The Third Estate
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Another Existential Writing Crisis

Monday, November 29, 2010
I just wrapped up another chapter of my novel last week and decided to do a quick word count to see how long it is so far. Now I tend to be a bit gabby when I write, so I expected it to be too long. But not THIS long. Right now if one uses the standard "word count" function on Word all the text together is about 160,000 words long. I've read that publishers are generally unwilling to consider books that are more than 100K words long. Now I'm sure that the editing process will result in massive cuts to the length, but even if I cut HALF the text it would still be 80K - when I'm probably only 3/5 to 2/3 the way through the story.

This is a problem.

Now my goal in writing this book has never been just to write something that can be published. It's a story that's been kicking in my head for years and I wanted to see if I could tell it. Plus, I just like writing. However, I don't want to write something that definitely CAN'T be published, which is where I seem to be headed at the moment.

I'm left with a number of different possibilities:

1) I could just continue as I have been and worry about this problem when I finish the story. The downside of this is that it might result in a ton more work at the end of the process.

2) I could re-cast the book as a series of shorter novels, with the first book a relatively self-contained whole. This wouldn't be too hard, since the first portion has most of the key elements I'd need for a shorter story. I'd have to do some re-writing and shift some things around, and probably flesh out a few sections, but it's doable. The upside of this approach is that I'd have a book finished by middle of next year. The downside is that I had hoped to avoid writing a series. Maybe it IS impossible to get sci-fi stories down to a single book.

3) I could make a major effort to cut down the story now and see if I can get what I've written so far to an appropriate length without mutilating the narrative. This would force me to stop writing entirely for a while and just focus on editing, which I'm loathe to do. But it also might force me to focus on what truly is essential. If I make the attempt and fail, I could always revert to option #2.

I suppose ultimately what I need to decide is what sort of story this is. Is it an epic requiring multiple volumes? Or can it be distilled into a single work? Does the fact that it has shifted from the latter represent a natural evolution I should respect? Or does it just mean that I've lost control of myself?

Something tells me that I'm not the first amateur novelist to have this problem.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 9:57 AM

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The Weird, Wussy Alternate Reality Me

Sunday, November 21, 2010
I have to admit that in professional situations I am a rather timid person. I'm not sure, but I think it stems from a paranoia about losing my job (which in turn derives from an obsession with going bankrupt). When we move I have these great fears I won't find a job, and when I DO find a job I'm convinced that my employer will fire me at the drop of a hat. Of course, it doesn't help that I have seen my co-workers fired for no discernible reason and without warning. I might be less paranoid if my supervisors ever told us why people left the company, but that would alleviate everyone's anxieties and what would be the fun in that?

Anyway, as a consequence I am constantly letting myself be taken advantage of. At any request, no matter how absurd, I'm like "Sure! No problem!" A report written from scratch in two weeks? No problem! A proposal I've never heard of by the end of the day? Done! An op-ed for a major newspaper in three days? Why not!

This is how I ended up working 60 hours a week at my last job. Every time I was asked to do something, I agreed to it, so my bosses must have thought "wow, he can handle anything!" and gave me more and more and more work to do - to the point that I couldn't sleep and started losing my hair and realized I'm drinking 40 gallons of coffee a day.

Since BH gets a new job and takes me to a new and interesting part of the country every few years, there's always the excitement (read: terror) of finding a new job. And at the beginning I say to myself, "Self, this time you will stand up to your employers and not let them treat you like doo-doo." I mean, they're not really going to fire me if I say no, right? Of course, every time I end up making all the same mistakes I made last time. Last week I was asked to write something for a journal without a promise that I would get any credit for it, and despite the fact that I knew I was probably getting screwed, I said "Sure!" Idiot.

What's so strange about this is that in most parts of my life I always thought I was a very strong person. I like sticking up for myself. I like arguing and making a fuss. I am generally NOT a conflict-avoider. In fact I am frequently the "designated asshole" in social situations. One good example is the time we were waiting for a table at a crowded restaurant. The previous diners were already finished - they'd paid and everything - but they wouldn't leave. The poor waitress was practically in tears. So I walked up and politely asked them when they were going to be finished, since they were clearly done and we needed the table and you just don't hog tables in New York City during Sunday brunch. Or another time I was stuck behind a car that was trying to turn left onto a crowded street at rush hour with no light. Finally I turned my car off, got out, and told the driver that he should turn right and make a u-turn because otherwise we'd be here all day. It drives my wife crazy when I do things like this. But at my job? I'm just a wuss.

Maybe now that BH is making boatloads of money I'll finally be able to get over my bad social habits at work.

But I doubt it.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 11:02 AM

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Big Talk, No Action

Thursday, November 18, 2010
Last night I went to a local party function. A portion of the event was re-hashing the party's defeat in the recent elections. What was interesting to me was the division between a) those who wanted to focus on blaming the Obama administration for the defeat and the things he needs to do to fix it, and b) people who wanted to talk about how we could reorganize headed into the next elections. Despite my criticisms of Obama's political strategy, I was definitely in the latter camp, but I found it sad how few people want to use our leverage at the local level to apply indirect pressure on the administration. Writing letters to the White House isn't going to accomplish anything. Presenting your member of Congress with a room of pissed off party veterans - the people they need to get elected - is something else entirely.

Of course, I'd been in many similar meetings over the years - where everyone says all the right things about organizing at the precinct level and not waiting until 6 weeks before an election to talk to voters. I've heard this after victories and after defeats, and all it ever is is talk. Two months later the momentum is lost and we're right back where we started, cobbling together a slapdash campaign effort just before the election composed of grandmothers and college students.

I also heard the usual claptrap about reaching out to younger voters. Well, perhaps "claptrap" is being a bit unfair, but I ask you - how much sense does it make to spend (scarce) resources getting 20 year college students involved when they're going to move out of town in 2 years? I'm all for trying to strengthen College Democratic organizations, but seriously - you are not going to build a long-term base for the party by relying on the sometimes enthusiasm of teenagers.

Basically I've decided to be a pain in the butt - something I have a talent for. My pan is to introduce plans for getting precinct captains to work their areas on a regular basis, get it approved by the party, and get said precinct captains to sign a pledge. I'm going to nag and wheedle and cajole (do those all mean the same thing?). I'm already talking to the incoming county party chair to develop a more aggressive media strategy, but also to take strong stances on local and state issues. I'm not interested in passing resolutions and then forgetting about it - the point is to use these issues as a way to communicate with our voters.

Mainly I'm going to try to remind people what they said last night, and remind them of how bad they felt on November 2nd. If they don't want to feel that way again in two years, they need to do something about it now. Because then I won't be blaming Obama (or not just Obama). It'll be our fault too.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 9:17 AM

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Getting up off the mat

Wednesday, November 10, 2010
So Democrats feel dispirited about the results of the election? Our base doesn't know what we stand for anymore? We got killed among seniors in the last cycle? Well here's a wonderful opportunity to remind Americans why we need a Democratic Party: protecting social security from being plundered by Wall Street. Democrats should contact their representatives, sure, but they should also contact elected officials and party officials below the national level. Put pressure on them to announce their position on social security cuts as well, because if you can get them to make a public statement the congressional incumbent is going to have to start worrying about a primary challenge.

And yes, that includes Obama.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 9:33 AM

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Where We Go From Here

Friday, November 05, 2010
You'd think after the shellacking the Democrats took on Tuesday, I'd be depressed. Strangely enough, like Susie Madrak, I'm pretty excited. I expected to be down in the dumps for weeks, like I was after the 2004 elections, but instead my brain is bubbling with ideas about what to do next and I'm ready to go. I feel liberated. Most of all, I feel ready to go to war.

In the past few years I've held back a little from politics. I've certainly been involved, but only in a fairly low-key way. I helped candidates when I could, I gave advice to the ones that won, but I stayed very much behind the scenes in local politics. Part of that was because of my job, I suppose, and part of it was because I didn't know how long I'd be in town, but I think the most important element was simply my timidity. I just didn't have the appetite for it that I'd had in New York. You wouldn't think that a crushing electoral defeat would make me hungry for politics again, but as many intimates over the years have told me, I'm just not like other people.

Let me tell you what I'm NOT going to do. I'm not going to spend a great deal of time obsessing over what Barack Obama is going to do. I don't have any control over what he does. His decisions are going to have an effect on what happens to me, but I have no leverage over the White House and even less trust that he'll make the right decisions. I think there's more than a little reason to suspect that Obama simply has extremely poor political instincts. He's the President I have and I'll live with him, but basically I've written him off.

What I AM going to do is get organized. I think that the biggest failures that liberals (or "progressives" if you prefer) have made over the last few years is reacting to political events in scattershot way. After the 2008 election we had tremendous momentum, but we left it up to elected officials to carry the load. Predictably, without external pressure they failed to deliver. That's not how politics works. I'm going to organize within the party, sure - it's the only useful vehicle for reform - but I'm not going to focus simple-mindedly on electing more Democrats to office. I'm not just going to volunteer to help one person get elected or do GOTV for the national party. I'm going to stay involved.

So I have two plans. First, I'm going to get myself elected a precinct captain and build a political organization the old fashioned way: personal contacts. For some reason nobody does this anymore - it's all kids doing lit drops on election day. That's crap. We need people who make contact with the Democrats and swing voters in their district every year, building the personal rapport that will make GOTV and voter persuasion ever so much easier. You can't wait until three months before the election. The only way to build trust is to make it a continuing effort. There's all sorts of ways to do this - do a precinct voter registration drive, circulate a petition, whatever. The point is get to know your voters. I'm going to take this responsibility on in my own precinct, and I'm going to push to get activists in other precincts to do the same.

Second, I'm going to try to get the local party to get more aggressive about message. Typically the county party leadership just focuses on the nuts and bolts of preparing for campaigns - they don't ask people to get and stay involved (refer to plan #1) and they don't have much media presence. This is a huge mistake. Liberals need to aggressively push their issues using the party structure as a vehicle. Beyond this, liberals should identify political issues relevant to their community and have the party take a stand. I don't mean some silly resolution. I mean actually going out and lobbying, writing letters, holding press conferences, writing press releases, and talking to voters about the issues of the day. Not only with this put pressure on elected officials to do the right thing, but it also serves a tactical purpose. They can deliver the red meat to their base and attack conservatives, letting the elected stay above the fray.

Let me say a word or two about holding candidates accountable. One of our biggest problems is that we're not specific enough. If liberals identified 2 or 3 issues they were going to use as litmus tests in every contest, they would find it much easier to get elected officials to follow through. Laundry lists make us seem like dilettantes. Heck, there's no reason we can't have elected official sign a pledge and then go to the press with it.

Those are just the outlines of what I have in mind. Now I fully expect that the Democrats are going to have a tough year in 2012, because I don't think the economy is going to recover. But we're going to be MUCH better off if we get started now - because 2013-2014 could very well be the high water mark for the Republicans that 2009-2010 was for us. And I would dearly love to repay the favor.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 1:56 PM

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