NaNoWriMo Fail…Life Win


The sunrise over Salem Harbor

Sunrise over Salem Harbor

This year’s National Novel Writing Month goes down as a fail…in word count, anyway. In fact, I wrote fewer words in November than I have in any month this year.

But I see the month as a personal success. Big time. Here’s why.

In early November I attended the Writer Unboxed Unconference. I learned from the greats: Don Maass, Lisa Cron, Kathryn Craft, and Anne Greenwood Brown (to name a few). See my post at Writer Unboxed about one tiny part of what I learned. I made progress on my WIP in ways I’m still unraveling. I met writer friends I’d to date met only online or talked to on the phone: most notably Therese Walsh, my fearless and amazing editor at WU; Kim Bullock, my wonderful fellow assistant editor; Kathryn Craft and Vaughn Roycroft and John Kelley and Mike Swift and Jo Eberhardt and Rebeca Schiller and Chris Blake and Heather Webb and Keith Cronin and Tonia Marie Harris and Jeannine Thibodeau and Bernadette Phipps-Lincke…so many…writers on WU I’ve known for years. But what surprised me most was the friends I made that I’d never met online. Wonderful and loving writers all, now amazing friends for life. I could go on and on because “the UnCon” was truly a life-changing event for me, at least in part because as an introvert, I was afraid to go (almost didn’t)…but I challenged my fear…and I did it.

Later in the month, I went to Virginia to see my son and his wonderful girlfriend. While in Charlottesville, my son and I went to Monticello, where we had an amazing tour with one of the best tour guides I’ve ever had anywhere, which of course inspired more story ideas; we read and wrote a lot together (they are both studying for big exams); and we ate a lot of good food. It was a marvelous trip. And…to make the trip, I challenged my fear of flying…I was only slightly terrified, but I did it.

Finally, November is a win because I am reinvigorated in my story. I am looking at it in new ways and realizing how close I am to the (very rough draft) end. I’m hitting December with a positive attitude about writing and life—and that’s bound to translate into a winning December and coming year in word count and in happiness.

How can I ask for any better result from a NaNoWriMo fail?

How was your month? How are you feeling about your writing (and life) as you head into December and the new year? 

Why I Love NaNo More Today than Yesterday


Yesterday’s sky as I drove to the coffee shop to write

I learned something new about myself and my writing today—something I’m not sure I’d ever have learned if it weren’t for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

Okay, I know there are split camps on NaNoWriMo. In fact, you might either love it or hate it. Think it’s a great thing or the dumbest idea on earth. Writing a novel in a month? Why would you (or I for that matter) want to do such a thing? By the way, that used to be my opinion…so hear me out.

Truth is that up until last year (when I finished a draft of a novel during NaNo) I thought it was (a) pretty stupid, (b) pointless, and (c) defeated the entire point of writing (writing well, that is). I used to think that something good—especially something creative—couldn’t be forced. That is, that it really had to be done in its own time, at its own pace—fast or slow.

But now I wonder. Here’s the thing. This morning I wrote a scene I never ever thought of for my novel in progress (I’m a plotter by nature, most of the time, with occasional smatterings of pantser). The scene came out fast and furious, and when I looked up I’d spent not quite an hour writing almost 2000 words. But that’s not what surprised me. I tend to write very quickly (for first drafts). It was the actual scene that was different: the writing style and certainly the content, much different than I’d ever written or considered writing (for this novel or any other fiction project).

After I finished, I remembered having this experience with a scene I wrote during last NaNoWriMo—last year. It was a scene about an LSD trip, a wild car race up into the California foothills in a semi-stolen car, a young afraid woman desperately trying to understand and make sense of a young man’s actions and feelings. It’s a scene in the novel I’m currently querying (that I wrote last year during NaNo). It’s a story that has gone through many revisions since the first draft—and will most likely go through additional revisions because it’s a story worth working on. (The novel was named a semi-finalist in the 2014 William Faulkner-William Wisdom Writing Competition.)

The important takeaway for me is that the scene I wrote last year and the scene I wrote today taught me something important about myself and about NaNoWriMo. It’s not only that I can force myself to write. The first time out of the gate with NaNo, I figured out that I can force myself into the creative zone, the writing zone, pretty much any time I want to. I’m guessing that most writers who write fiction on a regular schedule know this, but here’s the new thing I learned today.

That sometimes I can actually write more creatively when I push myself. Even—and maybe especially—when I’m not “in the mood.” That sometimes, something very creative and very different comes out. A piece of writing that I love, a piece of writing that I’m proud of.

Just one of the reasons I love NaNoWriMo a lot more today than yesterday.

Can you force yourself into the creative zone? Do you write differently—maybe even more creatively sometimes—when you aren’t in the mood?


Do You Believe in Magic?


Back to the coffee shop… more magic!

It’s all coming back to me. Two days into NaNoWriMo and the drama has begun. And it’s not all about the writing. I’m beginning to think NaNo (or birthing a first draft of a novel) is a bit like birthing a baby. You forget all the bad parts—the physical pain, the fears and the feelings it can’t be done, the fear that something will go wrong, the sleepless nights, the anguish of worry—or maybe you’d never be willing to do it again.

Last year I “won” NaNo. That is, I wrote 50,000 words during the month of November: National Novel Writing Month. Actually, to be technically accurate, I wrote more than 50,000 words. And I finished the first draft of a novel.

Last year I also wrote four blogs about my NaNo drama. In one, I detailed how I decided (somewhat spur of the moment) to commit to NaNo. In one I recounted my injury that I was afraid might sideline me from finishing (I shut my hand in the car door)—well actually MEH (My Engineer Husband) typed that one for me. In one I recounted certain NaNo truths (and lies). And in a final one, I talked about how I won.

Today I reread those four blogs. Believe it or not, I’d forgotten all about them—except the one that talked about winning! I forgot I slammed my hand in the car door. I forgot it was a last minute decision. I even forgot how much fun it was. It kind of went by in a whirlwind to be honest.

Yesterday after my first writing session (I wrote only 782 words—and I knew that to finish the 50K I’d need to average about 1600 a day), I was discouraged. I felt pretty sure that my idea wasn’t a very good one. Then this morning I got up early. I made a pot of coffee and started writing. Before I knew it I’d written a thousand words. Then two thousand. The idea still didn’t feel like the best one I’d ever had, but I was inhabiting the world, I was seeing the scenes in my mind. I’d even identified a song that was emblematic of the story. (It wasn’t  one of the ones from my last post. It’s “A Sky Full of Stars” by Coldplay. It’s now on endless loop while I write. Yesterday I heard it on the radio in the car and I had to turn it off—I started to feel my eyes drift closed, started to feel a writing trance coming on…no, really.)

And there’s more. That drama. It’s all falling into place. Like magic.


I forgot when I got up that it was Daylight Savings. In fact, last night I accidentally set my clock ahead instead of back. So did I wake up two hours early?

I made coffee.

I wrote my words (2695 this morning).

I went into the kitchen and a spaghetti squash fell off the counter onto my little toe (as MEH said, “a squash squashed your toe.”

The first snow of the season started to fall.

After I posted a snowy pic on Instagram, I started thinking more about the novel I’m calling TYAAD.

More pieces fell into place, and I fell a little more in love.


What are you doing for the month of November? Do you believe in magic? I do.



p.s. if you’re doing NaNo, too, let’s be buddies! I’m Julia.M.Martin!!

On Starting Again, Again


Because wouldn’t you rather look at this amazing sunrise than a blank screen?

The blank page (er, screen)…

It’s staring me in the face these days.

That’s not entirely true. My alter-ego, mystery-writing self J.M. Maison is busy at work on the next book in The Empty Nest Can Be Murder mystery series (it will be done soon).

But me? Myself? I?

I’m starting over, again. The wheels are churning. I have an idea, several, they’re coming together (I wrote about it here on Writer Unboxed last month…about cooking an idea). I’m hoping this: that I’ll finish the mysterious first draft, then just in time for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month in November) the pieces will have fallen into place for the next novel.

That’s what happened last year. NaNo was a big success for me (you can read my husband’s funny post about it here). I wrote the first draft of a novel (I’m now querying). I love the exciting wind-in-my-hair feeling I got from NaNo. And I think I’m going to do it again.

Okay, that’s all today—I’m off to write. Have a great day everyone!

What about you? Have you ever NaNo-ed? Did you like it? Or not so much?



Magenta is the New Red

photo copy

That’s it: the InkJoy 500 RT!

These days you’ll find me in revision and editing mode. The manuscript I (almost) finished during NaNoWriMo is now just about at first draft stage. I’m doing a read through, and while I do I have my favorite editing pen close at hand: a magenta PaperMate InkJoy 500 RT. No, this is not an endorsement nor an advertisement, and I’m not being paid a penny for saying what I’m about to say.

Still, I’ll say it. I’ve always been a red-pen kind of writer (I can thank Professor Drechsel for this: Newswriting 101). In fact, editing with a red pen was one of my regular habits—like writing at one particular table in one particular coffee shop, listening to the same set of songs prior to and during writing, and wearing a special pair of socks while writing (okay that last one is untrue, but rule of three and all…).

Anyway, last Christmas my son’s lovely girlfriend gave me a pack of PaperMate InkJoy 500 RT pens (assorted colors), and I got particularly attached to said magenta pen. Not to be mistaken for the InkJoy 550 or 100, mind you—something that came up when I tried to replace my favorite pen and I accidentally bought the 100s (this is when I also found out that the RT stands for retractable, thank you kind Staples associate for this key piece of information).

But why was I in need of replacing my favorite pen, you might ask. No, it didn’t run out of ink. I actually left it somewhere quite on purpose, in a particular circumstance. I’m not trying to be overly mysterious or dramatic here, just trying to pique your curiosity enough that you’ll head over to read the whole story on Writer Unboxed… let me add that it involves Nathaniel Hawthorne, probably my favorite author of all time.

Please head over to Writer Unboxed and read: I Left My Heart At Authors Ridge!





Lost in the story



Yesterday I finished. 50,000+ words since November 1st: “WINNER”

That’s what flashed on the screen after I uploaded my words to the site. But the truth is, I won the battle but not the war. (Can you tell I’ve been submerged in a novel that takes place during wartime?) I haven’t typed THE END. I’ve got my NaNo words, but I’m not done with first draft and then I GET TO edit and revise.

And I’m pretty happy about that. Because I’m lost in my story.

I can’t stop thinking about Pat and Marin and Jason and Jimmy and Mrs. Murphy and Ray and Tyler (if that’s the name that sticks). I dreamed about them last night. I wake up early to rush to the computer. I mean early. Some days in the middle of November, my eyes flew open a little before four and no matter what I couldn’t get back to sleep. So I’d get up and write. This morning was slightly better. I slept in until 4:15. (You get the point.)

And I’ve been annoyed and antsy if I can’t write. And agitated.

I don’t know how long the finishing of the first draft will take. Or the revisions after that. I do know that I’ve read a lot of blogs lately that point the fingers at NaNo-ers (like me!). I’ve been surprised. Some have been judgmental. Saying that “no one should write a novel in a month.” Because it won’t be good, that it will degrade the overall quality of what’s out there to read. I don’t know about that. I know that some novels that are well regarded (like The Night Circus, Wool, and Water for Elephants for example) got their start as NaNo novels. And I even read a great post about other (longer ago) writers who wrote speedy fast even before NaNo was around–and their novels are still well regarded. Bradbury, Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson. You can read about them here, it’s pretty cool. I also know that we all write in our own way, our own time.

And I know this, too. NaNoWriMo worked for me. And I’m happy about where it took me. Lost in my story, excited to write (and revise) more. I felt stalled out before I started this month, and my goal was to get writing again, and I did. Some of the results of my experiment truly surprised me, too. As I was writing, some of what I wrote seemed forced and like it wouldn’t “sound right” after I finished, but my fears were unfounded. Some parts I barely remember writing, and that’s always a good sign to me that I entered the writing zone. That surprises me, too (and makes me happy): that I can force the zone.

I can thank NaNoWriMo for that. For helping me bring back the magic and for helping me get lost in my story again. I’m thankful for that.

Happy Thanksgiving (and happy writing!),


From the NaNoWriMo Sidelines

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For the first time ever, MEH (My Engineer Husband) is typing this post for me. You may wonder why… so I’ll tell you. The thing is, I’m not that into sports—and I don’t think know I’ve never written a blog about sports. But if you thought about NaNoWriMo as a sport (stay with me here) then you could think of this blog post as my very first one about sports. Except it’s technically not about sports. It’s about sports injuries. And being on the injured reserved list….and having a pinch writer…if NaNoWriMo was a sport, and I was the injured player.

By now you’re probably wondering where this is going.

As I wrote in last week’s post, I was going gangbusters with NaNo. By early today, in fact, I was scheduled (by the NaNoWriMo website itself) to finish my 50,000 words by November 28th. That was after I wrote 2,000 words this morning, bringing my grand total to 28,907 words since November 1st. Bringing my total WIP to just shy of 53,000 words.

I admit I was getting a little cocky. I thought I had it all sewn up. The win was in my column (or is it corner?). Okay, there’s a reason I haven’t written about sports.

Here’s how it went down. MEH and I made a team decision to run to the health food store to buy…well, I can’t tell you what we were buying because it’s a present for my daughter and she might read this post. Anyway, we had a frustrating trip to the health food store, with some guy stopping in front of us at every turn, with no regard for the rules of the game. I even said “excuse me” a few times when I was trying to pass, but he blocked me every time.

Finally, after paying, we were on our way. I expressed my frustration to MEH who said: “you mean the guy with the blue shirt… yeah, he was in my way all the time too, so annoying.” We got in our car—MEH in the driver’s seat, me in the passenger’s, and as I did something out of the corner of my eye made me turn, flinch, choke, and I noticed a car pulling sharply into the parking place next to ours. I pulled my door closed suddenly, afraid he might hit the car door.

And that’s when it happened: I slammed three of my fingers into the top of the car door as I pulled it closed. OUCH. It’s been a few years since I’ve done anything like that, and let me tell you, it hurt like HELL. I cried, I admit it, and it took me more than a few seconds to tell MEH what happened. When I did, I cradled my injured hand and cried:


Okay, that’s a lie. The first thing out of my mouth was: “D*** S*** F***,” repeat (but I didn’t really say asterisk of course). I’m pretty sure I’d have made a hockey player proud. Although I really did cry. A lot.

When I was finished crying and cursing about Mr. Blue Shirt—who let’s face it was the cause of the problem, not that I’m a sore loser or anything, MEH (being the champ he is) said, “I’ll type for you.”

Then we drove home where—lucky for me—my son was visiting and he (being 3/4 of a doctor and all) examined my fingers and assured me that rest, ice, and Advil was the best treatment. “Rest?” I asked. And that’s when I did cry out “NaNoWriMo” and when my son said “NaNo-what?” And MEH told me again he’d be my pinch-writer.

I took the Advil and promised I’d wait to type until morning, when all would once again be good in NaNoWriMo land.

And that, dear reader, is why MEH is typing this post for me. Which is a good thing because he’s a lot more into sports than I am.

Have you every had a writing related injury that forced you to take a break (or find a pinch writer)?




Rising From the Ashes of the Phoenix


The Phoenix by Philip Pryke (Flickr Commons)

My life and writing schedule have been in a bit of a chaotic mess lately. After MEH (My Engineer Husband) lost his job, and I stopped going to the coffee shop every morning to write, I stopped writing. Well, I wrote a couple of blogs, some blog comments, a handful of tweets, maybe 500 words a week of fiction. But for four weeks I felt like I was at a standstill. I drank coffee with MEH every morning, we chatted, I helped him look for jobs to apply to, I ironed his shirts, I gardened and cleaned the yard, I looked at the fall leaves…in short I puttered. No, worse. I floundered. I foundered too. (I get those words mixed up a lot but this time I looked them up, and both are true.)

Then came November. And NaNoWriMo. On October 31st I told MEH I was going for it. Thing is, I’m about 25,000 words into the current WIP, and I just made a mental breakthrough of sorts—I finally figured out the structure the book will take. November 1st I wrote about 400 words and then the power went out. We went to a coffee shop in town, but not the one I used to go to every day. We had to charge our computers, we told ourselves, but the truth is we were both floundering. MEH had gotten bad news about a job he’d applied to, “a sure thing,” the headhunter told him. And I—well, I was foundering.

I talked to the barista; “S” is a writer, too, working on an MFA. She and I talk writing and books whenever I go to that particular coffee shop. I told her I was thinking I was going for the NaNo. “NaNo?” S asked. “OH! NaNo! She pointed over to the coffee shop bulletin board: front and center and practically the only thing on the board, in large cut out letters was an announcement about the National Novel Writing Month. She wasn’t familiar with it until she saw the board, she said.

“Yeah, I’m going for it,” I said laughing nervously and looking over my shoulder at my computer next to MEH. I went back and wrote another 400 (or so) words.

The next day was Saturday. And I wasn’t so sure. Would I write? Was my resolve flagging? After all, I hadn’t really written much anyway. November 2nd and I was behind—at least in my own mind. 800 or so words of 50,000 hardly seemed to constitute a real start. I read some blogs, wrote some comments (do those count, by the way? I’m not wondering, it’s MEH—he asked), then I came to Lisa Kramer’s blog (Woman Wielding Words) and she was writing about NaNo…that she was doing it. I left a noncommittal comment, something about using NaNo for motivation (not admitting what I’d told S and MEH, that I was doing it), and left it at that. Later that day I went back to see if Lisa responded—she had. She suggested I should go for it, for the camaraderie…I thought about writing back and saying I was. But then I thought about the 800 words… the road ahead. My chaotic life.

Fast forward to this morning, way too early. In bed. Daylight savings gets me every time, and I woke up at 4:00 a.m. for good. I did what anyone would do… checked my Bloglovin feed and started reading blogs on my iPhone. I know, it’s a bad thing, but I do it.

The first one I read was the Debutante Ball. News flashes… one of them was an announcement by Natalia Sylvester, that she was going for it, at the last minute she’d decided to do NaNo. If I wasn’t fully awake yet, that woke me. #NaNoWriMo and #WordMarathon, she said. Check in, she said. I thought about my 800 words (I didn’t write at all over the weekend), I thought about the chaos in my life, but more, I thought about writing and how much I missed it, how much I loved the thought of checking in everyday with Lisa and with Natalia and with the other 267,777 people who have signed up, and I decided it’s just what I need.

I’m in.

How about you? Are you in? Have you ever done NaNo? Have you ever floundered (or foundered)? What did you do about it? Find me on Twitter @wordsxo, checking in at #NaNoWriMo and #WordMarathon.