Why I Did NaNoWriMo – A Discussion on Personal Projects

Not everything I write needs to be for the consumption of others.

You might remember this post I did back in 2019 called “Why I’m Not Doing NaNoWriMo“. In it, I discussed the sort of… fetishization a lot of creators develop over their own destruction. I still stand by that post, if I’m being honest. I agree with everything younger!Alex said. Still, with all of this in mind, I decided in 2021 that I was going to do NaNoWriMo.

Why did I decide to do it? I’ve undoubtedly mentioned a few times now that I was published as of October. Honestly, I fully credit any activity I’ve had since then to said publication. While I believe we should learn to not rely on external motivators, this achievement was just the boost my confidence needed — and the perfect kickstart to get me back into motion. Still riding this high, I endeavored to carry it forward and rewrite fantasy novel and dear darling of mine To Our Own Devices.

I didn’t win, in case you were wondering. It was a struggle to get halfway. But it wasn’t the winning that mattered to me. I set out aiming to rewrite at least 50k of that novel, because I originally wanted to revise this book and maybe self-publish it. However, I quickly realized this wouldn’t be the case.

I wrote TOOD back in 2017, mostly. The novel started with a couple of scenes I wrote for a final for a class I absolutely loathed. If anything, I wrote them out of spite. Around this time, I was working on worldbuilding and decided to combine the two things I was creating together. What followed was a fantasy novel of epic proportions. I threw everything into this novel. Everything I loved. Everything I wanted.

In looking back on this novel for NaNo, though, I realized something. I don’t think this is a novel I want other people to read.

It’s such a weird notion, isn’t it? It’s expected for writers to want others to read the things we make. We work on our projects for months, maybe even years, fantasizing about future readers reading and adoring the books we produce. It’s the ultimate dream, for many of us, to be published. But, for me, this dream has slowly shifted and tarnished over the years. That’s a subject for another time, though. The important element here is the realization I had:

Not everything I write needs to be for the consumption of others.

I think this realization is a vital one for all writers to have. Not every book you write will be loved. Hell, not every book you write even needs to leave the junk drawer. We’re constantly pushed to produce content, to make ourselves marketable and palatable to our worldwide audience. Sometimes, though, it’s enough to write something that you yourself loved – the book you’ve always wanted to read.

To Our Own Devices, my darling novel born of love and spite, will never be published. I understand that now. I don’t state this with any sort of sadness, though. It was the kind of book I needed to write when I wrote it, and I’ll always be proud of that.

Have you ever decided to keep a project just to yourself? Why? How did you come to this realization?

The Beauty of Bullet Journals

Can I call what I’ve produced a bullet journal? Not in the strictest of senses, but the general thought is there.

Invented by Ryder Carrol in 2013, bullet journals aimed to help journalers better reflect and declutter their minds using a simplified system of symbols. Since conception, they’ve exploded both in popularity and creativity, evolving in a myriad of ways. I kept hearing the term “bullet journal” or “bujo” get thrown around in various circles, but I didn’t dive into what it is and means until late 2020.

I’ve had a wide variety of notebooks through the years, each creatively dubbed “A Book of Observations, Version x”. These journals started in high school when I realized trying to make a notebook for each project was… put simply, ill-advised. Still, these notebooks were… a disaster. I had no real organizational prowess – I hopped from topic to topic as my mind unraveled. If I wanted to find notes I’d made from an old notebook, I’d often have to spend a lot of time flipping through and hoping I had the right journal.

However, with the pandemic looming overhead and my own mental health crumbling around me, I was dying for a change. I took this term I kept hearing all around me and decided to do some research.

Obviously, something I wanted to prioritize with this new system was making it easier on myself to find specific notes – but that wasn’t all. I’d taken inspiration from the “bujo” community at large and their creative use of spreads. So, after hours scrolling Pinterest and YouTube and Instagram, I started making lists of the things I wanted my newest journal to include.

My first attempt, as most first attempts are wont to be, was messy. It was an easier-to-contain mess than previous journals, sure. However, I’d found myself struck with Shiny Object Syndrome and wanted to include everything I’d seen. This just wasn’t feasible. I needed a happy medium between the way my old journals were and bullet journaling.

With the second journal, I scrapped things that don’t suit me. Spreads I kept were designed in ways that made sense to me and are fun to maintain. The largest sore point in this second journal was the paper – black pages look cool as fuck, but they’re a pain in many ways to write on.

So came version three. I further refined the things I wanted to include and gave myself stricter guidelines. I considered what spreads could be redundant (why have a Year at a Glance page when I never use it and default to my phone calendar more?) and scrapped accordingly. With this notebook, I think I’m starting to get somewhere.

Instead of having a log of everything happening this year, I have a spread of me reflecting on events from last year. I have a kanban/project board I’ll periodically update as projects get finished or published or put into metaphorical drawers. And, most importantly, I start over each month. Hard stop, make a title page for the month, set up my goals and what I want to read, and move on. Coupled with a cohesive table of contents I’m diligent about updating, this notebook makes my brain feel unstoppable.

Can I call what I’ve produced a bullet journal? Not in the strictest of senses, but the general thought is there. I’ve become a massive fan of dotted paper – it has the structure of lines while still granting me freedom. Plus, this adapted method has been a great help when it comes to keeping track of writing achievements or the things I’ve gotten completed.

Each notebook setup has been meditative, in a way, as has my monthly setup. And, most importantly, it’s been fun! That’s the most vital part, I think, in keeping my writing journals.

I’ll end this with a picture of my latest notebook (see below). How do you keep track of what you’re writing? What do you use to keep track of it? How did you find a system that worked for you?

Image description: the opening pages of a notebook against a Grey brick background. The left side is the company mission statement of the notebook brand, Peter Pauper Press. On the right side, “A Book of Observations, Version 12” is wrote in different fonts. End ID.

A Wild Alex Appears! Reprise

Back at the end of 2018, I wrote my very first post on this blog – an introduction post. I aimed to use this blog a lot more than I have been – this was never supposed to be a “I drop in every few months” sort of deal, believe it or not. I originally aimed to make this a monthly thing, if not weekly.

Hopefully, I can get myself to that sort of place once again.

Hi! My name is Alex and I am a nonbinary writer from the Pacific Northwest. My main genre settles somewhere in the scope of speculative fiction. Often, this means “fantasy”, but not always. I’ve been a lot of places on the internet over the years – Twitter, Tumblr, Wattpad, some other, more defunct writing websites. You may have seen me around, you may not have. Regardless, welcome to my page.

The main purpose of this blog remains the same as when I conceptualized it: writing and exploring the writing world of other authors. There may also be some discussions of gaming and game design.

These are some things you can expect to see on this blog:

  • Book reviews
  • Discussions of tropes in books and games
  • Experiences I’ve had with writing/as a writer
  • Publishing discussions
  • Snippets of things I’m working on
  • Writing advice

And if there’s anything else you’re keen on seeing, feel free to say so! I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The Cat Reviews: Shadow City

As I’ve previously mentioned, I’m part of an Indie book club over on twitter – run by Jodie Renee – and have been since November. Now I have a backlog of reviews to write. It starts with this book, Shadow City by Anna Mocikat. What better way to christen my new reviews section than this!

Title: Shadow City
Author: Anna Mocikat
Genre: Apocalyptic/Cyberpunk
Quick Summary: An interesting concept
Thoughts:

Nowadays, technology has advanced far enough that anyone, virtually, can become a published writer. While many still attempt traditional routes – with the querying and the pitching and the praying fervently to fickle gods for a shot at “making it” – there is now the potential for publishing completely by yourself. The biggest downside to this, of course, is you don’t get the same mass-market appeal. That’s part of the aim of the indie book club I’m in; to give indie authors a chance at being recognized.

So, that said, we started with this book, Shadow City, in which survivors of nuclear warfare hide out in Los Angeles and try to fight off the new threats such a catastrophe have brought.

This was by no means a perfect book – as if such a thing could exist. I think, by far, my biggest issue was with the POV. It felt way too fluid, it shifted a lot, and we never stuck around long enough to really feel connected to any single character. There are cool characters, but even they feel a little too flat due to the lack of development to them. They’re more like archetypes than people, and some of these archetypes were so similar to each other picking them apart was difficult.

This issue is also deeply connected to the secondary issue I have, the pacing. Because the scenes we have with any given character are quite short, not only was it hard to connect with characters, but the book itself moved at such a whippish pace that it was hard to keep up. Reading this kind of felt like being on rocket powered roller skates. It was a quick book to get through, but difficult to absorb any single instance.

On a related note, I found myself struggling with the worldbuilding at times. I greatly appreciated we didn’t stop any time some piece of worldbuilding was introduced just to infodump on it. I really do. That said, the things that did get introduced didn’t get much time to shine or be explained at all. I know the Glitch is regarded as a catastrophic event, for example, but it’s never really touched on as to what actually happened during it and how it led to the current conditions existing in the work.

The book isn’t all cons, though. Anna as an author is good at setting up questions and then answering them – for the most part. There is a certain level of faith we are required to put into any author. Any good book makes a promise to us from the very beginning and we have to trust them to keep it by the end. Or, if it isn’t fully fulfilled, that it will be in the future.. There’s a sequel to Shadow City, after all.

On the whole, this isn’t a bad book. It definitely feels like an author debut, and definitely could have been revised a time or two more – but in the end, all books probably could. In the end, I still have hope for this author and any future projects she produces, and I wouldn’t be opposed to reading and reviewing her works again.

If you would like to read it for yourself, Shadow City can be purchased here.

Social Media’s Unsocial Habits

With the evolution of technology has come the evolution of communication and the rules surrounding it. Gone are the days of snail mail and telegrams. We can send messages in an instant to almost anywhere in the world. Never before has the world felt so large!

And yet… it continues to feel so, so small.

One of the biggest marvels of recent history has been the arrival of social media. We post pictures of our accomplishments and show everyone our best selves. Or break down over whatever it is that upsets us. The world is our oyster in that regard. And for writers, never before has there been such a way to cultivate relationships with our readers – and even other writers. And we don’t have to leave our house to do it!

It is undeniable that social media has changed society’s functionality throughout the years. Never before has our means of communication and the standards by which we communicated shifted so fast. When the internet came, it came with a bang. And what’s next? Who knows.

But, a lot of social media subculture saturates our experiences and attempts to dictate how we behave in such a new, strange world. And sometimes it’s… weird. Hashtags, follow lists, character limits, all the rules and nuances that make up our experiences and tell us how to behave.

Some of them are more extreme than others.

I’ve been on Twitter for a couple of years now and have been privy to some of these weird behaviors. Just the other day, I had an… interesting discussion over whether or not follow-backs on twitter are an absolute necessity. My stance on the issue is thusly: I am not entitled to be followed by anyone, regardless of the circumstances, and likewise no one is entitled to me following them. It’s easy in this day and age to be consumed with the need for followers – the need for numbers.

But on the inverse, the person I discussed with insisted that if you fail to follow people just because they followed you, you’re not at all interested in community. And it puzzled me quite a lot. Do I not routinely scour the #WritingCommunity for posts to engage in? Do I not retweet posts that interests me and share my thoughts on questions, much like the question that led to this discussion? Is that not enough to build a community?

I would say that it is. As I’ve mentioned, people nowadays are so obsessed with numbers, and I get it. I do. Without high follow counts, how do you know or expect people to find and buy and like your work? But the problem is conflating any of it with what being in a community means. Community just means having a group of people with a/some characteristics in common. In the writing community, that means we are writers. There is no expectation for follows, no demand you click a little heart – although it is greatly encouraged. All it means is that, hey, I’m a writer, and you’re a writer, too, so why don’t we talk?

I view follows (and likes and such) thusly: do I like the content you produce? Would I like to see more of it? Do our interests align? If the answer to these is yes, then I’ll follow you. And even if it’s no, it doesn’t mean I won’t have discussions with you.

Perhaps I have an odd stance on this, though. Do you feel the same or different? Let me know your stance on the matter down below!