Flex nibs and flexibility

Sometimes I think my brain inherently seeks balance. Or rather, that it craves balance, and I use my various hobbies and interests to help with that balance.

I find myself involved in a lot of long-term pursuits. I’m 3 months into a new job and still firmly “in training” – it takes at least 6 months, if not a year, to get the hang of everything. I’m walking to Rivendell (a 458 mile project) … two miles at a time. I’m continuing with therapy, where nothing happens quickly. I’m growing out my hair, which takes very little actual work (just gentle delicate care), but requires a good bit of patience at half an inch a month.

So when I turn around and think about something like knitting, I’m just flat out not interested in a project that’s going to take hundreds of hours of my time. I love knitting, and knitted things. But my stick-to-it-iveness is just running out on all the other things I have going. I crave projects that I can start and finish in an afternoon. Like making pickles. Or playing with fountain pens. Or writing a letter. Or playing with markers until I have a mandala.

In some ways, I’m a little sad – I miss the big crafting projects. I really enjoy doing them. I have a whole wall of shelves full of baskets of yarn and spinning supplies, and a closet full of sewing stuff. I know and love the satisfaction of working for a long time on something and then being really proud if it when I’m done.

But I just don’t have the attention span or the patience for anything that looming just now.

I started a knitted dishcloth about a month ago, and I’ve done about 15 rows. All in that first sitting. I’ve lost interest now. (I’ve repeatedly said that this is why I’m a blogger and not a novelist. I can write a story for 500 words, but not 50,000. I don’t have the attention span, and forcing myself to do it just makes me hate myself and my project.)

I also no longer have big chunks of time to work on stuff. If I get home from work at 5:30, take a 20-40 minute walk (35 minutes gets me 2 miles at a decent pace, but some days are more tiring than others), make dinner, eat dinner, and clean up/pack my lunch for the next day… it’s getting close to 8pm. I go to bed at 9pm. Blogging happens in that hour, as does any video gaming that might happen. If I have to take a shower, back that up by another half hour. I’m trying to reread The Lord of the Rings, but that’s not been working out so well – not because I don’t love it, but simply because I want to sit for more than 10 minutes at a time to read, and doing anything involves constantly stopping to look at the clock because I don’t want to run over.

Sitting down in my hour of project time and looking at 14 repeats of a 16 row lace chart just makes me want to cry.

But I can tackle a page of calligraphy practice. Or re-inking my pens. Or a letter to a friend. Or making a mandala. Or watching a bit of baseball and blogging.

I guess sometimes I just need “instant” gratification and to feel like I’ve actually accomplished something tangible.

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.

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.

The Difference between Choice and Failure

Failure.

Ugly word, ugly connotations, ugly mental constructs built to avoid it. I was reading an article recently about when to stop doing something, and it kind of tweaked my brain about failure versus changing your mind.

From the original article:

In the past year it became increasingly clear that the Temple was not doing what it was supposed to do. It was the hub of a wonderful little community, no doubt about it. But it wasn’t helping people find their purpose in life, discover who they truly are, or change their lives to follow their dreams. And after exhaustive discussions with the others involved with running it—discussions about passing it on to new leadership, adding new programs, or even radically changing the structure of the Temple—it became clear that we didn’t have the humanpower to change things.

So there I was. The two options on the table were:

  1. Continue asking people to give their time, money and energy to an organization that was not changing lives; or
  2. Close the organization.

In black and white, Option 1 looks ridiculous. But when you’re standing at the brink, looking at giving up something you’ve worked so hard on, you start to justify. 90% of nonprofit boards would choose Option 1. Because quitting looks an awful lot like failure.

Faced with that, you start finding reasons not to quit. You start to rationalize.

Now, when it comes to rationalization, I am a champion. I am Grand Poo-Bah Queen Of All Rationalizations. In my mind, I’m even now coming up with a list of things I’ve rationalized, so that I can rationalize to you my title. As Queen of Rationalizations, I hate failure.

Failure means losing. It means you set out to do something and couldn’t, you stupid ass. Your lack of motivation, inability to concentrate, inability to follow through (etc. etc. etc.) all got in the way and now you can’t keep up with the things you said you would do.

But… what if that’s not how it works?

What if saying “you know, this isn’t working anymore” isn’t failure. Rationally I don’t think it is. Every person has limits, and every person changes over time. Nobody expects you to stick with what you say you want to be when you grow up, especially if you’re seven when they ask.

It’s one thing to say “I’m going to become a great soccer player”. But when you find out that massive amounts of running makes your old knee sprain turn into a grapefruit sized, swollen angry mess, maybe changing your mind isn’t failure.

Maybe even “I really don’t like this anymore; it’s making me crazy” isn’t failure.

Recently, I pretty much quit playing MMOs. Some part of me is very sad at this, because I really do enjoy gaming. But another (hopefully more rational) part of me says that I have other things I need to focus on. That part was actually pretty easy. What wasn’t easy was the blogging thing. A few years ago I started blogging about WoW. I blogged about roleplay and raiding, the intersection of the two, and how to build little immersions into your gameplay in a way that enriched the game. I also became kind of a crusader for the idea that roleplay wasn’t stupid, and it didn’t mean you couldn’t hack it in PVE or PVP.

When I stopped playing the game though, I stopped writing about it. And I felt like a huge failure. I’d said I wanted to be a good blogger. I wanted to write interesting content that other people would enjoy, occasionally even posting silly things. I decided, very early on in the life of the blog, that I was going to have new content at least 4 days a week.

And so, when I stopped writing, I got out the big red rubber stamp and branded myself a failure. I had failed as a blogger.

Then someone*, in the midst of a rant about my failure, said something very interesting. What if I chose to stop blogging instead of just not doing it. What if, instead of beating myself up about how I couldn’t do it and was such a failure at something as “trivial”** as blogging, I chose to let that go?

Somewhere, in the back recesses of my brain, something went CLUNK.

Amazingly enough, saying “I’m choosing not to write this blog right now because I can’t sustain MMO time and have other real life priorities” changed failure into a decision to go another direction.

Nobody ever told me that looking at something, seeing that it wasn’t working (for whatever reason), and choosing to do something else wasn’t failing at it. It might LOOK like failure, from an uninformed outsider’s perspective, but it wasn’t. Several years of LIFE had passed since I started writing – the kind of life that changed who I am and what my priorities had to be.

That’s not failure. That’s just, well, life.

Now, I’m not saying there are no failures. I failed to keep my garden alive through the drought this spring. But I can still be a gardener even with dead plants in my veggie garden. I still choose to have that be part of who I am. I’m not a failed gardener, I just failed THIS particular garden THIS particular spring. And I know why, and I couldn’t do much about it, so I’m choosing to let that go and be thankful that at least I got tomatoes.

But I’m trying very hard to look at my life and my job and my relationships and evaluate what is and isn’t working, and to not brand myself a failure when I choose to discontinue something that has become toxic, unfun, or mentally unsafe. When I run into those situations, I’m looking at options and choosing new directions.

If you’d told 5-Years-Ago-Me that I was considering getting my massage therapy license and no longer considering being a classroom teacher, I’d have thought you were crazy. But Current-Me likes that idea and is interested in it.

Stick-to-it-iveness is a good trait to have.

So is knowing when to stop digging.

*Probably either Hillary, Marty, or my therapist.
** HA. Anyone who’s ever tried to produce new content 5 days a week for two+ years knows that there’s nothing trivial about it, but I was rationalizing why I was a failure, see?

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.)

E: All of the Above

Blogs are odd critters.

They’re not journals, though sometimes they act like journals.  They’re not conversations, even if they sometimes act like conversations. They’re not forums, but sometimes they act like forums.  They’re not performing art, though sometimes they act like that too.  They’re not printed publications like magazines… but sometimes they even masquerade as those.

When it comes to defining “Blog”, almost always the answer is (e) All Of The Above.

The one essential thing about blogging is that there is one (or few) bloggers, and there are many readers.  Even when I sit at my computer and I read The Pioneer Woman, I know that she’s not just talking to ME when she cracks jokes about her cooking, and I laugh along with her, having done something similar in the past.  Literally THOUSANDS (tens of thousands probably) of other people will also read that very same post.

The beauty of the internet is the beauty of being in the audience.

As a blogger, I get to see things from both sides of that fence.  I get to write things and people respond to them!  Which is awesome, usually (sometimes people are turdwaffles.  Those people usually don’t get the opportunity to comment again).  I’m not /just/ a blogger though – I’m a member of the audience too.

Like being in an audience in real life, there are some perks.

If you don’t like it, you can leave.  This means getting up quietly and escorting yourself out.  Making a scene (just like making a scene at a movie or a play you don’t like) just makes YOU look like a moron.  Besides, the louder you /flounce out, the less likely people are to put any stock in what you’re saying – especially the person putting on the performance.

Ironically, this is not dissimilar to a MMORPG, like World of Warcraft.  (If you notice, Blizzard doesn’t respond to or care about people posting on the forums “I HATE YOUR GAME I’M QUITTING NYAH”)

When it comes to comments, though, things get interesting.  Comments are, for lack of a better analogy, like getting a backstage pass after a concert.  You get a chance to go and talk to the performer.  But even then, you are part of the audience.  You might strike up a conversation with another audience member – or perhaps even have a heated argument.  The performer might join in, stopping by to chat with you, or he or she might not, choosing to avoid the hubbub.

Would you, after a performance, walk up to the performer and say “Wow that’s great but you really should have…”?  Or “I saw when you performed you were doing something this way, maybe you should do it that way.”  Or even “Did you know that Someone Else was doing it another way? I really liked their way better.”

No, probably not.  And if you did, you’d probably get a very odd, blank look.  Which is probably why, when someone leaves a comment of that nature, they get about the same response.

The difference between the two, of course, is in real life, you meet the person face to face.  With blogs, you interact through the internet.

On the internet, there is great anonymity.  And with great anonymity comes a great sense of false importance.

Sometimes that false importance turns people into turdwaffles. Sometimes, however, it manifests differently.  It manifests as the “I know better than the person writing whatever this is, and therefore they are wrong and I should tell them, because heaven forbid someone be wrong on the internet” problem.

Since that’s WAY too long to type, I’m going to refer to it from here out as the Llama Problem.

Llama-itis presents itself when you read a blog post and you think “Oh!  I can fix this for the author!” and you fire off a comment.

But Anna, you say, isn’t that what comments are for?  I have something to SAY!  And it is important to me, and to the author because they wrote this post about it and my comment makes sense and will help them!

Well, kind of and sometimes.  Remember that all of the above answer?  Sometimes a blog is an advice column, or a place to go to get advice.  A writer might ask “How did you (the reader) deal with this problem?” or “Do you have any suggestions?”  In which case the answer is yes, that’s exactly what the comments are for.

Lets say, however, for the sense of argument, that the author was writing a post about a newly dinged level 80 character, and the things he or she was working on with it.  Or maybe about a recipe they were working on.  Perhaps even a crafting project, or some history research.  In that post, there is no solicitation for advice or input.

BUT YOU HAVE AN IDEA.  What if the author hasn’t considered that idea!  What if, in fact, they’ve never even HEARD of your amazing solution?

Ask them.

Instead of immediately firing off your well-intentioned (but not always well received) Llama Problem, use the comments to ASK the person if they’ve heard of something.  “Hey, I was reading your post on this new Character/Recipe/Project, and was wondering what Addons/Spices/Materials you were using to help with it?”

By taking the time to ask (and then checking back to see if you got a reply) you get a good idea of whether or not the person in question has any desire for outside input. If they respond with “I don’t know, what did you have in mind” – then you’re clear!  Post away, and enlighten the world with your great wisdom on this subject.

Congratulations, you have just turned a blog into a conversation (see: All of the above).  You and the other commenters might now have a separate conversation – or not.

However, if the writer doesn’t respond?  Probably means they don’t really want to discuss it.  Or if they say “I’m doing This That and The other because of such and such”, then you know that they’ve considered their options and chosen what works for them.  Because while a blog might SOMETIMES be about advice, very rarely is a blog ONLY or ALWAYS about advice.

No matter how long you’ve been reading a blog, or how many times you’ve stopped in, or whether you’ve emailed the author or not, they are still On The Internet, and as such, there are things you won’t know about them.  If you take the time to ask, you avoid making yourself look like a Llama Problem.

And nobody wants to be a Llama, right?