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NaNoWriMo 2021: The Writing Part

2021 was my 20th NaNoWriMo. I had big dreams after last year’s virtual world tour. I’d write a lot of words. I’d reconnect with Wrimos new and old. I’d write my best book to date.

But the panini still wasn’t done cooking, so once again, NaNoWriMo was all-virtual. Womp.

The world tour post is coming, so let’s talk about the writing first.

Two charts displaying my NaNoWriMo 2021 stats.

I won’t lie, this November was hard. For once I had an idea over 24 hours in advance: a rewrite of my 2019 NaNoWriMo novel, where a human is the test subject for an AI version of herself and everyone likes the AI version better. Despite a big start and reaching 50,000 words on day seven, I fell flat on my face after that, struggling for days at a time despite attending multiple write-ins most days. I thought one book would be enough to reach my goal of 100,000 words because the first draft crossed that line handily before I had any idea of the deeper story happening.

So I found myself dumbfounded when that book ended at 86,000 words. Now what? I couldn’t let a six-digit streak die. Heck, at this point I’ve written the double NaNo longer than I haven’t. I considered writing scenes that should have happened earlier in the book but decided against it; doing this would send me down the rabbit hole of editing. Instead I flipped through past NaNo projects in search of one that could use that NaNo magic with a rewrite and was disappointed when I couldn’t find any. (In fact, I couldn’t remember some of those stories in the first place. Oops.) In the end I wrote about a side character from last year’s novel, the main character’s best friend who moved before the main events of the story.

Wow, that book was a slog. I had a general idea but it became apparent early on that I should have set the book in the fall semester instead of the spring semester and wow, these teenagers were acting like miniature adults because all they cared about school and the main character got into Tetris so naturally I took a lot of Tetris breaks for “research” as the month wore on. All these mistakes I made early in the story hammered at me in the back of my head, but there was no way to go back.

I left the second book unfinished around 30,000 words. I need to figure out its general direction, but I’m glad I started it. This book is the other perspective of my 2020 novel, and having a companion book in the works will be nice if the first one gets published.

The current state of the world led to some interesting questions in my novels. For context, both books take place in the real world’s San Francisco Bay Area, but the scifi book takes place in the near-ish future and the young adult novel takes place now-ish (minus the pandemic). I was hesitant to nail down the exact date of the scifi novel because it would open a lot of questions: How old were the characters during the pandemic? What else has happened to the world since then? Has society become more or less divided?

The scifi novel’s characters work in tech, and as I wrote scenes of them in the office I found myself thinking things like “Would they even be in an office? Will the pandemic shift the world that much? Will Silicon Valley still be a prestigious place for tech ten or twenty years in the future?” These are questions we still don’t have an answer to, especially as certain major tech companies aren’t embracing a fully remote company. This comes up more in tech for folks who have to work with the hardware. (Hey, someone had to build the AI body.) These questions never came to mind when writing the first draft in 2019 because they didn’t have to.

The young adult novel brought up similar questions. It takes place in the same universe as a novel I’ve drafted three times since 2015, when the American political atmosphere was starting to become more divided but not as starkly as it is now. A lot has changed in those six years, from the apps teens use to what we think of people we disagree with.

I also found myself thinking of how (or whether) to address the current political climate. Doing so would require placing my novel in a set point in time. For now it’s easier to write in an alternate universe where the darkness of 2016 and beyond never happened, particularly 45’s administration and the pandemic. Depending on how long I edit this novel, continuing to do this will look naive without explicitly showing the alternate timeline. Writing from a position of privilege and hiding from the present would dismiss the suffering of others who want and deserve to see themselves represented.

Which leads to my other lesson and question from this NaNoWriMo: There’s a lot of worldbuilding involved in writing contemporary fiction. Since both of these take place in some sort of alternate timeline, I need to establish some rules before editing. What happened with the pandemic and 45’s administration and that aftermath (if those things happened)? If they didn’t happen, what did happen? How did that change society?

And how can we use those possibilities to change our society for the better?

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Virtual Write-In Hosting Tools: A Breakdown

October is here, NaNoWriMo is less than a month away, and I swear I had a plot but it ran off somewhere.

Alas. It happens every year, time doing that moving forward thing.

Let’s talk about write-ins. Last year I took the all-virtual NaNoWriMo experience to the extreme, which sent me to 84 regions and 13 countries outside the US. Besides being the one bright spot to a crappy year, it was also an adventure in the many online technologies MLs were using to bring writers together, so I’ve put together this post about each tool to help others out. If you’re a first-time ML or thinking about switching tools this year, welcome! This post is for you.

I can’t recommend a specific tool for every region because every region’s needs are different. Instead I cover my observations based on my experience as a participant and what I could piece together from the host’s standpoint. Note that a shorter list for one tool doesn’t mean that it’s bad or I didn’t like it; it just means I didn’t get as much experience with that tool.

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Life

The Pandemic Con

I attended Dragon Con in Atlanta over Labor Day weekend, fully aware that the convention would be different than in non-pandemic years and that attending a large event was still risky. All attendees had to show proof of vaccination or a negative test from the last 72 hours before picking up a badge. Masks were required everywhere inside the con. You couldn’t buy a badge onsite, Saturday-only badges weren’t available at all. Capacity was halved compared to 2019, but 40,000 people are still a lot no matter how you slice it.

So how was it?

Weird.

I thought I’d be running back home an hour after arriving, ready to hide for the rest of the weekend from my roommate (who skipped out on the con altogether) and the friends staying with me and attending the con. The knowledge that I could do that instead of retreating to a hotel room finally led me to attend, at least for awhile.

You could feel the lack of crowds at the con, and while the con had a different energy than usual, I loved the lack of crowds. I didn’t have to push through crowds in hotel lobbies. I could sit on the floor. I had to wait for the bathroom once the entire weekend. (This is an accomplishment in itself.) I wasn’t squeezed up against people during panels. I could walk on the sidewalk instead of the road. There were fewer elaborate costumes that took up a lot of space, even at night when more of them come out, but never fear: the inflatable dinosaurs were there as always, and the Loki variants were everywhere.

To my great surprise, con attendees were good about keeping their masks on when they weren’t actively eating or drinking. Most of the panels I attended were small in number, with seats further apart than usual (although the exact spacing varied by hotel). In fact, I didn’t go to any of the huge panels–partly because I wasn’t interested in any of the big name guests, partly in an attempt to avoid bigger crowds. Sure, mask use became less consistent in the food court and late at night when more booze came out. But even at the late night dance party I went to, mask use was surprisingly high even on the dance floor.

The desire to stay masked while indoors brought to light my habit of snacking and staying hydrated during the day. In the past I’d eat a snack and have some water during a panel so I could grab a meal when friends were going to the food court or when I had a two-hour break between events. The half-hour block between events, combined with the walk to get food, lines, and of course eating the food, required at least an hour break to grab a meal, and that’s just for going to the food court.

This year, I started to feel my lack of snacking and drinking around Saturday. Finding a place outside to have a snack or drink started to feel like a surreptitious smoke break. Every time I did take a break outside to drink some water, I found myself drinking most of my bottle in a single sitting and wondering why my throat was so sore, as if yelling through a mask and only drinking water during these sneaky breaks all weekend had nothing to do with it. It’s a good thing I had prepared big breakfasts at home before heading to the con because I found myself eating lunch around 2pm most days, sometimes later.

All of these circumstances led to this con being the least social Dragon Con to date. We’ve been trained to think in bubbles over the past year and a half, and that thinking is hard to undo. My social anxiety nightmare is being the lone person in a group where everyone else already knows each other. This is hard enough to handle during regular cons; it takes only twenty attempts to ask if I can sit with a group in the food court only to be told “We’re saving this seat for our friend” before giving up and walking around for half an hour, searching for a place to sit and eat my sad fast food alone. This year breaking out and talking to others was hell, partly because everyone was in their bubbles and partly because there were fewer people remaining to talk to if a conversation ended.

As someone who normally bounces between tracks alone and avoids most of the big panels, making line friends was next to impossible. I carried around a Pokemon Go sign on Friday stating what I wanted to trade, and while this gained only a few trades, it led to a lot of conversations. I was actually sad when a local player took me up on a lot of those trades but couldn’t meet until Sunday because it meant I had no reason to carry that sign around anymore; after all, she was receiving all the things on that sign. I liked having a reason for people to talk to little old me without a costume, just a NaNo shirt and bag with a few nerdy pins on it.

The less social nature of the pandemic con made this year the least fun one to date. Everyone else had their bubbles. Yes, I had friends and acquaintances around the con, and I hung out with some of them throughout. I showed one group of Pokemon Go players the hell I put my brother through in Super Smash while playing as Kirby (and then to be fair, I played as someone else the rest of the time and died pretty early because how do the other players work when you can’t just smash them). I hung out and people watched with a couple of other friends throughout the con. I traded and talked with a local trainer on Sunday. I ran into several Wrimos, both local and from afar. Honestly, the most fun I had at this con was at a queer dance party on Saturday night; if everything is less crowded, may as well check out a party or two and keep my mask on. As a balloon came out and a few of us thwapped the balloon to another group, I laughed so hard I almost cried.

These social frustrations aren’t unique to this year. The social frustrations over the past few years and the sheer size of the convention have started to outweigh the fun I’ve had. So many of my friends and acquaintances love this convention because they’ve found their people. I don’t love it because these people do not feel like my people. I am an alien among the con attendees, an impostor geek who barely recognizes the costumes and isn’t there for most of the media stuff.

All this makes going back next year hard to justify, even though I am local and don’t have to plan a year in advance. I go through this struggle every year. Why continually put myself through the social grinder? I think back to where I have found my place at events, and the answer is always in more niche events. Night of Writing Dangerously. The board game area at other conventions. Pokemon Go Fest. Places where we definitely have something in common or have an immediate reason to interact. The sheer number of tracks at Dragon Con and my interests mean I’m always bouncing between tracks, making it hard to see the same people over and over and connect with them. There’s rarely enough time to settle down for a nice game, even this year when the gaming area would have been less crowded than usual.

If I go next year, I need to approach the con differently. Dragon Con has a writers track (which I already visit) and some additional paid writing workshops that I’ve never attended before. I’ve never been in the con’s board gaming area because I’m so busy trying to do everything else. And most of my attending friends are into completely different things from me so we’re usually off doing our own thing throughout the weekend, hence why I try and fail to make new friends all the time.

I’m not sure what a different approach entails, but it’s time to rethink the Dragon Con experience before burning out and giving up altogether.

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Tahani Made the Right Choice in The Good Place

Note: This post contains major spoilers for the end of The Good Place. Yes, the very end.

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Reviews

What I’m Watching, Pandemic Edition

If you know me, you know it’s rare when I have watched something. So it might surprise you to know that yes, I have watched some things during the pandemic. Let’s talk about those things.