Accountability and the art of going it alone

When I first moved in with JT, he suffered an adjustment of perception. We had been together for years, and it had been firmly established that of the two of us, I was social and talkative, and he was quiet and introverted. After we became “housemates,”  he was forced to become acquainted with a side of me rarely experienced before.

Here’s the deal, reader. I like being quiet. I like being alone. In my spare time, I gravitate to activities that allow me the freedom to embrace those states of being: reading, running, painting, baking, Netflix binges and, of course, writing. I love working at a task – or indulging in a less goal-oriented activity – solo, in my own time, free of judgement and the expectations of others.

Don’t misunderstand, I’m also on a competitive sports team and several committees. I can play nice with others, and I really am social. However, it’s nice to create or complete or achieve or experience something purely for myself, without it being coloured by the influence or opinions of others. That is, it’s nice to create or complete or achieve or experience something purely for myself… when my will is fully charged, when I’m full of excitement and inspiration and creativity, when everything is going right.

The question is, when everything is going wrong, how do you stay accountable to yourself?

There are roughly a zillion articles, books, life coaches, and talk show special guests touting their mantras on persistence and visualization, trying to answer that question for us all. Maybe one or many of them have a foolproof way to make me more driven, focused, and self-motivated. If so, I haven’t come across it.

I struggle with follow-through in writing. I’m strong at the beginning, but when the thrill of newness wears away I’m guilty of abandoning stories and characters to the permanent limbo of a computer folder to grow old but never to maturity. Poor stories. Poor characters.

So how have I learned to stay accountable?

#1: I get honest with myself. Why do I want to write whatever I’m writing? For accolades? To enter in a contest? For a friend’s birthday present? To become rich and famous? Because I’m genuinely interested in where the story is going? I don’t think that any of these reasons are bad (unrealistic or shallow, maybe, but not bad), but some have more value than others. I’ve found the amount of effort I put into a project is directly proportional to the reason I’m doing it. If the reason is less valuable, then I need to find another reason (as simple as “if I finish a first draft of this story, I’m buying brand-name groceries next week” or as significant as “Finishing a first draft of this story could be the most important thing I do for this entire year, and if I fail, it will be indicative of everything I attempt in 2014”).

#2: I give myself a break. Some people work well with a scheduled writing time or set number of words every day. But some people don’t. My relationship with structure is complicated. I enjoy rules. I find they not only give me something to work within, but also through and around. NaNoWriMo taught me that structure (1700 words a day or else) certainly can have positive results in my writing. But come December I took a break. I turned off the laptop and ignored my draft for a couple of weeks. When I felt like writing again, I did it for the pleasure of it, for the creativity, and with the happy looseness of freedom from the taskmaster of my NaNoWriMo contract. I’ve discovered that writing on a strict schedule is beneficial for me only if I can see an end point. Otherwise, it saps the joy.

#3: I get social. In the end, sometimes it’s not enough for me  to be accountable only to myself. When I was in a writing group, they expected me to show up with new material every week. If I tell my parents and sister, teammates, or best friends about something I’m writing, they immediately ask when it will be done, and when they can read it. This keeps me going sometimes when I need a kick in the ass that self-bribery, threats, or white-knuckle will power just isn’t providing. (JT isn’t good at this, and I’m thankful for it. Sometimes I need someone who will just blindly support me in whatever choice I make… even if it’s quitting.)

Will my rules be a foolproof solution for your own struggles? Probably not. They only work for me about two-thirds of the time. But maybe the main theme of each (honesty, joy, support) can be customized to fit your needs.

Much love,

S.E. Lund

Read Recently: Ready Player One

Title: Ready Player One
Author: Ernest Cline
Published: 2011 by Crown Publishers, a division of Random House, Inc.
Read: last week of December 2013
Recommended by: Matt B.

Synopsis (part me, part book jacket):
In the year 2044, the real world is an ugly place. Most of humanity is plugged into a virtual utopia, the OASIS, that lets you be anything you want to be. It’s a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets. Somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune—and remarkable power—to whoever can unlock them.

I had a wonderful time reading this book, and I would happily read it again.

The main character, Parzival… I mean Wade Watts, is incredibly likeable (especially to a reader with a particularly acute case of nerd-attraction). He’s a nice mix of self-deprecation, loneliness, sarcasm, cockiness, and heroics, and though he is clearly framed as possessing the resourcefulness, knowledge, and dedication to compete for the BIG PRIZE, the reader is able to still cheer for him as an underdog. The plot is your typical quest narrative, but creative for all that. The dialogue is entertaining, and settings are vividly drawn.

On the other hand, I found there to be some pacing issues, particularly in the mid- to late chapters of the book. These resolve well enough in the final climactic scenes (plus there are giant robot monsters).

There was an unwelcome coldness in most every character, but particularly in Parzival. Death and devastation barely receive a reaction from him. I understand that apathy is a symptom of the world in which the story is set (violence, poverty, starvation in reality; bliss and wish fulfillment in the virtual universe), but it is applied inconsistently. Also, the story is set only thirty years from now. Apathy might be contagious, but this is unbelievable.

The writing itself is pretty good. Occasionally, clunky phrasing would pull me from the world of the novel, but overall I was fully immersed in the story. It’s not a difficult read, but the volume of pop culture references are enough to give your mind and memory a fair workout.

This novel plays to a specific audience. If you were born later than 1990, you will have trouble enjoying this book. The quest of the characters relies incredibly heavily on 1980’s pop culture. It’s fun if you were alive in the ’80’s, or know enough about the decade to get by, but would be terribly frustrating or boring if you don’t. Here’s a test. Do you know who/what the following things are? John Hughes, HAL, Wham!, Alf, Schoolhouse Rock!, 42, Skynet. If you said yes to all of them, you’ll enjoy it. Less than five? You might struggle.

There’s a nerd loophole though. If you don’t know the ’80’s specifically, but you’re a general sci-fi/fantasy or video game enthusiast, there are enough in-jokes and references to keep you entertained.

Final words: If you’re a friend, I’ll lend it to you. If you’re not, please visit one of your charming, musty, local libraries. If you want to own it for yourself, try your hardest to GO TO A BOOKSTORE instead of an online retailer. (I’m not going to trash Amazon, but as a former bookseller, I must plead with you to keep those wondrous book havens alive). If at all possible, make it an independent bookstore, but in a pinch, even the giant corporate books/music/housewares/wrapping paper/Starbucks monstrosities will do.

S.E. Lund

Because grammar.

Is it odd that I am a lover of grammar rules, but I also appreciate creativity, evolution, and innovation in language use? 

I think there is a difference in saying something like “Will you borrow me a pencil?” (my personal #1 pet peeve) and denominalizing words (as in the article “You’ve Been Verbed“).

The first example is giving a word its exact opposite meaning. It’s not creative. It’s lazy. The speaker knows that they mean lend, but don’t use it because… I don’t know. The kindest explanation I can think of is a kind of Jedi-mind-trick idea of framing the question as if the action has already taken place (because nothing can be borrowed until it is first lent). Or maybe some folks really do think that “borrow” and “lend” are synonymous. Regardless, I prefer innovations in language to come from more deliberate consideration. Innovation can make things simpler without being lazier, if new meanings are extrapolated from the original definition of the word.

One of my favourite positive examples of this is highlighted in The Atlantic’s article “English Has a New Preposition. Because Internet.

It discusses how because, traditionally a subordinating conjunction, has developed a new prepositional meaning. A highlight of the article (other than the hilarious tweet at Donnie Whalberg) is, “[…]the usage of “because-noun” (and of “because-adjective” and “because-gerund”) is one of those distinctly of-the-Internet, by-the-Internet movements of language. It conveys focus […] But it also conveys a certain universality. When I say, for example, “The talks broke down because politics,” I’m not just describing a circumstance. I’m also describing a category. I’m making grand and yet ironized claims, announcing a situation and commenting on that situation at the same time. I’m offering an explanation and rolling my eyes—and I’m able to do it with one little word. Because variety. Because Internet. Because language. “

Now go write something. Or read something. Or clean under the bed because you and I both know it’s been a while.

S.E. Lund

How 10,000 hours is a useless goal for writers

Today I read an article on, in which the author assesses Malcolm Gladwell’s “10,000 hours of dedicated practice” to become an expert in the frame of becoming an expert writer and finds it… well, ludicrous.

Despite the name and driving inspiration of this blog. I agree with the article.

The central argument is basically this: if you’re writing about 216 words an hour – as the author of the article does – applying Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule, means that your first 2.16 million words (equivalent to about 21 novels of 100,000 words each) are basically, um, trash. And if you haven’t figured out how to write a good book after 21 novels… then you will probably never figure it out.

For me, however, it’s not as literal of a goal as all that. The number is aspirational, and (as the author of the article concedes), being a novelist is about more than putting words on a page. The purpose of this blog is to experience hours upon hours upon hours of writing, whether that’s through reading, writing, editing, research, discussion about words, or whatever else might fall within the blog’s loosely defined raison d’être.

Also I’m not keeping track of hours. Let’s be honest here. That sort of eye-on-the-clock attention makes everything way less fun.