After more than a decade, I did Nanowrimo again

I did Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) a few times, way back in 2002, 2004, 2005, and I think partly in 2006 (though I'm pretty sure I decided not to finish once I barely got through the month), and I really thought I was done with the whole thing, that I would never attempt it again, and would probably not write fiction again. Weirdly, doing all that fiction writing so many years ago led to non-fiction paid writing, including ghost writing, so it worked out professionally. Then I got into audio, then teaching and other stuff, so I thought fiction was gone from my life forever. At one point, when I started the fake blog (which I'm still doing), I started thinking about "what-ifs" so much to the point that I started writing an actual novel again. I was progressing okay, very motivated but not consistent, when someone at a writing group mentioned Nanowrimo. No way, I said, I'm not doing that, it's too intense and crazy, but at the end of October, I signed up, and started writing furiously on Nov 1. I almost quit after a few days because I realized my schedule was too packed to fit lots of writing in, but after reading some articles online about quitting, I decided not to. So I spent pretty much any free time I had, even if it was at 5 AM before work, writing and writing and writing. Halfway through I was dried out and thought I couldn't proceed. But some helpful people at the Chiwrimo group suggested I not only focus on plot but on developing the characters more, and I found myself writing a lot of interior thoughts and voila, after furiously writing all month, I actually finished a few days early.

I was so wiped out, I was numb. What remained was still a strong desire to write, even if it was just at the fake blog. So I've been doing that. But let me reflect on how this Nano was different than what I experienced early in the century:

1 - I'm way more real now. When I did it in the early years, I was a wannabe. Yes, I'm admitting publicly that I was a phony fiction writer. Even though I did Nano a few times, wrote a lot of fiction in those days even outside of November, took classes, formed a writing group and the Metrofiction website, I was of form and no substance. I wanted to make it, get my book done, find an agent and market, and live the writer's life. Then I got so discouraged going down that phony path, I gave it up and worked in the real world and was a writer, but the practical sort (which is fine with me). This year, I was very into the story and how the characters interacted and developed, and really enjoyed the process. I was frazzled, but the writing was really a part of me and I didn't skip to some impossible future in my head but just enjoyed being creative and working ideas out in the moment. So I can honestly say that I'm not a phony wannabe anymore; I'm a writer who may get published or who may not, but either way I'm still into the story and want to continue working it out. (And I really am a writer and am even in the useless Writers Guild, but I'm not a published fiction writer.)

2 - I didn't feel sorry for myself this time around. If you've read earlier posts on this blog (and I shouldn't mention that because it's embarrassing to see how I used to write here), you'll notice that I did a lot of whining. I whined way more in my journal and in my head, but I was such a sorry sap. And it carried over into Nano when I did it those few times. This time, I didn't feel sorry for myself at all, I just wrote and wrote and went for the goal. No time to ponder, just wrote as much as I could and was very productive. I didn't think about being published or being invited to cool events like those famous authors are (who are introverted and would rather be alone, which is mystifying, but that's for another post), I just was in the moment, which left no room for emotions except from my main character who really went through a lot. If I ever can finish writing the book and edit it effectively, you'll find out what I'm talking about. She starts out one way and ends up another way, and if I were a better writer I'd be able to convey that, but who cares...at least I'm trying. See? I've changed as well. She occupies my mind and her world has become an extension of mine, and I'm not crazy, just have a new companion around who I want to write about.

3 - Nanowrimo is huge now. When I did it years ago, it was an alternative group and corner of the Internet that a lot of people didn't know about. I think I found out about it via blogs, but because social media wasn't around, it didn't explode and wasn't the institution it is now. Now they have lots of money, sponsors and deals, professional authors giving pep talks, groups all over the world, a sophisticated website, a more layered financial and social structure, and a lot more. Back then I felt like we were in a small town, at least those of us outside the San Francisco area, where Nano was established. It's sort of like being in Macao before it was handed back to China: it was a quiet place in the corner of Asia, not the wild development that it is now.

4 - I don't want to do it again. I don't know why I did it 3.5 times back in the day, but now that I've done it again, I really can't handle the experience once more. I might change my mind next year because it's a crazy all-consuming pursuit that puts you on a wild ride of intensity, and my life might need that at that moment, but it really took up all my free time. I didn't even have time to blog here or fake blog elsewhere. I didn't even write in my journal. Any time I had to write was devoted to Nano, and I don't know if I want to lack the breathing space again.


If you're in the people business, like people

There are many jobs that don't involve people much, or at all, yet I see people who should be working in those industries working with people instead, and I think it's not a good fit.

Recently I met someone who I thought would be a people-oriented person since they (I won't say "he" or "she" because I don't want people to try to figure out who I'm talking about) have written lots of books to help people, talk about meeting various people, and are in different media communicating with people. They even travel around the country to talk to people while promoting their books, so I figured since they were in my area, I'd go see them.

Since they've been promoting themselves as a people-helper, I felt like I could talk to them freely, but I noticed they seemed sort of uncomfortable that I had tried to converse with them. When I saw them again, other people were attempting to chat, but they weren't encouraged to elaborate. By the end of the experience, the supposed people-person was busy doing required tasks and pretty much shut the door on any spontaneity or one-to-one human interaction.

It's just one example, but I've met other people like that in a people-oriented communication industry, where it's good to give lectures and network, or teachers, who need to interact with students as a group or individually. Why are they working with people? There are plenty of jobs where they can plant themselves in front of a computer or in a lab, where it would be detrimental to talk to or even think about other human beings, because it would impede progress. But there they are, making a living while being squeamish about human interaction, wincing when an individual has questions or wants to talk with them further about a topic or basically socialize. People who are not into people don't like small talk or words that have no function other than to connect people. They only like to talk to people about things that are relevant to their job or purpose. Otherwise, they're drained and even complain about it. Newsflash: get another career and leave those jobs to people who really want to interact.

Just off the top of my head, there are a couple of guys who I've worked with who have people-oriented jobs, and they really like people. One guy teaches all day and night, does a lot of community and organizational work, has a family, and is pretty busy. Yet he always makes time for people. He could lead a meeting of about 100 people, and after lecturing and back-and-forth discussions and challenges from the group, he'll make the time to meet with anyone who walks up to him. Even after teaching a four-hour class, he'll meet with students who need extra help, talk with me and other co-workers, and even take phone calls from various people. He's energized by people and has a passion and love for them.

Contrast that with the person I met recently, and the difference is stark. The person was only there to talk to the group, and seemed squeamish when people approached them. They looked drained and uncomfortable, thus were really only playing the role of a speaker. "Only watch, don't come any closer," was the vibe the person gave off. I can imagine them retreating to wherever they live with relief that the dreaded people interaction was over, and they can continue to write about how much they care and want to share. Whatever.

Another guy who exemplifies true appreciation of people spent many years in the hospitality industry. He had to talk to people for his job, but even after it was over, he'd continue talking to people wherever they were, really engaging and asking how they were doing. Like the other guy, he wasn't drained but energized by people. Like the other guy, he was in an industry that fit his personality. I'm sure if he did work in the introverted world that I'm in, he would greatly suffer. So like the other guy, he found a good fit.

So please, if you're squeamish about people, don't work with them. And if you've written a book, don't do a book tour or lectures. Or maybe you shouldn't get a book published because in today's environment, writers have to promote themselves and if they really make it big, have to get their appearance broadcast on Book TV. I would love to write a book and be asked to talk about it in front of people. I'm not scared; I've been teaching for years and have done workshops. No big deal. Plus, when people walk up to me to chat or ask questions, no problem. I'm not drained by them but welcome them, and feel excited to interact. Save such space and opportunities for people like me and other people-oriented folks because that's what we enjoy a lot more than pretending to be introverts to survive the computer-oriented world that we live in. The world that you'd probably be happier in.


Fiction and fake blogging

Wow, I'm really into writing, though you wouldn't guess it if you looked at the time that has passed between my last post and now. So here's what's happening: because so much work I do is technical and functional and straight-language oriented, I've had the urge to write fiction again.

When I started this blog years ago, I was writing fiction and failed miserably at it (in terms of being disciplined and producing quality content, in addition to suffering through the isolation of the craft). However, it led to paid writing, so it worked out in a way. I've definitely been writing for work and promotional purposes (I finished an article that will be posted within a few weeks...stay tuned), but my "fun" exploratory writing was pushed to the side as I met deadlines and tried to not get headaches from proofreading and copy editing so much.

But a few weeks ago, after not being able to sleep and trying to push down any creative urges to write fiction because it's a kind of quagmire-black hole of never-ending revisions and dashed efforts, I started. And I'm doing it pretty consistently. I have no idea if it will lead to anything, but this time around, I'm just really enjoying the process and feel zero angst about it. Of course, I have a dream, but if it doesn't come to fruition, so be it. I just hope I don't stay in the writing cave, eventually leading to dissatisfaction as my only companion.

But that's not all...in addition to that writing, plus work-writing, plus writing here, I've been writing a fake blog. I have mentioned before that I had a secret blog, but since it was secret, I didn't say where it was or what it was about. I had to shut that blog down due to ownership of the site changing (servers actually), and I didn't trust the new overlords, so I went to an even more obscure blogging site that other people from the changed site have moved to as well. I totally scrapped the previous secret non-fictional content and started over with a totally new one...written by a person who is very different than me. Amazingly, even though I've told people offline that I have it, no one has found it.

And that's another thing that's changed about my writing pursuits: I am writing the fake blog because I want to, and I have no idea if random people online have found it, or if no one has, and I don't care. At times I'll leave it dormant for a while, then do a fresh post when I see something that can be absorbed in the blog or when I feel like real life is overwhelmingly ordinary and I need to write something about a life I have never lived and never will live. It's a kind of escape from mediocrity and responsibilities, and it's a way to expand my mind in ways that can't be exercised elsewhere.


I saw Jay Leno

I was sitting in a hotel lobby in Springfield, Illinois, taking an air-conditioning break from the oppressively hot, humid, sunny weather. Actually, the break wasn't organic because we (my husband and I...and that's the correct form btw, instead of people saying "and I" when they mean "and me") had gone to the Governor's Mansion with backpacks and were told that we had to leave them in the car. Problem was, we took the train to Springfield, so there was no car to go to.

So we walked back in the baking sun through downtown Springfield to the hotel where we were staying to drop off our backpacks, then sat in the lobby before braving the harsh weather (yes, oppressively sunny, muggy weather can feel harsh).

We looked out the window and saw a tall man walking towards the hotel. "That looks like Jay Leno," I said, but it couldn't be. The tall, gray-haired man was wearing worn jeans and a loose denim shirt. He looked like he'd been toiling outside in the heat, and was lumbering towards the hotel entrance. But the chin and eyes...it was him.
"Hello Mr. Leno," my husband said.
"Hello, how are you?" Leno said.
"Welcome to Illinois," I added (because saying "Welcome to Springfield" would've been presumptuous since I don't live there and am not a native).

He nodded in our direction and walked towards the front desk. After that, I didn't know what he did because I didn't follow him, and I didn't even look towards the front desk. I also didn't take a picture of him, because 1) he didn't hang out with us or even bother to pause, and 2) he wasn't in official performance mode. Taking a candid picture would've been disrespectful and creepy.

But what was he doing in Springfield, a small city in central Illinois? We looked it up, and found out that he was doing a stand-up gig that night. Wait a minute...he is super-rich and famous...does he *need* to do that? And why is he playing smaller venues (his next stop was Peoria)?

I'm still thinking about it because usually famous people go to major, big cities and stay in fancy hotels, and record their shows to make even more money. Or they move on from their early work to do movies and the like, and don't do piddly stuff again.

But Jay Leno is working as if he's still trying to break into the big time, playing smaller cities in the heartland of the USA.

This is noteworthy because he doesn't have to do it, yet chooses to. He also doesn't seem stuck-up or pretentious, like we hear other celebrities are. I've heard of actors getting angry when people don't recognize them when being waited on in stores. I've even dealt with people who were upset that I said "Ms." instead of "Dr." because they had a PhD in education or another non-medical field.

I guess he's known for being nice, and in the brief encounter I had with him, he seemed that way. Plus we were in Springfield, Illinois, which is surrounded by lots of trees and probably has 10 people on the street during the day and not much traffic. And he decided to work there, just because. Now I'm wondering how he did in Peoria (and thinking of the phrase "Will it play in Peoria?") because if he didn't succeed there, will he be able to succeed anywhere? Haha...obviously, it doesn't matter because he's already succeeded to the point that if he were to stop now, he'd be able to live well and still get invited to cool parties and events all over.

Actually, his story can be instructive because he's doing what he loves, and he's not worried about status or only hanging out with the big people. He's willing to go anywhere in the USA and work on his craft and entertain audiences of "regular folks," not just those who live on the coasts who arrive to the theater in fancy cars.

On the other hand, there are people like me who'd love to achieve even a sliver of success doing something creative and/or fun and/or fulfilling, or getting a break from someone higher up the ladder. For a lot of us, that is impossible, so we can just look at Jay Leno and say, "If he can pursue his passion, then those of us toiling in obscurity can as well."


That vs which confusion

I'm pretty clear about when to use "that" vs "which," but I often come across stuff (to be intentionally vague) that often has "which" when it should have "that." So I strike out the word and replace it, though sometimes I don't want to be a killjoy, so I leave it in, especially if the screed is several pages long and I want to vary the style. I'm not a style editor, though someone tried to make me operate in that manner, but I feel that if I keep correcting every misuse, it'll seem sort of crazy and monotone. So yes, I purposely am incorrect sometimes for the sake of keeping the peace and offering some diversity in a sea of hyper-functional sentences and concepts.

Anyway, there are a lot of resources online that explain the difference between "that" and "which." Basically, "which" is used with a clause, a subset that explains the main subject of the sentence. "Which" is a "nonrestrictive modifying clause...that adds extra or nonessential information to a sentence. The meaning of the sentence would not change if the clause were to be omitted." In fact, usually people use "which" with the sentence I just quoted from the University of Illinois; they would say "which adds extra..." instead of the correct "that." So here's an example of correct "which" usage:
The ramshackle house, which is down the block, is scheduled for demolition next week.
Essentially, the "which" section could be taken away and it wouldn't affect the integrity of the sentence. It's like an added comment to further describe the house, which is why the U of I calls it an "adjective clause."

Then there's the kind of sentence that I usually see, even by people who have lots of publishing experience with impressive titles that they display proudly on their business cards:
The house which is down the block is slated for demolition.
It should be:
The house that is down the block is slated for demolition.
In that case, "down the block" is an important piece of information, thus "that" is used, and the segment isn't set up to be separate, which is achieved with commas around a "which" clause. The U of I calls "that" a "restrictive modifying clause" because it's essential.

Actually, those definitions weren't invented by the U of I, but I like their explanation and the fact that their page isn't loaded down with ads that slow down my computer, which is common with popular grammar sites.

So, moving forward, I hope people use "that" and "which" correctly. It's not like the world is going to end, but still.


Even highly paid people commit comma splices

I have previously written about my disgust with comma splices. My first post, "I am tired of seeing 'however' with a comma," led to another post about comma splices: "Stop using comma splices." Since then, I've encountered numerous comma splices, even from supposedly educated management types where I teach, and instructors who have a master's and even a PhD. I will not post those examples because they're contained in emails, and I don't want to get fired or create enemies over mere punctuation, so I will use a more global example that I saw in the Washington Post. The writer of the article, Abha Bhattarai, is one of journalism's elite, so I assume she knows what a comma splice is and has avoided them in the numerous articles she's written for the world's leading publications. So this is not about her. At least I hope it's not.

It's who is quoted in the article. I had to read the sentence again to make sure that the presumingly highly paid professional actually used a comma splice, but here it is:
“We have hundreds of full-time roles available, however, some prefer part-time for the flexibility or other personal reasons.”

I'm assuming the company spokeswoman is culpable because that statement was probably sent to the EJ (elite journalist) in an email. However, what if she told the EJ that via phone or video chat? Then it was transcribed as a comma splice, so the EJ is guilty. But I doubt it because the EJ writes in the article that "she said in a statement." Usually when people say things in a statement, it's via email or press release. So I'm going to go with that: the highly paid professional communicator used a comma splice, doing what most people do with "however" by not using a semicolon.

So the sentence should be:
“We have hundreds of full-time roles available; however, some prefer part-time for the flexibility or other personal reasons.”

or, to be a bit more choppy:
“We have hundreds of full-time roles available. However, some prefer part-time for the flexibility or other personal reasons.”

I will investigate via Twitter. I will ask the EJ if the statement was sent to her in that form, or if she wrote it down that way. If she responds (which I doubt, but hey, no harm in trying), I will post the result here.


It's hard to move beyond 8 Sidor

Hehe...if you're not studying Swedish, don't know about it, or are not aware of the available resources, you probably are wondering what this post is about, because only Swedish-related people know what the 8 Sidor site is. I thought it would be a minor part of my Swedish journey (which is barely progressing, making me worried that I will never grasp it), but I'm having a hard time moving on from it.

I say this because 8 Sidor is for people who need to read simpler Swedish for various reasons, need to read larger letters, or have to listen to it instead of read it. But the main point is that the articles are short and way more simply written than other newspapers. I started reading it because I was studying Swedish and needed more exposure to the language. My goal was to progress to more difficult reading; even just a tabloid such as Expressen is too difficult for me, though I sometimes attempt to read the Editor-in-Chief's blog. I'm interested in media, but it's weird and challenging to read about it not only in another language, but one that I'm horrible at. The most recent blog post I slogged through was about the new Editor-in-Chief of Kvällsposten, which I think is Expressen's southern Swedish relative.

But I'm really stuck on 8 Sidor. It's so simple and straightforward, it makes me feel safe. If I venture into other sources, I get really worried, and even if I look up words, I don't understand the more complex sentence structure. For instance, I was able to read an article about the Italian bridge collapse without stressing or sweating. The sentences are choppy:
Minst 35 människor dog i olyckan. Men det kan vara fler som har dött. [At least 35 people died in the accident. But more may have died.]
It's simple, with no dependent clauses or wordplay, which is fine with me. Who needs New York Times-type of prose, when we can feel good about our accomplishment. I've been to 8 Sidor so often, it's become a literary (or literacy) friend. Thanks 8 Sidor!