Sorry, I’m just taking an extra minute to enjoy this cup of coffee before we get started. I know it’s rude, but I just can’t help it. Want some?
We have a store here in town that sells discount groceries. Some places call them “dent and bents”, some call them “reclaim” stores. Basically, the items within didn’t sell in a real store, so they got dusted off, sold at rock bottom prices to lower quality store, and put back on the shelf for sale attempt #2. Or three. You have to watch it…some of the stuff is so old, it’s got to be at least attempt #3 to foist it off on customers.
Anyway, yesterday I popped in to get some seltzer and hard candy, because apparently I am secretly an 80 year old grandma. I took a gander in their coffee section, too, and found a fancy pants coffee I usually shun at an extremely reasonable [sic: cheap] price.
I’ve mentioned my love/tolerance for coffee. It’s a necessary evil and normally I’ll just chug a cup and move on with my life not really caring on how it tastes. I have a few brands I will not drink. Maxwell House gives me wicked heartburn (see 80-year old Grandma explanation above). We call Chock Full O’Nuts “Chock Full O’Crap” in this house. And I’d much rather drink a cup of twelve-hour old sludge you buy from a gas station coffee urn that probably hasn’t been washed since the Clinton administration than drink a single sip of Starbucks.
YEP I SAID IT. Even someone with a palate that does not balk at burnt gas station swill knows that Starbucks tastes like shit. I know there are some of you java sommeliers out there who are fuming now, and I don’t want to offend you…more like, open your eyes. Buy a cup of joe from McDonald’s, buy one from Starbucks, and then close your eyes and just taste them without being able to see the label.
See?? See what you’ve been paying way too much for?! You’re welcome.
Aside from those brands, I don’t have much of a preference. I like my coffee to come without flavorings and in a package, and that’s about it.
This stuff, it’s fancy. It has a long description of the “rich, bold flavor” on the side in cursive writing. Ooooh. And it’s actually got the little wire thingie that lets you fold the top over to reseal. Aaaaahhh. And the aroma of it brewing didn’t make me feel slightly queasy, as many of the cheap coffees do. Yep, I knew it was going to be quality.
You can see why I am taking a moment to savor it.
The moment is being slightly marred by the radio. The kids sleep with the radio on in the background, and the station they listen to (the only station other than country we get here in the house) has decided to play Christmas music around the clock. I don’t mind Christmas music. In fact, I like it. We played a ton of it in my house growing up and I’m fairly well versed in damn near every Christmas song. However, they are playing 25 days of nothing but Christmas music. That’s 600 hours worth of yuletide ditties. Even with my extensive mental holiday catalog, I can think of maybe, MAYBE 50 hours of Christmas music. As you can imagine, the play loop is very small. Because of this, they put on twenty different versions of the same damn songs. Right now, Mariah Carey is doing bad things to “Silent Night”.
Very bad things.
If I was queen, I would outlaw pop stars from singing Christmas music. You know why? Because Bing Crosby and Burl Ives did them best and they will never be topped no matter how many extra notes you throw in there. Night is one syllable. ONE. I can see drawing it out for a few bars for dramatic effect. But when you make that one word contain 738 different tones arranged through all octaves and ten pages of sheet music, that’s a stretch. Sorry, Mariah. You lost me the very first time you shattered my wine glass for no apparent reason. They call it SILENT Night. Take it from the top, but this time, try a bit harder to really embrace the meaning of the song.
*Mariah clears her throat* “Siiii-yi-yi-ya-leeeeennn-t ni-eee-yi-….”
Off with her head!
“No wait! I can do better!”
“…. …… ….. ….”
There now, was that so hard? *waves scepter* You may live. Now bring me the Bieber!
I know I just pissed some of you off. Every good leader has their detractors. I can live with the Starbuck’s-drinking Mariah Carey fans’ disdain. There can’t be more than a handful of you out there, and I really feel like overall I’m gaining support for Queen Bethie. You must admit that you have thought of putting duct tape over pop stars’ mouths before. Wouldn’t be such a bad world, would it?
It’s officially December, hence the Christmas music on my radio. This also means that two things are happening this morning. First, if you listen really closely, you’ll hear the sound of millions of electric razors firing up since No Shave November is officially over. That’s a good thing. I am a beard/mustache/mutton chop lover myself, but only on the right people. Some guys just look silly with facial hair, and those are the ones that actually participate in NSN to have an excuse to once again give the straggly whiskers a try. Most of the people who intentionally refrain from shaving during a designated month are the ones that really, really need to shave today.
If reading this is making you self-consciously touch that sweet ‘stache you just grew, then yes, I am talking directly to you. If you were meant to have facial hair, you wouldn’t need a calendar to tell you to grow it. Shave that sad lip caterpillar off right now and get back to your normal life. Queen Bethie has spoken.
The other thing that’s happening is that thousands of people who participated in NaNoWriMo are feeling a bit let down by the whole process.
…and by thousands, I mean me. And if I’m feeling it, odds are that other new participants are, too.
For those who might not know, NaNoWriMo is the National Novel Writing Month event. They call it a competition, though you actually only compete with yourself. It’s the solitaire of writing challenges. The goal is to write a “novel” of 50,000 words entirely in the month of November. If you “win” (meaning you hit the goal), you get…well, as it turns out, not really much of anything at all. You get to watch a video of people cheering for you. Not you, personally, of course. It’s a form letter…video. You get to copy and paste the “winner” banner on your Facebook or other digital gossip feed. You get many promotional offers, discounts at the sponsor’s sites for reduced self publishing rates. And you get to read an email that congratulates you in one sentence, then tells you that while you’re riding the high of the “win”, you should take a moment to send a $25 donation to support next year’s NaNoWriMo.
Like I said, I’m feeling a bit let down.
I believe in the exercise. My story hit about 68,000 words, and for anyone who’s read even one of these “little” musings of mine, that’s about as short as I can make a “book”. I, personally, put a lot of words into what I write. I’m not saying they’re good words. I need to edit, edit, edit. I also put the initial ramblings down pretty damn fast. I have fingers of fury. In fact, the only parts of my body that are toned and trim are my fingers. I’d enter these puppies in a finger bench press competition in a heart beat. I’m a speedy writer and a tortured editor, that’s what I’m saying.
Not everyone is, though. One of the very cool things about writing is that it’s an art. No matter what kind of writing you do, it’s most definitely an art form. YES, I’m talking about technical manuals, too. YES, I’m talking about history books. YES, I’m talking about reporting and essays and… Hell, even successful regular Tweeting is an art form. There is a craft to writing, no matter what kind of writing it is. As such, every single writer has a different process. Some of the very best novels have taken years to write, while some others in that same “very best” category have been hastily scratched whims.
Because of this, I think that any exercise that challenges a writer to try something different, to change up their process, to throw a wrench in their works and “just see if they can” is a good exercise. NaNoWriMo is a GOOD writing exercise.
…as long as you view it as that, and nothing more.
I decided to try and fully embrace the experience. I joined the forums, talked to other writers, actually read the emails from the local volunteer who kind of lead the people in my region instead of sending them straight to my trashcan. I wrote and updated my total with regularity. I worried over my ending.
(Writing an ending is the WORST part of writing a novel for me. I always, ALWAYS think my closing paragraph is lame. I will write and rewrite until finally I just say “screw it” and end up with whatever was the straw that broke this camel’s back. I never like my endings. Ever. Not once in anything I’ve written.)
I shouldn’t have worried so much about any of it. As it turns out, the only care is that you write 50,000 words. Those words could literally be, “Look at me pretending to write. This shit’s a piece of cake, suckahs,” over and over and over until you reach 50,000 words and you would still “win” the event. I don’t know what I was expecting, but to me the lack of any type of filtering or oversight takes away the very spirit of the event. You’re supposed to write a novel. A novel! And yet anyone who can hit copy and paste can reach the goal.
Another thing that really bothered me was how many people were in the forums bragging about hitting 100,000 words in less than 24 hours. First of all, braggers piss me off, whether they’re bragging about hitting a high amount or bragging that their novel will go triple platinum. But the ones who go on these public forums during an event like this and act like “You’re only at 10,000 words? Pfft. Newb,” probably piss me off the most. Many of the people trying this event are doing it because they know it will be a push for their process, for them personally to hit the mark, and they want to try their hardest to get it done.
It’s like…it’s like that kid in school who got straight A’s all the time and would hold the test up for the people in the back row who worked ten times as hard to get their B- to see. Dicks. They’re just a bunch of dicks. They feel better by making people feel worse, and this event had many of these jackwads.
Besides, 100,000 words in less than 24 hours? Is it *possible*? Yeah, I suppose. Maybe they use the Dragon software, and talk instead of type. I can easily see hitting 100K words in 24 hours that way. Or maybe they wore those space suits that allow them to suck on one tube for liquid nourishment while simultaneously pissing in the built-in waste system, never having to move away from the keyboard. Or maybe they had a story already started and used that instead of making something new and original.
…which some people actually bragged about in the forums, so I know for a fact it happened.
Why participate in something like this if you’re going to cheat? Cheat and then lord it over people? I know, I know, I know. This stuff will happen in ANY event/competition/contest, especially online and when there is absolutely no oversight whatsoever. The whole thing is primed for cheating asshats. It just makes me sad to see, especially when they’re loud enough to really ruin the experience for others. Most of the folks on the forums posted because they hit a writing wall, or were struggling to write every day and looking for encouragement. Invariably one of these superstars-in-their-own-head would muscle their big egos into the post, write a two-page dissertation on why the original poster should not be having trouble at all, in the process crushing the poor sap who just needed a little pep talk under the weight of their superiority complex.
And then you’ve got the begging. NaNoWriMo is a free event. You can participate without giving up a single penny, which is exactly how I played it. However, right from the get, they push you for cash. You get these “badges” by your name for different accomplishments. If you donate $10, you get a halo over your profile pic. Every time you get an email from your local motivator, you’re reminded that if you do not have a halo, now is the time to buy one. Yes, they angel-shame you. Relentlessly.
The second week, there is a push for you to “double down” on your commitment to the goal. You get notices from not only your local motivator, but several other people I assume are higher up in the NaNo chain telling you that it’s time to really prove you’re committed. Not by writing more, but by paying more. The “double down” push is to get you to pay again if you’ve already donated $10, and to pay $20 if you’re one of the evil little trolls who has not yet bought halo-clad acceptance.
If you haven’t given a penny by the third week, you get an email talking about all the money it takes to put on NaNoWriMo. The email is sent by a network of volunteers who do not get paid for their time, and does not actually explain what the money will be used for other than to say that it’ll help next year’s NaNoWriMo. On the NaNo main page, they have a donation bar to show how much people have donated. They do not have a link to say what the money is for. Last time I looked, they were north of a million bucks.
Look, I know putting an event like this on does cost money. There’s web hosting, and advertising, and all that jazz. Just tell me though. Let me see where the money is going…ESPECAILLY when you ask for money in one breath, and gush about the network of volunteers who make this all happen free of charge in the next.
So then you finish. You submit the maybe novel/maybe 5th grade punishment for shooting spitballs, get the non-prize prizes, and then you get an email. It says that you did great. You “won”. You’re one of the select few who typed out any combination of coherent or incoherent words that would meet the 50K criteria. Now, if you really want to feel accomplished, you should send them $25 more dollars for the right to feel as accomplished next year. Oh, and while you’re at it, swing by the “winners” page for fabulous offers to spend more money on the corporate sponsors’ pages.
Yes. All this begging, and they already have corporate sponsors.
Now, all of the negatives said, I still support this endeavor. I said I took this challenge and tried my best to really embrace the spirit of the event. I came up with an original idea and typed the first word on November 1st. I carved out writing time through a hectic (and briefly powerless) holiday, and managed to come up with a decent story in the process. It needs editing, sure. It’s rough, sure. It’s shorter than I’d like, and I can easily see where I could inject a few chapters here and there to flesh it out a little better. But it’s written. It’s got characters I like, on a planet I completely made up. It’s got conflict, strife, and resolution. Is it a winner just because it’s over 50,000 words? No. It’s a winner because I made it happen. Even if no one else reads it, I created it in just one month. I took it out of my head and made it real. It’s a winner because it exists.
THAT’S the point of NaNoWriMo. THAT is what even the NaNo organization itself has seemed to have lost under all the dollar signs and advertising banners and halo-shaming. It’s not about money. It’s not about typing 50,000 random words. It’s about writing, challenging yourself to create a new world in such a little span of time. That’s why I still support NaNoWriMo. That’s why I’ll probably do it again next year, no matter how bogged down and disappointed I became with the peripheries.
Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment. Maybe the form-platitudes mean a bit more to me than I’d care to admit. Maybe I’m just one of those suckers who likes to slog through a shitty event to be able to commiserate with the other saps who lived through the same. Or maybe I just like any excuse to tell people to buzz off for a bit and let me write. Whatever it is I actually got out of the experience, it’s enough to make me want to do it again.
*The queen has finished speaking. Go about your day, citizens.*
Thus concludes a Morning Musing for Monday, December 1, 2014. I’m off to make another pot of this coffee even though in all likelihood I’ve had way too much already. This caffeine buzz is incredible. Don’t worry. I’ll switch to seltzer and hard candies if I start actually talking to the little purple men I see standing in the corner…