The decline and fall of a written empire

I finished reading The Long Sunset yesterday, the eighth and final (for the moment) book in the Academy series by Jack McDevitt.

It was dire. The prose felt like it was written by someone with only the most basic grasp of English, full of repetitive sentences and “of course”s that were anything but. I toughed it out, because I’ve read all of the previous books in the series. And because the book I read before it, Starhawk–book seven in the series–was actually worse.

This was all prompted by the fact that one of my old coworkers had finally gotten around to one of my recommendations: The Engines of God, the first book in the series. That spurred me into checking on if there were any new books in the series, and hence the two novels sitting on the Library Stack next to my oversized recliner.

My reading of Starhawk and The Long Sunset, along with a comment by that friend about the repetitive way McDevitt introduces characters, prompted something of a crisis of faith: were these books always bad? Did I just read the first few when I was less of a critical thinker, not as prone to actually judge the quality of the prose I consumed? Because if the most recent books were anything to go by, I never should have recommended McDevitt in the first place.

My copies of the early books are hiding in a box somewhere, but this morning I managed to find excerpts from the first few books in the series on HarperCollins’ website. My current conclusion: they may not be perfect, and still show some signs of that later decline into third-grade reading material, but there’s no question that Deepsix and Chindi are much better written than the more recent books.

So: what happened? Has McDevitt lost the command of the language he once had, or does he simply care less about carefully crafted sentences now that he’s published twenty-plus novels, or is it something else entirely? I don’t know, obviously. But it’s made me think about this sort of decline, and how it is very much not limited to this one author.

Another series that I loved to pieces at first, then got deeply saddened as it went on, is Stephen King’s Dark Tower sequence. The first three books are some of the best horror/sf I’ve ever read. The long-delayed fourth novel barely fits in the sequence at all–it’s mostly an extended flashback–and the fifth through seventh novels rush through a bunch of important plot points and resolve the story in what may be the most unsatisfying ending I’ve ever experienced1. It’s so bad that I strongly recommend people simply stop reading after the third book, because everything after it is fundamentally not worth the time.

Now, I think that some of Stephen King’s best works are his earliest; The Stand is one of my favorite novels of all time. But he’s managed to write interesting, vital stuff much later in his career too. I actually reviewed the Mr. Mercedes books last year on this blog, and while they were hardly his best, they were perfectly enjoyable tales. The same for The Outsider. So: is it something about long series, specifically, that causes this problem?

I could give many more genre examples. Dune. Harry Potter. The Wheel of Time, although most of my knowledge of that series’ decline is second-hand. As much as I love the Culture series, there’s no question in my mind that its best books were early in its run, although the dip in quality across the series as a whole is much more shallow than the list above.

Counter-examples are hard to come by, even with series that were written in rapid succession, rather than dragged out over decades. I’ve heard very good things about N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth series, and all three of the books won the Hugo Award (with the last also snagging the Nebula), so I should probably add those to my reading queue tout suite. And I wouldn’t say that Charles Stross’ Laundry series has gotten better as it’s gone, but I would say that it hasn’t gotten worse either; they’ve been impressively consistent throughout. I’d be curious if any readers can suggest other series that actually get better all the way to the end, because I’m mostly coming up blank.

This ties into the theme I wrote about last week: endings are indeed hard. But it’s not just that. Maybe it’s simply authorial fatigue of writing in the same setting, over and over again? Maybe it’s the writing equivalent of the sophomore slump, where most of the great ideas get shoved into the early books, leaving only dregs for the later stuff? I’m not sure, and the fact that we read series because we want more, more, more makes that decline only that much more bitter.

Anyway, this kinda-sorta review mostly-really rant is already way too long, so I guess I’ll finish it with this: stop reading The Dark Tower after The Waste Land. Stop reading Dune after, well, Dune, although you can read Dune Messiah if you absolutely must. And if you read McDevitt’s Academy novels at all, you should probably stop after Chindi. Don’t let the long fall of the series bring you down.

On endings

The last thing the Internet needs is another think-piece on the last season of Game of Thrones… but that’s not to say that I’m past using said event as a jumping-off point1.

Endings are hard.

One of my favorite authors is Neal Stephenson. Cryptonomicon is an amazing book, packed full of details and fascinating characters and interesting twists. And then, about thirty pages from the end, it just sort of… becomes something else? And ends, kinda sorta? Given that it’s a 700+ page novel of itty bitty print, the ending doesn’t feel so much abrupt as it does not an ending. Similar problems plague several of his other otherwise-excellent novels, like Snow Crash and Anathem. Amazing writer, Stephenson, but he has more than a little trouble sticking the landing.

And, hoo boy, so do I. Most of my novels aren’t even complete, really; I just write until I hit 50K, because I’m doing it during November, and then finish the sentence or paragraph and leave it there. I recently went through all of my own novels to see what my “actually wrote an ending” ratio was: it’s either seven or eight out of fifteen, depending on how you want to count a book that was intentionally written as the first of a trilogy (and, no, I never wrote the other two). And several of those endings are, to put it mildly, utter trash. In one case it was a rushed summary of what should have been more of the book, and in another it wasn’t the ending that’s the problem so much as the missing third of the book right before the end.

So, yeah, endings are hard. They’re particularly hard when the ending is of something that has a deep cultural resonance, or heavy buy-in, or however you want to describe the couple-of-times-a-decade phenomenon that has people tuning in like Game of Thrones or reading like the Harry Potter series2. We as consumers of media hate to see a thing we love end, so we are already predisposed to dislking however it is the author or writers’ room or whoever actually goes about wrapping things up. We all have a mental map of questions we want resolved, characters we want to see succeed–or get their comeuppance–and when the ending inevitably doesn’t address All The Things we feel disappointed. It’s only natural.

I’m not justifying the (myriad) issues with the ending of Game of Thrones, mind you, although I think a lot of the problems with the show are covered by this excellent thread on Twitter that explains the difference between pantsers and plotters and what that meant for the last couple of seasons3. I think that, with more breathing room and some showrunners that were more interested in the show they were making rather than the shows they’d rather be making, we could have gotten a better ending. But it was never going to be a great ending, the sort of thing we’d smile and feel smug about and go “yes, that was exactly what we wanted.” There was too much investiture into the show to be happy about its end, no matter how well done it was.

So, yeah, endings are hard. Look, I’m even struggling to come up with one for this ramble. I think I’ll just let it trail off… like… yeaaaaaah…

Weekly status update [0067/????]

This was an impressively uneventful week, even for me.

  • I wrote a short short story (what I tend to call a “vignette”) over the weekend; you can read it here and the story of writing it here.
  • I did some more Twitch streaming a couple of times across the week. I wasn’t in the mood to continue playing Live-a-Live, so I broke out an updated fan translation of Final Fantasy IV–the game we got here in the US as Final Fantasy II back in the early ’90s–and put in quite a few hours. It was quite fun; the game’s a sentimental favorite of mine, and the translation’s surprisingly high quality. I don’t know if I’m going to continue streaming it or not, but it felt good.
  • My car’s Check Engine light came on a couple of weeks ago, and replacing the gas cap didn’t fix it. I finally met up with one of my old coworkers to try resetting the lamp, but it turned back on the next day. My particular county in North Carolina doesn’t require emissions testing, so we’ll see come next year whether or not I pass the inspection despite the lamp…
  • I finished up watching the second season of Westworld, which was actually considerably better than the first, with a more coherent plotline that seemed to be saying more than just “look at these pretty visuals and ignore the mess this mystery box has made.” My follow-up show is Origin, a YouTube original that is solid (if derivative) so far.
  • Evening gaming sessions are still mostly Borderlands with the Thursday game slot taken by Portal Knights. We actually beat the main game of Borderlands this week and are working our way through the DLC. Whoever thought that making one of them effectively require making use of the awful driving engine needs to be firmly re-educated.
  • State Tectonics was fine, if not as interesting as the previous two books in the series. I’m now reading Jack McDevitt’s Starhawk, part of a series of SF novels I remember enjoying a bunch (and recommending on occasion). It’s… not good. Not good at all. I’m wondering if the book itself is a major dip in quality, or if I’ve become a more critical reader, or… ugh. I dunno. I’m going to finish it, because despite the not-greatness it’s a quick read, but it’s definitely a disappointment.

And just because it’s been a while: nope, still not bored.

Eat Your Peas: Notes

(If you missed it somehow, the story is here.)

A thought started nagging at me on Friday evening. What if I wrote a short story, or at least a vignette… live on Twitch? I tried to ignore it, particularly given my current sentiments when it comes to actively streaming, but the idea just wouldn’t. go. away. So I figuratively threw up my hands and succumbed to the concept on Sunday evening.

It turns out, surprising no one, that the theory of doing it was considerably better than the practice, but isn’t that life?

Back in 2010, I tried to write a million words. I didn’t come close, but I did manage to crank out over three hundred thousand words over the course of that year. One of the ways I came up with ideas for stories, or at least short little blips, was to hit the Random article button on Wikipedia’s sidebar and hope for the best. One of the rules was that I wasn’t allowed to just keep hitting it until something interesting popped up; I had to write about whatever dumb thing the database threw up at me.

I actually got some relatively nice short stories out of the process. One, “The Calendars of 2008,” was from just that: a page with nothing more than a big list of the days in 20081. The story was about a mall kiosk–you know the ones–that sell calendars, and time travel, and love and loss. It was short and bittersweet.

“Eat Your Peas” followed the same process. I ended up here, and while I had no interest in writing a story about a comedy duo, the title of the article sent me down some interesting paths. I should note that the story that resulted is workmanlike at best; I probably wouldn’t have bothered posting it if it weren’t for the experiment at all. But the experience of writing it was rather different than I expected (not that I was really expecting anything too specific), hence me writing this too-long-for-a-footnote side article.

When I’m working on longer-form stuff, like NaNovels, I keep a “notes” file open with ideas that I want to incorporate. I don’t usually bother with shorter stuff, but in this case I figured it’d be helpful as a way to expose my inner thought processes to anyone viewing the stream. And then I thought, well, shouldn’t those notes be available the entire time I’m writing? So, in classic yak-shaving form, this led me to learning at least the rudiments of tmux, live on stream, since I couldn’t find my old writing-specific screen configuration. Conclusion: I could probably switch to tmux pretty painlessly, and probably will the next time I reboot my computer2.

That’s well and good, but what about the actual act of writing? Turns out that it involves a whole lot of staring silently at the screen while you’re thinking about what happens next. Ceci n’est pas compelling viewing. I wrote quite a bit slower than I do during NaNo, partly because I kept checking chat (and finding it a useful-slash-shameful distraction) and partly because I did way more “in the act” editing than I usually do when I write. I’m very much a “blast out a zeroth draft” sort of guy, but I knew that I was going to be posting the story immediately after finishing it, so I took a little more care than usual with wording, flow, and the like.

The story’s still a first draft, and I don’t think it’s good enough to warrant another pass, so it’ll be a first draft forever. And I doubt I’ll write on-stream again. But it was an interesting experiment, and it shut that little voice in my head up for the time being, so I’m going to call it a qualified victory. Plus, hey, an extra non-blip blog entry for the week! It’s been a while since I’ve done that.

Of course, that little voice is already piping up again for a different story idea… -sigh-

How can you have your pudding

I finally, finally finished reading A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius today. It was really good, absolutely deserving of the plaudits it received, and by the end I really, really just wanted it to be over already. I kept checking how many pages I had left, closing the book so I could compare “distance before the bookmark” to “distance after the bookmark,” and in general feeling like reading it was much more of a chore than anything I really wanted to do.

And yet.

I’m actually happy that I read it. Not in a “I’m glad I made it through that tortuous ordeal” sense, although there’s definitely a bit of that; as difficult life situations go, reading a book that you’re just not really feeling ranks very low. It really was good, and had a lot of interesting things to say about life in the nineties and the genuinely tragic situation that Dave Eggers found himself in. My life is better for having read it. But it was also clearly not the right book for this moment in my life, which made it painfully slow going. For someone who has been known to read three or four novels in a day, taking weeks to read a single normal-length book is a sign that there’s some deep mismatch between the two of us1.

I tend to be one of those people that like to finish novels I start, or at least ones where I get past the first ten pages or so. Part of it is because the majority of fiction I pick up I know is good; I’m basing my picks off of recommendations or reviews, and I’m a pretty easy-going reader in the first place, perfectly content to read a popcorn novel if it’s fun, so surely it gets better, right? Surely by the end I’ll be happy that I stuck it out. Honestly, though, most of it is just sheer cussedness. I have a habit of dropping projects once they get tough, but damn it I’m gonna finish this stupid novel even if it kills me. Figuratively.

I wrote a bit, ages ago, about how many of the novels I’ve tried to write during NaNoWriMo over the years end up discarded somewhere around the 4,000 word mark, when I realize that they’re less interesting (or harder to write) than what I’m willing to tolerate during the accelerated churn-out-as-much-as-you-can time period of November. My hard drive is littered with these “4K corpses2.” A few years ago I forced myself to finish one despite the overwhelming feeling that I should scrap it and write something else instead; the resulting novel is a hot mess, filled with boring anecdotes from my life (with various levels of fictional-ness slathered on top) until I hit the 50K mark and could put the damn thing away for the year. In that case, the pride of finishing is basically all about making it through the tortuous ordeal, and nothing to do with the “pleasure” of writing. It’s garbage and I know it.

But other people’s books are different, thankfully. If I still bought novels with any regularity, I’d just set it aside for some other time, but nowadays I try to get most of my reading material from the library, and keeping a list of “stuff I tried but couldn’t get into” would extend my already-near-infinite backlog that much further. So I force myself to eat my vegetables3 sometimes, and for the most part it works out for the best. Even though I feel the pain of having that backlog pushed back further and further, as days that could have contained me reading a book or two now see me barely making it a tenth of the way through some difficult work.

Fortunately I already have some delicious popcorn reading lined up next, ready to be torn through at maximum speed. At least until I hit the next weird roadblock and once again slow down to a crawl…

(Seriously, though, if you haven’t read it, you should read A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. It’s good!)

Weekly status update [0057/????]

What is it about “Reelin’ in the Years” that makes it get stuck in my head all the damn time?

  • I wrote a thing that I’m pretty proud of earlier this week. I’d appreciate any thoughts you had upon reading it; it’s pretty intensely personal, and (as one person pointed out) it has a few too many adverbs, but life-as-prose is surprisingly difficult to write and right now I’m not sure it’s worth the effort.
  • I gave blood for the first time since retiring on Tuesday. (The first scheduled drive after I signed up was at the beginning of January, when I was still back home visiting family.) It took too long, but I suppose burning an hour-plus every two months is small potatoes if it helps someone, and I definitely felt better after doing it.
  • I started on the second Lynburn Legacy book by Sarah Rees Brennan. They continue to be fine but not great, not nearly as gripping as In Other Lands, but they’re not terribly long either so I’ll finish all three of them for sure.
  • I finally finished the Platform Studies book on the SNES: Super Power, Spoony Bards, and Silverware. It was very heavy on the non-technical “culture and processes around the platform” side, which tend to be my least favorite PS books, but it was probably the best of that ilk so far. After the utter brilliance of I am Error, though, I can’t help but see it as something of a disappointment. With it, I’m fully caught up on the series, and have started reading The Friendly Orange Glow, which is all about the PLATO system. I’m only about twenty pages in and am already pretty fascinated by the book; I wasn’t expecting it to start with B.F. Skinner, that’s for sure.
  • Most of my game time has been with Watch Dogs, which continues to be aggressively mediocre to bad. I have That Thing where I have to play games in order, though, so I’m toughing it out so I can get to the (supposedly) much better Watch Dogs 2. Ugh.
  • I finally, finally made it under 270 pounds at my weigh-in this morning; this has taken entirely too long, and I still have quite a ways to go, but it felt like some sort of major accomplishment, so: yay!

If the weather stops being so miserable this week, I need to take my car in for an inspection. That just about sums up how much adulting I’m willing to manage these next seven days. I am, indeed, stowin’ away the time, it appears.

Resolving the future

I’m not a fan of New Years’ resolutions. I’ll be the first person to admit that I have trouble with follow-through when I’m not fully invested in a project–and sometimes even then–and all making resolutions seems to do is increase the guilt factor when something inevitably falls by the wayside.

That said, I do have things that I’d like to have happen in this coming calendar year. They’re not necessarily projects I’m going to start today, or when I get back from this trip, but instead stuff I want to work in in the medium term, want to be eyeing as possibilities when I’m looking for something to do.

Here’s a bulleted list of not-really-resolutions:

  • I went off the diet hard for the holidays, because that’s the only way to stay sane in Louisiana when you’re only there for a short time, but I’ll be getting back on the wagon when I make it back home. I’d like to be within shouting distance of my goal weight by the end of 2019, which should be totally feasible if I take it seriously.
  • I’ve done a bit of prose writing outside of NaNoWriMo in the last week or two, which is a genuine rarity. I’d like to continue doing so, with greater frequency, whether it’s short pieces I can post here or longer-form stuff.
  • Speaking of prose, I’d really like to start working on the rewrite of Rewind this year as well. It’s the closest thing I have to a real, “salable” story (whatever that means), and although it needs a lot of work to get it up to the sort of standard that I think it needs to meet to be shopped around, it still needs less of it than anything else I’ve ever written.
  • I’d also like to get back into recreational programming. I have DXV’s code sitting quietly over on Github, unnoticed and untouched, and I think if I could work up the enthusiasm to work on it the act of rewriting a game in another language would actually be a very interesting experience. There are other potential projects, too, of course, both open source and personal.
  • Whether I end up making a decision about moving somewhere else or not, I need to do something about my ridiculously large board game collection. Narrowing it to 100 or so “big box” games, plus a bin or two of smaller stuff, would do worlds of wonder for my sanity, never mind dramatically easing any future shipping around of the whole mess. I have at least one potential way to shed most, if not all, of the collection; I just need to take the time to do a massive, more-detailed inventory to make it happen. And, potentially, investigate alternatives if that falls through. (Anyone want to buy ~2000 board games, most still in shrink? Reasonably priced, I promise!)

It’d also be great if 2019 ended up as less of a total dumpster fire in terms of the world writ large, but on that front there’s not much more I can do other than exercising my vote and, possibly, taking up some sort of volunteering. That said, here’s to hoping all of our 2019s are better, resolutions or no.

Weekly status update [0047/????]

Sorry about the lack of a mid-week post. On the other hand: holidays.

  • Lots of time spent with family over the last week. My oldest sister and uncle stayed over at Mom’s for Christmas Eve, and we added my nephew and his SO for Christmas night, so it was a pleasantly packed house in the evenings. My younger-older sister and her spouse showed up for Christmas Day, and various other friends and extended family members drifted in and out of the house over the days. This is one of the nicest things about being “back home:” seeing everyone.
  • I’ve also played a metric ton of board games, mostly with the neighbors (and in particular their youngest son, who now works at the same place where I did as a student at LSU). He and I have played a bunch of two-player stuff, and we’ve played bigger games with more of his family. Some highlights are:
    • the new Dominion expansion (Renaissance), which I got for Christmas, and which feels like another Adventures/Empires level endeavor;
    • Evil High Priest, which came in right before I left to come home, and which is a solid take on worker placement with some take-that mechanics added in;
    • Spirit Island, a serious step up for my neighbors, but one that went over surprisingly well despite its length. (I’ve played it before, but am always happy to play it more frequently.)
  • I’ve also been watching TV with my mother, a long-standing tradition. We just finished the third season of Travelers last night, which left me really, really hoping they get renewed for a fourth season. We’re also watching the last season of The Americans together and are almost done with it as well. (If you read what I wrote before, you understand why I don’t mind watching it again.)
  • There’s been a bit of a puzzle/videogame combination thing going, in that what gaming I’ve done has been on my DS and 3DS; specifically, the Nikoli Nurikabe game on the former, where I only have ~15 puzzles (out of 300) before I’m finally done, and Picross 3D Round 2 on the latter, where I’m deep in the postgame. I’m on weirdly difficult puzzles in both, though, and have put them down for the last few days.
  • Food. So much food. A lot of it has been delicious junk food–I ordered a ton of stuff from the Tootsie company direct (link withheld so that I’m at least less responsible for your irresponsibility) and the usual Airheads and Gold-n-Chees)–but my mother is a fantastic cook and I’ve been taking heavy advantage of her culinary skills. I’ve actually only eaten out twice since I’ve been here, which has got to be a record low. There are too many tasty things to eat at the house to leave.
  • I’ve even done a bit of writing. It’s awful and private, but it’s writing nevertheless.

I’ll be hanging out mostly by myself for the next couple of days, while the family is off elsewhere, which is a surprisingly pleasant break in the middle of my visit. But I’m looking forward to them being back as well. All in all, it’s been a nice, if a bit hectic, visit, and one I look forward to continuing. There are lots more board games to play, after all.

Weekly status update [0041/????]

This one’s a day late, but there’s a reason for that.

  • I did it!  My sixteenth(ish) NaNovel, Ex Urbes, is done, as of about three minutes ago.  I wrote 50,214 words according to wc, and a few more than that according to the official NaNo word counter.  (They actually used to use wc as well, so it kinda bugs me that they don’t any more.)  It was an interesting experience, writing while retired, quite different from the way I’ve written NaNo before; I didn’t feel a lot of time pressure, so found it hard to do much more than 2-3K a day.  Yesterday put me at 38K, though, and I decided that I was gonna finish this weekend come Hell or high water… and when I woke up this morning I went, no, I’m finishing today, dammit.  And so I did. 12,369 words in one day is less than half of my peak, but it’s a pretty sizable chunk, roughly fifty pages or so of a typical book.  Not bad.
  • What is bad?  The novel.  It’s terribad.  But I’m glad it’s done.
  • Ways I’ve wasted time this week while not doing NaNo:
    • I continued to watch an episode of both Last Man on Earth and Brooklyn Nine-Nine each day.  I’m almost at the end of the first series and the end of the last released season of the second, so that’ll be over soon.  I… should probably watch more Sabrina, but as an hour-long show it felt like too much of an indulgence this week.
    • I also did a bunch of puzzles.  I got another order in from Japan on Monday, and it included the latest Nikoli “Penpa” magazine, a superb variety mag they put out once a year that’s always my first recommendation to anyone who says they want to branch out and try things that aren’t sudoku.  I’m doing the book in round-robin format, doing the first puzzle of each type, then circling back to the start of the book to do the second, and so forth.  It’s been a nice variety.  (I skip Numberlink, though.  I hate those puzzles.)
    • Lastly, I’ve been watching Twitch sporadically.  I no longer really watch Landail, due to some creepy sexist stuff that goes on there that I decided I couldn’t really be part of any more, but catsonurhead is still awesome, and I’ve started watching some native Spanish-speaking streamers who also manage English better than I ever will their language.  The number of watchers on their channels are low, so it’s got a nice community vibe.
  • We also had an extended game night this week at Fercott Fermentables.  We played Antike II, and I won, although for most of the game I was strictly mid-pack.  That game is absolutely fantastic, and it sang with five players.  I look forward to bringing it home for the holidays and playing it (along with Spirit Island) with my next-door neighbors.

I still have a stack of books to read, many of which are close to being unrenewable, so I’m going to get cracking on those tomorrow.  But for the rest of tonight I plan on vegging out and watching Twitch.  I think I’ve earned it.

Rolling down that hill

As of last night, I’ve written a bit over 25,000 words on Ex Urbes.  That’s the halfway point in terms of NaNoWriMo, although I don’t feel that I’ve reached the halfway point of the story itself at all.  Given how… not very good the story is, though, I’ll probably be pulling it to a stop at the 50K mark, wherever that ends up landing story-wise.

I’m not much of a plotter or outliner, and so my stories tend to be written very much “in the moment”: this happens, then this, and oh, this other thing as a consequence.  This style of writing has its upsides and downsides.   First, a few of the negatives.

  • Complicated plots are hard.  If there are a bunch of stories interacting, with characters moving between them, you’re going to want to have at least an outline to work with, tracking where everyone and everything is so that you don’t have massive continuity issues.
  • It’s easy to get lost in the weeds.  My stories have a bad habit of turning hard into tangents, as some idea takes me away from the actual thing that is happening for a while, until I fumble around and go, “oh yeah, I’m supposed to be writing about that.”
  • Length ends up being pretty random.  Sometimes what feels like an epic story gets told rapidly, because I haven’t thought up enough detail to make it the length it should be; other times, what should be a short bit of detail ends up a rambling diatribe.  (See above.)

There are quite a few positives, though:

  • My stories surprise even me.  For example, I thought this particular one was going in a very specific direction; I even “stacked the deck,” so to speak, in an attempt to make that happen.  But as of this most recent chapter, the main characters involved basically told me: No, that’s not what’s going to happen here.  Instead, this.  Which is fascinating.  There are several stories I’ve written where I put something in early, for whatever reason, and then it ended up vital to a later part of the tale through no conscious planning on my part.  That feels like magic when it happens.
  • The plot tends to feel organic.  Oftentimes the parts I have planned beforehand have to be tinkered with because, once you get to them, it turns out that they don’t fit; characters have revealed their motivations to be different, the world is turning out slightly differently than that particular beat needs, and so on.  Because I do as little of that as possible, though, the path through the story ends up feeling very natural on rereading.  Which makes a lot of sense, because it matches what I was doing in the moment when I was writing: following the most natural path for the story itself.
  • It is very well suited for NaNoWriMo.  I expect that I can write a well-plotted lengthy story, but that sort of thing takes care and effort that I don’t really have to give during a month-long sprint to the finish.  Making it up as I go along?  That I can do.  I’ve only ever managed to write one heavily plotted NaNovel in the 14 years I’ve been doing this, and it was terrible.  The plot also ran out less than a third of the way through, so I ended up having to wing a huge chunk of the story anyway.

Every writer is different and every story is different.  I mostly write for myself during NaNo; I know that the quality of my output is hampered by the constraints, and so don’t concern myself overmuch with how consumable the end product is.  I think that’s a smart decision, but I can also see how it’s holding me back.  I really need to work on a story without those constraints, one that holds together from the start, and NaNo just isn’t the place for me to do that.

Maybe next year.