A Quick Backstory For My Novel – Part I

Way back in 2019, I was traveling a fair bit by plane and train. People-watching on the train especially got me inspired to write because some of my favorite stories are set on trains.

I came up with a challenge that every time I got onto a plane or train, I was going to write a short story.

I’d spent the previous year or so writing a near-future dystopian political technothriller thing that I had started in early 2016.

That got less and less fun to write – as real-life turned into a dystopian political technothriller.

I reluctantly shelved that project as my motivation flagged, and began casting around for new story ideas.

The ‘travel short stories’ were an easy and low-pressure way to experiment with fiction. Soon, I had a stack of stories collected as stapled-together ruled pages in a small cardboard box.

November 2019: I was flying back to California from India. I boarded around midnight, well-caffeinated and determined to stay awake if I could to preempt jetlag when I got home.

I noodled around with pen and paper on the flight, and arrived at the beginnings of a story. I’d been watching Avatar the Last Airbender and Frozen 2 on repeat for a while, and I was drawn to the idea of a magical wilderness setting for my story.

Very quickly after that, I arrived at my main character, magic system, and a few scenes close to the climax of the story. I scribbled down a couple of pages before finally going to sleep on the plane.

When I got home, I took a few days to settle back in after my trip. I remember being up at around dawn because of jetlag and sitting at my kitchen island reading the half-finished scenes. Over the next few days, I wrote down everything I knew about the story.

That excitement about the idea didn’t go away. And there was something about this fictional world that felt like a breath of fresh air, and I wanted to keep exploring.

I let it sit and keep simmering in my head for a while. I kept having ideas for it and jotting down notes.

January 2020: I started writing a ‘discovery draft’ by hand in a dedicated notebook.

I put in bookmarks I made out of construction paper to mark the quarter, half, and three-quarter waypoints in the notebook, to signal where the three-act structure milestones needed to be.

The notebook I wrote my discovery draft in.

Aside from that, and taking some brainstorming breaks when needed, I completely winged it, starting from where I thought the beginning of the story should be.

I wrote about 25,000 words in 6 months and got to the end of the story.

I now had more of a sense of the story arc, more of the forces working against my main character within the story, and more of the theme.

I also got my first glimpses at the side characters, maybe their names, and just a few key moments for each of them.

I was ready to start typing and make my first ‘official’ draft. Though draft numbers don’t really mean anything to me.

June 2020: I signed up for a writing class where we all made book plans and set word count targets for each week. Then we tracked our word counts together for three months, shared statuses, and cheered each other on. This class turned out to be pretty helpful (though unfortunately, the second time I signed up, it didn’t work as well with my process).

I made a word count tracker in Excel and intended to write about 70,000 words over three months. The plan here was to weave together the various plot threads, arcs, and random elements I had collected into a coherent narrative.

I think I wrote 50,000 words and reached the end of the story, which continued to take shape and yet kept raising more questions.

That’s when I started to arrive at my writing process (which I now use in all forms of writing): to go through multiple passes of the story, and keep adding material until it’s finally time to start cutting or rewriting.

To be continued.

My Sustainability and Climate Research Lineup for Q2 2022

I’m riding the high of having just finished up my first-ever sustainability reading project. So, this lineup for my next one might be insanely ambitious and a bad idea.

But am I going to do it anyway? Of course!

This time, I’ve picked some books and websites as well as the usual UN/government report-tomes.

  1. The SEC’s proposed climate disclosure rule (March 2022)
  2. New IPCC report AR6, from three working groups – 1, 2, and 3 (2021-2022). Especially prioritizing Working Group 3, which focuses on Mitigation.
  3. October 2021 report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) about Curtailing Methane Emissions from Fossil Fuel Operations.
  4. UNEP Six Sector Solution
  5. FTC 2012 Green Guide
  6. Inconspicuous Consumption by Tatiana Schlossberg
  7. Speed and Scale by John Doerr
  8. Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
  9. Web Survey (of useful websites for climate and sustainability data)

The first two texts above are recent news and developments in the climate space that I want to keep up with.

The next two are continuations of themes that came out of the last reading project, namely, methane mitigation, and what each sector should do about climate change.

Number 5 above has to do with the rules against greenwashing (that is, making false environmental claims when marketing) – a topic I’ve been curious about, and meaning to write about, for a while.

The next three are books that I’m hoping will help me form a big picture understanding of climate strategy. The reviews I’ve read of them piqued my interest.

Lastly, there are a few websites that keep coming up as sources in articles about climate change, and I want to do a quick survey of what they are and when they might be useful in my own writing.

Recapping My (First) Sustainability Reading Project! (Jan – Mar 2022)

My reading project is finally done! Or at least, the ‘reading’ part of the reading project. The associated blog posts will continue to come out as I finish them.

So how did I do? Well, I managed to read all the materials I’d set for myself, except the two I wanted to reread. When I was running short on time, I decided it was better to forge ahead than retread old ground.

Shockingly, I also finished up my project approximately on time. Unheard of.

I ended up cramming a lot of them toward the end, and that was fun in its own way. I’ve got a bit of a process going –

  • first I skim everything,
  • then I load the reports onto my tablet.
  • I read a report and mark it with a stylus while dictating a voice memo with my real-time reactions,
  • transcribe the reactions using a transcription program,
  • paste a bunch of quotes from the report into my notes,
  • and then write the post about it.

Which sounds complicated, now that I’ve written it down. But it isn’t, really, it just lets me do a lot of different modes of learning – visual, auditory, etc., at once.

Now for, the recap. Here is how the project started:

Sustainability Research: Where to Start?

My Sustainability Research Lineup For Q1

Researching to Find My Place in the Climate Movement

Here are my real-time updates:

Research Day 1: Skimming the Longest Tomes

Sustainability Research Project Days 2-3: More Skimming

Sustainability Research – Days 4, 5, 6 – Bigger Bites

Here are the blog posts I wrote about each report. (I will continue to update this as I add blog posts.)

12021 UN Emissions Gap Reportskim, intro chapters, methane chapter, more coming soon
2Taking Stock 2021 by Rhodiumskim, more coming soon
3HBR article – What Supply Chain Transparency really meansskim, post.
4Initiatives that came out of COP26skim, more coming soon
5US 2021 Aviation Climate Action Plan.skim, more coming soon
62015 Paris Agreement (reread)Skipped
7 Green New Deal (reread)Skipped

I also made a To-Be-Read (TBR) list, including references in the reports that I want to follow up on later.

So, what’s next?

This was a project I really enjoyed since I was able to quickly learn subjects I’d been meaning to for a while.

I want to do another one! I’m going to have to give the Sustainability Reading projects names to keep them from being mixed up.

I’m working on coming up with a Research Lineup for April-June 2022.