Posted in Atlantic City books, Word Count, Writing

IWSG—Lessons learnt from my ninth official NaNo

InsecureWritersSupportGroup

It’s time for the last Insecure Writer’s Support Group meeting of 2022. The IWSG convenes the first Wednesday of every month to commiserate over worries, fears, doubts, and struggles.

I feel almost like my NaNo win was cheated, since a fair amount came from creative nonfiction (journal entries, blog posts, etc.) and material that didn’t make it into my master file for Almost As an Afterthought. I also didn’t spend as much time writing each day as I should’ve.

However, I did redeem myself for my humiliating wins of the last two years, where I only crawled across the finish line on the final day. I also finally got back to writing in my journal Mary every day, after another few months of hiatus. (I’m long overdue to write an updated, improved post about my journalling history!) With the obvious exception of 29 November (George Harrison’s 21st death anniversary), 99% of my journal entries were about NaNo and my writing habits.

You can tell which days are Saturdays from the sharp drops! I don’t use my computer from Friday sundown to Saturday nightfall.

While I was writing to Mary (named after The Monkees’ song “Mary, Mary” and Pete Townshend’s solo song “Mary”), a major realisation about my writing (or lack thereof) in recent years dawned on me. Because lockdown wrecked my mental health and normal daily wordcounts, I turned my primary focus to editing books for publication and working on slightly tweaked new editions. During the two years pre-lockdown, I also spent a lot of time on that pursuit.

Hence, I somehow latched into permanent editor mode and forgot how to write the way I did for the previous 35ish years of my life. Joyfully, uninhibited, letting books write me instead of the other way around, saving the rewriting and editing for later, just focusing on getting the raw story out first.

I became all about writing slowly, carefully, cognizant of what’s worth keeping, what’s trash, what should be moved to a later book, what could be repurposed for later in this book. Hence, writing and rewriting a phrase or sentence over and over. Deciding to junk lines that don’t work. Realising as I’m writing that a scene, section, or dialogue is clutter or crap that doesn’t belong there, and moving it into a file of deleted material or only keeping it in the NaNo file.

That never happened to me before. With chutzpahdik confidence, I thought every last word was gold and would automatically remain. Only during edits would I look at the material with fresh eyes and sort out the clutter.

I ended up going the total opposite direction and approaching all first drafts with the critical eyes of an editor as I’m actively creating them.

While I stand by my decisions about what to work on and not work on during NaNo, and am glad I got a solid start on the near-total rewrite of Afterthought, I do feel in hindsight that perhaps it wasn’t the most ideal time to start. I eventually began writing out of order and leaving chapters unfinished to get back to later, since the words weren’t flowing as effortlessly as I hoped, and some parts needed slower and more careful writing due to incorporating research.

Also, I was writing without the context of a completed rewrite of The Very Last, esp. considering there are several very big changes in Cinni’s life in the second half of TVL.

During the last 20 minutes or so, I was frantically typing rambling, incoherent nonsense and clutter I knew wouldn’t make it into the master file. I just wanted to get as many words as possible before midnight and get to the next goal of 62K.

Not bad considering the last two years!

Once December started, it was like a veil lifted, and my normal writing finally resumed with my resumption of TVL. One of this year’s winner prizes is a free title upload at IngramSpark, so I’m hoping to have that book all polished and ready by the 15 March deadline. I obviously won’t rush if it’s not ready by then, but it’s a good goal to work towards.

Did you do NaNo this year? What was your experience like? Have you ever redeemed yourself after a bad patch or disappointing experience?

Posted in Atlantic City books, Word Count, Writing

IWSG—My ninth official NaNo

InsecureWritersSupportGroup

It’s time again for The Insecure Writer’s Support Group, which meets the first Wednesday of every month to commiserate over worries, fears, doubts, and struggles.

This month’s question is:

November is National Novel Writing Month. Have you ever participated? If not, why not?

This is my ninth official NaNo, and my twelfth overall. I unofficially participated in 2010, 2011, and 2012, though I didn’t sign up because I mistakenly believed the objective was to write a book complete at only 50,000 words. Once I discovered you don’t have to complete your book and that 50K is just the bare minimum, I finally signed up. I later retroactively, honestly added my wordcount from those three unofficial Novembers to my stats page.

The reason I didn’t participate in 2013 was because I was having a lot of computer issues and only was able to work on three chapters of Dark Forest. My fan’s broken left vent was making unbearably loud noises constantly, and the computer was also having a few other issues. I didn’t write anywhere close to 50K that month.

The technical issues temporarily resolved, though they later came back and were so unbearable I had no choice but to get a new (used) computer in August 2014. Amazingly, that 2007 MacBook Pro laptop still works! I need to use it every so often to get old photos from my library, and when I need a backup for my current younger computer. It also has an awesome collection of Solitaire games which isn’t compatible with newer computer software.

Perhaps because I rarely use that computer anymore, and usually don’t use it for very long stretches, the fan noise has much improved.

As discussed in my October IWSG post, I decided to work on a near-total gut renovation of Almost As an Afterthought: The First Six Months of 1941 for NaNo 2022. I really hope I can redeem myself for my poor showings the last two years, only 53K in 2020 and barely crawling across the finish line with 50,051 in 2021 at ten minutes to midnight.

While lockdown did wreck my mental health and trigger my cyclical depression, I didn’t take enough personal responsibility for keeping my writing momentum afloat. Like Rustico in the most famously raunchy story of The Decameron, I shrugged and surrendered without a battle instead of fighting for what I know I’m capable of.

Since 2017, I’ve counted my blog posts as creative nonfiction towards my NaNo wordcount. I don’t know if I would’ve been able to win in 2017 if I hadn’t included my 12-part series “The Jazz Singer at 90.” Writing that series gave me back my writing mojo when it was at such a low point, and finally made me excited and confident about my writing for the first time in a long time.

This year, I wrote as many November posts in advance as possible, so I can devote most of my time and energies to Almost As an Afterthought.

The key storyline of Almost As an Afterthought is Cinni’s longing to enroll in her school’s progressive track when she starts junior high, and her ever-increasing love of history. Her mother is adamantly opposed to it, and wants Cinni to remain in the general track. Kit wants to move to the progressive track too, and her mother, whom she’s always had a very acrimonious relationship with, is also opposed.

Meanwhile, many of their friends decide to take the qualifying tests and apply for scholarships. It would mean the world to Cinni if they could all stay together and have such a golden opportunity for a better future.

Until last year, I was always a NaNo overachiever. My all-time best year was 2018, when I wrote almost 131K. In 2019, I pulled 101K. If I can redeem myself and prove I’m still capable of writing a few thousand words a day, I hope that can carry through to post-NaNo writing, as it did in 2017.

And if I not only win but return to real overachieving, I’ll reward myself with my dozenth ear piercing, combined with the second nostril piercing I hope I can get for my birthday in December (after very unhappily being forced to cancel at the last minute last year).

Are you participating in NaNo this year? Have you done it in the past, and what was your experience like?

Posted in Atlantic City books, Editing, Rewriting, Word Count, Writing

IWSG—Slowly returning to view the cheerful skies

InsecureWritersSupportGroup

It’s time again for The Insecure Writer’s Support Group, which meets the first Wednesday of every month to commiserate over worries, fears, doubts, and struggles. This month’s question is:

It’s the best of times; it’s the worst of times. What are your writer highs (the good times)? And what are your writer lows (the crappy times)?

Unfortunately, due to several bouts of my cyclical depression, being forced to move to an area I hate and in a house not my own, lockdown, and other factors, it’s been quite awhile since I last felt a true writing high. In the old days, it was the feeling I had when finishing a mammoth book that had been writing me more than I wrote it.

This picture I took soon after finishing the 406K first draft of The Twelfth Time, holding some of my writing soundtrack, perfectly illustrates it:

My writing mojo was pulled out of the toilet by my 12-part series on The Jazz Singer at 90 in 2017, and 2018 was my best NaNo ever, at 130,730 words. In 2019, I wrote 101,262 for NaNo, and massively overachieved in both April and July Camp NaNo.

But ever since lockdown began, my usual daily writing productivity hasn’t been the same. I know what I’m easily capable of, and barely making 50K in November, or even 10K in other months, is not it.

Near the end of April Camp, I put my alternative history about Dante and Beatrice on what hopefully won’t be a very long hiatus, and went back to the radical rewrite and restructuring of the book formerly known as The Very Last. I was inspired to return to my Atlantic City books after spending a few days doing the last proof-check of Movements in the Symphony of 1939 (formerly The Very Next).

After approving that book for a print edition, I read through The Very Last until the point I left off on the rewrite last year (though I also began rewriting chapters beyond that). I wrote almost 1,000 words on the first day back, though I ended up moving that chapter, and two other chapters, into a file of discarded chapters.

It truly was hashgacha pratit (Divine Providence) that I put the radical rewrite on hiatus in 2015. At the time, I was frustrated I couldn’t find more detailed information about the 1940 Portuguese World Exposition, and couldn’t be arsed to research and write about the 1939–40 World’s Fair in Queens only two years after I did that for Journey Through a Dark Forest. Now I realise I couldn’t have rewritten that book the way it needs to be had I continued in 2015.

As I discussed in this post, I deleted a lot of pointless, cluttery chapters and subplots. However, I wasn’t yet ready to admit to myself that the ninth item in that list not only was clutter too, but also inherently creepy. Even if Kit is aged up two years, 15-year-old Jerry still has no business dating her! She might look, talk, and act more like a 13-year-old, and I might’ve seriously toned down their relationship, but that doesn’t change her real age.

I’ll be discussing this in more detail in a future post.

I’ve been in a low place with my writing for so long, often taking weeks to write a single chapter, it’s difficult to vault back up and immediately resume my former daily average of at least 3K. As Virgil wrote over 2,000 years ago:

The gates of Hell are open night and day;
Smooth the descent, and easy is the way;
But to return, and view the cheerful skies,
In this the task and mighty labor lies.

Posted in Long Books, Word Count, Writing

Combining and splitting decisions

As someone who naturally and deliberately writes my adult books at saga length, I’ve developed a very keen sense of when a book’s length is justified by the story vs. when it’s just an overwritten sprawl (coughtheinvisiblebridgecough). I’ve also developed a strong sense of when a long story needs split up into multiple books or volumes.

On the flip side, when it comes to my Atlantic City books, I’ve found several places where these short books need combined, since they lead right into one another instead of feeling like true self-contained stories within a series.

                          

As I’ve discussed many times, I still feel I made the right decision in putting out And Jakob Flew the Fiend Away and And the Lark Arose from Sullen Earth as two distinct books. The most perfect ending opened up, and I was able to turn the rest of the source material into a second book about Jakob and Rachel’s first proper year of marriage and Jakob’s first year in America. Each book truly has its own focus, and wouldn’t feel the same if it were just one long book with an uninterrupted story.

Granted, I was trying for traditional publishing at the time and was aware the first book had reached the uppermost limits for both YA and historical, at a bit over 120K. The second book also has a much more New Adult feel and a number of sex scenes, in comparison to the fade to black on the wedding night scene in the first book. But Fate obviously compelled me to make the right decision about how to present this story.

                        

I was also originally trying for traditional publication with Little Ragdoll, and was shocked to discover how frowned-upon sagas are nowadays, esp. from first-time authors and in YA. At the time, I hadn’t yet realised this is truly an adult book that just happens to feature young people in the leading roles. In other words, a Bildungsroman, a coming-of-age story like Great Expectations and Little Women.

Thus, I began querying it and submitting pages as a pretended trilogy, and came up with query letters and synopses for all three books (Parts I and II, Part III, Part IV and the Epilogue). However, I soon came to feel dirty and like a huge fraud for diluting my vision and intention. I always meant it as one long, continuous story, not split up three ways. And while Part IV does read the most like its own standalone book, it also only makes sense and feels right as the conclusion of everything that came before. Adicia finally has no choice but to act instead of passively being acted upon, and emerges from that ordeal a much stronger person than anyone, least of all she herself, ever saw her as.

When it came to Swan, I was always very firm about this story being one entire book. It would make no sense to put out Parts I and II as two different books when so much is still up in the air at the conclusion of Part I. The only thing resolved (for the moment) is that Lyuba and Ivan are finally engaged. I also wrote The Twelfth Time as its sequel, not the third book in the family saga.

Plus, the title has significance for the entire book, and appears in the final line.

People at Absolute Write really got on my hide about the length (330K) and tried to convince me to make it into a series or two books. They also thought it was a historical romance instead of a novel that just happens to prominently feature a love story. One person got really offended when he read a blog post I wrote explaining and defending my wordcount and genre, accusing me of being oppositional and not taking anyone’s advice.

Yeah, it’s almost like writers know their own stories far better than random Internet strangers obsessed with “the rules”! Hist-fic is also traditionally very long, with 120K being the bare minimum for a story spanning many years and with a large ensemble cast.

                         

                         

Dark Forest ended up so long, way past my initial guesstimate of 500K, I had to put it out as one book in four volumes. It perfectly worked out so each part read like its own story, with a focus on different characters and storylines. Of course they all lead into one another, but there’s no sense of ending in media res.

I’ll do the same for Dream Deferred, which also ballooned up way past my conservative guesstimate of 300K. Even after cutting aborted storylines that don’t belong there, it’ll still be extremely long. Thankfully, this book too will feel natural in four volumes instead of forcibly chopped up.

Ultimately, it comes down to gut feelings and your own creative vision. Would this work as a single very long book, one book published in several volumes, or two or more separate books? And would a few novella-length books feel stronger if they were combined into one longer volume?

Posted in Word Count, Writing

NaNoWriMo and its deleterious impact on my writing

As I mentioned recently, I’m strongly considering not participating in NaNoWriMo again, or at least not until their woke leadership in Berkeley is replaced by sensible people, or they hit peak woke and walk back their support of the lunacy they advocate now. But whatever my decision, I wouldn’t delete my profile. I’ve written over a million words since I began participating, and I want my records to remain.

Though my stats page shows my first project from 2010 (when I only started on Day 18 and thus didn’t make 50K), I only officially began participating in 2014. Thus, the earlier projects were honestly, retroactively added, without individual wordcounts for each day, just the final total of words I wrote in those Novembers.

I was so proud of my win in 2014, when I came within spitting distance of 75K. The next year, I set out to beat that total, and was really disappointed I only made 71K, particularly since I pulled an exhausting marathon session of 7K on the final day. I didn’t feel that were my best work. Then in 2016, I only got 65K, and felt even worse about myself for falling so far of what I know I’m capable of.

In 2017, I pulled 80K, though part of that was creative nonfiction, primarily my 12-part series on The Jazz Singer at 90. Ever since, I’ve counted blog posts in my totals (while striving to have the fiction side as the majority of my words).

2018 was my best year ever, at almost 131K and a marathon final day of 8K. But even then, I felt like I could’ve done better. It was very disappointing to only do 101K in 2019, and then came lockdown and only 53K in 2020 and barely 50K in 2021.

Even if their leadership hadn’t cancelled all in-person events, I’ve still felt for some time that NaNo has had a deleterious effect on my daily wordcounts. After that glorious first official year, it’s felt more like a crazed contest to beat my former total, and I end up feeling disappointed and like I failed if I can’t do that. It now feels more like pressure to produce instead of a fun, carefree month. Indeed, in many non-NaNo months, I’ve easily written over 100K.

For the last few years, a lot of the material in my master wordcount file has been garbage, which I knew was garbage as I was writing it. E.g., I’ll write and rewrite a sentence multiple times instead of deleting the mistakes or rough draft and only keeping the final product. Or I’ll discontinue a paragraph or scene in progress, or realize the thousands of words I just spent days working on belong in another book instead.

It’s like my fingers and brain freeze the moment the clock strikes midnight on April, July, and November, and I suddenly have terrible writer’s block, or I struggle to produce decent words that naturally flow in the thick of so much garbage.

Who knows, maybe this is partly because I’m continuing WIPs instead of starting fresh with new projects, and that hampers my sense of freedom and creativity.

The banning of all in-person events for the last two years has also played a huge role in my struggles to keep my former usual daily wordcount output. I hate the “Permanent lockdown for the win!” cult. God forbid normal life resume ever!

Since joining the NaNo group in Albany, NY in 2014 (which I’m still happily a member of, despite no longer living there), I became used to doing much of my writing at our weekly write-ins at Denny’s, and the additional weekly write-ins at a local coffeehouse in Camp months. Then there were all the other write-ins at libraries during November, and virtual sprints to cover the rest.

Thus, I gradually lost my habit of doing all my writing independently, and began struggling more and more with finding motivation when I wasn’t with the group or doing virtual write-ins. Moving away from NY made the situation even worse.

I had finally gotten back into a good habit of writing for several hours six times a week at the library, and then lockdown hit. My cyclical depression was triggered, and my writing output became almost nonexistent.

Whereas I once felt excitement, challenge, and joy upon seeing my wordcount steadily rising hour by hour, day by day, week by week, now it feels more like unrelenting pressure to produce, and if I don’t top my records, I feel like I’m not living up to my full writing potential.

The “updated” website they rolled out a few years ago is also awful.

NaNo has no business espousing political positions, regardless of what side of the aisle they are or what the POV is. This isn’t like knowing the owners of a business like Hobby Lobby hold certain views in their private life. They’re publicly, inappropriately declaring their support for extremist groupthink and polarizing views like “Biological sex is a bigoted, colonialist invention!” and “It’s totally cool for Hamas to fire thousands of rockets on unarmed civilians!”