344. Four Lessons in Storytelling from Disney’s Latest Animated Films

Disney’s three latest animated films—Wreck-It RalphFrozen, and Big Hero 6—offer important lessons in storytelling. I wrote about four of them in today’s blog post, which… um… isn’t actually for this blog.

My post can be read on Animator Island, a community for artists, animators, and people who like animated movies (i.e. cool people). Special thanks to JK Riki for inviting me to write for the site despite my absolute lack of talent for the visual arts!

My latest post, “Four Lessons in Storytelling from Disney’s Latest Animated Films,” can be read here!

340. TMTF’s Top Ten Things Learned in Ten Years of Animation

Today’s post was written by JK Riki: animator, blogger, and creator of Fred the Monkey, who is probably a bad influence on my typewriter monkeys. All the same, Typewriter Monkey Task Force is honored to share JK’s reflections on what he’s learned from ten years as an animator. For more great stuff from JK, check out his blog and Twitter. You may also want to swing by Animator Island, for which he writes.

After I sent my first guest post to Adam, he responded positively: “It’s good stuff.” Two sentences later came a spirit-crushing qualification: he was more interested in my creative process, particularly from the class of “animator” in which I dwell.

“Surely you can do better than this last, terrible post,” he noted in his email, though it may have actually been written, “I think your thoughts on the creative process may be even more valuable.” (I can read between the lines, you see. I know what he meant.)

[Editor’s note: What I, Adam, really meant was, “I think your thoughts on the creative process may be even more valuable, and I could really use a cup of coffee.” That last part is subtext to nearly everything I say or write, so I left it out.]

So fine, I’ll set aside my deeper thoughts on philosophy and the universe and give the audience what it wants. Plus I’ll do it in a time-honored tradition of TMTF: a top ten list!

That said, please consider…

The Top Ten Things I’ve Learned From Ten Years as an Animator!

10. Mediocre entertainment > unrealized genius

I can’t tell you the amount of time I’ve wasted waiting to get “good enough” to do certain projects. “This is a brilliant idea,” I’ve thought, “but I really need to up my skill level to pull it off properly. Back you go into the Sack of Potential Greatness!”

Poor Sack. It’s been bursting at the seams for years now.

The truth is, a brilliant idea unrealized is pointless. Isn’t an inferior version that exists better than a wasted concept that, let’s face it, will never be made? Honestly, it’s unlikely you’ll ever be “good enough.” You’ll never reach that standard. It’s not worth the wait; go do it now. Save perfection for the next life!

Even the best animations start as rough, quick sketches!

Even the best animations start as rough, quick sketches!

That said, 10b. Always strive to do better!

9. Enthusiasm fades

Animation is a brilliant form of art for one unique reason: It takes forever. Because it takes forever, you have millions of opportunities to tweak things or change directions or quit and become an accountant. When you work on a single piece of art that takes weeks, months, or years for what seems like very little return, at some point you question what you’re doing.

The thing that divides the people who have done great animation (or really, anything at all) from those who only wish they could is pushing past this doldrum and pressing on, enthusiasm or no enthusiasm. Those days happen, and it’s up to you to not let them string together day after day, week after week.

8. Animation is hard

It does not take much physical effort to drag a wooden stick affixed with graphite across compressed tree pulp. It doesn’t even take much physical effort to do that billions of times so you can photograph them in sequence and watch the lines dance across a screen.

Despite the lack of physical energy required, animation is so, so hard.

JK's inner animator expresses the difficulties of the craft in the most eloquent way possible: shaking a sharp, pointy object.

JK’s inner animator eloquently expresses the difficulties of his craft.

People are used to watching movement. When you’re attempting to mimic that movement they know so well with pencil or 3D model, your audience are all experts. If you make a mistake, they’ll know about it, because it doesn’t match the decades of real-world experience they have with movement.

At the same time…

7. People are forgiving

In animation, you cheat. A lot. One of my favorite descriptions of animation is from Pixar director Peter Docter, who said “Animation is life with the volume turned up.”

As animators, we’re called to go beyond reality and create things that “look right.” Sometimes, in order to get something to look right, you have to throw all the rules out the window and make things up. The wonderful thing about this process is that people will accept your made up nonsense if it looks right. They’ll forgive your strange motion blurs and broken joints just as long as it feels the way it should. It’s because of this that…

6. Mistakes aren’t as huge as you think

One of the greatest moments in animation is when you finish roughing out a shot and you hate it with every fiber of your being. You look at the individual drawings and think “This is garbage. I should quit and become an accountant!” Then you play it in real time and oh! The beauty! The majesty! The countless hours were worth it, and for reasons unknown it works. There is reason to live again!

Life is long, and it’s a process. The mistakes of a “single frame” that seem overwhelming at the time may just work in unison with the images around it and turn out beautifully. Then the key becomes remembering that even the close-up errors really aren’t as dooming as they seem.

5. Things change

Fred the Monkey sure has changed over the years!

Fred the Monkey affirms that yes, things sure change!

If you aren’t growing as a person, you’re doing life wrong. We’re here to grow, to learn, and to become better every day. Knowing this, one should expect to change over time. When we expect this change to happen, we can better deal with the feelings of “failure” when it arrives. I once kicked myself for failing to keep FredtheMonkey.com updated consistently. Wait, to be fair, I kicked myself for that dozens of times.

The longer I live, the more I see that the goals I set at twenty-two are not the goals I have today. As the Bible says in Ecclesiastes, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: A time to make Flash cartoons about monkeys, and a time to focus on family life and remodeling a house.” (Paraphrasing here a bit, so go look up the full non-cartoon-including list in Ecc. 3.)

Things change; it’s part of life. When we know this, we can…

4. Manage expectations to find happiness

Consider this scenario. You decide to go see a film this weekend. You’ve seen a trailer, and it looks absolutely terrible, but a friend/family/cute member of the opposite sex really wants to go, so you oblige. After two hours in the theater, the film turns out to be pretty average, but certainly not completely awful, and you realize, “Hey, that wasn’t as bad as I thought!”

Using the power of hypothetical situations, let’s go back in time. (Time travel is fun!) This time, a friend has told you about the film and how it’s the most incredible work of movie making ever crafted by human hands. Your heart beats quicker as the previews rush by and finally the film begins. Your hands grip the plastic theater chair arms in anticipation. Your knees tremble in spite of your feet being glued to the floor by soda and popcorn grease. This is it!

And… it’s decidedly average.

Now what? Chances are you’re going to walk out of the theater this time grumbling, “That wasn’t amazing at all, what were they thinking? I counted a dozen plot holes and the main character was an idiot. What a waste of two hours….”

What’s the difference here? Spoiler alert: It’s not the film, it’s your expectations.

Hippo with a jet pack

It’s easy to be disappointed when your expectations aren’t realistic!

Over ten years of animating, I’ve had many expectations. Some cartoons I knew were great, and would do so well on Newgrounds.com. They flopped. Some animations were rushed and I almost didn’t release them because they weren’t ready (see point #10, though). Reviews were glowing, and they made front page. Lol, what?

I’ve learned (and continue to learn) to manage expectations. There’s nothing wrong with hope, or wanting things to be wonderful. There’s a big difference between hoping for good things and expecting them. If you manage the expectation part, life goes so, so much better.

3. Edit well

Cut out all things you don’t need in order to make your point or tell your story.

[Author’s note: I’m still learning this one, because Adam had to edit this post for clarity and to remove most of my ramblings. The original was 518 words longer in total. Clearly there’s still work for me to do regarding Lesson #3.]

2. There is nothing like doing what you love

I have held several jobs in my life, ranging from things I’ve enjoyed to “I’d really rather be having teeth pulled, thank you.” For me, animation is a passion. It goes beyond enjoyment to a very strange place that shares borders with the lands of “Obsession” and “Madness.”

Someone once asked me if animation was fun. I thought about it for a moment and then said “No, not at all.” At the time I was surprised by my response, but if I could go back in time, I’d add, “I can’t imagine not doing it, though.”

I love animation. It is one of the things I think I was put on this Earth to do. As a result, no matter how difficult it becomes (see #8), I am filled with joy when I’m engrossed in it. It’s not about “having fun” as much as it is “bathing in the joy of purpose and meaning.” Do what you love and life becomes awe-inspiring every dang day.

1. Understanding the why is the most important thing

We devalue the why in our world today. We’ve gotten so caught up in the who, what, when, and where that we’ve forgotten all about the final W of the Big 5. It’s rather ironic, actually, because when something big (often tragic) happens our first reaction is “Why is this happening?!”

In animation, you must understand the why. Why is this character doing what he’s doing? Why is this prop in the scene? Why didn’t I go to school to become an accountant?

Life is the same way.

When I started FredtheMonkey.com more than a decade ago, I had conflicting dreams for it. On the one hand, I wanted to make the world a better place by producing funny cartoons that brightened someone’s day.

At the same time, I wanted HomestarRunner-level success. If I could just reach that level of popularity, boy, I could sure make this planet a better place. I could change people, convince them of things, and have influence. No doubt the money I’d make could help millions as well. Yes, that would be the day it all came together!

The further I unconsciously veered towards the second why during those ten years of animating poor-quality Flash cartoons, the more miserable I was. The more it was work, instead of joy. The more I didn’t want to keep doing it. I had lost the purpose that drove my initial creative process. I burned out a lot.

Each time I remembered my mantra of “If I make one person’s life better with this cartoon, it will have been worth it,” the peace and love of what I was doing came rushing back. I had to constantly stave off the allure of fame and wealth so I could be content with whatever came from my efforts.

And that contentment was far better than anything I’ve ever gained materialistically. Know the why of what you do, and remind yourself of it always.

I hope that these lessons I’ve learned can be of some help to someone out there. If it gives hope or inspiration to a single person, the decade of struggles will be worth every effort.

333. I Know Nothing

Today’s post was written by JK Riki: animator, blogger, and creator of Fred the Monkey. (FtM is a Homestar Runner-esque collection of web cartoons; I discovered the site a few years back.) As a blog run by monkeys, Typewriter Monkey Task Force is honored to share JK’s reflections on how little we know. For more great stuff from JK, check out his blog and Twitter. You may also want to swing by Animator Island, for which he writes.

I listed one of my 2015 goals on my blog as “Write a guest post for somewhere.” A big thanks to Adam for allowing me to commandeer his blog for the day.

In trying to determine what my goal-achieving guest post might be about, I poked around Typewriter Monkey Task Force to get a feel for its style and purpose. What I found was an amazing collection of thoughts and writings from a clearly deep individual. I started to worry whatever I came up with might not meet the level of aptitude already found on TMTF. (I included the word aptitude here specifically to try to elevate my game.)

[Editor’s note: I did not bribe JK to say nice things about my blog, I swear! He’s just a really kind person.]

Since there is no lack of depth in the topics of this blog, now seems as good a time as any to wade a bit deeper into the Great Pool of Thought and submit a few ideas that most people never bother with. A large number of our human species is content to go about the day-to-day and never really step back to consider alternative perspectives. I love alternative perspectives. Their greatest gift is a swift kick in the rear and exclamation of “There’s so much you don’t know, don’t forget that.”

So I share with you this simple truth: One of the best things you can ever achieve is the realization of how much you don’t know.

There’s a time and place for confidence, of course. If you’re performing brain surgery on someone, that might not be the best time to ponder string theory, dimensional variants, or that cutting into this person’s brain may be affecting atoms directly on another planet someplace light years away and who knows what havoc that is causing.

But when not engrossed in an activity where lives hang in the balance, consider stopping and thinking about how limited we are as humans. We can’t hear color. We can’t smell intention. We don’t know what we don’t know. Think about that. There are things we can’t imagine. They are beyond the scope of our understanding and reality. Yet that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. They could be (and very likely are) floating around us at this very moment, beyond our human senses.

What I discover any time I do this exercise of remembering how little I know is that suddenly I’m a lot more compassionate of everyone around me.

People who know more than me in some areas, and less in others, are in the same boat I am. We’re all on this journey of life, and all at different places on the road. Though it baffles me when I meet someone twice my age who hasn’t realized basic truths I’ve learned, I have more patience with them, knowing there’s plenty I have yet to realize myself. While it’s frustrating to speak with a teenager who “has it all figured out,” I’m able to remember I also once had “it all figured out,” sure that I knew everything there was to know. And in that moment I’m deeply grateful for the knowledge of how little knowledge I actually have. I never want to go back to thinking I knew it all. Dangerous pride lies in wait there.

Of course, any time you take a trip to the deep end of the pool it’s essential that you carry along a life preserver, and that you make certain it’s firmly attached to something that will not let you drown. When you take a swim in deeper thought, and consider the vastness of the universe seen and unseen, I highly recommend tossing the end of that rope to God. He never lets you drown, and He also knows what’s in the very depths of the pool. Plus He’s unbelievably patient. He won’t wander off and leave the rope tied to a fence post!

I have, in the past, handed the rope to people I trusted. Unfortunately, people fail. We’re only human. It is what it is. We don’t mean to let others drown, we just aren’t strong enough to pull them back, and we get distracted easily. So just be careful if you decide to sit and ponder today. The water is warm, but very deep, and we often overestimate our swimming abilities. Take along with you a helping hand, and by all means dive in and see what you see.

What you’ll find is truly amazing.

276. How to Leave the Land of Writing Wannabe

Today’s post was written by Barbara Brutt, writer extraordinaire. For more thoughts on writing, follow her on Twitter!

The Land of Wannabe, an intoxicating and whimsical place, is based on unrealistic expectations. Yet somehow, I got caught up there, forgetting my to-do lists and even general life necessities. I applied for citizenship, and I even designed my own castle.

But nothing ever actually happens in Writing Wannabe Land. I could never live there.

Ready to leave Wannabe Land behind, too? Here are some tips that might help you make the citizenship switch back to Reality.

1. Your castle in the sky needs a name

A typical little girl, I wanted to be a ballerina. I even studied ballet and gymnastics for thirteen years, yet I insisted, “I dance; I’m not a dancer.”

In the same way, I find myself saying, “I write; I’m not a writer,” though that is my adult passion. I have invested my own money into a writing coach, hours of time into writing, and years of college education into it.

Affirm your dream by calling yourself a writer, dancer, musician, or whatever you want to be.

2. Set attainable expectations

In the dance studio of my Wannabe Castle, a dancer could do a three-turn pirouette without wobbling, and a leaping split without stretching. Mortal me had more likelihood of face planting. Therefore, I could not be a dancer.

With writing, I stopped even before I really started. “You’re not published so you’re not a writer.” My inner demons might taunt me.

Yet it’s the action—the verb—that makes us become the noun. A dancer dances. A writer writes. A singer sings. Do your passion a little bit every day.

3. Make a plan and do it

Sky castles can become reality, but their construction requires torrents of sweat, heavy stones, and a vision for the finished design. Bridge the gap between Wannabe and Reality by practicing what you want to be now.

Every day, I try to write, lacing words together like colored glass beads on a silk thread. I burrow into borrowed writing books and use Google Alerts to scour the Internet for writing tips. Between writing and reading, I engage with other writers through critique groups. The dream of writing or dancing cannot replace fingertips on paper or smooth wood beneath bare feet. Imagine your castle and then build it into reality.

How do you make your writing or any dream manageable? Share your tricks in the comments below or tweet @barbarabrutt.

256. Zen and the Art of Baking Muffins

Today’s post was written by my dear dad. When he’s not being an awesome missionary or drawing pictures of monkeys, he spends a fair bit of time in the kitchen… on occasion, actually cooking. Following is a list of practical tips á la Steve Smith (of Red Green fame) compiled during my dad’s first attempt at baking zucchini muffins.

1. It’s always good to find a recipe that includes instructions as well as ingredients, unless you’re really good at culinary improvisation.

2. Whatever your temperament, stress can be avoided by removing the battery from the smoke detector before starting.

3. It saves time to search for ingredients where you’d least expect to find them first.

4. If, like myself, you hate washing muffin pans, use small cake pans instead. A muffin is a muffin, irrespective of size or shape.

5. They may look the same and share a first name, but baking powder and baking soda are not interchangeable. Also, if you end up (through no fault of your own) dumping in a whole teaspoon instead of the requisite half, you can skim most of the baking soda (or powder, as the case may be) off the top of the mix with a teaspoon. This maneuver grows steadily more complicated in direct proportion to the amount of time it takes for you to notice your mistake.

6. Throw in some raisins. That way, if your muffins turn out really gooey, you can always pass them off as bread pudding.

7. Mixing the batter by hand (i.e. with your fingers) guarantees a smooth blend, saves wear-and-tear on kitchen utensils, and makes for less washing up later. Another small economy: After dealing with the zucchini, keep the vegetable grater handy. You can use it to scrape the finished product out of the pans at the end and save yourself the trouble of messing with a spatula.

8. If your kitchen, like mine, doesn’t boast hot running water and you happen to be boiling broccoli while you bake, drain the vegetable water into the mixing bowl with a little detergent (after removing the batter, of course) for effective pre-wash, grease-removing action.

9. Some gas ovens refuse to light unless you hold the control knob down for a bit. (Contentious old buzzards, what?) Apparently, this information can be found in the “manual,” whatever that is.

10. If your oven isn’t spacious, your pans may tilt. This transforms the contents into something akin to the windswept dunes of the Sahara Desert. Caught in time, however, a judicious readjustment will return your muffin batter to the smooth, flat Death Valley it was meant to be—a strictly topographical reference, naturally.

11. Dish towels double very nicely as hot-pads as long as (a) your wife is well out of range, (b) you can take second-degree burns like a man and (c) you’ve remembered to remove the smoke-alarm battery as per Step 2.

12. Muffins in the oven can bubble like the Ugbischú Tar Pits. How cool is that?

13. If the recipe neglects to elucidate upon the precise temperature of your oven or the exact baking time, dial the knob around to about eight o’clock and then shut the blighted thing down when the finish goes from glossy to matte—I refer to the muffins, of course, not the paint on the stove.

14. If you’re out of toothpicks, a sliver from the wicker basket in the laundry room works just as well… especially if you haven’t the foggiest idea what the point of sticking it in the muffins is anyway.

15. There are very few baking errors that can’t be effectively masked by the generous application of melted butter, brown sugar and cinnamon before giving away your baked goods—or in the less fortunate cases, baked bads—to neighbors.

And remember that you’ll always have recourse to the admirable advice enshrined in the official motto of the Possum Lodge:

Quando omni flunkus moritati

When all else fails play dead

254. On Homosexuality: Let Us Only Handle Love

Today’s post was written by the talented TMZ—Thomas Mark Zuniga, I mean, not the celebrity tabloid—as a response to my thoughts on homosexuality. For more wise words and wanderings from Tom, check out his blog and his book, Struggle Central.

When my blogging friend, Adam (or as I’ve long regarded him, “That Monkey Guy”), asked me to contribute a post on homosexuality to his blog, I knew I wanted to write something. I just didn’t know where to start. Homosexuality is, after all, a Pandora’s Box of an issue lined with nettles and littered with landmines.

I really latched onto something Adam wrote recently. He talked about how his convictions and sympathies often seem to oppose each other. Oddly enough, I often find myself in a similar stance regarding homosexuality—though from a more unique, complicating perspective.

You see, it’s been almost a year that I’ve been publicly “out” as a “gay Christian”—or whatever you’d label me. First, I wrote a book, and then I wrote a blog post.

When I initially “came out” on my blog, I wrote that despite my male attractions, I cannot mentally reconcile a homosexual relationship and my walk with Jesus. Given the choice of one or the other, I’ve staked everything on Christ; without Him, I am nothing.

What about other gay people though? What about other gay Christians who don’t do what I do and believe what I believe?

Honestly, I used to feel angry toward other gay people. But I used to feel really angry toward other gay Christians who claimed to pursue Jesus and same-sex partnerships.

Not sad. Not disappointed. Angry. I hated that these particular gay Christians had somehow found this theological “loophole” and were able to reconcile the two while I remained “holy” in my struggles through singleness.

In recent years, however, I’ve been learning the process of not letting my beliefs necessarily dictate my reactions. I know, I’m a horrible Christian, right?

Whether we like it or not, there exist gay people and gay Christians in homosexual relationships. While homosexuals certainly experience discrimination, homosexuality and gay marriage are gradually becoming more normalized, both inside Christianity and out.

Our evolving culture has often left me wondering in this question mark-sized boat:

How do you believe one thing yet still show love and grace toward others—human and spiritual siblings alike—who live quite the opposite?

I suppose my answer hearkens back to something else That Monkey Guy mentioned. Where is the outrage over poverty, homelessness, sex trafficking, child abuse, the failed foster system, and the disheartening list trails on?

Are we naive to think that homosexuality and gay marriage is the biggest “threat” facing America? The world? Is our time really best invested in endless vociferous debates?

As a non-confrontational person, I’ve long been “over” the debate. I’ve already stated what I believe on my blog, and I’m going to leave it at that. Moving forward, I just want to tell my story—my messy, miraculous story.

Contrary to what many naysayers have “advised” me, God has indeed used my conviction on homosexuality for good. He’s introduced me to some of the most solid brothers I could ever know, both online and off. He’s moved me across an entire continent for a fresh new life. He’s given me a voice to speak for the voiceless among whom I lived for over two decades.

I’d have never gained so many of my current blessings were I not attracted to the same sex.

I’m not saying my entire road has been paved with peace, but God has certainly used the apparent “bad” of this conviction for His good. I’m convinced He’s in the business of writing similar redemptive stories for homosexuals and heterosexuals alike.

Since my book’s release, I’ve exchanged numerous conversations with people of all ages on all sides of this contentious issue: young and old and gay and straight and religious and nonreligious. It’s becoming more of a “normal” thing for total strangers to confide in me their sacred sexual secrets. I am touched that people would entrust me with their problems and pain.

I love them all.

And so while my convictions may reside on one side of the homosexuality hotbed, I’m learning to plant my sympathies across both sides. I figure if God wants to convict somebody about his or her sexual proclivities, heterosexual or homosexual, His Spirit is capable. God doesn’t need my blog or my Twitter account to draw people into His arms.

My advice to others struggling at the crossroads of their convictions and sympathies is actually quite simple. Regardless the complicating “issue” at hand, just love people. Open up your phone; open up your home. Treat someone to breakfast, or let them cry into your chest.

Hear their stories. Uncover your similarities and differences alike. Connect. We were wired for love, I’m convinced.

God can handle the homosexuality issue. He is big enough; He can do it.

Let us only handle love.

248. The Problems of an Extrovert

Today’s post was written by Amy Green as a response to my introverted ramblings. For more great stuff from Amy, check out her previous guest post for TMTF and her blog The Monday Heretic, which covers such all-important subjects as God and bacon.

Hi, my name is Amy and I’m delighted to meet you and we probably have a lot in common that we should talk about for hours and hours.

Also, I’m an extrovert.

Like many extroverts, I need to be around people… but I don’t really know them.

Does that last part sound familiar? Maybe… exactly like what Adam said last week about introverts? That’s because it is. (I’m beginning to wonder if selfishness is the universal personality type.)

Of course, how this problem manifests itself is very different. Extroverts often struggle with having lots of somewhat shallow relationships. They wave to everyone they pass on campus, work the room at a company party, and seem to know everyone’s name at church.

That’s not a bad thing. There are many great things about being an extrovert. Extroverts often process verbally, meaning they think as they talk, so they seem to come to conclusions more quickly. They’re also often good leaders. And please, please do not tell me that extroverts aren’t capable of deep thought just because don’t give off the pensive philosopher air.

To be honest, society tends to gush over extroverts. Labels like “enthusiastic,” “assertive,” “generous,” and “sociable”—often applied to extroverts—seem much more positive than “thoughtful,” “introspective,” and “rational.”

However, sometimes that adjective-laden personality I haul into social situations is just a (slightly overwhelming) smokescreen. Sometimes when I’m in the middle of a monologue, I cringe because I know I’m talking over people, running them down like a conversational steamroller.

But I can’t stop because anything, anything would be better than silence.

In the silence, I have to face my doubts and inadequacies and fears about the future. The only person I have to talk to is myself, and sometimes I don’t really like myself.

But invite all of my friends over, and it’s okay. Because they all like me—see how much fun they’re having? So I must be likeable. I must be worth something.

But under every excited conversation, every party, every picture I post on Facebook of me with a dozen friends is the gnawing fear, “Please don’t abandon me to silence. Please don’t find out who I really am. Please don’t leave me.”

How can I love my neighbor as myself if I don’t love myself? And how can I love my neighbor when I’m constantly thinking about myself and how I’m being perceived?

This past year, I’ve learned to appreciate silence and have come to the conclusion that it’s not an enemy to attack with a barrage of words and jokes and laughter. It’s a way of choosing to believe I am worthy, even when I don’t feel like it, even without a constant stream of outside affirmation and approval.

I’m not saying that all extroverts struggle with putting up a façade for the rest of the world. But I have heard from many who admit it’s a significant problem.

Extroverts don’t have much trouble talking to people or meeting people or spending time with people—it gives us energy. But I think we have just as much trouble as introverts with loving people. That’s why God had to tell us over and over again to love each other. Because it’s hard and takes effort and none of us are good at it… but it’s important.

222. NaNoWriMo

Today’s post was written by Kristi Drillien as we stand upon the brink of the splendid, terrifying adventure known as NaNoWriMo. (I’m too busy for NaNoWriMo this year, but… someday, maybe.) Take it away, Kristi!

Have you ever had a story to tell, but didn’t know how to tell it? Ever thought about writing a book, but didn’t think you could? Ever just wanted to write for fun, but couldn’t really find the time, motivation or reason to do it?

If your answer to any of these is yes—or even if it’s not—let me tell you about NaNoWriMo.


First, from the NaNoWriMo website, here is a description:

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing. On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 p.m. on November 30. Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought fleetingly about writing a novel.

NaNoWriMo is a yearly event taking place in November in which participants attempt to write a novel in thirty days. Sounds scary, right? Fortunately, there’s a lot more to it, so I’m going to share some of the finer points of NaNoWriMo.

The words

Let me start by saying that yes, 50,000 words sounds like a lot. And it is a lot. (It’s closer to a novella than a novel, though). Fortunately, participants have thirty days to reach that goal. If you do the math, that works out to 1666.66667 words per day, which doesn’t sound so scary (unless you try to figure out how to write 0.66667 of a word). It takes commitment, but it is definitely possible. Ask the 300,000 people who participated last year!

The story

NaNoWriMo is all about quantity, not quality. One of the biggest keys to succeeding at NaNo is not to edit. You are not writing a wonderful novel to share with friends or submit to publishers… at least, not right away. December is for editing. November is for writing. If you give into the urge to go back and fix what you have written, you likely won’t finish.

I met someone earlier this year who declared he could never participate in NaNoWriMo because he didn’t see the point of writing all month expecting to produce a bad manuscript. I suppose he makes a fair point. But unless you already write on a regular basis, churning out a novel that isn’t very good is better than doing nothing. Most people who do NaNo are doing it just for fun and for the challenge.

The people

One of the biggest elements of NaNoWrimo is the social aspect. When you sign up on the website, you can find your home region, where you will almost definitely find in-person events going on during (and even a bit before and after) November. You may be surprised to find so many people living in your area who are also crazy enough to do this. It can be incredibly helpful to have that system of support.

There is also a huge community on the forums you can be part of. If you think you can’t participate because you don’t have time, don’t have ideas or simply aren’t ready, there are many people who are or have been in the same situation as you. They are always willing to share tips, ideas and suggestions or just share your agony. You can find forums specific to your genre or age group, and forums where people can go to get help with plot, characters or help coming up with a title.

Something I’ve never tried but may try this year is a word war. In a word war, two or more people set a time limit and write as many words as they can in that time. Whoever writes the most wins. It can be a great way to push yourself to write without thinking too hard or hesitating (and definitely without editing).

The challenge

Writing 50,000 words in thirty days is a challenge. It really is. Many people do not finish. However, failure is not the end of the world. You may just find that you’re proud of what you’ve done, even if it wasn’t the full 50K. And if you do reach that goal, you can be truly amazed that you accomplished the impossible—writing a novel in thirty days.

And if 50,000 words is not enough of a challenge, you can join the crazy people in the “Beyond 50K” forum, where they discuss things like writing 100K or even 150K in one month… or writing 50K in one day.

NaNoWriMo begins today! For more information, check out the official site.

192. Running Like Frodo

Today’s post was written by Zak Schmoll, a graduate from the University of Vermont with a double major in Accounting and Statistics. (For me, an English major, mathematical arcana like Accounting and Statistics inspire perplexity, fear and wonder.) On July 23, 2012 Zak undertook an epic quest: writing about one chapter of the Bible every day from start to finish. Check out his progress here!

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

~ Hebrews 12:1-2

When I think about adventures, one of my favorite literary examples is Frodo Baggins, a reasonably comfortable hobbit who was thrown into the epic saga of The Lord of the Rings.

He carried the one Ring, the only thing separating the land of Middle-Earth from the evil domination of Sauron. Frodo wasn’t looking for an adventure, but one dropped in his lap out of nowhere.

I think we can see something similar in our Christian journey.

We are told that our life is a race. According to Strong’s numbers entry for this word race, there’s definitely an indication that this is not just going out for a jog. Some of the alternative words that are suggested are contest or contention. In other words, there is a definite opponent in this competition with real stakes.

We certainly have an adversary in the world, just like Frodo did. We are on a mission to overcome that opposition. For Frodo, that mission involved throwing the Ring into the fires of Mount Doom to destroy it forever. For us, our mission involves running this race successfully. Implicit in both of these statements is that we both have a target. Ours is not necessarily a geographic location, but it is certainly a place where we are in a good relationship with God.

How do we go about running successfully and making it to that destination?

Jesus himself pointed out a few pretty basic guidelines in Mark 12:30-31 that should govern all of our actions. First, we need to love God, and second, we need to love other people. The more we follow these two guidelines, the closer we will be walking to God.

Of course, I should mention that having a relationship with God in the first place is the most important thing. Without that relationship, all of the works in the world and love that we try to display don’t mean a whole lot.

Running successfully also means that we overcome stumbling blocks that are put in our way. Frodo had to fight through fatigue, betrayal, stress and anxiety in order to finally make it to his destination. Similarly, our lives will never be perfect either. There will always be problems that pop up. However, we are promised that through God, we can do all things (Philippians 4:13).

Our race does not stop because of roadblocks, but they do us to rely on God.

Our lives might not quite compare to the epic quest of Frodo Baggins, but we are in the middle of a race, a race run by being in a relationship with God and living with love. We need to love God and to love other people.

That is an adventure in itself.

162. A Day in the Life of a Writer

Today’s post was written by Josh “The Scholar” Hamm. For more great stuff from Josh, check out his previous guest post for this blog!

“I don’t know why you would be reading this. I don’t know why anyone would be reading this.”

That’s the kind of thing I tend to think others would say when they read my work. I’ve been writing for a long time. I still have the first story I wrote when I was six, a story brilliantly titled “A Knight at Night.”

At least that explains why I’ve always had a penchant for bad puns.

But even with all the writing I’ve done, and all the reading, and deciding that I wanted to be a writer since I was fifteen, I am a terrible writer.

Well, at least I tend to think of myself as a terrible writer. I have somewhat of a self-confidence problem regarding my writing. For the longest time, I wouldn’t let anyone read anything I wrote.

I lived in a state of fear that whatever I did would be mocked by others.

I could live with criticism in essays and such, but in creative works, if anything other than my grammar was corrected without helpful advice on how to improve, I felt hurt. Like my work was worthless drivel.

The problem is that I couldn’t accept praise either. I came to a point where I didn’t think that any work of mine is good enough to receive compliments.

But the real reason I was scared of writing, and of being praised for my writing, is because I was completely terrified that I wouldn’t be able to meet people’s expectations.

My solution?

I stopped writing.

Because if I don’t write, then I can’t suck at writing, because I haven’t written anything to be judged.

Yes, of course, absolutely brilliant. I should give myself a pat on the back for that
idea. Genius.

So I can go around thinking in my head, “Yeah, I’m a writer—maybe even a good writer if I try.” But I don’t try because I’m scared of not being a good writer. See the problem here? If I don’t write, I’m a bad writer, but I don’t write because I’m scared of being a bad writer.

The irony is hilarious. I love it.

So I started writing again. I write personal essays, music and movie reviews. I write about culture, society, religion, philosophy. I’ve started two novels (and have twenty thousand words in one) and various short stories. Some of it makes to my blog, some of it doesn’t.

And guess what?

Almost everything I write is awful.

And I’m (almost) completely all right with that.

Writing isn’t something you can just be good at. No one can write a bestselling novel without a bit of practice. Sure, some people have natural talent, but it’s worthless without practice.

Even though lots of authors like to look smart and say they write things on a whim, inspired by their muse on the “viewless wings of poesy,” nine out of ten times it takes months or years of hard work.

Many renowned English poets claim to be inspired by a moment of nature and able to write an entire poem in a single sitting.

Coleridge claimed this for his poem “The Eolian Harp,” but he actually spent twenty-five years editing and refining it. William Butler Yeats published poems and then tinkered with them throughout his life.

Alexander Pope, in an excerpt from “An Essay on Man,” writes:

“True ease in writing comes from art, not chance, / As those move easiest who have learn’d to dance.”

What I’m trying to say is that you’re not a writer just because you say you are. You actually have to write.

Practice doesn’t make perfect, but it makes you competent. Your first book is not going to be a bestseller, your blog isn’t going to be frequented by millions of people, and you’re not going to be rich and famous, but you may get good enough to make a living doing something you love. That’s my dream: to make a living writing in some form or fashion.

If you share a similar vision, you have to stop being passive and take action: Write, write, read, write, read, and write some more.

It can’t hurt. Unless you get carpal tunnel syndrome. That might hurt a bit.

And here are some words of wisdom from one of my favourite writers, Thomas Merton:

“If you write for God you will reach many men and bring them joy. If you write for men—you may make some money and you may give someone a little joy and you may make a noise in the world, for a little while. If you write for yourself, you can read what you yourself have written and after ten minutes you will be so disgusted that you will wish that you were dead.”

Keep that in mind when you’re writing.