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.

The Freelance Life

Note: I’m no longer working freelance jobs as my primary source of income. Considering how much I struggled in the slow business times while freelancing, this is a definite yay. But someone asked for this post many months ago, and I wrote it and then forgot to post it. So just replace a bunch of the present-tense stuff with past tense.

I’ve mentioned casually in the past that most of my day job involves freelancing. Basically, I’m not an employee of any company, but companies hire me to work on various projects.

As you might expect, I get questions about this somewhat regularly from curious folks, people who want to do the same thing, and my family–often the same questions. What’s it like to work from home? How do you get started building your own gig? Do you really get to work while sipping a cocktail on the beach?

Good question. Let’s try to answer them. Continue reading

Let’s talk about spoilers (and anxiety)

I have a confession, Internet. Okay, I have a lot of confessions, but one in particular stands out today.

Getting spoiled isn’t a big deal for me.

There. I said it.

I understand why other people get upset at hearing major spoilers. Maybe knowing the plot twist ending ruins things for them, and that’s valid. People can take in their media however they want. But if they’re reading an online article that’s clearly about a given book or movie or whatever and then complain about getting spoiled, well, that’s on them. It’s like complaining about mixed nuts containing nuts.

In fact, even if someone does reveal a twist, that doesn’t spoil everything. It doesn’t explain how the characters got there, or how the story developed, or even why the twist is such a big thing in the first place. A good story will surprise me with the circumstances that lead to the ending. This discovery is part of the experience for me, and this doesn’t change with knowing end details of a story.

For me, spoilers are a source of anxiety. Not the idea of spoilers themselves, but the idea of accidentally ruining something for some stranger. Has this person watched or read whatever I’m talking about? Heck, sometimes I haven’t seen or read whatever I’m discussing, but I know about it through Internet osmosis. I once posted a tweet showing off my newly-acquired TARDIS notebook. Someone replied with “Spoilers.” I hadn’t watched the show at all at the time and genuinely thought I was spoiling something. It took awhile to realize this was an element of the show (and specifically, one of the characters) and not a genuine spoiler.

But what is the statute of limitations on a spoiler? I once accidentally revealed the big death in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince to someone who hadn’t read that far… two weeks before the seventh book came out. Considering those past two years were filled with discussion on this death and its impact on the seventh book, I’m impressed that he managed to avoid finding out for so long. I know people who get upset over spoilers from ten years ago, not to mention ten days.

And what’s the proper etiquette about publicly discussing spoilers in public forums, anyway? On sites like Twitter, you can use a hashtag. That way, people who don’t want to be spoiled can use a client like Tweetdeck to mute that hashtag. But this assumes people have enough characters remaining in a tweet to include the hashtag, as well as remember to use it in the first place. It also assumes everyone has a way to mute that hashtag or keyword, which isn’t necessarily true.

So is the solution to avoid talking about the thing publicly? Of course not. Word of mouth is one of the most effective forms of getting the word out, and for good reason: people want to talk about things they enjoyed (or didn’t enjoy). While private messaging–whether through Twitter’s DMs, email, or instant messaging) is an option, it leaves out the fun in discovering who else likes the thing you’re talking about. When someone jumps in on a Twitter conversation and I discover they like the book or movie or whatever, this creates another bond between that person and me, along with another person I can make joking references to about that book or movie or album.

And even bigger: What IS a spoiler, anyway? I keep thinking back to that tweet about someone not knowing Hamilton gets shot in the end. (To be fair, this is kind of understandable for someone not familiar with American history.) Are trailers spoilers? What about the circumstances of the story? Heck, even competition shows and sporting events can have spoilers–who got eliminated, who won, what someone sang or cooked or danced to. Math can have spoilers, for Baty’s sake. Yes, there are more infinities and more geometries, and the complex numbers aren’t the end.

There is so much media out there that if I tried to avoid spoilers, I would be avoiding almost everything with the remotest chance of revealing spoilers. I haven’t read the Lord of the Rings books or a bunch of those so-called classics associated with high school and college literature classes. I haven’t read or watched all of Game of Thrones. I haven’t read everything by Shakespeare (nor do I particularly want to, to be honest). If I’m never going to consume that media, then why stress about spoilers? There are bigger (and smaller, let’s be real) things to worry about.

This isn’t your invitation to spoil me on everything ever. Yes, I know Rosebud is the sled and Han shot first. But I can’t live in fear of avoiding spoilers, nor in fear of spoiling someone else.

Night of Writing Dangerously on a budget, revisited

One of the most common replies I hear when discussing NaNoWriMo’s Night of Writing Dangerously (NOWD) is “I’d love to go one year!” with “one year” meaning “some vague time in the future, likely when they have the money and time to do so”.

While I’ve estimated my budget for my first Night of Writing Dangerously, I thought it’d be fun to revisit the topic with more budget specifics (and for a longer trip). I did my best to save every receipt; where that fails, I have my bank account history and my occasionally unreliable memory.

Want an idea of how much money to set aside for a NOWD San Francisco trip? Keep reading for my experience. Note: All of these prices listed include all applicable taxes.

Or if you want to add to my fundraising page, you can do that right here. Continue reading

Wikiwrimo’s Regional Directory Challenges

I founded Wikiwrimo almost seven years ago when all I had going for me was some spare time on my hands. A year or two in, I introduced the regional directory as a way to keep track of regional histories, from MLs to stats. While Wikiwrimo’s contributors and I have gathered a lot of information on 600+ NaNo regions, there’s still a long way to go on a project that may never be complete. There’s only so much one person can add to Wikiwrimo about regional histories and cultures; that’s why one of the biggest things you can do for Wikiwrimo is write a little bit about your region, especially if you’re not in my region.

Chances are good that I am the only person outside of NaNo HQ interested in such minutiae of maintaining this directory, so writing all this information down is mostly for me to outline all the challenges bouncing around inside my head while figuring out next steps to take. But hey, maybe you’ll find it of interest too. Continue reading

Camp NaNoWriMo 2017: Aftermath

The first Camp NaNoWriMo session of 2017 is over, and I completed the challenge with 30 hours (1803 minutes).

This year I went with something completely different, even considering my past unusual projects for Camp. Planning, an unusual adventure to take considering I’m usually a pantser when it comes to writing. I discussed the reasoning behind my Camp project in a previous post, and all that reasoning still stands.

So how’d my planning turn out? I got a lot of planning and research and character development done during Camp NaNo, but none of these plans are complete. The Anxiety Girl novel still has a huge blank for the middle of the book because I decided to kill one character before the story starts (the main character’s grandmother, who died during the story in the first and second drafts) and decrease the role of another (the main character’s father). One major problem with this novel is that my main character isn’t well-formed enough for me to figure out what she really wants. She’s undecided about almost everything, doesn’t know what she wants in life, and is generally a passive person. This makes for a boring character and a boring book, something I’m still working to solve.

The other big project I did planning and research for is my parallel worlds novel that I’ve been dabbling in since 2010. I’ve been putting off the research and planning ever since finishing the second draft due to complications in figuring out parallel worlds and photography and the overall plot. But at some point I was just putting these things off with no good reason, so Camp NaNo gave me a chance to dig into this novel and figure out more of the science and story behind these parallel worlds.

Completing Camp NaNoWriMo with planning and tracking by hours was difficult in its own right. One thing I learned quickly was that sure, I can write 5,000 words in an hour if I’m pressed for time, but I can’t do an hour’s worth of work in 30 minutes. My goal averaged out to an hour a day over the course of the month, which I kept up with for the first week. But as the month went on, I fell behind. I was busy, I didn’t want to sit in front of a computer screen and think through a full hour of plotting and research, and sometimes those ideas just wouldn’t come. Sometimes I’d poke at character traits or plotlines and have no idea what to do with them. Other times I’d find myself switching between projects, trying to find some kind of plot hole I could fill in or some setting quirk to add. Falling behind meant playing catchup in the last week, often to the tune of planning for several hours at once over the last weekend.

But I did it, I won, and those novels are a lot closer to the third draft. Overall, I’m glad I embraced planning and research for Camp NaNo. I’m trying to keep the momentum going for as long as possible, although not necessarily at the rate I was working at during camp. That’s the only way these books will get written, after all.

Camp NaNoWriMo 2017, Week One: Adventures in Planning

If you’ve been following along on Twitter, you may recall that my Camp NaNoWriMo project is planning for 60 minutes a day. To be specific, figuring out plot, character, and pacing for three of my past NaNoWriMo novels: the pumpkin novel, the parallel worlds novel, and the anxiety girl novel. (Surprisingly, the last one is the only one without a pending title.) I’ve been tracking my progress via minutes, which has turned out to be the most useful metric for this type of project–tracking words is nearly impossible, and tracking hours makes it hard to track partial hours. Tracking minutes has also been useful since most of my progress has happened in chunks of less than an hour, usually in sessions of fifteen to thirty minutes.

Why planning? I hate planning. I’ve always been that kid who wrote the first draft of a paper, then outlined it whenever a professor asked for an outline. I’ve tried planning for novels before, trying to figure out scenes and key events in a story, but this usually results in me staring at the paper or the screen and saying “I could stare at this paper and figure it out or I could just write the freaking thing.” Or “Who cares what color the character’s eyes are? There are too many options? How can I choose just one? Can’t I just write the thing and figure it out that way?” It doesn’t take a genius to figure out which route I’d take instead.

So I avoided the planning process. Even the times I attempted to plan something, I’d quit a few minutes later and never come back. And then I’d go right back into pantsing my way through a new first draft (or the occasional second) out of a vague concept, even if it’s like pulling teeth at times. (But then again, what act of creation doesn’t involve some teeth-pulling at some point?) This method isn’t a bad one in itself; for me, it works great for the first draft, and occasionally for the second, provided I reread the first draft before attempting a second draft. But since I base the second draft off my first draft, both of them are still disorganized messes that require lots of time, attention, and focus to turn those messes into something less messy.

Therein lies my problem. I now have at least three past NaNo novels that I’d like to see developed further. I’ve completed first and second drafts for all three of them (and an adapted screenplay for one of them, RIP Script Frenzy). But since I took the same approach to both of those novels, I wound up with two messes. Messes with some salvageable gems, sure, but messes all the same. If I’m going to continue working on these novels, I need to take a serious look at what I’m doing so I don’t screw up the next version as much. And that’s what I’ve been trying to do for camp: figure out characters, events, pacing, and everything else a novel needs so I can write a third draft that I can use as a base for editing.

Most of my time so far has been spent on the anxiety girl novel. This isn’t surprising since I worked on this novel most recently of the three (2015 and 2016 NaNoWriMo). I did switch over to working on the other two projects a few days ago after getting stuck on planning for Anxiety Girl, but the next day I went right back to that novel with more inspiration than ever. On Wednesday night I found myself still full of ideas after half an hour but knew I needed to go to bed if I was going to get a reasonable amount of sleep that night. Alas.

Those flashes of inspiration are finally coming back. I remember that joy: the joy of coming up with an idea and furiously searching for some way to scribble it down. The small notebooks with the occasional page of novel concepts and character ideas. I used to have these flashes of inspiration for past novels, but for some reason they stopped. I don’t know what happened, but over the last few years, I rarely found myself getting excited over ideas and scribbling them down. Maybe it’s because I’ve been concentrating so hard on word count for the last two or three years. I don’t know.

But I do know some of that joy in writing is starting to come back. And I can only hope that it’s ready to hang out for awhile.

Coming later this month: things I’m good at when planning and things I need to work on

Where is home? What is a hometown?

I have a complicated relationship with the word “home”.

The idea of home is ingrained in our society. Sayings like “Home is where the heart is” and “Make yourself at home” and “Home sweet home” have wormed their way into our culture, all of them bringing both the idea of home and the search for a home closer to us.

It’s easy to say that the place where you live is home. While this is an accurate meaning of the word “home”, the word means so much more than that. There’s a cultural significance to claiming a place as home, as claiming a place as home means claiming that place as part of yourself: past, present, or future.

The question “Where are you from?” is a loaded one for me, as it can mean different things in different contexts. When surrounded by people who don’t live in the same geographic area as me, the question “Where are you from?” often means “Where do you currently live?” To which I easily reply with where I currently live. Easy peasy. No real issues there.

But sometimes “Where are you from?” can mean “Where were you born and raised?” To which I begin my answer with “I grew up in”, careful not to say I am from that small town that almost all of my immediate family still calls home, because doing so would show that I still claim a connection to the town of my childhood, a connection that isn’t there, never was there.

Being biracial, the question can also mean “Where are your ancestors from?” or “What is your race, because you don’t look like a typical white person?” I’ve taken to answering this question with “Atlanta” or “Here” if I’m already in the city, just to be a smart aleck, especially if I’m not in the mood for further conversation. It’s true: I am from here. Besides having a Korean parent, I can’t claim much connection to being Korean or being from there. I don’t speak a word of the language. I’ve never been to Korea. I was raised with completely Western attitudes toward life and culture. Truth be told, the only Korean in me is biological. I’m from Korea in the same sense that French fries are from France.

My mom frequently asks me when I’m coming home when we talk on the phone, and truth be told, I never have a good answer for her–both for the “when” part and the “home” part. I’ve mentioned this before, even though I know exactly what she means: when am I going to make the trip up to visit her and my dad and brother. And truth be told, I’ve told Mom this before. I’ve never felt like I was from the town I grew up in. The small town, where almost everyone lives and thinks the same, was never a place where I truly belonged. It was a place that did the opposite: made me feel like I stood out for being different, made me want to get out of there at the first opportunity. The town of my childhood never provided that.

Home is supposed to be the place where you belong, where you feel perfectly comfortable being yourself. The town I grew up in has never been that place for me. Discovering a community where I truly belong has provided more of that home feeling than my childhood town ever has. Home may not be wherever I’m with you (whoever you may be), but for me, home is more of a feeling than anything else.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Political What Ifs

The problem with being a writer and reading a lot of dystopian fiction is that I keep thinking of what would happen if some of those tropes were applied to current events, particularly in the United States. There are the serious what ifs that echo history; I think you know what I’m referring to here. But then there are the sillier, tropier ones.

This tweet sums it up:

Here are a few of the things I’ve come up with. And if you ever write these things, let me know, but not right now. Reality is depressing enough as it is.

What if the hero of the story is some poor intern at the National Park Service? Her love interest would be an Environmental Protection Agency intern, and they would bond over nature and science. When they both get demoted (yes, demoted) at their internships, they get together and plot the fall of the government from within.

What if the hero has been an activist for awhile and then, just as the orange man is about to take the oath of office, jumps in and interrupts the oath? This and the resulting chaos mean the president never takes the oath of office. Then what?

What if there’s a parallel universe where Clinton is president and David Bowie and Prince and Carrie Fisher and all the other awesome celebrities who died last year are partying it up? And what if these universes are connected somehow? Instead of seeking refuge in another country, people would seek refuge in another universe. (This is going to be one of the universes in my parallel world novel. It has been decided.)

What if someone freed Melania by crawling into the exhaust pipes in Trump Tower? Or what if Barron went exploring in them?

What if humanity managed to colonize another planet and the rest of the world went there, leaving Murica to burn?

What if there’s a White House love triangle going on? Mango Man/Bannon/Spicer, anyone?

What if the zombie apocalypse happened? How would that affect how government agencies communicate? (Come on, you knew this was coming.)

What if we have to destroy all of the orange man’s horcruxes before the presidency ends? (Come on, you knew this was coming too.)