IWSG—My eighth official NaNo


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—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!