Bloggin’ on a Train: NaNo Recap Edition

So I was sitting on the train to Charlotte and it occurred to me that I’ve been doing National Novel Writing Month for ten years. Seriously. This calls for a recap.

Like 50,000 words of vacation pictures

I started way back in 2005 at the behest of the Texas Brothers Grimm (re: @jayiin and his brother). To be honest, I don’t actually remember what my very first NaNo project was about beyond it being a work of fanfiction. All I know’s that I got my 50,000 in and Jay beat me and that was the beginning of a yearly rivalry that continues to this day.

2006 was my very first attempt at Red Seed, the working title for the first book in the series I’m working on. I’ve actually still got the very first draft lying around and man. I like to think I’ve improved a lot in the nine years since I wrote that thing, but you can see plenty of not-quite-teenaged angst and naiveté getting in the way of things. I was absolutely making the transition from fanfic to original writing and it shows. Badly. Jay beat me again, by the way.

2007 was my first attempt at an anthology collection in the background of the universe that Red Seed is set in. I remember that one clearly because it’s the one that got taken over by an interstellar war, complete with prototypal versions of/forebears to/inspirations for a lot of the cast in Red Seed. I remember it even more clearly because my computer crashed after I wrote 29,000 words in one day, wiping out my progress before I could save it and leaving me a miserable wreck for the better part of a week – after I’d written the climax and everything. I still beat NaNo, but Jay won the race. Seeing a pattern here?

2008 was Red Seed take #2 (for NaNo, anyway). I have that draft too and some of the ideas and characters introduced in it were actually good enough to hang onto after I tossed it, notably the minor-but-author-loved characters of Sid, Id, and Rori. I beat NaNo. Jay beat me.

My favorite murder-hobos.

2009 was another anthology collection, one in which I don’t think I finished a single story at all. I’ve sadly lost this one; I was an overage, first-semester college freshman working a full-ish time job and had a truckload of other things going on at the time. I beat NaNo, but guess who won that year?

2010 was the year I set aside Red Seed and its whole universe and tried on another project for a change. It’s tentatively titled Seven Souls Invictus and I’m actually kinda proud of the setup for it, even if the whole thing needs to be ripped down and rewritten from the ground up. SSI marked a pretty heavy change in my writing style. Jay beat me again, but I wound up recycling some of the background details into a short story/novella/vignette that I still hope to get published one day, if I could ever nail down a good ending for it.

2011 was a Very Bad Year for NaNo. Lots of personal drama going on at the time and my project, tentatively titled Under the Hood, simply didn’t work out at the time. I got to the halfway mark and scrapped it; some of the ideas were good enough to recycle into a later work tentatively titled Magical Thinking, which I also need to rewrite and throw at publishers. This was the only year I didn’t beat NaNo. Sufficed to say, Jay got me again.

2012 was a Very Good Year for NaNo. I was finally settled in-ish in DC, had given up on Red Seed for a while, and decided to go back and try rewriting some fanfiction that I never quite finished (not the same story from 2005). It felt like a collaborative effort with a younger writer and, y’know, that’s pretty much what it was. I blew right the hell through 50,000 and, for the first time in seven years, managed to beat Jay. Sadly, the GigaFic was lost to time when my USB broke, but I finally learned a valuable lesson that’s served me well ever since: Back. Up. Everything.

2013 was the year that magic happened. I had resigned myself to scrapping Red Seed but figured, hey, what the hell, I can still take a crack at one of the sequels I had planned for it.

Writers, folks

My Sanguine Queen clocked in at around 109,000-ish words. It was originally slated to be the book 5 in the series that starts with Red Seed. Actually finishing a project related to it gave me the confidence to go back to Red Seed, and it gave me a goal to shoot for when starting on the book once more. 114,000-ish words and nearly ten years of trying later, I finally finished a full draft of that big red bastard of a book. Correction: Jay did participate that year, but I have no idea who won.

2014 had me working on the immediate sequel to Red Seed, tentatively titled Stray Dogs. The finished draft needs a lot of work, in my opinion, but I knocked it out quick and expanded my cast and my goals to include a far more diverse set of characters and themes than 2006 Ben would’ve ever thought of writing. I’m happy with it. Worth noting that this was also the second novel I finished in the space of a year and wound up being a good ~50,000 words longer than Red Seed. The rivalry was pretty low key last year, enough that I forget if Jay avenged himself for 2012 (I know he won NaNo at least).

2015 will see me go in using my current novel project as a base. Is it cheating? Hell yes, but I’m pantsing it on the plot at this point and I know the cut-off point so the 50,000 words will happen in isolation.

Fun Fact: My characters tend to derail my plots by chapter 15, then give it back around chapter 30-ish. I’m generally okay with how it all turns out.

To make up for my evil ways, I’ll also be donating, and you should too. NaNoWriMo helps to provide creative writing and literacy programs all over the world. We need that. Creativity is how you get out of the box. Literacy is a big part of how you realize there’s a box in the first place.

And be sure to participate while you’re at it. You can find me on NaNo as Sh33p, a.k.a. That Guy Warily Eyeing Jayiin for the Tenth Year in a Row.


I put on my PoliSci hat and robe

I’m a would-be academic who’d like to go back to school at some point. While I was laid up in bed with fever today, I decided to make the most of my cold sweats and red-eyed headaches by doing a little research into the job market for PhDs, particularly those in the humanities (PoliSci, English, and History being my assorted jellies and jams, as the young people say).


While the overall market looks about as bleak as you might expect, I did come across one interesting tidbit in an MLA Research article (emphasis mine):

Good data about where graduates end up ten or twenty years after completing their degree programs have been especially scarce since the mid-1990s, when the humanities lost participation in the federally sponsored Survey of Doctorate Recipients (SDR).

This intrigued me for a lot of reasons. For one, politicians on both sides of the aisle frequently argue about the need to track job placement rates for university graduates – the consensus seems to be yes, we need to do this but things break down when it comes to motive and method. SDR fills at least a little bit of that gap but as things are right now, it’s kind of useless to a significant chunk of the would-be academic population (re: everybody who’s not looking to go into a STEM field, and maybe even some of them who are). There’s also the Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED), and while that one does go back farther, it focuses more on annual demographics and doesn’t track people over the long term the way the SDR does. On the plus side, job placement gets a mention if you know where to look in the data tables: It’s listed as postgraduation plans, which seems a little iffy to me in terms of showing whether someone has an actual job or not, but hey – take what you can get.

For the curious, here’s a smattering of tables from 2013, the most recent year available:

All Broad Fields (Life sciences, physical sciences, social sciences, engineering, education, humanities, other)
Humanities (Foreign languages and literature, history, letters, other)
Social Sciences (Anthropology, economics, political science, psychology, sociology, other)

Key takeaway: Depending on how you count it, non-STEM doctorates made up about one fifth to a little less than half of all doctorates awarded in 2013. That trend basically held for three years straight and I’d wager it would still be true of prior years as well.

So why the hell don’t we put more effort into tracking this stuff?

It probably involves this guy.
It probably involves this guy.

Sufficed to say, this involves getting down into the weeds on relatively minor policy decisions made about twenty years ago – not the easiest thing in the world. It looks like the decision to ax the humanities from SDR happened somewhere between 1994 and 1996. 1995 seems to be the last year that the SDR covered some of the social sciences; I haven’t found any evidence it covered the other humanities fields, making the whole thing a little misleading even when it wasn’t focused exclusively on science and engineering.

Something like this seems like it could only be boneheaded enough to come from legislation. I have a hunch that the decision was made during the 104th Congress, which had a certain tendency towards decisions that were just plain awful in hindsight (see: Newt Gingrich killing the Office of Technology Assessment). To that end, I spent a couple of hours rifling through the Library of Congress without much luck. I’ve reached out to a librarian and I’ll update this post if they’ve got anything useful.

At the end of the day though, I suspect the choice to remove humanities from the SDR, thereby blinding would-be academics like myself to reliable long-term job trends that would affect our decision to pursue a particular doctorate, is one of those little everyday horrors of politics: Somewhere, something happened without anyone noticing, recording, or mourning what was lost; just some schlub in a suit back in 1995, pushing a few pieces of paper and derailing a million lives over twenty years before going home and having a beer.

Like this, except not so serial killer-y and with a family and a steady job with non-lethal office supplies and...probably not like this at all, actually.
Like this, except not so serial killer-y and with a family and a steady job with non-lethal office supplies and…probably not like this at all, actually.

For what it’s worth though: I think you could enact legislation to get SDR to track all doctorates, but you’d have to pitch it a certain way. Federal government is on a STEM binge right now so you’d probably have to frame it as You could make a more compelling case to get people into STEM doctorates by having reliable comparisons with non-STEM fields. Not exactly the most satisfying way of doing things, but if it gets them done…