Impressions of NaNoWriMo from a First Timer #2

The buzz around National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo or henceforth NaNo) is that Week 2 is one of the hardest weeks to finish. Participants who drop out are more likely to do it in Week 2, and I have to admit I’m feeling the pressure.

I’ve done my best to write every day. Some days are far lower than the 830 of Week 1, but they’re words on a page. (After I come out of November, I’ll let you know if “words on a page” is something I’m happy to have.)

The biggest hurdle for the challenge of writing 50,000 words in 30 days came last Thursday. It was my first real challenge of balancing writing and life. You see, I intern at a local museum on Thursdays  and it happened that that Thursday I started a new project to fix old files by adding periods and deleting unnecessary letters to the file names all day.

quill-driver: noun. a person whose job involves writing, especially of a repetitious or tedious nature; a hack writer; a clerk.

From Oxford English Dictionary

When I sat down to write that night for NaNo, I was surprised at how frustrated I felt after adding periods for 5 ½ hours, and, of course, my frustration came out in my writing.

Oh, those poor characters. The tone of the story changed from serious to farcical. I turned the main character and her friends into fools banging their swords against a castle wall believing they could break it down with their steely might. Their pantomimes would have fit perfectly with the exploits of Don Quixote.

To top it off, even if they did manage to get through the wall, they would have gone in a completely different direction than where the story led. As I have learned from NaNo, I am not a person who writes by the seat of her pants for long works. If I expect to write 2,500 words a day to meet a quota, then I have to pre-plan or pre-write to get into the character’s mindset.

After writing 728 words on Day 7 and reflecting on what needed to be written for the next day, I decided to scrap the scene. Now NaNo’s premise stipulates that a writer needs to quell the inner-editor to keep moving forward and win the grand prize of a finished novel, but in all good faith I couldn’t get past that scene. So, I broke the rules, rewrote the 728 words on Day 8, and managed to put down an additional 415 for that day. In total, I wrote 1143 words on Day 8.

I chose to keep the 728 words logged in to NaNo’s word counter because I didn’t want to erase the record of what I had learned that day. However, my melancholy at seeing 415 for Day 8 held up the wind I was sailing on from Week 1. I felt less motivated with each passing day to sit and write. Instead I took to my family to occupy the time I would have normally cranked out a thousand words or worked on my copy editing certification.

Come Monday without having moved very far in my word counts, I decided to go back to what had worked before and plan out the rest of the month to see what needed to be done. November was packed because I had a set of previous commitments that blocked out Week 4 from my writing schedule. As a result, I needed to complete the coursework and submit the final exam for my copy editing class a week early in Week 3, the next assignment for the Institute of Children’s Literature (ICL) was also due in Week 3, several mini-projects needed completion before November ended and NaNo also needed to be mostly done by Week 3.

It was a lot for one month and I was out of practice for hitting personal deadlines. But I relooked at the time left in November and, if I asked for an extension for the ICL assignment and shifted my writing times, succeeding at NaNo and my other November projects would still be perfectly doable.

I wanted NaNo and November to be a challenge to see what I’m capable of as a writer, and I’m finally writing every single day. It’s hard, but I’m writing. Who could ask for more?

Here’s my daily word count for NaNo so far:

Day 1: 2960

Day 2: the 830

Day 3: 3023

Day 4: 2371

Day 5: 2017

Day 6: 3211

Day 7: 728

Day 8: 415

Day 9: 1656

Day 10: 509

Day 11: 667

Day 12: 2703

Total: 21090

~ Until Tomorrow

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Impressions of NaNoWriMo from a First Timer #1

On the first day of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo or henceforth NaNo), I was pumped. I had been planning most of October in a purple spiral notebook just how I was going to capitalize on my great story idea. I had ¾ of the plot outlined, all of the characters had first and last names, all of the quotes from the poem the characters would be analyzing were selected, and the locations had names. It wasn’t my normal routine, but waiting for NaNo to start was too agonizing.

You see, I’d been missing the presence of other writers. It is a lonely profession sitting in front of a computer all day, and the prospect of writing with other equally zealous people was too much of a temptation not to get started.

I do know the rules: “no writing any of your actual story beforehand,” and I was keeping to that rule.

What you will find by going to the NaNo website is that NaNo encourages pre-planning, and I needed to write down my ideas before they got too out-of-hand, so I did. I pre-planned. Perhaps a little too enthusiastically, but I pre-planned.

File:Notebook blue.png

On the first day, November 1st, NaNo sent out an e-mail of someone’s blog post suggesting participants try the Reverse or Backwards NaNo Approach.

To finish by November 30th with how NaNo is normally setup, participants write 1667 words every day. Reverse NaNo follows the idea that participants write the most amount of words at the beginning of the month when motivation is at its peak, then decrease the word count every day until you only have 1 word to type on November 30th.

Like I was saying, I was feeling a lot of good energy going into my first NaNo so I thought, Why not? I can write 3,300 words in a day with what I’ve been outlining.

Turns out I almost did. I wrote 2960 words the first day. I wrote 1700 at home and about 1200 at the NaNo write-in at a local Starbucks. It was good. I was delirious, but it was good.

On a side note, I’m pretty sure the spaciness at the end of Day 1 came from hunger. I’ve never written that many words in one sitting – except for finals week at UCI – but I’m pretty sure my constitution can take it. What I am going to do differently is eat a large meal before the next write-in and bring a snack with me. I’m thinking Cheez-Its. I need the crunch factor.

Oh, and write-ins are a great resource, but I’ll go more in-depth about those in a different post.

Day 2. At the end of Day 2, I had produced 830 words. Yep. That’s it. 830. No explanation.

I was worried that I would be following a seesaw pattern after Day 3.

Here is the breakdown so far:

Day 1 = 2960

Day 2 = the 830

Day 3 = 3,023

Now it is Day 4 and I’m ready for a challenge. For me, after I went over the standard word count of 1667, I found a flow I wasn’t expecting. It’s kind of like the story grabs you and you hang on for dear life as it unfolds before you. It could also have been the adrenaline of going above and beyond NaNo’s expectations. I can be competitive.

However that flow came about, participating in NaNo has been a great learning tool, and hopefully all of the participants of National Novel Writing Month will become better writers for it.

~ Until Tomorrow

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Two No Shaves

When I was first introduced to No Shave November on Thanksgiving (late November) a few years back by my two normally clean shaven cousins, they arrived at the family gathering with straggly brown beards.Their reasoning for the sudden face hair was to promote awareness for cancer, which they called No Shave November.

At the time, I was excited to learn about a new trend in hair. From what we discussed while laying out the forks and napkins, I had the impression that the group was promoting awareness for cancer, and who can say no to that? As it turns out, however, that’s not the only way you can participate.

Since No Shave November was approaching and I had this handy little blog, I started compiling research for a new post and came across a group with the title “No Shave November.”

Looking at the official rules from this group’s website, their goals sounded askew from what I was expecting.Their take goes a little something like this: “The goal of Noshember (No Shave November) is not so much the contest or even the ritual of shaving, but rather the shear laziness of being unkempt and rough together for an entire month.”

Where was the part about cancer? And the goal sounded more philosophical. Take the language they used “of being unkempt and rough together for an entire month.” It sounded like J.M. Berry’s Peter Pan or Lady Gaga’s I’m as Free as My Hair. Setting aside Peter Pan’s idea to never grow up, the goal for Noshember reminded me of the untamable nature of Peter Pan. In this case, Noshember was upending the civilized convention of grooming.

So, here I had an image of No Shave November as a group of people who were reaching outside tame civilization to recapture some illusive white stag of freedom through the use of their hair. I was confused. None of what I’d found had anything to do with sticking it to cancer.Then I came across this site for a No-Shave November. Their goal read: “The goal of No-Shave November is to grow awareness by embracing our hair, which many cancer patients lose, and letting it grow wild and free.  Donate the money you usually spend on shaving and grooming for a month to educate about cancer prevention, save lives, and aid those fighting the battle.”

There it was. I was missing the hyphen.

If you get lost looking for the non-profit, cancer awareness No-Shave November, look for their logo of a bowler hat over a moustache and goatee. You’ll also find the American Cancer Society logo at the bottom of their page that links to that site where you can send your donations.

Though I’m not participating this year and am not officially connected with any No Shave November group, last year I wanted to research how more surface coverage of hair would affect the way I saw myself. It was an experiment tied to the question of how it would feel to live in a culture that promoted rather than discouraged hairiness. I hadn’t found the Noshember version at that point, but the results would probably be identical.

After a month of not shaving, I found that it was nice to be lazy in the shower and to use the extra time to practice writing. It was cleansing to shave again.

The extra hair had felt restrictive like there was a barrier between my body and the interactions with the physical world. It couldn’t have been a thought about appearance as a restriction. It was more physical than that. When it comes down to my appearance, if I am not trying to follow convention, I don’t pay much mind to what others think. My value lies in something higher.

I suppose then it is the intention of why you groom that matters. Inclusion. To communicate. At its core, hair is a language used to ensure some form of survival. Spiritual survival. Physical survival. Emotional survival. Take your pick.

Since I started this project of studying hair, I have often come to the point of saying, “It’s just hair. Why put in so much effort?” Yet, how much does hair reflect your identity, you’re emotional state and isn’t your awareness of being alive something far more than just hair?

If you want to use November to promote awareness for a cause like my cousins who proudly sported their beards for the fight against cancer, go for it! Or test how hair is wrapped into your sense of self.

To participate, simply don’t shave – anything. Actually, the official rules for both Noshember and the cancer awareness No-Shave November say don’t shave your facial or leg hair. Deciding to not shave the other areas where hair grows is a personal preference.

Don’t forget to check out PQ’s new Pinterest page. This month I’ll be focusing on the Beard and Moustache boards in honor of No Shave November.

~ Until Tomorrow

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PQ’s Got Pinterest!

Just added to PQ is a new link to the Pinned with a Quill Pinterest Page, and it’s all about hair!

There are lots of boards to see like Disney Princesses, Victorian Hair, Curly Hair and the most popular board, Braids. Come check them out by clicking on the link below. You can also access the PQ’s Pinterest with the blue Pinterest link on the right-hand sidebar.

In honor of No Shave November, I will be building up the Beard and Moustache boards for the month of November 2013.

Leave suggestions for which boards you want to see grow for next month in the comments sections of this post.

~Until Tomorrow

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Coming in November 2013

Coming Soon

I beg for your patience. I am in the process of completing a few new projects for Pinned With A Quill (PQ), new graphics and am working on a novel.

November is going to be Big! Here’s what to expect:Headshots 1 031

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4-3-2-1 Remain Seated While the Ride is in Motion

For those building their professional writing careers, there are times when you don’t have any choice except to write. You have the need to write. You need to make a living to write. You might as well make a living by writing.

     Enter the Writing Profession.


We writers who live in the 21st century have the luxury of social media and the internet, which adds a couple of twists to the ride of the professional writer. Blogs, Facebook,  and e-mail free us up from having to cram into one spot like New York or London.  Writers can mill about wherever we see fit.

However, the freedom to write from anywhere does not mean we should isolate ourselves. Writing isn’t a 100% solitary process. A writer writes for somebody, and we need to converse with the outside world so that our words can be made accessible.  It’s how goals are accomplished and how books are brought into physical form.

     Enter Deadlines.

We all have them. They are part of the hair pin turns of the Writing Roller Coaster. As you would with any roller coaster, lean into the turns.

Don’t leave your keyboard (or pen and paper). Train your mind to get used to the centrifugal force of writing to a deadline.

Now I’m not saying that even if you have a routine that works for you, you must change and follow my advice. However, if you ever find yourself with a blank page for too many days, experiment with these four strategies.

     Enter the Four

  1.  If it is not a visual that motivates or inspires the particular story your writing, move it to the side. Get it out of your peripheral vision.

Clear off the piles of papers and unshelved books around you or go to a place where you can work in an uncluttered environment like your local library – so long as the presence of your fellow library users isn’t too much of a distraction. Get yourself in a physical location where all you have in front of you is your writing tools: pen and paper/computer, research notes, and outlines. Create a clean slate so that your work and the deadline are all that you see.

When I’m on a crunch for time, there are very few mementos that stay on my desk (the place where I write). One of those objects that does stay is an empty bottle of Guava Bundaberg soda bottle I got from my local Old Towne. The bottle reminds me that like the soda’s expiration date the clock is ticking on the first draft of my novel. These kinds of visuals are helpful and shouldn’t cause major distractions.

2.  Items like food and drinks are distractions.

Nourish your body either before or after your writing, not during.

Personally, I like to eat after, because I’ve come to find that I write best in the morning.

If I write late at night, then my sleep time is taken up by processing what I just finished writing instead of languidly creating new ideas for the next day. My brain can’t catch up, and I end up with inarticulate sentences. To avoid the loss of a writing day, I prefer to write in the morning directly after hopping out of bed and brushing my teeth.

Eating right after waking makes me think about what I’m eating, how I’m going to make it, and how long it’s going to take until I can shove it my mouth and get to my computer. It saves time and reduces mental distraction if I eat after my writing time.

If you find that eating beforehand enriches your mental faculties, then go for it. Just don’t eat while you’re writing. The one exception would be Agatha Christie who ate apples for inspiration, but she’s a rare breed. Remember time is short, and the more words you can get on the page in a sitting, the closer you will be to your goal.

3.   I don’t see anything wrong with looking up the definition of a word while you’re writing. I know a lot of writers say don’t stop the flow. Save definitions for revisions. But I gotta tell you, it drives me crazy to the point of distraction when I’m not sure the word I’ve used is the one I wanted.

I keep the lookups to a minimum (~2 definitions per hour). In this way, I satisfy my curiosity and I can better see where I’m going for the next sentence or – in some cases – the development of a character.

After all, you’re not really writing sentences, you’re echoing the thoughts of a character. And a character is a representation of life, but not actual life itself. (Another topic for another day.)

4. Lastly, keep yourself in your chair/bench/ground. Whatever environment you’ve chosen, stay there. Unless there is an emergency and you hear a voice over the intercom and the house lights come on, don’t unbuckle yourself. The words will trickle in. They may not follow your desired plan, but they will come.


Even if you have to put your head between your knees – something I’ve done occasionally.


Think of it like Disney’s Haunted Mansion. How many times have you been stuck listening in the gloomy darkness to ghouls clawing at their locked doors or the barbershop quartet singing, “When we ghosts come out to socialize?” The frequency of the stops is part of the experience. And you know that if you wait your buggy car will continue so long as you don’t attempt to exit the car causing an even greater and unnecessary delay.

The Haunted Mansion ride stopping isn’t an emergency, and – more times than not – neither is you’re inability to write a sentence. It’s part of the ride.

Stay in your seat, but Actively Wait.

Reread what you’ve written or write a sentence about what you want to write. Even if it’s nonsensical, write it down. Run through definitions in your head that relate to your story’s mood/tone or to the personality of your main character. You’re dealing with an abstract medium, don’t expect it to play fair.

A blank page doesn’t mean you have an empty mind.

The sentences will come and so will the paragraphs and the pages, but you have to give them the opportunity to come. Remain seated.

Words, let’s face it, have a horrible sense of humor – especially when you’re on a deadline.  Don’t let the writing process drag out any further than it must. Let yourself write and enjoy the ride, stops and all.

That’s all I have for you today. Keep writing and feel free to leave a comment below on ways that you keep yourself on task when crunched for time.

                                                                                                                                                                ~Until Tomorrow

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Wedding Dialogue: Father-Daughter Dance

Over the long weekend, I watched one of my very dear friends and first college roommate walk down the aisle.

bell flower 1

It was a bit of a trick to find the place since the hall was in the mountains and our GPS kept sending us through neighborhoods with unnecessarily windy roads. The wedding we witnessed, though, was well worth the scenic route.

By we, I mean my second college roommate, Ellen, who carpooled up with me and who brought along her invaluable and slightly chaotic GPS.

The ceremony was held outside in front of a pair of old pine trees, and my roommate looked lovely in her floor-length bridal gown.

Of course, Ellen couldn’t help but reminisce about her own wedding she’d had almost a year ago now. -Man, that doesn’t seem so long ago.

She told me about the conversation she’d had with her father during the Father-Daughter dance. Apparently, he had spent a good portion of their dance on the random topic of a trailer he planned on buying.

While I watched my other roommate later swaying with her bow-tie wearing father during her Father-Daughter dance, I wondered what they were talking about. Probably not a trailer?

I’ve been a guest and –in my younger, pixie years- a flower girl to many a wedding, but my two roommates made me curious: What kind of conversation would I write for a Father-Daughter dance scene?

The dance is essentially an intimate 2-3 minute moment between father and daughter. Some might call it a right-of-passage, but it really depends on your perspective.

And that is the fun of a wedding. It is all about the relationship and personality of the bride and groom, which is why there are so many ways to plan a wedding. For the writer, that means there are just as many ways to write one down.

So, brainstorm.

If you are writing a wedding scene, don’t feel that you need to have every moment be romantic and life changing. Stagger the conversations. Like with my friend Ellen, talking about trailers is perfectly natural in a wedding so long as it follows how the character thinks.

Oh, and make sure the food is good. You’re not paying for it so your characters might as well profit from your imagination.

~Until Tomorrow

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