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?

2017 in Review (Writing and life)

My wordcounts were in the toilet for much of this year. I’m shocked I got just under 81K for NaNo, even as a rebel working on several different things. 47K of that came from my WIP about my long-shelved character Anne Terrick. After about 25 years, it’s very surreal to write an entire book in first-person again, but diary form just feels right for this story.

I managed to get some decent work done on Part II of The Strongest Branches of Uprooted Trees, even if I lost the roughly 2,000–5,000 words closing the penultimate chapter and in the rewrite of the final chapter. Baruch Hashem, I didn’t lost as much as I’d feared, and a number of things came back to me in the ensuing days.

I also have excerpts from those lost words in my Twitter feed, from all the themed weekly writing hops I do. It won’t be the first time I’ve had no choice but to go back from scratch and memory to rewrite and reconstruct something.

Though I waited till four days before the deadline, and almost gave up on the second day, I’m glad I went for it and wrote a story for this year’s IWSG anthology contest. Sci-fi is my next-fave genre, though I don’t give it nearly as much attention as I give historical. It ended up a bit over 5K.

I also got some good work done on my fourth Russian historical, A Dream Deferred: Lyuba and Ivan at University. A lot of great secondary characters and subplots introduced themselves this year. I’ve just had to accept that this volume isn’t one of the ones which has been writing me more than I’ve been writing it, and that it won’t be finished as quickly as normal.

I’m surprised to see I wrote a bit over 90K on Dream Deferred this year. It felt like much less, giving my depression and lagging wordcounts.

I’m now back to working on the book formerly known as The Very First, which I’ll write more about in my January IWSG post. I’d thought I only had to finish up the chapter I’d belatedly added about the 1938 War of the Worlds radio broadcast, but I saw a great opening to add two new chapters concluding the year, and an Epilogue in January 1939, at Barry’s bar mitzvah.

I’ve lost about 30 pounds since June. The weight I’d ballooned up to made my UMass weight look healthy. I still can’t believe I was that heavy and lived, even with my bone structure!

I’m not happy at how I was shanghaied and blocked from moving home to Pittsburgh like I’d been excitedly planning to, but I remain hopeful I’ll be there by the end of 2018 and resuming my master’s program. I know I’ve been out of school for a few years, but I was far from the only student who was very unhappy with UAlbany’s library science program.

My 17-year-old leafy baby, Kalanit, started the year just as depressed as I was. Her leaves were dull and drooping over the sides of her pot, and she hadn’t had any new growths for a few years. After she survived her longest car ride ever, 900 miles, and was put into a new pot for the first time ever, she came back with a vengeance.

Kalanit’s roots had started to become impacted, but a larger pot and fresh soil worked miracles. She grew and grew like crazy, with a new baby almost every time I turned around. I’ll have to have a future post with pictures of Kalanit to show just how amazing her recovery has been.

A lot of people have expressed astonishment when they find out I’ve kept a spider plant alive for 17 years. She’s been on a number of car rides and in a number of residences, including the four different rooms I lived in during my two years at UMass.

Kalanit may soon need a larger pot, and possibly to be split up for the first time in years!