NaNoWriMo After Action Report – 2017

I had a great NaNoWriMo, but I’m really busy so there’s only the one graph this year.

The NaNo Rules

The modifications I made to NaNoWriMo worked well for me last year, so I’ve largely stuck to them, the only change I made was that I stuck to my attempt to write at least something every day, which I added half-way through last year. The modified NaNo worked like this

  • I aimed for as many words as possible in the month of November, even though my ostensible goal was 50,000, realistically, I figured 25,000 was probably the most I could reasonably aim for.
  • I counted all blog posts, essays, fanfiction and original fiction, and I let myself work on as many different projects as I felt like, but I didn’t count any words written for work, on social media, or any long-hand journal entries.
  • I aimed to write at least something every single day.
  • No editing or deleting. Only writing.

Expectations

I didn’t actually expect to do better this year, than last year, because I was a lot busier. I picked last year for my first attempt at NaNo because it was a quiet month after a high pressure October, even though I was combining it with my first attempt at sending out Christmas cards.

But this year, in addition to NaNo, and Christmas cards I was also attending the annual Society for Neuroscience conference. SfN is an absolutely huge conference, 5 days, 30,000 attendees and, for me, an international plane flight and 5 nights in a hotel with 3 other people, plus all the attendant preparations before and recovery after.

Preparations

Last NaNo it became really obvious to me that I needed to figure out an outlining strategy that worked for me, I stalled on a lot of projects last year because I didn’t have an outline, so when I didn’t know what to write next I got stuck.

I’ve historically struggled with outlining, but I’ve finally figured out an outlining method that works for me, which I’ve been calling “leapfog outlining”. I’ll write a general outline for the story, usually only a few sentences summing up the general premise, the start of the story, and approximately where its supposed to end, and then I’ll do an outline of the first 1 to 3 chapters, write them, then outline the next few based on what I’ve written.

So, unlike last year, I did a lot of outlining and preparation in October so I had a lot of notes to work with. I also hoarded as many books as I could from my ongoing Criticising Harry Potter Criticism reading project, as a relatively easy source of word count, instead of just writing them up as I finished them.

Outcomes

I did much better than I expected to.

I did, actually write every single day in November. I also wrote a lot more (9800 words) than last year. This is in part because the Christmas Cards got the short end of the stick, they’re not done. But I’m still proud of myself. I don’t work well under pressure, so it means a lot to me to be able to say to myself, that despite the busy schedule, the travel, and the huge number of people, everywhere, all the time, I could still sit down and write, because I told myself I would.

OverallPlot

The two middle lines show my cumulative word count from last year on the bottom in grey and my cumulative word count from this year on top in blue. The difference is pretty striking, or at least, I think it is. The top line, for reference is an “ideal” NaNoWriMo performance, hitting the exact target word count every day. The bottom line is my projection of my “typical” output. This is kind of a fiction, because I don’t write every day and I’m not remotely consistent, its something I made as a reference for the version of this graph I made last year. Given how much more I wrote this year, I thought seriously about adjusting it. But ultimately I still feel like 6000 words per month is a good representation of my typical writing output, so I’ve kept it.

Not only did I write more words this year, I wrote more consistently. You can see in the table below that my mean and median daily output are a lot closer together.

  Mean Words/Day Median Words/Day Total Word Count
2016 730.7 595 21,922
2017 1,057.4 1,127 31,722

In terms of projects this works out to:

21 complete blog posts or essays, plus another 3 that aren’t complete yet.

9 chapters of various fanfics plus another 3 partial ones.

Part of 1 yearly Christmas letter I really need to get done now.

The start of one original novel.

NaNo, for some reason, is a great way for me to get unstuck on projects and I have no idea why. I typically do not write well under pressure. I go out of my way to not write in stressful conditions, because that typically doesn’t work. I’m also not very good at forcing my way through writing problems, although I’m working on that. Usually when I get stuck I usually just have to wait until my brain feels ready to go back to it because I’m literally incapable of forcing myself over writer’s block. But for some reason, during NaNo I gain the magical November specific ability to sit down and write all the sticky scenes I’ve accumulated during the year. This absolutely costs me word count, but I don’t care, it makes the whole of NaNo worthwhile.

The biggest, number one sticky project I was hoping to start this year was the original novel. And it worked. I wrote 685 entire words worth of original fiction. I hate most of them so much I have them flagged to be deleted now that November is over and I’m allowed to do that again, but I started it.

NaNo Follow-up

Last year I said that I was going to keep tracking my wordcount when NaNo ended. That was a horrible idea and I gave up on it after a week. Tracking words during NaNo worked well because it gave me a sense of progress and let me set micro-goals (ex. “I’m going to write at least 200 words of this before I switch projects”). Once NaNo ended and I stopped writing every day, the sheer number of zeroes in my spreadsheet got a little disheartening. Even more disheartening was that actually editing sometimes creates a negative word count. Which made me feel like I was going backwards, when what I was actually doing was creating more polished work. I started using a bullet journal to keep track of personal projects, and its working much better.

In other success news, despite writing more, and despite the exhausting conference (I’m still tired), I’m not having the same sort of post-NaNo slump that I did last year, where the thought of writing just filled me with despair and I had to spend three days doing statistics before I could face it again. The thought of all the non-critical chores I put off to have more writing time is certainly looming, but even though I definitely struggled with having ideas and turning them into words in the last five or six days, I still feel engaged and ready to write more.

I don’t have the same number of novel observations that I did last year about what’s working or not going forward.

The outlining technique I’ve figured out seems to be the one that works for me, so I’ll keep it up.

Keep multiple projects on the go at once seems to work well for me as well. During NaNo it’s a word count booster, because it reduces the amount of writing time I spend not producing words. But working on a totally different project is also a good way for me to have ideas about projects I’m stuck on for some reason.

What I really need to be doing now, is editing and finishing things. I was tremendously embarrassed to realize, when I was getting all my notes together for this year, that I still have written but unedited work from last November. So as much as I’m enjoying my newfound momentum, its time to add some organization to it.

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Criticizing Harry Potter Criticism… Part 1

Last fall I stumbled upon a hoard of Harry Potter criticism books, so, naturally, the obvious thing to do was to reread the series, and then stack up every book of Harry Potter criticism I own and read them in publication order. That’s totally what any person would do, right?

So as a paddle through my Harry Potter analysis pond, I thought I’d write up a little review of each of them so I can organize my thoughts.

The first book I’m reviewing, however, actually predated my reading project, but I’d read it so recently, that rereading it seemed sort of pointless. But it is a book on Harry Potter and its a great one, so I would hate to leave it out.

Harry Potter and the Millennials –  by Anthony Gierzynski and Kathryn Eddy, published in 2013.

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Circling the Drain: The Arc of Civil War

Each of the major Avengers (major here meaning headlining a movie) as well as several of the more minor ones, have their own type of story arc.

The Iron Man movies, and Tony’s parts in the Avengers Movies, have all, fundamentally been about Tony improving as a person. So, taking responsibility for the effects of his actions in Iron Man, sets him up to stagger through learning how to include and open up to people in Iron Man 2, and that, in turn provides the basis for the self-sacrifice he demonstrates in Avengers and then the more genuinely balanced teamwork he demonstrates in Iron Man 3. They kind of look cyclical, because Tony is a Mess and needs a lot more help than he generally gets, so that solving one problem typically just reveals the next onion-layer of dysfunction. But, overall, Tony improves as a person and emerges from each movie better than he started.

Thor’s movies are similar.  In each movie Thor becomes a little less solipsistic, and a little more integrated as a member of his group and his community and takes more responsibility for himself and his actions.

Bruce Banner reaches increasing parity and comfort with the Hulk with each movie, his story is essentially personal. In Hulk he only develops the ability to control his transformations right at the end of the film, and notably, he does that after running away from New York, and Betty Ross, in Avengers we see him use that, and ends the film deciding to stay in New York and be accepted by Tony, instead of exiling himself. At the end of Ultron, even though he leaves again, he does so with Hulk actively making decisions, not just being let out as a last-ditch option.

Steve Rogers follows a cyclical arc, he’s constantly stuck circling back around and around the same conflicts. Even in First Avenger which is his origin story you have him dealing with the loss of Bucky twice (three times if you count him initially shipping out), and having to prove himself as useful twice, first as the little guy then as the chorus girl. Then during Avengers he once again has to prevent someone destroying New York using the tesseract, the exact thing he was doing when he was frozen at the end of First Avenger, although with a different enemy and team to work with.  Then he fights Hydra and loses Bucky again in Winter Soldier. Age of Ultron then recapitulates Winter Soldier by forcing Cap to deal with internal betrayal by his allies, and fight Hydra, and Avengers by having him chase Loki’s sceptre.

Interestingly, Peggy follows an almost inverse path through Agent Carter. Although she’s not one of the core Marvel heroes, she’s an interesting point of comparison. She starts in essentially the same place Steve does in the final scenes of First Avenger, in a radically different setting, having lost the people closest to her, and having to prove herself, but spends the whole series gradually overcoming that and establishing new relationships and teammates and first regaining her old position, and then outstripping it.

One of the ways I think Civil War was very definitively a Captain America movie, rather than an Avengers movie, despite the big cast, or an Iron Man movie, although Tony is very prominent, is that it very much follows a Captain America arc, rather than an Iron Man one, or following the pattern of the previous Avengers ensemble films, where everyone is kind of following their own shape in tandem.

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Christmas Card After-Action Report

Why Was I Even Sending Christmas Cards in 2016?

This year, as I alluded to briefly in my NaNoWriMo after action report, I sent out Christmas cards with letters for the first time this year.

img_2669
A card with a letter tucked into it. Only the edge of the folded letter, with an image of my face on it is visible. The card is a poem with a flower traced over it, backed on lime green paper

Here’s a demo version of the card design I used… unfortunately I didn’t think to photograph any of them in advance, so this version is made on terrible paper.

For about as long as I can remember, my mother has sent out a Christmas Letter, along with handmade Christmas cards to her extended family. Exactly what a Christmas Letter is supposed to contain appears to vary a bit, I saw at least one grumpy op-ed decrying them as an excuse to brag while I was writing mine, and another complaining that they are an out-dated and frivolous emotional labour sink.

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NaNoWriMo After Action Report

[Warning: Contains non-ideally formatted graphs and a lackadaisical attitude towards statistical assumptions. I was using my NaNoWriMo output to learn how to use new statistics software, so the graphs were formatted and the tests picked to let me use as many beginner-friendly R functions as possible, not necessarily to give the most appropriate tests. Sorry.

Also warning: This is just unremitting navel-gazing about my writing habits. That’s all it is. Not sorry about that.]

Background for the NaNo Plan

This year seemed like my year for NaNo. I’ve spent the last two years stressed out of my brain, and couldn’t face it, but this year has actually gone well for me. I had my Candidacy exam (giant oral exam of doom) scheduled October the 5th so I came up the following scheme.

I’d finish my exam, spend a week or so recuperating and then have the rest of October to clear things up at work so I would have free time, and to outline and prep things for November.

The Original NaNo Plan

I’ve never finished a novel draft before, and I’m a slow writer, so I was always planning to do a modified NaNo to ease into it.

I settled up on the following rules:

  • – Write as many words as possible during November, aiming for 50,000
  • – Do not edit, just move onto the next chapter or the next project.
  • – You can start new projects if you want to (I’ve been trying not start new projects until I finish some of my open ones… it hasn’t been going well)
  • – Any and all writing projects count, journaling doesn’t count, internet comments don’t count and nothing written for work counts.

NaNo Goals

I didn’t come into the project with especially clearly defined goals.

Realistically, I knew I wasn’t going to manage 50,000 words. I figured 25,000-30,000 would probably be pretty good optimistic count to aim for, but I basically just came into it aiming to write as much as possible, however much that was. I actually wrote just bit under 22,000 words, so I wasn’t far off.

I didn’t have any specific ideas about writing every day or not going in, but by a few weeks in I decided that I really wanted to try and write every day. This I did manage. I have no daily word counts of 0.

My long standing, number one writing goal, independent of NaNo is to finish a long work of fiction. I didn’t expect to do this during NaNo. I did use NaNo to polish off a number of shorter drafts that have been hanging in partially completed limbo though. I count this as a partial success. I didn’t complete a long work, but I did complete things, which, I hope, is good practice in finishing stuff.

Actual NaNoWriMo Proceedings

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Sure is a State of Being: An Every Heart A Doorway Review

I’ve finished Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire, again (in my defense it’s a dainty little book, not even 200 pages). I love it. I have not one single negative thing that I can think of to say about it. I wish I could send a copy back in time to my teenage self, because she really could have used a book like that.

First off, take a minute before you start reading to really appreciate the cover art, because its wonderful.

Mechanically, it’s a great book. The pacing is great; tense, but not rushed. The world-building is incredibly lush, not only for Eleanor’s school and the general setting, but also for each of the students’ portal worlds, even the ones that only get described for a passage or so. The classification system developed to explain the different portal universes, plotted on two axes, virtue to wickedness and nonsense to logic, but peppered with minor directions like, rhyme, and linearity, is just plain fun. Its also very fan-friendly. Its deeply appealing for self-sorting (I’m high virtue, high logic, low linearity, how about you?) and its just begging to be used as an AU setting. The characters are wonderfully lifelike, diverse and brilliantly written. They all have immense emotional depth and even when I didn’t like them, I felt for them.

So, I’ve been looking forward to this book since I first heard the premise, because a boarding school for portal fantasy heroes is exactly the sort of story I would like, regardless of anything else. But when I found out that it had an ace lead character I immediately bought it in hard cover, instead of just getting a kindle version. Having actually read it, I now need a folio edition because a regular hard-cover just doesn’t express my love of this book sufficiently.

Not only is Nancy an ace character, she’s a fantastic ace character. She’s well developed and interesting and her asexuality is an integral and integrated part of her, but never subsumes her personality. I have nothing bad at all to say about her. I love her. I am deeply grateful to Seanan McGuire for writing her.

There’s one thing in specific, about the way that Nancy’s identity is presented that I want to focus on, the paragraph where Nancy first comes out:

“I’m asexual. I don’t get those feelings” She would have thought her lack of sexual desire had been what had drawn her to the Underworld – so many people had called her a “cold fish” and said she was dead inside back when she’d been attending an ordinary high school, among ordinary teenagers, after all – except that non of the people she’d met in those gloriously haunted halls had shared her orientation. They lusted as hotly as the living did. The Lord of the Dead and the Lady of Shadows had spread their ardour throughout the palace, and all had been warmed by its light.

It would have been incredibly easy to overlook that people might associate asexuality with an affinity for death, or to leave the clarification for later. But instead, the whole train of thought is cut off right away. No one gets a chance to ask if maybe Nancy’s sexual orientation is why Nancy was drawn to the Underworld, so no one has a chance to decide that the answer is yes. Its an incredibly deft way of dodging a nasty stereotype, and I really appreciated it.

MEANINGFUL SPOILERS EXIST BEYOND THIS POINT

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Academic Politics in Numb3rs: A Millie Finch Appreciation Post

 So the subplot in Numb3rs Season 3 episode “Waste Not” is Charlie and Amita’s conflict with their pushy new Head of Department, Millie Finch. Millie Charlie and Amita’s relationship gets a good deal more friendly in later episodes, but in this episode in specific, its pretty hostile. Central to the conflict, Millie demands that Amita serve on the curriculum committee and Charlie serve on the graduate admissions committee.

This sounds like an annoying bureaucratic request, and it is. But its worth talking through the way that committees work in universities, because it’s a bigger part of Charlie’s character arc than you might think.

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