Thursday, October 26, 2017

It's Really All About the Words - #NaNoWriMo

Note: This post has 3 entries in the middle of text displaying word count. They were added after writing to show how many words were written at various time intervals. They are in the format of (x min - xxx words).  The purpose for these are included in the post.

This post is a test to see what I can actually do with concentrated, uninterrupted time just typing away and not worrying about editing or word-smithing.

You see, I have jumped into something that is starting to be very intimidating to me and I haven't even started it yet. I signed up for NaNoWriMo 2017. This is the National Novel Writing Month that is held all over the world via internet in November each year. The goal of the month is to sit down and crank out a 50,000-word novel in just 30 days. 30 DAYS. For a whole freaking book.

I know this is a mammoth undertaking because I have been working on a novel for the last year and have only written the first five chapters. Yeah. Five chapters. That's an average of about one chapter every two months.

But...I know that I could be going at a much more acceptable rate if I just sat down and wrote the thing. Everything I've read about writing (yeah...I read about it a lot even if I'm not doing it), says that you just have to sit down and write it. Just get the words out. Worry about editing it later. So, I am practicing (5 min. - 205 words) just writing without having to worry about making sure the words are just the way I want them to be so I can see how many words I can actually produce in a given amount of time.

My time for this post is 30 minutes. Just 30 minutes. I want to see how many words hit the screen if I write without interruption and without sitting to think about just the right way to say something. Just get it up on the screen and I can perfect it later.

So, I have set three times for myself. One is at the 5-minute mark. I already hit that one. You can see the formatting for it above. One is at the 15-minute mark (that one is yet to come) and the last is at the 30-minute mark. For the moment, I am just pasting a symbol into that spot when the alarm goes off so I can go back and look at it later, calculate the word count and see what kind of progress I am making when it is all over. When I am finished, I will edit this post to include the numbers when they actually occurred.

So, here is why I am doing the challenge. I want to be a writer. I really, really, really do. My ultimate goal is to not have to go to work each morning, but sit down at my computer instead. My job would be to write.

I'm not even looking to get rich off of this. I just need to make enough money to be able to rely on my writing for my income. And, of course, I need enough money to be able to pay back my massive student loans also, but that is another story.

However, in order to be a writer, I have to write. Like actually write. Not just think about writing or read about writing or take notes for story ideas. I need to actually write. I have every confidence that I have some good stories in me. And I know that I write well enough that I could do this, but the difficult part is getting those words out of me. I have found that it is very easy to not write.

For one, I am a lifetime procrastinator. Always have been. Thus the word 'lifetime'. It takes a concentrated effort for me to get past it. If I want to get something done, I have to really focus because I am a master at putting things off.

Next, even if I do get started on a project, I move very slowly. Especially with writing. Suddenly, my mind is filled with all the things that need to be done and, for some reason, demand my immediate attention.

I need to fill the ice cube trays.
Did that shirt get ironed?
I still have all those emails I never went through?
I need to call Adam back.

The list is endless. Plus, even if I don't have other things that are demanding my attention, I constantly want to go over everything that I have written. I like my words to be (15 min - 674 words) perfect so they reflect exactly what I want to say. This means that after every paragraph (and sometimes after a sentence), I go back over what I just wrote to tweak it. I have written some of the sentences in my book over 20 times. Making little changes here and there. It never ends.

This is an issue that I have seen addressed in many of the blogs and books that I have read about writing. It's called "silencing your Inner Editor". When writing, it is not the time to edit. It is time to write. Editing can come later.

I know this is true, but I find it rather difficult to do. Which, once again, is what I am trying to do with this post. I am just writing it.

A book will never get written if the author does not write it. If it has not been written then there is nothing to edit. And, as I have learned, editing each chapter as it comes out just brings the entire process to a grinding halt. It moves so slowly. So, if I am going to even come close to finishing the NaNoWriMo challenge that I have entered, I will have to learn to just move forward. The editing can come after the month is over.

One of the excuses (and I know it is just an excuse, not a legitimate reason) I have used since getting to China is the size of our apartment. As I have mentioned in past posts, we live in a very small apartment. Very small. We can't even both fit in the kitchen at the same time.

Because of the close proximity, I feel like I can't get away from my wife.

I love my wife. I don't really want to "get away" from her, but with the close quarters, it is difficult to get into my own head and write. Our proximity to each other is distracting. At least, that is the excuse that I have used.

Lately, I have been trying some different tactics to try to get past this. For instance, I am taking advantage of the little times during the day when I have the house to myself. Sometimes it's just 20 minutes before she gets home. Sometimes, it's when she is in the shower. Occasionally, I will actually get a few hours. Not taking advantage of these moments before was time that I was wasting.

Next, I am experimenting with ways to write even when we are both in the apartment. I have always preferred to write in silence, but have begun to learn that putting in some earphones to listen to soft music is enough to take away most of the distraction of having someone else in the house. It is beginning to work.

My next distraction is the biggest time waster of all. I am an internet addict. I am well aware of this weakness, but it is easier to identify than it is to conquer it. I have to be sure to shut down the internet to my computer before I start writing. I don't need any Facebook or email notifications popping up to let me know that someone just had an amazing lunch at a new restaurant or their kitten did something cute. I know that if I do peek over to Facebook, I will lose the next three hours without even realizing it.

When I decide to write, I need to be able to do it and not be pulled away by these things that really aren't going to matter for anything anyway.

I know that I am reaching the end of the 30-minute goal I had set for myself and am really curious just how many words I have gotten typed. (30 min - 1299 words) I am amazed at how easily the words came.

Ok. Experiment over.

I came in at about 1,300 words for 30 minutes of uninterrupted time dedicated to just getting the words out onto the screen. Not bad.

To complete the NaNoWriMo and hit the 50,000-word target by the end of the month, I need to write an average of 1,667 words each day. That seemed pretty intimidating, but now knowing that I just did 1,300 words in 30 minutes, I have much more confidence that this is actually doable. I just have to discipline myself to sit down and do it.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Embrace Variety

In my last post, I wrote about the wonderful vacation my wife and I had in Qingdao. We love when we get the opportunity to get away and experience someplace new.

When we got back from our trip, we were recalling some of the places we've been since we got married. We've done a lot of traveling in the three years since we said "I do" and even moved to the other side of the world. In the middle of that conversation, I was on Facebook and noticed that a mutual friend had just returned from her trip to Disneyland.

I asked Red, "Wait. Didn't she just go to Disney last year?"

"Yeah. She goes there every year for her vacation."

Now, before everyone goes all Colin Kaepernick on me, let me say that I have nothing against Mickey Mouse other than him owning the Star Wars franchise. I have no problem with someone going to Disneyland for their vacation, so I don't want to hear the defensive arguments:
  • Disneyland helps connect with my inner child.
  • Anyone who thinks Disney is just for kids is a miserable person.
  • I take my kids to Disneyland because I love them.

 Honestly, I don't care where anyone goes on vacation. People have a variety of different interests and things they enjoy doing. What I am calling into question is someone going to the same place year after year.

Even if you're one of those freaks who gets off on dressing as a cute little animal and hanging out with other people who do the same, you can at least get some variety by going to those furry conventions in a different city each year.

The world is a BIG BIG BIG place and there is so much to eat see and experience, I can't wrap my mind around picking one place and being happy with not seeing anything else.

The woman who goes to Disney every year says that she does it because the family has learned they enjoy Disney and don't want to spend a bunch of hard-earned money and time off work on a vacation that might end up not being enjoyable. I guess that makes sense.

Sure, if you're a petulant 9-year-old child who discovered he likes frozen waffles and now refuses to eat anything else because it might be

It doesn't seem to bother her that despite having the means to provide her children with deep cultural experiences and expose them to various ways of life and types of people, she would rather have them stand in long lines every day and get their picture taken with a guy in a duck costume and come home having learned nothing other than Florida is hot and any food shaped like a mouse head costs three times as much as non-mouse head shaped food.

Which, once again, I don't have any problem with. But why would you never attempt to branch out from that?

Now, some people are worthy of a pass when they take the same vacation every year. For example:
  • The one time a year you can actually travel is spent going to visit your parents (or children) who live far away. That is understandable.
  • You foolishly bought a cabin or condo time-share somewhere and now you have to go there for every vacation or you're throwing even more money away and your wife already nags you enough about buying it.
  • You bought a GPS unit for your car years ago, but now can't justify paying the outrageous fee to keep it updated, so all the maps are outdated and you don't know how to go anywhere you haven't already been.
I do understand that not everyone cares about cultural experiences. Everyone's taste is different. Personally, I would never book a vacation that revolved around basking on the beach. I can't do it for more than an hour. I also have no desire to go hiking for more than an afternoon. If you are vacationing with me and suggest going shopping, I will meet up with you after you're done. However, many people do love those sort of things. Going to a tropical beach is a very popular tourist destination, but would you really want to see the same one every year?

When I was a kid, we went to the Current River to go tubing every year and I loved it, but it wasn't our only destination for the year. We went with friends on one of the three day weekends and enjoyed each others company and the time on the river. So, please don't think I'm against going anyplace more than once. But if your main opportunity to get away is always the same, it kind of defeats the purpose of getting away. It's just more of the same.

If your family doesn't have the money for big vacations or even travel, whatever you do can have variety. My father was a big fan of going camping. I hated it, but we went on many camping trips. In the first 10 years of my life, I camped in every state and national park in Southern Illinois. It sucked was still camping, but at least we had different trees to fall out of each time we went.

I make this argument mainly for people who have children. Parents should take every opportunity they can to help their children be well-rounded individuals. Show them the world. Show them people, cultures, food, scenery, and ways of life that are different from what they are accustomed. Let them experience more of the world than what their hometown or single vacation spot has to offer. It will make them not only better people but give them a broader outlook on life, the world, and humanity.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Happy Golden Week

October 1 is the China National holiday and the Mid-Autumn Festival happens during the first week in October. These two holidays combined create what the Chinese call Golden Week. There are a variety of ways the Golden Week is celebrated across this huge nation, but they all have one thing in common.

That is not a joke. It really happens. It's like someone pulled the Godzilla fire alarm for China and everyone is scrambling to get out. It's crazy. Roads are clogged, airlines and trains are packed and there are no hotels with vacancies in any bordering countries.

We actually moved here a year ago just as Golden Week was starting. However, (at that time) we had no idea it even existed. We just thought Beijing was a huge ghost town. Public transportation wasn't running, shops were closed and we couldn't get basic services turned on in our new apartment. No one was around to do anything.

But this year, we were ready for it and happily joined in the chaotic migration. We just returned from Qingdao. Qingdao sits on the coast of the Yellow Sea about 425 miles southeast of Beijing. We enjoyed sitting on the beach, seeing the sites, eating tons of seafood and relaxing in a small city for a while.

Now, when I say 'small', I mean small by Chinese standards. Qingdao is often referred to by Chinese people as a small city. Small. Remember that word.

That's right, 9 MILLION people.
Small, right?

Now, let's compare that to the American definition of the word 'small'.

Here is the population of Chicago, the largest city in the state I am from in America.

 That's over THREE TIMES the size of Chicago.
Even New York (America's biggest city) only has 8.5 million.

So, we vacationed in this 'small' city and had a blast. We were near the home of famed Chinese philosopher Confucius. We were at the site of the Second Sino-Japanese War and in the shadow of the most revered mountain of Taoism Mount Tai. However, being the shallow Americans we are with virtually no sense of history, we gravitated toward our interests.

TSINGTAO Beer Museum

The Wall of Beer
The Birthplace of Beer Culture
That is a bold statement

Tsingtao beer is basically the equivalent to what Budweiser is in America. It is huge here and is sold in over 100 countries around the world. Apparently, this region was under German control for 16 years at the beginning of the 20th Century before being run out by the Japanese during World War I. Once the Germans were gone, the Chinese kept the only part of the German culture they liked: the beer. We might have been in the old stomping grounds of Confucius, but it was Confucius who said "Whoever drinks beer, he is quick to sleep; whoever sleeps long, does not sin; whoever does not sin, enters Heaven! Thus, let us drink beer!"

Who can argue with 2,500 year old Chinese wisdom?

When we weren't downing all the local adult beverages, we were eating mountains of seafood since we were on the coast and walking along the beach. Once again, because we were on the coast.

On our way back from Qingdao the traffic started getting a bit thick so we had to grab another hotel to keep from driving all night. We got the only hotel out in the middle of nowhere in a tiny little town called Huanghua (pop. 419,700).

The lobby of Shengtai International Hotel

Our modest room

That same room from the other side.
Notice the window to the bathtub.

I made these friends when they saw me
sitting alone in the bar.

The view from our hotel room

Front entrance to the hotel

Now, this may look extravagant, but it is not my normal style of travel. Things in China are significantly cheaper than in the States. A night at this hotel cost us about $85 USD and it cost that much because the hotel is built right on top of natural hot springs, so there is a hot spring spa on the ground floor! The closest I ever got to something like this in the States was using the hairdryer in the bathroom with the door closed.

Today, I am back in my cramped Beijing apartment choking on smog I have to chew before inhaling and wondering if I will ever be happy again.

I'm already looking forward to Chinese New Year. That holiday lasts for the entire month of February.