Post-NaNo 2019 Ruminations

This year has been rough, and I know I’m not the only one to feel that way. By the time NaNoWriMo (NaNo) rolled around, I had broken pretty much every pattern I used to keep moving forward and was a muddled mess. Deciding to try NaNo in those circumstances was probably not the best course, and if I’d continued on the traditional path, I would have failed. I often point out the progress of those who don’t cross the finish line, but I have trouble applying that to myself.

However, when my brain forgot the middle of the month (assisted by my main hard drive eating itself), I turned to my daily log to see what I’d done. Thanks to the file being stored on the cloud, I’d written every day but the first. I had succeeded in re-establishing a writing pattern even if it wasn’t for my NaNo project.

With the year I’ve experienced, this is huge. My daily log not only reminds me to write but also gives me a record when my memory is missing. And yet, even that had started to fail me as November 1st shows.

When I realized every day since had an entry in what, for all practical purposes, is a memoir I had an idea. It might be as far from the letter of NaNo law as it comes, but I folded the cape of NaNo around my shoulders, and wrapped in the spirit, I collected every bit of creative writing into a work I call Scatterings.

Below is my word count chart. Some days I jotted the bare minimum, and not a NaNo minimum, into my journal. Others, my mind and hands raced through. The end became a desperate scramble, and though I tried for words without fine tuning, even when desperate, the words didn’t count until they reflected my intent clearly. And yet, late evening on the 30th, my wild collection crossed the 50,000 word count line once again.

What did I get out of this NaNo? Traditionally, the answer has been a novel or at least a solid head start. This year the results were different on all fronts, but no less important.

  • I established the habit of maintaining my journal again.
  • I learned though my brain was unable to maintain focus, I could follow it from story to story and make something resembling progress.
  • I also found the capacity to manage my bursts of energy into something productive at least in the short term.

Here are the notes I took for this article at the very end of NaNo. I’m including them with only the slightest editing for effect:

This year my project was to see if I could still focus long enough to write a lot. I struggled at the beginning, but once I realized the best way to manage my lack of focus was to work with it instead of against, I managed to get it done. Sure, it took an all-nighter and going almost to the last minute, but I both reached the goal word count and made progress that will help me in the future. A collection of creative projects from memoir to world and character building for a variety of novels. I set up 40 ideas [my novel estimate was off] to write on and actually added to at least 4. There’s even a poem in the mix.

The consequences of those discoveries have been measured out in minimal awake time since November and severe displacements. So, not what I should be doing every month, but still I made important discoveries.

For the curious, here’s the complete breakdown of content then my daily word count.

When I figured out how I would rescue this NaNo, I set up 23 books from 10 different series in my Scrivener file. I ultimately wrote on only four of those, with world and character building blending into scenes and back. Separating actual outline from usable scenes is going to be fun. When I wrote a poem out of the blue, I couldn’t waste words, so created an “Extras” category which contains 1 poem. I moved my daily log into Scrivener as well, considering this portion memoir. Finally, I included the non-fiction articles or partials I wrote during the month, largely for my blog. The breakdown comes to this:

Fiction: 24,674 (including supporting materials)
Poetry: 171
Memoir: 15,180 (I had no idea it was so much!)
Articles: 10,616
Final Total: 50,641

Oh, and the four books were two in Seeds Among the Stars (the most going to a post-Apprentice bridging novella) and the next two novels in my sweet contemporary romance series Foster’s Way. I also added some notes to a shifter series that’s been building in the back of my head.

DayNew WordsRunning Total
Posted in Challenges, Goals, NaNoWriMo, News, Outlining, Writing Process | Tagged , | Leave a comment

5 Interesting Links for 11-29-2019

Note: Videos may auto start with sound so be prepared.

U.S. Law (Copyright)

There are many beliefs about copyright in the United States that are incomplete or just wrong. This review of the most common misunderstandings helps clarify the problem areas. (Via Jean Joachim, Author)

Automation (Disability)

A well-expressed breakdown of the need for including disabled voices in creation and decision making regarding automation and other innovations starting from a personal example and expanding to consider a more global need. While automation has the potential to benefit the disabled community, implementation decisions that don’t take disabled people into account could offer negatives to undermine the positives. (Via EDEN)

Psychology (Happiness)

An examination of how some people successfully weather emotional highs and lows improves the understanding of happiness and reveals four methods that can help.

Interesting People (Musicians)

Half interview, half history, this article with video clips looks at Carlos Santana’s musical career and how he changed the definition of popular music by reclaiming the influences that built his individual sound.

Health (Sleep)

A newly uncovered way deep sleep is tied to long-term health advances our understanding of the physiological effects of slow-wave activity.

The Captain's Chair, a Seeds Among the Stars short story

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Space Train by David Bridger

Space Train by David Bridger

It’s Thanksgiving here in the United States, and what better time to share a novel where family, found and birth, is a strong theme. While the local tribes rescued the pilgrims from starvation, in Space Train, the Russell family is on a rescue mission as well. They enable resettlement away from the oppressive, nepotistic, race-divided regime that dominates the planet Main. What makes theirs a rescue is how they keep the new location a secret Main will kill to uncover. Their passengers may not be the refugees Captain Tom rescued during the last galactic war, but they are still in danger.

The large cast is peopled with distinct characters, so while I had some trouble tracking them at first, each character soon became an individual with their own stories. The Russell family is small after an attack on their home planet of Willerby during the war. Their piece is split between Tom and his crew on route to the new colony called Red, and his sister Rain and cousin Ellen, back on Willerby. Several Clears, the first alien species we meet, earn a narrative role, starting with Nene who develops a personal connection with Tom. Saxe is the ghost who haunts Tom with his cruel acts during the war–only he isn’t dead and buried. Then there’s the religious leader who doesn’t lead with a troubled past and a growing affection for Ellen that she wants to ignore; Richard, the husband of Ellen’s brother; and Zac and Kym, two of the passengers.

It may seem like a big list, and I haven’t mentioned them all, but this is a big book. Having so many points of view offers a well-rounded perspective of a complex, multi-layered story. The characters become real because they are full of history and intensity. My comments, which I use to write my review, are spare simply because I kept getting caught up in the story and forgetting to make any.

Nor are the characters clear-cut. The best example of this is Zac, a disabled veteran of the galactic war who lost both legs and his will to live. He’s coasting through life until he secures the future of his wife and son while shutting both out. That is both noble and horrible. Characters like Zac drew me into their struggles, so I rooted for different answers even when none seemed forthcoming.

The beginning is stronger than the later chapters, which is not to say I didn’t enjoy the book to the last page. Still, there are some scenes that happen off screen I’d prefer to have been present for and some layers don’t merge as smoothly with the main plot. It’s hard to explain without spoiling, but there’s enough meat in this book to fill more than one. Some later scenes felt a little like the author wanting to share aspects of the world that wouldn’t otherwise get a mention. That said, overall, the disparate plot threads worked together and strengthened the whole, especially in the first half of the novel, but even in the later parts.

The novel gives the consequences of war a close look, not only during action but in the survivors. A built-up military finds it easy to see itself as the solution to every problem along with the way that mentality enables leaders to ignore the problematic nature of attacking civilian targets, for example. We also learn firsthand how accounts of events may be swayed to support one side at the detriment of the other, setting good people unknowingly against their personal morality.

Another example of how the large cast builds and strengthens is in personalizing the events. The war is not a matter of the past or history. What Saxe did to a ship of refugees Tom had been flying still haunts Tom. Zac’s life is worthless (in his mind) due to his injuries. Ellen lost her family and sees finding love again as a betrayal.

We experience these consequences with the characters. It’s not a roll call of endless strangers, but rather connected to people we have bonded with. The treaty might be signed, but the war wages on in its impact.

I found Tom’s crew a little naive, possibly because I had more information than they did thanks to the opposing viewpoints working to undermine their operation. The way the situation is set up made me suspicious of everything, though, and there are many vulnerabilities the crew takes on faith. That said, I also found myself too hopeful at times, buying into their optimism.

Don’t think this is a grim war novel full of bad choices, disaster, and desperation, though. There are moments of lightness, love, and connection tied in. Losses from the war bring the mourners together as much as dwelling on the past traps them in it. Actions have consequences, sometimes deadly and other times amusing, and several characters have stunning insights that are delightful on many levels. Teasing between various family members and coworkers also deepens our understanding of the characters.

The novel comes to life in a universe with more depth than even the characters are aware of. Glimpses of how the diverse cultures work were fascinating while the tech often sprang from what we now know is possible though we haven’t yet succeeded in harnessing those elements. Nor is the tech always helpful as the characters struggle to adapt to some innovations the Dowl have made.

Ultimately, this is a strong novel with a lot to share. It is peopled with a broad, interesting cast, and tells something new while throwing a reflection on modern times. I was engaged with the characters, bought into their struggles, and wanted better futures for them. The universe fascinated me, especially with the similarities and differences between species, both in culture and ability. The hints of technology like ours, along with different possible paths to develop them, intrigued me.

This is science fiction as it should be: a commentary on where things are going wrong and offering possibilities to change that direction. The cast represents people of many races, abilities, and backgrounds, nor is it a simple split between alien species and human. Space Train offers an intense, deep read. Be prepared to engage…far more than just the engines.

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Making NaNo Work Around My Disability in 2019

Image courtesy of NaNoWriMo.
Image courtesy of NaNoWriMo.

I normally spend the month of November talking about NaNoWriMo or (inter)National Novel Writing Month (NaNo for short), and I may write about it a little or a lot. This year, we’re in the final week–rather the final days–and I haven’t said a word about what I’m doing. If you follow my progress, you might recall how last year was the first time in 16 years that I did not make my 50,000 words. I’m locked in a creative struggle with trying to maintain progress (at any level) and recognizing the impact of my health issues is not something I can ignore. They won’t be going away.

This is very hard for me.

My personality has always been focused on “if I try hard enough, I can do it.” This is true whether it’s climb mountains despite a crippling fear of heights and untrustworthy joints, or work full time at home with two young kids without giving up my writing entirely. My attitude does not mesh well with physical or mental disabilities, but as long as I could burn my candles at both ends, and in the middle, thanks to hyperactivity, I managed to make it work. It’s all too easy to think about how I did it last year, or ten years ago, and expect to be better, not worse.

Not realistic, but easier.

NaNo is a good demonstration of this trend, both the disconnect between expectations and reality as well as the way my growing limitations change what I can reasonably do. Sure, it’s frustrating, but at the same time, understanding reality helps me figure out how to make things work even if it means adjusting how I do things.

My first NaNo, I finished on the 22nd day with over 116,000 words (after a ton of editing, this became book 1 of Seeds Among the Stars). Last year’s NaNo, after fighting all month, I reached the 30th with 22,730 words. Not even halfway.

Here’s my NaNo history:

YearFinal DayTitle(s)NaNo Length
200429The Key That Must97,982
200527The Demon Rules51,100
200630But a Pretty Bauble75,592
200730Sorcery and the Perfect Dress53,169
200830Coma Wedding50,281
200930Karth’s Story51,385
201030A Flash of Copper53,356
201430An Innocent Secret63,343
201530Steam and Shadows50,889
201628Isabella, and Traps and Treachery50,866
201730Traps and Treachery50,436
201830End of Traps and Treachery and beginning of Destiny’s Path Redux22,730

Last year is not the first year I struggled as you can see. The length of my NaNo novels has been steadily dropping while pure focus on a single project has gone out the window. I’ve been compensating by working on multiple projects to avoid the overwhelm and doing the easy parts or skimping on prep to preserve my energy.

The nightmare edit that is Apprentice results from this skimping. I would have given up a long time ago, but the story is sound. I’m still enjoying it, and I’ve been through this novel more times than I can count. That’s in between calling on beta readers who were critical to correcting my mistake in running ahead of my preparation.

Way back when, I was a pantser. I kept whole worlds, continuity, plots, characters, and stories in my head. I still do, but they’re much less accessible. That’s what the outlining is for. It pulls those pieces out onto the page where I can fine tune them, prevent concept or even scene duplication, and produce a clean first draft. Clean is a relative term as it still requires a good bit of editing, but the extent of editing is very different.

I have two (maybe three) more novels written with partial outlines waiting in the edit queue. I’m hoping to translate some of the things I learned from the Apprentice edit to get through them faster, but we’ll see.

What does this have to do with NaNo? Everything.

This year, after deciding I would try again, I looked at the underlying theme of NaNo. When it was easy for me, the goal of winning seemed like the purpose. Why else would I concentrate on writing in November when I can do it whenever I feel like it?

However, the real theme is trying. It’s giving people, who otherwise would never have undertaken to write a novel, a dynamic, encouraging environment to take a swing at something they’ve always wanted to do. Some people try for years before reaching the 50,000 finish. Others never do. But each year, they line up to give it a shot.

With my stack of completed novels, I’m not the typical participant. I never needed proof I could write a long work. My first completed “long work” at almost 10,000 was in junior high. I also have many “in progress” projects that are much longer from those early years (with shorter ones dating to six or seven years old). I needed help finishing things, though the 80,000 novel I completed for my college thesis moved me in the right direction, but NaNo doesn’t ask for a true first draft. Just a word count.

However, with the way things have been going, suddenly I need proof that I can still write. I need proof I can keep going on a project (or projects) despite my limitations. That means NaNo is more relevant for me than it has ever been. The loss last year breaks a chain, but it also creates an opportunity. I can now retool my relationship with the challenge and allow NaNo to help me in a way it never had to before.

That said, the last thing I need is one more messy edit to weigh me down. I didn’t want same old disaster. I hoped for something new.

So, I marked my type as NaNo Rebel and set off to complete not a novel but my version of an outline (something halfway between plot outline and very raw first draft). I got started thanks to a local write-in, but my focus point (as it’s been all year) was in the less than 1000-word range. Most of the month vanished in a blink and I realized I’d stopped working on that outline, but I’d continued to write on other small things here and there.

That’s when I realized my rebellion was much larger than I had imagined.

I’ve called my NaNo a Frankenstein before, but this is the most I’ve ever gone with the concept. The project for NaNo 2019 is seeing if I can manage to write the whole month. No matter how small, no matter how scattered as far as location, anything with a narrative (fiction and non-fiction) or a narrative purpose (outlining and world building) counts. They always counted, but I included them in square brackets within the main text rather than on their own. Now they have their own sections. Also, instead of one outline, I added the base structure for 40 different novels and have been randomly writing on whichever catches my eye. There are some scenes coming out, but most of it is outline, which means when I’m ready to start another long project, I’ll be that much further ahead on the prep.

The winner banner might still be out of reach, and the tracking will be wild when I can normally figure out what my NaNo projects were by title, but it’s a step forward in a year that’s had all too many stumbles. Progress, trying, and the comradery especially of my local NaNo group are what make NaNo one of my favorite challenges.

Guess I’m still in it for the long haul. Maybe someday I’ll figure out the magic combination of preparation and energy to reach that finish line with a novel project again. Until then? Well, I’m not calling quits until 11:59pm on the 30th, so we’ll see where I end up this year.

How about you? What are some of the ways NaNo helps you push toward a goal otherwise hard to see?

Posted in Challenges, Goals, NaNoWriMo, News, Outlining, Writing Process | Tagged , | 6 Comments

5 Interesting Links for 11-22-2019

Note: Videos may auto start with sound so be prepared.

Management (Electricity)

With the controlled power outages in California, the need to reassess how electricity is managed becomes ever more apparent. This article proposes a localization of power production through independent solar panels to reduce risks posed by wind and fire, as well as cyber-attacks, when the energy is transported over great distances to reach its customer base.

Science Fiction (Novelette)

The Sun from Both Sides by R.S.A. Garcia starts out slow and mellow in what resembles a fairytale voice only to turn into an epic story about responsibilities verses retiring into obscurity and how fate hunts you down for unfinished business. These themes build gracefully on each other, taking us from a small, defined life, to a world built on power and oppression that cries out for another way. I didn’t expect this, and to be honest, thought about giving up in the beginning because I wasn’t in the mood for low key, but am ever so grateful I kept going. It has the complexity, layering, and story I love, along with fascinating characters and world building, though I suspect you could stick with a surface read and still enjoy what is a classic in manipulation and mystery. It’s available to read on the web, so why not see if you enjoy the read as much as I did?

Gifts (Readers)

A curated list of non-book gifts for a booklover that is fun to explore whether or not they’d be appreciated in real life. It is missing t-shirts with cover art or fun quotes, but there are some interesting ideas represented here. (Via Fantasy and Sci-Fi Readers Lounge)

Research (Sleep)

Research supports the need to introduce more bright light into people’s lives to counteract poor sleep. A scientist recreated the intent of one experiment within the complexity of her normal life and had some interesting results.

Marketing (Websites)

Though just over a year old at this point, the article has good suggestions for an effective author website design that will last instead of following the latest trend. The examples might be different than they were when the author first checked them, but each still demonstrates the techniques well.

Gifts, The Steamship Chronicles, Book Three- Sharable
Posted in Environment, Health, Interesting Links, Marketing, Novelette Reviews, Reading, Research, Short Stories, Technology | Leave a comment