Day 30

Well, I made it. 30 days and blog posts later, I completed NaNo Blog Thing. While I’m not sure I’m a better blogger for it (this was more about getting back into my blogging groove than it was about learning how to blog), I definitely enjoyed the challenge. I’ve learned a few things along the way though…

  • I’m definitely a 5 day a week blogger more than I am a 7 day a week blogger. Without cheesy weekend posts, I have little interest (and less inspiration) for weekend posting. I think because I know that the majority of my hits are during the week, plus the fact that…
  • I write posts ahead of time whenever possible. Usually on Saturday evening. Several weeks this month I managed to write posts for a full week ahead (or longer). It’s the only way I made it through Thanksgiving, and the “Schedule Post” option on WordPress gets a lot of use around these blogs. It was really nice to know that on the days I work, I didn’t have to think about coming up with and writing out a post.
  • It’s not that much harder to keep up with two blogs than it is to keep up with one. While I just posted 5 days a week over at Too Many Annas, I didn’t have too much trouble coming up with ideas. In fact, it was sometimes easier to do the gaming blog posts, since my topic is pretty well set over there.
  • I keep a running list of post ideas in ToodleDo, which I have on my phone as well as my computer. That way I am less likely to think of a really great post idea and then forget it by the time I sit down to write. Some of those posts will never see the light of day, but it’s nice to have an ongoing list of ideas.
  • On the other hand, I don’t really like lists of manufactured blog post prompts. I think because I don’t usually write posts that are easily set into blog prompts. (Other than ficlets, of course). Writing about my most memorable meal doesn’t make much sense in a vacuum to me, though I still read prompt lists to see if something is inspiring. Usually I don’t get much though.

I’m not going to continue with NaNoBlogThing indefinitely though.

As mentioned, 7 days a week is a lot of posts, but 5 seems a lot more manageable. I’m going to shoot for that, and we’ll see what happens.

I really have enjoyed being back at the keyboard, if you will, and it’s nice to put my thoughts into words again. I get a lot out of blogging, if only because it makes me think through something enough to put it into coherent sentences. While I won’t even attempt to argue that all my posts have a goal or some greater point to make (they don’t), the writing process itself is good for helping me clarify ideas, especially when it’s related to the crazy!brain stuff.

Regardless of all that, it’s definitely nice to have finished what I set out to do. Going forward, we’ll see how it continues.

Traumas and Blog Prompts

One of the things that NaNoBlogThing does for its members is provide the occasional prompt for a post. Like most collections of blogging prompts, these are usually benign creativity boosters and story prompts to help out someone that gets stuck in writer’s block. But there was one that came up recently that didn’t sit well with me; it seems to be lacking in forethought:

Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Has anything traumatic ever happened to you? Describe the scenes surrounding a particular event.

I understand that trauma happens on a spectrum, and that the person involved can dramatically change the perspective on an event (as can the care that person receives in the immediate aftermath of trauma). Some people who experience life-threatening car accidents go on to recover both physically and mentally and can, after a time, drive again safely and without panic or anxiety. Others aren’t able to heal to that point and can sometimes not even ride in a car without experiencing panic attacks.

Trauma is just so PERSONAL.

PTSD is weird, and “Describe the scenes surrounding an event” is something I can’t even do (yet) in scheduled, structured therapy. Looking at the prompt, my immediate reaction is “Well THAT’S not going to happen.” And I can’t imagine that I’m the only NaBloPostThinger writer that lives with PTSD and it’s related mental health issues.

I understand that this post isn’t really talking about “that” kind of trauma, but really, there isn’t another kind. All traumas require healing – and there’s no way to look up what counts as traumatic (beyond a the actual definition of trauma itself). Different things bother different people on various levels, so a post that one person thinks is pretty benign (about a car accident) can be completely triggering for another.

Even suggesting a post about a traumatic event that you have healed from or that helped you to grow in some way would be better than the open ended “anything traumatic”. Otherwise, from a psychological standpoint, it has the potential to open up a lot of really ugly emotional stuff, without having a way to process or effectively deal with those emotions. For real, just writing out the sequence of events (factually and as chronologically as possible), let alone describing entire scenes, can be almost impossible to do for someone with PTSD. It’s a real mindfuck sometimes.

While I don’t for a minute think that the prompt was intended to be discomforting, a blog prompt that suggests the emotionally invested discussion of traumatic events just seems really out of place in a list that also includes “What kind of music do you listen to when you write?” and “Do you prefer to write with a pen or a computer?”

One of these things is not like the other ones, you know?

NaNo What Now?

Many NaNo’s. Handle it.

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) has spawned a whole batch of NaNo tadpoles these days; people inspired by the idea of doing something creative for 30 days in a row, bolstered and supported by a community of other people ALSO doing something creative for 30 days in a row. Community is a powerful draw, and forced shame via deadlines is a good way to get your ass in a chair and writing (or in a chair and blogging, or journaling, or whatevering).

NaNo is permission, of a sort, to suck. You must write 1667 words every day for 30 days to hit 50K words. There are no rules as to the quality of those words, they just have to come out of your head and onto paper or monitor daily for 30 days. Write now; Edit later.

I’m not doing NaNoWriMo though – too many other projects that need my 1667 words every day.

But…

(there’s always a but)

I may make a pitch for NaBloPoMo – where you post to a blog every day for a month. I have no idea how it’ll work come Thanksgiving, as I’ll be working retail AND have my parents and my husband’s entire family here for the holiday, but at least with blog posts I can (theoretically) write them ahead of time.

I’m not allowing myself to stress about it, just using the community (and the blogging prompts) as a way to help me get back into writing. I’ve not written much at all in the last year, and that makes me kind of sad. November 1 used to be celebrated as the Celtic new year, so I’m going to co-opt that a bit, and work on starting something over again today. I make no promises about the content of my posts for the next month, but I’m going to try for 30.

Today’s is done – and tomorrow’s is already percolating.

That’s two, at least.

Can we read your handwriting?

*crossposted from Seven Deadly Divas, click through to see their handwriting too!*

A few varieties of handwriting memes have been making their way around the web – there are tumblr and flickr ones, as well as the one I stumbled across from a pen and ink link list.

I, being a pen freak collector, was intrigued and thought it would be fun to see the various Diva handwriting styles that write here in text form.

A few quirks about my personal writing style (much of which will be no surprise for those of you who read my Fountain Pen post):

  1. I am VERY picky about pens. I write with a variety of fountain pens, but also like UniBall Signo (preferably Micro), Sarasa Clip Retractable Gel pens and UniBall fine point Jetstream pens for times when a liquid ink pen would be, shall we say, a liability. Like at work or on an airplane.
  2. I’m also very picky about paper. Paper should be smooth and thick, have no show through to the other side. I like writing on both graph and lined paper, and have journals of both types.
  3. I also collect journals made of really good paper (Clairefontaine, Pomegranate, Black n’ Red)
  4. My handwriting started out terribly as a child, when I regularly failed penmanship classes. Since I started doing calligraphy, it’s improved some, and I continue to work on it regularly. My favorite hand is Italic, and my general handwriting tends towards cursive Italic, a modern variant that’s both fast and easy to read.

Anyway, the general idea is for you to write BY HAND the things on the list that follows, scan it in, and post it for all of us to look at. No judgments please, your handwriting is yours, whether you think it’s awesome or not. (True fact, I’ve spent YEARS working on my handwriting and I still think it’s sloppy and not very nice.)*

I’ll be writing both with my fancy flex nib pen and with another fountain pen, because I like pens. Nyah.

The meme is as follows:

Write ‘Hello!’
Your name/blogger name
Your blog name/URL
Write ‘The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.’
Favorite quote?
A number
5 words
Favorite music?
A really awesome website you read
Anything else you want to say?

And here goes!

Apologies both for the compression (I’m still learning my new scanner) and the fact that my purple ink looks black. I’m also still learning that flex nib pen – as evidenced by the letter inconsistency – and the Noodler’s Purple Martin is too saturated to show up as anything but purple-black unless you look REALLY close at it. Really saturated inks like that do better in a drier writing pen, like the Lamy Safaris, where flex nib pens apparently like an ink with more shading.

THE MORE YOU KNOW!

Anywho, pen nitpicking aside, it’s your turn!

Take all (or part) of the handwriting meme, scan it or take a picture, and leave the link in comments! I’m curious what some of my readers might submit. It only takes a few minutes, and phone pictures are fine!

* If desired, I can do a follow up post on “handwriting triage” – some ways to make your handwriting more legible and more like what you want. This post is just for curiosity and sharing!

**Also, I seriously considered titling this post “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours” but figured it was inappropriate…

Fountain Pens are like Potato Chips

*crossposted from Seven Deadly Divas*

It’s really hard to just have one.

Because you buy one, and then you want some fun ink for it. And you can’t just buy ONE ink, so then you have two inks, and only one pen. So obviously you need another pen… and then it’s just downhill from there.

I’ve managed to avoid the trap that is collectible pens, though I’m seriously lusting after a Noodler’s Flex Nib, but … well…

Fountain Pen Basics

Fountain Pens are a relatively new pen technology, when you consider the history of writing implements goes back to some guy with charred stick. The first fountain pens (as we know them) came about in the mid 19th century, and many of those pens actually still work. In fact, some of them are worth lots of money.

There are few different pen designs, but they all basically work through capillary action (and gravity) to draw ink out of an internal reservoir through a nib and onto the page. As with any pen, the only part that actually affects the writing is the ink, the nib, and the shape of the grip, the rest is just eye candy.*

You either get ink into the pen manually (by unscrewing it and adding a new cartridge or filling it by hand with a syringe or eyedropper) or via the pen itself, via some kind of suction (squeeze mechanisms or plungers, usually). Some cartridge pens will make what’s called a converter, which is a cartridge looking thingy with a plunger filling device, so it’s reusable. This means you can use whatever the heck ink you want.

Which is all a lot of science for something that ends up writing unlike any other pen you’ve ever owned.

Now, if you want a pen that will write upside down in zero gravity and never ever smudge…

…actually, if you want that, get a pencil.

Anyway, ball point pens use an ink that is oily and thick and rolled on via an encased ball-point (hence the name). Because the ink isn’t actually a thin liquid, it’s relatively smear resistant and also not very picky, but sometimes doesn’t write immediately. Roller-ball pens use a liquid ink that’s designed to dry quickly (but doesn’t always), and gel-pens are somewhere in between.

However, a fountain pen does amazing things with color and shading that you’ll never see in other inks, and – once you get used to writing with one – is just really damn fun to write with. They require NO pressure to work, only to create fun line-width designs with a flexible nib, and glide across the paper with a delightful little scratchy noise.

Inks can be saturated with color (laying down a thick, dark line) or heavily shaded (where the line is variable depending on pressure and how much ink), and just looks elegant on the page.

Almost any handwriting can be improved with a fountain pen, if for no other reason than that you’ll slow down a little as you get used to writing with one, and are less likely to deathgrip the pen or smash it into the page really hard.

A Note About Paper

Of course, you’ve all probably written with a Sharpie Marker at some point, and noticed that some inks bleed through some kinds of paper.

Fountain pens, by virtue of their engineering, lay down relatively more ink than most liquid ink pens you can get from Office-Thing**, and so are susceptible to bleed through. They’re also susceptible to feathering, which is common for any liquid ink pen, where the paper isn’t sufficiently resistant to the ink, and sucks it up via capillary action and makes cool little spidery fractal designs all over your paper, rendering whatever you write either fuzzy or illegible.

To prevent this, when writing with fountain pens, you will also want to find some good quality paper, and also use some trial and error. I’m very fond of Black and Red notebooks, which are readily available, inexpensive, and have fantastic paper. Clairefontaine is probably the best known paper for fountain pens, and is available online or at some art supply stores (it comes in notebooks and loose-leaf paper). Some notebook manufacturers, like Rhodia, actually buy and use Clairefontaine paper.

I’ve also found paper at my local Office Thing that’s done superb with fountain pens, so your mileage may vary.

A Note About Inks

Fountain pens are not like dip pens. With a dip pen, you do not store the pen with ink inside, therefore, you don’t have to worry about what kind of ink you use and whether it will separate or gunk things up. Fountain pens, on the other side, are easily gunk-up-able, and will do so if you use any ink that has pigment sediment or any other matter that will separate. For that reason, use fountain pen ink in fountain pens.*** Generally, if you have to shake it up before you use it, it’s not a fountain pen ink.

I’m a big fan of Noodler’s fountain pen inks, because they come in amazing colors, have an excellent line of waterproof and forgery proof inks (called “bulletproof”), and because they’re made entirely in the US.

Ordering sample-packs of inks is also a good idea, because you’ll get about one pen-full of each color, which is more than enough to decide if you like it before you buy a whole bottle.

But Which One Should I Get?

If you’re going to buy just one fountain pen, I suggest either a Platinum Preppy (if you want a disposable pen), a Pelikan Pelikano, or a Lamy Safari. The Preppy is a great pen if you have no idea if you’ll like this fountain pen thing or not. The Pelikano and the Safari are both excellent writing, inexpensive pens that sell both cartridges and converters.

If you decide to get cartridges, make sure you get cartridges that will fit your pen. If you get a converter to match, it won’t matter, and you can use any fountain pen ink (you’ll want one converter per pen).

As an aside – you may be able to find fountain pens in your local Office Thing store, in pretty gift boxes. Those are usually designed to LOOK snazzy, not to write well, so for the money, you’re WAY better off spending $15 on a Pelikano. If you find Pilot Varsity pens in your Office Thing, they’re also decent disposable pens, but I like the Preppys better.

If you write very small, start with a Fine (F) or Extra-Fine (EF) nib. If you don’t, want to work on your handwriting, or want to experiment with ink shading, try a Medium (M) nib. Flex-nibs … flex – meaning they make a wider line when you apply more pressure. They can be a little fussy to start with, so stick with regular nibs at first.

What Do I Use?

I have a Peikano – F, two Lamy Safari – EF, and a Lamy Al-Star – EF, as well as a Parker Frontier Luna – M. My favorite pen is probably the Safari, because it’s durable, comes in every color under the rainbow, and looks classy enough in black to take to job interviews. That said, I use and love all five.

If I had to pick one ink forever, it would be Noodler’s Bulletproof Black, because I can use it for EVERYTHING and it never gets washed out. Otherwise, I really like Noodler’s Ottoman Azure, Nightshade, and Sequoia, and Pelikan Blue-Black.

I really love pens of all sorts, and I’ve got a general twitch for all kinds of office supplies, but I absolutely love fountain pens. I love how they write and the way the ink looks when I use it, I love the different and amazing papers and ink colors.

I love writing letters (though I’ve been kind of bad at being a penpal recently, sorry Tami :/) and basically anything to do with mail. So it all goes together.

Happy Writing!

Anna
(Who is working on a post about smartphones next, for full acceptance of her ability to blend new and old geekdom)

*A Bic Medium Blue Ballpoint with a solid titanium body will still write like a Bic Medium Blue Ballpoint. Of course, with fancy fountain pens, sometimes a higher price means better nibs, BUT NOT ALWAYS. With ballpoints, past about $15, they’re all just body upgrades.

**Office Thing is any of the usual big box office supply stores. I never remember which one it is that I’m going to, so they all have become Office Thing. For online stores, I recommend JetPens, the Goulet Pen Company, or The Writer’s Bloc for great service.

*** If you’re unsure, ask the internet. If you don’t know where to ask, ask at The Fountain Pen Network, where they also have an AMAZING database of ink and pen reviews, with pictures!

Government Required Disclaimer: None of the above mentioned manufacturers, stores, or websites have any idea who I am. I am not being paid to endorse their products, nor have I received free samples. I’m just a happy, nerdy customer.

How I Write

In 10 simple steps, my creative process for blogging and writing short stories:

  • Step 1 – Have an idea. Possibly mine said idea out of twitter, emails, conversations, comments, or creative friends
  • Step 2 – Start writing something. Be unhappy with it, but write anyway. Keep writing until you have something kind of sort of like your idea (or not, sometimes ideas suck and sometimes they are shapeshifty and hard to pin down.)
  • Step 3 – Ask for outside input, then accept or reject said input. Often, realize that your friends are smarter and better writers than you are, and might be more qualified to write the post.
  • Step 4 – Realize the post is totally discombobulated, and might actually be three posts. Remove the parts that aren’t relevant, rearrange the paragraphs twice. Start two new posts with the various other ideas, realizing they’ll probably never get written.
  • Step 5 – Make sure it actually makes sense. Realize it doesn’t, fix a couple of sentences, add clarification. Delete clarification. Add it back.
  • Step 6 – Adjust flow, pacing, sentence length, and how many times you use the word “that”. Check for repeated words. Make sure you don’t start every sentence with “You,” “I,” or “It.” Decide you suck at writing upon realizing 2/3 of your sentences start with “You”, “I”, or “It”.
  • Step 7 – Repeat step 6. Probably twice.
  • Step 8 – Read it. Then, read it again. Realize you hate the second paragraph. Repeat Step 6 on the second paragraph three times… and then undo half of it.
  • Step 9 – Have someone else read it. Argue with them when they say it’s good and you should publish it. Edit the second paragraph again. Decide you hate your idea, but you’ve put all this time into it, so you might as well post the damn thing. Tinker with the conclusion anyway.
  • Step 10 – Say “to hell with this” and hit publish.

(Steps 11 and 12 – realize you typo’d something, have a bad comma, forgot to tag and categorize your post, screwed up a sentence, or possibly said something you didn’t mean. Edit the post twice. Or fourteen times.)