Sunday, November 28, 2010

2010 NaNoWriMo by Pencil: Week Four Report

Weapons of mass erasure

My random thoughts are going to be even more random and thrown together than usual, I'm afraid.  Had no time to think any of this out ahead of time.  It's been a crazy week!

1. Oh, Happy Day!
I was at Fred Meyer today (Fred Meyer = a Northwestern chain of big supermarket/drugstore/everything else under one roof stores--like a Super Wal-mart but nicer) looking for a lantern to prevent further power outages ('cause you know as soon as I get a good one, the power will remain rock solid for the rest of the winter), and happened to walk through the art supplies section.  I noticed first of all that they actually carry a pretty good supply of sketch books (which make good blank books for pencil, especially if you kinda *like* having no lines).  And then I spotted these!

Cedar Pointe Pencils from Fred Meyer

I really liked the Cedar Pointes that came in the goody assortment of pencils Speculator sent me awhile back, but until now, the only real source I'd found for them was Dick Blick on-line, and the shipping charges were exorbitant, and I decided I'd live without them.  But hey, I can get them locally!  They weren't cheap at $2.75 for the package, and I'd rather have had a full dozen pencils rather than yet another pencil sharpener, but still...Cedar Pointes!  Locally!

But no, I still don't have a lantern.

2. Erasers and paper
I had a dream a few days ago that a) I had moved into an apartment right next door to a coffee shop, and b) I had invited all of my siblings over to the new place for an eraser showdown.  In my dream, the Black Pearl melted into tarry goo if used strenuously, whereas the Mars Plastic worked like, well, a dream.  My brothers (who would never do this in real life) spent most of the dream passing the Mars around, scribbling heavy lines and erasing them and saying, "Where have these been all our lives?  How come no one told us????"

Ahem.  We will not analyze the dream.  But I will say, that Mars Plastic is a wonderful thing.  I could only dream of such erasers when I was a kid.  I'm also fond of the Pentel Clics, especially for quick mistakes.  And actually, in real life that Black Pearl works almost as well as the Mars Plastic, and the shape--with a pointed rim  all the way around the oval--means it can get into small areas pretty well.  Also--and this is a big plus--it doesn't get grungy looking.  The Mars Plastic flunks that category big time.  If I was really going to keep it clean, I'd need to spend as much time erasing blank spaces as erasing mistakes, to work the mess off of it.  I probably should have done so before taking the photo, but that's another story.

Paper: I'm now working my way through one of the Norcom composition books, after writing the first big chunk of the story in a bagasse composition book from Staples.  I have to say, although the bagasse paper is marvelous with fountain pens, it's less than great for pencils.  I had a great deal of ghosting between pages in the bagasse, pencils wrote lighter than on other paper, and it's sort of hard and smoothish compared to regular paper.  It didn't feel good.  The Norcom paper is much better.  Now I know.

Quick stats:
  • Composition book pages killed: 281...but the day isn't over yet.
  • Pencils obliterated: none this week, but the first Palomino will be the next to go.
  • Words written: 43,555, but I'm hoping to get in another seven hundred to a thousand tonight.  We'll see.  I really intended to get a ton of words in yesterday, but I gave blood in the morning, and my right arm (where the needle stick went in) felt...funny if I wrote much.  No pain, just felt really tired, like I'd lifted weights.  So I cut it short.
I'm not out of this yet.  If I have to, I may resort to (gasp!) using the computer in the next few days, just because there are more times when I can squeeze in two or three minutes of computer writing than there are times when I can grab a pencil and my notebook for the same amount of time.  But I really, really want to say I pulled it off by hand.  And I'm awful stubborn...

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Rule number 3427 of NaNoWriMo writing

NaNo Notebook
Scribbled on early in the month, during thinking moments and then in one long obsessive session.  I don't like the colors--shoulda left it greyscale--but once I started, there wasn't any going back.  "EP" is a childhood nickname my family still uses.   Short for Epsi.  And I dunno where Epsi came from.

Rule number 3427 of NaNoWriMo writing: when all else fails, blow something up.  A cherry bomb can work.  So can the spectacular destruction of an entire planet.  However, although it may be a temptation, it is best (no matter how bad the story may be) to stop short of annihilating the universe and all life therein.

There are only so many words one can write about an annihilated universe.

Another crazy week, and I'm still behind.  If I can write three thousand words today, three thousand tomorrow, and a little over two thousand the next two days, I can still beat this thing.  I'm not out yet.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

2010 NaNoWriMo by Pencil: Week Three Report

Mini Gallery o' Ferrules (and such)

Whew, what a week.  I say this in both good and bad senses, but in all senses, it took away from my word production.

To begin with, last weekend my most local brother and sister-in-law welcomed their first son into the world.  What with waiting for news, fretting, and the flurry of phone calls and the posting of photos and everything else after his birth--plus all my usual weekend errands--I struggled to get much writing in.  Did OK, but didn't get caught up, as I'd hoped.

Monday, I thought.  Monday, I'll write like a mad woman.  I was going to hit that halfway mark by the end of Monday if it killed me.

And then the power went out.

Now, in some cases, this would be an opportunity for me to chortle with glee at the shortcomings of higher tech writing methods as I scribbled nonchalantly onward.  Couple problems with this: first of all, in Washington State in the winter, it's dark an awful lot of the day.  When it's pouring rain and windy, it's dark *all* day.  I do not currently own a battery powered lantern or a book light.  I couldn't see to write.  Tried writing by flashlight, but it really didn't work.

Secondly, within a few minutes of losing power at home, my pager started screaming bloody murder because the power to the data center at work had also gone out, and the equipment was Very Worried.   And it was my responsibility to calm it down and babysit.  I got some sleep that night, but the early morning hours and all the next day were spent dealing with the outage (over twelve hours at work) and its aftermath.

And then I had a reading assignment I had to finish.  So Tuesday night, with the power finally restored at home, I read until midnight, went to bed too keyed up to sleep, and then had to get up again Wednesday morning at five.  Wednesday morning I squeezed in a few words between the church thing and work, but in the evening, I had a dinner thing and didn't get home until about nine.  I crawled into bed and fell asleep instantly.

Now here, I'm sure someone is going to say, "Well, *I* would have stayed up until ten and gotten an hour's worth of writing in, you lazy good-for-nothing."  To you, I say two things: Well lah-dee-dah, and Bah!  I'm a morning person, and even on a good night, my brain goes into power-save mode after about eight, and that night I was so tired everything around me seemed sort of squished and muffled.  I could barely remember my own name, let alone put strings of words together.  I probably would have awoken in the middle of the night with drool on my notebook and graphite on my face and no words written.

I did, however, set my alarm for early the next morning, in hopes of getting some words in before work.  It was a futile hope.  I slept through the alarm.  I double-checked the clock when I did wake up, and it was set correctly; but I have absolutely no memory of it going off, not even as part of a dream.  *sigh*

I still managed to stagger across the 25k line during lunch on Thursday: the line I'd hoped to sprint across clear back on Monday.  Only three days behind.  Yay me.

I'll spare you the details of the rest of the week.  Let's just say the challenges continued.  I only get a thirty minute lunch but usually can cram writing in...but we were too busy for that this week.  And there was more family stuff.  Unexpected schedule changes.  Unexpected obligations.

I'm still hoping to finish this thing in time, but it's liable to be down to the wire.  The lack of morning and lunchtime writing time was the kiss of death this past week, so hopefully I can squeeze in at least some this week.  Thanksgiving will probably be a lost day, and I work Friday, so no extra time there.   There's next weekend, at least.

OK, enough of all that.  This week's stats:
  • Composition book pages killed: I passed 200 tonight (I'm at 203), which would mean a new notebook if this one wasn't poorly made...but it is, so I got twelve bonus sheets / twenty four bonus pages.  I'll finish filling it up tomorrow or Tuesday.
  • Pencils obliterated: the Helix Oxford is dead.  Or at least mostly dead.  I used it down to little more than a nubbin before reluctantly tossing in into the shorty jar.
  • Word count: around 31465, which means I'm about two days behind.  However, on Thursday I was three days behind, so hey, progress!
Pencil Achievement Awards:
  • Coolest ferrule: the classic Ticonderoga has an unfair advantage in this category.  I mean...look at it!  It has those distinctive and handsome yellow and green stripes, that textured band across the middle.  There is none cooler.  However, I would like to give honorable mention to the Mongol--that's it smack dab in the middle of the photo above.  Not only does it look interesting, but the eraser isn't crimped in, so you can yank it out and pop it back in.  It amuses me.
  • For courage under fire: OK, so courage is a strong word.  So is fire.  But I would like to publicly apologize to the Palomino for calling its lettering silver when it's actually pale gold.  Also for breaking off a big chunk of lead this week because I was careless when sharpening.  Sorry, little guy!
The story is...going.  No, actually it's working pretty well, aside from the whole being behind thing.  As I mentioned in one of my comments on last week's post, I've settled into a different period and plot than I originally intended: I fell in love with a few of the characters in the backstory, so they've become the primary story line instead.  Why? Because I'm the author, and I said so.

Monday, November 15, 2010

2010 NaNoWriMo by Pencil: Week Two Report

Pencil Shaving Roses

OK, second attempt at this post. The formatting went wonky after I posted it the first time, and when I went back in to got eaten by gremlins. And of course, I don't have the entire original. I'm attempting to fix by memory.

I'll cut straight to the pencil stuff.

A short rant on pencil variability:
1. Mirados: In my web wanderings, I'd read great things about the Mirados, and was super excited to find them in a store locally: both the yellow Classics and the flat black Mirado Black Warriors. All packages are marked Made in Mexico. Now...all have some fit and finish issues--paint chips overlapping the ferrules, that sort of thing. But the Black Warriors--or the two that I've pulled out and used so far--have issues that go beyond cosmetics. 

The very first one out of the package has a lead that's so off-center, it's a pain in the neck to sharpen the thing. and it wobbles as you write.

 The second had space around the lead...that's the only way I can describe it. Which meant that the lead flexed as you wrote with it, making obnoxious clicking noises. It drove me bonkers (not that long of a drive, perhaps). I kept sharpening it hoping it would get better, and I think I've finally reached a point where the lead is more tightly gripped and less noisy and doesn't feel about to break at any moment. But it took at least an inch off the over-all length, and at any moment, the problem may crop up again.

 It's all rather annoying, because they should be great pencils: the matte-finished round barrel feels good in the hand, and the lead is quite nice. It's greyer (lighter) than the CalCedar offerings, and no, it isn't the smoothest pencil ever (that'd be the Palomino, at least in my so-far-limited experience), but it's pleasant to write with, leaves a nice solid line, and doesn't seem to have any weird gritty chunky bits in it.

I've not had similar issues with the Mirado Classics, but I've really only used one of those heavily. Thus far, I'm wondering if I should stick with the Classics. They have a more substantial feel, too, I suppose because of the heavier lacquer. And they don't tend to charge off into their own little battles every time you set them down on a table like the round-bodied Black Warriors do.

2. Ticonderogas: Leaving overall thoughts on the whole outsourcing of an American classic thing aside...I've discovered a curious discrepancy: I have some Tri-writes and a few Ticonderogas that were marked "Made in Mexico" on the blister pack. They're...just OK, if that. Rather pale writing, and with very definite chunks in the lead here and there. Scratchy. Sometimes you have to go back over a line where they've just failed to write due to a hard bit of something in the lead.

This weekend I found myself at Staples (odd how often that seems to happen) and noted that a) they carry various grades of Ticonderogas and b) those that come in different grades come in cardboard boxes instead of the blister packs, are not pre-sharpened, and most are "Made in China" rather than Mexico. Hm. I was curious. I bought some--just reg'lar HBs for now. And they're very different. I don't think it's at all subjective--I can see the difference on a page if I switch back and forth between the two. The Chinese Ticonderogas are darker, and don't have the same issues with chunks of something making them scratchy. Maybe it's a batch variance rather than an across the board thing, I'm not sure. Or maybe the boxed Ticonderogas are made using a different "recipe". In any case, I quite like them.

Some stats:
  • Composition book pages killed: 146 as of this morning. Hoping to break into the 160s by the end of the day.
  • Pencils obliterated: Well, the original Forest Choice has retired to the short-pencil jar. Next to follow will almost certainly be the Helix Oxford, followed by the most used of the USA Golds and the crooked Mirado Black Warrior...but all but the Oxford may live to write another week. Now that I'm using the many pencils sharpened method instead of tending to use a few favorites most, the wear is more spread out.
  • Word count: somewhere upwards of 22630. I upped my words-per-page estimate to 155, since even the dialog pages I counted had at least that.

Pencil Achievement Awards--only one this week. We've run low on trophies.
  • Best bang for the buck: I continue to be impressed with the USA Golds, which were about two bucks for twenty-four at Wal-mart. They're on the skinny side, but write well even on the bagasse paper, darker than the Ticonderogas and with no weird chunks in the lead. The eraser is smallish and kind of an odd orangey pink, but it works surprisingly well: erases very cleanly, and any eraser bits curl right up into neat shreds to be easily brushed away instead of turning into smeary crumbs like some can.

Aaaand the status of the NaNoWriMo story: OK, so I still haven't really gotten to the story. Two characters who were supposed to be a flash in the pan have spent the last thirty some pages discussing debt and their first kiss and farm equipment and a cousin's ugly eagle lamp and a spider evacuation. Over hot cocoa, no less. (Incidentally, the amount of cocoa/coffee/tea consumed by my characters over the course of my NaNoWriMo career would be an interesting theme for psychoanalysis.)

Considering how much time I've spent recounting about thirty minutes of thelives of these "minor" characters...we'll see how I manage to sum up the next fifty years or so in order to get to what was supposed to be the real story.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

I Am A Guilty Pleasure

NaNoWriMo Leavings
Photo idea blatantly stolen from Pencil Revolution. Kind of cool looking, huh? Also completely unrelated to the rest of this post, which sort of goes with the theme...

After eight past NaNoWriMos, seven of them successful, I don't have anything to prove to myself. I know I can write a whole bunch of words in a month, one way or another. Some years have been painful. Some have been surprisingly easy. A few of the resulting piles o' words aren't steaming piles of...whatever.

This year, I didn't have a preconceived story I was eager to get out, or any high hopes. So this year, I decided, I was going to run with the assumption that whatever I wrote might never even get transcribed, let alone edited or shared. I'm just telling myself a story, in this case a sort of epic thing set in space, mostly about a first colony and a revolution. Oh, you moan, how cliched! But there is a certain comfort in cliches, and besides, it's my story, and I can stick whatever I want in there. I can put in all sorts of exaggerated and stereotyped characters--plucky ship's captains and cute doctors, surly geniuses with good hearts, gutsy colonists, controlling and bureaucratic "old worlders," maybe some pirates or monsters. There's no need for plausibility, no need to get the words in the right order. If I get bored, I can take off on a completely new tangent with no explanation.

And you know, it's kinda fun. Admittedly, the writing is often pretty bad. It's kinda like one of those books that I enjoy despite knowing the author is a hack who really doesn't deserve to be published--one of those books that when people ask, "So what are you reading?"I say vaguely and sheepishly, "Oh, just a book's kind of a sci-fi thing." And if they try to pin me down by asking the author, I say, "Author? I don't really remember. I think it begins with an 'M,' maybe?" 'Cause I know it's lousy. But I like it anyway.

There is room in life for a little lousy.

Monday, November 08, 2010

2010 NaNoWriMo by Pencil: Week One Report

All pointied up and ready to rock and roll!

I went to take out the trash this morning, and it seemed to be mostly pencil shavings, coffee grinds, and spent tea leaves. Ah, NaNoWriMo, what have you done to me?

Coupla first thoughts:
1. I'm using one of Staples' sugarcane paper composition books (the line is now called Eco-Easy, I believe), which has a slightly different texture than regular paper. It's wonderful for fountain pens, but maybe a little hard and smooth for pencils. Some pencils I really enjoy on other paper feel slickery or strange. I'll switch to a regular composition book next.

2. I'm finding it's easiest to spend a few minutes at the beginning of each writing session sharpening up a whole *bunch* of pencils to use in sequence rather than stopping over and over to sharpen. It gives me a few minutes of reflection time before taking the plunge, too. A nice ritual.

Stats and such:
 NOTE: you may want to imagine the headers of the next two items as they would sound if read by one of those guys who does commercials for monster truck rallies and large power tools. < deep echoey voice mode > "COMP-oh-ZIIIH-shun book pages KILLLLLED!!!!!" < /voice > And so forth.
  • Composition book pages killed: 85
  • Pencils obliterated: none, but the Forest Choice will soon be assuming semi-retired status in the jar of shorties and a new Forest Choice subbed in. It was short to begin with, and has had a busy week.
  • Words written: 12750 as a low estimate. On the pages I counted, I had somewhere between 155 and 170 words, so I'm estimating 150 so as not to cheat. If I get ambitious or stuck, I'll start transcribing, and likely get a good boost. With the current estimate, I'm a little behind, but not terribly. If I could just get away with writing uninterrupted during lunch once in awhile...

Next up, some Pencil Achievement Awards.
  • Most fun to sharpen: the Rhodia given to me awhile back. They're linden wood, so you don't get the cedar smell, but the triangular shape produces interesting shavings, plus those shavings are a lovely velvety black with orange trim. They fascinate me.
  • Purtiest: The Palominos are beautifully finished in thick blue lacquer and lovely silver writing, but I'm still captivated by the deep red-orange Golden Bears with blue erasers.
  • Most aromatic: probably the Golden Bears, with the Mirados a close second.

It's turning out that some of the pencils I like most in the "off season" are not the greatest NaNoWriMo pencils. The Helix Oxford, for example. It writes a nice dark line that really stands out when I look back through the pages of my journal...*but* it requires frequent enough sharpening that it's less than satisfactory for long slogs. It's also one of the pencils that feels funny on the sugarcane paper.

And how is the story going? You *would* have to ask that. Wellll...I'm finally *mostly* finished writing about a century's worth of history regarding space exploration in the late 21st and early 22nd centuries, so maybe the story can finally truly begin. As usual, I got a little sidetracked by secondary characters I hadn't even dreamed of when I started out. I like them anyway.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

If it hadn't been an Olympia...

Olympia SM-9 No. 3

I might have been able to resist. But it was an Olympia. And it's the first typewriter I've seen at a thrift store in a long, long while. And it was eight bucks. And I'm only human.

I now have three SM-9s, one of each generation: a cream colored and green one, this silvery-white and black one, and Stinky representing the last white-and-black-with-orange-symbol-thing generation. This one, per the serial number, is apparently from 1968.

It needs a new ribbon eventually (though the one it has actually is pretty darned good!), and there's a lot of icky eraser dust inside, but otherwise, this may be the cleanest typewriter I've ever found in the wild. It's beautiful.

It also really, really, really fits snugly in that case. Holy smokes...I practically had to use a crowbar to extract it.

Edit to add a very small sample of the typeface--just a standard Olympia 11 pitch type.
New SM-9 Typeface

Thursday, November 04, 2010

No Writing Instruments Were Harmed (Fatally) In The Making...

A Pen-conomics Pencil Edition Addendum

No pencils died...

Just a brief final update on my previous post on the subject: on Halloween, I finished off another composition book journal. It was written strictly in pencil, over the course of the month of October: roughly the same span of time as the journal I documented here. The results? The blue California Republic Golden Bear I used most ended up short enough to be awkward to use for long periods, as I mentioned a few posts back. And the Forest Choice I also used a lot shrank by maybe half (I've actually used it a bit since then for NaNoWriMo, so it's shorter than it was on Halloween). I used a smattering of other pencils, too, though none long enough to do serious damage. In other words...not one pencil died, really! Compare this to the pen carnage...

Which means, from a purely financial standpoint, that if you use up an entire notebook a month (and, as my journal post shows, this is something I only do for about three months at a time every few years...), you would still only go through roughly two pencils a month. If you're using cheapish pencils, you could write for a year for two dollars or two-fifty, tops. Pencils are, as I had already surmised, pretty cost efficient, in addition to their many other fine qualities.

Now...we won't go into how much I actually *spent* on pencils over the course of the month of October.

It's easier (and more fun!) to use bunches of pencils rather than concentrating on a few since you can sharpen half a dozen and use them without pause, and I'll probably switch to that method now that I've sort of finished the "experiment." But I had to know!

How's NaNoWriMo going for everyone? I'm less prepared than ever before (I had a few character names, a vague idea that this was going to take place in space, and very little else), but except for a long diversion into back-story involving an eccentric entrepreneur who lived at least a century before the story began (still working out the timeline), and a great deal of telling rather than showing which would need to be remedied if I actually intended to do anything with this thing, I seem to be doing OK. I'm going back and forth between "wheee, this is fun!" and wondering why I'm doing this at all, but that's par for the course. I have about thirty comp book pages and counting--hoping to at least approach forty by the end of the evening. I'm a tiny bit behind, but nothing that can't be remedied by an hour or so at the coffee house this weekend, and considering this thing started on a Monday...could be worse.