NaNoWriMo Chronicles: A Look Back (The Final Post!)

50,269 words.

82 pages.

28 chapters.

4.5 pages of outline completed.

1 bottle of Aleve (for the arthritis in my hands), 1 brace to combat carpal tunnel, and 2 magnetic therapy bracelets.

7 bags of coffee.

Countless frustrated hissy fits and spiteful ‘I should be writing but fuck words’ naps.

Above is a numerical summary of my NaNoWriMo 2013 experience, an impressive listing if I do say so myself.  (And I do.  My blog and all that.)  But NaNoWriMo isn’t about the numbers, is it?  NaNoWriMo is about the words.

So how did the writing go?

The writing went well enough to win but the words came with much more difficulty than I’d anticipated.  2011 was a breeze:  the words came like an avalanche, I won the month, and I went on to complete the novel, which just so happens to be Book 1 to this year’s Book 2.  2012:  my only trouble came from running out of story and having to pad it with a couple thousand words to meet 50,000, which I did without any problem.  But this year?  This year was hard.

I was cocky.  I was naïve.  I thought, “Hey, since this is a sequel, this ought to flow smoothly from the beginning!  After all, I’m just picking up where I left off.  All of this is outlined and I know the character better than I know myself, so this is gonna be easy!”  And lo, the writing gods did heartily laugh before making me regret said thought.

This was a sequel; I spent the past couple years consistently writing this character, so his voice is still very much second nature to me.  And yet getting started proved painful, I just couldn’t find any sort of flow.  Three false starts before I finally found a shallow groove, and the first 30,000 words felt like pulling teeth—my own teeth, no anesthetic.  Timelines just wouldn’t come together; the character voice was shaky.  So what happened?

My poor little brain took quite a while to figure out the problem, and when it did I wept, for the problem wasn’t something I could wave a red pen at and fix.  I’d reached the writer’s equivalent of a boss level.  What escaped my understanding at first was that meshing the second book with the first proved much more difficult than I thought, while adding in the need to do all the prep work and setup for the third added complexity, ravaging my brain and ultimately requiring extensive editing while writing—a big no, no during NaNoWriMo.  But what choice did I have?

None.  I had no choice.  So I tore at my hair, rent my garments, and threw myself back into the fray.

And standing here at the finish line, I wave a banner of 50,269 words.  They’re not good words nor are they coherent after the 40,000 mark, but they’re words and they’re mine.  I’ve got a long way to go on the novel itself:  my outline is 9 pages long and I only made it through 4.5 of those pages during November.  I’ve got a damn fine start on what will one day, after lots of editing, be a damn fine story.

That, my friends, is what National Novel Writing Month is all about.  Until next year!  (Or at least the Camp NaNoWriMo sessions!)


NaNoWriMo Chronicles: The End of Days

November 30th:  it may not be the apocalypse but it’s certainly the end of days.

The last day of the month, the day all WriMos dream of, strive toward, and alternately fear and love.  If we’ve done it right (or even done it badly but miraculously managed to get out the necessary words despite that), we hold 50,000 words in our hands at midnight on this, the last night.  Some victors can hold a sheaf of papers above their heads and cry, “Lo!  I have a completed novel!”  Other winners can point proudly to their words and say, “I’ve got a pretty damn good start, with my 50,000!”  And still others triumphed word-wise and then quietly burned the results, too bad to even contemplate continuing that hot mess of a story.  This time I am a member of the second group:  50,269 words but the novel is only about a third of the way completed.

Without exception, however, we all verify our word count and then, upon seeing that beautiful purple winner’s bar, promptly collapse into a pile of whimpering, tears, exhaustion, and aching fingers.

I have a wrap-up post planned, an overall look at the NaNoWriMo experience, so I won’t gush here.  Here I shall just post my victory pages from my Chronicles notebook, because a girl needs to brag without any need for coherence.

Consider yourselves warned:  much of this is merely me squeeing in ecstasy at having finally crossed the finish line.  Less a pat on the back, more of me bragging and waving my metaphorical dick around because I’m a writing bad ass.


Because damn it, the official NaNoWriMo winner badges don’t tell me I’m awesome enough! More dancing! More bad ass-ery! More victory arms! AND MORE DANCING!


A slightly more coherent declaration of my win, also explaining the benefits of writing a few hundred extra words before midnight. And see what I did with the dashes there? Ha ha, I crack myself up.

And now a mini Q&A session to finish this off:

Did I write 50,000 words and thus ‘win’ NaNoWriMo?  Yes.

Is the novel actually finished?  No.

Do I still have a lot of work to do?  Hell Yes.

To The Women Who Choose Not To Have Kids

Re-blogged from a lovely woman who said it far more than my sputtering, frustrated self ever could.

Because if you hear the words “You’ll change your mind” enough times, your head actually explodes when someone gets that ‘oh, how cute, but I know better than you’ smirk just before they actually say the words. To women who choose to be mothers, I say thank you, because the world needs great, amazing women (and men!) raising amazing children. I wouldn’t be here without one of those great, amazing women after all. But the world also needs great, amazing people who recognize they don’t want to be parents BEFORE they become parents. Everyone finds fulfillment in different ways. For many women (and men), it’s raising children. For many of us, however, our focus is not (and never will be) in that area, and not getting the smirky, judgmental middle finger from the rest of the world for it would be nice. Ah, a girl can dream…

Thought Catalog

To the women who choose not to have kids, I have one thing to say: thank you.

You probably don’t hear it enough. In fact, you probably don’t hear it at all. What you do hear is an array of pro-childbearing responses, such as, “You’ll change your mind someday,” or, “Doesn’t your mother want grandkids?” or, “You’ll never find a husband if you never want to have kids.”

All things considered, “thank you” is probably on the opposite end of what you hear.

But seriously: thank you. Thank you for recognizing that childrearing isn’t for you and being true to who you are. It doesn’t mean you hate kids. It just means that raising one is not part of your path in life.

Thank you for not succumbing to the societal pressures. I’ve known far too many parents who had kids because that’s what was expected of them. Working in…

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NaNoWriMo Chronicles: Week Four (Part Two)

And lo, we’ve arrived at NaNoWriMo’s formidable Week Four (Part Two)!  Rejoice, my friends, for we’re almost at the finish line!  Soon the frazzled explosion of words will be over—not to mention these image-laden posts will finally come to the end.  (I suspect no one is heartbroken at the thought.)


45,000 words! So hard to believe I’m here, so close to 50k. So exciting to reach this point, the thrill is unbelievable when the counter flips over to 45k, and at this point you know you’re going to make it, even if you cross the line a stumbling, stuttering, wordless mess.


And then of course something has to go a little bit wrong. This is in fact a major scene, although placing it where it needs to be (despite my original outline) wasn’t as big of a deal as my initial reaction implied.


A few thoughts of the new depth I discovered in two other O’Shaughnessys: Anna (the main character’s mother) and Shannon (his younger brother). They truly surprised me in some ways, especially Anna. A great writing session, even if I was sitting there screaming at Anna to stop being a sympathetic human being.


A list of those discovered depths in Anna’s character, because I was that shocked by her as I wrote.


If you ask Jesse, he’d tell you he doesn’t have mommy or daddy issues. If you take one look at his life, you’d know he’s so fucked up he doesn’t even know he’s fucked up.


Thanksgiving + writing is somewhat difficult, but that’s what wine is for.


I have all day to write before heading out for an important, long-awaited discussion, so what do I do? Not a damn thing, not until it’s almost time for me to walk out the door. I? Am a moron sometimes. Procrastination is great but only up to a point.


Writing is greater than ALL THE THINGS. Consider “writerly panic” appropriately cued.


Just a little bit of truth about Jesse Mother Fucking O’Shaughnessy.

And there, the end of Week Four!  The only thing left is the final day and yes, that mythical 50,000 words.

NaNoWriMo Chronicles: Week Four (Part One)

So we’ve reached Week Four:  the home stretch.  For those of us who made it this far, there’s a manic energy that takes over as we make that final push towards 50,000.  So close yet so far.  Those words sum up the entire feeling of these final few days, and to fuel the end of the journey we’re living on junk food, coffee, and for thus of us whole indulge, booze and cigarettes.  We’re all a little crazier now, even more insane than when we first decided to attempt NaNoWriMo in the first place, and we’re so fucking close.

Note:  I’ve split this entry in two, as it’s a long one.


Goals and editing notes, because my God the process of sorting out my massive screw up is still trying to kill me.


My main character being snarky in edits, as if he’d ever actually listen to authority.


Another day of facepalming and editing.


My boy does indeed excel at holding a grudge.


Dear Self: I’m gonna need you to stop sucking.


Rejoice! The end of editing (at least this minor, minor pass) has come!


Shut. The Hell. Up.


Moving on…moving on…


A bittersweet moment: the last write-in of the year. As one of the best parts of NaNoWriMo, I miss them when they’re gone.


To the write-in regulars: keep writing. Always keep writing.

Stay tuned for Part Two…

Surviving the Holidays: A Writer’s Guide

Ah, the holidays:  a time for family, friends, cliché pilgrim hats and bright strings of lights, pine needles stabbing your feet, leftover Turkey that sits in your fridge until you remember to throw it out sometime after New Year’s, carolers and midnight mass, and eating way more than your stomach can actually hold.  Some people love the holidays, some people hate them, and some people drink it all away no matter whether they love them (celebratory drinking) or hate them (relieve the pain drinking), but there’s one thing nobody can deny:

The holidays are a social time.  Very social.

And for many writers, this massive amount of social interaction poses a problem, mainly because we’re not really the ‘very social’ type.  We’re more the ‘hide under the blankets’ type.

Point is that the holidays can be a very draining time, especially for writers and other artsy types who value spending time alone with words.  There just never seems to be enough downtime to replenish the energy you’ve expended.

Note I said ‘expended,’ not wasted.  The family meals, the parties with friends, taking a few (or many) moments to be thankful, cursing when you step on those pine needles from the Christmas in the middle of the night again:  none of those things waste energy, only use it.  Those things are important.

But for writers, artists, and other introverts, the only way to survive the emotional energy suck that is this time of year is to go into it with a game plan, specific ways on how to muddle your way through without tossing yourself off a cliff by New Year’s Eve.  (Of note:  the holiday season is not, despite popular opinion, the time of year when suicide rates are the highest.  That would be springtime.)  And so my friends step away from the mistletoe, put on your gloves and ear warmers, and let me present to you a few tips that I’ve learned for handling this season of joy and resulting exhaustion:

  1. Do not simply skip any and/or all family functions.  Like I said, family is important, so put in some effort to show you care about and value those related to you.  And always keep in mind that the resulting lectures from mom and the guilt trips from grandma will suck up more energy than simply going to that family gathering in the first place.  (Trust me, I know these things.)
  2. Find that one friend you can occasionally go out to dinner with for the express purpose of commiserating.  They’re suffering just like you, and there’s nothing better than a small support group.  This is social so you can count it towards your socializing quota for the year, but if you select the right friend then you won’t be drained afterwards.  You might even find yourself with a bit more energy.
  3. Wine.  Lots of wine.  (If you don’t drink, I support and admire you.  However, I do not have a substitute option to offer.)  My family tends to divide itself into two groups:  the wine drinkers and the beer drinkers.  Both are acceptable.  Key here is moderation, because too much alcohol results in disputes or knockdown, drag out fight that will carry over into the New Year.  While amusing to watch, they’re embarrassing to be involved in and tiresome for everyone present.
  4. Do not start a family dispute.  Again:  tiresome.
  5. If an argument does erupt through no fault of your own, then remained uninvolved.  I highly suggest sitting back and enjoying the fireworks, because hell, why not?  A form of entertainment and if anyone questions it, just point out that you’re using it as a character study.
  6. Observe the people and activities around you.  You’re a writer; observation is always good for your art.  Watch, take notes, and learn more about human interactions and personality traits, the little quirks that people have.  This is particularly easy for me, for while I’ve never been able to decide if I have a large family or just a medium-sized family consisting solely of large personalities, there’s plenty of material to be gleaned either way.
  7. Watch the weather reports.  Dealing with snow and ice during a drive to your host’s place will only add additional stress.  (Also enough snow and ice are a perfectly good excuse to stay home, especially if you live thirty miles or so away like I do.  But with respect to Tip #1, a few snowflakes are not a snowstorm and should not be used as a justification for avoidance.)
  8. Plan ‘You Time’.  The holiday season can get crazy with family celebrations, parties, office functions, visiting friends, preparations, etc.  Making time for yourself—write it in your day planner or set an alarm on your phone—is key.  Use this time to recuperate and regain some of that limited energy so you can make it through the next one.  Do whatever it is you like to do that makes you relaxed and happy:  read, write, sleep, whatever it is.  Delve into your art.  No matter what, make sure you take time for you.  (I highly recommend sleep.)
  9. Write.  Keep writing, no matter what.  Write the words during your ‘you time,’ take a notebook with you to family dinners so you can scribble when you need a break (perfectly acceptable to hide out in the bathroom for this one), write on your lunch break during work, write whenever you have even a minute’s chance.  You write because you love it, so don’t stop.  Let the words help you.
  10. Post-Holiday Boozing.  I say boozing because that’s what I do, but you can replace that with anything your heart desires, like a quiet dinner or a particularly energetic session at the gym (weirdo).  I’ve actually made this a tradition over the last several years.  Depending on how the final holiday falls, I go out either the night after or the weekend after Christmas and have a few drinks with the calmer of my friends, usually no more than one or two.  Yes, this seems counterintuitive:  after all, you’ve just used up your finite energy supply on all those other holiday functions.  Hear me out, though.  This planned night of drinking is something to look forward to, something to get you through those holiday celebrations, a way of celebrating the fact that those celebrations are all over for another year.  I’ve done this every year since I was 22, and my God has it helped me keep my sanity.

There you have it, folks:  my suggestions for writers or any other introverts trying to survive the season.  Feel free to add your own, I’m sure I’ve missed some, and when you get close to the point of ‘fuck this,’ take a nap.  Naps always help.  And maybe eat some pie.  Pie is delicious.


NaNoWriMo Chronicles: Week Three

Ah!  Week Three of the adventure that is NaNoWriMo!  (Yes, I’m aware that I’m actually posting this on December 2nd.  I’m a little bit behind due to focus on the writing of actual story words.  Don’t judge me.)  From my many sessions of NaNoWriMo Original Flavor and Camp NaNoWriMo I’ve learned many things, one of which is that Week Three is really tough.  Why, you might ask?  Because the adrenaline of Week One is gone, the determination of Week Two has worn itself out, so by Week Three it’s a battle of will, pure momentum and desperation pushing a writer forward.  There’s a flash of brilliance the beginning of the week:  the halfway mark.  25,000 words, it’s the downhill side of the mountain from here on out but the end isn’t quite in sight.  It’s easy to give up.  One is tired, the brain is starting to go on the fritz, there’s static and the words get stuck.  Even the very best outline can’t always help when things start to stall.

Case in point:  I seemed to have given my own outline the finger and for some reason subconsciously decided early on in my quest not to pay attention to the little details that become absolutely essential later in the story.  And when did I hit that point of “absolutely essential”?  Why, during Week Three, of course!

Cue facepalming until my face turned black and blue.

Enough talking.  Let me show you.


25,000 words! Celebrate, for thou art halfway through! And be a-feared of the dreaded slump (far more dreaded than thou expects, as thou shalt see).


As for the 16th, a day of rest. Sometimes reality supersedes writing, and this was one of those days. The 17th? Well, I intended to write 3500 words to make up for lost time, and yet Mother Nature interfered like a vicious bitch. I did manage to write 2000 words but only after spending some time on my balcony watching funnel clouds, considering how fucked I was if any touched down, and mourning the loss of my town’s Starbucks due to a direct tornado hit. Ah, such is life.


A letter to a certain government agency assuring them that my series of, ahem, ‘curious’ Google searches was merely story research, not evidence of dangerous crazypants.


Finally caught up on word count, and I learned something new! The average men’s shoe size = 10.5 The third result in the Google search to find this out: a shoe size to penis size conversion size. The answer to this unasked question: 8.5


Because my main character finally got the firearm he demanded after being shot in the course of his work.


November 19th: the 4th write-in. Really fucking cold both outside and inside the restaurant. The 20th: realization that I missed key parts of the information timeline, having apparently paid little to no attention to my own outline, and would be utterly, completely, extremely fucking screwed if I tried to write the next scene, a keynote scene that requires precision and delicate handling, if I didn’t fix it.


After much agonizing, I decided to go back and edit the four jacked up chapters, thus breaking the NaNoWriMo “rule” of no editing until December.


More hair pulling over the need to edit and risk getting far behind on word count. More facepalming.


My master plan for ‘Operation Make the Story Not Suck So Much’.


Cari’s Personal Rule for NaNoWriMo Editing: while editing, make sure to write MORE words than were in the original incorrect version. (This worked surprising well, despite my trepidation.)


Notes to myself.


Edit notes for Chapter 5.


My list of necessary edits for Chapter Five, the first of the scenes with info imperative to the timeline. LIES! SO MANY LIES WITHIN THAT CHAPTER.


This, my friends, is what a printed story page with hasty handwritten edit notes look like. Don’t read the story snippet itself; it’s terrible and not indicative of my usual writing quality.

So there you have it:  proof of how Week Three destroyed my brain.  Everything worked out okay in the end, by some miracle I managed to stay current with the daily word count, but holy freakin’ crap was that ever difficult.

Cue another facepalm just for good measure.

Until later, my dears!



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