NoMoNaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month is over


Wow. Whoever chose November for the National Novel Writing Month challenge must have had a sadistic streak.

For starters, November hath 30 days, which makes it one of the shorter months. Mathematically, a 30-day goal may be cleaner to calculate than 31 days, but it does increase the tension.

Speaking of tension, in November most Americans celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday, which involves more than the day set aside for preparation and consumption of the feast. Depending on your role, you are also making time for housekeeping, travel, Black Friday shopping, tree-cutting, holiday decorating, and more that week — which also happens to be close to the deadline for the contest.

Many, if not most, of the participants in this project appear to be teens or young adults, working around school or work, or both. As a retired old fart, I’m an exception to that rule. 

Even though I generally kept ahead of the 1,667-word-a-day pace for making the 50,000-word monthly challenge, I fell behind during the Thanksgiving weekend because family took priority. Some days I wrote nothing, some days only a few hundred words.

All this does, as we say in the news business, bury the lede — or lead, if you prefer:  Yes, I completed the challenge and wrote 50,000 of a novel within the deadline. (Newsies understand deadlines.) It was a full novel, with beginning, middle and end. With some revision — and that process is covered in January and February — it may actually be publishable.

That said, it was what we called in my college days a unidraft — that is, you sit down at the typewriter (today, your keyboard), start writing and don’t look back. No time for a rewrite, although on the final day I did reread, correct obvious errors, and make a few minor revisions.

Without getting into too much detail, I did have a couple of factors in my favor. “Welcome to Betelgeuse” is an introduction to a fictional universe that I’ve been imagining and pondering for years. (Coincidentally, during November I opened an old file drawer and discovered a folder called “Betelgeuse Project” with printouts dated 1999.) Second, because of the nature of this universe, many of the characters I was using were already familiar so I did not have to develop them from scratch, although I did have to research them, so there was a tradeoff.

Some takeaways from the experience:

  • The deadline was what got me off the dime on a project.
  • It takes discipline to say “I’m going off to write now” and to do that.
  • I write much better dialogue than action, and better action than visualized setting.  Maybe I should stick to playwriting.
  • Setting daily goals and keeping track of them helped keep up the pace.
  • Now that I’ve completed a draft of a book, I should be able to do it again because “I can’t” and “I never” are not valid excuses.
  • It was actually fun and I’ll probably try the contest again next year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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National Novel Writing Month

NaNo-2018-Writer-Twitter-Header

So there I was, scrolling through my emails, when I found a missive from the Mark Twain House in Hartford. I’m on their mailing lists because I attended a writers’ weekend a couple of years ago, and because I donated to their foundation.

It pitched one of the new programs, in which writers can book some time to write in Mark Twain’s library at the mansion. It sounds like fun, although the fun has its limits: pens are not permitted (pencils are), and power in the library is limited so laptops have to be fully charged and able to last.

Part of the pitch was that writers could get in shape for #NaNoWriMo, which of course led me to wonder what the heck had such a strange acronym. It turns out that this national nonprofit organization’s program called National Novel Writing Month has taken place every November since 2006. It’s sponsored by schools and libraries and local writers clubs across the country and encourages writers, young and old, experienced and new, to pound out a 50,000-word fiction manuscript during the 30 days that hath November. It’s a free program but the nonprofit accepts donations.

This word count results in a modest-sized novel, but the rules are loose: it doesn’t HAVE to be a novel or even fiction; it doesn’t HAVE to be complete; it doesn’t even HAVE to be good. The idea is to push the writer to Just Do It — overcome the self-editor, the procrastinator, the deep planner, the researcher — and bang out a first draft. That has been exactly my problem with my first two novels, which are both about one-quarter of the way through. I put them aside for Real Life, or for research, or for just plain fear, and may not get back to them for months or even years.

One of the few rules of NaNoWriMo is that they discourage you from working on an existing project, finishing or editing something that you already have in the works. You start with a clean slate, zero words on Day -1, and try to complete it in the time allotted. That’s an average of 1,667 words a day — a difficult pace but not grueling. My typical columns would have run about 700 words, so this is a little more than two columns worth of writing, or about four to five hours of writing.

This post comes to just over 500 words. It’s taken me about 30 minutes, including interruptions and editing in links the morning after. So this won’t exactly be a piece of cake, but it’s a reasonable target. I’m going to give it a try with a third project I’ve been thinking about. Perhaps the experience — and Scrivener, the writing tool I’m trying out through the program — will give me the confidence and practice and discipline needed to complete the challenge. Wish me luck! (And if you’re inspired to try NaNoWriMo too and want to be a writing buddy, look me up on the site. I’m listed as hwfielding.)

So if you don’t hear from me for another month or so, you’ll understand. Or perhaps I’ll share some of the story as it develops. Just don’t expect too much. (NaNoWriMo continues with editing and revisions in January.)

(542 words, or about 1/3 of a daily goal)

Rhetoric Referee: Changing the Subject

The nomination of Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh (see previous post) gave opponents an opportunity to use two tried-and-true (or perhaps false) rhetorical techniques: ad hominem and changing the subject.

The real subject of this nomination fight was whether the Supreme Court should seek to expand the law of the land under modern interpretations, or restrain itself to the original rules as written into the Constitution, which reserve rights to the states and the people.

The Constitution established three equal branches of government: the legislative to create the laws; the administrative to administer and enforce them; and the judicial to determine whether the laws and their enforcement are valid and consistent with existing law and the Constitution. If not, the court may direct the administrative branch to enforce a law differently, or sometimes force the legislative branch to write new law that would be valid.

During the tumultuous 1950s, ’60s and ’70s the Supreme Court’s role began to change, especially under chief justices Earl Warren (1953-1969) and Warren E. Burger (1969-1986). It expanded civil rights and civil liberties — and federal and judicial power by, among other things, declaring its rulings on those matters the law of the land. Nixon appointee Burger was a conservative and critic of the Warren court, but nevertheless joined the majority in 1973’s Roe v. Wade case in finding an implied right to privacy in the Constitution that prohibited states from banning abortions.

President Ronald Reagan elevated Associate Justice William H. Rehnquist, the most conservative member of the Burger court, to chief justice in 1986. Like fellow Reagan nominee Judge Robert Bork, Rehnquist was considered an originalist, a jurist who looked to the original meaning of the Constitution and the laws rather than interpreting them to reflect current existing conditions and norms. Rehnquist held to a legal concept of federalism that in relied on the Tenth Amendment, which reserved any rights not enumerated in the Constitution to the states or to the people.

federalistlogoThis school of thought, which became more prominent in the 1980s, gave rise to the Federalist Society, which describes itself as “a group of conservatives and libertarians dedicated to reforming the current legal order. We are committed to the principles that the state exists to preserve freedom, that the separation of governmental powers is central to our Constitution, and that it is emphatically the province and duty of the judiciary to say what the law is, not what it should be.”

All five of the nine sitting Supreme Court justices appointed by Republican presidents  — Chief Justice John Roberts (George W. Bush, 2005), Clarence Thomas (George H.W. Bush, 1991), Samuel Alito (G.W. Bush, 2006), Neil Gorsuch (Donald Trump, 2017) and Kavanaugh (Trump, 2018) — have Federalist Society credentials. The Roberts court has, of late, consistently ruled based on narrow interpretations of the law rather than broader issues of social policy.

Opponents who think of the Supreme Court as a superlegislature often argue that a conservative court “will vote to overturn Roe v. Wade,” but that’s not how courts work. Courts rule on the facts of a specific case, based on existing law and precedent. During their nomination hearings, both Gorsuch and Kavanaugh said Roe v. Wade is settled law. It won’t change, no matter how much liberals may fear it will or conservatives may want it to.

People don’t understand legal procedures or judicial policy, but they do understand the drama of politics. When the Kavanaugh nomination process seemed to be proceeding smoothly, opponents changed the subject at the last minute to something more dramatic, and started attacking the man rather than his judicial philosophy. They changed the subject — twice.

Rhetoric Referee: Ad hominem

When the law is on your side,  argue the law.
When the facts are on your side, argue the facts.
When neither the law nor the facts are on your side, call the other lawyer names.

— Anonymous

I try not to address political topics in the heat of the moment, so forgive me for delivering old news. Earlier this month we added a new justice to the United States Supreme Court. The final days of the process were tense, angry and partisan — and give us good examples of two rhetorical techniques known as ad hominem attacks and changing the subject.

Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh replaces retired Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, for whom he clerked early in his career. Kennedy, who was considered a swing vote on many of the court’s 5-4 decisions in recent years, was nominated by conservative President Ronald Reagan in 1987 and unanimously approved by the Senate in 1988.

It’s tempting to say that those were the good old days of civility and “advice and consent” by the Senate, which at that time required a two-thirds majority to approve judicial nominees. The truth is that Kennedy was uncontroversial only in comparison to Reagan’s first nominee to replace the retiring moderate Justice Lewis Powell (also a swing vote) — conservative Judge Robert Bork.

Judge Robert Bork
Judge Robert Bork is best remembered today as the subject of ad hominem attacks when he was nominated to the Supreme Court — a technique now known as Borking. Source: Federalist Society

In his legal philosophy, Bork was considered an originalist: He interpreted the Constitution to be applied as it was written without modern conclusions such as an implied right to privacy, a key element of the Roe v. Wade decision that applied abortion law nationwide instead of as one of the laws not enumerated in the Constitution and thus reserved to the states.

Democrats and others feared that this approach would lead the court to overturn Roe v. Wade, and thus opposed Bork on ideological grounds rather than his qualifications. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D- Massachusetts, delivered this famous speech within an hour after the nomination:

Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, and schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of the Government, and the doors of the Federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens.

Other senators, including Judiciary Committee Chairman Joe Biden, D-Delaware, opposed Bork on his legal philosophy, saying that originalism was at odds with modern interpretations that a right to privacy exists beyond the text of the Constitution.

The committee voted 9-5 against Bork, who was expected to withdraw his nomination before a full Senate vote. He didn’t, saying instead:

There should be a full debate and a final Senate decision. In deciding on this course, I harbor no illusions. But a crucial principle is at stake. That principle is the way we select the men and women who guard the liberties of all the American people. That should not be done through public campaigns of distortion. If I withdraw now, that campaign would be seen as a success, and it would be mounted against future nominees. For the sake of the Federal judiciary and the American people, that must not happen. The deliberative process must be restored.

Bork’s nomination was rejected in the full Senate, 58-42, but the attacks on the man rather than his qualifications have given us a new name for such ad-hominem attacks, especially in political appointments, that has lasted three decades: to Bork.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hot stuff!

With temperatures as high as 98 degrees expected this weekend, our new portable air fireballtransportconditioner is scheduled to arrive Thursday by Fireball Transport. How apropos.

This just in: They must be really hot to trot. They called today at 8 a.m. and again just after noon to make sure I’d be home.

A name like Fireball makes me wonder what kind of condition the air conditioner will be in when it arrives …

To their credit, though, the delivery was on time, the AC was functional and its presence was welcome when the weekend did its worst.

 

Rhetoric Referee: The Straw Man

 

tilt shift lens photography of brown stand twigs
Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

American political discussions violate many rules of logic and debate, but one of the most outrageous, easiest to spot, and hardest to parry is the Straw Man argument. Usually this takes the form of one side oversimplifying and distorting a point the other side has made, asserting that this is the core of the opponent’s argument, and then proceeding to ridicule it as simplistic, unsupported and possibly dangerous.

In this era of sound bites and tweets, it’s most frequently used on complex issues that require many different approaches to solve, such as school or workplace violence. A true solution will require cooperation on mental health, school and workplace security, and specific, reasonable, enforceable, control of access to weapons and ammunition. In a complex society, reasonable laws for Connecticut will not be reasonable for Texas or Alaska. It will take time to work these out.

But in the heat of the latest incident, time is a problem because Something Must Be Done Now. Enter the Straw Man. When one side proposes further gun laws such as age restrictions or limits on certain weapons, their opponents counter with “They just want to take away your guns.” When the other side proposes permitting trained, licensed school employees to carry weapons for self-defense, the first says they just want to turn all teachers into armed guards.

Neither is entirely true, but to fully explain their true proposals requires detail, nuance, and give-and-take. In a world of oversimplification and lack of attention to detail, we’re likely doomed to hear more from the Straw Man next time.

 

Living Here: Starting over

living-hereWith permission from the Republican-American, I plan to self-publish one or more collections of “Living Here” columns published between 1994 and 2018, with proceeds to benefit the newspaper’s charity, the Greater Waterbury Campership Fund.

So far, so good: I identified and retrieved nearly 1,000 columns — including more re-runs than I had anticipated, so probably the actual number is closer to 950 — in electronic form. I have also clipped four or five boxes of these columns over the years, for preservation.

Now comes the fun part: Reading, editing, organization and publication.

The reading part truly is fun, partly because I’m now enjoying these essays as a reader rather than as an author, and partly because I’m rediscovering stories and memories long since overlooked or forgotten.

Not that I’m on a par with either of these writers, but Peggy Noonan wrote an essay last week in The Wall Street Journal about the passing of author Tom Wolfe, in which she recounted an event at which she had quoted to him something he had written years before. “Oh, that’s good,” he had responded. “Did I write that?” Noonan assured him that he had, and in her essay she recounted a similar story about Tolstoy’s daughter reading him an account of an epic battle, from “War and Peace.”

Apparently I’m in good company in having these moments.

The hard part is organization: I started by sorting the columns into five broad collections: Curmudgeon, Community, Home Sweet Home, Home for the Holidays, and The Kids Are All Right. I was hoping to keyword them somehow to better organize them, but that function doesn’t exist in Word (WordPress would actually be a better tool for that, but I’m not going to put them online). Barbara suggested putting them into a database somehow, so today I started that. I’ll go back to re-read and enter the metadata for the essays I’ve done so far, then continue reading and entering from this point forward.

On a project this size, that will require a lot of time and effort, but the results should be worth it. Fortunately I have and am familiar with Access. That’s a secret weapon Tolstoy, Wolfe, and probably Noonan didn’t have.