What I Learned by Failing at NaNoWriMo

I failed.


I did everything correctly. I publicly announced my intentions. I made a plan. I had accountability partners.

It was all part of my effort to join National Novel Writing Month in which on Nov. 1 participants begin working toward the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 p.m. on Nov. 30. I switched it up and said I would focus on a rewrite of a non-fiction book, writing blog posts and writing two essays.

But then I didn’t follow the plan.

I’m not making excuses. I had reasons for not following the plan.

Specifically, a work schedule that included morning meetings, lunch meetings and evening events. No time to fit in writing. Weekends were scheduled. November is always jam packed where I work but I did not consider that when I agreed to participate.

I accepted my limitations and wrote what I could.

The month and my intentions weren’t a complete fail.

I learned a few things.

I learned that I need to be able to write in chunks. I am much more productive taking a half day or an entire day and writing for hours on end rather than writing for a half hour or an hour each day. Fortunately, I have several writing days planned in December. I can’t wait!

Establishing a plan and setting writing goals let me know what I need and want to write. I did complete a few of my writing assignments. Thanks to NaNoWriMo I have a list of the pieces I still need to complete.

I also learned that while I may be competitive in many areas, writing is not one of them. Writing for me is a solitary pursuit done at my pace. It didn’t matter if my accountability partners were happily writing away. That didn’t drive me to carve out writing time. I was thrilled for them, but I wasn’t participating to write more than they wrote.

If you’re looking for me this weekend, I’ll be holed up writing. It’s the perfect weekend where I have a chunk of time, and I know exactly what I need to write.





3 Ps of How Not to Write a Book

Julie Campbell and bookOne of the best talks I have heard about writing a book is actually about what not to do.

My friend Julie Campbell, who wrote, “The Horse in Virginia: An Illustrated History,” has given the talk several times and noted, “It’s a bit of a confessional self-help talk.”

Campbell, who was honored with the Library of Virginia People’s Choice Award for nonfiction, highlights three areas that she did wrong when writing her book. Those areas include: payment, procrastination and publicity.


“You’re not going to get rich writing books,” Campbell notes. She was prepared for that. What she wasn’t prepared for was making negative dollars. Once she factored in her time and expenses, she says, she made no money.

Her first lesson she shared is to negotiate to have expenses covered. Her contract did not include expenses, so Campbell paid for gas, hotels, meals and photocopies incurred as she researched the book and later when she went to book signings.

She encourages other writers to get an agent, even if the book is being published by a university press. “You want to have someone looking out for you.”


Procrastination is always a challenge. One way Campbell avoided working on her book was raking all the leaves in her “very large yard.” She also confessed to arranging her work space several times.

She finally developed some rituals to place her in the writing groove. She learned to break her work into small chunks and focus on one chunk at a time.


Campbell says it’s also important to ask how much publicity the publisher will do and how much you as the author will have to do. She had to do most of her own, although she did suggest to her publisher where to send review copies of the book. She scheduled speaking engagements and created her own press kits by taking pocket folders and inserting her business card and several pages from the book to send to bookstores to make them aware of her book.

One area where she succeeded was with people. “I had the support of so many people to help me along the way.”

5 Tips I Picked up at the JRW Conference

My dear, late friend Emyl Jenkins was known for sprinkling her fairy dust over many writers.

Once again, she did it when I attended the James River Writers Conference. Her delightful husband Bob attended to award the Emyl Jenkins Sexton award, which recognizes individuals who continue her legacy of inspiring a love of writing and writing education in Virginia. He talked about how she spent so much time helping other writers, she sometimes needed to be reminded to follow her own advice: “Put the seat of your pants on the seat of the chair and write.”

That’s what I’ve done for the past two years, and have a first draft of a manuscript of travel essays. I decided to attend the JRW conference to learn more about fine-tuning the book, the publishing process and finding an agent.

I learned how much more I need to do, and what I was doing right. Here are some of the tips:

Attend a conference. This is the obvious one, but I found myself hesitating to register for the JRW conference. It was worth every penny and giving up a weekend of writing.


Great advice on a tote bag. (Photo by Cynthia Price)

I worried. Do I belong here? Is my writing good enough? Turns out almost every writer has those thoughts. Mystery writer Maggie King shared a great tip, “At a conference, I pick one person and I talk with them.” She says she usually makes a new friend or discovers a fan. Either way, she said, “You’ve done your good deed for the day.”

Identify beta readers. These are individuals who, early on, read your manuscript and point out plot holes, poor dialogue and inconsistencies among other things. I did that with the travel essays, and I’m now reworking the material.

Write a strong query letter. This is your chance to sell an agent on you and your manuscript. You want the letter to be authentic and polished.

Most writers aren’t going to have the success that David Baldacci did with his first query letter. He shared the story during a luncheon Q&A.

He said he wrote in his letter, “I guarantee if you read the first page, you will read through until the last page.” He figured they’d read the manuscript just to prove him wrong. Fortunately, he was spot on, and he now has 34 novels to his credit.

Agent Cherise Fisher said a query letter reveals the author’s knowledge of herself and that’s important to her. “I am looking for a partner in bringing this book into the world.”

Power of Cmty

Maggie King, Joanna S. Lee, Maya Smart and Angele McQuade talked about the power of community during the James River Writers 2017 conference. Shawna Christos moderated.  (Photo by Cynthia Price)

Join a community of writers. These can be face-to-face or online. Maya Payne Smart says she gets more out of in-person writing communities. “You see (the writers) are real people. There is something to putting a face to the stories you hear,” she said. “It’s important to have people cheering for you.”

Joanna S. Lee said it’s okay to join online and then simply “lurk” until you are ready to contribute.

One benefit of an online community is the flexibility. “Not all of us can be in person within the community whether because of work or obligations,” said Angele McQuade.

Just write. The one piece of advice I heard repeatedly is what Emyl always told me — you need to write. McQuade said, “You need to recognize when you are having too much fun within the writing community and aren’t writing.”




Twist on National Novel Writing Month

Shield-Nano-Blue-Brown-RGB-HiResNext year I may be ready for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). This year, I’m focused on a rewrite of a non-fiction book, writing blog posts and writing copy for my website. It’s a lot of writing, and I admit I’ve been procrastinating.

The other week at a conference I attended, Michele Cook challenged members to participate in NaNoWriMo, even if it was to simply write each day of the month, which is exactly what I’m going to do. I’m clearing my calendar as I’m able. Some days I will write during my lunch hour. Other days, I’ll write in the evening. On a few days, I’m going to have to set my alarm clock to rise early and write. I’ve scheduled it all and noted what I plan to write. If I don’t do that, I’ll find a way to avoid writing.

Michele said she threw out the challenge to get some personal accountability. “Having someone else to answer to helps me stay motivated.” With a 7,000-word novel underway, Michele hopes to get a “solid first draft finished or close to it.” She expects she will need to keep writing past the Nov. 30 deadline to reach her 70,000- to 80,000-word goal.

Julie Campbell, who wrote “The Horse in Virginia: An Illustrated History,” isn’t focused on writing a novel. But she is going to use the month to write and polish an essay and then read it at a local event where she lives.

Diane S. Thieke, whom I met at a writer’s conference, is attempting to write a novel. She said, “I’ve attempted to NaNoWriMo five out of the last six years and failed to write my novel each time! Not an auspicious track record. In fact, my lifetime word count is abysmal — just under 6,000 words. But I keep coming back because I find it inspiring, and I’m convinced that one November, I will write 50,000 words. I’m a terribly inconsistent writer, and I’d like to change that. So this year, my goal is simple: to develop the habit of writing for myself every day. Even if I write just 50 words a day in November, I’ll consider it a success.”

I am inspired about NaNoWriMo, which began in 1999. On November 1, participants begin working toward the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30.

Last year more than 384,000 people worked on their novels. Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, and Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl are among the NaNoWriMo novels that have been traditionally published, according to the NaNoWriMo website.

Please post in the comment section whether you plan to participate and what your goals are. We can all use the encouragement and cheer for each other.

Spreading the Gospel of Blogging


Javacia Harris Bowser spreads the gospel of blogging. (Photo by Cynthia Price) 

Javacia Harris Bowser is always trying to spread the gospel of blogging.

She’s an ideal person to do that given her success with the platform. Southern Living named her one of the “Innovators Changing the South.”

Blogging, she says, can help you find

  • Your people
  • Your platform
  • Your practice.

She is the founder of See Jane Write, an organization for women writers and bloggers.

Bloggers can expand the reach of their blogs through email marketing, social media marketing and networking marketing.

When asking readers for their email addresses, it’s important for bloggers to give their readers a reason to share. She suggests creating something such as a guide for time management. When the person provides his email address, she provides the guide. Email marketing should be more about giving than taking. “You want to give your readers inspiration and valuable information,” she said.

As part of social media marketing, she recommends identifying one to two social media platforms on which to share the blog content.

Network marketing includes making smart talk, not small talk. One way to do this is to ask others about their passions. Always bring business cards that include the blog’s URL.

Bloggers also should focus on the 3 Cs: clarity, content and consistency. Javacia says bloggers should be clear about why they are starting a blog. Reasons may include for visibility and credibility or to share their work’s mission.

She suggests that bloggers produce content at least once a week. She also recommends using photos, videos and podcasts within blogs.

To consistently post, Javacia urged her audience to plan and produce content a month in advance.

Bloggers also must promote their posts through social media and email. She noted, “If you write it, they will come” simply won’t work.

Fall: The Perfect Time To Review Goals

Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.

Scott Fitzgerald

In the last week, I’ve written a few thousand words, shredded documents, organized a room and decluttered a space.

20171007_110421Fitzgerald was right about the crispness of fall. It gives me both energy and a desire to ready my space for hibernating in the winter. That’s why now is the perfect time of year to look at your goals and see what progress you have made. Maybe you haven’t looked at your goals since you made them in January. Oops!

That’s okay, you have three months to either begin them and carry forward into 2018 or to finish them in 2017.

I’m on track with a few goals, but one has all but derailed. That’s my goal of walking 10,000 steps a day. A knee injury had limited me to almost no movement. I finally saw a doctor, who prescribed a treatment plan. I’m up to 5,000 steps a day, which is progress. Rather than berate myself for not making the other 5,000 steps, I’ve adjusted my goal and continue to monitor my progress.

My financial goals are on track, but this is the time of year I have to be careful. Sweaters entice me as do holiday sales. As a result, I aim to finish my holiday shopping by Nov. 1. I find it to be the only way to keep myself from being drawn into sales for things I don’t need to buy for me or others. While others search for parking spaces and fight the crowds, I’m hoping to be reading books from my book list.

As you think about what is important to you, think about how you might set a goal in that area. One of my friends said she wants to start giving back and is exploring where she might put in some volunteer hours.

As you review or set your goals make sure they are SMART goals:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound (or trackable)

Another good tip is to set performance goals, not outcome goals. It’s important to have control over the goals. For example, my goal can be that I want to publish a novel. Unless I am self publishing, I’m not going to have much control over the publication of the novel. What I can control is how many pages or words I write each week and the steps I will take to find an agent and publisher.

Here’s to crisp fall days and meetings goals. I know I’ll reach one of my play goals – to jump in a pile of leaves!

Remembering a Faithful Reader

Not many people comment on my blog posts. One reader, though, was great about writing a short comment every now and then.

I met this reader years ago at the annual communications conference for NFPW. I was thinking I might see her at this year’s conference. Sadly, that was not the case.

At this year’s In Memoriam service her name appeared on the screen. Mary Lou Hinrichsen of Iowa was 90 years old when she died on Feb. 5, 2017. She embraced her roles as a journalist, farmer and musician. She was a former Iowa Press Women president and Communicator of Achievement.

I didn’t know she had passed away until her name was read at the service. I didn’t know her well, but when I heard her name, I realized I had lost a friend.

We always said hello at conferences and had brief conversations. I looked forward to her occasional comments on the blog.

She made my day when she did that. I doubt she knew that often she would leave her comment on the day I needed encouragement about continuing my blog.

We may not always know when or how we touch each other’s lives. Mary Lou Hinrichsen and I touched each other’s lives thousands of miles apart through a blog.

“You do a great job of keeping me up to date out here in the cornfields of Iowa on what’s going on.”

~ Mary Lou Hinrichsen

Here’s one of her comments: “Count me as a faithful reader, even when I don’t comment. You do a great job of keeping me up to date out here in the cornfields of Iowa on what’s going on.”

I always keep that image of Mary Lou out in the cornfields of Iowa in my mind as I write a post for my blog. I’ll continue to do that in her memory.