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

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