NaNoWriMo Final Update

My final word count for NaNoWriMo is 5672 out of a 50k word goal. NaNoWriMo is a bust for me. But I did get some significant writing done during the month.

Black Friday and Small Business Saturday stayed busy almost all day both days. Writing was the last thing on my mind as I got home those two days.

Where do lost things go?

NaNoWriMo is underway. As for me, I’m a little behind. My status as of this morning is 376 words out of 50K total goal.

The title for this entry is the theme of what I’m working on. It is a scifi-ish and humorous story that links some of my Inktober, VA OT creative writing group, and other writings, some here and some not.

Considering this week involved my start of a new part-time job and the continuation of a medication adjustment that began last week, I consider any words total above 0 to be a decent accomplishment.

Origins of Storytelling

As mentioned in a previous blog post, Literary Darwinism was a literary theory that I encountered in my graduate English classes. Because my master’s focus was composition, most of my time was split between literature and composition and rhetoric classes. If you’re looking for an interesting approach to English classes, I highly recommend the route I took since, aside from the handful of required C&R classes, I had a lot of freedom with course selections. I mention my education background because, to the dismay of one of my C&R instructors, I found a lot of connections between many of the texts and discussions in the C&R classes and the literary darwinism interest I was pursing in the literature classes.

One of the areas of literary darwinism that’s been on my radar, even before I knew there was such a thing in literary theory, was the universality of storytelling. While Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, one of my literature classes introduced me to the academic writings of literary darwinist, Jonathan Gottschall, an English professor, who wrote in one of his key texts: “Humans are creatures of story, so story touches nearly every aspect of our lives (2).”

Around the same time, I was reading Gottschall’s words in a literature class, I was reading a text by Thomas Newkirk, a writing instructor, for one of my C&R classes. In that text, I found Newkirks’s words stating that: “We are biologically predisposed to process experience through the lens of antecedents and consequences (5).” By putting writing and story into a biological context, Newkirk, and separately the instructor of the C&R class, were reinforcing the theories I was reading for literary darwinism background.

In building a background understanding of literary darwinism, I encountered a text by Dan McAdams, an evolutionary psychologist, who observed that: “Human beings are storytellers by nature. … The story is a natural package for organizing many different kinds of information (4).” With this text and a number of cross referenced Steven Pinker texts, I began to see a deeper connection of literary darwinism as it relates to evolutionary psychology.

Between the literary darwinism source material, evolutionary psychology material, and evolutionary biology texts cross referenced to Edward O Wilson, I was prepared for another text by another literary darwinist, Brian Boyd, an English professor, who often writes and edits with Gottschall, referenced above, and Joseph Carroll, the professor I studied under at UMSL. Boyd’s text includes the statement that: “Evolution builds many specific learning tracks into the mind. … And we will interpret something as story if we can. Babies and adults alike cannot help seeing a sequence of moving dots in terms of animate causality (1).”

Another text from another C&R class, with the same dismayed C&R professor, written by George Lakoff, a linguist, and Mark Johnson, a philosophy professor, helped my refocus that cause and effect relationship of story. Lakoff and Johnson wrote: “The essence of metaphor is understanding and experiencing one kind of thing in terms of another. … human thought processes are largely metaphorical (3).” For me this is especially true, and exactly what I was doing in my own studies of C&R and literature, and literary darwinism.

Once we better understand the relationship between causality and storytelling, we can see stories and storytelling in the context that Gottschall placed it in when he wrote: “The problem structure reveals an major function of storytelling. It suggests that the human mind was shaped for story, so that it could be shaped by story (2).” [emphasis in original text].

Sources:

  1. Boyd, Brian. On the Origin of Stories. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009.
  2. Gottschall, Jonathan. The Storytelling Animal. Boston: Mariner Books, 2013.
  3. Lakoff, George and Mark Johnson. Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.
  4. McAdams, Dan P. The Stories We Live By. New York: The Guilford Press, 1993.
  5. Newkirk, Thomas. Minds Made for Stories. Portsmouth: Heinemann, 2014.

Clipart stolen from Clipartmax.

Shakespeare, Failing, Trolls, and Other Writing Encounters

This blog entry originally began as a response to Bittersweet Turns‘ blog series on “Rhythm Writing”, which you can find here: first entry, second entry, and third entry. As I worked on this and read the three articles, my response really outgrew what I felt would be appropriate for a blog comment. So, instead, my response will be my own blog entry. I hope Priya will forgive my response here, and I highly encourage anyone reading this entry to run over and read her fantastic series.

Writers face “writer’s block” and other forms of writing interference for a number of reasons. Some of us face mental health setbacks, others face the blank-for-too-long page, and others get caught up in writing the next big thing.

Even professionals sometimes fall into that last grouping. I’ve seen some of my favorite top-level writers produce second- to third-tier level texts because they tried to jump on the current selling bandwagon.

One of the best pieces of writing advice given to me came from a college professor, in an English 101 class, many years ago. He lifted it from Shakespeare, who had written it in the third scene of the first act of Hamlet: “To thine own self be true.”

Being true to yourself in writing takes a number of different forms. And, it took me years to fully understand what message he was really conveying.

We’ve all heard, “write what you know”, and to a point that is true. But there’s a limit that comes with that. To the best of my knowledge, no one other than Rowling has found Hogwarts, no one other than Tolkien has found Middle-earth, no one other than Pratchett has found Discworld, or no one other than Adams, well, except for The Doctor, has met Arthur Dent and the rest of the crew of the Heart of Gold. Thus, the rest of us have to improvise what we “know”.

To “write what you know”, I add “write what you like”. By this I mean, write your story or text as the story you would want to read. If you like reading about giant mechs beating each other up on a battle field, write that. If you like reading about castles, dragons, and elves, write about those. If you like reading about the end of the world, end the world!

I know some of you are now thinking, “okay, that’s great for you fiction writers, but what about us students and academics stuck in non-fiction writing?” I’ve got an answer for you folks, too.

In addition to “write what you like”, I will add “find something to like about what you’re going to write about”. Whether you’ve been in a writing class, a writing workshop, or been suckered into reading reading a friends latest fan fiction, you, like most of us, have read a text that is, at best, boring, or, at worst, just bad. That’s usually the result of getting a writing topic like “what did you do on your summer vacation” or “why I love baseball”. Sometimes, it’s hard to find something positive to say about those topics, but that’s where you, as a creative, need to dip into your skillset and create something interesting out of something boring.

With this idea, I mean, change the topic just enough to be interesting. If you get the college entrance essay topic of “where do you see yourself in ten years”, write a first-person narrative of a day or week in your life, as you believe it will be, ten years from now. Maybe you find the cure for cancer. Maybe you teach English to and study the biology of aliens from Proxima Centauri. Maybe you figure out how to convince your government to actually go through with a mission to colonize Mars. It’s your future, no one knows what it’ll look like, so be creative. Keep in mind, we went from cars to airplanes to spaceships on the moon to space stations in orbit of the Earth in one-hundred years. We went from computers the size of small houses to computers that fit in your pocket in approximately twenty years. It’s anyone’s guess what ten years from now will really look like.

To the rules “write what you like” and “find something to like about what you’re writing about”, I also add “failure is okay”. I know, I know. I felt the great disturbance in the force when I wrote those words, so I know what you’re feeling reading them. Those of us with anxiety and OCD are especially scared of failure. On the depression side of the house, sometimes we have the advantage of already feeling like a failure at things, so we got this. We, the big ‘we’ as society, put too much emphasis on success and dismiss failure. But failure is okay, that’s how we learn.

When I say “failure is okay”, by no means, am I saying, “half-ass work is okay”. What I am saying is that sometimes you will try something, especially something you haven’t tried before, and sometimes it won’t turn out how you want it too. Again, that’s okay, it’s okay to fail, that’s how we learn. In fact, when it comes to writing, my graduate rhetoric and writing classes encouraged us to look at written papers as drafts and treat “failures” as opportunities to learn.

Sometimes the draft will still be draft level, but on its way to something great at the deadline. Turn it in anyway, take the corrections and comments, and create a better draft. I know, not all academic classes, allow for this, but sometimes, the professor will allow a revised draft to replace the final product, if you demonstrate that you have an honest interest in learning to write better.

And,with that, we’ll return to Priya’s “Rhythm Writing” blog posts. She discovered that playing music while she writes and writing the thoughts that come to mind in the moment is a good way to hold off writer’s block. She points out this is especially effective when the music is instrumental. I could not agree with her more on this. However, I think the tone, or the feel, of the music is often more important than whether or not it has lyrics.

And that brings us to trolls. By trolls, I don’t mean the idiots who come along and write stupid or offensive comments on the internet. There’s no cure for them. The best advice for dealing with them is ignore, don’t engage, and hope they lose interest.

No, the trolls I refer to are the big monstrous types that come over hills or from the skis as attacking invasion forces in fantasy and scifi. Music is an effective tool for creating a mental image or an atmosphere to write certain scenes.

For example, if I am working on a military fighting force in a story, I’ll usually have something heavy metal-ish or aggressive alternative-ish playing in the background. If I’m setting up a scene for a fantasy world or scifi planet, I usually have the instrumental versions of Nighwish albums playing to inspire the scene. If I’m writing about trolls or any other invasion force, the troll metal music of bands like Finntroll is an important soundtrack to what I’m creating.

Unless I’m looking for specific lyrics to add to a scene, my default is usually European metal with non-English lyrics or instrumental music of any type. However, at times, I’ve used other music depending on what was needed to create the atmosphere I needed for a scene.

Again, I implore you to check out Priya‘s blog series on “Rhythm Writing” at Bittersweet Turns, which you can find here: first entry, second entry, and third entry.

Clipart stolen from Clipartmax.

Star Wars and Storytelling

My love affair with storytelling began when I was five years old. A little movie entitled Star Wars arrived in the theaters. After seeing the movie, Star Wars became the center of all my playtime activities, most of which were different forms of storytelling.

Fast forward a few years ago, the newest Star Wars movie trilogy began with the return of old characters and the introduction of new characters. Adult me was just as excited about the prospects of this coming addition to the Star Wars mythos.

As most readers are aware, this past weekend saw the Star Wars Celebration in Chicago. During this event, the powers that be behind the Star Wars movies decided to release the official name and teaser trailer for the latest Star Wars movie and the conclusion of the Skywalker family saga.

I know, I for one, had the same sense of excitement seeing the release of this trailer as I did when the trailer for Star Wars:The Force Awakens released a few years ago. If you haven’t seen the teaser yet, I’ve included the link below. If you have, one more view won’t hurt you.