personality

NaNoWriMo 2016 Day 16: in which I hardly mention NaNo at all

So, NaNo, hey?

35,928/50,000 words at the start of Day 16. Like, how?!

In previous years I would’ve been lucky to be 19,000+ words into writing by this stage. Maybe practice makes perfect. The more terrible novels I write, the slightly less terrible they become each time. But I’ve been drifting a bit and getting bored and yesterday spent too much time on MBTI introvert memes on Instagram. And I realised that a lot of the time, Introvert memes aimed at ISTPs tick me off. They often have this controlling tone about them, like one I read and reshared yesterday said, “ISTP: you will likely do something for someone rather than give compliments. Give praise. Some people need to hear your appreciation.”

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NaNoWriMo Journal 2015: 6

Monday, 9 November 2015

20151109-001flokotnanoscreenshot

Screenshot, 9 November 2015 – nanowrimo.org/participants/fiona-kat

My astronomy course is all finished so hopefully in the next day or two I will have my certificate of completion.

It’s hard for me to shake the over-achiever perfectionism that I’ve developed over my academic life: the fact that I averaged a mere 80% on the astronomy assessments is a point of annoyance for me. Maths has never been my strong point and it’s frustrating that my less-developed skills in that area let me down. This perfectionism probably traces back to a few things – namely that, as a kid, when it seemed to me that every one else had everything going for them, I was the awkward kid who had a talent for memorising and internally processing huge amounts of information… and pretty much nothing else. The “gifted” kid.

I was in my schools’ advanced student programmes. I read encyclopaedias for fun. At age 12 I startled my high school English teacher by reading Watership Down cover-to-cover in about two days, when she had clearly hoped it would keep me entertained while she tried to teach the rest of the class the difference between their, there and they’re. There are benefits to being “gifted,” namely that it was my ticket out of the small-town attitudes and culture that develops in rural communities when there isn’t enough diversity to keep people on their toes: the absolute cultural and ethnic homogeneity was stifling. There are also major drawbacks (not having friends because I was a freakishly tall girl, a complete geek, without the slightest shred of social skills). Thankfully I had some great teachers in the Catholic school who saw past my many faults and spoke to the best of myself. Getting good results in high school meant that I could go to university. University meant moving to a more diverse part of the state. And I really think that being a university student – external life challenges aside – was one of the happiest experiences of my life. I hope one day that I can return and do further postgraduate studies.

In the meantime, I think this drive to achieve tangible feedback and results manifests in my penchant for signing up for short-term challenges. My latest is signing up for a DuoLingo account because I randomly felt like learning Norwegian. I will hopefully be able to add Norwegian to the list of languages I vaguely recognise but can’t speak with any fluency, like Ukrainian – I can recognise the alphabet and know some random words, like off the top of my head I know that umbrella is парасолька and I can look at that word and know it’s pronounced parasol’ka. I married a guy who’s part-Ukrainian so I had a motivation there to learn a bit about his ancestral culture. I’ve picked up smatterings of Russian, German, Latin and Indonesian, too, over the years. I have enough Indonesian that I managed to spactacularly fail university beginner’s Indonesian – the only university subject I failed – so I can see kecap manis on an instant noodles ingredients list and know that I’ll probably like it. I noticed recently that after years of listening to Finnish language songs I’m picking up tiny bits of that, too. [On a related note, I love this poster by a Finnish-Swedish cartoonist on the similarities and differences between Nordic languages, and another poster representing the world languages family tree by the same artist.]

And then there’s NaNoWriMo. There is something very satisfying about watching my word count rise, at the same time I can look at my story – gaping plot holes and clunky dialogue notwithstanding – and say to myself, “I created this” – and then I get a certificate at the end. Basically, my life’s goal is apparently to accumulate as many certificates of nerdy achievement as I can. My only in-real-life rivals in this compulsive learning regard are my INTJ husband – who sat up until almost midnight last night teaching himself yet another programming language, for fun – and my INFJ sister.

One thing Nano has done for me is to stop me from over-criticising novels. That is, having had the slightest hint of the volume of work writing entails, I now realise that it is lazy to off-handedly dismiss a novel. I might not enjoy it, but just because I don’t enjoy that genre; it doesn’t necessarily reflect on the relative quality and usefulness of the text. On a similar note, I find it bizarre reading whinge-reviews on sites like Amazon, where a person gives a novel 1 or 2-star reviews because the delivery took longer than they expect. If I understand it correctly, the purpose of the reviews is to review the actual story. Then there are the lengthy reviews on theology books that deconstruct the text: these reviews often seem so long I wonder why the reviewer doesn’t write their own blog or book. I digress. For all the times I sat there completely immersed in a novel, wondering what strange magic it was that could bring an imaginary universe to life, sometimes so real that it was more alive than my corporeal reality, I now have a taste for the process and sheer hard work involved in writing a story.

Someone is on the other end of that book as the author, and they have likely agonised over the words, the sentences, the plot, and the lives of the characters they invented. They may have spent years developing the story, imagining the day when they would write something that others would enjoy reading.

It is too easy to be a critic.

I’m not throwing out critical thinking, and it’s unfortunate that a positive term (critical thinking) is so similar to a term that can be negative (criticising). But these days I’m less inclined to leap to judgement. That’s dualistic, platonic, gnostic, first-half-of-life thinking, anyway: the need to fix a label on someone or something before giving it adequate thought. When Jesus said “do not judge,” well, I’ve heard some good arguments that this is the line He was following. He wasn’t saying “do not be discerning” or “hooray for moral relativism and debauched licentiousness,” I think what He might’ve been getting at was, “Don’t be so quick to make snap judgements, for good or evil, about another person based on their external appearance or on that one thing they did or said that time.” I don’t know for sure but that’s one way to look at it.

I can’t help but think that the whole realm of social media would be a lot more helpful a space if we could operate that way. In the past I used to argue the point; these days I try to give people the benefit of the doubt. Instead of thinking, “I’m so offended,” I try to reflect on how a person reached the opinion they did. It doesn’t mean I can’t disagree, and I will speak up when it seems to me that someone else is positing views that might cruelly scapegoat a group of perceived enemies (no, I will not accept that there is a conspiracy to stop Christians celebrating Christmas, that is, unless it’s the 17th Century and the Puritan Oliver Cromwell is making the laws). But usually, I just take a deep breath, recite the sarcastic mantra, Oh no someone is wrong on the Internet and then get on with my life.

I won’t say that I’ve come close to exiting this first-half-of-life developmental stage – and that’s okay. The late theologian Marcus Borg, in a lecture video I found recently, said something to the effect of his mistrust towards anyone under the age of 40 who has a lot of strong opinions, so I’ve got a good 6-7 years of agonising self-development before I can get moving on that second-half-of-life project.

*To clarify, my understanding of first and second half of life concepts come from Franciscan priest Fr Richard Rohr and, as he also says, it’s not necessarily drawn from chronological and physical age. So if I reach a more enlightened phase of self awareness before I hit my mid-30s, I’m okay with that.

What does all this have to do with NaNoWriMo? Actually, I don’t remember. I went off on a tangent. I’d better get back to my story.

Current word count: 15,056/50,000 words.

Today’s writing soundtrack: ABC Classic FM radio; the Jane Eyre soundtrack; The Village soundtrack.

What I’ve Been Reading Online

RELIGION & MENTAL HEALTH

  • I came across “Registered Runaway” a couple of years ago when I was looking for resources to help me sympathetically dialogue with the growing number of gay and lesbian Christians in my life. A recent mental health series on the blog has proven fascinating and relatable. I particularly liked this article, “Why you’re getting worse at reading,” which I connected with. I too know the agony of a dwindling concentration span directly connected to how much screen time and online interaction I have. He mentions the book The Shallows by Nicholas Carr which was a life-changing book for me. It came along when I was struggling with the demands of university and got me to step away from the computer and pick up books again.

ORIGINS & SCIENCE

I was raised liberal-progressive Roman Catholic, in a family with a mix of Atheists, Agnostics, Neo-Pagans and, obviously, at least a few other Catholics at varying degrees of commitment. In that context, I never in my life had reason to question the conventional wisdom of evolutionary biology, astronomy and geology. Then I got married.

Interestingly, even though my husband’s immediate family and friends tended to be variants on what I later found out are called Young Earth Creationists (YECs), one day I realised that the church he’s from and that we attended for most of our married life thus far actually holds the view that it’s up to the individual to decide what they believe. They actively present a multiple array of views and say quite explicitly that it’s not up to the church pastors to decide which view is correct (which may come as a shock to outsiders but no, it’s not always about brainwashing the masses). It’s a lot more laid-back as far as Pentecostal communities go.

At the time I was led to believe that if I wanted to be a real Christian I had to take Genesis literally or I was a compromiser. Here I am 14 years later and my husband has increasingly embraced the rational and the scientific to the extent that his views have changed a lot. We met when we were 19 years old, and you’d kind of hope we’d progressed in our faith journey between the ages of 19 and 30-something. In the meantime we’ve also both finished two university degrees each. I’m qualified as a sociologist with a focus on the environment and human societies. He’s got a Master of Engineering degree and is quite the scientist.  We have learned a lot over the years and that includes learning a whole lot more about how science works, what scientists believe, what Christians think scientists believe and so on. After much careful consideration and reflection we reached a point of no longer accepting the YEC viewpoint. It’s not a decision made lightly, knowing full well the kinds of vitriolic criticism, shunning and accusations of backsliding we would possibly face from some church members.

Let me be clear: I have nothing against my creationist friends whatsoever, and if any of them are reading this I hope that my change in opinion will not dismay you and that one day, even if you never change your mind, you’ll understand that I am simply following the information as I best understand it. And aren’t we all?

For a decade my only exposure to science was through the heavily mediated and pre-approved Creationist texts that compiled snippets of journal materials and framed them with Christian apologetics. You have to understand – I was raised in a family of science geeks. We love science. To stop reading it was to throw out who I am. And then, one day about a year ago, I decided I wanted to learn more about feathered dinosaurs. However, for a number of years I only read about dinosaurs in Creationist texts and so I know just about every apologetic imaginable about how to interpret dinosaurs and fit them on Noah’s Ark (take babies, or eggs, and only two of each kind, which might represent family or order level biology and not species-level). I know all of the claimed dinosaurs in the Bible passages (how dare the study notes claim that Leviathan is a mere crocodile when clearly it’s a Kronosaurus!). I know the “real” reasons dinosaurs died out (a post-Flood Ice Age killed off their sluggish cold-blooded selves… even though evidence suggests that dinosaurs were warm-blooded, and that some of these were furry or feathered). And feathered dinosaurs are either a hoax or their own created kind.

But for many myriad reasons, I found myself increasingly dissatisfied with Creationist apologetics. Now, I’m not going to go on about it. I really have no reason to stop Creationists believing what they believe because I have identified as that myself for about a decade and I shared their materials out when I was leading Bible study groups and have read all the best writers in the field and still find useful some of their questions about the origin of life and death, the way the evidence is interpreted and the way it applies to our identity as humans.

I have found some interesting sites for those who want to explore critical assessments of YEC viewpoints. I’ll list them here but I can’t emphasise enough the fact that I’m not interested in a debate. I am so thoroughly burnt out on Christian apologetics. It feels to me these days like a noise, a clanging gong, rather than a path to knowing Christ.

So, for those who are interested, here are some sites I found that explore issues of Creationism and science. And as always, links are shown here for interest’s sake, and inclusion in my blog is not necessarily indicative of my complete acceptance of the materials presented on the linked site. *deletes half of my original post*

CULTS & RELIGIOUS ABUSE

While I have not experienced any of the extreme forms of religious abuse and violence sadly faced by many people, I found myself reading up on these issues partly because I studied Sociology of Cults as part of my uni degree and found it compelling; and secondly because I have experienced or encountered the low-level forms of cultic control that go on; including psychological manipulation, control, disempowerment, financial abuse, forced “volunteering,” a loss of control over one’s schedule, shunning, fundamentalist ideology fuelled by fear, complementarian perspectives on women, punitive and harsh disciplinarian systems of child rearing (for examples of these see here and here), dysfunctional and unhealthy social dynamics, gossip as a means of keeping people under control, a fear of science and psychology, etc. I read about it to try to understand it sociologically, and to share what I learn with those who might need to hear that what they’re experiencing in God’s name is a very human phenomenon and not in any way representative of that which is good and pure and lovely and perfect in the Universe.

Here are some materials that I’ve read recently on the topic. Proceed with caution if you are likely to be triggered by articles referring to abuse, control and religion.

Only 2 Months and 21 Days Until NaNoWriMo and I Can’t Wait

I note – with significant excitement – that there are less than three months before NaNoWriMo 2015 begins. I entered this annual writing event in 2013 and 2014, in both cases taking out the title of “Winner.” To clarify, in this instance “Winner” does not mean that out of 310,000 adult competitors (as counted in 2013’s event), I somehow floated to the top and was deemed champion – as nice as that would be. It meant that in the month of November I wrote a 50,000+ words first draft manuscript of a novel, with the word count then verified by NaNoWriMo. Winners are anyone who hits the minimum 50,000 word count mark. Starting from word number one on 1 November, right through to word 50,622 submitted before midnight local time on 30 November, I joined a virtual community of would-be novelists in typing out an original story.

In 2014 I wrote within a fantasy-horror genre, and 2013 it was sci-fi-with a strong dash of fantasy.

I’ve learned a lot about writing, crafting novels, and the sheer hard work involved and I look forward to exploring it further later this year.

Some thoughts on NaNoWriMo and writing:

Planning is essential! In 2013 the story came to me fairly easily. I was writing something I’d internally composed over the previous decade, so once I sat down at the keyboard it flowed pretty naturally. The difficulties I faced had more to do with environmental circumstances. At the time I was struggling with my in-real-life experiences, which meant that my natural but extremely temperamental creative streak had to be forced to perform. This was a challenge; I’m used to “waiting for the inspiration.” NaNoWriMo taught me that sometimes you have to challenge your creative self to work, and work hard, and it’s entirely capable of producing some decent results with practice.

In 2014, while in-real-life circumstances were greatly improved, I was starting from scratch on a whole new set of ideas. I didn’t have years of unexpressed writerly goodness from which to draw: it was sheer hard work and I both loved and loathed the difficulty of the process. However, I also spent a large portion of the time asking myself why I thought I could just thrash out a whole novel in 30 days without so much as preparing a list of possible character names or having a beginning point more detailed than the phrase “vaguely post-apocalyptic supernatural horror” in my mind.

This year, 2015, I intend to do more on the planning side and see if that improves the writing process.

What does my NaNoWriMo planning entail? Procrastination! I’m better off procrastinating now than in November.

More helpfully, I do things like reading my favourite etymology websites to get a feel for possible character names. I like names with appropriate cultural references. This year I’m contemplating possibly writing something in a more contemporary Australian setting, which meant scanning lists of common Australian given names to try to give a more authentic feel to the story. Anyone up for the suburban adventures of Bazza, Gazza and Dazza, three mates hooning in their Commodore ute, drinking beer with Shazza and Kezza at the corner pub…? Okay, maybe not. All my characters will get their own handwritten page in a folder of notes, with detailed descriptions on anything relevant – from their physical appearance and ethnicity, through to their education or career or origin on a particular planet.

I go for walks, and find that being outdoors, listening to the birds and frogs and creek along the local bike trail frees my mind to imagine possible ideas, stories and settings.

I also like to draw maps. As a reader of fantasy, I appreciate a book with a decent map. I think of Dinotopia, by James Gurney, one of my all-time favourite stories and with a beautifully detailed map representing not just locations but terrain and ecology. I love plotting out the journey taken by the characters through the story as I read it.

Personally the visual prompt of a map helps me to ensure a consistency in the story. Otherwise even the basic geographical details are going to go awry and the cold, southernmost town in one chapter will later become a northern tropical village.

Geography is a big concern. I’ll make a pretty detailed map. I’ll write descriptive notes for each significant location, too. Is there a particular type of terrain, ecology, fauna or flora significant to the region? It all goes in my plans. It’s also a point of internal conflict for me, in the cultural divide between my own culture and nearly every possible reader demographic I could want. As an Australian, my inner compass automatically denotes southern regions as cold, and northern as hot or tropical. Winter is June to August, and the Summer Solstice falls in December. The sun travels across the northern half of the sky. East is coastal, damp and forested, but the further west one travels, the hotter and more desert it becomes. Deserts are red, forests are eucalyptus-based and evergreen, wild animals are kangaroos and koalas, and everyone drives on the left hand side of the road. I am quite conscious of the fact that the majority of people who might read what I write would find something jarring in all that. Conversely, Australia has a whole lot of unique attributes that people outside of our country might find fascinating, so I don’t want to pretend to be anything else. It used to be the case that the only novels I read were European or North American. When I came across The Silver Brumby series by Elyne Mitchell in my mid-teens, finally I was able to delve into a fantastical world entirely recognisable: the kangaroos sheltering under stands of wattle, the rough wild Brumbies (an Australian breed of domestic horse) galloping over the hill country of northern Victoria and southern New South Wales, references to characters from the Gippsland region (where I lived until my mid-20s), and the descriptions of different types of gum trees.

Making the most of every spare moment. In the last two NaNoWriMo Novembers, I have learned that while I do tend to frantically write the final 20,000 words in the last week, it’s the first half of the month that can make or break the word count. I will inevitably have days where I can’t make up the ideal 1,667 daily word count. So I need to be realistic. Some days I’ll be easily able to tap out 3,000 words. Others I might only write 100. But it all counts and it’s better to write a short paragraph on a bad day than nothing at all.

NaNoWriMo is a reminder to take myself seriously as a writer. The only other time in my life I was really encouraged to write, where I had regular feedback, support and constructive criticism, was during my university studies. Then I had to research and write an 18,000-word dissertation. It was incredibly hard work. But I received a lot of helpful advice from my supervisors, including the idea that what I wrote did, in fact, have value, and that it was both interesting and enjoyable to read. For me that was huge praise, considering that my three supervisors were all published writers and academics with some excellent books and journal contributions to their names.

Another useful idea that I gleaned from my uni days included the power of handwriting as a way to manage writer’s block. Following the advice of my supervisors, I learned that when I feel overwhelmed and scatterbrained in my writing, I can take a blank notebook, a pen, set aside any electronics devices, and sit outdoors to write whatever I can draw out from my memories. It’s also an excellent way of processing what I have already learned. Sometimes I surprised myself with how much I’d taken in from my studies.

Even though NaNoWriMo isn’t until November, already I’ve started taking notes and making up an inspiration folder for my story this year. I have no idea, yet, what I’m writing about, though it’ll will probably fall somewhere in the realm of sci fi or fantasy, simply because that’s what I enjoy reading. I make a note of any useful thoughts that pop into my head, too. An idea, a possible plot concept, and even printing out interesting photographs that I saw on websites about Celtic spirituality. They all go in the folder.

Ideally, I would love creative writing to be a daily practice. It almost is. Unfortunately real life, as it is, places other demands on my time and energy. I have to carve out time for writing – saying no to mindless social media, limiting catch ups so that while I do regularly see friends (which is positive) they don’t take all of my time (which is frustrating), allowing my introverted-self enough space and solitude to function healthily, working on eating healthily and maintaining my fitness so that when I write I can do so calmly and with a clear mind, and taking care of priority activities in the first half of the day so that I can write, in good conscience, in the second half of the day. I also note that about ten years ago I stopped watching television. At the time I was juggling preschool-aged children, volunteering, university and struggling to adjust to life in the much busier suburban environment, and The Husband had just started a new career after university which meant we had less time to spend together, and tv simply didn’t help. With so much going on in my life, the weakest link in the chain of activities had to stand aside in deference to higher priority concerns. I do sporadically watch some serialised shows on DVD (namely, Star Trek and the Stephen King-inspired series Haven) but generally the only use the tv gets is when the kids watch their weekend cartoons.* If I were an avid tv watcher I would have no room in my life for creativity whatsoever.

NaNoWriMo is great in that it enables me to set aside a whole month to write, when family and friends know that I’ll be deeply immersed in my creative work. It reminds me to take my writing seriously, too. It encourages me to give my creativity an annual top priority status, when so often it gets lost in the midst of chauffeuring the kids to school or fulfilling the endless stream of volunteer commitments and appointments and social events. When I look back on my life I’d like to know that I made a genuine attempt to wring from life the most I possibly could, in spheres like creativity, intellectual pursuits, spirituality and physical health, community involvement and social activism. Writing, for me, is a major way for me to express a number of those areas in a way that brings me a lot of joy and a lot of satisfaction.

So even though I have to wait until November before I can begin my third NaNoWriMo entry, today – a beautifully sunny August day, with early signs of impending spring in the mini daffodils in the garden, and the subtle changes in the blackbird songs, I am already preparing my initial character ideas and possible plot points in anticipation of the first day of Nano writing in November.

Find the NaNoWriMo website HERE.

I’ve written elsewhere on the topic of NaNoWriMo HERE.

*On television, and my avoidance thereof, and the endless bewildering monologues I’ve received fuelled by skepticism towards my preference for non-screen-based modes of entertainment: I know people are oddly compelled to interrogate me on my lack of knowledge about currently popular television shows, as if my profound disinterest in tv is somehow a moralistic attempt at asceticism, or an attack on tv fans, whose choice to watch tv doesn’t affect me in the slightest – but it really comes down to the sense that for me, I’m happier without extraneous noise, and I’m happier reading or writing or staring at the clouds than I am passively absorbing mass media content. To put it simply, I find tv to be mind-numbingly boring and a chore akin to scrubbing the bathroom rather than, say, a pleasant mode of entertainment. I feel the same way about the vast majority of films, too. When people say, “You should watch…”, regardless of what title follows that statement, it’s as if a heavy burden is placed on my shoulders and I shrink into myself, searching through my stockpile of polite ways to say “No thanks” for the most plausible excuse as to why watching hours of bogans cooking meat on whatever cooking show is currently in vogue or hours of American sitcoms interspersed with shouty adverts for ornate carpets just isn’t as exciting to me as it’s assumed to be by roughly, at a guess, all 23,859,641 other Australians (give or take a few). But that’s an aside and only relevant here in the context of the question, “Where do you find time in your hectic schedule to write?” Of course, I literally don’t care if my friends choose tv as their primary mode of entertainment, and more power to them if that’s what they enjoy. I’ll be over here reading heavy 19th Century dramatic European tomes, but it’s a big world and there’s room for all of us.

** A quick perusal of the Myers-Briggs Type forums for ISTPs (the personality type most resonant with my own experiences and outlook) very quickly suggests that, in general, we are not usually television watchers. I feel validated by that. I hadn’t really thought consciously about that before, but for those of us personality types compelled to engage with physical reality, in tangible and creative ways, tv is just too passive for our tastes. I’ve written elsewhere about being Introverted and ISTP and on how learning about personality types through a bunch of different systems has helped me better understand the way I interact with other people (and how they perceive me).