NaNoWriMo Wrap Up

Hi everyone! Sorry for the radio silence, but over Thanksgiving I hurt my right shoulder and lost all movement in my arm for a week. Talk about a nightmare for a writer! Since it’s no longer agony to type, I thought I’d bring everyone up to speed on how I fared during this year’s NaNoWriMo challenge.


I made it to 35,000 words, 15,000 away from the goal number. But I’m not upset or disappointed for 2 reasons:

  1. I wrote every single day. Rear end in chair, pen in hands, keyboard clacking away. Some days, there were lots of words. Other days, there were very (very!) few words. But there were words.
  2. I came to the realization that as far as I’m concerned, a single month is not enough time for me to write a good, real, deep story. The 35,000 words I got down last month aren’t a cohesive novel. It’s perhaps the bones of one–but it was really me getting to know my main character. There’s a lot of internal dialogue. Since I started with a relatively new idea and only did minimal outlining, I’m not really surprised.

I really like to the idea of National Novel Writing Month. I think it helps a lot of people (like me!) sit down and focus. But when I consider some of my favorite contemporary authors–like Chris Bohjalian, Jodi Picoult, and Kate Morton–and the fact that it takes them years to research and write a book, I don’t feel so bad about my long process of “getting to know” my characters (not that what I managed to churn out last month is comparable to any of them, but you know what I mean).

I guess I should probably just admit to myself that the fast-paced, deadline-driven atmosphere of NaNoWriMo doesn’t really cater to my life situation or my personality…but I’ll probably try again next year anyway!


Those are my results–how did you do?!?





‘The Goldens’ Update

Happy Monday, friends! I’ve been getting some questions about my novel, The Goldens, so I thought I’d give you an update.

Several months ago I decided that I needed to fill out the story a little more, so I made the choice to delay publication. As the story stood, it was more of a novella. When I sent it out to publishers, I was concerned that it was too short. Even after its acceptance, that feeling nagged at me. It has the potential to be a very rich and full story, and I really want it to realize that potential. It’s a good story in the form it is in now, but I want it to be one of those stories that sticks with you long after you read it.

Some people (like my husband) say I’m over thinking it. At first, I thought the same–but then I started dreaming about the characters. I realize that makes me sound a little crazy, but it’s a sure sign that I’m not done with a piece of writing.


So while it’s not back to the drawing board entirely, I am delving back into David Graff’s life and ironing out some details. I’m excited to see where this story is going to go.

Does this happen to you? Do characters stay in your head after you finish writing (or reading) a story?

Time Management and NaNoWriMo

National Novel Writing Month, kindly spat out in every day conversation as NaNoWriMo, starts in a month. This will be my fourth attempt.

For those of you that aren’t familiar with NaNoWriMo, here’s the short version: every November, writers all over the world try to write a novel (50,000 words–although they accept anything over 10,000 words) in 30 days. That is about 1,667 words a day.

challenge accepted

You can outline before November, but aren’t supposed to start writing until the month begins. Outside of personal satisfaction of being able to say, “hey, I wrote a novel in a month!” there are some online publishers who work with NaNoWriMo, so there is a publication possibility.

Like I said before, this will be my fourth attempt. I’ve never even made it halfway through the month without falling so far behind that there is no chance I catch up. But I’m going to try again, despite the million other things I have going on: homeschooling, editing The Goldens, shopping around another fiction piece, and that little thing called motherhood. Why even bother, you ask? Because I’ve been working really hard at time management (staying off Facebook, cough cough) and I think giving myself those daily word count goals will help.


No excuses!

Here are my time management goals that I’ll be working on this month so that come November, I’ll be ready:

  • I’m going to take the advice from this FastCompany article by Lauren Vanderkam and go on a time hunt: Faulkner [the Executive Director of NaNoWriMo] advises people to “go on a time hunt.” For a week, write down every single thing you do. “Get a really good idea of how you spend your time. Most people really don’t know,” he says. You putter around with the mail pile for 15 minutes while dinner is cooking. You lose 30 minutes following links your friends post on Facebook. There are apparently quite a few time tracking apps available–I’m going to do my homework on them and I’ll report back when I’ve tried a couple out. My guess on my biggest time-sucks? Second guessing my own decisions and social media. I really need to work on making a choice and then tucking it away on the book shelf of my mind, instead of revisiting it and making little tweaks that don’t really change anything. As for social media, I really just need to be careful not to get sucked into Facebook drama (I rarely participate, but I find the snarky comments addicting) and not to lose myself in scrolling through Instagram every time I post something. I think social media is important–for my blog, for interacting with readers and finding new awesome blogs, and for keeping up with family–so I’m not cutting it out. I’m thinking of instituting mental “office hours” where I give myself a block of time to browse and comment.
  • Establishing “This is When Mommy Writes” time with my son. For me to have any negligible block of time during the day to write, I’m going to need his cooperation. 
  • Outlining before November 1st. I’m terrible at outlining, but if I want to write a whole novel in a month, it’s going to be necessary.
  • I’m going to attempt to meal plan for the entire month. If I’m lucky, I do it week by week. Most of the time it happens in 3 day chunks. I feel like I spend a HUGE amount of time looking for recipes and making food during the week. Nothing to do with writing, but having a plan to feed my family will free up a lot of time.

Do you participate in NaNoWriMo? Do you prep or just jump right in?

If You Read One Book This Month: “Captain Jolly’s Do Over” by JR Ingrisano

I’m starting a new column here on Mama Writes Words, highlighting my top “You’ve Gotta Read This” pick for each month. I’m excited to be starting with Captain Jolly’s Do Over by JR Ingrisano.


In his debut novel, Ingrisano introduces us to Jamie, who is fed up with life, love and the doldrums of every day happenings. In a move all of us have dreamed about once or twice, he runs away to start over. In his case, he lands in the Caribbean, where he becomes the skipper of a ship called “The Do Over”. Over the course of the novel, we get to experience Jamie’s life on the island as well as the unravelling that led him there.

In this second life, Jamie encounters characters that are the very heart and soul of the book. There’s Bonita, who “must have once been something. She was still something, but she looked a bit worn around the edges…in her heart, Bonita was still someone’s princess.” There’s Jason the Bartender, who “understood people. He had a feel for them; he could read them”; and Yvonne, “big and friendly…more like a house-mother for a sorority than the owner of a small, well-run tavern.” They are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the cast that fills Ingrisano’s book. And while I love the characters, what really got me about this story was the journey.

You don’t get to leave your life, crumbled marriage, and children and run off to an island without consequences. You don’t get to reinvent yourself without facing the ghosts of your past. Jamie isn’t immune to these realities, and that grittiness is what makes his story so great.

As always, I don’t do spoilers on my site. You can find out what happens to Jamie by buying the book here…and one lucky person can win a signed copy of the book. All you have to do is make sure you’re following this site and Ingrisano’s site, and leave a comment on this blog answering this question:

If you were going to run away, where would you go?

Contest will run through October 1st. Open to residents of the continental US. Winner will be chosen at random. 

I was given an advanced copy of this novel. All opinions are my own. 



I’ve been thinking about creativity a lot lately.

This summer has been absurdly busy, and I haven’t had a lot of time for creativity: no crafting, very little writing, no projects. All work and no creativity makes for a very unhappy Mama. Am I right?

We’re all busy. We all have children, jobs, responsibilities, pets, schedules and other creativity suckers that get in the way of the process. And creativity is a process. For me, creativity begets more creativity. painting salt dough Easter eggs with my son one afternoon this spring led to a late night where the words just flew out of my pen. The more I do, the more it flows. On the flip side, the less I do, the harder it is to start back up.


In what I consider to be perfect timing, my Writer’s Digest magazine for July/August arrived at the beginning of the summer with the headline “The Creativity Issue”. I immediately dived in and became obsessed. I subscribe to several writing magazines and usually flip through them leisurely, reading what applies to me and skipping the parts that don’t. I read this particular issue cover to cover…and then started again. When we moved, I kept it in my purse (which may sound dramatic to some of you, but let me point out I carry an enormous Mom Bag, in which things go in and are not seen again for weeks).

The first half of the issue is devoted to creativity roadblocks when it comes to writing. Some of my favorite takeaways:

From Amy Sue Nathan, Making More Room for Writing: 

  • Having a designated writing space of any sort increases the likelihood that you will actually use that area for writing.
  • Know what you need. Quiet, a window, a sweater, a crunchy snack.
  • We hold ourselves to high standards with word counts and deadlines and critiques. But letting ourselves off the hook–just a bit–can open up room for writing. (This is a big one for me. I am a little anal when it comes to filling out my calendar on Sunday night with goals and plans, and if I get behind or they fall apart, I fall apart with them).  

From Grant Faulkner, Naked (On the Page) and Afraid

  • I suppose that somewhere within myself I believed my stories were good enough–or feared others’ reaction would prove they weren’t good enough. Perhaps I worried about being exposed as a creative charlatan, a dilettante, a fool.
  • It’s a common writer’s fear: that one’s life will be confused with the text. Because I grew up in a small town, where lives were constantly under scrutiny, such a fear was embedded within me and had surely become magnified over the years.
  • There are two levels of vulnerability at play: Having the courage to write those words in the first place, and then having the courage to share them with the world. 
  • Why put a book into the world with hesitation? Why be ashamed of a creation I put my heart into?

Anyone have Phoebe’s problem?

From Steven James, Creative Under Pressure: How to Write Yourself Out of a Corner:

  • Forcing yourself into a place where you can’t easily discern where to take things will allow for twists that readers never see coming, stretch you as a wrier, increase reader engagement, help you avoid cookie cutter stories and add mystery and intrigue.
  • After writing yourself into a corner, examine the walls for hidden bookshelves and secret passages. 

From Deb Caletti, Cultivating Creativity:

  • Creativity is often described as a garden that needs tending–accurate if that garden also includes rocky ground, carnivorous plants and periods of doubt. 
  • Expectations, self-pressure and attempts to outsmart the market are the surest ways for creativity to make a run for it. And, they’re the surest ways to jeopardize the most powerful thing in your corner–your honest self-expression.
  • Focusing on the experience, on the joy of the act, on what makes writing (or any other creative endeavor) what you love to do, keeps the rewards coming and the desire alive.
  • Creative professionals understand that practicing their craft is not an indulgent, frivolous extra, but an essential piece of a rich, productive life. 
  • We mistakenly link creativity with writing a book or painting a painting, but ongoing artistic expression is often more about the continued search for meaning and understanding.


Of course, the hard part is putting all of this into action. For me, creativity flows most freely when I don’t feel like I should be doing other things–so my first step is to give myself time each day. The way my life is right now, it won’t be at the same time every day–perhaps it will be when JC starts kindergarten and we’re a little more structured, but we’re still in summer mode! So my goal this week is to look at each day and find the best space to give myself a little time.

How are you creative? Do you have a certain space you create in or time to be creative?

How are you creative? What is your trick to make time for creativity?

…They Should Have Behaved Better.

behaved better

Every writer has heard it. Someone reads something you’ve written: an article, a blog, a book. And the questions start.

“Who is that character in real life? It’s me, isn’t it? And isn’t the guy with the good hair so-and-so? I didn’t know that’s the fight that ended your relationship!”

Ugh. Just ugh.

I’m sure that there are some writers out there who write for revenge. But I think that for most of us, the truth is that the majority of characteristics are just that…characteristics.

It must be unnerving being close to a writer, and knowing everything that happens is fodder for their art. When people see themselves in my writing, I always answer with this: “Are you pleased with it? You are? Well then of course it’s you! No? You don’t think you’re anything like that? Then it is obviously someone else.”

Written into story

Here is how it works for me. My stories ALWAYS start out with people in my life in them. Not down to the letter, but with pretty strong characteristics. But as I write, the characters take on their own personalities. They shed their skins and grow new ones, and that is a magic moment for me. That’s when I know I’m on a roll.


My favorite example of this is a blog I wrote a year or so ago. It was a writing prompt to write a break-up letter to someone who is taking up space in your heart that shouldn’t be allowed to be there. Within a day of publishing it, I heard from three different guys from my past–all assuming it was about them.

It wasn’t about any of them.

Who was it about? I’ll never tell.

Do you write real-life people into your stories? How do you answer if someone thinks they see themselves in your writing?

How Do You Know When to Stop?

This is a problem I do not have much in my writing: knowing when to stop.


I’m kind of an exposition fan girl. I like to stay there, obsess there, and never wrap things up. It is not my strong point, which is problematic for my future as a published author.

So it is odd to find myself in the position I’m in. I began writing what I expected to be a novel about a man and a woman with a complicated history who run into each other as adults and the situations that inevitably arise from an occasion such as that.

However, as I put my pen down at the end of what I was considering to be the first section, I realized I kind of liked the story as it was: enough back story to be interesting and catch someone’s attention, enough development to show how the characters had changed, and a tempting little end that manages to leave things open but not be an obnoxious cliffhanger. My long-winded novel had turned itself into a short story.


Is it? IS IT?!?

I put it away for a few months and came across it again today. I have more to say, certainly, but I don’t know if I should say it. As I mentioned before, wrapping things up is not my strong point. Sometimes characters stay with me even when I have an end in sight for them, and these guys aren’t doing that (I realize that makes me sound crazier than I actually am, but there you go).

So I’m crowdsourcing: how do you know when to stop? Do you like short stories that leave you hanging or do you like everything wrapped up in a nice little bow?