The next chapter: December 2021 update and year-end review

And, just like that (and, no; never watched SatC; won’t watch AJLT), the second year of the pandemic ends.

2021 was an … interesting year. I’ll get to that in a bit.

Before we get to my December update, my monthly PSAs:

All lives cannot matter until BIPOC lives matter. We need to keep striving to be good allies and keep the critical issues front and centre.

Wash your hands, maintain physical distance, mask in public, get vaccinated (if you haven’t), and get your booster. Delta and omicron won’t be the only variants to emerge. And let’s be clear. The variants are there. They always have been. It’s just that, as we get better at suppressing the ones we know about, the ones we don’t have a chance to surge. Some may be less virulent, or not virulent at all. Some may be less transmissible or not transmissible at all. Some may not even infect humans. But it’s the ones that are more virulent, more transmissible, and infect humans that we have to watch for. This ain’t over yet.

The month in writing

Following the marathon that is NaNoWriMo, I wanted to take a break from revision. I only intended to rest until December 5th, but work got hectic again, and I ended up revising as I could, which meant not much at all.

Originally, I thought I could, based on my performance in November, revise about 20,000 words of Reality Bomb. Unfortunately, I had to amend that goal mid-month and reduced it first to 10,000 words, then 5,000 words, and ultimately 1,000 words. Of that 1,000-word goal, I revised 853 words, or 85%.

Admittedly, I decided to read through the draft to the point where I left off in NaNo, which was about the midpoint of the novel. So that 853 words represents a bunch of cutting and adding that I chose not to get too granular on.

My only writing goal for the month was the blog and of my 3,500-word goal, I wrote 5,422 words, or 155%.

The writing year in review

I started out 2021 by trying something different. I’d finished the last rewrite of RB by the close of 2020 and decided to focus on short fiction and poetry for the first three months of the year.

This worked out well for me. I wrote, revised, and submitted several short stories and poems, earned several rejections, and then had three poems and a short story accepted for future publication in February.

In March, I entered the SciArt Poetry competition and won the community category. I read my poem on Science North’s YouTube channel at the end of March, and the poem would be published later in the year in Sulphur X, Laurentian University’s literary journal.

I also started to revise RB in March based on my returned critiques.

In April, I had another story accepted for future publication, and the last of my poems accepted in 2020 was published.

Revision was not going well, though.

I was somewhat stymied by the critiques I received back in January and February. I couldn’t figure out how to use the feedback to revise my novel. I had thought a couple of months would be long enough for me to figure out a game plan, but, because I had already started on my journey to autism diagnosis, I was thinking about other things.

I had intended to rewrite/revise between 500 and 1,000 words a day on weekdays and a chapter each day on weekends, and thus be finished my next draft sometime in the summer. At that point, I had hoped to move onto Marushka and prepare that draft, on which I’d also received feedback, for next round revisions in November.

I wrote a new opening chapter and revised from there, dividing chapters into smaller chunks. I was still writing in close third (or trying for it). I revised 28,202 words up to about the middle of July, when I hit the point where my protagonist enters another of the many worlds and is trapped inside her other self.

The challenges of having two people in the same physical body and trying to make then both distinct and identifiable in terms of formatting (italics for one, ? for the other?) made it clear that I had to rewrite the draft in first person. Past or present, though? I opted for present despite my failure to nail the POV on an earlier draft. There would still be some difficulties making the story dynamic enough for first person present (my protagonist is disembodied for three quarters of the novel and thus, largely “in her head”), but I decided that it would be the best fit and returned to the beginning.

From the middle of July through to the end of November, I revised 62,996 words, but some of that was reworking my novel map (chapter and scene breakdown), which I counted only in November. I got to the midpoint … and then decided, as I mentioned above, to take a break.

Since, I’ve been rereading the revised draft to date, making a few more additions and deletions, and thinking of a better way to weave in some of the minor characters throughout the novel so they don’t feel like wasted opportunities.

I’ve even been using tarot to help free my intuitive writer. It’s working out surprisingly well.

About the same time I made my fateful POV decision in July, I realized that if I wanted to work on any other big project this year, it would not be Marushka. But, as it turned out, I haven’t had the spoons to finish my work on RB, let alone start on a new novel …

In November, I made the decision to leave DIY MFA as a regular columnist. I’m trying to conserve my energy for what matters most.

I’m going to have to review my other commitments as well.

I haven’t been active in my critique group since summer. I need to reconnect, but I’m struggling.

Onto the statistics!

In terms of word count, I wrote:

  • 10 poems,
  • 4,146 words of short fiction,
  • 58,061 words on Writerly Goodness,
  • 5,623 words on my Speculations column, and
  • 360 words on a side project.

That’s 68,190 words and 10 poems.

I revised:

  • 92,048 words on RB (some several times), and
  • 12,023 words of short fiction.

That’s 104,071 words revised.

Some of these goals I didn’t assign numbers to at the beginning of the year. I didn’t know how much I would write or revise on some projects and so just left them blank in terms of goals. The poetry and short fiction (writing and revision) were in this category and so any work done on those projects was bonus.

If you want to zoom in on the relative percentages of the writing and revision goals I did set out for myself, you’re welcome to do so 🙂

There was also the work on my Ascension series masterdoc (like that term so much better than bible) that I didn’t track in terms of word count. Throughout the year, I wrote out and revised the worldbuiding for my world (cosmology, history, peoples, languages, etc.) and character sketches, and I restructured the first book of the series in outline. I’ve had to work out the calendar of events for the last bit of book one. I had a lot of questions marks on my timeline. I’m working it out.

Eventually, I’ll expand the outlines/maps for each book in the series with scenes and sequels as I rewrite.

Looking forward

I’m going to try to finish my rewrite of RB this year. I’m not setting any hard and fast goals, but I’m hoping to do that by the end of June.

I might decide to work with a book coach or editor at that time. So, I’ll probably spend some time in the spring making initial enquiries.

Then, I’ll probably do with the summer what I did with January to March of last year and focus on short fiction and poetry as a break from novelling. I’ll also use that time to revisit my next novel project (partly written as a very long short story) and prepare to begin drafting in the fall.

I have most of my drafted novels included in my 2022 writing and revision tracker, but I’m not committing to them in any way. They’re just there to remind me that I have a lot of things I can work on, if I so choose.

Filling the well

In December, I didn’t attend any literary events live online. I did sign up for a Tiffany Yates-Martin webinar through Jane Friedman, but I watched the replay, ‘cause work.

My small family (me and Phil, his sister and spouse, our moms) got together to celebrate my mom-in-law’s 80th birthday and then again on Boxing Day for Christmas (it was supposed to be Christmas Day, but freezing rain changed our plans).

And aside from therapy, a support group meeting, massage, and a couple of days of leave, that was it for filling the well in December.

For the first year in … forever, I put up the Christmas tree.

The personal year in review

I started 2021 at a low point, feeling like an imposter at both work and creative pursuits. I was also feeling stuck physically, having slowly yo-yo’ed between 170 and 200 pounds since my early 20s.

It being a pandemic and all, I decided that, instead of going it alone, as was my habit, I’d ask for help.

For mental health support, I reached out to my employer’s EAP. For physical health support, I turned to Noom. By May 10th, I’d been diagnosed as autistic, a timeline that I’ve since come to understand is amazingly quick. By the end of July, I cancelled my Noom account, having surpassed my goal of 170 pounds and achieved 150. I continued to lose weight through August, finally settling at 140 pounds, which I’ve since maintained (even during the holidays!).

It’s the lightest I’ve been in my adult life and I’m feeling physically healthy.

In November, I finally connected with a therapist through the Redpath Centre, which specializes in support for autistics. When I met with her for the first time, my therapist referred me to a support group.

I’m currently working toward getting a workplace accommodation, having experienced autistic burnout as the result of a very stressful acting position and project. I struggled again in December because of a similar situation and I’m trying to find a way to manage my stress levels on an ongoing basis, so I don’t need to take additional time off to recover my head.

It’s been a transformative year with regard to my physical and mental health, and I’m ready to shift my focus back to creative pursuits.

What I’m watching and reading

In December, I watched three movies and finished watching three series. That seems nice and symmetrical, to me 😉

First, I watched Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. I loved it. Yes, it wasn’t really Shang Chi’s story, and there were a few things that stretched credibility, but I really appreciated the homage to Jackie Chan’s movies (many of which I’ve watched over the years) and fighting style. They even had choreographers from Jackie Chan’s team working on the movie. Wong and Morris rock.

Then, I caught John Wick 3: Parabellum. It filled in the series for me. What can I say? Over the top violence is something I enjoy? In the right circumstances, I guess. Didn’t appreciate the uncharacteristic twist that was JW’s dark moment, but the movie made up for it in the end.

Phil and I watched The Suicide Squad on New Years Eve. So much better than the first movie. Harley Quinn is the best character in the DCEU.

I finished watching the final season of Dear White People. Not sure if I liked the framing device (telling the season from the perspective of the characters in the future) or the whole season being focused on the musical review in their last year as Winchester. It was okay. They tied up all the critical stories in the end.

Watched the latest Dr. Who series, said to be Jodie Whittaker’s last. It was a bit confusing at first, but after a couple of episodes, everything came together. I also was the New Year’s special, thinking that it might offer up a clue to the next regeneration. It didn’t. I can’t not love Jodie Who. I’ll be sad to see her leave.

Finally, Phil and I watched the first season of The Wheel of Time. Neither of us have read the books. I really liked it. More than Phil did, I think. He was put off by all the comparisons to Game of Thrones. WoT is its own thing. I appreciated it as such.

Reading-wise, I only finished reading three books in December.

I read Julia Quinn’s The Duke and I (yes, the book that was the basis for the first season of the Bridgerton series). I’ve read romance in the past, but my preference runs to Kathleen E. Woodiwiss, whose books would probably be classified as “bodice rippers.” The book does treat Daphne’s technical rape of Simon more tactfully, but the story itself was less compelling.

Brandon Sanderson and Janci Patterson have written several novellas in the Skyward Flight series to bridge the gap between books two and three of the series. I read the first of those, Sunreach, which focuses on the secondary character of FM, the rescue of Minister Kuna, and how the rest of the flight back at Detritus deals with the discovery that Spensa’s pet Doomslug, a Taynix, is a cytonic creature capable of powering a hyperdrive. I really liked it and am now on the second novella, Redawn.

I finished off the year with Sarah Hollowell’s A Dark and Starless Forest. It’s a dark book, and thus was a little challenging to get through. It focuses on a remote house in which abandoned child “alchemists” live under the dubious protection of Frank. It’s clear the young alchemists, including Derry, the protagonist, live in fear of Frank, and it soon becomes clear why. But as Derry’s sisters disappear, one by one, she has to find a way to solve the mystery without arousing Frank’s wrath. Despite its darkness, I really liked the book.

Because of general busy-ness and distraction, I only read 55 books of my 65-book goal in 2021.

I’ve reduced this year’s goal to 60 and hope to attain it, but that will depend, in part, on work.

And that was the month (and year!) in this writer’s life.

Until tipsday, be well and stay safe; be kind and stay strong. The world needs your stories!

The next chapter:  October/November 2021 update

Sweet Lord! It feels like forever since I wrote one of these. Forever and a week. And three days. Sorry about that. The last couple of weeks have been hectic at work. Ran out of weekend on the 4th/5th (what with all the Christmas-ing). And I ran out of weekend again on the 11th/12th because it was my mother-in-law’s 80th birthday party. Both of those will feature in December’s next chapter update.

The month(s) in writing

 Will start off with October … if I can remember that far back 🙂

The writing was not going well.

I was still recovering from my autistic burnout, still being kind to myself, and still busy at work. There are more days when I did not work on Reality Bomb than days I worked on it. Of my conservative 5,000-word revision goal for the month, I only revised 3,060 words. That’s 61%.

I did work on a piece of short fiction, but it was focused editing to reduce the word count, so there was nothing to record. I submitted the story and the rejection came back two days later.

Aside from RB and the story, I kept up with my curation posts. I wrote 4,811 words of my 3,500-word goal, or 137%.

And that’s all I did in October.

The November update is just going to be summary 🙂 I embarked on NaNoWriMo 2021 with a conservative goal. All I really wanted to do was get back to a regular writing habit, if for no other reason than to prove that I could do it.

I was a NaNo Rebel and titled my project NaNo Rebel Combo. I counted everything I wrote or revised in the month. It helped that I had the first two weeks of November off work, but I sincerely thought my progress would crater after I returned.

Surprisingly, it didn’t.

Words revised on RB and edits to its story map: 44,854

Words written on short fiction: 1,424

Words blogged: 2,138

Words written on (my last) Speculations column: 1,653

Other words written: 360

Total words revised: 44,854

Total words written: 5,575

Grand total: 50,429 words

I submitted the short story I wrote to an anthology call. Will let you know if anything comes of that.

Filling the well

In October, I attended two virtual writerly events. A reading by Wab Kinew, and the combined Writing Excuses/Surrey International Writers’ Conference online. Both were lovely. And WXR/SiWC posted all their sessions for attendee viewing for 30 days after the event, so I was able to watch all the sessions I had to miss because work.

My mom hosted Thanksgiving for our family.

I also tracked down a therapist who specializes in autism and scheduled an appointment with her in early November.

I went in to work on October 29th and retrieved my chair. It was an accommodation request resulting from an ergonomic assessment before we got our adjustable desks at work. At the time, sitting was the issue and standing was the solution. After eight years of standing to work and write, I decided to change things up and try sitting again for a while.

I adjusted the seat pan and back to encourage me to lean back, so I wouldn’t get tense and torque out my neck, back, and shoulders the way I used to. And it’s working. I had some difficulties with the height of the arm rests, but now that I’ve resolved those, I’m golden. I credit my NaNo win, at least in part, to my new, comfortable sitting arrangement.

I made the tough decision to stop writing my column for DIY MFA. They’ve become a kind of family. I’ll miss writing for them, but I have to refocus on myself right now.

In November, aside from NaNo, I attended several virtual sessions from this year’s Wordstock Sudbury and a couple of Jane Friedman webinars.

Home for the Howlidays, with my short story, “The Wolf You Feed,” was launched on November 23rd. It’s available on Amazon if you want some wolfish holiday reads.

I had my first session with my therapist, got a note from my doctor for insurance, and submitted my first claim (which was subsequently paid). I investigated the accommodation process at work. In short, I made progress.

My two weeks of vacation in November, compared to the two weeks of sick leave I took back in September, were truly restorative. September was just about getting my head back. My success in NaNoWriMo cemented for me that I can still write and/or revise daily, that everything I produce is not crap, and that I can still accomplish lofty creative goals if I commit.

But now, there’s another urgent project that needs to be completed at work, and I’m taking another break (not voluntarily). I have to manage my energy levels and health.

And get lots of cuddles!

What I’m watching and reading

Watching first, as has been my pattern of late.

The Black Widow movie wasn’t as bad as I’d been led to believe. It didn’t blow my mind, but it was enjoyable.

I finished watching the last season of Riverdale, for real this time. Not fond of the time jump and the super-clichéd storylines. Betty’s basically Clarice Starling, Jughead’s every substance-abusing writer ever rumoured, Archie’s a veteran now, but all his flashbacks look like WWII (?), Veronica is the vixen of Wall Street … just ugh.

The New Mutants was okay. I always enjoy Maisie Williams and Anya Taylor Joy, but I wasn’t fond of how the latter, as Illyana Rasputin, was framed as a mean girl. It just didn’t fit with my experience of the comics.

The series finale of Supergirl was sappy, as expected. The conflict felt off all season, though. Kara (and everyone, really) made a lot of uncharacteristic decisions, because final season? A little disappointing.

Phil and I watched the second season of Locke & Key. Not bad. Better than season one, I think, but it took a while to kick into gear, and, honestly, it had been so long since the first season, I was unclear on a lot of the plot, even with the season one recap under my metaphorical belt. It came together in the end, though.

The latest season of Doom Patrol was … frustrating more than anything. Excuse my language, but they’re all still fucked up fuckups. You’d think they’d have spanked their inner moppets by now.

Finally, the shining view of the last two months, Reservation Dogs. Loved! That is all. Go watch it now!

In the reading department, I read nine books over the two months. Having said that, I’m currently nine books behind in my 2021 Goodreads challenge. I may not even make last year’s goal (which I surpassed, by the way) of 60 books.

I listened to Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, part 1 on Audible. It was a fully produced audioplay, with top actors, and I loved it, despite its meandering story. It was originally a graphic novel, and episodic, so that was to be expected. I’m looking forward to the Netflix series.

Having read and enjoyed P. Djèlí Clark’s Master of Djinn, I thought I should fill in the gap with the novellas that lead up to it. The Haunting of Tram Car 015, was fun and focused on supporting characters from the novel, Hamed and Onsi.

I read Django Wexler’s The Thousand Names as part of a book club my critique group started. It was good, but the protagonist, Winter, doesn’t show up right away. Maybe it’s because the novel is more properly Marcus’s story, but, being a woman, I connected to Winter more. As a result, it was an uneven read. I enjoyed it, and the world building was great, but Marcus was a very traditional protagonist in epic fantasy. I wasn’t as interested in his story and thus didn’t enjoy the novel as much as I might have.

I finished This is How You Lose the Time War by Max Gladstone and Amal El-Mohtar next, though I’d started it before taking up The Thousand Names. It was actually the first novel selected for our book club. I loved the lyrical nature of the book and the largely epistolary structure. Other readers were not as enamoured. El-Mohtar is a poet. So am I (sometimes). I really got into the words, savoured them, rolled them around on my tongue and in my brain. Loved.

Witchmark, by C.L. Polk, was an enchanting (pun intended) read. It was so good I can’t wait to get into the rest of the series 🙂

Alice Payne Rides is Kate Heartfield’s follow up to Alice Payne Arrives. It was interesting reading this so soon after This is How You Lose the Time War. There were enough similarities that I wonder if El-Mohtar might have been influenced by Heartfield’s Alice, at least in part.

Catherine Hernandez’ Crosshairs was a bit of a harrowing read. It’s a dystopia, which takes as its genesis that Canada followed our neighbours to the south in instituting a totalitarian, fundamentalist, and fascist regime. In fact, Hernandez imagines a Canada that goes even farther, instituting workhouses for all “others,” be they people of colour, Indigenous peoples, LGBTQ2S+, or followers of religions other than Christianity. An excellent novel that challenges everything you think Canada is.

I then listened to Tanya Talaga’s All Our Relations. Excellent. I now want to find out more about the Sami, Scandinavia’s Indigenous people.

Finally, I read Roshani Chokshi’s The Bronzed Beasts, the third book in the trilogy that began with The Gilded Wolves. Yum! Bittersweet ending that in some ways reminded me of The Invisible Life of Addie Larue.

And that was the last two months in this writer’s life.

Until next time, be well and stay safe; be kind and stay strong. The world needs your stories!

NaNoWriMo 2021 wrap post

As promised, here is a fulsome review of my experience of NaNoWriMo 2021.

The plan

I had no expectation of winning this year. Because I had just come out of an autistic burnout and was finding writing or revising anything challenging, I decided to be a NaNo Rebel again this year and I set my goal low.

In addition to revising Reality Bomb and filling in my chapter and scene map for the novel, I was going to write my Speculations column for DIY MFA, work on a short story (I had hoped, more than one), and to round things out, I also counted my blogging. In short, I counted everything I wrote in the month.

Even so, I thought I’d only get 30,000 words revised on RB, 2,500 words each on the short story and blog, and 1,000 words on my column. 36,000 words seemed like a reasonable goal.

The progress

I did have the first two weeks of November off work. I was kind to myself, got a solid 8 hours sleep each night, ate well, walked Torvi twice a day, watched television and streaming, and played a computer game as a nightly reward. I didn’t put any pressure on myself. I think it was a good approach 🙂

Between RB and the map, I revised 44,854 words, or 150% of my goal.

I finished my short story in 1,424 words, which was only 57% of my goal. I also submitted it.

I blogged 2,138 words, or 86% of that goal.

On my column, I wrote 1,653 words, which was 165% of my goal there.

Plus, I wrote 360 words on a little side project.

I wrote 5,575 words of the 6,000 I had intended to. That’s 93% of my writing goal.

My winning total for NaNoWriMo 2021 is 50,899, but when I add everything I recorded up, it totals 50,429. So, I made a mistake of 470 words somewhere. Still, I won!

Evidence …
I was all over the place!
The only badge I didn’t get was recording 1,667 every day.

The pivot

I had expected my progress to slow when I returned to work. And it did, but the progress I’d made in the two weeks I was off, plus the work I was able to do on the weekends was enough to shore up the low production days.

I’ve hit a problematic part of RB at this point, though. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it’s the mid-point of the novel. Yes, my middle is saggy. It’s going to require some thought and strategic thinking to tighten it up.

So, I’m going to take another little break, let things percolate for a bit, decorate the house for Christmas (which I haven’t done for … years), and marshal my resources.

I don’t know if I’ll get back to revisions later this month or wait until the new year. I’m going to take the same approach I did with NaNo. I’m going to be kind to myself, set reasonable expectations, and do what I can.

The other factor at play is my recent diagnosis as autistic. I’ve found a therapist, joined a support group, and I’m looking at workplace accommodations. And I’m working full time. I know there are a lot of authors who work full time, but with this new understanding of, and context for my life, I can see the times when I’ve been overwhelmed and burned out. I can’t do it all, all the time.

This weekend, I’ll be posting my next chapter update for October and November (the November piece should be short, ‘cause mini updates).

Until then, be well and stay safe; be kind and stay strong. The world needs your stories!

NaNoWriMo 2021, week 4, mini update

This will be a super quick update today. I’ll have a more complete update on the 30th. Or maybe the 1st. Depending on how I feel. I usually need to take a bit of a break after the blitz.

The plan

 Keeping on as I was keeping on appears to be working out 🙂

The progress

Between revision on Reality Bomb and filling in its map, I put in 11,484 words.

I wrote 393 words on my short story. Probably only going to get the one done this month.

And this post is 162 words.

Total for the week: 12,039 words.

Running total for NaNoWriMo 2021: 49,861 words.

Think I’ll make the 50k? Yeah, me, too 🙂

The pivot

There are only two days left (!) No time to pivot, even if I wanted to.

As mentioned of the top, I’ll be posting a NaNoWriMo 2021 wrap up on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Until then, be well and stay safe; be kind and stay strong. The world needs your stories!

NaNoWriMo 2021, week 3 mini update

It’s the end of week 3 and I’m still doing well … ? Better than I thought I’d be faring at this point, that’s for sure. Best be grateful, eh?

The plan

I expected my production to dip with my return to work, and there was one day where I only managed 407 words of revision, and two others where I logged less than 1,667 words (1,187 and 1,099, to be specific). Otherwise, though, I recorded over the 1,667 and made up for the shortfall.

There were a couple of stressful days (the ones where I logged 407 and 1,099, coincidentally), but overall, I’ve been trying to manage a better work/life/creative balance. I think it’s working?

The progress

Revisions to Reality Bomb and filling in my scene map amounted to 10,451 words.

I wrote another 360 words of short fiction.

And this update is 214 words.

My total for week 3 is 11,025 words.

And my total for NaNoWriMo 2021 so far is 37,831 words.

The pivot

I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing, I think. No pivot necessary. Of course, I’ll have to watch the work stress. It’s getting better, though.

I hope all my American friends have a safe and happy Thanksgiving!

Until next week, be well and stay safe; be kind and stay strong. The world needs your stories!

NaNoWriMo 2021, week 2, mini update

Here we are, on Sunday of week 2.

The plan

The plan was to finish my Speculations column and submit it, and to continue revising Reality Bomb and working on my first short story. If I was so lucky as to finish the first story, I’d start a second. There are several open calls and contests coming up. I know I won’t hit all of them, but I’m going to try for a couple.

The progress

I wrote 748 words to finish my column. It’s 1,653 words in total. A little long, but it’s another personal post.

Between revisions and my evolving map of RB, I racked up 12,446 words. I’ve finally made it past the point where I realized I’d have to change the POV to first person and start over. It’s good to be forging ahead.

I wrote 112 more words on my story. It’s a cute one. I’ll tell you about it later in the year.

This update is 359 words.

And … I did a little personal project that amounted to 360 words.

This week’s total word count: 14,025.

NaNo 2021 running total: 26,771 words. That’s an average of 1,912 words a day.

The pivot

Tomorrow is my first day back to work after two wonderful and restorative weeks off. I expect that my productivity will be significantly lower during the week. It’s to be expected. I usually write or revise 250 to 500 words a day when I’m working. It’ll be a bit more than that because I’m not curating. Optimistically, we can probably double that to 500 to 1,000 words a day. But that’s being optimistic. I might catch up a bit on the weekends, but I doubt I’ll “win” this year.

It’s all about the motivation, though. Writing something every day has been good for me. I’m feeling refreshed and inspired. I’m remembering why RB was important to me (actually, I didn’t forget, but autistic burnout messed with my head for a couple of months).

My best wishes to everyone who’s participating in NaNoWriMo 2021 in any capacity. You can do the thing!

Until next week, be well and stay safe; be kind and stay strong. The world needs your stories!

NaNoWriMo 2021, week 1, mini update

Today is November 7th and I’m happy to report that I’ve written 12,746 words so far.

The plan

I named my project this year “NaNo Rebel Combo.” And it’s exactly that. I’m working on next round revisions on Reality Bomb, including the work I’m doing on my scene map as I go, some pieces of short fiction, and my next Speculations column for DIY MFA. I’m even counting these blog posts (and my curation posts) toward my goal. It’s a real mixed bag this year 🙂

Also, I have the first two weeks of November off from work. I expect my productivity to take a nosedive starting on the 15th.

The progress

On RB and the scene map, I’ve written 9,872 words;

I’ve written 141 words on a short story;

I’ve written 905 words of my Speculations column; and

Including this post … I’ve blogged 1,353 words.

Grand total for week one: 12,746 words (1,820/day).

The pivot

Once my Speculations column is submitted, I’m going to refocus on RB and the first short story. When that short story is finished, I’ll start another.

As I mentioned, I’ll be returning to work on the 15th and don’t expect to accomplish as much after that. But I’ll keep plugging away, as I’m able, and see what I can put together.

We’ll see what I can do in the next week, but I’m not set on winning this year. This is just motivation for me to get back to a more regular practice. As you can see, I’ve only set myself a goal of writing 36,000 words on my spreadsheet. I think that’s reasonable, but what I often think is reasonable turns out to be a stretch.

Until next week, be well and stay safe; be kind and stay strong. The world needs your stories!

The next chapter: September 2021 update

Another month gone. Le sigh.

Here in Canada, we had a federal election that changed nothing, our first Truth and Reconciliation Day, and a slew of continuing political scandals and health crises. We’re still in dumpster fire territory.

Your monthly PSAs:

All lives cannot matter until BIPOC lives matter.

Please continue to wash your hands, mask in public places, maintain physical distance, and if you haven’t been fully vaccinated yet, please do so, soonest. And get your flu shot, too. It’s forecast to be a narsty flu year now that reopening is happening and kids are back in school.

The month in writing

The month in writing kinda wasn’t. I’ll get to the why of it in the next section. Suffice it to say, I didn’t write for more than half the month.

It’s probably not surprising, then, that of the 10,000 words I’d hoped to revise/rewrite on Reality Bomb, I only managed 5,056 words, or 51% of goal.

I revised a whole 82 words of my 500-word short fiction goal, or 16%.

The only thing that I kept up with was blogging. I blogged 5,301 words of my 3,750-word goal. 141%. I’ll take it.

My latest Speculations came out mid-month.

And that’s about it.

I’m slowly getting back into the groove. I’m not stressing when I have too much going on to pay proper attention to writing. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.

Filling the well

I attended three virtual writing-related events in September. First, I took part in Suzy Vadori’s virtual writers’ retreat Sept 10 – 14, which was flexible enough to fit in around work.

Then, CanWrite! 2021 and FiyahCon were both on the same weekend. Fortunately, I was able to watch the FiyahCon panels I missed in replay. So, it wasn’t terribly stressful. I caught Terry Fallis’s and Farzana Doctor’s sessions at CanWrite! and that was really what I wanted to catch.

I went out to my sister-in-law’s for an outdoor family BBQ. Phil made the burgers. Ger made fresh-cut fries. My mom made a three-bean salad, and Steph made the BEST cherry pie EVAR.

In health-related news … there was a lot.

After the end of my acting, I returned to my position as an instructional designer on a short week, which was made even shorter by a dental checkup and taking my overtime as compensatory time. I still wasn’t feeling quite right, though. I had a doctor’s appointment the following Monday, and I got a sick note for two weeks off work.

While I was off, I took care of some other stuff (shingles vaccine 1 of 2, blood work, orthotic check, that kind of thing).

I’ve also been trying to find myself a therapist. I think I’d really benefit from having someone to help my navigate this sea-change in my life. There’s really no one who specializes in women who are diagnosed as autistic later in life. At least not locally. I have some feelers out, thanks to a friend, but I haven’t heard back yet.

I’ve been using the quality of my sleep, the amount and nature of my rumination, and my relative level of brain fog as my barometers. My sleep has improved—I’m dreaming non-work-related dreams—I’m not ruminating about my work-related failures, but most mornings I’m still foggy.

I was back at work last week and it was really hard.

This weekend has been restorative, though.

A little morning halo for you.

What I’m watching and reading

I’m going to short-form my list this month because I watched a lot in my time off, and a number of mid-season series finished their runs. My reading’s back on track as well.

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. The whole season could be summed up by saying … and wackiness ensues. John Constantine’s arc was a bit dark, but the rest was so outlandish that I couldn’t take anything seriously.

The Flash was its usual schmaltz.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier wasn’t as bad as I was led to believe. Yes, there were obvious gaffes that resulted from rewriting and reshooting during a pandemic to avoid a viral subplot, but I enjoyed it.

I May Destroy You was brilliant, but traumatic to watch.

Fleabag was similar but not quite as traumatic.

Black Lightning finished its run in typical DC fashion. Tobias Whale is dead, and everyone is ready for their HEA except poor painkiller, who had to forget he ever knew the Pierces as the cost of removing his kill order on them.

I also watched three movies.

Soul was quite good, as Pixar movies tend to be.

Amazon’s take on Cinderella was an interesting twist [SPOILERS], with Ella’s desire to be a fashion designer causing the prince to abdicate and follow his heart.

Raya and the Last Dragon was another show that I felt was better than some reviews made it out to be. The ending made me teary. Yup. I’m a sap.

Finally, I watched The Death Cure. I’d seen the ending before, so I knew what was going to happen, but I watched it anyway. The thing that got me was that there was evidence in the second Maze Runner movie that showed Thomas’s blood had curative properties, but nobody figured it out. They could have saved Newt. His death was pointless. A lot of the character deaths were.

I finished or read six books in September.

First was Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord. Wonderful storytelling. It was an easygoing story with an uplifting ending.

[SPOILERS] Rebecca Roanhorse’s Black Sun was interesting, but it would appear that the two main characters are dead at the end. I wonder how the author’s going to walk that back.

[SPOILERS] M.R. Carey’s The Girl with All the Gifts was typically post-apocalyptic. In the end, all the humans die but the teacher, and she gets to teach the hungry kids, who are apparently the evolutionary future of the human race.

I enjoyed Ashley Shuttleworth’s A Dark and Hollow Star despite the rampant infodumping. The world; the connections between the seelie and unseelie fae, fairies, ironborn, gods, and titans; the interplay of science and magic, kind of required it. And I liked that it was partly set in Toronto.

Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi was the perfect read for my recovery. Short and yet complex. Gentle and kind and even if the ending isn’t particularly happy, it’s hopeful. LOVED.

Finally, Bethany C. Morrow’s A Chorus Rising focuses on Naema Bradshaw, the secondary antagonist from A Song Below Water. A deep dive into what social media and being an influencer can do to a person … until she gets a reality check in the form of her true nature as an Eloko.

And that was the month in this writer’s life.

Until tipsday, be well and stay safe; be kind and stay strong. The world needs your stories.

The next chapter: August 2021 update

There’s something about the quality of the light in September that I love. The position of the sun in the sky, its later rising as we near the autumnal equinox. They instil peace and evoke memories of happy times in my life. Lying in my bed with the light flooding into my room as a gentle nudge to waking. Sitting on a covered porch in a comfy chair, wrapped in a sweater, with a cup of tea and my journal, writing. Solitary moments when I felt wholly myself.

I hope you find some joy in the season, too.

Before we get to the update, here are my monthly PSA’s:

All lives cannot matter until BIPOC lives matter.

Keep washing your hands, wearing a mask in public, maintaining social distance, and, if you haven’t been fully vaccinated yet, please get on that, won’t you? Delta’s still raging and new variants are on the horizon.

The month in writing

August started off well, writing-wise, but something happened (more on that in filling the well) that sent my train off the rails. Originally, I’d set myself an ambitious goal (as you do), but around the middle of the month, I realized I wasn’t even going to come close. I adjusted down and still didn’t reach it.

Of my 10,000-word goal, I wrote 6,703 words, or 67%.

I wrote my next Speculations. 1,080 words, or 108% of my 1,000-word goal.

I wrote 5,385 words on this blog. That’s 144% of my 3,750-word goal.

I worked on a couple of pieces of short fiction, trying to get them ready for open calls, but that fell by the wayside after mid-month as well.

Filling the well

The three writerly events I attended in August were closely clustered. I signed up for Fonda Lee’s Revision Boot Camp, on August 12th. It was offered in conjunction with When Words Collide, which was free and ran from August 13th to the 15th. On Saturday the 14th, I also attended Margaret Dunlap’s Demystifying Outlines offered through the Rambo Writing Academy.

It was a packed weekend, and I didn’t get to attend as many WWC sessions as I would have liked, but they will be coming out on their YouTube channel. Eventually.

Torvi on kiltti koira. Yes. I’m still enjoying learning Finnish.

So … the thing that happened.

For the month of August (August 3rd to September 3rd, actually—so five weeks) I was acting for my team lead in instructional design. I was the project manager for everything my team was working on, including a very important and time-sensitive project (henceforth known as the VITSP) that had to be completed. I knew it would be challenging and had booked the last two days of July off, leading into a long weekend, for a nice break to muster my resources.

Unfortunately, in the two working days I was off, the scope of the VITSP changed drastically. Originally, we were to have the learning products published on our learning management system (LMS) on the 9th of September. Now, it was to be published August 27th. That was two weeks cut from our timeline.

The instructions I was left with indicated that we would have to have the validated and translated documents for the self-instructional modules (SIMs) in the week of August 16th, so that we could edit, send for review and approval, convert to PDF documents, and submit them to our technical partners for posting to the LMS in time for the due date.

My first meeting of that first day of my acting made it clear that the SIMs would not be validated and translated until August 25th or 26th. I panicked. But I couldn’t be seen to be panicking. Add to this the fact that my manager was also absent for most of the week, and I was spiralling.

I tried to power through, but I found even thinking difficult. I couldn’t seem to make a decision (a deadly shortcoming in project management), and I certainly couldn’t articulate what was happening to me. My brain literally could not brain.

On the evening of August 12th, the situation had been diffused sufficiently that my brain began to brain again. What I was experiencing was related to my autism. Had I had some kind of meltdown? I did some research over the weekend and learned that what I’d experienced was called autistic burnout. I’ll let you click through if you want to find out more about it.

The best remedy for autistic burnout is rest. Unfortunately, I did not have that option, so I powered through. The brief rest of weekends was insufficient for recovery. I was plagued by insomnia, spent hours ruminating about the mistakes that resulted from my autistic burnout.

Proactive about my mental health as I am, I again reached out to my employer’s employee assistance program (EAP). After two weeks of playing phone tag, however, I gave up on the idea of getting counselling support. People were probably on holidays and demand exceeded supply. I only had one week remaining in my acting assignment, anyway, and the crisis would likely be over by the time we finally connected.

I explained to my manager and critical partners what was happening, and the situation improved. But it was still extremely stressful.

Somehow, I managed to get the VITSP done on time, but not without days of foregoing proper breaks and lunch, working overtime, and shaking like I was standing naked in a snowstorm.

I’m still not fully recovered, but I have a doctor’s appointment on the 13th. I’ll see if I can get some support then. I also have a couple days of leave coming up and will take my overtime as compensatory leave. I’ll make it through, but I’m still feeling foggy.

I tried to persist in writing, because my creative pursuits are one of the things that bring me joy but bullying through wasn’t serving me. The quality of my work was not satisfactory. So, I’ve stepped away from writing, too. I’m trying to be kind to myself.

What I’m watching and reading

Due to the above difficulties, my reading and watching habits have suffered as well. Concentration is hard, right now, so I have less than usual to report for August.

In the watching department, I only finished two series.

First, I watched the series finale of The Good Witch. It’s a positive and uplifting kind of series, and the last season was no exception. Though the writers tried to insert some romantic tension and uncertainty, nearly everyone paired off by the final episode. After a brief disconnect about Sam’s workaholic nature (aside from the season’s big arc of the red haloed moon), he retired and embarked on a world tour with Cassie.

Joy ends up with her girlfriend, Zoey, who was nearly frightened off when she discovered that Joy was a witch. Adam and Stephanie get back together, and even George gets a love interest. But Abigail and Donovan, who were engaged to be married, abruptly call it off. What about her happily ever after? And her flower shop is in danger from a big floral chain that’s moved into town. It seems that there’s more story to tell. Too bad the series was cancelled.

I also watched the end of the first season of Superman and Lois. It was a short season, because pandemic, I suspect, but it was typical DC network fare. Clark and Lois are devoted partners and the parents of two boys. Clark is fired from the Daily Planet and Lois quits because of the new owner of the paper, Morgan Edge. They move to Smallville after Martha dies.

Jonathan and Jordan, their sons, are day and night. Jonathan is the golden boy, popular, QB on the football team, and otherwise typical teen. He adjusts poorly to small town life, having left his girlfriend behind in Metropolis. Jordan is shy and awkward and plagued with social anxiety. It’s a surprise to no one and everyone when Jordan turns out to be the one who inherits Kal-El’s powers.

I really liked John Henry Irons.

I only finished reading three books in August.

The first was We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia. The book starts with the origin story of the land of Medio. It establishes the social contract between men and women, as well as the class structure of the island nation. In Medio, every affluent man is married to two women. His Primera manages his household and is his intellectual and political partner. His Segunda is his social partner and bears his children.

Daniella is about to graduate from Medio School for Girls and enter into her marriage contract as a Primera when she is approached by a member of a resistance group who blackmails her into spying on her new husband for them. His price? Silence about her impoverished background and family.

It was definitely a heroine’s journey novel, a la Gail Carriger. Dani has little power throughout the novel, and it’s only her compassion and desire to do right that allows her to prevail. It’s also an enemies to allies to lovers story between Dani and her Segunda. I enjoyed it.

Then, I read Nancy Springer’s The Case of the Missing Marquess. Yes, the novel that inspired the Enola Holmes movie. I attended a literary event back in the spring that featured Springer, and everything she said about the adaptation was true. It was a short, but lovely story, and Enola is much more resourceful in the novel. She has to be. Basilwether is also much younger, so no romance in the book.

Finally, I read P. Djèlí Clark’s A Master of Djinn. Loved! I’ve heard some negative things around the interwebz, but I loved the story. I loved Fatma. I loved the world. Read this book. I will say no more.

And that was a month in this writer’s life.

Until tomorrow, be well and stay safe; be kind and stay strong. The world needs your stories!

The next chapter: July 2021 update

Well, I blinked again, and July disappeared … what’s going on with time? Seriously? But it’s August now, and I owe everyone an update.

Before we get to it, your monthly PSAs:

All lives cannot matter until BIPOC lives matter.

Even if you’re fully vaccinated, please continue to wash your hands, wear a mask in public, and maintain social distance. Delta is proving to be a force to be reckoned with. If you’re not fully vaccinated, get on that, won’t you?

The month in writing

The latest round of revisions on Reality Bomb were going well … until I got past the first plot point. Then, I realize that I needed to start over with a different POV. I had been writing it in third person, but after my protagonist becomes a passenger in her alternate self’s body, trying to format their internal conversations was too much for third to handle.

I’d suspected that I might have to make the shift to first person and even asked my critique group about it. I was advised to try it but chickened out. Now I’m paying the price.

The realization hit about the 15th of the month. I took a few days to mourn the work I’d already done and got back at ‘er. Needless to say, RB is going to take a lot longer to revise that I’d hoped.

I revised my revision goal down to 10,000 words, but still only managed 6,564, or 66%.

Work on short fiction has more or less ground to a halt. I put a few words in, here and there, but that’s all the effort I can afford to put into it these days. I wrote/revised another 508 words in my May (MAY!) short story revision. That’s 51% of my adjusted 1,000-word goal.

I blogged 4,813 words of my 3,750-word goal, or 128%.

I changed the colour of the font when I started over. *weeps

Filling the well

I only attended one writerly event in August, but it was a-MA-zing! It was a Writing the Other workshop on character arcs with Stant Litore on July 17th and 18th. I will only say that I immediately bought his two writing craft books. Working with Olivia Wylie (O.E. Tearmann) and the group on our character arcs was a lot of fun and I got some really good feedback.

I went out to my sister-in-law’s this past Friday. We ordered out this time. Ali Baba’s family style. Everyone had a feast and there was enough left over for everyone to take a share home.

In the work world, I received some good news. My original acting was to end July 31st. At the eleventh hour, I was extended to November 30, 2022 (!) Job security—it’s a thing! I’m also filling in for my team lead while she’s on holidays for the next month. I’m a little intimidated, but I’m sure all will go well.

But … things are a bit hectic at work right now. It’s only a problem because it results in fewer spoons remaining at the end of the day. I’m not reading as much (haven’t been for the last couple of months), writing as much, or feeling like I have much time at all for myself. I’m sure things will level out.

I’ve now broken 150 lbs in my weight loss journey. I’m into a size 10 jean. I have done some shopping. More to come, I suspect. Accordingly, I’ve cancelled my Noom account. I think I can take it from here 🙂

I also received a free three-month trial of Duolinguo. So, I’m learning Finnish. Terve! Minä olen Melanie (Hello! I am Melanie). It’s only about 10 minutes a day and will take over the 10 minutes I’ve been spending on the Noom articles.

A rainbow for you.

What I’m watching and reading

In the solo watching department, I finished the last season of Riverdale. Alien abductions and serial killers and prison breaks. Oh, my! I hear that the next season will be the last.

Invincible was extremely bloody (in the way only an animated series can be), but it was also quite good. [HERE BE SPOILERS] The premise: what if a superhero like Superman was sent to Earth to conquer it and was only pretending to protect humanity by way of garnering good will for their new alien overlords? And what if his half-human son, who finally develops his father’s abilities, sides with the humans?

Charmed was okay. While I appreciate the increased diversity of the cast, they haven’t really gone very far off-script. One of the sisters makes the ultimate sacrifice in the season finale, but the newly bereft sisters are told, in Star Wars fashion, there is another …

I really liked Barry Jenkins’ adaptation of Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad. The ending was a little ambiguous, though. I’ll now have to cue up the book in my TBR pile.

With Phil, I watched NOS4A2, based on the Joe Hill novel of the same name. The show was filled with homage to Joe’s dad, Stephen King, and it had a similar feel to King’s adapted work. There were some questions left dangling at the end of season 2, though.

Then, I signed up for Disney+ and we watched WandaVision. I enjoyed it more than Phil. There’s been so much buzz out on the interwebz about it that I don’t think I have to go into details. Suffice it to say, I’m looking forward to future Marvel properties.

And, of course, we watched, and both loved Loki.

I have four books that I finished reading in July (up from three in June—yay?).

The first was Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson. I’d read his second book A Taste of Honey first. By turns literary and grounded. I liked it, but I’m still sitting with what I think about it.

Next was Alechia Dow’s The Sound of Stars. I really liked this one. An alien dissenter and a human rebel team up to overthrow an invasion, the purpose of which is to turn Earth into an alien “all inclusive” resort. The chief attraction? The ability to inhabit humans and live like a native. Of course, the humans can’t have will or intelligence for that to happen.

Then, I read The Hands We’re Given by O.E. Tearmann (and yes, I got the book because I was in Olivia’s workshop group in the WtO class). The book is hard to classify. An LGBTQIA2S+ romantic military science fiction? A post-apocalyptic LGBTQIA2S+ romance? It’s somewhere in there. I quite liked it.

Finally, I read Robert Olen Butler’s From Where You Dream. It’s more of a transcript from one of his classes, than a more traditional writing craft book. I’ve had it on my radar for years because K.M. Weiland refers to it when she talks about dreamzoning. It was a challenge to get my head around Butler’s methodology, for all that he demonstrates it rather than just telling readers what it is. Because it’s not really something that can be told. It has to be experienced.

And that was the month in this writer’s life.

Until tipsday, be well and stay safe, be kind, and stay strong. The world needs your stories.