IWSG—Writing mojo slowly returning


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.

I set a lowball goal of 15K for July Camp NaNo, and overachieved (as it were). This is far from what I was capable of pre-lockdown, but after failing JuNoWriMo with only 18K, this has restored my self-confidence somewhat. Most of my wordcount came from creative nonfiction in the form of blog posts instead of my actual WIP, but since most of them were Dante-themed, they’re related to my WIP.

If you’re interested, I now have all my Dantean posts linked in one page. You can find it on my pinned page “Index of posts by topic” above my header.

Somewhat over 5,000 words also came from the two essays I wrote as part of my aliyah (moving to Israel) application, about my journey to Judaism and my involvement in the community since becoming a member of the tribe. The process of writing and editing those documents made me revisit feelings and experiences I’d not had reason to think of in many years. These weren’t just brief letters, but mini-memoirs with a great deal of raw emotion, honesty, and self-reflection.

This wasn’t the strongest finish possible, and not the relatively straight line I used to have, but I did lose a lot of writing time watching the Olympics. I also spent some time doing my penultimate proof check of the book formerly known as The Very Next. Hopefully, I won’t find even tiny errors in the about to begin final check.

In addition to slowly starting to regain my writing mojo, I’m also getting back into my art. That was on complete hiatus during lockdown. So many people are unwilling or unable to understand how this hurt mental and emotional health. I’ll always have cyclical depression, and it’s functional even at its worst, but it only lasted so long and was triggered this latest time because of lockdown.

When my mental and emotional states are askew, my writing suffers. It took a really long time, but finally I’ve been given a hand out of the latest dark forest I found myself in, with the right path lost. “I cannot remember well in my mind/How I came thither, so was I immersed/In sleep, when the true way I left behind.”

To mark my return to art, I ordered a bunch of new pencils—a dozen Faber–Castell Polychromos, two Caran d’Ache Luminance (widely said to be the Rolls-Royce of colored pencils), six Coloursoft, and three Inktense. I ought to do an updated post showcasing my art supply collection.

There’s no question these precious objects will be divided among my checked and carryon luggage when I make aliyah. If I can’t find an approved suitcase big enough for my beautiful oil pastels, I’ll take them out of their big wooden case and put them in smaller travel cases. Their list price is $510, and I got them for around $200 in a huge end-of-year sale. No way I’d leave them behind!

Geometric and abstract art are my callings in drawing and painting, just as historical fiction and soft sci-fi are my callings in writing. It can be fun to dabble and try something new, but there will always be that one thing, or those two or three things, which you feel the most natural passion and draw towards. I doubt any writer could be successful in and feel a genuine connection to 10+ genres.

Another huge boost to my shattered self-confidence in July was finishing my memorization of Canto I of Inferno in the original Medieval Florentine Tuscan (136 lines). I’m going to make a video of myself reciting it on Dante’s 700th Jahrzeit (death anniversary) on 13 September. While I’ve begun working my way through Canto II, there’s no way I can have all 142 lines ready in such short time!

I’ve always had an elephantine memory and been good with languages, but I still am in awe I really managed to not only memorize such a long piece, but in another language.

How has your writing been going? Did you do Camp NaNo? Have you ever lost your writing mojo and struggled to regain it?

IWSG—Life imitating art


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:

What would make you quit writing?

Death. I want to die with my boots on and write till the last possible moment, till Archangel Michael descends to Earth to carry my soul away. I also want to give it my all till the end instead of phoning it in if my health declines, the way Freddie Mercury still sang like a god even when he was dying.

I knew going in I probably wouldn’t come anywhere close to 50K for JuNoWriMo, and I was right. At least I didn’t set myself up for a crushing disappointment and denial of reality by pretending otherwise. But it wasn’t so much my overall slowed writing progress caused by lockdown this time as it was life imitating art.

I thought I’d begin my new alternative history on the first of the month, esp. since I’ve been wanting to do this for 17 years and finally pulled together a storyline and many details. But I just couldn’t do it immediately.

I finally began it on 9 June at 9:00 at night, since nine was Dante’s favorite number and it appears often in his work. Then it was really slow going for awhile until I overcame my initial doubts and cowardice. After all, who am I to not only write about one of the greatest writers in history, but in the first person? I’m not that chutzpahdik, am I?

At the end of Canto I of Inferno, Dante is really hopped-up about going on the otherworldly journey promised, particularly since it means he gets to hang out with his idol. But then, at the start of Canto II, he’s seized by a fit of cowardice and second thoughts:

“Then I began: ‘O poet come to guide me,
tell me if you think my worth sufficient
before you trust me to this arduous road….

But why am I to go? Who allows me to?
I am not Aeneas, I am not Paul;
neither I nor anyone would think me worthy;

and so, if I should undertake the journey,
I fear it might turn out an act of folly—
you are wise, you see more than my words express.'”

I think it’s a good portent that I did have some second thoughts, hesitation, and cowardice. Writers should have a healthy dose of pride and chutzpah, but it should be combined with humility and caution. If you’re going to write about real people from history, particularly in the first-person, you need to be 100% motivated by love and respect. It’ll be obvious in the finished product if you only chose that person to mindlessly follow a trend or because you thought s/he sounded cool.

I’ll be discussing this in much greater detail in a future post, but suffice it to say for now, I’m absolutely horrified at this turn of events, and how many writers happily cheered on Ms. Powers’s firing. Since May, a lot of people have been showing some very ugly true colors in their support of antisemitism repackaged under the guise of being woke.

I won’t name and shame, but a writer I considered a virtual friend for quite a few years soft-blocked me on Instagram because I shared so many stories calling out antisemitism and supporting Israel’s right to exist and defend itself against terrorism.

Pardon my French, but if you feel the same way as the “I’m not antisemitic, but…” crowd, Allez vous faire foutre! You are not my friend or ally, and your rhetoric has helped to fuel the recent spike in hate crimes all over the world. Yet again I’m deeply disappointed in the popular face of the writing community nowadays.

I’ve set a lowball goal of 15K for Camp NaNo, and so far am on track to achieve it. As I’ve been doing since 2017, I also count blog posts as creative nonfiction towards my wordcount.

Are you doing Camp NaNo? Have you ever had an “I am not Aeneas, I am not Paul” moment in your own writing or life?

IWSG—May odds and sods

InsecureWritersSupportGroupIt’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:

Have any of your readers ever responded to your writing in a way that you didn’t expect? If so, did it surprise you?

As I’ve mentioned a number of times prior, a few people in writing groups have point-blank hated my Cinnimin, one even wanting something really bad to happen to her and being happy to learn her dad dies when she’s young. It did shake me to hear such strong words about a character I’ve been with since we were eleven years old and whom so many other people have loved.

Cinni is who she is, even after significantly toning down, radically reworking, or outright removing content from my Atlantic City books which I grew to see as wildly age-inappropriate, way too over the top, and/or mean-spirited. She’s far more spice than sugar, fiesty, sassy, a straight shooter, brutally honest, at times mouthy, a self-admitted daddy’s girl.

I wouldn’t recognize Cinni if she, e.g., hugged someone who taunted her about how her dad is living on borrowed time and proceeded to sing “Kumbaya” instead of punching and yelling at that other girl. I don’t write goody-goodies with charmed, idyllic lives.

More people have loved Cinni and praised her as a great character than have hated her. Not all our stories or characters will resonate with everyone, and that’s perfectly fine.

As expected, my wordcount for Camp NaNo wasn’t that great. I set a lowball goal of only 10K to make sure I wouldn’t fail too badly. My project was continuing my radical rewrite of the book formerly known as The Very Last. Also included were a few blog posts for May.

I didn’t do any proofing of the books I’m preparing for hardcover editions in April, but I know I’m overdue to get back to them and finish up the final spot-checks already!

Also included in my wordcount were most of the notes I made for my alternative history. Seeing as I’ve never written anything Medieval before, and amn’t nearly as back-of-my-hand familiar with the 13th and 14th centuries as I am with the 19th and 20th, it’s really important to get familiar with my setting. Not just the real people and places who’ll appear, but stuff like clothing, education, and food.

Just think, no one in Medieval Europe knew chocolate existed, and Italian cuisine didn’t have tomato sauce. Eating breakfast was looked down upon by the Church as a bad habit, except for small children. There were no nightclothes. People slept nude or in garments like undershirts.

I knew this Peter Pauper Press notebook was the right one for my notes because of the peacock. According to legend, Dante’s mother, Gabriella (Bella), had a dream when she was pregnant with him that she gave birth under a laurel tree by a spring, and her son ate the berries that fell from the tree. Then he drank from the spring and turned into a peacock. This was believed to be a portent of his future greatness.

Peacocks have very positive symbolism across so many different cultures. Among other things, they represent renewal, eternal life, immortality, creativity, joy, nobility, and transcendence.

I’m really looking forward to working on this new project during JuNoWriMo. Seventeen years after I thought of the idea, I finally have a detailed story trajectory and plot points.

My tagline is “What if one of the most famous love stories in history wasn’t unrequited?”

2020 in review (Writing and life)

Unfortunately, thanks to the apparently permanent lockdown which went into effect in March, and the accompanying loss of privacy, my normal writing output took a giant nosedive. Without the ability to go to the library six days a week and write uninterrupted for 3–4 hours, I’ve gotten almost no writing done.

Every day I grow more enraged at the people excitedly cheering on the idea of never resuming normal life and instituting even more draconian measures. It must be nice to have such class privilege you never worry about finances or being stuck in a two-room flat with no yard! The “Just fifty more years to flatten the curve until no one ever dies again for any reason!” cult also must have no problems with mental health, depression, or domestic violence. What perfect lives they have if they assume everyone else in the world is just as privileged!

I was finally heading into the homestretch of A Dream Deferred when lockdown started, and progress on that ground to a near-standstill. I also lost my bearings even more on that book and began adding more and more storylines that did nothing but bloat the already-sprawling wordcount even further.

I’ve always been a planster, and have never had a problem mentally plotting unplanned storylines which organically arise while writing a book. Several other Dream Deferred storylines weren’t part of my original outline, like the love stories of Yustina and Nestor, Bogdana and Achilles, and Milena and Vahur, and Lyudmila and Raisa’s mistake marriages and new loves with much better guys. Everything naturally came together and was wrapped up perfectly.

But with all these other storylines, either nothing ever came together (some were dropped partway through), or they were rushed along instead of allowed to naturally develop over a longer timeframe. The ones worth salvaging can easily be moved to the future fifth book, where they’ll be given the full attention they deserve.

To try to hold my cyclical depression at bay as long as possible, I spent most of lockdown checking proofs. It gave me something writing-related to do that I didn’t need such a high level of privacy for, and prevented my depression from being triggered by my terrible wordcounts. If I had my own home, this wouldn’t be an issue!

I published The Twelfth Time in hardcover, and paperback editions of Dark Forest. I also began work on the hardcover editions of Little Ragdoll and And Jakob Flew the Fiend Away. Their hardcover ISBNs hadn’t been used since I bought those blocks of five in 2014, and they were the only books I had ready in time to use a code for free title setup from IngramSpark.


Published for the very first time was the book formerly known as The Very First, which I will always think of by that title. I wrote the story which became its genesis in October 1992; I’m kind of really emotionally attached to it after all this time!

I also somehow managed to finish the final draft of the book formerly known as The Very Next. I thought it only needed some minor tweaking after the radical rewrite of 2015, but I decided to add four new chapters and flesh out a few more. At only 75K, it also suddenly felt too short and simplistic next to the 90K length of TVF.

It now stands at about 106K, not counting front and back matter, and I’m working on “The Story Behind the Story.” If everything goes well, it’ll be ready for publication by the end of February.

I continue to feel more and more politically homeless thanks to the rise of woke lunacy infesting my side of the political aisle. My personal views haven’t changed a bit, but I can’t support individuals who think freaking pronouns, cancelling Uncle Ben, and wrapping the world in trigger warnings and safe spaces have replaced things like a living wage, universal healthcare, and affordable education as key social justice issues.

My own little brother disowned me because I refused to drink his Woke Stasi Kool-Aid. That struggle session didn’t end how he thought it would! He even centered himself and rebuked me again for my “views” (i.e., that biological sex exists and is important) when he texted me a birthday greeting last month!

The sooner this toxic woke ideology goes the way of the dodo, the better!

IWSG—My seventh official NaNo was awful

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?