The November Chronicles: How to Lose in 30 Days

At the beginning of this month, I had intended to write a blog post every day. I wanted to talk about the process of writing during National Novel Writing Month, all the steps on the way to completing a fifty-thousand word challenge. I was going to have a grand time doing it.

Now, it’s almost midnight, very late in in the month. I’m losing the challenge by too large a margin to even dream of making it up in the next two days, and I wish more that I had posted every day.

As much as writers talk about how to win this contest, it might have been useful to see what it looks like to lose.

The Preparation

I spent the better part of two years mapping out the story I wanted to write. The entire plot is laid out on my wall in ten different colors of sticky notes, with a green piece of yarn connecting them all to remind me of the order. It’s a mess and it’s beautiful. I’ve looked at it every day, added to it in fits and starts, enjoyed just having it hanging there. When the first of November rolled around, I was sure I knew what to write.

The Beginning

I started at midnight on Halloween, as I always do.

I like midnights. There’s a brilliance to them that has less to do with starlight and the overnight chill and more to do with heartbeats and drumbeats and the things we do to fill the dark. I like the excitement of staying up too late, the space that I have to shape things before sunlight reveals the exact shape of them. It’s just a romantic notion, and I know other people would rather get up with the sun and revel in the daylight.

But this year, I had three thousand words before those people even woke up, and that’s how I like to kick off NaNoWriMo. (Yeah, I’m winking at you…)

It wasn’t until the second day that I started to feel how poorly I understood my characters. I had given them all names and ages and jobs, but I couldn’t say more about them, and within a few thousand words, I could feel it. I was trying to carve out a specific story with some very blunt tools.

I only stayed ahead of schedule for a third day, and then I started to fall behind a little at a time. Continue reading

The November Chronicles: Day One

I should not be awake right now. I’ve only gotten five and a half hours of sleep, and my alarm promised I could sleep until noon. And yet, I woke up, and I’m terribly excited that National Novel Writing Month has started.

I use Post-It Notes for all my novel planning needs. Cryptic instructions from the past are oh-so-inspiring. Here's the one I've been referencing most today.  (via

I use Post-It Notes for all my novel planning needs. Cryptic instructions from the past are oh-so-inspiring. Here’s the one I’ve been referencing most today.  (via

Current word count: 2,155
Status: Ahead of schedule, sleepy, and consuming too many Halloween Kit-Kats

I started writing last night at midnight. My boyfriend accepted that pleasantly, even though it meant skipping out on his Halloween plans. One of my coworkers thought I was a little crazy to deprive myself of sleep. My friend on the East Coast, who started writing three hours ahead of me, was still up writing when I headed for bed at three-thirty a.m.

It was a good start.

I am already very aware that the editing process is going to take a long time: as usual, everything is blunter than I would like it to be. I use the same words too often. I’m writing dialogue without feeling like I even know some of the characters who are talking. And yet, the bones of a first chapter now exist, and I’m happy with the raw material that I’m building.

I’ve never been one of those writers who starts a project feeling like the writing is running smooth as a cat. I don’t hit a sweet stride until about halfway through. Right now, it’s too painstaking, too much like the tedium of setting up massive lines of dominos to knock over later in a beautiful clatter.

But I love knowing that that’s coming.

Today, I’m hoping for two thousand more words, and a few more sentences to point at and say “That’s still going to be in the polished story.”

How did YOU kick off November?

The November Chronicles: What Are You Writing?

A few weeks ago, one of my livelier coworkers asked me what I was writing this November. I didn’t want to tell him that that was one of my least favorite questions to hear.

It’s a simple question, formed out of one of the more basic human kindnesses (interest) and yet, the answer is never simple. My initial fall into writerly angst (“I really only know what I hope it is!”) is right out. A long answer always seems ungainly and not actually what was requested. The short answer, “A story,” is, at best, snarky, and at worst, an unintentional request for the asker to step backward out of my life and off the planet. Crafting something in the middle is almost as much work as writing the whole story down.

I told my coworker I was retelling Cinderella. I told him I was going to make the fairy godmother the main character.

He asked if I was going to show more of her beneficiaries.

“Sort of,” I said. “She’s sort of half a Cinderella herself, and then there’s another half Cinderella.”

He stopped, stared. “She’s her own fairy godmother?”


He cocked his head. As if I had just set the world at a slant, and he was just trying to maintain proper perspective. “How can she do that?”

I don’t remember how I answered. I remember thinking that if I could explain that in a sentence, then I wouldn’t need to write the book. I also remember feeling a bit like the town idiot, like maybe this isn’t the brilliant idea that I think it is, and maybe I should step back, back, backward off the planet.

But this November I am writing a story about Cinderella’s fairy godmother. She’s also Cinderella and she’s another Cinderella’s best friend. And I’m writing a story where it makes sense that Prince Charming would go on a hunt around the kingdom for his “true love,” testing eligible maidens with a lost shoe. And there are no talking mice, no actual magic, and lots and lots of financial planning. I’m very excited about it.

Any other questions this month will be answered with, “Right now, I’m calling it Miscellaneous Chihuahua Noises.

That should explain everything.

Legal Theft Flash Fiction: Doe Eyes (597 words)

The Captain’s favorite detective had just staggered out of his office. Drunk. Again.

Johnston was halfway through rolling her eyes. She had stopped snorting behind her hand months ago. Bastow was trying to remember what time the Captain had gone out for lunch. It seemed like it had been almost an hour, but they might still have time to shove the idiot back into his office. Hill was reconsidering the merits of doing his work in some other – any other – office. Weyman was just trying to finish booking the dirtied-up cowboy in high heels and handcuffs sitting in front of her.

And he walked in.

Doe eyes and a leather jacket paid for with Daddy’s money. Smooth hands and cheeks kissed with the cold. His hair was a charming tangle of curls. Even the drunk detective hesitated, blinked. And then, at the same time, they both said:

“I need to speak with the head of the Organized Crime division.”

Continue reading

Legal Theft Flash Fiction: Fog Lift (498 words)

The basin of Aldret’s harbor was overflowing with fog, buried in the shifting weight of the seasons. Summer had faded. Heavy fall had stepped into its place, with all the threat and promise of heavier winter pressing in behind. The air was stiff even while the wind wasn’t bending bone, and the world seemed to have shrunk. The sharp tips of all three of the Catis‘ masts were cut off in a sky hung too low.

Tamra waited at the rail of the upper deck as the ship drifted into port. She had gone still, minutes or hours ago, hands relaxed, stance balanced against the roll of the deck. She measured a long breath in and a long breath out, dumb in an unreasoned belief that her steadiness mattered.

The water sighed.  Every echo hid in the damp air. The timbers creaked. The Catis‘ canvas was bound up in silence and the hull eased through the water, heavy and careful.

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The November Chronicles: How Do You NaNo?

Since putting up my last blog post, I’ve gotten a handful of messages asking how to participate  in National Novel Writing Month.

Here’s the basics:

  • Write 50,000 words (or more)
  • Start any time after 12:00 a.m. on November 1st.
  • Finish any time before 11:59 p.m. on November 30th.
  • Work on entirely new material: a novel which has no previous drafts and no word count before November 1st (outlining is fine).
  • Follow all the rules above, or join the gloried ranks of the NaNoWriMo cheaters, who dare to… do whatever they feel like.

It’s not that complicated. It’s just difficult. And exciting. And sleep-depriving in a way that even caffeine can’t fix by the end of the month. At the finish, you have the rawest first draft you’ve probably ever written, with a handful of golden pages you wouldn’t trade away for love.

Continue reading

The November Chronicles: Episode 1

Summer is over.

It might seem like I’m running late, making announcements like that at the end of October, but my slice of California does a poor job showing the changing seasons. The desert is the same half-rusted brown all year round, and I’ll sweat in the afternoon’s heat whether it’s January or July. Last week, though, I decided it was time to start keeping a coat in the back seat of my car for when I leave work after dark and step outside into the sudden, sweet cold.

I am thrilled.

It’s Fall now. Halloween is a week away. Thanksgiving is coming. Christmas feels less and less distant as the decorations sparkle in stores. And National Novel Writing Month starts in nine days.

I love it.

This will be my ninth year competing: attempting to write 50,000 words at a breakneck pace inside thirty days. My first year, I won spectacularly with more than a week to spare. I loved the novel I wrote, and I hit 70,000 words smoothly and gleefully. But I was seventeen years old. I was homeschooled. I had already been accepted at my first choice college. I think I talked my mother into letting me start the holiday break a couple weeks early. And I just wrote.

This year looks so different: In a lot of ways, it will be my first adult NaNoWriMo. It’s definitely the first time I need to make rent and car payments while writing my butt off. First time with a full time job. First time with a significant other. He’ll probably want proof of life from time to time.

I’m more excited than I have been since that very first year. I want to win more than I have in ages. And I’m probably going to sleep less than a giraffe on espresso (look it up).

I’m trying to drag as many of my friends as possible into this mud-happy mess with me. Might as well drag you in too.

This Is The Kind of Thing I Might Delete In Daylight

My Sophomore year of college, I took a creative writing class which required me to write poetry. As much time as I have spent laying words on paper, I’ve never figured out how to configure meter, how to play with sound, how to build a rhyme that does anything more than follow the letter of a law. Instead, I spent half that semester simply trying to bottle feelings, because that seemed like something a poem might be.

It didn’t take long for my professor to look across the critique table and kindly, quietly wonder if I was really writing those poems for an audience. “Maybe,” she said, “This is still just for you.”

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Gwendoogle – Ask Me About Transylvania

GwendoogleAnswers served with a clock I didn’t realize was ticking

Annie C. searched: Where did you go?
I was prepared to answer this question much more blithely before I realized that I last posted more than a month ago. For instance:

Most recently I went to Laguna Beach. It was wonderful, as well as a little surreal as an East Coast transplant. It seems more like a location on television than anything in reality. I got very sunburnt, because I am a walking piece of white bread. Thanks for asking!

But after forty-seven days of unexplained absence, I owe you more than that. As much fun as it would be to tell you all about my undercover mission to Transylvania privately funded by a paranoid, philanthropic billionaire…

Honestly, Annie, I didn’t go anywhere. I sort of went everywhere. Five days a week, I now hold down a job which I love. Slightly less often than that, I go out with friends to see a movie or knock down as many bowling pins as possible in two hours. A lot of nights, I’ve been getting my new boyfriend caught up on Game of Thrones and Firefly, while he thinks up what he’s going to ask me to watch in return. I’ve gone to the beach, San Diego, and Disney Land. I’ve had faraway friends drop by for drinks and nostalgia and inspiration. I’ve made plans to see family in the very near future.

All in all, with a shiny new car and a fully functioning driver’s license, I have rediscovered my old College Days problem of being an extroverted writer: I crave company, and need to protect my writing time from my own tendency to burst out of the house at every opportunity.

I am starting to develop rules for myself:

  1. Don’t go more than three days without three good hours of writing time. You won’t be happy.
  2. Don’t sacrifice good sleep to see friends. You need to be well-rested to sit still and write. Caffeine is only halfway effective.
  3. Reading time is essential. But is not writing time.
  4. You can leave the house to write. There is no reason to feel like a shut-in when Starbucks has delightful outside tables in the shade and your new home in Southern California is always breezy.
  5. Don’t get sunburnt. It’s not like it inhibits writing, but it is strangely distracting.
  6. Remember that while you love writing, and it makes you happy, yes, sometimes you run away from it, because it’s hard and seeing the new Captain America movie with good friends is easy.
  7. Remember how much you hate running away. And how good it feels to kick butt.
  8. Kick butt. Kick all the butts. (Apply this rule sparingly in other areas of life, please.)
  9. Make your own rules, and don’t feel weird that you have to drag yourself into alone time when so many other writers are dragging themselves out to be social. All writers are weird.
  10. Get carried away. But maybe not with this list, which has gone on too long, and is not actually productive writing, you guppy.

TL;DR – I’m doing that adult thing where I learn to budget time, take care of myself, be productive, and stay rested. As much as I say I love learning, I’m being pretty slow about this lesson. But I haven’t forgotten you. Don’t forget about me.

Any other extroverted writers out there?

The Scheherazade Achievement


Let me tell you a true story.

Once upon a time, in a land twenty-five hundred miles away, I chased a whim. Well, more than one – many more than one, because that’s a good hobby – but I’m thinking of one in particular. I decided to post on this blog every day. I missed some days, but kept track of my consecutive successes, and worked hard not to have to start the count over.

I posted for three hundred days in a row, aiming for a whole year, before I purposefully got lost in Wyoming. There is internet somewhere in Wyoming, but not in the mountains, in bear country, where I had to lock my shampoo in an air-tight container to keep from getting large, furry visitors in my tent. I started over.

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