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So that’s it. It’s December 1st and NaNoWriMo 2010 is officially over. To all my friends who won, or even attempted this utter insanity, I offer my hat to you in congratulations. Now go sleep for a week. You’ve earned it.

This was a rough NaNo for me. I powered out of the gate, guns and pen blazing like a racehorse covered in napalm, but then I hit stumbling blocks that extinguished my fire and tripped me until I was ass-deep in dirt. I hit 50k on the 15th after two weeks of exhausting myself and then said ‘I can’t keep this up.’

I blame school mostly. I’m almost to the finish line of my final semester of college, and because of this projects, papers and presentations have taken me by the arms and said ‘oh no you don’t!’ and have forced me to pay attention to my studies while leaving my novel projects by the wayside. And I gave in. I chose not to fight. ‘This is my fate’, I said, and allowed the bastardly assignments to claim me.

Normally I wouldn’t do anything of the sort. The writing comes first, hell or high water. This semester is different though. This is the last time I have to put school first. In about two and a half weeks I’ll be done with homework in it’s traditional form and donning my cap and gown at ass in the morning, traipse across that stage and give the University the finger, wishing it Good Riddance.

Then I can get down to the real thing; actually writing.

That’s the real thing I’ve learned this November. That it really wasn’t about the wordcount for me. I’ve discovered that I’m definitely an overachiever, because most of the novels I come up with don’t fit in the 50k frame. I also don’t like to stop in the middle of a scene. I don’t like writing with abandon, because I write fast enough that I have the time to edit as I go.

NaNoWriMo isn’t about writing 50,000 words for me. It’s about writing. Just writing. The act of putting pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, and creating. There’s no right way to do this mad month of noveling, no matter what people may say. And while I love a lot of the community surrounding NaNo, a lot of it just gives me a headache. People being people of course, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. Or put up with it.

This is my third NaNo, and I will continue to participate, but I will also be taking the spirit of writing daily into my new, post-graduate life. It’s time to put writing first, and even though it stung, even though my idea turned out to be ill-suited for prose novel form, this is, and was, the very last time I have to put school first.

So that’s that. Ghost was a good exercise, but I don’t think it’s the novel for me. I hope to be transferring it to Graphic Novel format as next year progresses. As well as this Jeff and I are looking to start a webcomic together (casually, nothing serious of course), and I’m going to focus my noveling on Strain 10.

And hopefully I’ll end up getting a job so I can support myself without having to eat my own foot.

So that’s my NaNo 2010. Rewarding, but backburnered quickly. I didn’t make it to my minimum goal of 75k, let alone 100k. But I hit the 50 thousand, and right now that’s good enough for me.

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Apologies for a lack of updates, random readers. This week has been taken up with much busy madness due to the Job Hunt I have been undertaking in the last week.

I am about to graduate. Upon graduating I will gain a Bachelors Degree, making me more qualified than over 75% of other US Citizens (according to this). I will also lose my current job, student library lackey at the Engineering Library. This makes me sad, as I rather love this job. My coworkers and boss are a lovely bunch and I’d keep working there if I could, not in the least because I can dick around on the internet while on the clock.

Sadly this is not to be, and in less than a month I will be expelled from academia into the cold, big world, where I must find gainful employment or starve to death/mooch off my parents until they set me on fire.

So here’s a few of my thoughts on hunting for jobs in today’s economy.

1. Job websites = a good thing

Last Tuesday I posted my resume on careerbuilder.com. The next day I got a call from one company asking for an interview, and the day after I got a phone call from a second company. Clearly this website posting idea was a good one. The first company offered me a first and second interview, and even though they weren’t  quite what I was looking for, it got me started. So yeah, post your resume on a job website. All you have to lose is the occasional spam e-mail saying ‘we can hire you for work-at-home job! yes?! give us money first and we’ll hire you long time!!!!111!!!”

2. Shopping for Interview Clothes is hard

It has probably come to the attention of some of you that I am a girl (and if it hasn’t, well now you know). I am female, and have female parts. This is true. However, when it comes to traditional ‘girly’ things, I kind of suck. I’m not much for sparkles and bows, I own a grand total of two skirts which I almost never wear, I wear makeup almost never and I absolutely LOATHE shopping.

So of course, hunting down interview clothes this weekend was an ordeal. My mother, who is a saint for putting up with me, took me to the mall and ran me through the gauntlet of finding a nice pants suit, a few shirts, and new shoes. This took several hours of me sniffling and coughing (as I’m still recovering from the Cold of Doom I picked up last Thursday) as I tried on pants, jackets, shirts (both hideous and boring), and then proceeded to try on half the shoes in the store, most of which didn’t fit my canoe-sized feet (I’m a size 10 US Female. Finding heels for me is hard). This took several hours, and my mother, infinitely patient, rewarded me (despite my sniffling petulance) with quesadillas at Qdoba and going to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows that evening.

The moral of the story being, if you hate shopping like I do, try to get it done as fast as you can, and have a reward ready. Then you have a set of work/interview clothes, hopefully without losing your mind in the mall.

Also, my Mum rocks. I’m allowed to say that, even though I’m 23 years old.

3. Cut and Paste job application answers

In the last week I’ve managed to memorize my references, contact information and basic work history. Seriously, I know my boss’s phone number, my former boss’s phone number and the number of my friend and former coworker Sam. I’m not great with numbers, but typing these in over and over again has led them to be lodged in my brain like a bad Christmas Carol. That said, all the information they require you to put on online applications, especially describing past job duties, takes a lot of typing and a lot of time you could spend filling out other applications (or dicking around, whichever).

So I said ‘screw it’ and made use of my two favourite shortcuts on my keyboard: ctrl+c and ctrl+v. Made filling out three practically identical banking job applications that much easier. I highly recommend it.

4. Know what you can and can’t do

Sounds simple enough right? It isn’t.

I have limited job experience. I’ve worked in a library and in food service. That’s it. Now I’m about to expand my options and I need to start considering what kind of jobs I’d not only be capable of, but what jobs I’d actually be able to survive with my sanity intact. Now, I’m open to a lot of things. I thrive on office jobs (I type 70-75 wpm on a bad day), I love to cook (making food service tolerable under certain conditions) and I’m disturbingly good with people (I think this is because I hate them, more on this later). However, there are things I know I cannot do, and the big one is this:

Telemarketing.

Telemarketing and anything to do with extensive use of phones. I HATE talking to people on the phone. Truly loathe it. I hate the awkwardness of stumbling into each other’s sentences, can’t always understand what the person is saying, and overall just feel awkward. I’ll do it for little things, like answering the phone in an office, but spending an inordinate amount of time on the phone talking to a stranger sounds like my special kind of hell.

So when I was offered a job this morning in sales that involved a lot of cold calling, I declined. I know that whether I can be good at it or not, I’d spend my days contemplating stabbing my eyes out with pencils just so I can go home. That doesn’t sound like job satisfaction to me. And if it does to you, then you’re special and I’m going to run away now.

5. Care about Sports, or at least know enough to fake that you do

This one is more regional, but it contributed directly to my getting a second interview on Monday in my opinion, so I figure it’s important to share.

I live in Lincoln, Nebraska. Those of you who know anything about sports, or Lincoln, understand the rabid, undying obsession most Nebraskans have with the UNL college football team, the Cornhuskers, or Huskers. People out here live, breathe, and drink football from August to November, then wake up and repeat this for the bowl game (if there is one), and then yammer about the upcoming season for the other eight months out of the year. It turns downtown into the ninth circle of hell on gamedays for one thing, and turns normal civilized humans into drunken morons.

I don’t really care about football. I’m aware of it’s existence, but I’m not a sports person. I don’t watch Husker games, I don’t track scores online, I don’t really get upset if the team wins or loses.

But I still know the score. I know who won. I know if there was any team or crowd drama.

Why?

Because in this town, employers will talk to you about Husker Football to break the ice.

No. Seriously.

So it’s a good thing I pay attention to my facebook feed and saw that there was serious drama about players quitting, coaches getting in trouble and officials being unfair, because otherwise I would have stared at the nice man who interviewed me on Monday with a blank expression on my face and gone ‘derp’ instead of nodding and saying ‘yes, it’s horrible isn’t it?’

So, whether you’re from around here or another town with obsessive sports fans, it’s good to keep up to date, even if you hate it.

So there’s a few tips from my initial jobhunt experience. Those of you hunting, best of luck to you. Hopefully we will all be successful in finding day-jobs that don’t make us want to jab forks into our eyes. Or anyone else’s. lo

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I’ve been meaning to put all this down for a while now, more for the sake of my sanity than any desire to impart wisdom on the subject of writing and being a writer, because this is one of those questions I get a lot, not necessarily from other people, but most certainly from myself:

Why do I write? Why do I want to be a writer?

Now’s my chance to attempt to answer those questions.

For me there’s a semantic difference between ‘writing’ and ‘being a writer’, both of which are rather subjective terms that mean multiple things to multiple people. Here’s what they mean to me:

To write, as well as just being the mechanical action of putting words on paper, is the actual process. It’s taking that something from the nothingness of my mind and turning it into something coherent, into a story. Writing has been my passion, my compulsion, since I was extremely young, I can’t even remember how young. I’ve been making up stories both on paper and in performance since before elementary school. The process and act of writing became and still is my life, and is my purpose if such a thing exists.

How does this differ from being a writer?

Well, there’s the simple definition of being a writer, which is again connected to the act of writing. Millions of people are writers simply because they do just that – they write.

But there’s a difference between being a writer and being a Writer. A novelist. Someone who is published, someone referred to as a ‘professional’. Someone who wakes up every day with no other career or profession than the process of sitting down at their desk, keyboard, typewriter or notebook and creating stories out of ether. Say what you will, there’s a huge difference between a Writer and someone who writes by these definitions.

So there you have it. Those are my definitions.

I describe my writing as a compulsion. I even titled this blog after that fact – I write compulsively, and have been my whole life, even when all I did was fill little notebooks with silly tales directly plagiarized from my favourite books and movies (don’t judge – we all did that before we knew it was wrong, and I’ve long since moved on to making up my own madness). It is something I will always do because if I ever stopped, if ever tried to stop, I would quickly spiral into a creative void, possibly even an uncomfortable kind of insanity.

So that’s my compulsion. Writing isn’t so much what I do as it is what I am. It’s my outlet, my reason to live, my purely selfish, somewhat arrogant belief that I can take something out of nothing and make it work, give it life.

Being a writer? Now that’s my dream.

I’ve worked a few shitty day jobs in my time. I’ve flipped burgers, I’ve dealt with pissy customers, and I’ve spent six straight hours moving heavy books around a library. I’m about to graduate college, to get my BA in English, to become more qualified than a large portion of the American Population.

My plans for post-graduation?

1) find a day-job
2) Write

This is my first step, the first part in actually realizing my dream, in taking my writing and moving forward in my goal to be able to live off of it, to get published and be at least a moderate success.

That’s what I want. I want to wake up every morning and have no obligation other than to sit at my desk and write. No day job to keep paying the bills. I want writing AS my day job. I want, by my own definitions, to be a Writer.

Starting in December, I’ll at last being in the position to actively pursue this. I’ll have a job (I don’t know what job yet, but I’m looking), and I’ll be done with the constant cycle of ‘go to class, do homework, go to bed and start over again’ I’ve been in since I was six years old, for the last 17 years straight.

It’s a terrifying and thrilling prospect. For the first time in my life, my writing can really come first.

Writing is an art as much as putting paint on canvas, as sculpture, as music. Like most artists I have a delightful pile of mental health issues, doubts and insecurities that plague my existence, and unsurprisingly these often contribute to that thing I refer to as the Angry Little Voice in the back of my head.

It happens every time I sit down to write, no matter where I am or whether it’s at my computer or a notebook. I stretch my arms, put my hands to the keyboard, and this little voice drifts into my head:

“Hey, what are you doing? You’re WRITING? Haven’t you had enough of that madness yet? Aren’t you sick of people picking your work apart? Is it really even that good? Hardly! You’re a hack at this! You’re just shoveling crap onto the page and expecting someone to like it. That’s completely pointless. Nobody’s ever going to read enough of this to like it, let along PAY you for it! You’re wasting your time and you know it. Now go fill out grad school applications like a good girl and resign yourself to a wage-slave job to pay off all that debt. You’re better off sticking to this as a hobby.”

He’s a bastard, isn’t he? And he’s there every day, especially this month where I spend each day in a half-crazed writing frenzy along with my NaNoWriMo friends across the world, giving me active discouragement and bile.

I have a lot of real-world support to counter my internal self-deprecation. My parents, while neither of them writes fiction, support my dreams and always wish me the best of luck. My writing buddies, both local and out of state, always give me words of encouragement. Jeff, also a writer, has a lot of faith in my abilities and talents. (Whenever I voice my doubts to him about my ability to be a Writer, he always says ‘But I don’t want you to stop writing…’ with a sad expression on his face. He’s been a tireless advocate for me since before we ever started dating, and I appreciate his encouragement. Thanks Jeff).

But true strength and ability comes from within, so when my within decides to remind me that I completely suck and wouldn’t even be able to hack it writing for a newspaper, it can be rather draining.

This doesn’t stop the why though. It doesn’t stop the compulsion. No matter how many times I get beaten down, be it by my own psyche or the discouragement of academia, I still get up every morning and I still sit down to write (or if I don’t have the time, I still think about writing, talk to my characters, make notes in my notebooks). Maybe I’m a sucker for punishment, but it’s like someone is telling me I have to stop breathing because I’m bad at it: it just doesn’t work that way.

Even if my dream falls through, even if it’s true that my writing isn’t ‘good enough’ to get published, for me to live off of, I have to try. Because I’ve been doing this for a long time, and while I know I’ll never stop writing it seems a shame to keep my stories to myself.

So I’ll write. I’ll write until my hands are destroyed by arthritis and my mind goes out. If I can’t find anyone willing to turn my novels into print books I’ll self-publish. I’ll post stories on the internet. I’ll share it with my friends. I’ll do something, even if all I do is keep writing.

It’s not like I can stop. Not now. Not after how much it’s helped me learn, helped me live.

So I say fuck it, voice in the back of my head. I’m 23 years old and I can keep doing this until I’m too old to remember my own name. Even if the rest of the world gives up on me, ultimately I know myself, and my self is the only thing I really have any belief in, even if part of me is afraid that I’ll fail (Because that’s really all that voice is – my fear of total failure and never achieving my dreams). Even if I had a choice, I’d still keep writing, still come up with stories and ideas.

It’s what I love. More than anything else in the world, more than chocolate and beautiful music and vegetarian pasta dishes and my boyfriend (he understands – he’s the same way about his writing). It’s the thing that makes me feel the most alive, the most real. It’s been my standby in every mini-identity crisis or traumatic upheaval my life has gone through, the one thing that’s remained solid and true.

No matter how the world falls apart, I am a writer. I write, Descartes style.

And since it’s very much a ‘therefore I am’ situation, to hell with the doubt (of myself or anyone else). Even if all I do with my life is write stories no-one but a few close friends or anonymous faces on the internet will read, I’ll still love it. It’ll still make me happy.

So, in the words of a person on the NaNoWriMo boards (who I sadly can’t look up to give credit because they said it in September right before they wiped the forums for the site relaunch, but rest assured I didn’t make this up myself):

“You ask me why I write. I don’t know: why do you breathe?”

So that’s what I think of that. Now to go make 22 copies of my short story for class today (that right there? that’s the sound of my wallet weeping) and spend the rest of my day writing. I hope to hit at least 15k for my wordcount today, but since I have a four-hour shift at the library tonight, there’s a good chance I’ll manage more than that.

You know, if I don’t get distracted by Hell’s Kitchen. Gordon Ramsay is my hero.

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Dear Lady who works at the Caffina Cafe in the Union:

When I come to you before nine o’clock in the morning on a Tuesday, what I am looking for is a hot cup of tea and a muffin. What I am not looking for it your insistence on basically harassing me about the fact that my NCard has a faded barcode. I am aware that the barcode on my NCard is faded; I use it every day, so I am fairly well versed in its state of being. I am also aware that it’s very easy for you to run a non-scanning card through the slot on the register. My NCard being faded does not give you a reason to look at me disapprovingly, nor an excuse to point out that ‘there’s always grad school’ with a knowing expression on your face when I mumble that I’m going to graduate in less than two months so replacing it at this point is rather pointless.

It’s Nine AM. I don’t have the energy or the time to explain to you why I’m not going to graduate school at UNL. All I want from you is a smile and a cup of fucking tea. You are not being helpful. You are just making me want to find a place to bury your body after I throw my scalding hot tea in your face and snap your neck.

Sincerely,

Lora

PS. Also, the tea burned me and I now cannot taste anything. Today has been ruined. I hope you’re happy. /angst

*

Dear Classmates and Schoolmates,

I understand that you really care about getting a new rec center on East Campus, as the old one is dilapidated and full of mutant cockroaches (or something). However, the more you remind me to ‘vote yes to better recs!’ by accosting me when I’m trying to get to class, yelling it across the plaza in front of the union, or before class starts, the more inclined I am to a) ignore you; b) go on an angry tirade about how I really don’t care about the rec centers since not only am I graduating, but I think money for improving campus could be better spent renovating some of the older Academic buildings, because believe it or not some of us are here for something that isn’t sports; or c) get on MyRed and vote ‘NO’ to new rec centers just to spite you all.

I’m more than aware of my right to vote. Stop reminding me I have it and I might actually be inclined to do so.

Yours stubbornly, and with some bile,

Lora.

Since never, little cat. No such thing as too  much Caffeine. (via lolcats)

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Dreaded Questions

Every writer gets these, the questions you loathe answering because there really isn’t a coherent response you feel you can give. People ask and you feel your heart sink several inches deeper into your body cavity as your mind races around for something a little more eloquent than ‘uuuhhh, durr… I don’t know.’

These dreaded questions aren’t exclusive to writers either. I’ve been getting more and more of these the closer I come to reaching that elusive and horrifying step into the real world: graduation and getting my BA in English, as well as the expected step I should take into responsible adulthood.

There’s been a lot of buzz about it on the NaNo Boards this month in multiple forums, as well as much discussion of it among my friends, so I thought I’d address my responses to some of these questions I’ve been facing over the last few months as I get closer and closer to ‘adulthood’:

Writing

1. “You’re writing a novel? What’s it about?!”

This one’s the most popular, and the one I probably hate the most. Other writers, especially other Wrimos, know what I’m talking about here. There’s no good way for me to explain exactly what my novel is about, not in simple terms, and not without feeling rather silly about it. It’s like asking an Engineering Grad student what their research is about. They know, but explaining it is confusing and makes little to no sense to the listener.

So, my response to this question is usually “I”m still working on that part” (which only results in me feeling more silly) or giving them the truth and watching their expressions falter and twist into confusion. Because it is pretty odd to hear someone say “my novel’s about a supervirus that wipes out over 95 percent of the population and the survivors all suffer from gruesome aftereffects and a group of them are all traveling to Washington DC to regroup and rebuild.”

Seriously. That usually makes people go “uh, what?” and look at me like I’m a few bricks short of a tower. So I like to avoid answering in that manner. And I also resist responding with a snarkier answer, like “ask me when it’s finished” or “wouldn’t you like to know?” or “it’s a secret”. Or the old classic, “Go fuck yourself”. That one’s flat out rude, but tempting, especially after being asked so many times in one day.

2. “So, what genre is it?”

I’m also not a fan of this one, even if I do think I have a set genre for my Work in Progress. Genre is painfully subjective and attempts to lump books into categories when it’d suit them much better to just be left under the category of ‘fiction’. For example, I don’t exactly know what genre I’d put this year’s WIP’s in. Ghost and Strain 10 are both apocalypse novels. What does apocalypse fiction fall under? Science Fiction? Fantasy? Horror? It’s hard to say. On the NaNo forums I list Ghost as Horror, because that seems to work best with it, but it’s not accurate in my mind because it also holds elements of science fiction.

But I’ll go off on a rant on the nature of genre in a later post. My point being when people ask me this, I’m inclined to either rant or just pick a genre that’s close to my plot so the person will shut up and leave me alone so I can get back to outlining. Call me rude if you like, but I am not great with questions from strangers, or weird questions from friends.

3. “Can I be in it?”

Yeah, I’ve been asked this one before. Not so much this year, but I got a few of those last year during NaNoWriMo. Most of the time this request came from friends, and I was content to oblige, but it always struck me as an odd request. Maybe people just like seeing their names in print. beats me.

I don’t know if I’ll do that this year. Nobody’s asked so far, so I’m not intending to dwell on it, but my response last year was “I’ll see what I can do.” It’ll probably be much the same this year, though I might preface it with “over 90 percent of humanity dies in this book, so if you don’t want to die horribly, you might not want me to include you.”

The future

4. “So what are your plans for after you graduate?”

I’ve been getting this one almost daily in the last six months. It’s only going to get worse too. I suppose it’s easy for a lot of people, since the answer is “grad school” or “get a job with x company”. There’s just no good way for me to say “I’m going to work and try to publish a novel, then maybe go to grad school” without people looking at me like I’ve grown an extra head. Maybe it’s the writer part. I don’t know.

Regardless, how I actually answer depends heavily on my mood. If you catch me at a good time I usually mumble something akin to the above concept. If you catch me on a bad day I’ll end up being a bit more sarcastic and saying something like “I’m just going to make stuff up.” Accurate, but flippant. Course, I also tend to go for honesty. I mean, “I don’t know” is a perfectly legitimate answer in my opinion.

And I don’t. Because I can’t predict the future. Go me.

5. “A Degree in English? What are you going to do with THAT?”

I get this one a lot at work. I’m surrounded by engineers, meaning they don’t quite grok the purpose of a Liberal Arts degree (which makes sense: there isn’t much purpose behind most Lib Arts degrees except for having a place to go every night after you’re done partying). I also get variations of this a lot, people sometimes asking me “so, you gonna teach?” or similar. They often get offended by my response, which is “no, I hate children” or “I”m not really much for teaching,” so I hope they avoid this one.

My general response is usually, again, “I don’t know”, but sometimes I mention that I want to be a novelist. This often leads me to the previously listed questions, so  tend to stick with “I don’t know” or “beats me” in the hopes that the questioner will get bored and move on to other, more interesting conversation topics.

Or I just tell them I’m going to live in a cardboard box. That usually confuses them into silence.

Relationships

6. “So you two have been dating for a while now. Where do you think that’s going?” Or a variation: “So when’s he going to pop the question?”

This question, this is the one I truly dread. It hasn’t been popping up as much lately (Jeff and I have only been dating for six months), but every time I attend a family reunion, birthday celebration or funeral, someone asks me this if I mention that I’m seeing someone.

Diversionary questions are simple here, usually something along the lines of “well, we aren’t really thinking about that right now” or “we’re just going to see how things go”, but since I find this question particuarly obnoxious and intrusive, I have to bite my tongue to resist all-out bile.

My preferred responses include phrases such as “no, I’m not religious” or “nah, we’re just gonna shack up for a while” or the long-winded “no, marriage is an archaic and pointless institution” or “I don’t see how that’s anyone’s business.”

However, you catch more flies with honey. And more ulcers. So I smile, bite my tongue and resort to polite, noncommittal answers. If I do that enough, the questions slowly cease. At least these ones do. There are always more, and they’re all dreaded.

Because nobody really wants to talk about what they’re doing with their life or their future. Not even people who know. It’s awkward and uncomfortable and forces us to examine something beyond our next meal. Most of us aren’t really comfortable with that. I know I’m not. Small talk is small talk though, so we all put up with it.

So I can’t say I have much in the way of advice for answering these questions we all dread. I just suggest politeness, as you’re likely to keep friends and short conversations that way, which is better than name-calling and being offensive. Most of the time anyway.

Seriously. We’re not alone in our confusion and uncertainty. That’s at least a little reassuring.

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