Tag Archives: Nanowrimo

Shrinking Words & Other Writing Quandaries

Amazing how a couple months away can give new perspective. Allowing myself to move back through Expecting Happiness, stopping at each spot that bugs me, feels really good. The only thing that doesn’t feel so good is watching my word count drop a bit.

I blame NaNoWriMo for two things: 1. My obsession with word count, 2. A lot of extra words that don’t belong. I get that you go back and get rid of them later, or now, but I do think it results in writing that may be more repetitive than if you just go slowly and don’t worry about how many words you hit a day. Either way, it’s a year later and here I am working on the same book.

This leaves me wondering whether I need to add more words for the sake of having a full-length book… Right now I’m at 68,500, but I know it will drop a bit further as I continue. For any of you who have e-published, how many words were your projects?

My current plan is this:

1. Revisit each chapter with the same care I’ve given the prologue/Chapter 1 this week

2. Reread the whole thing to make sure it still makes sense/check for errors

3. Finish my queries/recontact appropriate contacts

4. If nothing comes of the second round of querying/contacts, I will e-publish and/or share on my blog. I’m not sure which approach to take yet. I just know I need to put it out there in order to move on…

More than anything, I am finding it much more sustainable to slow down and get the work done a little at a time instead of feeling like I need to use every moment of my spare time to write. That was burning me out in every aspect of my life, especially my day job. Slowing down these past two months has made a huge difference. Now it’s time to get serious and get this book done, even if it is just an hour or so at a time.

Happy balanced Sunday.

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I should be… But I’m not.

I should be working on NaNoWriMo, but instead I’m blogging. I think I might be a blog addict. There is something about the instant gratification of an audience. Plus, blogging allows me to write about the here and now, instead of the somewhere made up in my brain. Not that that place isn’t fun…

At least my students kicked some NaNoWriMo butt this year– read their stories this afternoon, amazing. Many of them wrote thousands of words. Talking dogs, romantic rendezvous, magical kingdoms…

So, here I am, typing away. I have only written half of what I wrote last year for NaNoWriMo. If I spent the time I worked on my blog writing that story, I would probably have at least double the words, if not more. But, it’s hard not to start here when I write each night. It’s like my warm-up space… Except now that I am only giving myself an hour each night to write, I don’t know how I am going to do both. My husband suggested scheduled blog nights, but I’m not sure I work like that. When I want to write, I want to write.

How do you balance your blogging versus other creative work? Do you start here, like I do? Or do you force yourself away?

Look at that, a fifteen minute post. I may actually have time for some other writing yet! Okay, I lied, now that I’ve reread it all and added pictures more like twenty-five minutes… Really leaving this time… I hope…

The upside of less writing time, I stuck to my yoga/spiritual practice goal this evening, (even though it ended up taking me almost two hours). And, here’s some proof yoga cat was not just a one-week aberration. In fact, she’s still in there right now. Didn’t take the hint when I rolled up the mat on top of her…

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Moving On…

Here’s something I didn’t anticipate.

I thought writing something new would be fun. It has been, sometimes. But I can’t stop thinking about my first story. I want to go back to it, to rescue it from the space of forgotten books, to bring it back to life and make someone else love it too. I almost feel like I’m cheating on our year-long relationship by dipping my pen somewhere else. There’s still work to be done. I miss my characters. These new ones are alright, but they’re not the same. It will take time to know them, to love them the same way.

I’m tempted to throw NaNoWriMo down the drain and go back to save my old book. I’m ready to mean business this time, really. I know what needs to be done. Still, maybe absence makes the heart grow fonder? Maybe starting something new always feels this way? Maybe two more weeks will do me good? I’m just having a hard time putting my heart into it. Last year felt so different.

For those of you who have written more than one book, was it easy to move on?

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1,500 words in my extra hour…

I’m back.

That’s not bragging, that’s celebrating. The first few days of NaNoWriMo were off to a slow start. Now I’m excited. Finally get to use those vagabond youth I’ve been stalking since summer. Not to mention my obsession with the ocean and the Oregon Coast. I’m liking this book. It’s fun to spend time camping on the beach with a bunch of young hippies.

Now time for everything else in life– San Francisco friends here we come!

Thank goodness for the end of daylight savings time. That extra hour was always magical to me as a kid. My favorite non-holiday weekend of the entire year. I remember believing you had to find something incredible to do with your extra hour, (thanks to a special episode of Pete & Pete…). I guess I still hold that belief. This year I wrote with mine. What did you do with yours? Hopefully something good!

Happy Sunday.

Slimy inspiration.

This piece of driftwood was easily fifteen feet tall. The power of the ocean is incredible… More inspiration from the sea.


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NaNoWriMo Day Two: Gray Whales, Sea Kayaking, and Mermaids

I’m a day behind in NaNoWriMo world. Yesterday yielded zero words. I left home before 7AM for work and returned from a long day of teaching, fall festivaling, and celebrating a family birthday happy but exhausted. This is exactly why I chose to set my goal at half. 25,000 words in a month is more realistic than 50,000. Today I brought my total to 2,265.

In the process, I was reminded of a few lessons I learned last time, lessons I have not needed for awhile:

1. Just let the damn words flow. This morning I read and reread and reread again. I was writing in perfectionist mode, the exact mode I taught my students to avoid by locking up their inner editors. It’s easy to never write anything when you write this way. Finally I remembered the beauty of NaNoWriMo– just write without looking back. Sure enough, the last six hundred words I spit out came much more easily. In the past, I’ve criticized the NaNoWriMo method for producing work that needs to be heavily edited, but I overlooked something important in this criticism– better to have written something to edit than nothing at all.

2. The internet is my friend. I’ve finally reached a good spot of being able to ignore all other Internet impulses while writing. This is the polar opposite from me over the summer. Maybe it’s because I know my time is limited. Instead of using the Internet to waste time, I’ve been putting it to work for this new book. Needed to learn about gray whales, Naga (a mythical, serpentine mermaid), and sea kayaking today. I feel so spoiled to have so much information at my fingertips– I can’t imagine what it was like for writers before the Internet.

3. Music. I started my day in silence, but this afternoon I turned on Pandora to Iron & Wine, my favorite writing station. I always forget my words flow more easily with some background music. I also sometimes get this creepy feeling Pandora is reading my mind. The song below came on as I was thinking about nicknaming my protagonist’s old truck Jesus. Not sure if that’s me being inspired by Pandora or Pandora being inspired by me…

4. Connections matter. Knowing that many of my blog friends out there are also writing this month is already helping to keep me motivated. It’s kind of like having a friend willing to go to the gym with you… And, it’s exciting to read other people’s NaNoWriMo posts and see those word counts climbing! Hurray for collective brain power. If you include your NaNoWriMo name in a comment below, I’ll be sure to add you as a writing buddy. I’m TodayBestLife if you want to find me, (old blog identity).

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Thankfulness Thursday: Passion

Tonight I wrote 898 words. 25,000 is my NaNoWriMo goal.

Half as much as everyone else, but that’s okay. Between late afternoon IEP meetings, apple donations, birthdays, weddings, life, that’s about as much as I can handle.

Last year I reached 22,222. Still an accomplishment. The beginning of my first book.

This year something completely different. For now, forget mainstream, commercial fiction, (unless of course you want to pay me for it). This time a novel that at the moment has no genre. We’ll see where it ends up. Tonight, just two lost souls on a rugged Oregon beach. Tomorrow, one might be a vagabond exploring the Pacific Northwest, the other a dark mermaid. Maybe not. That’s the beauty of NaNoWriMo, it’s unpredictable.

Reminds me of ninjas. All good NaNoWriMo novels have a random ninja somewhere, or at least that is what I have been told. The official welcome letter I read to my students even mentioned ninjas. When I explained that the common NaNoWriMo wisdom is to just add a ninja when you get stuck, they grinned. My last book had a ninja. Or at least a misunderstood joke about a ninja…

So here’s to all the unexpected ninjas this month might bring and to the reminder that starting something new can be fun. Tonight I’m thankful for my passion to write because it takes me on new adventures from the comfort of my couch, with my dog asleep on my left foot and my cat sprawled across my lap, her paw on the keyboard. Doesn’t get much better than this, or at least not for me.

This year’s inspiration from Bandon, OR… If only I could write from here…


Link up for Thankfulness Thursday @ Domestic Fashionista.

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Thankfulness Thursday: Who do you choose to be?

Part of whatever it is that is happening right now is that I’m learning to be me. We live in an age of extended adolescence. In my case, adulthood is starting at age 29. And, I don’t mean this in a time to buy a minivan kind of way, (no offense to the lovely twenty-something minivan drivers in my life). Instead, I mean this as I’m finally starting to figure out who the heck I am.

I’m a teacher, a wife, a daughter, a friend, a writer, an occasional traveler. I’m each of these things because I choose to be, not because I think I should or always will be, (although I hope to be most of these things all my life). I am incredibly grateful to be in the exact place I am right now, even though it is hard and even though I want some things to change. I think that’s the big difference. I used to fight life, to fight all the parts that were hard or not perfect.

Now I see it as part of a general movement in the right direction. I look back five years, things are better despite the bumps along the way. I am optimistic the same trend will continue with faith and a lot of hard work. I’ve got the hard work part down, so really it’s just a matter of maintaining a positive outlook and enjoying the journey, bumps and all.

So, what does it mean to be me today?

It means I write what vibrates in my bones, popular or not. It means mermaids for NaNoWriMo, even if practically every agent on the planet currently claims to hate mermaids. It means yoga in my living room and a make-shift altar on my coffee table. It means Sunday night dinners with my family, coffee dates in sundresses with my best friends, Wednesday nights in my pajamas watching TV with my husband. It means teaching in a way that leaves my heart aching.

I am part hippie, part hipster, part bohemian, part yuppie, part vegetarian-in-training.

As silly as it sounds, today I’m grateful to be me because it took me a very long time to get what that means, even if who I am is still an evolving mess of ideals and dreams. Maybe I’ll always be this way, but that’s alright, I’m starting to get that the labels and the knowing and the destinations aren’t the point.


Link up for Thankfulness Thursday @ Domestic Fashionista.

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Writing Crossroads


I’m standing at a writing crossroads and having a very hard time deciding which path to take. I don’t want to get stuck in one project, but I also don’t want to start more than I can feasibly finish:

Option 1: Put everything Expecting Happiness related on hold for the month of November, (unless of course some very enthusiastic agent wants to snatch me up…), and have fun letting the words flow for NaNoWriMo. This was my original plan. I figured I’d come back to Expecting Happiness either because of outside interest or after I played around with something new, learned some more tricks in the process, and was ready to revisit.

Option 2: Here is what I was not expecting. Reading up on the writing craft this month has left me more aware of the places I could strengthen Expecting Happiness. Likewise, I have received input/interest from two of the people I reached out to in my querying process and see that with a little guidance I might be on an even better track toward getting this thing traditionally published. So, my other thought is that I get this book truly done for good before allowing myself to explore something new.

I feel very torn between both options. I am so excited to be back in that first writing stage again where everything is fresh and you’re living inside the story. However, I also feel like I’m beginning to make some breakthroughs in how I understand my own writing, some breakthroughs that might make the difference…

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Teachers, Get your NaNoWriMo on!

Okay, I’m now excited for November for two reasons: Time to write something new AND time to walk my students through their first novels… That’s right, I’m doing it, diving in head first and teaching the NaNoWriMo Youth Writing Program. Fortunately, it fits right in with what we’re already teaching this time of year– narrative writing.

Part of why I am so excited is because my students cheered me on last year as I attempted to write a novel in one month. This year, those same kids will get to try it themselves. When I unveiled my master plan to my students this afternoon, they were giddy. The kind folks over at NaNoWriMo will even be sending them a free box of goodies to keep them motivated.

Today we locked up our inner editors. I almost passed on this, thinking it might not be the best use of instructional time, but they had a blast drawing the mean voices inside their heads that keep them from writing. It turns out that even ten year olds have fears of not being great. We’ll need our editors again in December when it is time to revise, but until then, we’re locking them up so we can just get the words out, (good advice for us grown-up writers too!):

Good-bye for awhile evil inner-voice editors!

It’s funny, I was a little hesitant to teach narrative with NaNoWriMo because it feels like such an epic endeavor to convince fifth graders to pour their attention into novel writing for an entire month. However, day 1 down of preparing their thoughts and I feel like it might be an awesomely memorable part of their year. They’re excited, I’m excited… Wish us luck!


PS. I’m now contemplating making my NaNoWriMo novel targeted at a middle grades/young adult audience. This is completely off-course from my previous plans, but it sounds like fun to write something I can actually share with them while they’re writing…

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That’s what she said…

Writer friends, let’s talk dialogue, shall we. This week, I am meandering my way through Self-Editing for Fiction Writers and the section on writing dialogue has my attention. According to the book, “Your best bet is to use the verb said almost without exception… To use verbs like the last three [grimaced, smiled, chuckled] is to brand yourself as an amateur– and stick your character with an action that is physically impossible.”

Now, I have to say, even though dialogue writing is tricky and I am still learning, I am not entirely sure I agree. Overall, I try to stick to said or use beats that describe the character’s actions to show who is talking:

“I’m just afraid I’ll let you down,” Kristen leaned over and put her head on his lap, letting her tears spill onto his favorite pair of old Adidas running shorts.

The description of what Kristen does tells us she is the one speaking with a beat according to the authors. They would theoretically agree with this speaker attribution. However, there are times that speaker tags like smiled or laughed add something to the text. To me, they don’t mean the speaker held these expressions the entire time they were speaking, like the book claims to be physically impossible, but instead that these actions followed the dialogue:

“Me?” Kristen laughed softly, “You’re the unhappy one!”

As a reader, can’t we infer that she was not laughing the entire time the words were spoken, but instead at the point in between? I feel like maybe I am missing something about dialogue here that the authors of this book see and I don’t. I get what they’re saying about not overdoing it with unnecessary verbs/adjectives/adverbs, but variety does not seem like such a bad thing, especially when it gives information to the reader.

Ironically, I think F. Scott Fitzgerald would agree with me. The Great Gatsby, which this book holds in high esteem for its character development and scene creation, uses tags like told, laughed, cried, remarked all within the first few pages. So, now I’m curious of your thoughts– how do you most often distinguish who is talking in your dialogue? Do you frequently use verbs other than said? Do you feel they serve a purpose or that said is the better choice?

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It’s Almost November… Which Means Nanowrimo!

The fall quilt is out, the leaves are… okay, still green. It’s 90 degrees here in Sacramento, but at least I have the autumn spirit. Something about the shrinking amount of daylight makes me increasingly focused on finishing old projects. I am seriously ready for something new. In fact, I’m darn-near ecstatic for something new to write. So. Close.

My first queries go out this Thursday. Just wrote a bunch of personalized letters and tightened up my synopsis to one page, (Hallelujah!). As much as I really hope something comes of this effort, I am even more excited for what’s next. I just ordered Self-Editing for Fiction Writerswhich I admittedly should have read earlier, but at least it will be a good, nerdy read before beginning my next novel.

Speaking of which– November 1, 2012, mark you calendars. Okay, really, only mark them if you’re also planning to participate in Nanowrimo, (National Novel Writing Month for the uninitiated). As much as I dislike some of the rubbish I had to wade through last time I spit out thousands of exhausted words after bossing around children all day, I still feel like this is the perfect place to get motivated and give yourself something warm and cozy to do through the cold winter months. So, seasoned writer or not, I invite you to join me as we cheer each other on with the hefty goal of writing a novel, (or the beginning of a novel), in one month.

Last year I only did 22,222 words… Which is nearly 30,000 shy of the goal, but it still encouraged me enough to feel like I could write an entire book, which shortly thereafter, I actually did. This year my goal is just to write well, in quantity, for the entire month, using November 1 as the launch for my new idea. We’ll see where I end up. I’m excited. Nanowrimo is like Burning Man to me, an annual celebration of intense artistic expression.

Will you join me?

Looks like I already have one writing buddy in my mess of papers today– could use some human ones as well… Add me as a writing buddy on the nanowrimo site!

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Sunday Scatterbrain: Networking & Writing

This week has been an interesting exercise in connection making. Where I have not succeeded in getting my book out the door, I have widened my social circle to include more writers and bloggers. First, I reconnected with a childhood friend who quit his job as a lawyer to restructure his time to better allow himself to write fiction. Now he works in tech from home and writes nonstop. Talking shop with him was one of the highlights of my week– so nice to connect with another writer.

Then, last night at a work party, I talked with a writer who is working to publish his memoir about investigative journalism. His take on the publishing world and the advantages of self-publishing were very interesting. I left the conversation feeling encouraged to find a writing group to push myself to the next level.

On top of this, I boosted my online networking efforts to prepare for those pesky query letters. I reached back out to my personal Facebook community to bump up my author page likes, and then, thanks to a fellow blogger on WordPress, I discovered Sacramento Bloggers. Major score! Turns out there are a lot of women with similar interests blogging in the area. Not only has this bumped up my Facebook likes a little further, but I’m also very excited to follow their blogs and make some more connections.

Remember my little attempt at a girls’ blogging club this summer? Sacramento Bloggers has me beat. Very excited to participate!

The only downside, all of this networking stuff has eaten up some of my precious writing time for the week, leaving me feeling a bit scatterbrained as I attempt to focus. So, time to revisit the dreaded action list:

1. Enter remaining changes for last few chapters from my lovely proof-reader.

2. Get my rough query letter ready for individual agents. Submit to all 31 on my list. This was meant to be my July activity, but now it looks like my October fun. Thankfully my fall break is coming up, so hoping to get this done sometime between October 4-14.

3. Pick what’s next! I want to give myself a few weeks for this, so my goal is to be ready to join the Nanowrimo crew by 11/1 with my next story idea. I have a few in the works, just need to pick. More on that to come, I’m sure. This time, instead of trying to get 50k words out by 11/30, my goal is just to write well, with focus, for the entire month and see what happens.

Now all I need to do is stop multi-tasking and focus…

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