If nothing else, my writing has introduced the opportunity for family comedy around the dinner table … at my expense.  My husband and three kids are true Family Guy fanatics (don’t judge) (On second thought – please DO judge).  Have you seen that episode where Stewie Griffin (the baby) teases Brian (the dog) about his novel?  Well lately the same scene plays itself out in similar fashion in our household:

Mom:  Did you all get your homework done today?

DS1:   How you, uh, how you comin’ on that novel you’re working on? Huh? Been on that computer for hours, huh? Anything yet?

Mom:  Pass the salt and pepper, please.

DD:  Yeah, really mom?.  Got a, got a nice little story you’re working on there? That big novel you’ve been working on for three years? Huh?

Mom:  Did anyone take out the garbage today?

DS2:  Got a, got a compelling protagonist? Yeah? Huh? Got a twist brewing there? Huh? Huh?

Mom:   Anyone feed the dogs, yet?

DH:  Nice little plot coming together?  Compelling story line?  Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl? Boy loses girl?  Then what? Yeah? Yeah? No?

Mom:  I don’t suppose the Brontës endured this at dinner.

All:   Who??

I read a posting over at WriteOnEdge which has inspired me to reflect upon one of my failures of 2011 (just one, mind you; I know you don’t have all day): 

In a flash of enthusiastic short-sightedness, I registered for NaNoWriMo 2011.  National Novel Writing Month – or NaNoWriMo as it is more commonly referred to – came in like a gush and went out with a burp.  For those not in NaNoWriMo-know, it’s an international online creative writing event which carries the tag line “Thirty days and thirty nights of literary abandon”.  The purpose is to write a 50,000 word fiction novel in the thirty days during the month of November (and not the same word 50,000 times, either).  My project was to be a work initiated on November 1st, not something previously published or previously initiated like a work-in-progress, and completed by midnight November 30th.  Quantity is stressed over quality – that’s what the editing process is for, right?  I would be declared a winner by verifying my word count on the national site and achieving the 50,000 word mark.  Lest you doubt NaNoWriMo’s popularily, the project started with about 28 participants in 1999 and grew to over 200,000 in 2010.   And while a whole lot of crap gets written in those 30 days by a lot of people, one of my favourite books, Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, was initially written as a NaNoWriMo project.  So it’s impact as a useful project can also not be underestimated.  Let’s just call it a anti-procrastination project, and the intent is to write daily without inhibition, self-doubt or self-criticism. 

Well, in my case, I was unable to abandon everything else in my life in order to write without abandon.

I dutifully created my profile page on the organizations main website and quickly jotted down my novel’s plot:

Anna learns that a sapphire and diamond brooch gifted to her by her late-great-grandmother was actually once owned by a young Jewish girl from Poland. She has also learned from an aging great-aunt suffering from Alzheimer’s that the brooch may have left this girl’s hands in an unsuccessful attempt to bribe an S.S. official from deporting her family. Follow Anna as she traces the ownership of this brooch backward through time on an emotional and physical journey, during which many skeletons come to life.

I know. I suppose it sounds an awful lot like Sarah’s Key and half a dozen other Holocaust story plots these days, but I have had this idea in my head for about 5 years.  Furthermore, I was bequeathed a lovely old-fashioned but feminine brooch from my maternal great-grandmother with my paternal great-grandfather’s initials on it… which is really weird when you think about it. Anyway, I was just fantasizing about it one day and came up with this idea for a historical fiction.

I didn’t get too far with Anna’s story during NaNoWriMo.  Anna got discouraged in her search for the truth, about the same time I got discouraged with my lack of a chapter outline,my  lack of real character development, my lack of other compelling characters , and my zero research.  I naively assumed not only would the words just “flow”, but that the opportunity to let them just flow without abandon, would just “happen”.  I quickly realized that if I was to continue writing an average of 1,667 words a day (a little more than 3 single-spaced typewritten pages) for 30 days, my Anna story was indeed going to turn out complete garbage.  Lesson learned, and thankfully only after about 8,000 crappy words.

The truth is, it’s way more fun to talk about writing a book than to actually write a book – and infinitely easier.  It’s also way more fun to be the brunt of family jokes about writing a book than actually writing a book – this part’s not so easy.

Nevertheless, this now is an official work-in-progress (baby steps, right?). As I initiate another writing project near and dear to my heart in preparation for a writer’s conference in April, I take to heart what I have learned from my failed deferred NaNoWriMo experience and my renewed commitment to writing:

Step one: Secure butt to chair.

Step two: Write.

Step three: Repeat Steps One and Two.


The process of writing is not that simple, and yet … it is

14 Responses to 40 Days Later: My NaNoWriMo Experience

  • Girl, I’m giving you an “A” for even “A”ttempting such an undertaking. I’m impressed. I have written a three act play “My Sister – My Lunch” and started a novel, “Horizons Unlimited, Ltd.” but had no great success with either endeavor. Your fam sounds like mine. Funny and a tad goofy!

    • Well Linda, keep at them … I love both titles! I keep telling myself I’ll have more time as my kids get older – can’t imagine how other writers do it. I appreciate you stopping by!

  • I, too, am impressed that you even undertook what I consider to be a suicidal mission. In other words, I was too chicken to try it myself. But at least it helped you learn how you do want to approach your book. So, good for you for trying and taking something away from the experience. Now, back to the drawing board! 🙂

    • Thanks Monica. That’s right! Back to the drawing board! I think that’s the right approach too: start with a story board. I think if I “saw” the various scenes and story lines, I could really get into it! I apprecate your popping in!

  • It’s really fun to realize halfway through NaNoWriMo that at 50,000K you’ll only be halfway done with your novel. Done that twice now. Neither of them quite finished but I am working on the second novel every day (which is really my third novel-the first isn’t finished either, still needs research)

    Geez, I just want to get to THE END on something.

    100% correct-butt in chair is how you do it.

    • Knowing that even once the novel was ‘written’, it wasn’t near done, could have been what deterred me during attempt #1. I wish you success and butt-affixing karma as you work on your novel(s)! Thanks for reading!

  • Kudos to you for continuing to plant yourself in the chair! I saw an astrologer when I was feeling stuck ( don’t judge) and he said “doing is doing”. Simple as that. Of course when I tried to pass on that wisdom to someone else I accidentally wrote “doing is doping” which is more accurate in a sense but not as effective. I’m sending you a psychic high five!

    • HaHa! Maybe if I ‘doped my doing’ I would actually get somewhere, but for now, caffeine will continue to be my drug of choice! Your psychic is right though… gotta start! Keep at it, sister!

  • Astra, I love this post! It shows another side of you that isn’t just the comedic one! Although I must admit that the dinner table conversation had me chuckling! It sounds like something that would take place at my place. I say, I’ll try anything once. Except that Nano thing. Not my cup of tea. That said, I’m sure there’s a learning experience in there for whoever attempts it and it seems you were able to make your own discoveries. Personally, I love your writing style! You make me laugh! 🙂

    • Aw shucks, Bella, thank you! Obviously Nano wasn’t my cup of tea this time around either, but was a humbling experience. Thanks, as always, for your support and encouragement!

  • I went through the same thing the first time I tried Nano. What the heck was I thinking, but the following year, with a bit more gumption, I made it through the month and came out the other end. It took me another year to finish the book, and one more after that to rewrite two more times. I figure that was me getting my MFA. I was CLUELESS. I less clueless these days, but as I ponder the second book, I now it won’t take me as long to write. I am only telling you this because it’s a journey. Pat yourself on the back… but put that tush back in the chair, get those fingers on that keyboard, and write and write and write. If anything, you’ll have a hell of time getting to know yourself (the writer in you, seriously, it’s a hoot.)

    • Brenda, your book will indeed be a masterpiece; I can’t wait for its release (may even crash the launch party too!!)! It’s comments like yours, and the fact that I know that Water for Elephants started out as a NaNo project, that have become my ‘bumpers’ on this journey … keep me on course! Thanks, as always.

  • Don’t you have copy and paste? It was a ( very very very very very very…copy and paste 49,997 times.) Just wanted to stop by and say hi and that I’ll be at EBWW also. Hope to meet you there. I’ll be at the “bird” table on Thursday holding a phonebook covered with brown paper and titled “My Novel”. Jody, The Medicare Mom, http://themedicaremom.blogspot.com

  • Astra – keep the butt in the chair and fingers flying across the keyboard. There is nothing quite like typing the words “The End” Seriously, this was the most amazing moment…

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About Astra
Ottawa mom of 3 poking fun at myself, motherhood, and minor hockey! I am steering through life dodging stinky hockey gear and empty wine bottles.
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