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NANOWRIMO both surviving and thriving

Well dear reader we’re back… And I have to say NANOWRIMO turned out pretty well. This year’s all out push to write a novel in a month resulted in a 75,000+ word manuscript and a clear direction for where to go next (both with new writing on what has confirmed itself to be a trilogy and in terms of what to do next for this specific story).

Naturally in addition to turning in 75,000 words (17000 more than my last NANOWRIMO high score…) I learned a few things on the way.

One: an all-out writing push can be hard…

Even if you’ve planned, exercised your mind and writing muscles and/or have the ‘mojo’ to do 50,000+ words in a month it can take time and effort. That means even if you can handle the writing part like a boss you still have to cope with the effects on other ‘jobs’, relationships, household chores, regular meals, and so on. And that can add up to a lot of stress.

Solution: be attentive to the needs of your family and make a plan. Even if you’re a ‘pantser’ and don’t plan your story, take a little time to plan out how to keep your spouse talking to you and the refrigerator stocked.

Two: no matter what you do there’s always ‘that guy’ who doesn’t get it.

I did the math…. 75,000 words over 295 pages is an entire school year’s worth of term papers or more in a single month, and I did it… But there will always be that one person who just doesn’t understand the achievement, or what went into doing it.

Solution: finish your book and publish it anyway! Some people will come around when they see the final product and some won’t. The won’ts often have their own issues that cloud their understanding and it may not be worth the battle to bring them around. You may not be able to bring them around at all, but if you push through and succeed there is a chance that they will come around on their own.

Don’t be a jerk about it, but don’t let them stop you. The ‘I don’t get it’ crowd will always be there and there’s not a lot we can do to change that.

Three: the system may take a little while to cool down…

Even if you didn’t succeed in your NANOWRIMO quest, if you put in a good effort you have probably learned something and gained new skills and abilities. You will also need a little while to shift back into ‘normal’ mode (that’s why this post is coming out on December 8th and not December 1st…). And, it might be a good idea to put a little time and distance between your initial writing and the assessing and editing process… You need the space and perspective.

Solution: no solution needed! Go clean out the ‘fridge, walk the dog, buy those Christmas presents you’ve been putting off, or whatever it is you need to do. And then come back and keep writing. Give yourself a little space and see what has changed and how you improved (for instance my transcribing from notes speed is up by about 50%!).

As I said going into NANOWRIMO the whole experience is a good thing if you use it correctly. Whether you succeeded or not, if you want to be a writer (or if you are a writer) the thing to do now is to recover from the experience and learn what you can from what you’ve done and produced. It will help you in the long run.

That’s it for this one dear reader… Next time, back to our regular schedule (for about a week and then the holidays happen…)

My NANO Kit

As I mentioned last week I will be doing NANOWRIMO next month…

For those who don’t know yet NANOWRIMO is a yearly event in which writers try to write an entire 50,000+ word novel in a single month. I’ve done it twice. I can tell you it isn’t easy. You have to be committed and put in the work. You also need to know a little about your habits as a writer (and you may learn more in the process). Today I’m going to talk briefly about my “NANOWRIMO kit” and the process I use.

The bulk of the kit is actually in the front picture for this post. I’m one of those oddballs that likes to write by hand before I put the story one the computer, so I depend heavily on pens and seventy page college ruled notebooks (some of the ones this year are predecorated by a friend and will be used for the female pov in the story). Doing things this way has advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side my writing speed (by hand) and my thinking speed are closer together for long stuff like this, so on a flow basis the notebook works better for me. The notebooks also make it easier to strike through and go on if I take a wrong turn.

On the other hand it’s harder to do word count on a physical copy, and the final count is computer verified. So, ultimately it has to be transcribed onto the computer to ‘win’.

Here’s the thing though. This ‘weakness’ in my style is a strength in disguise. Usually when you pick up for a new day’s writing it’s a good idea to review what you were working on last time (or at least the pages leading up to what you will be writing). When I start a day’s writing my first step is to transcribe what I wrote the previous day. This gets the information into the computer, allows me to review, and serves as my first editing pass. It takes time, but it puts me in a stronger place to write the next section (and gives me that all important word count…).

It’s my way of doing things and doesn’t work for everybody. Part of the fun is learning what works for you (and, by the way, that may change from story to story).

One thing that does change story to story is where I write. I virtually never do the actual writing at my desk. Editing yes. Writing not so much. Instead I tend to go out to write. For some projects it may be the public library; for other’s it’s my traditional writing hangouts. Last year I wrote about half of the book in a mall food court and rewarded myself with CCG cards.

This year I have two pov characters and things might get even more complicated.

The final piece of the kit (other than time) is also not in the picture. That would be the vast amounts of my favorite soda I’ll be drinking (another reason I don’t write on my computer…). Like so much else the choice is up to you. But I do recommend finding a lovely beverage to support you through the process. It helps.

Because I am going to be going all out on the book I will be quiet in the blogosphere next month (I’ll be writing, just not here…). I look forward to talking about the experience after NANO and I hope to hear from a few of you as well.

That’s it for this one dear reader. See you in December.

Until then: Um…

Yes, can I have several packs of pens, a case of notebooks and all the (product name withheld) delivered to…

NANOWRIMO as a Tool

A few weeks ago I wrote about NANOWRIMO and why I wasn’t doing it this year. Well, things change.

Jamie’s Sacrifice is progressing well, but in ways I hadn’t expected. I crossed 34,000 words this week and expect to hit 50,000 before part one is finished. I sort of realized that the story needed more space and time than my initial estimate. Then I realized that if I get where I need to be at the end of the first part (here to for called ‘act one’), things in the second part are different enough that I could really look at it as a sequel story. And then the former third act shifts enough to call it a third book…

The next question was could I really do 50,000+ words in each of the parts. And the answer is: I think so! It’s really a two part question: 1) does each part warrant 50,000 words and 2) can I do it without padding. Again I think so! I’m kind of into growth and change, and there is lots of growth and change in the lives of teenagers, particularly ones in a place like where I’m leaving Jamie and company after part one. I think I might legitimately need 50,000+ words to handle the second part and I can do it without padding. And if I have 100,000+ words in the first two parts I might just need another 50,000 to tie up the loose ends and end things satisfactorily…

When combined these factors are telling me that Jamies Sacrifice could weigh in over 150,000 words. And then you add my real desire to get the story finished, so that I can get it edited and given to the world. I found myself at a moment where I might have to eat my words a bit and change my opinion. Maybe I do need to do NANO this year…

A final piece arrived earlier this month in the death of my friend Tanya, and her son’s desire to try his hand at NANOWRIMO. It’s something he wants to do, but doesn’t want to do alone, and I’m in a position to help.

For the most part I stand by what I’ve said about NANOWRIMO last time I see it as a tool, and as a way to help you finish a manuscript. What’s changed is the situation I have with my story.

I’ve learned how to write the story from Jamie’s perspective. I’ve also found that the story is bigger than I thought. I’ve found that I might have underestimated enough that this project may become a trilogy, even though I had no intention to do that. And, I’ve found that I need parts two and three in rough form at least before I can finish editing part 1. Together these discoveries add up to me having to say yes, I am doing NANOWIRMO this year. I want to finish the story and I need the first draft done now.

As I said previously, this is what NANOWRIMO is for, getting that first completed draft and sharing the writing experience. Sometimes you’re sure that’s not what you need. Sometimes it isn’t… Right up until the moment it is. In all probability I wouldn’t do NANO this year, except I find myself in a place to do so at the time it is happening.

So, I stand by my advice even while I change my mind dear reader. NANOWRIMO is a tool. Know what it is. Use it wisely. And, it might just be helpful to you.

That’s it for this one dear reader. See you next post. Until then have success in your projects and don’t be afraid to go out and do!

Definition and Continuity

Note: this blog is about writing and publishing. Today’s topic easily applies to words and subjects that can be considered ‘hot buttons’ on the political stage I am not taking any political position here; therefore, any political, moral or ethical offence you find in this post is something you brought with you and not my doing.

My wife is currently serving on the assessment committee at our local university. She and the committee have put considerable effort into defining the words goal and objective for the purpose of assessment at our university. Early last week the committee finally reached agreement and were ready to go forward with applying their definitions; which they would have if someone had not opened the university handbook and discovered that the handbook committee finally agreed on the opposite set of definitions…

This problem is considerably wider than one university in the Pacific North West. Words like gender, ethnicity, moral, and (possibly worst of all) “fairness” seem to change meaning on a daily basis. Even our fiction is not safe. Movie, TV and print series seem to shift on their meanings of what a given power or ability is or can do. Even character backgrounds get changed to fit what a writer wants a given character to do and say.

I’m not just calling this a problem, it is one. Having different meanings for words and different understandings of concepts is a frequent source of misunderstandings, disagreements, and good old fashioned arguments. It is true that people occasionally have different understandings of things. It is true that occasionally you need to change a definition or use a different understanding because the situation has changed. However, neither of those truths forgives sloppiness in meaning or malicious attempts to shift meaning or unfairly profit from a misunderstanding.

Start with definition

We as readers and writers need to understand the words and concepts we use. It is alright and even appropriate that our understanding develops over time. But, we do need to put in the effort to understand the words and concepts we use.

On some of my nonfiction projects my understanding of a term’s meaning shifts significantly in the process of researching and writing. If this happens before the project is published part of the editing process is that I need to go back through the piece and make sure my meaning is consistent, or at least document how and why my understanding changed. If my understanding has changed since a piece was released and I write something new on the same subject I might need to explain why I changed my view and/or definition.

In either case after a writer has found his or her definition or meaning it is usually a good idea to communicate that definition to the reader. In non-fiction it could be as simple as writing the following…Definition: (N) the meaning of a word or concept. In a fiction situation you might build a whole story around a character learning what something means, or you might just want to have good old Captain Exposition drop a one liner about it.

I know that it can be fun to be mysterious about things. And there are ways to go about that (a subject for a later post (or maybe the comments…)). But, if you’re trying to be mysterious and come off as not knowing what you’re talking about, or if you come off as just being slipshod in you thinking, that doesn’t achieve the affect you want. It also makes you look incompetent. Possibly worse, if you don’t have or use a solid definition your reader may feel manipulated. That twist ending that comes out of the blue, the one that your reader can’t go back and find any clues for… Yeah… Um… People don’t like those. People don’t like to feel manipulated. Even if they came to your writing to be manipulated, people are offended by obvious manipulation. Using good definitions is one way of avoiding that.

Continuity

Continuity is the second part of the struggle for meaning. Continuity means that you are using the same meaning or set of facts consistently. It’s not fair to have a character go through all of your first book talking about growing up in Paris France and traveling on her French passport, and then turn around in the second book and say no, she grew up in Paris Idaho because in this book things work better for her to be a citizen of the USA. And, even if you manage to get away with that one, you will annoy somebody when in the third book she turns out to be a he and tells the reader that he has lived his entire life at Paris Island South Carolina (btw you then also have to explain why the person lived his/her/it’s entire life on a Marine Corps base… Just don’t do it!)

If you have a character that likes to tell stories about being from other places that could be ok. But, if you’re just changing the characters background to fit what you as a writer want her to do at the moment, that is a problem.

The ‘retcon’ or retroactive continuity does exist in writing, but to most of the people I’ve talked to it isn’t a good thing. Retcons tend to read as “I’ve written myself into a corner”; “I think the last guy wrote this wrong”; or “to heck with the fan boys this is want to have happen”.

Just like your definitions, sometimes your continuity does need to change. If you’re relaunching a character or series why not do a little updating and refurbishing? But be honest about it. If you are theoretically working in the same world/universe/timeline you’ve just created a lot of other problems for yourself. There are things that you will need to explain and fans that you will annoy. You might want to stop and think about whether it is really a good idea to retcon, or maybe tell your new story with a new character.

Yes, it does take a lot of work to keep your definitions, characters and story lines straight. Yes it can be hard work to create and introduce new characters. At the same time, how easy is it to retcon the retcon of the retcon that you retconned before that other retcon and still keep everything believable for the person that liked your story in episode one?

That’s it or this one dear reader, see you next week.

Doing and observing

Back when I was an undergrad we had a guest speaker in my novel writing class. One of the first things he did was ask us “what are you doing here?” His thought was that if we wanted to be writers we should be out living life. I’ve thought about that over the years, and I think it’s not just living life, but rather learning life that we need to be doing.

Sure, there are lots of things that writers can learn in a classroom: Grammar, spelling, formatting, etc. It’s all important stuff, but there really are other things you need to learn. Whether you write fiction or nonfiction you need to get away from your writing desk, and actually into life.

Doing and observing

If you’re going to write convincingly about anything you need some experience. If you’re going to write a decent western you might want to at least hold a six shooter. And maybe even fire one! If you’re going to write about building a boat it might be helpful to actually build a boat.

But, what about the things you can’t do?

Right now I’m working on a novel where one of the two central characters is a 14 year old girl. Short of having a sex change and going back in time, how do I pull that off?

This is where observing comes in. Watch what people around you do. Maybe even talk to them about what they’re doing and why. Yes, this can be difficult. Even the physicists have learned that you can change behavior by measuring it. So, the trick is to learn how to observe without affecting behavior any more than you have to (and without crossing moral, ethical and legal lines hopefully…).

Even if you’re observing you have to live.

It’s true. Even if you’re observing you have to live. To write based on observation requires the ability to put yourself into someone else’s shoes. It requires the ability to empathize.

Fortunately there are a lot of shared commonalities between people. Discovering and experiencing these commonalities is part of what allows us to “walk a mile in another’s moccasins” as we write.

I might never have been a 14 year old girl, but that doesn’t make my character Jamie a complete alien. We both want to be loved, desired, and appreciated. We both have people we value and experiences that are good, bad, embarrassing, or exhilarating.

As a writer you need to develop a breadth of experience that allows you to understand the things you observe and learn. This is part of what allows you to get into the minds of readers and characters, and to communicate what needs to be communicated.

So, dear reader, I’m not going to ask what you’re doing here, there is lots of ‘writer stuff’ to learn. But, I do encourage you to get ‘out there’ as well; because, there is a lot of life stuff to be learned in being a writer too.

That’s it for this one dear reader. See you next week.

Until then:

  • Choose life
  • Avoid death
  • Discover something unexpected

Outlines: It is written! But not really…

Outlines are one of those tools that people like to push on writers, students, and others who work with ideas and symbols. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. There seems to be two main factors that will significantly predict the successful use of outlines: the project and the person or persons doing the writing.

I have to admit sometimes for some projects outlines have helped me. But, that’s depended on the project in question and how I have used the outline. For a really ‘good’ outline (the kind my high school teachers liked) the best procedure seems to be: take something already written; read it; and then write the outline based on what you read. That’s what we did in my AP computer class and occasionally in English… Writing things first and then doing the outline.

It really does work, if your purpose is for someone to grade you based on your outline. If you’re actually going to use your outline as a writing tool, then you’re probably going to want to do things the other way around (unless you’re doing a rewrite…). And, you’re probably going to want to understand what an outline really is.

But we already know what an outline is…

You might. People who read this blog are usually pretty smart. If you have some good ideas on using outlines then how about leaving a comment?  Of course you might also want to know a little more about outlines and how to use them. And that’s why we’re here today…

The simple, simple definition is that an outline is a frame or skeleton around which you write what you’re planning to write. A better definition states that an outline is a theoretical framework or structure around which you write what you’re planning to write. I stress that it is a theoretical structure because many a time the outline you create in the beginning has changed, or needs to be changed, by the time you’re done.

When you are creating an outline for something you intend to write (or rewrite) you are thinking about what you intend to write, and creating the framework for it as you think it will go. It can help you get started and stay on course. It can help you to make sure not to forget anything. It can also lead you astray.

As you are doing the actual writing you may learn things about what you are writing. If you’re writing fiction you learn about your characters. Occasionally you realize your hero (or villain, or sidekick, or…) would do thing in a different way than you had planned in the outline. If you’re writing nonfiction you occasionally realize that you need to add something else, or to change the order of things in the text. When you find yourself in a place where you need to change things (usually between page 50 and 2xx…) you have two choices: plug along by our original outline even though you know it’s wrong, or you can rethink your outline.

Some might argue that you should throw out the outline entirely. Often those folks are the same ones that didn’t want to do an outline in the first place. I encourage you to modify the outline (or build a new one), but don’t just throw it out and ‘wing it’. The point of an outline (like a business plan or budget) is to get you to think about what you’re doing. If you revise the outline, and look at what the change will impact elsewhere in the outline, you have a real chance to stay on course and create a superior product. If you plug along with an obviously flawed plan you will end up with an obviously flawed product (if you finish at all…). If you toss the outline without replacing who knows where you’ll end up (‘pantser’ games is another post).

The key is to stay flexible

There isn’t anyone who is going to grade you on how you stuck to your initial outline (unless this is a class project maybe). The point is to create a good product. Often that means changing your outline along the way. You’re still thinking about what you’re doing, but you’re also reacting to your increased knowledge and understanding. If something needs to be changed change it.

Often people that dislike outlines, and those who blame a writing failure on the outline, are those who consider the outline a carved in stone, law of the land, fact. In practice if you understand that the outline is only a tool, a guideline and thought experiment, it can be really helpful.

So, yes, I do recommend outlines. And, I recommend revising them as needed.

That’s it for this one dear reader. Planning tools are here to help you, use them! See you next post.

NANOWRIMO an avenue and obstacle to success

I know NANOWRIMO is still a couple of months away, but to really do it is a commitment and that means some of us need to start thinking about it now…

Let me say at the outset that I am a NANOWRIMO fan. I like the idea and the organization. Johnson Farm, my first published novel, was a NANOWRIMO ‘win’, so was the sequel. At the same time the third book in the series is one that I wouldn’t even attempt as a NANOWRIMO project…

Depending on what you want or need to do taking on a NANOWRIMO project could be the best, or worst, thing to do. The key is to understand what NANOWRIMO is and what it does for you (and what it doesn’t do for you…).

NANOWRIMO is an organization {link} and an event. The idea is that during the month of November writers will go all out and write a full 50,000+ word novel. I can tell you it is a challenge, but it is a ‘doable’ one. I’ve succeeded in ‘winning’ twice and reaped the benefits.

The benefits of NANOWRIMO, what you really get out of it, can include:  experience, opportunities and potential contacts (with other ‘REMOs and supporters), and (hopefully) a completed first draft of a novel.

Things you do not get (directly) from NANOWRIMO include: prize money (maybe side bets…), a guaranteed writing contract, or a finished book. You could get any of those things, but additional work is required.

NANOWRIMO really is an avenue to success…

By definition completing a NANOWRIMO project gets you writing. To do 50,000 words in one month’s time you kind of have to put your head down and start writing. You have to put away the ‘somedays’ and the fear of the blank page. It is a small window in which to act rather than thinking about acting. That is the first real benefit, if you actually do a project you will get words on the page.

Second, if you ‘win’ (finish) you have a book manuscript, the raw material that is edited, crafted and revised until it becomes a finished, novel length, story that you can publish if you choose.

You also get contact, support, knowledge, and potentially goodies an opportunities thanks to other ‘REMOs and supporters. ‘Winning’ NANOWRIMO can be a good way to build your network/community; as well as proving to your friends, family, and neighbors that you really can write something that big.

Basically NANOWRIMO is an opportunity to build your writing community (or start one if you need to) and create a manuscript that you can then turn into a book. This is great if those things are what you need, but…

NANOWRIMO really is an obstacle…

The thing is, writing 50,000 words in a month is hard. If you’re not already experienced as a writer; if you don’t have a plan when you start; if you don’t have the time to throw at the project; you may struggle. If you let yourself give in to depression over not being up to ‘average’ on word count, or any number of other factors, you may even fail.

Also stemming from the tight time line, it can be hard to build in the features you want. It is a lot simpler and easier to do a story with one continuous voice than it is to do a polyphonic story. Chances are if you are trying for a more complex structure, and trying to meet a NANOWRIMO timeline, you will end up with some big holes that will take a lot of work to fix during the editing process.

And you have to edit. During NANOWRIMO you probably don’t have the time to do a lot of editing. But, you will have to come back and edit before you really have a finished story (we’ve talked about editing here before and we will do so again…).

As much as I like NANOWRIMO I’m not doing it this year. Why? Because I have a couple of manuscripts on my desk. So, right now there are other tools I need to use.

 Other things, other tools…

NANOWRIMO can be a great thing if you need to create a manuscript to work on, or the experience of creating a manuscript. NANOWRIMO can really be a good experience if you’re willing and able to commit. It can even help you build your community. But it really isn’t the only thing you need.

Don’t underestimate the value of education and preparation. You might want to read a few books in a genre before you try to write one. You might want to pick up a ‘how to write’ book, or take a class. You might even want to do some ‘real world’ research.

You also might want to do some planning. I have a lot of respect for ‘pantsers’, at least the ones who actually pull it off and create novel. I’m also not entirely sold on outlines (for reasons we will talk about another day…). But, you still might want to put in some planning for what you’re going to write. You know, so you have an idea of who your audience is, so you can have someone besides the butler do it, that sort of thing. Preplanning never solves everything but it helps.

You also need to edit (yes we talked about it already, but somebody out there needs to hear it again). Sometimes a new manuscript is the last thing you need. Currently I have three manuscripts, three partial manuscripts and a couple of non-novel projects on my desk. I’ve ‘won’ NANOWRIMO a couple of times now. It’s time to get the manuscripts off my desk and get them published!

I am a fan of NANOWRIMO. I think it can be really helpful to writers, if you understand what it is and how to use that ‘win’. The thing I want to avoid is people thinking that winning NANOWRIMO is all you have to do to be a successful writer.

There’s a lot more to be done, and I for one should get back to it.

See you next week dear reader. Until then

  1. Find a dream.
  2. Figure out how to make it happen.

Change and ‘normality’ (one round of many)

A few months ago two really important things happened at the same time: my wife graduated with a doctorate in instructional design and I released Johnson Farm: my first novel, my first nanowrimo win, and a book that I was forced to admit really did need a sequel (and after I promised myself I wouldn’t do that…).

We were done and life was going to get back to ‘normal’ (yes dad I can hear the laughter from here…). I jumped straight into the second book. After all, being a writer is what I do. Unfortunately it’s never that simple…

  1. In becoming a full time writer I decided to create my own publishing label and that needs regular attention, just like the writing part.
  2. As much as I hate to admit it I do have a life outside of books (gasp! It scares me too!)
  3. I went full time on the writer me and invented the publisher me while my wife was working on a doctorate.

When combined these facts mean that Farangian the full time writer, and Forever Mountain Publishing, had never known life without a grad student in the house. We have spent the last couple of years in a ‘make it work’ mode. And, while it’s good we can do that, it’s not really a healthy thing to do long term. So, about a month ago I gave myself the task of reanalyzing and making things work better in a ‘normal’ life (I know, there’s that word again…). That meant stopping the blog for a couple weeks, stopping the writing for a couple of weeks, thinking, reorienting, and then starting the whole thing up again with a new plan (it also meant my wife hiding the swords, axes, fire arms, plasma cannons, and so on until it was done…).

Going forward

Now we’re at the point where everything is moving forward again. I’m keeping semi-regular office hours (I still get book ideas at 5:00 AM on a Sunday morning, but I try not to be working on work stuff while I’m spending time with my wife in a non-work setting). I’ve reworked my weekly schedule so that things like website maintenance are less likely to be forgotten (I know I still have catching up to do, but at least it’s regularly on the plan and starting). And, I’m back to writing and putting out the blogs.

Things won’t change too much here. My blog at FMP is about writing: the mechanics of writing; life as a writer; the publishing process; and other things or interest to writing and publishing people. Words Mean Stuff is about words and ideas. That might sound like the writing blog, but from here on out it is about words and ideas about life: Making positive choices, finding meaning, and other “humany” stuff that words represent.

I will talk about books and projects that I am working on in both places, but I will try to talk about them in context appropriate ways. I will also talk about crafting stuff from time to time, in contextually appropriate ways. What I’m not going to be doing (well, I’ll try not to, but I’m not perfect) is ranting and spewing hurt feeler negativity. Those things happen in life, but I have no desire to speak of them here.

These blogs are about ideas and communication. You need a safe, open forum to talk about those things, and that’s what I’m going to make here. Speaking of talking… I love comments and discussion. So, dear reader, feel free to comment on the blogs, or share them if you find an opportunity and find the blog post worthy.

That’s it for this one dear reader, time to stop talking about and start doing! See you next week.

Lessons from ‘the great American eclipse’

Yep, on Monday of the week I’m coming back to the blogosphere we had an eclipse, a total eclipse of the sun that ran the entire length of the country. I happen to live in an area where the eclipse was 98.9% from my door step and full totality was only about 45 minutes north…

Naturally our area braced for the event and some of the ‘knowledgeable ones’ predicted lots of things, some of which happened and some of which didn’t. Here are a couple of things we learned and some thoughts going forward.

A once in a life time experience:

Everyone and I mean everyone was saying that a total eclipse (not just a continent spanning one but any total eclipse) was a once in a life time experience. And, it is… If you just sit in one spot and you don’t live long enough!

I’ve been through at least two total solar eclipses, several partials (they were total eclipses for somebody!), and more lunar eclipses than I can remember. But, I’ve moved around just a little bit…

Lesson: opportunities do happen, but you need to figure out where they are and what you are willing to do to get them. If you sit and do nothing they don’t come around very often.

Bracing for the horde:

Government officials, media types and professional prognosticators warned us to be ready for 100,000, then 500,000, then 1,000,000 people to who were supposed to be descending on our area. Gas was sure to run out. The phone lines and internet connections would be overloaded. The state transit department was going to have to make I15 a one way street to deal with all the traffic. Stores and restaurants would be swamped and run out of food and supplies. I believe there were even warnings about witches, zombies and ninjas (Wiccan ninja zombies?).

Well, in the end there were difficulties. After the eclipse a forty five minute trip away from the zone of totality became a four hour trip (on the one side of the I15… Traffic in the opposite direction (toward the zone of totality) was just fine…). Several hotels and gas stations artificially raised prices. And… Several stores and restaurants ended up ordering too many supplies, and didn’t sell them all.

The main problem was a problem of hype over thought. Yes, there were lots of people who came up for the eclipse. A lot of them came from relatively nearby and made a day trip of it (or tried to at least…). A lot of them brought food and water with them. The ones that weren’t making a day trip of it filtered in a day or two ahead. It was only when everyone tried to leave at the same time that there were big traffic problems. Some store shelves got barren, but new shipments were getting in on a daily basis and to my knowledge nobody starved.

If you were looking for roving gangs, there weren’t any. Roving gangs don’t’ usually travel long distances for astronomical events. If you were looking for zombies, apocalyptic horsemen, or other such oddities, there weren’t any of those either (that I’m aware of…). If you’re still looking for them I’ve got some nice fiction books in production that you might like…

Generally if you thought ahead and made reasonable preparations you were fine. If you didn’t prepare ahead of time, or it you went straight to the worst case scenario, then things were less satisfactory (but still not a total disaster in most cases!).

Lesson: Be prepared, but make reasonable preparations. A one day event like the eclipse isn’t the same thing as WW3. Yes, people are going to go see something like the eclipse, but it’s unlikely that the whole state of California is going to take a day or three off work and end up on your doorstep.

People are people and that includes both locals and tourists…

One of the problems that did come up was relatively normal people conflicts.

Several national news reports claimed that the locals weren’t friendly. Several local news reports included pictures of tourists driving their vehicles and setting up camp in local farmers fields, the ones the farmers were growing crops in…

Sorry folks… I know ‘farmer John’ may be “just a farmer”, but if you drive through his field and set up camp on top of the crops you are damaging his lively hood. You are also cutting down your own food supplies. Tourists you need to use some sense.

On the other hand… Locals, please have the courtesy to wait until the tourists actually do something offensive before you get all offended. And remember, they’re new here… Some of them have never have gotten out of the city before… Maybe put up a few signs to mark the active wheat and ‘tater fields?

Again this is one of those things that’s kind of predictable… When you get large groups of people together somebody’s going to be less than intelligent. The goal is for you to be intelligent and do what you can to prevent problems in the first place.

Trust me folks, when it comes to my home I’m as territorial as anyone. I’ve also been the one who’s traveling. I know what it’s like to not understand what’s around me. It is much better to do some thinking, planning and considering about what’s around you than it is to go immediately to harsh words and blaming the other person. (By the way… To the ones who were offended when the farmer decided to call the sheriff: be grateful… I know folks who were stocking up on ammo along with the food and toilet paper! Think first!)

Summing up

The name of this blog is Words Mean Stuff. I named it that because words do mean something; they are symbols for ideas. The biggest lesson from this week’s events is to have and use ideas, good ideas. A lot of problems can be avoided and a lot of truly majestic moments can be witnessed (or even participated in!) if you just gather some good data and think first.

That’s it for this one dear reader. Next week I’m going to talk a little about what I’m doing with the blogs. And then after that… Well, that’s next week’s post isn’t it. See you next post dear reader.