Five Things I Learned From NaNoWriMo—and How to Have a Productive Yet Peaceful Holiday

1. You can do more than you imagined possible.

I knew I could write more than 1000 words a day. I’ve written a few thousand before. But 50,000 words in a month for National Novel-Writing Month? When I was working at four different hospitals, two of them in another city, one of them for the first time, in a francophone environment? And speaking at Queens for CUCOH? And hosting my daughter’s all-important fourth birthday party?

Balloons! For the party, of course.

Balloons! For the party, of course.

Seemed a little nuts, even for me. But what the heck. I might as well try it. I signed up to write a minimum of 1667 words a day. And on the first day, before my first shift, I wrote 4018 words and felt powerful.

So if you’ve bitten off a bit more than you think you can chew during the holidays, relax. It’s cool. Mr. Money Mustache calls it the optimism gun.

Or as Bruce Lee pointed out, “A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves simply as something to aim at.”

2. Competition is key.

I got a few buddies on NaNoWriMo, and watching them up their ticker tape thousands of words lit a fire under me. Now, I know it’s supposed to be all touchy-feely-huggy writers creating together, but c’mon. That made me want to write ALL THE TIME.

So if you want to produce, surround yourself with like-minded maniacs. However…


Blast from the past: editor John Douglas, me, Lisa Silverthorne, Jerry Weinberg, and Jenna Black (the Oregon Writers Network Master Class 2003), plus dancing Cows

3. Burnout is stupid.

Pushing yourself too hard is counterproductive. I ended up writing 30,000 words in the first ten days, while also working five shifts of up to 12 hours and taking another doctor out for drinks, and hurting my back, probably because of two days of over 5000 words/day, crouched over my laptop.

No. If your body wants to sleep, let it sleep. Make sure you eat, move, kiss your friends and family during your holidays, and every day. You don’t want to end up like that German intern who worked himself to death. (Looks like he also had epilepsy, but working for 72 h is never a good idea.)

Best surfing of my life, in Waikiki after a storm, with Max in utero

Best surfing of my life, in Waikiki after a storm, with Max in utero

4. Community works.

I really liked poking around NaNoWriMo, dropping in on forums around the globe, including Nairobi, Kenya; Hong Kong; and Wairarapa, NZ. And I liked that my word count was added to my community word count, and to my genre’s word count, showing how we were all growing together.

Holidays are for your peeps. Make sure you see ’em and tell ’em you love them.

Matt's Rolls Royce posse. I don't know these people, but they make a good picture.

Matt’s Rolls Royce posse. I don’t know these people, but they make a good picture.

5. Two words: wind sprints.

I did wind sprints once with my brother, like this: race as fast as you can. Walk. Then race again.

My bro, with Max as a baby

My bro, with Max as a baby

That’s kind of how I not only nailed NaNoWriMo by day 17 (would have hit it sooner, but y’know, had to drive to Kingston and motivate some talented young people at CUCOH, plus swim with my kids), but in that month, I not only banged out 50K, but 71,861 words of fiction. Not bad for a newbie.

Anastasia’s party was fun. I invited her whole class, plus a few more friends. “You made four cakes from scractch?” asked my friend Becky.

“Well, yes. Kind of. I made one for school, plus two layers for a chocolate cake and one for a vanilla cake.” Tip: if you make white chocolate frosting, white chocolate chips are not the same as white baking chocolate. You don’t need to add butter if you use the chips.





IMG_7361 IMG_7380 IMG_7381 IMG_7385And yep, I did work at four different hospitals. Then I hit the salsa club with Jos, Celine, Renee, Tim, Darcy, and Elva.

If you go salsa, you, too, may obtain a glowing cleavage.

If you go salsa, you, too, may obtain a glowing cleavage.

That was the sprint. And it came at a cost. For example, I didn’t finish writing AIMG_7319nastasia a birthday letter until today. I missed the first deadline to renew my hospital privileges at one of my hospitals (no worries, they don’t start charging a late fee until Jan). My husband was quietly overwhelmed by working in Montreal and looking after the kids while I was working in Ottawa.

Plus, I’ve had a nap every day for the past few days, and I’m starting to feel human again. That’s the walking part. Can’t have one without the other. See part #3.

Or listen to John Lubbock: “Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.”

So what do you think? Got any more bullish tips of your own? Or if you just want to chill out and read, check out my new stories in Ricepaper Magazine and my “darkly comic” debut Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, or pick up one free Hope Sze novel at Kobo before the coupon expires. I’ll add pics after my shift. Happy holidays!


I was going to the CCH Christmas party, but the blizzard kept me away. However, I did pose with Ricepaper and Ellery Queen. Today, Anastasia asked me to take a picture of her holding two books. She assumed book-posing was a “thing.” Awwww.IMG_3896 IMG_3889

IMG_3902 - Version 2bullish-blog-network

Winter Ambition: A Reading List for Ballsy Women

Helloooooo to any Bullish readers! I’m a big Jen Dziura fan. Here’s one of my favourite Bullish lines: “adult fun is better. You can drink scotch in nice places and chat with European bartenders instead of chugging wine coolers in a chilly parking lot while some guy who’s failing algebra tries to get in your bra.”

Jen suggested ballsy books as our first blog topic. I’m a writer who basically thinks reading=breathing, so I’m thrilled to join this blog network. I’m also a doctor, so I may have a slightly different take on testicles.

Art by niera94. A bold book, wouldn't you say?

Art by niera94. A bold book, wouldn’t you say?

Ballsy #1: Balls Gone Wild
When I borrowed this book from the Cornwall Public Library, the circulation clerk said, “I loved Gone Girl, but I think this one is even better. It’s weirder.”
I agree.
I tell Flynn neophytes that Gone Girl is about a twisted marriage. Sharp Objects is about a twisted family.
What I love about Gillian Flynn’s novels, having read a grand total of two, is their sheer intelligence. The woman does not pull any punches. When I’m reading her books, I’m laughing because she’s so freaking funny (my favourite Gone Girl line is the one about how real Amy wants to punch fictional Amazing Amy in her stupid, spotless vagina), but wincing at how true to life the characters are while they mentally and physically maim each other.
For example, the narrator, Camille, in Sharp Objects muses about carrying a dead nine-year-old child, Anne, through the Missouri woods like this:
It would be hard to carry a child through these woods. Branches and leaves strangle the pathway, roots bump up from the ground. [Anne’s hair] would have tangled itself in the passing brush. I kept mistaking spiderwebs for glimmering strands of hair.
I was caught right there. The horror, imagining oneself lugging the victim’s body, juxtaposed with the grace of hair and the fragile beauty of spiderwebs.
Later, Camille talks about how her adolescent facial “features changed by the day, as if clouds floated above me, casting flattering or sickly shadows on my face.” But after her sudden transformation into a beauty, “I was no longer the pity case (with, how weird, the dead sister). I was the pretty girl (with, how sad, the dead sister).”
Ain’t that the truth.
Why am I opening with Sharp Objects?
Ballsy isn’t always good. Sociopaths are ballsy. They’re not my role model. We need kindness and compassion too. So I remember the ups of having guts (yes, I’d like to be a New York Times bestseller like Gillian Flynn) and the downside (not enough to kill children and pull out their teeth).

Going Going Gone high res 6x9 poster 10753_email_book1_668x500_14_8_26
Full disclosure: I have a vested interest in Gillian Flynn. Kobo sponsored me to write three mystery short stories inspired by Gone Girl in their $5000 Going Going Gone Contest (yep, you could win five grand and a Kobo Aura H2O just for reading three stories and solving three clues before October 10th). But I’d recommend GF anyway. She’s the real deal. Thrilled to see the movie tonight. [Update: saw it. Hooray!]


Ballsy #2: Gonads Get Rich
Financial advisors will tell you that they add value, and that’s why they should get paid. I understand this, and I do recommend one of my financial advisors, Jessica Sarrazin, who has just started in the business, but offers personalized, meticulous care.
Financial independents (not sure what else to call them. People who want to strike out on their own) know that index funds usually outperform mutual funds. So they go direct and cut out the middle man.
But obviously, it’s confusing to jump into financial waters, especially if you don’t have a clue. So—ta dah!—I recommend Jin Won Choi explains concepts clearly and without a lot of fanfare (does anyone else hate financial websites aimed at women that have way too high a pink:content ratio?). Jin understands math, since he’s a 31-year-old Ph.D. in mathematics, and he doesn’t get bogged down in jargon like some other sites. I did get a basic membership, but most of his content is free and relevant, even if you’re not Canadian like us. Read through his blog, click on his tools, and see if he works for you. The Short Book on Investments (, his free e-book, in exchange for your e-mail address, is a good staring point.


Ballsy #3: Testicular Torsion
What? Another Asian guy? Yes, and he’s brilliant in a different way. American Born Chinese was the first graphic novel nominated for the National Book Award, somehow combining tales of Chinese legends, schoolboy politics, and friendship. I’ve read it to my son several times. While I was inwardly squirming at Chin-Kee, the deliberately stereotypical Chinese cousin, Max was laughing.
Boxers and Saints tells the story of the Boxer Rebellion in China from two different points of view, a boy who becomes a rebel and a girl who joins the Christians.
In Level Up, Dennis’s parents pressure him to become a doctor, but he’d rather play video games. You might think you know how it ends, but I was surprised and touched by the last page.
Gene Yang illustrates the struggle between family, calling, ambition, and friendship. Balls against the world. Balls from multiple points of view. Hence the medical joke title (testicular torsion is when a testicle accidentally swivels around and cuts off its own blood supply. Gene Yang shows you how how to turn around).

I could go on, but I can’t wait to see what everyone else recommends. Cheers, and happy reading!