IWSG—My eighth official NaNo

InsecureWritersSupportGroup

It’s time for this year’s final meeting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. The first Wednesday of each month, we share struggles, triumphs, quandaries, and fears.

This year marked the eighth time I officially participated in NaNoWriMo, the eleventh overall, and the tenth time I won. The only year I failed to make 50K was the first year I unofficially participated, 2010, and I didn’t begin that project until 18 November. Had I started on the first of the month, I most definitely would’ve overachieved.

But I don’t feel good about this win, since I barely eked out 50K, and then only about ten minutes to midnight on the final day. My best years ever were 2018, when I got to almost 131K, and 2019, when I got 101K. Now I’ve been reduced to the bare minimum, which is so unrepresentative of what I know I’m capable of. Once upon a time, I easily wrote several thousand words every day, and 5K days were hardly rare.

By the end, I was just writing garbage I knew was garbage, just to have enough words in my NaNo 2021 file. For the past few years, I’ve been well aware more than a few of my NaNo words are garbage and filler. E.g., I’ll write and rewrite the same sentence, stop in the middle of a sentence, write lines and even entire paragraphs or short scenes I realize are bad or don’t belong in the book. So I’ll keep them in the master wordcount file but immediately delete them when I C&P them into a chapter file. It’s like NaNo has in some ways had a deleterious effect on my writing, since I can write stuff I know is garbage but that it’ll still count towards the minimum goal.

And had I not counted my creative nonfiction (mostly blog posts) in this wordcount, I wouldn’t have made it to 50K.

Although to be fair to myself, writing a research-heavy book during NaNo is difficult. When I did 20th century hist-fic, particularly with characters I’ve known for years, the words just flowed effortlessly. Even my 19th century story came really quickly and easily, after some necessary refamiliarizing with the era.

The alternative history I’m currently working on also needs much more careful, thoughtful writing, since it involves real people and an era I’ve never written about before. While Medieval Italy is nowhere near as out of my wheelhouse as, say, fifth century China or 1890s Brazil, it’s still not as intimately, back of my hand familiar as the 19th and 20th centuries.

I was so stalled, I stopped in the middle of Chapter VI, which is set during the Christmas season of 1274, and jumped ahead to Part III, which opens in late 1287. That did help me with starting to pull up significantly, but I still ultimately found this book needs overall careful writing, even with parts that come faster than others.

Maybe I needed that wakeup call and humbling of my pride, this very humiliating demonstration of how far I’ve fallen, so I could finally start fighting to regain my former writing habits and prolific daily wordcounts. The impact of lockdown on my mental health can’t be underestimated, but I also had free will. I chose to passively accept almost two years of poor writing output. This NaNo, I also chose to prioritize other things, like watching the Grand Prix circuit of figure skating, instead of spending those few hours writing on all those nights.

And speaking of skating, I was like a skater who realizes she’s off-kilter in the air and just gives up, resulting in an ugly fall. Even if you know you messed up, you can still fight for a sloppy landing or popped jump, or even fall properly instead of splaying all over the ice like a limp ragdoll.

Some years just aren’t our years, and NaNo 2021 wasn’t one of mine. I’ll now turn my full attentions to researching and writing my WIP with the thought and care it deserves. This isn’t the kind of book that can be fast-drafted and come out well.

Did you do NaNo this year? If you ever had a year where you barely won or didn’t win, was that a learning experience for you? What did you do differently next time?

IWSG—My seventh official NaNo was awful

InsecureWritersSupportGroup
It’s time for another meeting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. The first Wednesday of each month, we share struggles, triumphs, quandaries, and fears. This month’s question is:

Are there months or times of the year that you are more productive with your writing than other months, and why?

In the past, I’d probably say autumn and winter, simply because I had more free time then, and had more opportunities to use one of the family computers when I didn’t have my own. Though it’s hard to say definitively after so many years.

This is humiliating, given what I’m capable of under normal circumstances. I was as far as 7K behind at one point, only caught up on Day 25, and took till the final day to hit the bare minimum of 50K. To make it even worse, probably about half of my wordcount came from creative non-fiction (blog posts, journal entries, and Instagram posts), not my declared project.

Last year I hit 50K on Day 14, and did 101K total. My all-time best was 130K in 2018. Thanks to all in-person write-ins being cancelled, not being in my own home and thus having complete privacy and relaxation at all times, and being unable to go to the library six days a weeks to write for a few uninterrupted hours, I severely underperformed.

My usual daily wordcounts have been in the toilet since this apparently permanent lockdown began in March. Every day I grow angrier and angrier at the people excitedly cheering on the idea of at least another full year of these beyond draconian measures precluding any semblance of normal life!

I initially declared my project as The Very Next/The Very Last, but I didn’t even finish the new chapters of TVN. A lot of what I wrote was garbage, which I knew was garbage as I was writing it. Cluttery chat, false starts, repeatedly reworked lines, unnecessary fluff, dead on arrival scene openings, clunky wording, things that felt all wrong, even a huge portion of a chapter I ultimately realized, over 8,000 words in, would work a lot better in Almost As an Afterthought (the only book in the prequel series I’ve not yet renamed).

I was so excited to finally resume the radical rewrite of TVL, esp. since I left off with chapters about the 1940 Portuguese World Exposition and the 1939–40 World’s Fair. There’s a lot of all-new material to be written before I get back to rewriting and fleshing out pre-existing chapters.

By now it’s obvious TVN will finish up probably around 105K. The radical rewrite of 2015 brought it from a hot mess of 25K to 75K, but earlier this year I realised it wasn’t quite long enough. The Very First ended up around 90K, and the sequel felt a bit too short and simplistic in comparison. My original intent in 1996–97 was to have deliberately short, vignette-length, episodic chapters. While that style still works for some of them, others greatly benefitted from lengthening. The four all-new chapters are of more substantial length.

It’s also natural for books in a coming-of-age series, or the succeeding parts of a Bildungsroman book, to gradually increase in length, depth, maturity, and sophistication. I’ve come to see that I underwrote a lot of my Atlantic City books. They’re generally much shorter than my adult books by design, but I made them too short.

If lockdown ever ends and I’m able to finally be back in a home of my own, I intend to overachieve like normal in NaNo 2021, and get back to my former daily wordcount range of 2-5K.

If you did NaNo, was it a wash or a success?

IWSG—My sixth official NaNo

InsecureWritersSupportGroup
The Insecure Writer’s Support Group virtually meets the first Wednesday of each month, and lets us share struggles, triumphs, quandaries, and fears. This month’s question is:

How would you describe your future writer self, your life and what it looks and feels like if you were living the dream?

I’ve won both the Nobel Prize in Literature and the Sydney Taylor Book Award, and all my books have been made into films over which I had a great amount of creative control. I’ve got homes in several cities around the world, but do most of my writing in my farmstead in the Lower Galilee, in a room with a huge bay window overlooking the water.

I’m invited to many events each year—library talks, local writers’ groups, conferences, book signings, bookstores, schools, book clubs, houses of worship.

I know this makes me sound like a humble-bragger, but I’m rather disappointed I didn’t beat or at least tie last year’s all-time NaNo best of 130K. Instead of getting my win on Day 14 as I did last year (my earliest win to date), I barely squeaked out the 50K minimum near the end of Day 15. I knew early on I probably wouldn’t do as well as I wanted.

By my own standards, I’m capable of writing well over 100K in a month, and I failed to push myself to be as prolific, committed, and motivated as I could’ve been. For some reason, the pressure of NaNo seems to make me underperform, in comparison to fellow overachievers who say NaNo is the only month of the year they’re that wordy.

I did manage over 100K, so I’ll take that as a decent enough second-best.

I included blog posts as creative non-fiction, but most of the total came from my WIP. So far, many of the chapters in Part IV are shaping up to be novelette-length, which is unusual even for me, but not entirely unheard-of. My philosophy is that every book, chapter, scene, and part is as long or short as it needs to be. It naturally unfolds at a certain length for a reason.

It’s a spectrum like, e.g., birth weight. Some babies are all of one pound, seven ounces, and manage to not only survive but thrive, while others are as heavy as 14-15 pounds. While it’s more common to be in the 7-10 range, variation exists for a reason.

It’s obvious which days were Saturdays, since the wordcount just plummeted. I don’t use my computer on Shabbos, which means I lose Friday nights and, this time of year, a good portion of Saturday.

Next year, I want that second chart to be closer to a straight or slightly squiggly line, not so many dramatic peaks and valleys. I know I’m capable of so much more, though I’ll never be one of those extreme overachievers who aims for a win on the first day or strives to write a million words. On the days I’ve written in the 7K and 8K range, I’ve practically been dry-heaving by the end!

I reconnoitered my table of contents for the final time, so it’ll finish at 160 chapters instead of 150. It wouldn’t have been practical to pack so many sections into so few chapters just to cover all the remaining material in the timeline within an overtaxed amount of time and space.

It feels very fitting I finished up shortly after Raisa’s now-second husband Filaret (a count by birth) axes into her apartment to save her from her abusive husband’s most monstrous act yet. The final words are spoken by midwife Mrs. Grinkova, whom Raisa always calls to undo the damage done by her butcher of a doctor after she gives birth or has a miscarriage.

Mrs. Grinkova is one of my favorite secondary characters. Midwives are such amazing women. She’s also one of the characters I deliberately gave a famous surname to.

IWSG—November odds and sods

InsecureWritersSupportGroup
The Insecure Writer’s Support Group virtually meets the first Wednesday of each month, and lets us share struggles, triumphs, quandaries, and fears. This month’s question is:

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever googled in researching a story?

I’ve definitely researched a lot of creepy, depressing, and macabre things over the years—footbinding, what happens to someone in the electric chair, how to survive being shot in the head without becoming disabled, the projected timeline of the very far future, anything to do with the Shoah.

Probably the strangest research subject is if someone could live a semblance of a normal life with the loss of all five senses. As a child, I created a story about a girl named Carmel Allison Jaywalker who loses them all in her sleep before her third birthday. In my juvenile imagination, I made up “the killer pimples,” giant pimple-like things growing over her nose, eyes, ears, skin, and tongue. My brilliant idea was for Carmel to learn to communicate through ESP.

Someday I’d like to go back to this story, which never made it beyond an unfinished picture book, though it seems best to “only” make Carmel blind-deaf. Someone missing all five senses would live entirely in their own reality, hallucinate constantly, be as if in a waking coma, with sleep and dreaming being the only enjoyable things in life.

Minus every major sense, one would need a constant caretaker, and the brain would receive no sensory input. This would not be a meaningful life. At most, I might write a short story about such a person, but I can’t think of any compelling storyline to fill an entire novel.

FYI: The thumb in the B letter is draped WAY too far over the palm. Most artistic depictions of the ASL manual alphabet are guilty of this.

Speaking of, I recently began teaching myself ASL, and mastered the finger alphabet in about a week. I’m a longtime Deaf ally, and have several Deaf characters.

I’m planning a future post on how to write a Deaf character, both historically and today.  Since I obviously don’t have the POV of a Deaf person, I welcome corrections and additions.

This is my sixth year officially doing NaNo, and I’m far from the only person who’s deeply unhappy with the new website. So many people are complaining and considering not doing it again next year, while others opted out this year due to the difficulty of navigating this revamped design.

I can believe there were serious tech issues behind the scenes, but was this really the best new design possible? And if they began testing it in January and still had so many bugs on the eve of NaNo, that should’ve been a sign it wasn’t ready for primetime yet. Supposedly these problems didn’t become apparent till a lot of traffic was thrown at the site all at once.  Why not keep it in beta and wait till after the big event to make the full-time transition?

Just look at these differences in the daily graphs:

The new graphs are just hideous! Too little info and not clustered together in one concise place. The new design isn’t very intuitive or attractive, and there are no bells and whistles making the changes worthwhile. Mobile users say it’s even worse there.

The site isn’t as buggy as it was, but our Camp projects from this year still haven’t migrated over, we lost all our buddies, the popular Faces charts can’t run till next year, Home Regions are a mess, and there’s annoying infinite scroll instead of manageable separate pages on the message boards.

They even went all virtue-signalling Woke™ by including a field for freaking pronouns in profiles!

I decided to take the stress off myself by continuing with Part IV of A Dream Deferred as my primary NaNo project, instead of forcing myself to fly through it with just weeks remaining. It feels right to publish this book in four volumes.

Part IV will be the shortest by far, under 200K. If I finish, I’ll make general chapter-by-chapter notes for the fifth book and go right into that.

IWSG—Tech issues and a race to the finish line.

InsecureWritersSupportGroup

The Insecure Writer’s Support Group meets the first Wednesday of each month. Participants share struggles, triumphs, quandaries, and fears. This month’s question is:

What are your ultimate writing goals, and how have they changed over time (if at all)?

I make no secret of the fact that my ultimate writing goal is a Nobel Prize. My secondary goal is the Sydney Taylor Book Award, given to Jewish-themed books for children, preteens, and teens. It’s named after the author of the classic All-of-a-Kind Family series, which she strongly based on her own family. Ms. Taylor was middle sister Sarah (her original name).

I also want to be remembered as a writer for all time, like Dante and Shakespeare. We still remember and revere them centuries after they walked Planet Earth, because their stories resonate across all eras and cultures. They weren’t just writing about their own era’s concerns.

What an absolute difference a year makes! While there were a few days I knew I could’ve done better, this year’s JuNoWriMo final wordcount is much more representative of what I know I’m capable of. This includes blog posts and a journal entry, but almost all came from my alternative history. Some of the words were immediately edited out after I pasted them into my JuNoWriMo wordcount file.

This is also a huge improvement over last year. (The second screenshot was taken just after midnight on Day Two, and accidentally registered the wrong wordcount because I was entering the day’s final total just seconds too late to count as Day Two. I had to manually edit it.)

I’m racing to the finish line of my alternative history, by now with a handful of gaps to get back to, my appendices (almost all completed), and last-minute power-edits. The rest of the words will either come from another WIP, or blog posts to promote this book.

This kind of image was the bane of my existence during the last month! It was going on before too, but I wasn’t paying enough attention to it. All of a sudden, no matter how many space-sucks I found and deleted (with emptying of the trash), my disc storage space would very quickly dwindle again. At times, I completely ran out, or barely had any.

Things came to a head when all my apps but iPhoto and Chrome went into kernel panic. Stooge that I am, I realized this happened because they were the only ones I hadn’t deleted the English.lproj or en.lproj folders for, within the Resources folder in Package Contents.

I finally had to reinstall and then update my OS. It also seems very likely Spotify was the guilty party, stuck in a runaway loop and gobbling up my storage space. I’ve yet to reinstall it, though I really miss having it. A lot of those albums were longtime writing soundtracks.

While I was waiting to get my newer computer back, I had to use my 11-year-old backup again.

I’d love to do guest blog posts for anyone who wants to help me with promoting my alternative history! You can just mention my book if you want, but I also have a bunch of topics you could choose from, like:

Real people in the story (you can choose from a list)
Photo galleries of those people
Things I changed, besides the obvious (you can also choose from a list)
Why I radically revised the draconian Russian House Laws
How I dealt with hemophilia
How the finished product differs from the hot mess of an unfinished first draft
Real places in the story (palaces, cities, estates)
Character interviews
The semi-epistolary format I used
Or others!

Have you had any tech issues lately? Are you doing Camp NaNo? Did you do JuNoWriMo? Would you be willing to have me as a guest blogger?