26,589 Words and Counting

What the Other Side of NaNoWriMo 2015 Looks Like


I created a meme. #sexyguilttrip

Well, I made it halfway. Actually, a full 1,589 words over the halfway marker, before 11:59 p.m. on November 30th. Life did manage to sneak in again, albeit with significantly less intensity than last year (my attention-sucking fur monster is now almost 2 years old, so there was a big decrease in barking episodes and chewing incidents and general furball craziness).

While I am disappointed that I did not “win” National Novel Writing Month by hitting 50,000 words in time, the most pleasantly surprising aftereffect – one I was hoping might happen but was certainly not expecting would result in this much joy – is how much in love I’ve fallen with my story.

I know… that sounds weird. But I have to think that other authors agree with this description of this feeling. It’s love, plain and simple.

You find yourself voluntarily staying in on Friday night because you want to know what happens, what those blank pages are going to say on Saturday morning.


Seriously… it became a thing. Check my Instagram.

You find yourself thinking like your characters, puzzling over mundane life decisions in the context of “What would So And So say/do/act in this situation?”

You start rooting for the people you’ve created, when you realize you’ve written them into actual, independent-thinking human beings.

You’re both exhilarated and terrified when you tackle certain scenes because you have a fantastically complex and beautiful picture in your head of what is happening and you’re beyond afraid that you will never be able to translate what you’re seeing into words that allow other people to comprehend the fantastic complexity and beauty.

You’re desperate to know how your story ends, because you’ve invested a piece of yourself into the worlds you’ve built and the characters you’ve gotten to know; and even if you’ve outlined the shit out of your plot, you still have the nagging thought in the back of your brain that nothing is certain, and this whole thing might not turn out the way you expect.

You’ve found it: your voice, your stride, your confidence, your groove, the story you were meant to tell.


Possibly my favorite thing I’ve ever made, ever.

So I’m merely extending my NaNo deadline. I’m not ready to leave the world of The Bearers. For those of you who succeeded in hitting 50K, I am in deep and true awe of you. Well done. For those of you in my shoes, the pressure is off (slightly)! If you’re in love with your story, keep going. We’re the people who were brave enough to attempt a novel in a month. One month! One! NaNoWriMo opens up a multitude of doors for people. It’s up to us to choose to walk through them.


Thanks, President Obama.

December also marks a return to some shamefully neglected projects I’d left hanging in lieu of this crazy NaNo venture. With my fabulous friend and editor Kim’s expertise in all things prose, I will be completing a second edit of my memoir of Tanzania, The Red Earth Sings Beneath Our Feet, with the intent to release it in early 2016. More to come on that front! If you’re interested in learning more about the organization that made my experience possible, visit www.crossculturalsolutions.org.

I’m also hoping to release a second poetry collection, called Notes from a Bar Napkin, inspired by (you guessed it) the writing prompt of the same name that I’ve posted from time to time on this blog. There are plenty more where those came from. Sometimes I think I have to be slightly toasted to write poetry at all, let alone something that’s reasonably good enough for somebody to want to read. In any case, it’s a fun project and I’d love to share the fruits of my drinking habit with anyone interested.

So, I wish boatloads of inspiration and creative energy on y’all. Here’s to the writers of the things that people read!

Write on!



The November Gauntlet (or, NaNoWriMo 2015): Day One

It begins!


Photo by Jen Anderson (all rights reserved).

I’m ridiculously excited this year, after the learning experience (see: procrastination debacle) of National Novel Writing Month 2014, and here’s why.

First, a quick recap: National Novel Writing Month takes place November 1-30 every year, where writers of all publication status come together from across the globe and form a writing community of participants that are each focused on one crazy primary task: to write 50,000 words of a new novel by the end of the month. There are a number of preparation tools, webinars, forums and other support resources offered throughout the month, and participants can choose their own pace, and methods, and level of active participation with others in the community. The end goal, of course, remains the same: 50,000 words. I attempted NaNoWriMo last year, and failed quite miserably. This year will be different.

NaNoWriMo Prep

NaNo writers, according to the NaNo Powers That Be, tend to fall into one of two categories: Pantsers and Planners. But of course, as we are all wonderfully diverse human beings, there is a spectrum.

The laissez-faire-leaning Pantsers head into the month of November with relatively little (if any) thought to outlining, character development, or world-building. They start with a literal blank slate on November 1st. In some ways, I wish I could do it that way, because what freedom it must be, to be along for the ride as the journey starts (as opposed to steering the ship. Somehow, I’ve moved to a Ship/Voyage Analogy, which I feel better about. What kind of emotional baggage am I creating with “Gauntlet”?). I digress. The hardcore Planners, by contrast, bring to the table at least some tools they’ve constructed in the preceding months. Character profiles and/or outlines are common. World-building worksheets can be helpful. This year, I have all three.

Last year I was a Pantser. I had an idea that I loved and a world that I’d built, but hadn’t thought much about my characters or the story I wanted to tell within that world. Result? A really nice little outline and 7,000 words that were okay. Now that I’ve had a year to get to know (in a sense) who my characters are, I have a pretty good idea how they’ll react to each other when I throw them into the beautifully-strange-yet-impossibly-dangerous scenario that is my plot outline. I created a writing “soundtrack” (a playlist of songs I play to visualize certain scenes in the plot… I KNOW I’m not the only writer who does this). I spent the last few months giving the “elevator speech” version of my plot summary to friends, family, anyone who would listen, to gauge reactions. You can get a sense of what I’ve been telling people if you visit the project page for more information. In a lot of cases, the elevator speech (a minute or so of describing the plot) turned into an hour-long conversation about the particulars of the world I’d built, who the characters were, what they were to each other and what I was planning to do with them (see: to them). That interest made the writer in me jump around and pump her fist in the air. Where the story is concerned, I’m feeling pretty damn ready.


Jen’s NaNoWriMo 2015 stats after Day One (November 1, 2015)

To succeed – or “win” – at National Novel Writing Month, the NaNo Powers That Be give you a decent amount of advice, support and guidelines for success (most of which are experientially proven). One of those guidelines is the infamous Word Count (you can find mine at the bottom of the Home Page of this website). This tool allows you to update your daily cumulative word count, and then adjusts the stats for you: for example, how many words per day you need to average for the rest of November to hit at least 50,000 by the end (generally, this is 1,667 words per day, and is adjusted depending on the word counts you post on preceding days). The stats page was a significant road block for me last year. I’d catch myself staring at the little line on the graph, willing it to move at a northeasterly upward slant, while the early dredges of my novel sat open but untouched in Microsoft Word. This year, however, I’ve decided to give it the attention it deserves: one visit per day, at the end of the day, when I plug in the new numbers.

The last essential fact to understand, when attempting NaNoWriMo, is that winning it is HARD. Just hard. Life happens, hugely and frequently. Work, kids, pets, etc. can get in the way of 1,667 words per day, much easier than you think. Last year, I had a 40-hours-per-week job and a new puppy who quickly snapped up the remaining evening and weekend hours. Committing to a NaNo win takes more dedication and discipline than I was prepared for, especially as a Pantser. This year, armed with my prep tools and with a 20-hours-per-week work commitment (the pup is still a massive time-suck, but she’s trying to be a lot better about it).

NaNoWriMo 2015: Day One

jens desk after Nanowrimo 2015 day one

Day One: the aftermath.

After today, Day One of NaNoWriMo 2015, I know for a fact that – for myself and with the prep legwork I’ve done – hitting the daily word count quota is entirely possible. As I was writing this afternoon, I’d gone 500 words over my daily quota (1,667 words) before I’d even noticed. I’m heartily reassured by these events. I feel good knowing I have a strong story outline and positive feedback in my corner. Where the ability is concerned, I’m feeling more than ready. And beyond the capability aspect, win or lose, 50,000 words or more, or less… I’m just plain excited to tell this story.

To everyone who is participating in this year’s National Novel Writing Month and would like to connect, you can find me at http://nanowrimo.org/participants/jenanderson. If you have not yet signed up (it’s not too late!) or would like to learn more about NaNoWriMo, visit nanowrimo.org.


NaNoWriMo 2015

I realize an update on my projects is long overdue, but first:

12052367_10101258378087616_993245048235675428_oWant to jump off the proverbial cliff with me? Your future novelist self will thank you.

Click on the image above to visit the official site of National Novel Writing Month. You can create an account for free, get tips/tricks/support from fellow novelists a.k.a. cliff jumpers, and track your word count through the month of November.

50,000 words in 30 days. Sound impossible? Let’s see what happens!

If you Facebook, click here to join the Event for additional updates and information.

I’ll be tracking and logging my status in a couple of places. If you’re interested in checking in on me, visit my NaNoWriMo Author Page, or check out The Bearers summary page here on my website.