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Of NaNo, Nanites, and One Man's Perfect Bag

Todd's Magnificent Bag
I know, based on the page hits of my last post, that at least 56 of you (OK 52 if I count my page hits) are waiting to see what happens next in the quest to find one man's perfect sac. Er...bag.

My friends, your wait is over.  I have found what will likely be my perfect writing-slash-go-to-he-looks-like-a-writer bag.  It's the Rothco Vintage Canvas Urban Pioneer (with Leather accents).  OR "Canvas laptop bag from the Army/Navy Surplus Store." If you want to keep it simple whilst still basically using the same number of words.

You can find your own here, or on Amazon. Or something similar at your local military surplus store, I'm sure. The funny thing is, I bought this bag a little over a year ago for pretty much the same purpose. At the time I was lugging around a MacBook circa 2009 and sometimes my Chromebook. So it always seemed to be a bit unwieldy.  Now, with the MacBook Air, it works out damn near perfectly.  Here's an action shot:

I give it a test spin again this weekend by taking it with me up to the NCOW Plot-in (more on that later), and it seemed to work out very well.  It currently holds the following items with room to spare:
  • Personal Journal
  • Ideas Journal
  • Leather Writing journal (Moleskin with a leather cover)
  • MacBook Air 11" + AC Adapter 
  • Pencil pouch
  • Pouch with USB cables
  • Second pouch with digital recorder + mic
  • papers
  • Bottle Opener
  • Kindle Paperwhite
  • Copy of Ray Bradbury's Zen and the Art of Writing
  • Set of 30 Staedtler fine tipped markers for coloring
  • A finger puppet giraffe named Doug Ragebacon, Jr.
  • Writer's Emergency Toolkit Deck
As mentioned, there is still room in the bag. It's not stuffed to the gills. It's not too heavy. And it's got all of my writing essentials plus enough of the 'I'm stuck what do I do now' kind of things that comprise my security blanket. 

A friend I work with who has been following the saga came by my desk today and asked, "So. This is it? This is the one perfect bag?"

I answered honestly, "For now."   

But for now it is. For now I can cross that off my list of things that would stop me from writing. It sounds funny, but it's true. There is just enough OCD mixed in with whatever soup is cooking in my brain that I can easily see myself not going to a write-in or otherwise spend the time creating vs. obsessing over the perfect bag.  It's how I'm wired. I should probably be on medicine for it. And probably would be if I weren't terrified of losing the words. But that's a topic for another time. 

So...my bag is good. Thanks for asking!

NaNo Plan-O
Now on to the fun stuff.  National Novel Writing Month starts in just 7 short days.  This-for many writers- is our Boston Marathon. It's where the metal hits the road and you see if you have what it takes to be a writer.  

OK. Some of that is bullshit.  NaNo actually did more harm to my writing than good the first 3 years I tried it.  True story. I got revved up to do NaNo, and you know, to get my book (or at least the first draft) written in ONE MONTH. Because if I could write a full draft of a novel in ONE MONTH then fuck yes, I was a Writer with a capital W-Like Winner!!

And each of those first three years, life happened. I didn't have a NaNo support group (I didn't even know what those things were). And because I couldn't finish NaNo, I felt like a failure as a writer.

"Finishing" NaNo consists of writing 50,000 words in one month's time. 

I participated last year. I finished 25,000 words. I technically didn't "win" NaNo (despite a computer glitch which I fixed today that said I did win).  So...I didn't hit the word goal, but I didn't fail.  And I didn't lose. Because I stuck to it. I got 25, 000 words in to the first draft of a book that I'm really looking forward to finishing.  The goal for this year's NaNo is to hit the 50,000 word goal and 'win' NaNo all the while still working on the book I started last year, The Treachery of Rainbows. 

Last year was the first year I participated in NaNo as part of a writing group, my tribe.  They told me what to expect and how to get in the right (write) headspace for NaNo. And it helped. I wouldn't have gotten nearly as far as I did without that group. 

This year, I'm part of a second family -- er, writing group. And something tells me they very much have the 'no one gets left behind' approach to NaNo, so it will be interesting. 

I'm looking forward to it.

Because I have a *gasp* plan for where my story is going!! 

I know.  I'm a pantser.  And I don't think that piece of me will ever go away. It's where my ideas start. A spark....a session of lost time in front of a keyboard and then hours later there is something in front of me that I have no recollection of writing.   

It's been that way ever since I realized that writing was as vital to me as breathing.  And that's good.   It's my process. Your mileage may vary. And it should.

This weekend I attended the second of the pre-NaNo Plot-Ins that the North Central Ohio Writers group hosted.  And I found something out about my self.   I need  to plot....just a little.  And my version of plotting is making lists.  Tying up characters to events. It's not a massive outline of and then this happened, and then this happened. It's more along the lines of, well...this should happen at some point to set things --either the characters or the readers--on their ears.    And it's a list of those things.

Being in to music and doing several short screenplays, I think of them as 'beats.'  What drives the song (story, movie)?  

So, I worked on some beats this past Saturday.

And I figured out where The Treachery of Rainbows  is headed. And I figured out at exactly which beat the readers are going to really just hate me. And I figured out what's going to happen in Book 2 and Book 3.  

The plotting paid off.  I didn't use it the way someone else did. I used it the way I needed to.

For me. 

For my story.

That's really the key, isn't it?  There are a thousand different books out there that will tell you how to write a book. What you should do. What time of day you should right. What blend of cardamon you should have in your soy milk chai latte. 

But that's all bullshit.

All those books really boil down to is this.

Someone did something, in this one way, and it worked for them. So that became their habit. That became THE way to write books, because that was THE way that worked for them.

Will it work for you? Maybe. Probably not. I mean, not exactly. 

There is only one thing you have to do to be a writer.

Write.

It's the most simplistic and simultaneously tortuous thing in the world. Just write.

I had a something of an 'ah-ha' moment in the middle of a conversation with a friend.  I said to them, in recounting how I try desperately not to get TOO fanboy with a couple of the writers in my group. And it's hard. But here's the ah-ha moment.

I'm never going to write the way they do.

Now, hang on with me for a few more beats, because at first blush, that can sound disheartening...like Oh man...I'm never going to be able to tell a story or write a book like they do.

That's right. You're not. 

You're not. I'm not. I'm not going to EVER write a book like Stephen King, or Brian Keene, or Tim McWhorter, or C.Bryan Brown. 

Ever.

Because I'm not them.

And here's the kicker....They're not me, either.

None of those authors is going to EVER write a book like Andrew Todd Skaggs.  No matter how long they live. My stories are mine to tell.

That's how you stop comparing yourself to others.  It's hard, but it's vital to keep from spiraling (at least it is for me).  Sure, I'm never going to write a book like them.  

But they'll never be able to tell my stories the way I can. 

And that's what it's about.  Telling the story. 

Finding your voice.

Putting the tools in the bag and taking them where they need to go.

And just....just fucking write, man.

-A.T. 



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