Wednesday, September 30, 2009

NaNoWriMo Essentials for Noob Pantsers I

In approximately 4.5 weeks I'm going to do NaNoWriMo again, even though we're going to VEGAS to get MARRIED after the first week. Even better, I think I've got Mr. B primed to give NaNo a go as well.

It's crazy talk, and I know it.

Problem is, crisis of confidence aside, NaNo is just plain fun. NaNo doesn't care how you do it; all NaNo wants you to do is sit down, shut up, and write 1667 words per day for 30 days. For no good reason, other than at the end you get to say you've written a novel.

How can that not be fun?

Last year, pre-NaNo, I went looking for guidance. Hell, I had never written anything even remotely like a novel before and I had no idea how to approach it. I found blogs and sites where writers had very generously offered up spreadsheets and forms and guidelines about what needed to be done in preparation. Perfect! All I would have to do is fill out the forms and follow the instructions, and I would have my story laid out for me.

Not surprisingly, it didn't quite work out that way. Really, there's no way it could have worked for me. As much as I am drawn to forms and guidelines and the order they promise to bring to my chaotic existence, I am almost always disappointed by them because there is usually no option for 'it depends', my default answer to almost any question. So I cobbled together what I could and winged it.

During my post-NaNo immersion in all things writerly, I learned about Plotters and Pantsers. Plotters are people who use spreadsheets and word counts per scene and index cards and maps and have the entire story figured out before they write the opening sentence. They have a method and a plan, and they stick to it. There is a LOT of information out there for Plotters because, predictably, Plotters like that kind of stuff.

Pantsers (aka seat-of-the-pants writers) tend to go with the flow. I had found my people! Unlike some brave souls, I couldn't quite bring myself to show up on 1 November completely empty-handed -- I do have an inconvenient aversion to failure -- but, being a non-writer, I couldn't find a lot of advice that I could relate to. It's a lot easier to 'pants it' if you already know something about writing fiction.

So with another NaNo staring me in the face and Mr. B wondering how to prepare, I got to thinking: What's the very least a hesitant, inexperienced, failure-adverse Pantser needs to do to have a chance at reaching the NaNo goal?

As a veteran of one whole successful* NaNoWriMo, I am eminently qualified to give absolutely no advice, but that's not going to stop me. Shut the door, pull up a chair, and I'll share with you my secrets, which have a proven track record of one for one.

NaNoWriMo Essentials for Noob Pantsers, Part I
The who, what, and where of it all
What are your favorite types books to read? You'll probably be happiest writing in that genre. I'm a hard-core contemporary fantasy girl -- I love stories set in the real world but with an element of magic mixed in, so that's what I'm sticking with.

Start with a main character and a main problem: What would happen to this type of person if this unexpected thing happened? Like, what would happen if a young actress discovered she could get any part she auditioned for by (fill in the blank) but eventually it starts backfiring? Would hilarity ensue, or tragedy? Your call.

Consider your character's history, physical appearance, goals, motivations, family, etc. Basing your character on people you know saves a lot of time. Pick a physical feature here, an annoying personality trait there, and you'll have it figured out in no time. There may be a sidekick and/or a nemesis involved and you'll want to know their story, too. Other characters can be created on the fly as long as you know who is going to be center stage.

Figuring out who your main character is and what makes him/her tick will make it easier to predict how s/he's going to react when the shit hits the fan. And the shit will hit the fan because, after all, that's really the point of a novel, isn't it?

Where/when does the story take place? Again, if the setting is real world, modeling it after an area you're familiar with eliminates a whole layer of work. Sounds silly, but it does help to have a rough mental map of where the character's apartment is in relation to the office, etc. Some people draw detailed maps, etc., but as a true Pantser, I don't want to have to work that hard if I'm not going to get graded on it.

If you're creating fantasy/science fiction worlds or beings, you'll probably want to spend a good portion of time thinking about the 'rules' of the planet/culture/beings you're creating. The further removed from our world/time, the more you'll need to think about. Again, it helps you to know what will happen next if you're already familiar with who/what/where/when they are and what they're about.

If you are lucky enough to have a sense of where the story is going to go once the main problem is laid out, even better. It's a bonus to have a rough idea of where you want to end up, even if the target changes as the story unfolds.

OK, you've got a character or two, a problem, a setting, and, if you're lucky, and idea of how it all might come out. Write it down, either by hand or on the computer.
And that's about it. For real. We're just doing this for fun, remember? It really doesn't have to get any more complicated than that.

Last year, once I gave up on the spreadsheets and forms, I ended up with three documents. One contained a brief summary of my main characters, one described the culture, history, and goals (and, curiously enough, the detailed reproductive habits) of the practically-immortal beings that were going to fuck up her life (literally and figuratively, as it turned out), and the third contained a very rough idea of how I thought the storyline might go down. I didn't know for sure how it was going to end, and that kind of freaked me out, but it turned out not to be a big deal. Once I got the story going it really only made sense for it to end one way.

Sure, lots (most) of the things I had figured out ended up changing, but that's OK. When 11/1/08 rolled around, at least I had a feel for who I was writing about and what was going to happen to her that day.

Do you have a story in you? Want to see if the NaNoWriMo thing works for you? Then your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to do a little pre-thinking, a little pre-writing, wait until November 1st, then let go and let your mind tell you a story. All you have to do is write it down.

Oh yeah, be sure to visit the NaNoWriMo site and sign up. They haven't quite fired it up for the 2009 season, but it gets busy towards the end of October so beating the rush is advised. Need encouragement from a master? Pick up No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty, the founder of NaNoWriMo. It's an excellent guide.

Be sure to let me know, too, and check back next week for Part II. Hopefully by then I'll have figured out what Part II is going to be about.

Sorry, I'm a Pantser.

* Success is defined as writing 50K words and completing the story before midnight November 30th. Quality is not a factor. ;)

Friday, September 25, 2009

One hand clapping

I'm creeping up on the two-year anniversary of this here blog (I know!) and like most untrained hacks, I'm having trouble sustaining the, ahem, 'quality' of my, ahem, 'work'. I guess it's no surprise that I find it's getting harder to respond to "Why, exactly, am I doing this?" with something other than "Umm.....".

I suppose I have the option of calling it good as written and crossing blogging off my list of Shiny... or I can try something different.

Currently I have something close to a metric butt-ton of self-imposed parameters for the content of my posts. As in many situations in my past, my quest for consistent, repeatable results has resulted in a painstakingly constructed cage of rules that has me locked down to the point where I can't turn around without running into something like a brick wall. Only invisible and without quite as many bruises.

Many of these parameters revolve around what is or is not fair game for discussion. A lot of those rules can't really change* because, with the enumeration of my social circle easily managed on two hands and my readership not much more than that, it's easy to conclude that my main sources of material constitute the bulk of my readership. Offend the readership and listen to that lonely sound of one hand clapping, IYKWIM.

And also, did I mention I fear confrontation and am a pussy?

But... there are a few parameters that I am willing to toy around with, if you're game.

Posting won't be as regular, and I'll probably drop the Friday's Rock! feature unless we come upon a particular Friday in particular need of rocking. Also, I'll try to stick my fingers through the webbing of my playpen and see if I can't break down a few more of those barriers between what I'm thinking and what I'm writing.

Mmmm... less filtering. I'm sure you're all really really excited about that, huh?

And, despite my fear of overplaying the squee! factor, I probably will be talking more about my upcoming wedding, because, hey, I'm GETTING MARRIED AGAIN in approximately 45 days, 13 hours, and 30 minutes, give or take**.

Also, NaNoWriMo is coming up. That might be good for a laugh, as it starts less than two weeks before the aforementioned nuptials. And -- added bonus feature -- Mr. B has expressed interest in participating!

So yay, different! C'mon, it'll be fun. Hold my beer and watch this!

* To be more precise, my perception is that I can't change them, or I am unwilling to risk changing them. Did I get that right, Mr. B?

** If you don't already know what an incredible miracle that is, you might want to take a few minutes to read all about it.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The agony of defeat

Will the Bride-anoia never cease? Now it's the US Postal Service that's fucking with me.

The Ecstacy and the Agony: A story in three acts.

Act I: For approximately the thirty-fifth time in the past forty-eight hours, Bridezilla logs into Yahoo! Mail and clicks on the link in her email to check the tracking info on the package containing her custom-made wedding bands. Bingo! Package was received at the post office at 6:34 a.m. It's now 11:55 a.m. Bridezilla must decide whether to blow her entire lunch hour driving the 28.5 minutes to the post office and back.

Act II: Bridezilla weaves in and out of traffic all the way down to the quaint little backwater post office where her golden prizes await. She can feel the latent Squee!! pressure building to dangerous levels as the odometer ticks off the miles. She pulls into the post office parking lot. It's suspiciously empty.


The quaint little motherfucking backwater post office is closed from noon till 1 o'clock.

Act III: Sullen and defeated, Bridezilla stops to get gas, having wasted the last gallon in her tank on the 20+ mile drive to the motherfucking back-ass-water post office. She races back to work. The clock reads 12:57 p.m. as she passes the turn-in to the strip mall. In an act of defiance, she pulls in and stomps into the grocery store to buy a Diet Coke, only because she doesn't have a corkscrew in her desk. She walks in the office door at 1:03 p.m. Her demeanor dares anyone to comment on her tardiness.

No one speaks.


So, how was your day today?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Brain drain

I admit it. I've been spending way too much time getting into this whole wedding thing. It's really hard not to -- it's a situation rife with opportunities to get run over by the Shiny bus. Viewing the wedding porn (their term, not mine) from the young whippersnappers on Offbeat Bride has not helped, either. It's been all I can do to stop myself from suggesting that we get matching wedding tattoos. I did get my nose pierced, but I can't blame that on them. That's just me, I'm afraid.

Since we're running off to Vegas, one could be forgiven for thinking there's not a whole lot of actual planning to be done, but somehow I am managing to spend a lot of time doing it. The easy stuff got done right away: Plane tickets and hotel reservations were easy-peasy, and I did a pre-screen of wedding chapels on the Strip. We'll pick the best one when we get there. I have my dress & shoes (less than $200 total - ha!) and Mr. B has picked out a suit (much, much more than $200).

What else could there possibly be to fuss over?

Well, I had to design the invitations for the ten people who are meeting us in Vegas. Then I had to set up a wedding blog to fill everyone in on the details, because simply sending out an email is just not cool enough. Someone asked me about a wedding registry (huh? we can do that?) so I set one up on We're certainly not expecting gifts, but who knows, we might score a few paperbacks off of it.

Rings! We need rings! And they have to be special rings. Had to set up a blog for Mr. B & I to keep track of the millions of interesting possibilities we found on the interwebs. Once we came to a decision, designing the final product and getting bids on etsy kept my lips moving for weeks.

OK, matching wedding tattoos may be out, but what about cool temporary wedding tattoos for the guests? Had to find images to pirate so I could design those, and since my ancient graphics program didn't allow me to curve the baseline for text, I had to go find one that did.

And then there are the flowers. At some point I decided I wanted to do origami flowers. I've identified the style, now I just have to figure out the materials and how to craft them into corsages and boutonnieres.

Dress and shoes are in hand, but what about a necklace? I decided that I must create a necklace out of a brooch Mr. B gave me early on in our relationship. And I must make cufflinks for him out of the matching earrings. Searching for a reliable source of supplies online for those projects has provided hours of amusement. Too bad I won't be able to actually make the thing at my desk. They're pretty lenient here but that might just push them over the edge.

One thing we haven't yet tackled is the ceremony itself. Aren't there are, like, vows or something that we are supposed to come up with? I had originally delegated it to Mr. B but it's safe to assume I am not going to be able to keep my fingers out of that particular pie. At some point we'll need to make an appointment with a bottle (OK, glass) of wine and wade into that one.

When all is said and done, I'm betting Mr. B is going to feel something like this.

Bridezilla. Rawr!

Monday, September 21, 2009


I just found out Lovely Daughter has another $26,000 in student loans that are now ready to begin repayment. I'm still paying her rent, and recently, her cell phone bill as well.

And here I was, concerned I didn't have nearly enough debt to manage.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Tech support secrets revealed

This pretty much sums up my job.

I swear they made it just for me.

Like? View more geek humor at xkcd, which calls itself 'A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language.' I don't see how it could possibly get any better than that.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Contender for the World Record!

At some point last week I am pretty sure I broke my all time record for continuous employment by a single employer.

The sad part? I've been here three years. The sadder part? I am fifty fucking years old.

Before this, the longest job I held was my second civil service job, which I left three months shy of three years. As any good civil servant knows, at three years you achieve Career status, which makes it possible to actually get another civil service job in the future. No career status? Good luck, sucker. That was probably the stupidest career decision I ever made, meaning I fucked myself at the ripe old age of 27 years old.

I suppose the only longer period of time was the five years when I was 'self-employed', but I'm not sure that counts since I wasn't really earning anything. And even then, in those five years I started three businesses and toyed around with a couple more. The good news is that I didn't have to wear grownup clothes for five years straight.

But enough hindsight already. In honor of this most humiliating of milestones, I will attempt to list every single job I've ever had, without access to the moldering box of resumes in the basement.

Here we go!
- Dairy Queen: whatever
- An infamous portrait studio: phone sales
- Retail: cosmetics/jewelry sales
- Pizza place: waitress
- Chain restaurant: waitress
- Machine shop: assembler
- Bank: teller
- Savings & Loan: mortgage clerk (only job I was ever fired from)

- Credit Union A: teller
- Credit Union B: new accounts
- Military exchange: cash cage
- Civil service (USN): clerk/typist
- Civil Service (USCG): clerk/typist
- Weekly ad newspaper: ad layout (part-time, concurrent w/above)
- Oceanographic surveying company: data processor

- Full-time student (concurrent w/below)
- Contractor A (USCG): programmer
- Furniture refinisher
- Yarn store: sales
- Contractor B (USN): programmer/analyst
- Contractor C (USCG): programmer/analyst
Washington State
- Temp agency: QA web tester (@ Microsoft!)
- Website design company: QA web tester

- Software company A: programmer
- Self-employed: handmade soap, knitting catalog, soapmaking supplies, web design/hosting
- Bakery: production
- Grocery store A: cake decorator
- Grocery store B: cake decorator
- Software company B: software tech support
I may be missing a few (god, I certainly hope not!) but I think that's the bulk of it.

Now that I've achieved the pinnacle of my career, there's a very real chance that at some point my bosses are going to be looking to retire. They'll probably sell the company.

That means I'll have to find something else to do. Can you say 'disaster'?

Hey, anyone have a suggestion for a moderately interesting career I can get into that doesn't require years of school, will pay more than $15/hr, and will allow me to work from home?

... cue crickets ...

I thought not. I think I'm fucked. Let's just home I didn't burn my bridges with the WalMart, ahem, I mean 'Grocery store B'.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Everything goes better with squirrel

Just ask Crasher Squirrel.

Apparently my maternal grandparents knew this as far back as the 1960s.

In reviewing my archives, I was surprised to discover Crasher Squirrel was also present at my first wedding and Young Son's birth. Amazing.

Intrigued? Visit Buzzfeed to see where else Crasher Squirrel has popped up. You can also invite Crasher Squirrel to join your party by utilizing The Squirrelizer.

Yes, this is what I am doing instead of generating fresh content. It's vastly superior, trust me.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


Sorry, I seem to have slipped into the blogging doldrums this week. Truth be told, I'm feeling rather self-conscious about the fact that the tone of most of my recent posts seems a little... nasal. Wah-fucking-wah. I'm going to go out on a limb and guess you could do with less of that.

So instead of whining about my whiny writing (uh oh... am I too late? did I already do it?) I'll share with you a couple of hopefully non-whiny tidbits that I just can't seem to shape into whole blog posts.
1. I got my nose pierced and it's sore, but it's so worth it. Now, instead of looking like a slightly-overweight, nondescript, middle-aged white female, I look like a slightly-overweight, nondescript, middle-aged white female with a swollen nose.


2. Young Son is taking part in a fun science program. The kids get to pick their call sign. Young Son has decided his is 'Pan Pan'.

No, I have no idea. Yes, I know he's going to get beat up in middle school, but we still have three years before we have to worry about that.

When my kids were little, I would pretend I couldn't hear them when they started in on me in that whiny voice. I would tell them that I couldn't hear them unless they talked in their regular voice.

I'll be back when I can talk in my regular voice, 'k?

Friday, September 4, 2009

If it's not one thing...

Welcome, my friendlings. It's been an odd week here in AIWJT-land, with much time spent pondering the Great Unponderable Questions of Life, such as 'Why Do I Blog, Anyway.'

Yes, it's not pretty, but rest easy; all that candy-assed introspection ain't gonna stop me from Rockin' my Friday!

Let's get right to it, shall we?

This classic from the early days of MTV has been in my mental iPod for so long that I don't even hardly hear it when it comes on the radio, but I'm surprised to find myself singing it. I heard it yesterday and realized that yeah, it may be over 25 years old, but it's still got it, baby!

Of course The Man has the official vid locked down tight, but you can see it here.

As for that other crap? We'll chat about that some other time, 'k?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Learning to embrace the dark side

It finally happened. This morning I reached over to slap off the alarm and realized it was still dark. The clock read 6:15 a.m. but the sun was not quite up yet.

And so the descent into darkness begins. Ohschweetbebejeebuz, help me.

I used to love fall, but the last decade of living at 47 deg N has overly sensitized me to The Dark Days. The first tint of color on maples and the smell of new pencils and denim now completely bums me out. Mr. B has tried making encouraging noises about soup and bread and rainy afternoons, but I'm just not feeling it. All I see is day after day of not being able to raise my head off the desk without a prop.

I must figure out a way to break this negative association. It's getting so I start hyperventilating at the Summer Solstice. That's just pathetic.

I'm hoping this year's slide will be a little easier to take since we have a Very Special Occasion coming up in a mere 67 days. And that's something to smile about, especially since I have confirmation that Evil Twin has purchased her plane ticket.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Krafty Korner 2

I've got female troubles. My ovaries feel like they are swollen to the size of Vidalia onions and I have a headache that is causing me to not be very patient with my tech support callers. But my buddy Galpal has saved my day! She sent me a link to what may possibly be the quintessential gift for women who have survived the, uh, best that mid-life has to offer.

Behold: The Golden Tampon Lifetime Achievement Award!

This is, in the words of the artist, Laura Mappin, "A decorative work of art to commemorate that you've done your Tampon Time and you're Free At Last!" And it can be yours for $59 plus shipping. I can't think of a better way to commemorate a loved one's graduation to cronehood.

I'll try to spare you TMI, but right now I can only dream of the day I qualify for this.

You should also check out Ms. Mappin's other products. My guess is that if you read this blog regularly, you probably have several people on your gift list who would love this stuff.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A way to skin a cat

Poor Mr. B. Because of the M-word, he has to go for a skin check every three months. That in itself is no big deal, but at his last appointment the dermatologist told him he had to shave.

(His beard, people.)

Even the beard is not that big of a deal. He only grew the beard at my request last year. It's the mustache, see? He really, really doesn't like not having a mustache. I don't know how long he's had a mustache, but it's been some years.

We had a little discussion about it when he first brought home the news. He was sure they wouldn't mind if he left the mustache. I voted for a clean shave; after all, it would be really embarrassing to end up with melanoma of upper lip because he didn't shave the mustache.

Last night, with a heavy sigh, he trudged upstairs to do the deed. When he came down and rejoined us in the living room, I'll admit it was a bit of a surprise. Young Son was completely taken aback and pretty much ordered him to grow it back immediately. I wracked my brain trying to remember if I had ever seen him IRL with out a mustache. Verdict: I don't think so. He's fortunate he is not one of those guys that has to wear facial hair to conceal some less-than-optimal facial structure, but it is definitely a different look.

He said it was no big deal -- that he was fine with it -- but his body language did not confirm that. He was not displaying a relaxed and happy demeanor last night.

In fact, this morning I realized that his expression reminded me of nothing so much as a dog wearing one of those plastic 'don't lick it' cones. You know, that "What did I ever do to you" look.

He's at his appointment even as we speak. In fact, I expect the beard-regrowing has already commenced. Young Son has decided it will be a science experiment: He wants to find out how long it will take to fully return. Current prediction is that by the end of September, Mr. B will no longer be wearing the plastic cone.

And let's hope that's the most we have to worry about.