Not So NaNoWrimo

2019 wasn’t meant to be a winning year for NaNoWriMo. I signed up this year for one purpose – distraction. I didn’t want to face the fact that my writing mentor-neighbor-friend would die before Thanksgiving. She questioned my decision to sign up for this challenge, insisting that I was avoiding the publication of my memoir, the memoir that she had finished editing a couple of months ago. “Just publish the damn thing,” she said about the 9th of November. Instead, I went home and added more than 2400 words to the NaNoWriMo project.

Things turned for the worst the next day. My friend began to fail. Suddenly bedridden, she looked out her window at the autumn leaves. “Do you remember the story ‘The Last Leaf’ by O. Henry?” She asked. When I admitted I had no recollection, she offered a brief synopsis. I followed the gaze of her eyes to see only a handful of leaves on the branch outside her window and asked if she was watching for the last leaf to fall. She smiled and closed her eyes.

The next few visits were painfully silent as that one last leaf swayed in the wind. On the 21st day of November the final leaf drifted slowly to the earth as my friend took her last breath.

My takeaway here is not about not finishing the novel. It’s about making the right choices for each moment. Time is precious and I was blessed with the time to sit at my friend’s bedside during those final days. Sad as it is, she died with peace, grace and dignity – just the way she lived her life.

What I Learned About #NaNoWriMo

Nano word chart

First, the rules: One must write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days, an average of 1,667 words each day.

My rules: Forget everything you know about POV, character development, including five senses in every scene, dialogue, punctuation and what your middle grade English teacher taught you. Just write. Have fun.

My result: All of my characters have multiple personalities, they love to dye their hair and own a rainbow of contact lenses, their scars (physical and mental) move across or up and down their bodies, it’s 90 degrees one day and snowing the next, none of the characters eat but they drink a lot of coffee, no one wears clothes, one of them marries his sister, one dies but appears perfectly healthy in the next chapter and not one of them resembles me or anyone else in my family.  One more thing: I forgot to Save the Cat. Save the Cat! Writes a Novel: The Last Book On Novel Writing You'll Ever Need by [Brody, Jessica]


National Novel Writing Month

#nanowrimoAnother challenge begins. The month of October went by in a flurry of planning for #NaNoWriMo. Some random thoughts:

I expected to be a “Planner” (one who outlines, creates characters, maps out settings, etc). I did some of that. Every day when I turn on my desktop I see a wallpaper of characters. My iPad screensaver is the setting, a map of a gentrified neighborhood. The loose outline in my Scrivener file suggests I may be more of a “Panster” (one who writes by the seat of their pants) this time around… again. Accountability has landed in my November bullet journal/calendar. My wall is plastered with “what if” post it notes. I’ll be taunted into complying.

Tomorrow I turn the page. The To Do list becomes a Must Do list, limited to only what is absolutely necessary during the next 30 days. The calendar side of things is scant. Somehow I’ll fit in 1,667 words each day (including Thanksgiving) and voila! The novel will be done. Make that, the DRAFT will be done. Or perhaps I should state the reality… the sh*tty draft will be done.

There’s a lot of talk in the NaNoWriMo forums about preparation and, much of it about survival. It’s as if we will be stranded in one of those freaky would-you-spend-30-days-here-for-a-million dollars houses posted on social media lately. Or maybe locked in a room like writer Paul Sheldon in Misery. Reminder: purchase forty-two flavors of Oreo cookies, six giant bags of dark chocolate M&Ms, a case of Doritos, and a sixty day supply of extra strong coffee.

Then there’s the “what ifs.” What if my computer dies? What if my online cloud erases my files? What if the cat won’t get off my keyboard? What if the cat hits the delete key? What if the power goes out? What if the internet goes out? (Actually that could be a good thing to keep away distractions). What if we haven’t prepared any “What Ifs” for our main character if she/he decides to stray from the plot? What if I put a back up plan in motion: save to the cloud, email a copy to myself each day, save another copy on my desktop, print out another copy (never mind – wouldn’t want anyone to discover just how sh*tty my writing is) and keep pen and paper on hand for when the power goes out.

Bottom line: My imperfect self will not judge, criticize, or punish if my “what ifs” turn into “what nots.”

Good luck to all the incredible writers joining me in this adventure.  See you in December… or sooner depending on the what ifs.


NaNoWriMo – Preptober

Nanowrimo 2018
#NaNoWriMo #Preptober

Most writers are aware that National Novel Writing Month is just around the corner. I’ve known about it for years having officially “won” the challenge four out of the six times I participated. Of course none of these novels were publishable – I must unabashedly admit I did plan each one as a leap towards that great American novel. I’ll also admit three out of the four completed projects still exist on my hard drive. They will stay there until I finish the memoir.

What memoir? The one I said I was writing? The one I mentioned earlier this month as having completed the first draft? Yes, that memoir. So why would I consider writing novel number five when my memoir sits there waiting for revising, editing, submitting, and publishing? Am I simply procrastinating… again? Nope. I’ve come up with a viable reason to set it aside. I heard that it’s a good idea to let your first draft sit on the back burner for a while. Let it simmer there for a few months (maybe years). Then go back to it with fresh eyes. I’ll do that. Someday. It might look better with blurred vision so the longer I wait the better it will be.

It’s been a while since I last participated in “NaNoWriMo and some things seem to have changed. I remember way back in 2002 when I first discovered this challenge that the goal was to complete a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. I may be wrong but I think the rules back then declared we begin the novel on November 1st, we write 1,667 words per day, we skip Thanksgiving dinner, and we turn in our final word count on November 30th. I followed each rule, as I interpreted it, to a “T” – no planning ahead, no outlining, no character profiling, no plotting – just writing exactly 1,667 words each day including Thanksgiving. (Maybe that’s why attempt #1 was deleted from my hard drive).

Nowadays we have #Pretober. I think that means we begin to plot, plan, and develop our characters starting on October 1st. I’ve already cheated. It’s still September and I spent the entire morning on my iPad in GoodNotes, mapping out the novel. Study the picture. Every little piece of clipart (thank you could be plucked out of my memoir. “Write what you know,” they say. Obviously I know a lot so this one’s sure to be the best seller. Careful what your next move is – you too could be a piece of clipart.


#Nanowrimo 2002



Nanowrimo 2002 – yes you read it correctly. The year was 2002 when I first discovered the challenge. I wrote a novel, “Filigree Bracelet,” never published. What I had to say about Nanowrimo fourteen years ago is just as appropriate today:

NOVEL: an invented prose narrative that is usually long and complex and deals especially with human experience through a usually connected sequence of events.

I signed up for National Novel Writing Month. Do I honestly think that I’ll finish a novel of 50,000 words in 30 days? Well it’s only 1666.67 words per day. I’ve been aiming for 1000 words each day in my daily journal writing. But that is life; the novel will be fiction. A creation of the imagination – can I be that creative?

 Write what you know they say. I know about these things from experience: alcoholism, drug addiction, codependence, preachers families, climbing mountains, hiking, backpacking, wilderness, driving across country, exercise, diet, nutrition, some diseases, taking antidepressants, having kids, shopping, internet, taxes, bookkeeping, self help books, genealogy, sewing, knitting, quilting, losing mom, taking care of dad, backaches, depression, therapy, red hats, email, web pages, managing an office, ptss, aa, alanon, naranon, weight watchers, Sunday dinners, short cruises, train trips, flying, job search, relationships, kids, husbands, sisters, brothers, friends, 12 steps, gambling, living with a gambler, owning a Jaguar, cats, living on a hill, having a pool, losing a home, financial burdens, spending money, credit cards, inheritances, church, correspondence courses, junior college, health clubs, aerobic classes, people watching, coffee, overeating, bicycling, running, races, time outs, working 7 days, working the program, not working the program, slogans, teachers, meditation, gurus, sponsors, girlfriends, renting, buying a car, walking, wandering, having tea, camel races, slot machines, crossing bridges, writing letters, fleas, digital pictures, skydiving, roller coasters, river rafting, caves, sleezy motels (Pizmo), elegant hotels, altitude, honeymoons, abuse, 

So how does one take all these things one knows about, pull it all together in a semblance of a novel that anyone else might care to read? Or does one just do this for the personal satisfaction of knowing that she has the discipline to sit down and write 1666 words each and every day for 30 days? They say anything you do consistently for three weeks becomes a habit. Do I need to develop another habit? On the positive side, this could be a habit that could someday become a resource for money. Practice makes perfect. But is practice in life enough without the benefit of a firm education?

Muse: perhaps I should develop a relationship with one of the “nine sister Goddesses in Greek mythology residing over song and poetry and the arts and sciences.”  I saw a book called “Writing Without a Muse,” and must admit my ignorance of what that means. Is it about Goddesses or is it about “a state of deep thought or dreamy abstraction?” At first I thought it is my lack of education, how could I even consider myself a writer when I don’t even understand the title of that book? Upon further consideration I know that I have no college education, no MFA in writing, just experiences in life that I want to get onto paper. There are many who encourage me to do so and say I am capable. I just need to sit down at the computer and start, muse or not, I can be amusing, I think. Perhaps I should buy the book.
 So this is what 540 words looks like. Only 1127 left to go and I would be done for one day. But, what if for one day I just could not possible fit in the time. The following day I would need to write 3334 words. It could snowball until on November 30th, which happens to be a Saturday thank goodness, I would be sitting and writing for all those missed days. Or would I give up at that point? How much time is involved in 50,000 words? 50 hours perhaps? It might be good to track how much time I put into this, just for my own curiosity. It may take longer since this is to be purely fiction and I am more into writing creative nonfiction. Then again, there is no rule that it has to make sense. It can be merely 50,000 words of complete and total nonsense just so long as the product is a “novel”. Which brings me back to, what is a novel anyway? I’ve read plenty of bad novels. I’ve thrown away a few that I spent hard earned money on wondering how anyone had the gumption to publish such pulp. 

734 words. I could become obsessed with word counts. How many words are in a page? Well that depends on a lot of factors. Type size, font, margins, paragraphs, spacing. A manuscript must be submitted double spaced or single spaced? I need to find out I guess. Would be good to know. There is some discussion in the Nanowrimo forum about how many pages it takes to write 50,000 words. What a ridiculous thing to ponder about.  It’s 50,000 words whether you choose to fill up a notebook or a computer file. Hmmm, wonder how big a computer file is with 50,000 words in it?

839 words and now I am at the bottom of my page. 10 pt arial font, margins .5 top and bottom, 1″ each side. I just changed the margins to 1″ all around. So now this statement is false. I am working my way down the second page. Looks like I would be looking at only two pages a day if I set my margins this way. I could do that.

Now about the time it takes to do this. I have done this, this morning at work. I’ve been here for 1 ½  hours. But I have been interrupted. I’ve had to answer the phones, talk to the boss, do some filing, call because we have no internet connection this morning, write some checks and make the coffee. Considering all the work I had to do, I would guess I have just spent about 45 minutes of my bosses time writing these 992 words. Hey, I could get paid for this? I think that is cheating. Cheating more way than one. I am cheating my boss. Am I cheating Nanowrimo? Right there in the front of the website there is reference to working on these words while at work. I don’t think I’m the only one doing this. Just hope I’m not the one that gets caught. Any spy software on this network? Hello? 

1064 words. This is getting to be obsessive. Thank goodness for Word which has that word count feature. I just found out that I can put the “word count” icon on my tool bar. Now that is really cool because now I just click on that one little icon whenever I need to know. Think of how much time that saves me! 1126 words now. Now I figured out how to change the little icon for word count. I changed it to a button, a button with the image of a coffee cup. Then I edited the icon picture and put a number (#) sign on the cup. My secret word count button. How special! 

Can I really do this? It will take discipline, “stick-to-it-iveness,” something I have had problems with before. I get an idea, work up a genuine enthusiasm, start off with a bang, gradually run out of interest and come to a screeching halt. Unfinished projects fill a trunk in my apartment already. Unfinished projects abound in my computer hard drive. I need an incentive. Not money. Not fame. Just a reason why I should complete this project. It could be just for the experience of following through, just finishing something I started. Perhaps I need to tell other people what I am doing. Get encouragement and backup. Would they allow me to venture into this project and not be curious as to what I write for this endeavor? I don’t need a critique on my shoulder telling me I am full of self-indulgence that is a complete waste of time. Eric thinks it’s a good idea. But he’ll probably beg to read it. One thing there though at least he is always willing to let me do what I think I need to do. And he realizes that I get into these fantasies and just goes along for the ride. Plus it will give him that extra hour a day (if that is how long this takes and if I work on this in my own time at home) to sit around and play his video poker game. 

Speaking of Eric, he is off to Cache Creek today. At least I think he is. He asked me this morning if he could borrow my car and go there. I chastised him. He didn’t sleep well. How can he be safe on the road. In my normal mode, I just kind of ignored the problem, didn’t give him a direct answer but as I walked out the door to go to work I said, “good thing this is the day I don’t come home for lunch that way I won’t know where you are.” Is that permission to use the car, go gambling, and ignore the issue all in one sentence? 

1528 words.  Near the bottom of page two and less than 150 words to go. Could fit that into one paragraph I’d say. Therefore it would be less than two pages a day to write. Now why couldn’t I possibly keep that commitment? This is seeming more and more likely to be an accomplishment that I can do. So now the question is back to what will my topic be. What will the story line be. I need to start outlining it I think. It must be something that will keep my interest. Something that I can relate to. Something I have knowledge about. Something that will make some sense. Something worth the space on my harddrive. What the heck, that’s what delete keys are for. Just a few more words and I’ll be at that remarkable number that must be accomplished each day – oops I went over – one thousand six hundred eighty three words.