Camp NaNoWriMo 2018: Fail better

If you want to be a writer, you have to be comfortable with failure. Failure isn’t bad, though. It (hopefully) means you’re learning and growing. But more importantly, failure means you’re trying.

I’ve been participating in National Novel Writing Month since 2007, and Camp NaNoWriMo since it began around 2010. The goal for NaNoWriMo is to write 50,000 words in 30 days. For Camp NaNo, you can set your own goal. Out of the 11 years I’ve done NaNo, I’ve only succeeded twice. That’s an 18 percent success rate, which is preeeeeetty bad. For Camp NaNo, my success rate is in the same ballpark, even with being able to set my own goal.

Camp Nanowrimo 2018 Banner

And yet every April, July, and November, I throw my hat in the ring, not caring too much if I “win.” My goal is rarely to complete a project; it’s usually something along the lines of “get my butt back in gear” or “for goddess’s sake get SOMETHING, ANYTHING written.” My goal, in other words, is to fail better.

In 2017, I heard from several literary agents who enjoyed my short story collection but wanted to know if I had a novel. This did not surprise me (the novel part; I’m always surprised when someone likes my writing), but it did light a fire under my ass to finish revising the novel I’ve been working on since grad school. I’ve been through many, many drafts and while I know this absolutely not be the final draft, I’m hoping it’s maybe the third-to-last draft.

Even though the novel itself is cooperating beautifully (probably because of all the previous drafts), I’ve been struggling to stay on track with my (self-imposed) revision goals. I wanted to revise 13,000 words a month, but I have yet to hit that target. Like, at all. I really don’t want to be writing this novel for the next ten years, so enter Camp NaNoWriMo.

By and large, I’m content with steady progress, even if it’s always slower than I wish (I want it to be done RIGHT NOW, DAMMIT). Unfortunately, my progress has been less than steady. It’s come in fits and starts, and there are huge blank swathes of time on my progress tracker (a Google Docs spreadsheet). Since I know I’m unlikely to hit 50,000 words this month, and because this isn’t a shitty first draft, I set my goal at 25,000 words revised for the month, which equals 800-850 words a day. It’s higher than my normal word count goal but still doable in less than an hour, and will count for 2 months of revision to help me “catch up” to where I want to be.

Who knows? If this Camp goes well, perhaps I’ll stick to the 800 words a day goal and finish revising earlier than expected! (Hah. Yeah right.) But even if I don’t hit 25,000 words, I’ve already got more than 3,000, and it’s only day four. I’m already ahead of my progress for March. And so I write on, and hope to fail better.

Miss Migraine: Bleeding for Star Wars (literally) and unavoidable convention migraine triggers

Banner that says "The Adventures of Miss Migraine"

The Adventures of Miss Migraine is an ongoing column about my life with chronic migraine. This post appeared first on my blog of the same name on August 28, 2012.

After four days of nonstop Star Wars awesomeness at Star Wars Celebration VI in Orlando, Florida, I’m not even remotely ready to resume “normal” life or start classes (which happens tonight — I’ve even got a little bit of homework I need to do…). This was my fifth Star Wars Celebration convention, and like all the others before this one, the warm, open fan community inspired me creatively and personally.

The Star Wars fan community isn’t just about watching movies, reading books, and collecting action figures. We build life-size snow speeders, make movie- and comic- accurate costumes, build amazing LEGO sculptures of our favorite characters, create giant dioramas, write radio plays, make up new story lines, and so, so much more. We are active, engaged, and talented, and we have fun.

Celebration VI Jawa tattooine

Tattooine is hot and bright!

Although my head pain never went away completely, and I did have to take a painkiller the first day of the convention, I believe being engaged, active, and inspired is an incredible migraine analgesic. My brain was releasing so many endorphins that the pain, while present, seemed almost irrelevant. Either that, or being at Star Wars conventions gives me Force powers and I was able to temporarily heal myself.

Although the celebrity panel with actor Ian McDiarmid (Senator Palpatine / the Emperor) was easily my favorite panel, waiting for anything at the main stage was somewhat of a trial. During the panel pre-shows, they played incredibly loud music and shone incredibly bright lights into the audience. I didn’t bring earplugs, because I’ve never needed them at a convention before, and normally the lighting is so poor as to eliminate any possibility of decent photography. I basically had to put my jacket over my face and plug my ears with my fingers to avoid an instantaneous migraine, but seeing the actual panels made it worth the effort. Still, I will probably send an email to the convention organizers mentioning the problem this caused me. I imagine it’s something they never thought about.

Star Wars bantha tattoo

I got this bantha tattoo on Sunday at the convention. Art by Jason Leigh. It hurt like a bitch, but at least it distracted me from my head!

This was Ian McDiarmid’s first convention appearance, and he shared a wealth of behind the scenes stories about filming Return of the Jedi (it took four to five hours to put his makeup on, and he got the part because the original actor couldn’t wear the yellow contacts). He was witty and smart (in response to an attendee’s wish that he be knighted, he responded, “You don’t need the knighthood when you have an Imperial crown.”).

At one panel, I also had to switch seats with my husband, because the person I sat next to had on enough cologne on to stun a gundark. And it was that heavy musky perfumey stuff that I can’t stand the smell of to begin with, not to mention the fact that any strong smells will give me a headache after about one minute.

Airplanes also give me migraines. It’s something about the cabin pressure, or the recycled air. I’m not sure. I can feel the pressure in my sinuses start to build up, which makes my face hurt, and before I know it, one of my temples starts throbbing. The flight home was fine, thankfully, but the flights to Orlando were incredibly painful. My husband got a migraine on the plane, too. But, unfortunately, there’s really nothing we could do about it except take drugs, use our aromatherapy products, cover our eyes and wait it out. Thankfully once we landed we both felt much better.

This was the first convention or Star Wars event where I’ve injured myself, and I must say I’m proud of my “battle wounds.” I fell and scraped up both my knees during the Bounty Hunt, a scavenger hunt where participants solve clues and search for “targets.” I wasn’t the only person who fell, but at least I had the excuse of running in a dress — no easy task.

Now I’m going to see if those Force powers will extend to homework and/or the errands I need to run today…

#FridayReads: Kindred by Octavia Butler

 

cover for Kindred, showing a Black woman with short hair

If you read science fiction but aren’t acquainted with the fantastic work of Octavia Butler, please take yourself to a library RIGHT NOW and check out a few of her books. Hell, even if you don’t normally read sci-fi, read Octavia Butler.

Kindred tells the story of a modern Black woman, Dana, who is pulled back in time to the South by one of her ancestors. There, Dana has to confront the reality of slavery.  Dana serves as a sort of translator-avatar for the reader—neither she nor any of us have ever experienced slavery first hand. She quickly realizes that if she behaves as a Black woman from the 1970s normally behaves, she’ll get herself killed. Her only real safety net in this strange world is her ancestor, Rufus, the son of a slaveholder and the reason she keeps traveling through time.

Rufus calls Dana to the past—not consciously or purposefully—every time his life is in danger. Dana saves him over and over again, knowing that if she does not, she may never be born. On her second trip, she meets the Black woman Rufus impregnates with her direct ancestor, and knows instinctively that the union between Rufus and Alice can’t by its nature be consensual. As she watches Rufus grow into a cruel man who shows occasional flashes of kindness, Dana contemplates letting him die, but knows that if she does, she may never exist. Even when her worst fears are confirmed and Rufus rapes Alice, she saves his life the next time he’s in danger.

While Kindred is somewhat of a time-travel thriller, its real genius lies in Butler’s characterizations and excellent world building. No character is simply evil or simply good. Even Rufus, who begins life as a kind boy scared of his father and grows into someone just as cruel as the man he once feared, has sympathetic moments. Despite his flaws, Dana cares for him the way a mother might care for a troubled child. He is a product of his time, but Butler doesn’t use that as an excuse to let him off the hook from consequences (and boy, are there consequences).

The way Butler characterizes the slaves Dana meets on Rufus’s plantation is equally important, if not more so. She shows us heartbreaking moments, such as Black children playing “slave trader,” runaways being mauled by dogs, vicious beatings, and families being torn apart when spouses or children are sold. Because Dana has gotten to know these families and these individuals, we mourn with her when tragedy strikes. It’s not all depressing, though. Butler also shows us moments of tenderness and love, and the many many ways slaves resisted their circumstances and found dignity and purpose in their lives outside of their owners’ desires.

Dana goes into the past thinking she could never be a slave, only to learn that she will do what it takes to survive, even if that means swallowing her pride and sacrificing some of her dignity. As she gets to know the slaves, she sees how strong they are. She realizes that they, too, are a product of their time, though their time doesn’t define who they are as individuals. Through Dana’s eyes, the reader is able to see the complex social dynamics and entrenched patriarchal and racist values and structure involved in slavery. As Dana experiences what it’s like to be a slave, so too does the reader—and therein is Kindred’s real power.

It’s impossible to read Kindred and not recognize the echoes of slavery that we, in the year 2018, live with today: entrenched racism that’s built into the very structure of our society. The book begins with a scene of Dana in the hospital, having lost her arm after her last trip to the past. The lost arm is the physical embodiment of the mental and emotional losses Dana has suffered throughout her journey. And like Dana, the reader will come away from the book having lost any illusion of what they may or may not have done during slavery. The loss of that illusion, hopefully, will shed light on the work that still needs to be done in dismantling racism here in the present.