yet) and I wasn’t looking for a new identity that would come with a new name (I wasn’t running from the mafia or the law). So to us, there was no real requirement for it.

Until my father fell suddenly and seriously ill. On what turned out to be his deathbed, R. asked him for his permission to marry me. You know, the old fashioned way.

So, well, we did. And today happens to be our second wedding anniversary.

On October 11th, 2008, this is what we asked of and pledged to each other:

Please join me on a journey of discovery, adventure and celebration, so that together we may face whatever this life will bring us, as friends, partners and lovers. I promise to encourage you, inspire you, support you, comfort you, and respect you as an equal, in good days and in bad. I promise to give you the best I have to offer. I will hold you close, and remain faithful to you, for all the days to come.

It’s been two years since that glorious indian summer afternoon when R. and I officially legalized our love before God and the Commonwealth of Virginia, as well as friends and family, some of whom had flown in from halfway around the world to watch and to party with us. And it was absolutely fabulous.

 

The moment of truth on October 11th, 2008.

 

More fabulous yet is the everyday of being together. Our friendship and respect for each other has shifted, changed and grown and two years on our relationship is stronger than ever. We are definitely having way more fun together the longer we hang out with each other.

I finally feel like I belong somewhere. To someone. Who always welcomes me home.