Tuesday, November 30, 2004

TMF: NaNo-NoMo: Stick a fork in me...

... I'm done.

OK, I might not be completely done, since I may actually write some more before midnight. I can safely say that I have been mathematically eliminated from "winning" by crossing the 50K threshold. This has been extraordinarily helpful to me, though, in building the habit of writing (almost) every day. I am going to keep at it, and still hope to have a final first draft of my novel by the end of the year. Maybe I'll participate in NaNoEdMo in March.

Final Word Count (as of 11/29/04): 16,375
Estimated Crap:Quality Ratio: 4:1

Honk if you're shallow

If your philosophy of life, religion, or politics can be summarized on a bumper sticker, perhaps it's not worth sharing.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Why thank y-- Hey!

The other day, a friend said that he thinks I look just like Mr. Incredible. I was flattered until I realized that he didn't clarify whether that was with or without the extra 50-100 pounds of tummy.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

The secret

The secret to good satire is that no one is as smart as they think they are, but some people are smarter than they appear.

OK, you could probably argue that this is the secret to a good story in general, or even that it's not really a secret. Maybe everyone knows this already. But in satire, or any humorous writing, a lot of the comedy comes from people trying to operate at a level that is higher than their capabilities, and getting into trouble as a result. So I maintain that, while not exclusively the province of satire, this truth is nonetheless a central building block of good satire.

And now that I think of it, I can attest from firsthand experience that not everyone is aware of this fact in life. I know a lot of people who think they're smarter than they really are, and even more who think they're smarter than everyone else. Maybe that's why this works so well in a story: we see it in the people around us every day, but not in ourselves. That's why everyone can laugh at the joke, without realizing that it's really on them.

Friday, November 19, 2004

The career ladder, as seen from each rung:

Entry level:
"I have no idea what I'm doing, and I'm going to fail miserably at any moment."

Management:
"I think I'm getting the hang of this, but I miss doing real work."

Senior Management:
"I'm too good for this job."

Executive Management:
"I have no idea what I'm doing, and I'm going to fail miserably at any moment."

Gnome Love

Naked Gnomes Stolen from Peep Show

BERLIN (Reuters) - Thieves have stolen scantily clad, anatomically correct garden gnomes from a gnome peepshow in an eastern German amusement park, park manager Frank Ullrich said on Thursday. The adults-only attraction at Dwarf-Park Trusetal, where visitors peep through keyholes to see the saucy German miniatures in compromising poses, was smashed open early on Thursday morning.

While police realistically hold out little hope that they will find the naked gnomes, they have nonetheless requested warrants to search the homes of both Michael Jackson and Verne Troyer.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Barely managing

I think it's about time we got rid of the term "manager." The word is so full of passivity that it can barely stand upright on its own. It implies a lack of ownership, a sense of "just keeping an eye on things," of making sure nothing goes wrong while not really doing anything right, either. I mean, look at this:

"He managed to get through the day without breaking anything."

"How are you today?"
"I’m managing. You?"

"The morphine will help us to manage the pain as you go through the treatment, Mrs. Clark."

Inspired yet?

By definition, managing is just keeping things from spinning out of control:

Manage:

  1. To direct or control the use of; handle: manage a complex machine tool.

  2. To exert control over: "Managing the news... is the oldest game in town" (James Reston). "A major crisis to be managed loomed on the horizon" (Time).

  3. To make submissive to one's authority, discipline, or persuasion.

  4. To direct the affairs or interests of: manage a company; an agency that manages performers.

  5. To succeed in accomplishing or achieving, especially with difficulty; contrive or arrange: managed to get a promotion.


"Managing" is, in fact, the essence of everything that is wrong with most companies today. In good times and bad, most companies are full of people who are just trying to get by, keeping things under control and hoping no one screws up in too visible a fashion. It’s not the economy that has made scared little rabbits out of most managers; it just shrank the size of the rabbit hole and flushed more of them out into the open.

I don't want a company full of managers. Instead, give me a company full of leaders. Give me men and women who will inspire people to follow them, whether into a brave new world of technology or another day of outstanding customer service. Give me people who take responsibility for the assets and people under their care, who talk about "my team" and mean it with all of their hearts. Give me people with the basic courage to make a decision and act upon it without seeking coverage from someone higher up. With a handful of these, I could beat the pants off of a room full of managers.

Somewhere along the line, though, we decided that leaders were too dangerous to have around. They're headstrong, full of their own ideas, unwilling to build consensus before rushing off. Managers are much safer. They keep everyone informed, they gather everyone’s opinions before they act, and they are always polite and open to new data. The fact that they rarely accomplish anything of import is strangely comforting, too, since that keeps them from ever being a threat to their managers. They keep everything calm and on an even keel. They don’t rock the boat.

Leaders, now, they make everyone nervous, especially their managers, because, by definition, people will follow them. And if people start following the leaders, who will be left to attend the managers’ meetings? And leaders definitely don’t keep things smooth and unruffled. They hate the restriction of comfort zones, and keep pulling people out of them. And if you have more than one in a room, they will inevitably bump into each other, sometimes with loud results. That can be frightening to people who prefer everything comfortable and quiet. A good leader, though, knows when to follow someone else with better ideas, even if it takes a few discussions before realizing the value of those ideas. He recognizes leadership in someone else and, rather than seeing it as a threat, sees it as an opportunity to learn or to teach. He knows that, if he follows someone else, that soon he will have a chance to make a piece of the vision his own, and lead others in making it come true.

Someone who can’t follow, who sees every spark of leadership in another as a threat to be crushed, isn’t a leader; he’s an egomaniac. Unfortunately, even egomaniacs can be charismatic, so some of them have gathered enough followers to be seen as leaders. Don’t be misled, though: the egomaniac is wholly wrapped up in himself, and self is always finite. The egomaniac will flame out eventually, usually spectacularly, and his fall is often hastened by his own followers. A leader, on the other hand, harnesses the collective power of the whole group, which is infinite, since success will cause the group to grow. He values every opinion, nurtures every other person’s ability to lead, so that he doesn’t have to do it all himself. He finds strength in numbers, and gives strength to others.

Can everyone be a leader? I think so, if they want to be. Some prefer to follow, and some of those will always do so. They like the comfort of knowing someone else is making the big decisions and taking the risk of being wrong. They prefer “I told you so,” to, “Let’s see what happens.” As long as they follow willingly, and provide what help they can, they serve a purpose. Many, though, may find themselves inspired by leadership, and think, “I could do that.” These can become leaders in their own areas, taking on as much responsibility as they can handle and eventually, if their own leaders are good, maybe a little more than they can handle, and they will grow. They will make mistakes, but if they are encouraged to keep trying, they will learn from them and become even better. And when they are ready, hopefully, they will teach others to lead as well, and the process continues, and the team grows.

Enough of managers. Give me leaders.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Now THAT'S comedy!

A funny story is best told with a wry quirk of the lips, and nothing more. In my experience, a story laughingly told is as often met with puzzled silence as with answering laughter, and followed by, "You had to be there."

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Negotiating 101

A former colleague of mine has a new job offer (congratulations!), and asked for advice on how to negotiate the terms of his employment. Here's what I suggested to him:

Negotiating is all about showing your worth to your prospective employer, and no one knows your worth better than you do. Show them how highly you value yourself by demanding double their original offer in both salary and vacation time, with extra dental benefits. And remember to insist upon those little perks that say, "I'm the best you're going to get," like free soda, extra bathroom breaks, ergonomic chair attachments, and a duck. Never forget the duck.

At the same time, negotiating is about showing how excited you are about this new prospect, so ask lots of questions to show that you're engaged. Here are some suggestions:
  • How many vacation days do you have per year, and what's your policy on pseudo-religious holidays?

  • Does the company medical policy cover self-inflicted wounds? What if it was an accident?

  • How many of your corporate officers have been convicted in the past year? Do you expect that number to go up or down in the next fiscal year?

  • Does the company provide legal counsel to all employees, or are they required to hire their own?

  • Could I bring a pet to work if it enables me to do my job? What if it's an iguana?

  • What is the company policy on drinking during business hours? Does it matter if I bring my own Scotch?

And of course, negotiating is also about compromise, so be willing to give up any of this if it means you get a job that you like. But not the duck; never the duck.

Monday, November 08, 2004

What's that high-pitched whining noise?

Is it me, or are the post-election histrionics reaching a higher level this year than in other election years? It seems like people have just picked up where they left off on November and carrying their complaining right on into the new year. Maybe this is just a new version of people believing their own hype. It definitely seems to be a situation where, if you repeat anything enough times you'll believe it to be truth.

Unsurprisingly, the hysteria has reached its highest pitch in San Francisco, which is threatening to secede from the union and join Canada. Let's be honest here: do they really think Canada needs more complainers? They already have Quebec wanting out.

I know! Let's trade! We'll take Quebec and Canada can have San Francisco! The net effect on fashion will probably be a wash, and there are probably just as many people in each region who wish they could move to France. I doubt even that would work, though. I give the Franciscans a year before they're complaining about the repressive Canadian regime trying to impose its Middle Saskatchewan morals on them.

Listen up, everyone, this is the way democracy works: you pick the person you think is best leader for the country and you vote for him. If he wins, you can congratulate yourself on what a smart person you were for backing the right man (or woman, come 2008). If he loses, you have two choices: you can trot out your "Don't blame me, I voted for the loser" bumper stickers and whine and complain for four more years about how screwed up everything is, or you can do everything in your power to make things better right where you are, supporting the structure that will allow you to try to vote your person in next time.

That's the beauty of our system. If you don't like who won, you can try again in four years. Regardless of the breast-beating and whining from certain areas of the country, one person really can't screw things up that badly in that time, and if they really do a bad job, we have ways of dealing with that, too. So quit complaining and look around you. What can you do to make your town a better place to live, or to help all those people that you blame someone else for disenfranchising?

Maybe everyone should just listen to some Mozart and chill out.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Almost 10% of the way there

Meet me at NaNo

4345 words down, 45,655 to go. The writing gathers speed, and each night I write more than the last. I have yet to hit my target of 2000 words per day, though, so I'm starting to wonder if I can actually churn out 50,000 in a month. I'm not giving up hope yet, though, and I'm thrilled to be making progress on my book again.

I find that it's hard for me to just stick with the plot and keep moving forward in a straight line. I want to jump ahead to the good parts, when everyone's already been introduced and the crazy stuff is happening. That's where the fun is, and where the funny really happens. Still, a good farce is built on a solid setting, the launching pad from which the lunacy takes off. I have to build the foundation, and I trust that will make the comedy that much more, well, comedic. It's pretty funny in my head already, but if I build in the details, flesh out the characters, I have much richer material to use when they all lose their minds.

This is going to be fun. I just hope my fingers hold out.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Out of the gate

OK, so I'm off to the races. I wrote just over 1,000 words last night before I had to give it a rest. It took me about 90 minutes from when I sat down and turned on the laptop, but just over an hour from the time I stopped surfing, entering my picks for this week's football games, and checking on election results. By the time I stopped, my hands were sore from typing. I may need to stop using the laptop keyboard if I'm going to reach a reasonable level of profligacy.

Things I have already learned about myself as I attempt to go into high-volume mode:

  • I care too much about accuracy. Is anyone really going to check to see if "regular" means coffee with cream and sugar in Boston, as opposed to black in LA?

  • I edit myself constantly. I tried really hard not to go back and change words once they were typed, but I often went back before the sentence was even complete to change it. That's not necessarily a bad thing, since I think every change was for the better, but it certainly slows me down.

  • It's freeing to stop wondering whether this really belongs in the book. I think that, before this, I was so worried about bogging the story down that I ended up writing a distilled version of every scene. Now I'm just letting it wander. I can come back later and tighten it up if it feels like I spent too much time in the coffee shop.


I'm excited about this, though. I started this book earlier this year, wrote 4 chapters, and then left it for a couple of months. (By the way, don't tell anyone at NaNo that I'm continuing a previous work, or I might get in trouble.) For NaNoWriMo, I'm commited to adding 50,000 or more words to my story, which should be almost enough to wrap it up, I hope. Then I can get to work on selling it.

On to the next few pages!

Monday, November 01, 2004

Time to write

Now I've done it. I just signed up for NaNoWriMo -- National Novel Writing Month -- and committed to attempt to write a 50,000-word novel in the month of November. I'd heard about this through a couple of people and was very impressed by the craziness and the humor of the organizers. So I thought: well, I'm supposed to be pursuing this dream of writing a book (or two), so why not do it in the company of a bunch of other crazy people?

Now I have a goal of 2,000 words per day for the next month, since I'm sure that I'll miss some days. That should be doable. I hope.

We shall see.