nano5 We have a little municipal airport in my city. A new playground was just built and we have been waiting for it to open. Well, it did! And here we are. You know what’s great about this playground? The parking spots are, like, 3 feet from the playground itself, so I can stay in the van! Don’t judge—it’s cold all of a sudden (not cracking 50 degrees today) and also it’s November so you know what that means...

National Novel Writing Month!

This is really a perfect situation I have going on right now. I can keep an eye on them (actually they are so loud, all I need to do is listen and if the din dulls, then take a look to see if anything is amiss), work on my MacBook and stay warm! AND catch my favorite afternoon radio show!

Five days in and I remember vividly why I like NaNo so much! It’s fun and the momentum keeps me focused. How could I have forgotten the power of momentum?

In 2009, with initial trepidation bordering on panic, I agreed to participate in National Novel Writing Month, fondly known as NaNoWriMo, or simply NaNo. It was the idea of one of my graduate school friends. She managed to get (coerce) about a half dozen of us on board.


What made me think I could write 50,000 words in the space of one month with three little kids, a part-time job and a home to care for, I have no idea. Blame it on four and a half years of sleep deprivation, but I thought, “Yeah, that sounds cool!”

But in spite of all the reasons why (and there were many) I may not have accomplished it, I did. And it wasn’t even all that difficult. I didn’t think too much, I simply forged ahead. And the amazing thing was, once immersed in the writing so deeply, it flowed easily. Was it the ritual, the deadline, the panic? Probably a combination, but it worked. I’ve done it every year since.



And now that I am no longer a novice, I have some words of wisdom to offer:

Before you start, tell everyone you’re doing it. Announce it on Facebook and Twitter and promise frequent updates. Set yourself up for having a lot of explaining to do if you bail out.

Find a little community. Ask a friend to do it with you. Look for write-ins in your area. The NaNoWriMo website offers opportunities to connect with other NaNoWriMo writers in your area.

Break it into manageable pieces and don’t go to bed until you meet your daily goal. Even on Thanksgiving. Eat more pie to stay awake. (You know want to eat more pie.)

Check your word count no more than every half hour or so. Definitely do not check it every thirty seconds. (You will.) Definitely not more frequently than every thirty seconds. (You will.) Try not to do that.

Keep writing, even if it’s junk. (It’s probably not junk. Or at least not as bad as you think.) Go off on tangents, write weird scenes that seem to have no place in the story, introduce new characters just to have something to write about. Flashbacks are a good tactic. Write anything. In December and January, you can revise. The good writing comes out in the editing anyhow. Have fun with this in November and then worry about perfecting it later.


Love my fingerless mittens! My auntie knit them for me!

The wonderful thing about NaNo is that it helps you to remember the simplicity of ritual. The simple sentiment, just get it done. Just do the work. Almost every night this week, I have been in bed in the dark, the room lit only by my laptop, just getting it done. If I would rather read a book and relax, too bad. Do the work. If I would rather watch an episode of Homeland, too bad. Do the work. If I would rather just go to sleep, too bad.

Do. The. Work.

I guess this is what they call discipline?

Yes—who can’t use more of that? Maybe Oprah or Lady Gaga or overachievers of that ilk. (That ain’t me.) NaNo provides it. And, as with any habit you are trying to form, give it a few days and then you might find yourself craving it. I think that’s a bit of what they call ritual.

Maybe that’s what it takes: discipline and ritual. I am going to try to remember that after November 30th. I wonder, if I can do it all month, can I keep the momentum going? Well, maybe that will be a goal for December and January and thereafter. One thing at a time.


To all the WriMos out there: keep NaNo-ing! And more than anything else, embrace the joy of fearless writing!

(Parts of this blog post appeared originally in a somewhat different form on

please assure me that i am not the only one who sets potholders on fire

I am not referring to a singular occasion wherein one might have done this. I mean regularly. I mean every pot holder that makes its way into the house.

You do this, too, right?

The smell of a burning potholder is quite familiar to me. I was recently on the phone with a friend and cooking pasta at the same time. (I am really good at multitasking.) I smelled something distinctly not food-ish and knew it immediately as the scent of burning polyester. I calmly removed the flaming potholder from the top of the saucepan where it drooped into the gas flame of my stovetop, ran tap water over the small blaze and never missed a beat of the conversation. Boo-yah! I can burn stuff and do other stuff simultaneously.

So, I have a confession—for the first time in 4 years of participating, I quit NaNoWriMo before I hit 50,000 words.


That is the amount of words I managed to write between November 1 and November 22. Yes, I did some writing on Thanksgiving, before the big dinner, in between cooking it and eating it. Then afterwards, as I sat by the fire pit in my parents’ backyard, drinking a nice glass of wine and chatting with my Dad, I looked up at the clear, cold, starry sky and said, “I am quitting NaNo this year. And I am totally okay with it.”

(The little loops, too. No part is safe.)

Usually, I push and push and push. And when I am exhausted and spent and seemingly at my limit, I push further. (Then I am usually somewhat difficult to be around. Just ask Steve. He is nice and might lie and disagree. But trust me on this one.) So rather than go down this old road, I decided instead to try to recapture the joy.

Nothing (aside from the gracefully shared, unbridled happiness of my children) gives me more joy than writing. And the joy was gone. I was pushing through it. And this is a novel I have nurtured for a long, long time. A story I really love. And the joy was gone. Replaced by a drive towards a self-imposed deadline.

NaNo is nothing like setting potholders on fire. More like putting the fire out? No, not like that, either, exactly. Actually, maybe it is like setting potholders on fire—frenzied writing for 30 days. I guess I smelled the familiar odor of burning polyester and threw that fire in the sink. That’s okay. There is always next year. And more potholders, too.

don’t fret—there is enough room in the world for more novels

I totally DO NOT have enough time to write a blog post today, and logic would recommend that writing a quickie blog post would neither be wise nor professional. But I refuse to allow that stop me! So, I have seen a number of NaNo naysayers on Facebook and the webs. They say such things as there is already too much crap out there and maybe not just anyone should be writing novels. They use words like drivel and garbage and junk. And phrases like junky, crappy manuscripts flood agents.

But NaNo changes lives and creative processes. This is my new reality since my NaNo adventures began in 2009: write like mad all month, then Thanksgiving arrives for which I cook for, like, 20 people, then after Thanksgiving NaNo ends, then Christmas is on the way. Then I do all the planning, shopping, hiding, wrapping, Christmas festivity figuring outing (so the kids have a nice holiday season which ensures they will end up with good childhood memories blah blah blah), travel arranging, packing, staying up late to put it all under the treeing. Sometimes in December I sleep. For about 3 minutes. (I absolutely LOVE those 3 minutes.) In spite of all of that, I write 50,000 words every November, then more in December to wrap up my project.

So here follows my take on National Novel Writing Month. Let’s get real, there is already a crapload of crap out there. What’s a little more crap gonna hurt? Is there room for more war? No. More starving children? No. More glaciers melting? No more room. Bottom line: people creating is never a bad thing. NEVER. Even if they create junky, crappy drivel with which they flood agents.

People, PLEASE DON’T BE GRINCHY AND SCROOGEY ABOUT NANOWRIMO. And there is my Christmas reference to bring this thing full circle.

Peace out.

Joy to the World. (See how I did that? I’m awesome.)

(I am also 3,596 words behind. Crap... Gotta go.)

(Did any of this make sense? Don’t tell me... I don’t want to know.)

lasagna is too math-y

Making lasagna is hard. Or it might be that I am too dumb to make lasagna. Every time—every time—I boil the wrong amount of noodles. In this instance, I am not exaggerating at all. EVERY SINGLE TIME. 8x8, 9x13—doesn’t matter. I will not do it right.

See what goes on? Odd noodle cutting and arranging.

Then the layering part always messes with my head. This, this, this, repeat. I always—always—screw it up. Maybe it’s the “repeat” directive. Why can’t they just write it all out again? We live in the digital age—how much effort would it take to copy and paste? It’s not as though some poor monk in a hair-shirt has to write it out longhand with quill and ink by candlelight. The problem with lasagna is that it steers a little too closely to mathishness. And I do not do math—proud hater since 3rd grade.

I can’t even write out a lasagna recipe for someone. I make a few really good lasagnas (such as roasted butternut squash lasagna) and when people request the recipe, I sort of gloss over the how many noodles to boil part and the how the hell you layer it part. I just leave it up to them, as if to indicate even a monkey could figure out those parts—I won’t bore you with the details. But truthfully, I’m simply incapable of figuring it out to tell them.

I had a really good idea about lasagna recently—I call it the “whatever’s beginning to rot in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator lasagna.” Dice up whatever that might be (I happened to have lots of peppers, eggplant and zucchini) and throw in some diced onion, toss it all with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast until tender and browned. Pour in some sauce (homemade or jarred) and use that as the filling with the usual stuff, like ricotta, mozzarella and parmesan. Boil some noodles (you know how many, right?) and layer it all up (or have a monkey do it). If you have a ton of this veggie filling after you roast it all up, dump half into a zippy bag and freeze. Then some night when you totally don’t feel like cooking, you have the fixin’s for whatever’s beginning to rot in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator lasagna! Brilliant!

Is that not the most unappealing food photo you’ve ever seen?
Even with the bag folded over ever-so-jauntily.

But enough about math and monkeys and disgusting looking baggies of food.

How is NaNoWriMo going? Very well, thanks for asking! I am right on target. This is my 4th year and I am almost never ahead with my word count. I am the sort of person who possesses the best intentions in terms of getting ahead of the game and then consistently working right up against deadlines and only to the extent that I must. So, I write almost exactly 1,667 words every NaNo day. What is the novel about, you ask? A large cast of women characters—archetypes of sorts—who experience the gamut of female experience. It’s sort of a group interrelated short stories, but I think it will be more complex than that in the end. Intrigued? (You know you are!)

Well, you’ll have to sit tight on this one. First drafts are almost always some degree of crap or another. But I think I am getting better at novel-writing and this one won’t require 43 years of editing. At any rate, it’s easier than lasagna. Which is really hard.

full-body YES!

I wasn’t going to do NaNoWriMo this year. I’ve have repeated this avowal all year long because I knew I wanted to be working on this blog and freelance projects and editing already-written novels and my other commitments. And showering. That being said, I just signed up again. Like, moments ago. (I figure I’ll cut back on showering. And definitely shaving. I mean, what are pants for anyhow? Right? Right? Are you with me?)

So, I’m gonna do it for the 4th year in a row. Why? I am nuts.

Speaking of which, it’s Halloween this week and we have watched It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown about 47 times in the last few weeks. I adore Peanuts holiday shows. Probably too much. (And yet in my heart I know there is no too much when it comes to Peanuts holiday shows.)

(Our jack-o-lantern and his yucky black moldy stuff.)

Happy Halloween! Now back to the topic.

What is the topic? Finding life balance. And I am about to tell you exactly what that is: a big freakin’ joke. I’m just kidding.

(No, I’m not.)

I threw an enormous fit recently. Luckily the kids were at my parents’ house and not present to hear the litany of swears and witness the throwing of objects. Here’s what happened: the thingy on the toilet that makes water not spray all over the bathroom blew and the toilet began spraying water all over the bathroom. (It was clean water, so there’s that for a small blessings and all that crap...) To me it was more than water spraying all over the bathroom—it was another mess to clean up, another thing to fix, another thing keeping me from writing.

(This freakin’ thing. Please disregard the ugly ‘80s tile we have yet to sledgehammer.)

I have maintained a mantra over the last couple of years: “I can’t get all this done!”

And alternatively: “There is no way to get all this done.”

With the addendum: “I’m so tired.”

Well, recently I realized something: I can’t get all this done. There is no way to get all this done. Also, I’m so tired. It occurred to me that if there is no way to get all this done and that very fact has been amply confirmed, why do I keep trying? The very problem is in the statement itself.

“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” Albert Eistein

My sister has a friend who recently experienced the death of a close friend. And it made her reconsider her priorities. She said to my sister, “Unless it’s a full-body yes, then it’s a no.” Now that is a mantra by which to live.

I have applied some of that sentiment to my life in trying to approach balance. As it appears “there is no way to get all this done,” and there is nothing I can or am willing to cut entirely, the logical thing to do was identify and pare back each component and do some realistic goal setting. Err on the side of small, well-spaced objectives and if more gets accomplished, call it gravy. (Warning: this rarely happens.)

And I gave a lot of thought to media, which spins completely out-of-control really quickly. The inbox to my Gmail account was one of the things that felt unmanageable to me. And if that’s not a luxury problem, I don’t know what is. But first-world guilt aside, I did rein it in and I will share my tactics with you. I think it’s important to seriously regulate your information upload. Don’t subscribe to every blog (but do subscribe to this one), RSS feed, Facebook page—don’t live in fear of missing something “crucial.” Seek info when you need it. It’s called the Google. Use it. I went all brutal on my blog subscriptions and unsubscribed like crazy, using the full-body yes method. Where I could, I switched to Facebook or Twitter feeds. I am not a fan of RSS, but if you happen to be, that’s another way to go. With the info coming via these streams, you can so much more easily pick and choose. Now my email inbox is pretty much exclusively business. I l also try to designate a finite amount of time each day to view my media streams. The bottom line: if it doesn’t add value to my life, I cut it.

I try to apply this full-body yes sentiment to the little and the big things in life. It’s a no-fail in-your-bones kind of thing. It’s an approach toward balance.

So maybe I am nuts to do NaNo, but when I questioned it, it was a full-body yes. I’m gonna trust it.