Writing Update: Post-NaNo '18

National Novel Writing Month came and went. I logged a “win” with my highest wordcount ever, just shy of 52k. This year marked my eighth consecutive year of participating and my fifth overall win, so now I’m batting 0.625.
But this year wasn’t really a win so much as it was a cleanup for several fiction and non-fiction projects. I didn’t work on any single manuscript, but rather revised and extended several things concurrently then dutifully logged my daily word count. (I pasted the exact same number of words from a Lorem Ipsum generator to validate in the NaNo system.) In fact, the only reason I attained 52k is because non-fiction writing, for me, is an order of magnitude easier and faster than novel-length fiction composition. I spent less time writing this November than in any previous year — mostly because I’ve been focused on book production for CafPress. That, and I was out of town for several one-off days as well as a week early in the month focused on prepping for, then speaking at, a conference in Minneapolis.
Here’s what I accomplished on the penmonkey front:

  • Finished not one but two of the erotica novellas in the series I write under pseudonym, one of which I started in 2016 then set aside, three-fourths done. And got a decent amount of sales out of them, too, in just a few days of November.
  • Revised a flash story, which I submitted to the Write Michigan contest.
  • Wrote several chapters in a non-fiction book I’m developing, Introduction to Health Quality Analtyics.
  • Also wrote several chapters in the other non-fiction book I’m developing, From Pencil to Print: Practical Advice for Emerging Authors. Both of these non-fiction chapters mostly went to non-controversial stuff that I can use as samples when I shop the proposals for both, later this month. (Non-fiction books generally aren’t written in advance; they’re researched and planned, then pitched, and if a publisher picks it up, only then does the book get written — exactly the opposite of fiction writing.)

I also learned a few things worth passing along.
First, my recent practice of writing in Visual Studio Code, in Markdown (well, CommonMark), works fine for most straightforward material. But the more complicated book-length content doesn’t work quite as cleanly. For starters, Markdown isn’t so much a standard as a bunch of competing standards that don’t always translate the same way. Second, Markdown doesn’t really handle citations well. And third, Markdown tends to be less strict about some things that, for a technical non-fiction project, probably ought to be strict.
So, as I spin up the next novella, I’m writing not in Markdown but rather in AsciiDoc, using the Asciidoctor toolkit. It’s a different workflow, and Visual Studio Code doesn’t natively support AsciiDoc like it does GitHub-flavored Markdown, but after tinkering last night with a sample book-type project, I think I’m migrating to AsciiDoc anyway, and converting my existing non-fiction projects to it, too. Case in point: E-book construction. Asciidoctor runs on Ruby, so after I installed Ruby (then installed an older version of Ruby, because Dependency Hell), I could install the AsciiDoctor-EPUB3 gem to natively generate EPUB3-compliant e-books. And the rules for developing these e-books are fairly precise — you must use a spine document, specify includes, specify metadata in the spine, declare folders, cite image locations, etc. — but after you get that figured out, then a perfectly formatted e-book awaits with just a single command. I opened the resulting sample EPUB in Edge, Calibre and Sigil and it was flawless, inside and out. So there’s that. And because AsciiDoc supports conversion to DocBook, you can use AsciiDoc to create very complex technical documentation at book length without any interoperability problems.
So “mark me down” as a convert from Markdown to AsciiDoc. And it’s not even hard to parse, either:

So you can convert the AsciiDoc source to HTML5, XHTML5, DocBook5, DocBook4.5, Manpage, PDF, EPUB3 and LaTeX. Plus, bolt-on gems support conversion to other formats, too. Nifty. And because AsciiDoc source is a plain-text document, I’ll continue to sync it with my private GitLab CE repository like normal. Oh, yeah, it natively works with BibTeX files with another plugin, allowing for both unique citekey references as well as bibliographies that can be rendered in any of the major citation styles.
So, good learning. And a good November.

Some Spring Housekeeping

The last few months have been more hectic than most. Of note:

  • Our HEDIS medical-record review with our new processes and new vendor is winding to a halt. It’s been a lot of work, capturing roughly 17k medical records in six weeks. But preliminary rates look OK. So that’s a relief. We’ve been on a multi-million dollar journey to swap vendors for nearly 10 months now. With the end of our first-year effort now approaching, it’s time to reflect on lessons learned and to soak in the fact that I was a core leader in such a huge and politically high-profile project.
  • Two weeks ago, I spent two nights in Chicago doing NAHQ commission coordination. Interesting stuff. The association is really firing on all cylinders for it’s five-year strategic plan; now the goal is to keep everyone pointing in the same direction without stepping on toes. Details are TBD, but I may well be presenting in conferences in June in Toronto and near Baltimore.
  • And speaking of NAHQ, I’ll be in Dallas in the coming week for the Summit and for board meetings. Back to back to back to back to back …
  • I submitted a novella to Amazon. It’s an experiment; the novella is in a fringe sub-genre of erotica and it’s written under a pseudonym, using a name with no social platform and no author history. In the last eight hours, I’ve already sold three copies of the ebook and have earned $2.03 in royalties. Interesting. The whole exercise follows from a thought experiment in Jane Friedman’s excellent Publishing 101. (And no, I’m not going to tell you the pseudonym or the novella title. Like I said: fringe.)
  • My friend Brittany and her husband Steve welcomed a baby girl into their family on Thursday. She’s adorable. I went to the hospital to see mom, dad and baby.
  • Life at Caffeinated Press has had its ups and downs of late. Powering through the “painful growth phase,” I guess.