This Year, The Word is ‘Planet’

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Hey, bear feeders, did you miss me?  I kind of dropped off of your radar, didn’t I.  Well, it’s cause of this NaNoWriMo thing I talked about way back in October in this post: NaNoWriMo – It’s That Month Again.   That whole process turned into a major drain on my Bear Feed time, so I neglected you all for my own personal writing party. Good news is that it wasn’t for naught.

For the third straight year – I am a NaNoWriMo ‘Winner’.

Yup … I’m a Winner.

I actually hate that term, for a program that is all about words, you would think they would come up with a better word to use.

But for those of you who are still confused what the heck I am talking about, let me give you the rundown.

NaNoWriMo, or the National Novel Writing Month (or NaNo for short), is an effort to support the desire for people to pull novels out of their brain and put it on paper.  It happens every year in the month of November and asks participants to do one simple thing — write 50,000 words.  You can write a novel, a childrens story, a nonfiction thing, or even the word ‘idiot’ 50,000 times; but if you reach that 50k mark you are considered a ‘winner’.  Participants, typically called WriMos, can approach this event any way they want — whether by plotting out their story in full before executing it completely (we call them Plotters), writing from absolutely nothing with no plan as if from the seat of their pants (they’re called Pantsers), or a hybrid of both like me (call Plantors or Plosers or soemthing like that).

It’s actually a crazy mix of introverted and social activities.  Most of the time, we write by ourselves, but there are usually supporting events put on by regional organizations, most typically in the form of ‘Write-Ins’.  Write-ins are places where groups of WriMos get together and work on their number count with different aids to get them there.  For an outsider, this could look kind of funny, because you can walk into this room and see 10 to 30 people with all variety of headphones plugged in, not a one making a sound except for the mad smashing of keyboards.  I attended 6 of those this year, including two right on the JPL campus with fellow JPL WriMos, one in the loudest room I ever had to write in (shared with roleplay gamers), and one in a wine bar … which .. was … AWESOME.  Talk about sharing my two favorite hobbies.

This was unofficially my fifth attempt at NaNo — but my first didn’t really count, because I only heard about the dang thing on November 10th, and I gave up a couple days later.  The second attempt was the first real serious attempt, and I failed and flopped miserably.  2015 was the first time I ‘won’, but barely – reaching 50k on November 29th.  Last year, I knocked it out of the park.  Even with all the madness going on in my life, I jumped out to get way ahead, hit 50k with five days to go, and ended up with 54,000 words.  I thought this one was going to be tougher; but I won on the same day as last year and already topped the 55k mark with 10 hours to go.

Each year seemed to fall into the same pattern, loosely broken into five groups of 10,000 words (and strangely broken up into the 4-1/2 weeks).

0 to 10,000 — The What Was I Worried About phase.  I always thought I would suck on cranking words, every year.  But that first 10k seems to fly by.  Last year I had 10k in two days; sometimes it takes me a couple extra, but I usually am crushing through by the first weekend.

10k to 20,000 — The What Was I Thinking Phase.  This far in, I’ve gotten through some of the initial thoughts and character introductions; but I realize … I have no frickin’ idea where the story is supposed to go.  You see, novels are supposed to have these things called ‘plots’ and ‘direction’.  It’s usually at this point where I have to actually pull my head out of the clouds and come up with a plan.  This ends up to be the first full weekend of writing; because I usually have more freetime to mess around a bit with structure and want to take longer breaks between mashing keys.

20k to 35,000-ish — The Who’s Writing This Thing Phase.  Honestly, this is the best part of NaNo for me.  By this time, I am about two weeks in, and for all that time I have been thinking about the story nearly every waking minute.  The characters are flushed out and I can hear their voices, the writing flows easily as if I did it my whole life, and I am deep into the good parts of the novel.  Usually, somewhere in there, I create a scene or a chapter that just comes out of nowhere.  I enter this trance like state, and what comes up on the screen isn’t anything I am consciously writing about.  To be blunt, just by reading what I wrote, I see exactly what drove me to write this story and to learn what therapy it is doing for me.  This typically happens over the week just before Thanksgiving, and can roll through long nights and weekend writing.  Right up to the …

35k to 45,000-ish — The Oh Yeah, I’m Supposed to Be a WriMo Phase.  Annually, I visit my family and hometown for Thanksgiving.  It is rarely a creative time for me.  In part, writing requires a lot of downtime for me to contemplate what I am going to write before the actual act of writing.  That’s just not feasible or allowable.  My stats outright prove this.  I can be crushing going into that week, and then it thins.  This year, I reached 40k the Sunday before Thanksgiving on Nov 19th – meaning I was on course to reach 50k by Thanksgiving Day (Nov 23).  Yet when I flew home on Nov 26 I barely reached that 45k mark.

45k to 50,000 — The Where Do I Have Words Left Phase.  At this point, I don’t want to throw the month away, and I want to reach 50k.  Problem is, all the good ideas, all the well researched, and all the well through through chapters are mostly written … well usually except for one.  The last three years, there was always a long, fulfilling chapter I left to the end.  Usually it was the end, like the climax or the last chapter.  When I got home from Thanksgiving, I worked on that – and with that, I put myself over the top.

This year, I ‘won’ on November 27th– the 50,000th word this year was ‘Planet’.  I continued writing the last couple days and reach a milestone that hadn’t happened in any of the previous NaNoWriMo attempts I made.

Today — I finished a 1st Draft.

Thing is, 50,000 words doesn’t mean you wrote a novel – and the first time you write those words, it doesn’t mean they are very good.  Writers tend to be way better at revising what they wrote then writing them down; that’s why it is so hard to do this.  Even when I just tried to do short stories before all this, I rarely finished one complete.  I rarely followed through to get it together.  So early this morning when I was staring at my workbook with all the chapters listed and all my notes going with it – I scanned them over and realized … there’s nothing left to add.  It’s done.

Tomorrow stars December – which I jokingly called the National Don’t Touch Your Novel Month (or NaDoToYoNoMo) as most WriMos put their novel aside to give themselves a break.  At some point, I will take it up, and start editing it – and it needs a lot of work … A LOT of work.  From there, I don’t know.  I know I don’t want to publish it at this point of time (this is actually a ‘Book 2’ of a series, and I have to get a 1st Draft of ‘Book 1’ done).  I’m already churning ideas in my head for NaNoWriMo 2018.

But for now, I’m happy enough to say that I won again, and leave it like that.

Fiesta Inn

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When you travel as much as I do for as long as I have, you are bound to come across places that you have stayed before.  Many times, if time has passed, it has changed so much that it is a shell of it’s former self.  More often, it just doesn’t live up to the memories you kept.  Yet last night, I was thrown back to find nearly the opposite of what I have grown to expect about a return.

I am in Tempe, Arizona for a quick day’s work.  There’s a project down here that took me on a day trip (meaning, I flew down and back in the same day) about a week ago.  Then there was a need to go back, so this time, I decided to spend the night.  More like come down the night before and fly home tonight.  When I selected my hotel, I focused on two things:  1) is it in a chain I collect points for .. 2) does it have a restaurant cause I will be needing dinner when I get there.  I landed on a DoubleTree run by Hilton that fit the bill.

As I pulled up, the place was immediately recognizable.  Not as a DoubleTree, but as ‘The Fiesta Inn’.  A quick question to the desk clerk, and I confirmed it was named that previously; and it all fell into place.

For many of you older BearFeeders, you may have seen me post about a beast of an organization called Nadcap.  For thirteen years of my professional career, Nadcap was a dominant part of my development, expertise, and stress levels.  It is an organization intent of 3rd party special process auditing of aerospace suppliers.  From 2002 until 2012, I sat on the Heat Treat Task Group, most of it as an officer; and from 2014-2016 as a supplier/voting member.  The key part of this process were the meetings, held either 3 or 4 times a year in different places around the globe.  From the late 90s until the mid-00s, the January meeting was held in Tempe at the Fiesta Inn.  Where my memory fails me is whether or not I attended 3 meetings or 4 while they were coming to this hotel; but revisiting this venue was about the only thing that failed in my memory.

Those meetings seem to be more contentious that the others.  Maybe because January is traditionally the time when people try to implement strategies without knowing they will be successful.  Maybe it’s because most of us were coming out of the cold to warm Tempe and now had some piss & vinegar to get out from the holidays.  Maybe because the venue was too small, and shoving 70 people a room that has a fire code for 35 was a bad idea.  There were other meetings that were pretty brutal, but it seemed like there was always fireworks at this one.

Walking around the property, I was just shocked how little had changed.  From the pool, the slightly hidden hot tub, and all the outside seating that made working outside a dream come true.  The meeting rooms with the same terracotta colored window treatments.  The bar with the copper sheet table tops and the chairs that seemed extravagant for a hotel bar.  Heck, they still had pretty good huevos rancheros for breakfast.

The fact this hotel seemed nearly unchanged, except for the name on the front, just brought a lot of those moments back to me.  Trying to keep specifics out of things, here’s some vague references:

  • One year, an organization got into re-branding, looking to improve how people think about the process.  In one presentation, someone stated they wanted a website name that screamed Nadcap, wanted a web address that is immediately what people thought when they thought Nadcap – and they revealed that address to be something that has no logical connection with Nadcap.  I got so pissy making fun of that lack of connection, that I kept saying “When I think of Nadcap, I think ….(fill in the blank with something else)”.  Ironically, to this day, I know exactly what address to go to because when I think of Nadcap I think of that non-logical address.
  • Our team from Cessna was notorious for bringing the youngest people to meetings.  It was a far statement, because our reps were all in our 20s and 30s, and everyone else sent people near the end of their career.  For some reason, this was especially true at the Fiesta Inn – we seemed to look like college kids there.  One of our guys, who still to this day looks & acts like he is 13, brought his PlayStation along to the Fiesta Inn, and wasn’t quiet that we had dinner at the Rainforest Cafe.
  • I gripe about ‘revision by committee’ when dealing with new standards or checklists; saying don’t let 50 people argue over the right grammatical of a sentence; especially when they aren’t English majors in the room.  I first made that comment at this meeting site, where literally 50 engineers sat around and argued over the proper use of a comma for a half hour.
  • There was the big German engineer from Airbus whose name evades me but who pulled me aside in the lobby to discuss the merging of different standards and improving the audit process.  I just remember thinking the whole time “why’s he talking to me: I’m not that smart, I’m not that important, and he’s … like … German, and Germans are awesome”.
  • I remember standing outside of a conference room and talking about what could be with the task group with Laura Fisher; then the lead staff engineer for the heat treat task group.  Within a year, she stepped down from that position to go back to another employer; and not long after she was in a tragic accident and is no longer with us.  I still remember vividly the passion she held, mostly to due away with meaningless crap; and now wishing that I could still be passion about meaningless crap with her.
  • Then there was a time a great mentor of mine, John Gorley, showed me the power of great leadership.  During a pretty contentious time with management of the program, our task group was under pressure to take action on steps we weren’t interested to do.  A comment was made by this management and the room tried to explode on him.   John raised his hand, and we all waited for him to speak as if we knew what was coming.  His speech lasted for 60 seconds tops; it started soft, started technical, started with understanding, but ended with the fire and fury of confidence.  It said what every different opinion, and every different emotion in the room wanted to say – but did so in a way that held more power than any of us could ever have.

Boy … and I am just getting started.

What I began to realize this morning is how important this place was to me.  Nadcap was something I loved to hate, and hated to love.  It did as much to form me professionally because of the great people I met and how it challenged me to form the skill sets I use today.  The thing about the Phoenix meetings were that they seemed to be where I evolved the most.

My first meeting at the Fiesta Inn was in fact my fourth meeting.  It was a time when I knew enough to be involved in things.  It was where I started to voice my opinion during these meetings.

So in essence, it was where I found my professional voice.  That sarcastic, pissy, sometimes helpful voice came along here – at this hotel.

 

And the only thing that really changed is that you can get a cookie at check-in now.