Another NaNo Looms

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Tuesday marks November 1st.  While most of you are going to be seeing it as either the day after sugar shock, or the beginning of the end of the political mess, or the countdown to celebrate Guy Fawks Day … November 1st is going to be the start of something that seems right now as doom filled as it is exciting to me.  I take another shot at NaNoWriMo.

November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short.  It is a program started in 1999 to help develop and encourage the writers, whether amateur, professional, or no-talent-hack, to achieve the goal of writing a novel.  Since it’s start, it has grown into a non-profit organization to help students develop writing skills and encourage creativity in the written arts.  In 2015 NaNoWriMo had nearly 450,000 participants and raised millions in educational grants.  But that is the fluffy, feel good side of it … you are probably asking still what is it.

NaNoWriMo is pretty simple.  Over the month of November, a participant has to write 50,000 words towards a novel, screenplay, collection, non-fiction work, or whatever.  What you write is up to you.  How you write is up to you.  When you write is up to you.  As long as you write 50,000 words from 12:01 AM November 1st to Midnight November 30th.

I try to make it sound simple … it is not!  Breaking it down, you would need to average 1667 words a day.  As a point of reference, this blog is 995 words … so think this, plus 674 more, but not just today, but every day, over and over again.  Now, those words don’t have to pretty, nor be any good, or for that matter spelled correctly.  The purpose is to put the symbolic pen to paper and get the words down.  It’s well known that the number one means to prevent a writer from finishing a story is that they get caught in things that limit the creative activity.  Editing is one of those things that can get someone caught up.  So it is encouraged to literally vomit up your words and get them down … because you will have the rest of your life to edit your novel, and you can’t edit something you haven’t written.

Officially, this will be my 3rd attempt at NaNo.  The first time I heard of it was four years ago, and sadly not until November 10th – way too late to really give it ago.  In 2014, I had a good start but got rocked by some work issues that sucked me in too deep to stay creative, so ended with 23,000 words.  2015 was way more successful, even if I was extremely challenged.  During that month, I was away from home nearly 20 days, bounced between four time zones, and even had gastric bypass surgery.  With three days left, I still had nearly 10,000 words to go, but a crazy last push got me to 50,454 and made me a ‘Winner’.

Now there are some misnomers on what you get if you write 50,000 words.  They call you a “Winner”.  I didn’t win anything.  I mean, they give you some discounts for ‘winning’ but you only really get the satisfaction that you wrote 50,000 words.  It’s just a term folks … cause you definitely aren’t a “Finisher”.  If I ever do finish the 2015 story, it will likely be in the 80k to 90k range. But I have to edit the hell out of it to remove the suck.

I am dreading this year, because my confidence is lower.  Yes, I had more challenges last year, but I do expect some major challenges (to be named later) this year to finishing.  Also, I am just less confident in my story.  Last year, I ferreted out most of the characters and stories through some side projects and online story-writing forums.  This one is basically a pre-qual (or Book 1) to last year, but it doesn’t mean it is made easier by this.  This one I walk in with a blank slate.  I have researched the hell out of key points, know what I want for characters, outlined a plot, but I feel like this is a series of pieces and bits that won’t have the breadth and depth my 2015 story did.  Heck, I don’t even really have a good plot line.  There’s other reasons there too.  Like most writers, I write based on personnel issues that need resolution, and the topics I chose are weighty, difficult, and I don’t even know how the heck I am going to resolve them let alone my protagonists.  In a way, though, that was true last year … and writing became part of the therapy I needed to advance from some of what I faced.  In the end, the dread that I have is wondering if this story even has 50,000 words in it – at least in the form that I am ready to draft.  Last year, I had whole sections I tried out before starting.  This year, not a word has been written.

Yet I am still going to try.  And this is as much a call to arms to all of those looking to try as well.  The irony of NaNo is that it is a process where we all isolate ourselves in our writing, but are bolstered by the support and attention of our fellow writers.  I go to ‘write-ins’ locally, where at some random library 30 people sit around laptops with ear plugs in and bang out words in silence … until someone reaches a word goal where they ring a little bell, everyone claps, then goes back to their desperate attempts to crank out a few more bits of pretty things.

So if you are out to give it a shot yourself – give me a shout.  Find me on the website (look for ‘thatmitch’ as a tag).  We’ll work on ways on staying up with each other, find ways to help through the blocks and struggles.  Then come November 1st, see if we can win this thing.

Another Night at Joe’s

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There is one thing true about us, we were definitely … DEFINITELY getting older.

After a bit of a hiatus on the Bear Feed front, I am writing from Pittsburgh, PA where I am attending the October Nadcap meeting.  Nadcap, an aerospace special process quality accreditation program, comes together three times a year to discuss topics to improve the program.  I can drone on for a while longer to explain what that program is and why it could be important, but it’s … well … boring.  There are two things you really need to know:
1) With the exception of what is now called in this group as ‘Mitch’s Alaskan Sabbatical’, I attended these meetings consistently since 2002.
2) Every October they meet in Pittsburgh.  No matter how many times we have done the same thing .. every … fricken … October.
My involvement in Nadcap is as career defining as it comes, and I seem to have visited every hotel and every restaurant in town … just only in October.

Of course, I used to come here with my old company, Cessna Aircraft, and now with my current company, Bodycote, I am here to get beat up and tossed around.  I am not the only one that rolled on, but some of the old guard from Cessna still come to these meetings and others arrive as suppliers to.  Either through legends of working dinners or just out of habit, we have dubbed a Joe’s Crab Shack in the Station Square shopping area the place to get together for some dumb reason.  Since a few of us were still going to be here this week … that’s where we met.

If there were trenches in aerospace special process supplier quality, these were some of the guys I was in those trenches with.  While the glory years are behind us, getting together was a reminder how little changed.  Sure we used to sit around talking more about home improvements and fitness crazes, and now it was more about reading glasses and knee replacements.  Sure we have new team members & new bosses, and some of those we used to work with are spun out like rain off of an umbrella.  Yet when we brought up old stories, it was like they just happened.  When we caught on where we are now, it was like we never left.

So yes, it is another October.  This is another Nadcap meeting.  But last night was just another night at Joe’s.

There is one thing true about us, we were definitely … DEFINITELY getting older.  To steal from a great movie, Waking Ned Devine:  “We grew old together, but there were times when we laughed that we grew younger.”

But we were definitely older.

 

On Keys

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In my hometown of Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin – it seems nearly everyone of the 6000+ people must go through a ritual that is part flattering, part funny, and awfully humiliating.  It’s mostly bestowed onto kids, and was a rite of passage through the middle school for over three decades.  It occurs annually, but sporadically.  Some dreaded that event as the date it would occur was known to them from the moment they were born.  I will not lie, it was something that loomed heavy over my head when that date approached, and I looked forward to the dread like nothing else.  Even twenty years removed from living in ‘the du’, it’s tenticals still find me, and still find ways to make my teeth grind and my face redden until the event is over.

You see in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin … if it is your birthday, and if he finds out…

Tom Nelson will sing you Happy Birthday!

Oh no … this isn’t some “isn’t that nice” moment, or a “how thoughtful” … it’s a full on production.  Think, one of those goofy chain restaurants who do some birthday song … but the singers actually care … and aren’t that good either.  First he drags you out into the center of whatever you are in, and makes an announcement so that everyone in the area knows exactly what is going on.  He takes his truck keys out of his pocket, throws them on the ground, and kneels on the keys … why you ask?  Because he has a problem singing ‘on key’ so he sings ‘on keys’.  He takes the hands of the doomed center of attention, and proceeds to lay in.  Each word is either drawn out too long or too sticatto to get more then the idea of what he saying.  The pitch fluctuates so often that Christina Aguilar goes “dang, back it off a little”.  Each verse takes way too long, which in the middle of it feels like forever.  Then of course when he gets to singing your name, he also throws in your age … and is never close, even when he tries.  Then comes the sweet sweet release of the end … and it’s over.

It is the epitome of the embarrassment of the parents.  You know what I mean, just watch any sitcom that includes teenagers who overreact to something goofy a parent does … so the parent just does it bigger and wilder.  It didn’t help that he kept finding more and more creative ways to get me with this — like during High School Latin Class where my teacher goes to turn on a language tape, and it’s a recording of my dad singing for me.  Or I am having brunch at my cousin’s wedding, and he parades me out in front of that group.  This year, I am judging bands down in Louisiana for my birthday – and I know from past experience the smart thing to do is get up early and sneak away from the other judges so when that call comes I can take it without the rest of them seeing my eyes roll right of out my head.

All kidding aside, this is part of what makes my dad (and both my parents) such a positive part of the community.  In a small town, it is the people that keep the foundation of it solid – and it is the individuals doing their part to uplift the whole.  Even though it was a small town, my dad could be easily called one to the local ‘celebrities’ and his birthday shinnanagans is a big part of that.  He was a middle school teacher, and generations not only passed through the halls to learn what he had to offer, they were dragged in front of their friends and were serenaded with an ‘On Keys’ rendition of Happy Birthday.  As a guy who returns occasionally with an outsider’s observation ability, it’s pretty easy to see that most people in the town know who he is, and a vast majority of those  smile because of him.

So … today is my dad, Tom Nelson’s birthday.  While I can’t be in Prairie du Chien today to celebrate with him, I am using my own open space to announce his “one-and-only-thirty-ninth-birthday” and maybe bring a little embarrassment into his life.

Happy Birthday Dad.

And if the rest of you see him, feel free to sign to him … just make sure you do it ‘on keys’.

(I mean, it was either this or try to start #tomnelson, but that would also come with the #whatsahashtag .. which would lead to a #whatisinstagram #isthatthesameasfacebook #whatissmartphone and #isthatthesameascarphone and #IdontusethosebecauseIcanneverfigureouttheansweringmachineonthem … Did I mention he was a ‘Technology Education’ teacher?)