Monday, November 26, 2012

NaNoWriMo Fail

I am a NaNoWriMo failure.

Okay, maybe failure is too strong a word. But today is November 26th, and instead of closing in on 50,000 words, my Work In Progress (WIP) is a lousy 20,000 words. To be honest, it’s not even that many words. Today I hit “save” at 19,126.

To put that in perspective, some writers were planning on doing 20,000 words this weekend alone.

What did I do this weekend? Well, I didn’t write a single word. Friday night my husband and I took our son to International Plaza, an upscale mall near Tampa airport. Saturday I picked up my car, went to the gym, went out to dinner with family, then watched a movie with my son. Sunday I read the newspapers, edited my son’s paper, dropped him off at the airport, then watched Sunday night TV. Sunday night TV is the best, by the way.

I wonder about those people who did 20K words this, the weekend after Thanksgiving. Did they not have family they wanted to hang out with? Are they more disciplined than I am? Or are they just more in love with their WIP than I am?

I started NaNoWriMo with such high hopes. Not necessarily about getting to 50K in one month, but about my idea itself. Before NaNoWriMo began, I had a general idea about what I wanted to write about, but then right before the month started, it got very specific. I was excited and had no problem reaching my goal word count every day for the first week or so of the month.

So it wasn’t just that I took a trip to Disney World, and it wasn’t just that my son was home for college for nearly an entire week, and I wanted to spend every waking moment with him, not my computer. But somewhere along page 50 or so (I’m not sure where that is in word count), my idea, that had seemed so specific in the beginning, got vaguer and vaguer as I got further into the story.

And rather than thinking in terms of major plot points, I’m only able to think a scene or two ahead. And the things that happen in these scenes aren’t necessarily tied in to what I wanted this book to be about.

The point of NaNoWriMo – the point of writing any first draft – is supposed to be just about getting the words down. You’re not supposed to edit yourself at all. Just keep on typing, even though the conversation you’re writing is the most boring, banal exchange between two fictional people ever known to man.

And yet…

“Measure twice, cut once” is one of my favorite sayings… maybe because my mom really likes to sew. And this kind of writing is the opposite of that advice.

Would you get in the car and just drive if you didn’t know yet where you were going, knowing that you could end up doubling back and driving twice as long?

The conventional wisdom behind the “just write” advice is that editing written words is easier than filling a blank page. But you know something? I don’t think it is.

Maybe because I spent ten years editing articles by people who could not even write a lead, or maybe because I spent an hour wanting to pull my hair out while editing my son’s paper this weekend, but editing – good editing, substantial editing – is harder than writing. Yes, a blank page is scary. But what’s scarier is points that repeat themselves, abrupt changes in tone, opinions without supporting evidence, and paragraphs that have nothing to do with the main point. I’d much rather cut open a vein and bleed a few well-written paragraphs than have to cut, rearrange, and dissemble pages like they were so many dancers on a chorus line.

It is a terrible feeling to be typing out a scene, thinking how much you hate it, thinking about how it’s just going to end up highlighted and deleted in your first round of editing. It’s an even worse feeling to reread that scene and decide it’s not so bad, because that means you’re letting yourself off the hook, patting yourself on the back just for having written something, no matter if it were good or not.

I’m glad I took time off this week, because it gave me a chance to think about what I want to do with my main characters, who they are in terms of the actions they will take rather than the labels and descriptions I’ll put on them.

And if it takes me months to write this book, that’s fine. As long as it doesn’t take me months to edit it.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Watch These Doctor Shows Before They're Canceled

I’ve been addicted to TV since the days when there were only three channels; when you had to turn a knob to change them. (OK, technically there were four if you counted PBS, but that channel usually just brought in snow.) The first show I remember obsessing over was The Addams Family. I believe this was in 1975 and the show was on in syndication in the mornings. I thought it was just the sexiest thing ever the way Gomez would kiss Morticia’s arm when she spoke a word of French. I was seven years old, so my ideas about romance weren’t very sophisticated.

As I got a little older, my obsessions tended to fixate around medical shows. I loved M*A*S*H and General Hospital, which only had in common scenes in operating rooms and blonde women with sharp tongues. Thanks to Hawkeye Pierce, I actually know what an end-to-end anastomosis is, if not how to perform one. If I’d had any talent whatsoever in math and science, I might have gone into medicine rather than trying to make a living peddling words.

My love for TV and medical shows hasn’t changed. And even General Hospital has gone back to its roots. These days I love Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice, and I tried out two new doctor shows – The Mob Doctor and Emily Owens, MD. Unfortunately, both of these new shows are on the verge of cancelation. I can see what the problems are, and I hope the producers step in to provide some new direction before the shows get pulled.

The Mob Doctor. The title says it all. She’s in the mob, and she’s a doctor. Hijinks ensue! Well, maybe not hijinks but certainly enough plot to keep anyone happy. Grace is a resident in Chicago hospital; her boyfriend is a resident there too. She grew up on the wrong side of the city, and she still has its dirt in her hair. When her brother racked up a debt to a mobster he couldn’t pay, Grace stepped in and offered to work off the debt in his place.

This is a concept that should work. From “Hannah Montana” to “Superman” to “Once Upon a Time,” viewers are drawn to stories about characters who live double lives. It gives twice as many settings for plot, and the tension over the possibility of getting caught. Besides, doesn’t everyone secretly wish there were some sort of real life parallel universe, where we could be the superhero or the rock star or the fairy princess?

Or the mobster. Grace’s problem is that her two lives are too close together. The show itself has a grimy, dirty feel; so different than the brightly-lit, fast pace of other medical series. Grace’s dead father was a low-life mobster alcoholic; her brother works for the mob, and so does her high school boyfriend, toward whom she still has feelings. She still lives with her mother in the city rowhouse near the drug dealers and bartenders she went to school with. If she has a secret life, it’s her one at the hospital, not the one on her street.

“The Mob Doctor” should be Grace’s show, told entirely from her point-of-view, but it often slips into mob war scenes, or her brother doing dirty work, or her mob boss trying to romance Grace’s mom. None of these characters are sympathetic or appealing in any way.

Still, this is a show with potential. Grace herself is a compelling character, and her efforts to pacify her boss foreshadow a Grace who takes her own power and perhaps becomes a factor in the mob herself.

But the rest of the show needs to be cleaned up. The women who watch medical dramas about women aren’t going to stick around for mob wars. “The Mob Doctor” needs to remember that “Mob” is the adjective and “Doctor” the noun, not the other way around.

Emily Owens, M.D., has no such problem with gray lighting and grimy streets. The show is as bright and sunny as its blonde star, Mamie Gummer, Meryl Streep’s daughter. Emily’s an intern, and she ends up at the same hospital as her high school rival and her medical school crush. The series premise is that working at a hospital is just like being in high school.

Only, of course, it’s not. The premise is the problem. In high school, it might have seemed like life-or-death if the guy you liked asked out the girl you hated, but it wasn’t. Here, it is. If you put the central line in wrong because you’re too busy making eyes at the nurse, your patient dies. People are sick and dying here, folks! They’ve been in accidents! They have cancer! You look petty and self-absorbed next to them!

The show has been compared to Grey’s Anatomy, but it’s not. Sure, Grey’s started with that awkward thing that happens when your one-night-stand turns out to be your boss, but Meredith was also mired in an original, compelling situation with her mother, famed surgeon Ellis Grey, who was battling Alzheimer’s and had forced her daughter to promise to tell no one. This plot put the life-and-death stakes up close and personal in the protagonist’s life. In addition, all the interns – save Christina, of course – were so clueless and so open about it, you just knew they were going to kill people.

The show Emily Owens resembles more is that 1990s sensation, Ally McBeal. Ally was a clever but ditzy lawyer who ended up in the same law firm as her high school sweetheart Billy and his wife, Georgia. Ally still loved Billy and was worried that she’d never get married and have kids. For some reason, this show caused a pop culture sensation, even ending up on the cover of Time magazine, as if Ally had something major to say about the current state of feminism. Really, though, Ally was nothing more than the opening bookend for the “I want it all but I don’t know how” female dilemma. Had the show gone on – and not jumped the shark with Billy’s death via brain tumor and Ally’s daughter via egg donation – I have no doubt Ally would have ended up married to a lawyer, a stay-at-home mom with two kids in the suburbs, wondering how on earth she got here.

And sadly, I see a similar fate for Emily and her show if she doesn’t take her job as seriously as her social life. Currently she seems like a talented doctor who makes the right calls. Maybe she’ll fall in it and become sympathetic for reasons other than an unfortunate high school nickname.

Emily Owens, M.D. is a bright, fun show. But any show that takes place in the medical field needs some gravitas. Even sitcoms like Scrubs made it clear that the show was playing for keeps.

Until then, The Mob Doctor is on Fox Monday nights, and Emily Owens is on the CW on Tuesdays. Check them out while you still can.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Voting for Gridlock

Tomorrow is election day. It’ll be the first election day – including primaries – in about 20 years that I haven’t gone to the polls and pushed the buttons for my candidates. When Bill Clinton was first elected, I was in Las Vegas on a business trip and had voted absentee. Because of all the talk in Florida about how the polls were going to be a mess, I did the same thing this year. I’m going to miss being there – the excitement, running into neighbors, and of course the “I Voted” sticker .

As of this writing, the national polls are tied, but all the polls in the battleground states show Obama with leads in all of them. So it’s possible he could lose the popular vote and win the electoral college, which would have the Republicans all up in arms. It’s also possible he could lose Ohio, Virginia and Florida due to shenanigans with absentee balloting, voting machines, people being refused the right to vote… which would piss off Democrats but, if 2000 is a guide, not nearly as much as it would piss off Republicans. Hey, Republicans have been calling Obama’s election illegitimate and he won with 53% of the popular vote.

These are not happy people.

I voted for Obama. I want him to win. But the polls also show the Republicans maintaining control of the House and the Senate staying Democratic by the slimmest of margins. Romney has lied about a lot of things, but maybe he’s right about this one: The next four years with Obama in the White House might not look a lot different from his first four.

Don’t get me wrong; the economic news is on the positive side and slowly getting better. The ACA will help control medical costs while making sure more people get the care they need. And there’s no question that the country as a whole, and women in particular, is better off when the children brought into this world are wanted. I’m certainly not agreeing that Obama’s first term was bad; just that some things could have been accomplished at a faster pace (and for that I blame Republicans).

But how much can Obama do with a Republican Congress eager to thwart him at every end? While the president made great strides over his last two years, realizing a lot could be done through executive order, how much work can he possibly do on global warming and other huge issues that Republicans refuse to engage in? How can he possibly begin to chip away at our debt when Republicans refuse to even think about raising taxes on the wealthy?

Obama believes that if he wins this election, the fight will be out of the Republicans and they will be willing to work with him. He is more of an optimist than I am. All I see is an angry bunch of old white men who’d vote against a proclamation honoring their own mothers if it came from a Democrat. They will spend the next two years trying to out-conservative each other in order to position themselves for the first primary in January 2016.

Nothing will get done, except by executive order.

But I guess that’s better than having Romney as president, teaming up with House Republicans to cut taxes, gut environmental regulations, overturn the Affordable Care Act and turn FEMA over to Bain Capital.

Sometimes it really is better to do nothing.