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Month: May 2018

National Novel Writing Month

National Novel Writing Month

Note: This was originally published on the now sadly extinct blog “Favorite Thing EVER!” In 2010. I might re-post a few of my other FtE! writings in the future.

National Novel Writing Month has a simple premise. You write 50,000 words of fiction in November. Got that? Okay, good. Go to it.

You might have some questions. Something like this:
Q: I’m not an author!
A: You are now. Write.
Q: I’ve never figured out sentence structure!
A: Not important. You can edit later. Write.
Q: Why? What do I get out of it? Is there a prize?
A: You’ll figure that out when you get to the end. Write.
Q: What I write will probably be terrible!
A: I’m sure it will. Write.
Q: So…I should just write?
A: Right.

This is real, pedal-to-the-metal time. You’ve been saying for years now that you’ve got a great novel inside of you. You’ve plotted scenes, maybe you’ve even written a few character sketches. But you’ve never actually sat down and pounded through a real draft, from beginning to end.

Now’s your chance, and you’re in good company. Every year tens of thousands of authors sign up, in essence promising that they will do what it takes to get to 50,000 words by December 1st. The forums on the NaNoWriMo official site are a great place to talk with people who are just as–or, if you could use some Schadenfreude, much more–stuck than you. The tone on these forums is usually friendly and helpful, if a bit terse; because everyone’s got a novel they need to get back to.

You’ve also got some good tools. Scrivener (have I mentioned Scrivener before?) is free for the month of November, perfect for NaNoWriMo, and will give you 50% off the price of a permanent license if you meet your 50,000 word quota.

There’s no pressure, no external warnings, no coach urging you to make it to the next goalpost. Just your own personal drive. The site simply provides a place for you to record your progress and shows you where you should be if you’re keeping up a nice, even pace. In reality, there’s nothing stopping you from just walking away. But you’ll keep writing, because something inside of you will not give up.

There will be bad days. There will be days where you don’t even want to look in the general direction of your computer, knowing that if you sit down that…that thing will want you to type words again. There will be the bewildered looks of your loved ones, trying to figure out what happened to that person they used to know and who this sleep deprived interloper is. There will be nights where you absolutely can’t look at the line above your cursor, because you know that if you read that sentence you just wrote you’ll have no choice but to delete your entire novel and move to the deep woods in a vain attempt to hide from the shame of having written such dreck. But you’ll keep writing, because something inside of you will not give up.

There will be gray days. So many gray days. Days where it’s all you can do to keep putting one word after the other. Days where you know what your characters need to do, but for some reason they insist on metaphorically picking up the dry cleaning, washing the car, and paying some bills first. But you’ll move on. You’ll write your 1,667 words (a number that will become synonymous with both “freedom” and “prison” over the course of the month) and leap from your chair, desperate to do anything else. But the next day you’ll come back and keep writing, because something inside of you will not give up.

But there will be good days as well. There will be days where your brain is on fire, racing a million miles a second as you see your characters start to come to life and tell you what they’re supposed to do next. There will be the moments of pure, blinding brilliance, when you can see the end from the beginning and everything in between and it’s all beautiful and right and good and you can’t understand why you don’t already have a four-way bidding war going on for your book.

And then there will be the best day. The day where you paste your entire novel into the validation box and your word count bar turns from workaday blue to a sublime shade of…light purple. But who cares? It’s the most beautiful light purple you’ve ever seen, because it means that you are a winner. You did it. 50,000 words. You are a Winner. This isn’t like finishing a video game or putting together a jigsaw puzzle; in those you’re walking a trail someone else blazed. This is something new, something unique, and you created it.

From here the world is open to you. Despite what your output looks like, you have proven to yourself that you can do hard things. In addition, you’ve spent a month forging a habit of really zeroing in on something for an hour or two every day. Now you can re-work your novel, shape it into something you want to publish. Or you can start a different story, this time focusing on the brand new character that snuck into your story as an extra and kept trying to steal the show. You can create that new app for the iPhone. You can go back and get that graduate degree. You can do hard things, and you’re a better person for it.

And now that you’ve done it (or at least made it to the end of this bombastic article), please consider making a donation to keep NaNoWriMo running. Let’s make sure that other people get a chance to feel what you’re feeling.

A Novelist in Business School: Over Engineering

A Novelist in Business School: Over Engineering

Finally. A class I actually understand.

Technically this new class is called Management Communications, but everyone calls it Comms, because that’s what students do. It’s a whole class about presenting yourself clearly and effectively. It’s about using a good balance of emotion and logic to communicate to your listeners who you really are and what you’re trying to accomplish. I had kind of hoped most of my MBA would be classes like this, but for now I’ll be glad that I at least have this class.

Anyway

One of our first speaking assignments was to present a “Transformational Moment”, something that changed us in some way; an event that helped make us into the people we are now. Because it’s an online class we have to figure out how to shoot the videos on our own, instead of just presenting in class, face to face.

The featured image above shows what my setup looked like. As usual, I completely over-engineered it, because I like doing that. The ingredients in that shot are:

  • A MacBook Pro
  • A Blue Yeti Microphone
  • Two USB-C-to-something-else dongles because Apple
  • A Logitech USB webcam
  • A pair of Sennheiser HD 280 Pro headphones to check how I was coming through on the microphone
  • A ladder doing duty as a camera dolly
  • A chair on a piano bench doing duty as a boom for the microphone
  • Kids
  • A dog (who is cropped out of the picture, but for some reason was sleeping under the ladder)

It took me about half an hour to set this up, and about an hour (and nine takes) to actually get a video that I was willing to call good enough.

to me, the crazy part about this is that I already had all the equipment. The even crazier part is that I probably could have just propped my phone up on the ladder and the video would have been perfectly acceptable. It’s a great time to be alive.

Prism, Not Mirror

Prism, Not Mirror

My story, To: The Lady on the Train has gotten a lot of praise, for some reason. I’m still learning what people actually like in my writing, and sometimes things just catch.

But the criticism that has been leveled against it is that it’s not really fiction, because it’s so clearly based on something that really happened. This is somewhat confusing to me, because everything I’ve ever written is based on things that have really happened. Sometimes I put dragons or spaceships (or dragons on spaceships) in the mix because I like dragons and spaceships. But the core of every story is the world around me.

It’s been said that art holds a mirror up to life, but I disagree. If I had tried to directly reflect the experiences that seeded To: The Lady on the Train the piece would have been a lot longer and a lot less focused. It would have contained all the little pauses and moments where I had to say “I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear you, what was that?” Things like that are real but not good fiction. I took a forty-five minute conversation, edited out all the parts that didn’t fit the narrative I was trying to relate, simplified and clarified the things that made my point, and that’s what you got.

Instead of a mirror, I would say that art acts as a prism. Any work of art refracts out a part of the artists’s experiences. Life doesn’t fit on the canvas or the page. Ideas, feelings, themes; those are things you can distill out and communicate. If an artist of any stripe has done their job the authenticity of that idea, feeling, or theme will resonate with you and you will feel the truth of it.

Perhaps, if you take all the creative output of our entire species, every story, every song, every sculpture, every YouTube video, every podcast, every painting, every drawing, every poem, every hastily scribbled love letter; perhaps then you would get something approaching a “mirror”. But, like a reflection, it would still be a shallow, flat copy of an infinitely deep reality.

A Novelist In Business School: I am the Null Hypothesis

A Novelist In Business School: I am the Null Hypothesis

In my Statistics class[1] we spent a lot of time identifying the “Null Hypothesis”. According to my mac’s built-in dictionary the formal definition of this term is:

(in a statistical test) the hypothesis that there is no significant difference between specified populations, any observed difference being due to sampling or experimental error.

But that’s boring and hard to remember. My excellent professor defined it as

the state in which nothing interesting is happening.

The ever delightful Tom Scott dedicated a video to people disproving the null hypothesis in zero gravity.

Your Point?

My point is this: I’m an overfed middle-aged white dude. In America generally and in my MBA program specifically I am the null hypothesis.

This was made apparent a while back when a friend and colleague of mine, a woman of Asian descent, was approached by an advertising firm, asking if she would like to be in a commercial for our MBA program. In her words, “They only wanted me because I was a diversity double-shot”. They didn’t know anything about her or her life, just that she disproved the null hypothesis.

It was made clearer when I started looking for a scholarship. There are precious few scholarships available for overfed middle-aged white dudes.

And That’s a Good Thing

I don’t really need a scholarship. Yes, it will take me a non-trivial number of years to pay off my student loans. But I’m not worried about paying them off. I would much rather see people who don’t normally have access to business education getting into programs like mine than pay my own loans off a few months earlier. The deck is stacked in my favor in pretty much every other aspect.

Nice job Virtue Signaling, Nate!

Yeah, it looks like that. It might even be that. I’m still going to compete like crazy for any job I apply for, regardless of who the other candidates are. I’ve got a family to feed. But I recognize the problem. I’ve spoken to my fellow null hypotheses in our program, and to a man[2] we all agree.

We are a Null Hypothesis that Needs–and Wants–to be Disproven.

We need to work toward a day where my friend is no more surprising in the halls of business school or the boardrooms of major corporations than any overfed white dude. The shape of success should be that actual, genuine diversity is the state where nothing interesting is happening, and a company that has an overabundance of overfed white dudes is the aberration.

So What are You Doing about it, Nate?

Well, at present I’m not in a position to make any hiring decisions, nor am I anywhere near the C-level suites of any company. But just as consumers vote with their dollars, I can, as an employee, vote with my labor. I can expect my employers to be making efforts to hire fairly, or I can find a new job. I know it’s not much, but it’s a start.


  1. Technically my “Data Analysis and Decision Making” class, but even the professor called it “Stats”  
  2. Masculinity is part of the nullity of our hypothesis