A mount of white sand in the shape of a pyramid
And sand-sculptors sculpt sand. Photo by Simon Ray (unsplash.com).

Writers Write, Singers Sing

October is over, so I want to ruminate about UnoFiMo. Also, I have a small revelation to share. It’s something that dawned on me years ago, then I forgot about it. Only recently did I remember it before starting this post. Confused? It’s OK, so am I.

First off! UnoFiMo went well. My goal of writing 650 words each day proved mostly successful. I had a few hiccups over the weekends, most notably when Erica and I spent the day in the emergency room. I’m not sure why they call it an “emergency” room since we waited several hours, but I digress. Most days, I was able to meet or exceed my daily quota. For me, 650 words seems like the magic number.

Currently, my story—sorry, my novel—clocks in at 70k words with 21 chapters. I’ll be blunt. My chapter breaks are a disaster. Most of them are way too long. They need to be broken apart into shorter chapters. Others need to be reshuffled so that the in-story progression of time feels right. The good news is I’ve got buckets of content. The bad news is that my story shows no signs of stopping.

If my story were a screenplay, I would be deep into the second act. Parallel plots and subplots have just begun to converge. The antagonist has made only one appearance so far, which would be an egregious error in a movie. However, I’ve permitted it because the secondary antagonist is stealing all the scenes. My protagonist is suffering from a head wound, feeling disillusioned about her purpose, needing food badly, and possibly falling in love with a character who earlier tried to bite her. In that character’s defense, he was a dog at the time.

So, it’s all one big glorious mess. The Jon of years past would be in agony about the lack of polish. However, present-day Jon is exhilarated. A story is being written! By me! And it’s more than three measly pages! Admittedly, the characters have problems that I may not be able to solve. Yikes. Why am I excited about this? I should be terrified. Am I a novelist now?

I’m so glad you asked. Consider this my oh-so-smooth attempt at a transition.

Quoting yourself is considered tacky, like wearing socks with open-toed sandals. I’ve been known to do both. Well, the title of this post is indeed a reference to my own “brilliance.” The gist of it is this: writers write, singers sing, makers make. Fairly obvious stuff, really. The profundity comes from application.

Permit me to paint some backstory.

Before my grand epiphany, I was discouraged. My professional life was on hold. Erica was slaving away to pay our bills while dealing with her own health troubles. Job interviews were scarce in my field. The one interview I landed went south before it started because I got lost and had to jog several miles in a heavy coat until I found the correct building. Fun story, that one. Turns out that being breathless and sweaty during an interview is not helpful.

So yes, I badly needed a personal and/or professional victory. With little else to do, I turned my attention to redrafting my resume. Talk about a downer. I’m the most qualified person to write my resume, but I’m also the most critical critic of my job history. I know how to read between the lines because I wrote them.

A few of my internal criticisms:

  • “My writing degree is a meaningless piece of paper.”
  • “My time at Costco looks like I wasted five years doing nothing‚ left, then returned for another year and a half of doing nothing.”
  • “Most of my experience is in video production, but I loathe video production.”
  • “I’m certified as a technical writer. How many technical pieces have I written? Zero. Fraud!”

So on and so forth.

I turned over in bed one night and asked Erica something along the lines of, “What am I? Am I a graphic designer? Am I a writer? I want to do something that matters. So far, nothing I’ve done means anything. Also, I’m hungry.”

Together, we talked about the type of work that I find interesting. We looked for an underlying theme, an idea—anything to help identify my identity in the context of the workplace. Ultimately, we discovered that I am an information architect. The term was new to me. It may sound pretentious, but it’s not.

When I’m doing graphic design work, I’m organizing text and images (information) in a coherent structure (architecture). When I’m writing a story, I’m organizing text (information) in a way that conveys imagery, and that imagery is meant to build a narrative (architecture).

Organization. Organizing. This was a eureka moment for me. My past jobs do not define me. My future jobs will not define me. What defines me is what I enjoy doing naturally, even when I’m not being paid to do it—which seems to be organizing. More specifically, I like organizing words on a page until they convey… wait for it… meaning.

I had told Erica that I wanted to do something that mattered, something with meaning. Not to be too literal, but in my profession, I give meaning to words and images by organizing them together.

So, writers write. Organizers organize. Designers design. We can’t help ourselves. When you find yourself doubting your credibility as a writer, look around. Have you written something? Do you enjoy writing? Do you want to write more? Answering yes to any of these questions makes you a writer.

The next question writes itself—am I a good writer?

With continued practice, a fierce desire to improve, and ruthless editing, sure. I think I’ve written “good” work in the past and can do it again. Of course, I can still write garbage if I’m lazy. No one is immune to failure. But I have experience and learning on my side, so yes, success is possible.

For the last few years, NaNoWriMo has helped me feel like a real writer simply because I’ve written mountains of words. Now those mountains are taking shape into a novel. I’m encouraged. I’m a writer! I write stuff! Yay! But occasionally I need to take a break.

This November, I’m skipping NaNoWriMo. I’ve already wrapped up UnoFiMo, which is its own reward. There’s a memoir I’ve been ducking for months and a game review that’s almost ready to publish. Instead of writing a new story, I want to give those another go-round. I’d also like to finish my second developer diary about the game I’m creating.

So write on, my fellow writers. Self-doubt cannot hope to stop you! In the words of the Man in Black, “All it can do is delay it for a while.”

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