The Best of What I’m Reading: Late 2020 and Early 2021

The beginning of 2021 has been excellent for reading, not just for the quantity but the quality as well. In fact, the time since my last book review post — written around the time I started my current job — has been full of good books with few true flops. Since there are so many books to cover I’ll just summarize the books with the highlights… even if that means most of the books.
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The Future of Wikiwrimo: I Need Your Help

Wikiwrimo has come a long way from its first edit almost a decade ago. What started out as an longtime unemployed recession grad’s side project has evolved into a 2,000+ page labor of love documenting almost everything about NaNoWriMo’s history, culture, and lore. Back then, much of NaNoWriMo history and culture got wiped every year, and it was easy to lose track of what year such-and-such happened. Past winner certificates and icons. Word crawls. Regions.

It truly is a labor of love. I pay for the site’s hosting and have made over half the edits on the wiki. To be honest I’m a little surprised that number isn’t significantly higher since it feels higher sometimes (although it could be thanks to spam edits). I’ve dug through the Wayback Machine, old emails, old forum posts, personal photos, Discord servers, social media posts, annual reports, tax information, and so much more to collect any and all NaNoWriMo-related information.

I don’t say all this to complain, but to point out a few problems with this setup.

One, the site was designed to be a community wiki for anyone to edit, not just my views on NaNoWriMo. Yes, I can edit anyone’s edits, but anyone else can edit mine. One of the things I made sure to mention during my virtual world tour if people recognized my name was that yes, I’m the person behind Wikiwrimo, and yes they can add to it, but I understand if they wait until December. This leads to another question lurking in the back of my mind that I’ll leave unaddressed for now: who else cares?

Two, there’s no Plan B. As the pandemic has shown, every plan needs a Plan B. Wikiwrimo currently has no Plan B in case I’m hit by a bus or am otherwise incapacitated. If something were to happen to me, the site could die too. That’s a decade’s worth of research, writing, and passion down the drain. It would potentially be recoverable through the Wayback Machine, and I do keep some backups, but there’s no human backup with the knowledge. I am the weakest link to this project, and that’s a dangerous position to be in.

Three, I’m drowning. As I’ve talked about before, there’s a lot to juggle and only so much time. Productivity experts will parrot out that you make time for the things you want to do, and that’s true to an extent. Like being frugal with money, there’s only so much you can do to make the best of your time after you’ve prioritized the big expenses (or time sinks). I make time for my work because it brings in money, we’re stuck in a capitalist regime, and I have financial goals but no Bank of Mom and Dad to lean on. I make time for the wiki because I’ve poured over half my life into the NaNoWriMo community and believe the site has become the best resource out there for Wrimos to learn about NaNo’s history and terms. Heck, Wikiwrimo becomes a second part-time job for a month or two each year when I’m updating all 669 (as of 2020) regions with the previous year’s MLs and regional stats.

In my recent Wikiwrimo adventuring, I noticed that a lot of articles haven’t been updated since 2016 or 2017. Coincidentally, this is around the time I started working more and acquiring a more active social life all around the same time, practically running myself thin to do everything and somehow failing at everything at the same time. I’ve set aside my own goals, like finishing my novel edits, to take a break after burning myself out after marathon editing sessions. This isn’t a sustainable lifestyle, nor is it a sustainable way to run a community site.

So here’s where I ask: I need help.

I genuinely appreciate everyone who had made the other half of the non-spam contributions, even if it felt small to you. Everything you added was something I didn’t have to hunt down and add myself. You are what make the wiki and the wider NaNo community what it is. Thank you.

In order for the wiki to be a growing and thriving resource that remains sustainable, it needs more than one person making the bulk of the content. I don’t expect anyone else to pour as much time into this as I have, but the past few years have made clear that I can’t do this alone anymore.

So what can you do? Here are a few things.

If you see something that’s out of date, update it! All you have to do is create an account.

Tell your friends about the site. Your ML. Your fellow Wrimo friends.

Check out the to-do list and see what you can add. It’s woefully incomplete but it’s something.

Check out the incomplete articles and see what you can add.

Check out articles like the main NaNoWriMo article and see if you can flesh out the history section or anything else where the article looks like it just ends several years ago.

Hopefully, we can build a site that can live long-term and work for the wider Wrimo community. Together.

Having More Time Didn’t Magically Solve My Problems

You’ve heard it over and over, from me, from other people, and probably from yourself: I don’t have time to do it all. And in my own navel-gazing case, it’s true. I have a full-time job, some freelance work that I’ve managed to limit to ten hours a week, and other side things: Wikiwrimo, competing in Pokemon Go PVP tournaments, leaving my computer screen to go outside regularly, reading 50 books in a year, pursuing my writing, and on and on and on.

Time was a struggle before the pandemic. I had a boycritter to spend time with. Every weekend had a social thing, sometimes multiple. I was combining multiple tasks at once: freelance work and spending time with the boycritter in coffee shops, cleaning or exercising or commuting with audiobooks.

Honestly, I had been burning out for a long time. All I wanted before the pandemic was a day to myself, free of responsibilities and work and social obligations. I got that free day at the end of February, right before COVID turned the world upside down. The problem with burnout is that a day off is merely a band-aid on an existing problem. Despite being furloughed in April and eventually laid off last year, I still found other things to do with all that time: more than zero effort into housework, updating Wikiwrimo with big picture updates that I had been delaying for years, a little bit of reading, and the usual job search stuff. As I settled into the rhythm of a new job alongside my freelance work, the things I had picked up with the extra time fell to the wayside, and once again I found myself scrambling to get ready for NaNo while also planning the great world tour.

Now I’m barely keeping up. Time spent on the wiki is time I’m not spending on freelance work, which is time not spent writing, which is not time spent making sure I don’t live in a pigsty. Just like in the Before Times, one thing going into overtime or one unplanned thing can mean rearranging the rest of my week to make sure I’m still on top of my obligations.

So what happens now when normalcy glimmers in the distance, along with the hope of an in-person social life on top of everything else I’ve been doing for the past year? Some deep reflection over whether my current lifestyle plus the return of a social life is even sustainable. This isn’t a recent problem. Unfortunately it is the real problem, and I don’t know how to solve it.

I’ve already shaved time from other hobbies. Pokemon Go battling is a hobby of mine, and I’ve cut back on the parts of the game I don’t enjoy, primarily raiding. This has been easy thanks to the continuous return of repeat Pokemon to legendary raids and my apathy toward mega raids. I’ve continued playing while out on walks because long walks in other neighborhoods have been my primary way of leaving the house safely during the pandemic, so I’ve combined that with taking down gyms.

More strikingly, that time has also come from my writing. Ever wondered why I still haven’t finished editing a novel yet? This is why. Editing a novel is a huge undertaking, one that is possible to squeeze into the cracks, but the extent of my editing, at least the early stages, lends itself more to longer stretches of time that I don’t often have. This leaves me trapped: my novels won’t fix themselves.

But some days, after all the work and extra work and wiki maintenance and generally being an adult, I just need to Not for awhile. That’s where all the Twitter and Discord and Pokeclicker and forum stuff come in, and yes, maybe reading a book or having a semblance of a social life while the world is turning its way around. I’ve forced myself to keep going, to keep squeezing some of these projects in, but there’s only so far I can go.

The pie-in-the-sky solution is to become financially independent. After all, the real problems started when I started working full-time with a commute and freelance work. Since my generation looks at boomers and say “Your decisions are why we’ll never retire”, financial independence before traditional retirement age is unlikely.

Well, financial independence is unlikely if I want to pursue the most logical solution: quit my freelance work. This has been dancing around my head for awhile, especially since juggling this much work, all my side projects, having a social life (well, in the Before Times), and everything else I want to do is impossible.

For awhile I told myself I’d quit after repaying my student loans and old debt. Then I paid off my student loans right before the pandemic, and about six months later, the rest of my debt. Now I can quit anytime I want, but something keeps me there. It’s not a love of the work. While it does involve a lot of research and organizing information that I enjoy, it’s often tedious.

Now I’m incredibly lucky to have a job that pays well (albeit with a long commute that will make these problems worse if office work resumes) and healthy savings. But there are retirement goals to get on track for, thanks to not even starting until age 30. There’s also a vague goal of saving for a down payment in the next few years, and freelancing will speed up progress toward that goal while not detracting from other goals like retirement catchup and travel.

I could quit now, but fear keeps me in place. It took me years to get any kind of job despite hundreds of applications and interviews, and I spent a few years cobbling together multiple low-paying freelance gigs to pay the bills with some breathing room. Hustling is in my blood.

There’s also the fact that my current job is a long-term contract with an expiration date. Yes, there’s an option for renewal or hiring, but I don’t know how that would play out, and my attitude toward staying may change drastically in the next year.

So now what? I don’t know. I really wish I did since this is the only life I’ve got, and the end of the pandemic means a chance to truly start living it.

Adventures in Virtual Globetrotting: Numbers, Logistics, and Other Random Facts

If you missed my last post, I discussed my adventures in virtually traveling around the world for NaNoWriMo. It was an amazing time and one of the few upside of the world being in its current state.

Now let’s talk statistics and logistics. This is a long post. Fair warning.

Where I went

As mentioned earlier, I visited 84 new regions across 42 states and the District of Columbia, plus 13 countries outside of the United States.

For the US, that looks something like this:

sushimustwrite's chart of states virtually visited in NaNoWriMo 2020. All states are some shade of blue except HI, WY, ND, SD, NE, SC, DE, and VT.

The chart of states I virtually visited in NaNoWriMo 2020. Light blue (Iowa, Georgia, and North Carolina) means I visited the state only through the Discord crawl and not as part of one of their own regional events (dark blue).

In case the map isn’t visible, every state is some shade of blue except Hawaii, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Hawaii, South Carolina, Delaware, and Vermont. You can ignore the electoral votes; the 270towin site was the easiest and quickest way to visualize my adventures.

Here are the non-US regions:

  • Australia
  • Belgium (via Discord crawl)
  • Canada
  • England
  • France (via Discord crawl)
  • Hungary (via Discord crawl)
  • Iceland
  • Ireland
  • Japan
  • Malaysia (via Discord crawl)
  • New Zealand
  • Scotland
  • South Africa

Of the 84 regions visited, 60 of them (71%) are in the United States, lining up with NaNo’s region list — nearly two-thirds of the NaNoWriMo regions are in the United States. Seven of the 84 regions visited are in Canada, which also lines up — just under ten percent of NaNo’s regions are in Canada. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to visit a region in Central or South America due to lack of write-ins and not wanting to intrude on a primarily Spanish-speaking environment with only two semesters of Spanish studied nearly fifteen years ago.

I was in the Zoom where it happened

Sure, we were all virtual this year, but here’s where the write-ins happened:

  • Zoom – 26
  • Discord – 43 (includes 13 regions visited via the Discord crawl)
  • Twitch – 5 (includes 3 regions visited via 100 Hours of Twitch)
  • IRC – 4
  • Youtube – 2 (NaNo HQ write-ins hosted by MLs)
  • Chatzy – 1
  • Google Meet – 1
  • Facebook Messenger Rooms – 1

Note the Discord total includes 13 regions visited via a global Discord crawl and the Twitch total includes three regions visited via 100 hours of Twitch. Disregarding those, Zoom and Discord were the most popular by a landslide and used almost equally. One region (Melbourne) used both Zoom and Discord for the write-in I attended, but it was a special event. It’s not included in the total above. I didn’t track how many Discord write-ins used voice, video, or neither, but about half the non-crawl Discord write-ins used voice or video.

While Discord takes some initial setup on the admin side, it does offer the flexibility to use voice, video, or just text while offering a place for Wrimos to chat outside of write-ins. Plus it’s free. Zoom keeps you in the moment, which is great for the write-in but not as good for continuing to build a community after the write-in. Zoom also has the disadvantage of not being free for unlimited meeting lengths; every write-in I attended was on a plan that didn’t kick us out after 40 minutes. I’m not sure whether each ML ponied up for the plan themselves just for NaNo or was already using Zoom for work or personal purposes.

(Side note, I never left any of these regional Discord servers unless someone kicked me out for inactivity. Discord power users, if you have any tips for organizing them into folders, I’m all ears. I tried time zones, but the North America Eastern/Central folder is ridiculous.)

Also of note: some regions hosted write-ins via Whatsapp. I didn’t attend these, primarily due to time zone differences and the fact that you have to install the app and give the ML your phone number to join their Whatsapp group. These are very useful for regions already using Whatsapp as a regional chat but quite a hurdle for visitors. Similarly, the Facebook Messenger Rooms write-in was hosted by a friend’s region, where you have to join the associated Facebook group; it’s no secret I despise Facebook and wouldn’t join the group for a random region.

My Time Zone Privilege is Showing

There are some considerations that made this adventure as successful as it was. Roughly two-thirds of NaNoWriMo’s regions are in the United States; most of those regions, plus most of Canada’s regions, are concentrated in the Eastern and Central time zones. Since I’m on Eastern Time, this made many of the write-ins accessible to me without sacrificing even more sleep. It also made multiple shorter write-ins in one day possible if I attended one write-in in Eastern or Central Time and then one later write-in in Mountain or Pacific Time, which would be earlier in their evening. My time zone also made European and African weekend write-ins possible if the write-in was in their afternoon or evening. I even attended one Australia write-in on my Friday night, which was early Saturday afternoon there.

My home region participated in a global write-in crawl on Discord co-hosted by 25 other regions during the second week of NaNo, open to Wrimos affiliated with one of the regional Discord servers participating. And okay, I might have sneaked into some of the far-flung regions during work hours, especially regions that typically might not speak English. A group of MLs around the world hosted a Twitch event mid-month featuring 100 hours of streamed Twitch write-ins. These two events added 16 more regions to my total, as there was significant overlap between the participating MLs in the two events. I also counted two virtual write-in from NaNoWriMo HQ hosted by MLs and a stream from a former ML in Japan.

How I Did It

Lots of planning. We’re talking more planning than I’ve done for any of my NaNo novels. I spent most of October’s second half scouting out regions, making sure to include regions I had already been invited to, large regions, small regions, regions outside the United States… I hoped to get a good cross-section of the world in these adventures while also attending a general social event and a big event, basically imitating a typical in-person NaNo experience.

I had planned early on that my big event would be London’s overnighter, and I got the date for that early on for write-in planning purposes.

My process went something like this:

  • Choose a region.
  • Look at their region’s events on the NaNoWriMo website.
  • If there were 2-4 events a week, I chose one that fit into my schedule and put it on my Google calendar.
  • If there were write-ins nearly daily, I copied the region’s event URL to my planning document. Regions offering lots of write-ins gave me a backup plan in case something fell through, or in case I got tired of checking regions at random. This came in handy later in the month when I was running low on time and plot.
  • If the region had exactly one weekly write-in, I chose one of those weekly write-ins and put it on my calendar. Doing this crowded most of my weekend afternoons pretty quickly.

I filled in most of the first week quickly, attending only one write-in on November first and spacing out one write-in per day over the first week. For regions with only one or two weekly write-ins, I made sure to choose an event now so I wouldn’t be scrambling for those regions later.

From choosing the regions to tracking the write-ins, this was a 100% manual operation, and to be honest, finding new write-ins to fill in gaps became my main source of procrastination as the month passed.

Tracking All These Write-Ins

I’m in love with Google Calendar. Sorry, future hypothetical partner. Fortunately the events section on the NaNo website converts the time to your own time zone as set on the NaNo website, so my job was making sure I entered the times in Google Calendar correctly. I entered the region’s name, the location as Zoom/Discord/wherever the write-in was happening, and then included any other useful info: the event listing on the NaNo website, the Zoom connection info, whether I had already joined the Discord server, if I had to check a specific forum thread on the day of the event for the meetup link…

By some miracle I mixed up only one event due to time zone differences, and it worked out in my favor time zone-wise. I was wondering why a write-in was began at 9pm their time…

Some regions still use Google Calendar, possibly due to the past NaNo site integration with Google Calendar. A few regions skipped the NaNo site event listing altogether and linked to a Google calendar, which meant I had to do the time zone conversion on my own or (in some cases) add the calendar to my own Google Calendar to view the events at all. I would love to see some integration with Google Calendar, whether that’s an “add to Google Calendar/iCal” button or a tool for MLs to add events to the site from Google Calendar so they don’t have to add events individually. I’d also love a way to see all your upcoming RSVP’d events in one list but this may be useful only to power users like me.

You actually wrote at all these write-ins, right?

Yes, look at my word count! Well, at most of them. A few of them turned out to be a pure social hour, sometimes because the ML was the only other attendee, sometimes because the other folks there knew me and it was a low-attendance write-ins so we just chatted the whole time. I did get a few words in at each write-in. I visited one region (New York City) for a pure social hour and wrote zero words as a result.

Why didn’t you visit my region?

I have a full-time job and no time machine. Sorry! I tried to visit as many as possible while working full-time, sleeping a reasonable amount, helping out with @NaNoWordSprints, eating three meals a day, maintaining basic hygiene, participating in three remote Pokemon Go PVP tournaments, and having some time set aside for mental breaks. I needed those brain breaks, especially around mid-month when my novel was all over the place. One day when we are one with our AI overlords and not subject to silly things like mortality and fleshy bodies, I can come visit you all.

To put this adventure in perspective, there are 720 hours in November and almost as many NaNoWriMo regions. Even if we exclude the ones without events or MLs, that’s still a lot of regions and not enough time.

But I wanted to region hop with you!

I received a few requests to region hop as a group. In the end I didn’t make the full calendar public because things changed regularly, sometimes at the last minute for reasons out of my control. At least one write-in on my calendar was cancelled, and it felt unfair to hold other people to so many things I couldn’t control. Also, one person region-hopping one thing, but I wasn’t sure how the host Wrimos would feel about a whole army of non-local Wrimos invading all their write-ins, especially at some lower-attended write-ins toward the end of the month. I’m sorry!

Random observations

Some regions were already virtual due to being so spread out, and moving to an all-virtual format didn’t change much. Others, such as my home region, had previously hosted virtual events alongside in-person events, so moving to an all-virtual format was easier. In my experience and discussion with Wrimos, the regions that previously had a strong in-person event system but little virtual community outside of those in-person events were the ones that struggled with attendance and engagement as the month wore on.

Like in a normal year, some days were more productive than others, meaning yes, some write-ins were more productive than others. Living in a new battleground state during US Election Week killed my productivity for a few days, and yes, this came up at every write-in that week when the Wrimos found out I wasn’t a local. (That discussion usually went something like “I can’t concentrate, I’m watching election results. Georgia, wow.”) My most productive write-ins featured regular sprints with some conversation in between those sprints, usually with Zoom or Discord voice/video. It also helped if someone was tracking the word counts in a spreadsheet so my word counts were visible to everyone and not just getting lost in the chat. This contrasts with in-person write-ins where I’d normally sit quietly and write for several hours, hardly talking to anyone. If anything, the virtual write-ins as a whole were more structured than the in-person write-ins I’ve attended and hosted, possibly to avoid the ease of turning them into a pure social hour. That said, a few write-ins were purely social hour and they were still loads of fun. I managed to sneak in a few words to make the write-in count.

I used what feels like every word war bot in existence. Their different commands blended in my head throughout the month, sometimes to the amusement of local Wrimos. For what it’s worth, Sprinto and Winnie were the most popular ones on Discord. Every bot’s commands are a little different and I could probably make a comparison chart for every war timing bot out there. Also, Winnie was quite stingy with her raptors, but I finally got one in Adelaide.

Despite all the fun, the world tour wasn’t perfect. Besides the part where it wasn’t a live world tour and I couldn’t visit all 660+ regions, a couple of events had absolutely no one else show up. I allowed some flexibility for cases like this. If someone else showed up, I counted it, even if it wasn’t the host or ML. I allowed about half an hour before moving on to another region for the no-shows. This is where my time zone privilege starts showing: both of these no-shows were on a weekend in North America, so finding another write-in was extremely easy. Almost any large region had a write-in going on, so I had to look at only two or three regions before finding one to gatecrash, even if half an hour late.

But imperfections aside, this virtual world tour was the best way imaginable to spend such a weird November. Heck, this might be the highlight of my whole year. How am I supposed to top this for NaNo number twenty next year?

The Baby-Sitters Club: Season Two Speculation

As I’ve mentioned a time or five in the past two months, I’m a huge fan of the Netflix Baby-Sitters Club adaptation. It takes the wholesome books I grew up on and refreshed them for modern girls while keeping the heart of the story. But while it took over two decades to devour the original BSC canon, I devoured the show’s first season in just over two hours.

I’ve already talked about the many things I love about the show — and probably missed a few things — but while writing that post I kept thinking: where do we go from here?

There are two directions to go when it comes to future speculation: topics to take on and books/characters to take on. Continue reading

The State of the Sushi, Spring 2019

Hi. It’s been awhile, eh? Let’s fix that.

Work stuff
First things first: I have a new job! If you’ve been following me elsewhere online, then you might know that at the end of 2018, my at-the-time job transitioned into a contract position at the beginning of 2019. In a way, this was a relief; I was slowly burning out throughout the second half of 2018, and having some spare time on my hands helped more to get back on my emotional feet than anything else. I had built up substantial savings over the last year and a half at that job and was still doing some freelance work to bring in money, so I didn’t have to accept any old job right away.

This relief and confidence was a new feeling. Sure, I had built up savings before, but never to this amount. I also wasn’t immediately facing the decision to pay the remainder of my self-employment taxes or to pay my rent for the next few months. So when I started a new job in mid-March in my field and only needed to touch those savings to bridge the gap until my first paycheck in early April, I knew that despite my past worries about money, I would be okay. And things would get even better.

(Oh, the job itself is technical writing. I can walk to work and there are dogs and snacks all the time and a Pokemon Go gym on the building. It’s a miracle I get any work done.)

Goal stuff
I mentioned earlier that I had no intention of setting any 2019 goals beyond becoming a better person, however vague that goal is. Since this goal is irritatingly difficult to measure, I have no idea if I’m a better person today than I was in 2018, or in 2016, or in 2014. For all I know, I’m worse and getting worse all the time. Maybe I am. But despite the constant need to do something at all times and trying to accomplish and consume as much as I can, I’m overall less stressed than I have been in the past. Several factors could be contributing to this: a more active social life, higher financial security (as my current job brought a significant raise, plus I’m still continuing my freelance work to finish off my debt), and starting to cook in bulk. I’ll return to this point in six months and see how things are going in the pre-NaNo rush.

As for the one measurable goal I did set this year, I’m crushing it, with 31 books read out of my 50 books goal. Thank some of the extra time I had at the beginning of the year and all the nonfiction audiobooks I listen to on my commute. Maybe next year I’ll set a TV or movie goal.

Writing stuff
Hahahahaha what’s a writing. I’ve thought about my books if that counts at all. (Spoiler: it doesn’t.)

I participated Camp NaNoWriMo with the goal of writing 30 poems in 30 days. Coincidentally, this also aligned with NaPoWriMo in April. Since I had zero previous poetry experience beyond cringeworthy middle school love poetry and the occasional high school poetry unit, this was an experience. The most notable is that I am so used to writing in prose that I find myself writing my poetry in prose and then either rambling into the distance or cutting off the poem before I start rambling into eternity. Thanks to the ridiculous busyness that April became, I lowered my goal to 15 poems and squeaked in a win on the last day.

Pokemon Go Stuff
Yes, this gets its own section now. I’ve been participating in the PVP cups primarily for the social aspect, but thanks to doing decently in the first three cups and winning one of them, I still somehow got an invite to the Silph Arena regional competition. I went 2-4 in regionals, but my losses were ridiculously close and I still had a blast. Best of all, one of the Atlanta folks won and is going to the world championship! He’s also ranked somewhere near the top worldwide.

And yes, I’m going to Chicago’s Go Fest next month! Let me know if you’re also going; I want to meet you! I can give you a DragonCon Unown or a Carnivine if that’s unavailable where you are.

Personal stuff
There’s a lot to put here, things that deserve their own post or five. The short version:

Now that my new job’s health insurance has kicked in, I plan on restarting therapy for some of my anxiety issues, which should be thrilling. Unfortunately my old therapist has moved, so I get to begin the search again. Whee.

My college roommate of three years visited for a week, where we visited our old campus and the local feminist bookstore, hung out with an old mutual friend who came in from out of town, and ate a lot of yummy vegan food. We also got some real talk out of the way before the sanitized version that often happens at reunions. Speaking of reunions…

I went to my ten-year college reunion, where I partied with current students, met up with a few of my old professors, and went to a fairly awkward class party and hub sing. Don’t tell my classmates, but hitting the dance floor and having current students buy me drinks in the dive bar next to campus at 1am is what memories are made of…. Especially when you never partied as a college student in the first place.

All in all, it took a long time to get here, but life is okay at the moment, even if I am looking at my calendar for the next few months and thinking “RIP me”.

NaNoWriMo 2018 and a confession

It’s that time of year again: time for the yearly post-NaNoWriMo wrapup post!

First, for the thing that people want to know: I wrote a grand total of 169,047 words spread across approximately a book and a half.

This year’s NaNoWriMo was tough for me, both for writing and my non-writing life. I’m still struggling with the non-writing part, but that’s a post for another time.

The writing part was tough in part because I came up with an idea in the three days before NaNo started and had no idea where it started. The idea started as a young woman going through a bad breakup, moving to a new neighborhood, and checking out the local bar scene in the new neighborhood. What would happen from there? Maybe she would listen to people and bump in on conversations. Maybe she would play matchmaker. I had no idea. After a little bit of pre-NaNo conversation, the bar turned into a haunted bar, one that the main character would experience after being in some kind of emotional pain. Now this was something I could run with. I wound up writing a sequel after wrapping up the first one and leaving a lot of loose ends to tie up, written mostly over the course of 50k weekend (US Thanksgiving weekend) and still incomplete because I have no idea where to take it next. The premise is fantastic (in my humble opinion), so I’ll be coming back to this book.

The other thing that made NaNoWriMo challenging was my non-writing state of mind throughout the month. I had already been slowly burning out for several months before NaNo started, with little time to fully decompress before taking on some other big thing. I had been doing some form of work (including my day job and some occasional freelance work) every day for weeks at a time in the months leading up to NaNo and had a fairly active social calendar. My day job started taking a toll on my mental health during NaNo, making me really look forward to my San Francisco trip and being out of town for Thanksgiving. I had set a goal of 100k in an attempt to keep the bar low for me, knowing that this year was my ten-year streak of writing 100k or more, and I wasn’t going to let that go by without some kind of acknowledgement. So off I went into November without a chance to relax or take a break. I could feel the need for a break early in the month; in fact, reaching 50k in seven days is my second-slowest pace in all ten years of writing 100k or more. I wrote in fits and bursts through much of the months, writing 5k days followed by days of poking out a hundred words just to have a chance at the 30-day writing streak badge.

The literary adrenaline had been sputtering for the past few NaNos, and I have to admit something I’ve still barely admitted to myself: My breakneck writing style of the past few years isn’t quite for me anymore.

“Well, just slow down,” you might say. That’s much easier said than done.

The problem is, I’m terrible at moderation; my fast, on-the-go nature deserves a post of its own. I’m less competitive about writing now than in the past, but the competitive streak is still there. I always try and write to the next hundred, the next thousand, the next palindrome, the next milestone. Oh, I’m a few hundred words away from passing three people on the Faces chart? Time to write. I’m this close to a lifetime milestone? Better get rolling. I always want to see what I can achieve, even if the 50k days are far behind me. But the last few NaNos and the resulting burnout of figuring out what to write after finishing that first book, not to mention figuring out that first book in the first place, have shown that maybe excessive wordiness, at least in the form of 200k+ in a month, isn’t the way.

And that’s okay. I know it’s objectively okay; I just have to convince myself of that. As that kid who never wanted a low A in a subject in school, convincing myself of this isn’t easy, even if writing less means I can spend a little less time writing means spending more time with the wider NaNoWriMo community, something I haven’t done as much of in the last few years. That’s what my trip to San Francisco and Night of Writing Dangerously made clear, even if I was there when the wildfires in other parts of the state made the air quality in San Francisco miserable. (Seriously, I flew over the fires on my first flight from Atlanta to Los Angeles.) I got to see old friends and meet Wrimos from all over the world, including two Wrimos with the same name from opposite sides of the country, plus MLs from London and Germany. (Fun fact: the ML from Germany is one of the newbies I adopted back in 2006. Twelve years later, we finally met in person. We were roommates in the same hostel, in fact.) I also visited the NaNoWriMo office again and made a guest appearance in a virtual write-in.

The words are important, yes, but the community means more to me than writing a bunch of words and stressing myself out about it. That’s what I need to get back to… once I figure out how to get better at moderation. Any ideas?

How Pokemon Go is like NaNoWriMo overachieving

It’s no secret that I’ve been playing Pokemon Go since the constant server crashing days of July 2016. I remember coming out of a doctor appointment a day or two after the game came out, ready to take a long walk and hatch an egg, and facing the spinning Pokeball of death. I tried everything–restarting the app, logging out and back in again, even restarting my three-year-old Galaxy S4.

As I kept playing, I tried to catch them all (taking a long break in November to work on my NaNo novel, of course). I was never the very best but still had fun anyway. When Pokemon Go introduced raids and legendary Pokemon in mid-2017, I waited until the new gyms and raids were available to people of my level (33 or 34 at the time) and then went to town.

At some point after raids began, someone created a Discord server for Atlanta raids. I joined it, then eventually joined another group that concentrated on raids closer to me. And from there, I started chasing the legendary birds for the weeks that they were out. Eventually I got burned out and stopped doing raids, missing the chance to catch Articuno (my favorite, and the reason I chose Team Mystic).

But when I returned to raiding and participating in Pokemon Go Community Days, I got to know many other Pokemon Go players. Some of them had already coasted past my level. A few were even at the maximum level of 40, something that looked so far away for me at my (at the time) modest level 35 with over half the experience still to be gained.

It reminded me of doing NaNoWriMo–overachieving, to be specific. For those not familiar, overachieving is the term applied to Wrimos who write significantly more than 50,000 words in a month–or aim to write 50k faster than the 30 days allotted. People who do this are called overachievers (OAs for short), and if you think you’re an overachiever, we do too. The more I thought about overachieving, the more I realized Pokemon Go and overachieving have a few things in common.

Someone has done more than you. Whether that’s reaching 50k on day 3 and discovering that some people did that in one day, or you’re at level 39 two years later and encountering people who have level 40 on multiple accounts, someone out there has gone even farther in pursuing their game. (Yes, multiple level 40 accounts by one person exist; there are several folks in my local Pokemon Go scene who have level 40 main accounts and level 40 alts. I have enough trouble playing on one phone; I can barely imagine using more.)

People have different circumstances and time constraints, meaning less (or more!) time to devote to PoGo or writing. Someone with a full-time job and a family and other life/health circumstances will have less time to devote to Pokemon Go and writing than someone with fewer of these major life commitments. Some people play (or write) more casually than others. That’s fine.

You don’t see what goes into someone else’s playstyle. One of the terms we use in the overachiever community for people who type “slowly” compared to the 80+ wpm folks (but still fast compared to many other Wrimos) are lovably dubbed slugs. In fact, there’s a Slug Club for the slower typists. Many of these people overachieve by devoting more time to writing. Same with Pokemon Go–some people keep buying raid passes from the store with real money and get up at 6am to start raiding, while others (like me) spend very little money and rely on coins from gyms for raid passes and other items. Some Wrimos do type like the wind, which helps with getting words down. But in the end, what matters is showing up to write (or play). If you don’t show up, you can’t level up. Simple as that.

Sometimes you need a break and that’s okay. Burnout is real, both in Pokemon Go and writing. I got burned out on chasing every single raid for the first summer of raids, and I’m still trying to balance the delicate line of having fun with raids and burning out and wanting to do nothing for days at a time, only wanting to play silly puzzle games online and do nothing of productive value. But the same happens with NaNo and even for overachieving.

Oh, and one more thing: Your progress is still amazing, no matter what everyone else around you is doing.

I’ll never be the very best at NaNoWriMo, like no one ever was. Given what some folks have accomplished, I don’t really want to be. I’ll never be the very best at Pokemon Go either even though I reached level 40 recently (and the max level may be raised soon anyway, forever giving me something to chase). I’m pushing myself to the limit of what I find to be possible while still maintaining the rest of my life. Even better, I’m having fun while doing it, and that’s what matters.

NaNoWriMo 2017: Fin

Well, here we are again, another NaNoWriMo wrapped up. This year was my sweet sixteenth NaNo, and while I broke very few personal records this year, it was still the best NaNo so far.

First, the part people actually want to know: I finished November with 222,222 words and two completed novels, once again making up over 1% of my huge region’s total word count. I reached 50k on the fourth, my halfway point on the 16th, and the final 222,222 around 10:30 on the 30th. This makes 2017 my 5th-wordied NaNoWriMo to date. Considering my original goal was “eh, six digits”, I am happy with this result.

The first novel tells the tale of a roomba that lives in an office building and the adventures it gets into. The idea started out as a joke. I couldn’t think of any other plots by the last week of October so I started joking that my NaNo novel could always be about the roomba at my day job, which has a habit of getting caught on things. Fast forward to my region’s kickoff party. I scribbled that idea down for an activity, where we give ideas and prompts to others based on their plots. I got some really good ideas out of this and wound up using several of them in the story. I finished this book at 50,021 words written over the course of the first four days with no Week Two crash. Seriously, it was smooth sailing through almost the entire book, and I haven’t felt that while writing a book in awhile.

The weird part: people actually want to read this. It looks like I need to figure out a proper plot for this tale before rewriting it. Unless, of course, I want to write roomba litfic. Actually, that sounds like a great idea.

The second novel is much less exciting. It started as some kind of romance with some self-discovery involved, and then Mysterious Hot Guy and a bar that took people to parallel worlds happened. I spent a lot of that book figuring out what the plot of that book would be, and even when writing The End, I still wasn’t sure. With a last sentence of “We leaned into the wall and stumbled into a whole new world”, there’s a sequel ready to be written. Or at least a more polished version of the mystery bar and parallel worlds.

This year felt much less overwhelming than the last couple of years, even though I was working full-time job in an actual office and traveling for three of the four weekends. I attribute at least part of that to enjoying my stories more; I’ve found that even when the hard days are a slog, writing an interesting story made that slog I was also kinder to myself when it came to taking a night semi-off; I took breaks more often and didn’t beat myself up quite as much for not being able to write at top speed all the time. This is a lesson I hope to carry into future years.

I mentioned in last year’s NaNoWriMo summary post that my approach to writing had started to shift over the last few years, where lack of some semblance of an idea stressed me out even more. This year was different. I didn’t plan more (besides the 250ish words of jotting down roomba ideas), but I found myself stressing less, even when the writing was objectively terrible. I also found myself writing more slowly than the speeds often associated with me (though I can still bust out the words when needed). I’m not sure what caused the shift this year (writing less than those past two years, perhaps?), but I’m grateful for it.

Some NaNoWriMo 2017 highlights, in no particular order:

  • Tweeting from the official @NaNoWriMo Twitter. Yes, this happened. The NaNo staff gave me control of the official Twitter for an hour (noon EDT) on the Double Up Donation Day, and I had a blast with it.
  • All my time on the @NaNoWordSprints Twitter, even though I didn’t have as much time for that as I would have liked.
  • NaNoGiving in the same cabin with most of the same friends but a couple of new ones too.
  • Making the annual pilgrimage to the NaNoWriMo office on Friday and rolling up every single NOWD poster.
  • Meeting so many amazing Wrimos in person, meeting Wrimos I had known on Twitter or the forums for nearly a decade, and reconnecting with old friends (including a Wrimo who was in my region for her college years before moving away) over the course of the Night of Writing Dangerously weekend.
  • I got a sushi hat! No really, the SF Peninsula ML knitted me a hat shaped like a sushi roll and it is amazing.
  • I won a word sprint at Night of Writing Dangerously (2007 words in 15 minutes, a personal record, though I did not backspace at all), specifically the sprint that Chris Baty ran. Overall, I wrote 6334 words at NOWD, which is definitely not my least productive NOWD. (That honor would go to last year.)

Not a bad month, I’d say. So now we ask the real question. Is it NaNoWriMo now? What about now?

Sushi and the City: A Love Story

I grew up in a small town in Georgia, one of those towns where everyone knows everyone and people would recognize my name because they knew one of my relatives.

Growing up in this small town always left me wanting more of everything: more excitement, more freedom, more adventures. My inability to drive only compounded this desire, as I was (and still am) bad about asking for rides to things, and there was nothing within a reasonable and safe walking distance from my parents’ house. (While the public library, one of my favorite places, was a walkable distance away, that route also involved a large road without sidewalks. I walked it once. Never again.)

Field trips to Chattanooga attractions happened regularly throughout the years, as that was the closest city (albeit a small one) to where I grew up. Once a year or every other year came field trips to Atlanta, these field trips becoming more frequent in high school thanks to FBLA state conferences and a French class field trip to see a play or a French art exhibit. And every time we entered a large city for a field trip, the excitement only grew to the point where I knew beyond a doubt that I needed the city life.

I moved down to a small suburb of Atlanta for college. Even though this suburb wasn’t the city, it was still an easy and short trip to the city while still possessing many of the characteristics that I love about the city: infrastructure, public transit, a cute square with lots of businesses (and let’s be honest, great food), all a short walk away from the college campus. I had the best of both worlds: a big city and a small town that was built like cities should be.

Every trip into Atlanta was a source of excitement, no matter how frequently I ventured into the city. In early college, Atlanta still felt new to me. But even as the city grew more and more familiar, the excitement never faded. The collective energy, the ability to be anonymous and yet part of a smaller community at the same time, all grew on me.

Paris was the next major city I visited as part of a trip in college. Despite the jet lag from the nine-hour flight, the excitement from visiting a foreign country, not to mention one of the places I wanted to visit more than anywhere on the planet, was almost palpable. Besides falling in love with the language and Paris itself, I had also fallen in love with French history, particularly the French Revolution era (both for France and the United States). I was in love, and that love still remains to this day.

And then there’s San Francisco. 2011 marked my first trip to San Francisco, the first time I had travelled in any significant fashion in two years. This trip was for the Night of Writing Dangerously, and not only was I going to the event itself, I had also planned a trip to NaNoWriMo HQ in Berkeley almost immediately after landing in the city. Good thing I didn’t have much luggage.

Don’t get me wrong, I like smaller towns. I attended college in a suburb of Atlanta that, minus the skyscrapers, still had many of the traits I love most in cities. I’d live there forever, to be honest, if only for all the restaurants and shops and a bookstore and library right there. I can say the same for Berkeley, California (home of NaNoWriMo HQ) and other similar towns.

It’s easy to say that the main source of my city excitement was due to entering a new place, or at least a place I don’t frequently visit. Of course I was excited to see these new places. But even being in a large city that I’m familiar with brings a feeling that is difficult to replicate.

Cities bring infrastructure and history and easier ways to get around than in a small town, absolutely. But cities also represent excitement and experience and a place to truly become part of a community, to find a home within a home. Cities represent freedom, something I didn’t have much of when living the small town life. In a large city, I can be myself and totally anonymous at the same time. I can introduce myself as Sushi without batting an eye in the right circles.

When people rush past me and I look up to see skycrapers, I truly feel alive. Even if I’ve been to that city a zillion times, even in the city I live in now, looking around and up outside and taking in the buildings gives me a thrill that few things can top. I still get excited when heading back to Atlanta and passing all the skyscrapers and familiar landmarks, even though I’ve made that trip a zillion times. Even though this city is so familiar, the excitement builds up in the same way that entering a new city would. When that excitement is gone, I know it’s time to go somewhere else.