December 20, 2023

It's Tradition

December is the time to look back and reflect on accomplishments of the year that's ending, or even more dangerously, to look ahead and declare hopes and intentions for the year to come.

My hopes for the following year are always big. However, I never want to say too much about that, because I'm conscious that eventually I'll be looking back at whatever I wrote and comparing it to reality. So I tend to focus on accomplishments.

My accomplishments are usually pretty big, too. But often they don't feel that way to me, mainly in comparison to those hopes I still know about even if I didn't write them down. Which makes it all the more worthwhile an exercise to tally up what I've done and see that it's not nothing. As I reminded myself a few months ago, a major reason I document my progress is to help me recognize how much progress I've actually made.

A year ago, I was in the middle of a novel draft that I started in November for NaNoWriMo 2022 and continued to work on daily until taking a year-end break. Right after the beginning of 2023, I resumed this daily writing practice and maintained it consistently until I reached the end of the draft in late February.

While that draft was less than I'd hoped for in terms of cohesion and general story-shapedness, I'm pleased by my diligence in creating it. For four months, I committed to writing at least 100 words every day, and sustaining that kept me moving forward. I developed a pace that let me accurately estimate how long the project would take, something I dream of doing again, though I'm sure it will be harder when my standards don't keep dropping as I approach the end.

I think that with a solid outline worked out, I can write the next, better draft with the same sort of sustained energy. I did imagine I'd be doing that by now, or at the very least, be preparing to start early in the new year. Once again, my hopes exceeded reality. Still, when I remember how disconnected and vague that last draft was, and compare it against my sense of the story now, I realize I made plenty of progress over the rest of the year. Slow progress, but progress nonetheless.

The bulk of this year went toward a lot of brainstorming and a lot of research. With both, I've been frustrated at not more efficiently arriving at the solutions, but that's how it goes. Occasionally good ideas seem to spring up effortlessly and randomly, but more often getting at them requires probing deeply, sometimes in what might be the wrong direction.

My work throughout the spring was somewhat scattered, often iterative, occasionally perhaps misdirected. It was also interrupted by a number of breaks. Moving into summer, I focused in on character and plot problems, including with the help of sticky notes. I also went down a deep hole of research and worldbuilding that may or may not end up having enough prominence in the story to justify the work I put into it. It's all part of the process, really!

Much of the fall involved burrowing down more such holes. I put in some solid, consistent hours over the last few months, but it sometimes felt of questionable value. While I spent the previous two Novembers in fast-paced NaNoWriMo writing mode, this November I stalled, stuck on what seemed like an unsolvable problem, and that was demoralizing.

But good news: In early December, I hit upon a more elegant solution than anything I was aiming at. The idea felt like it sprang out of nowhere, but experience tells me all that earlier thinking helped me get there. In any case, I've triumphed over a big problem that was flummoxing me, and I'm ending the year on a high note. Many other story problems remain, but those will wait until 2024.

As always at the turn of the year, the unknown future feels full of promise. Here's hoping!

Good Stuff Out There:

→ In an interactive data visualization at The Pudding, Alice Liang explores trends in romance novel covers: "Today's newest romance novels bear a stark difference to the rotating stacks of clinch covers one might find at a used bookstore or estate sale. In that era, publishers sought to differentiate their novels from their competitors with a distinctive style, but still kept to a common enough language so that a browser would know a book is romance at first glance. Now, most romance novels are illustrated, brightly colored, and have a distinctive pop art style, but they still have a recognizable common language." (Thanks, Lauren!)

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