What I Learned From NaNoWriMo

Drafting a plan (Soure: Image by Pexels from Pixabay)

November is known as National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short. I’d heard about the event for several years, but there was always something keeping me too busy to participate. This year, as I found myself self-employed, time was abundant. I finally took the plunge and aimed for the 50,000 words to get a book started.

Since I’d never done it before, I had no idea how to prepare. I’ve never been much of a planner or outliner as a writer, but I thought for NaNoWriMo it might be best to go in with a blueprint. For the first time ever, before endeavoring to write, I made notes for a general idea of the novel and created character charts for the most important new players (I decided to write the sequel to my current work in progress).

I planned out chapters, which is the extent of preparation I usually do when writing. I can’t see so far ahead in my story that I know exactly what happens in the middle and how it’s going to end. But if I take it one chapter at a time I don’t feel so overwhelmed.

However, since the goal was to reach approximately 1,667 words per day, outlining chapters didn’t give me enough momentum to work with. Instead, I took some advice from a writing workshop I’d attended led by Janice Hardy. She spoke about scenes, what they were, how they were structured, and how to create one.

Once I broke down the chapters by scene, getting to my daily word count became easier. Then about a week and a half passed and reaching my word count got harder. Not because I didn’t have the outline to guide me, but because I kept lacking the focus and energy.

That’s when I switched to breaking my daily word count goal into smaller hourly goals throughout the day. I still had my freelance writing gig to consider, so trying to hammer out nearly 2,000 words for NaNoWriMo and another 1,000 for each article I wrote for work took its toll.

I started dividing my day by three-hour intervals. In the morning I’d write 600 words and take a break between meals. Then I’d start my writing for work and break for lunch. After that, I wrote another 600 words for my novel and took another break to hydrate or just veg out. I finished my work article and then broke for exercise. When I was done with exercise, I’d write the last 600 words for my NaNoWriMo day and finish with dinner.

This worked for another week and a half, but I found myself losing steam halfway through week three of the writing challenge. I stuttered out at the end, managing about 1,00o words on a good day and 300 on my worst. What happened?

Writing every day. That’s what happened. I wasn’t used to it. When I wrote my last two books, I grew accustomed to mashing out a full 5,000-word chapter over a weekend. But I’d never challenged myself to write every day. I thought, “Oh, I write for a living. How hard can doing it for fun be?” Turns out, incredibly hard.

It starts off easy, the excitement and adrenaline propelling you forward. But much like exercising, the endorphins only motivate you for so long. Working out every day or at least three to four times a week in the beginning is harsh. You start off determined and ready to get fit. It lasts for about a week, maybe two, but soon life makes its presence known and before you know it, you’ve fallen off the wagon and gone back to a sedentary lifestyle.

Writing is similar. During NaNoWriMo I was expected to write every day, so naturally life started getting in the way again. It became harder to make time for it. I still managed to get just over 35,000 words in the end, which for a beginner I think is decent. But now that I’ve done the challenge, I understand what it takes to train for it.

Like a marathon runner, I have to spend at least a few months in advance getting my mind and body used to the idea of every day. Beyond that, I need to learn what works to keep me in the habit, not just make the habit. I’m not sure if I’ll participate in NaNoWriMo again (ask me next year). But I do feel better equipped to handle writing on a daily basis now.

Have any of you participated in NaNoWriMo before? Was this year your first year also? What are your techniques to get through the challenge? Let me know in the comments!

The Scientific Method

Microscope ( Image by felixioncool from Pixabay )

Sean tilted his head.

“It’s a jar of dirt.” Dylan sounded disappointed.

“That’s not dirt,” Emily added. “I’ve seen dirt. That’s not it.”

Sean and I gave our daughter a questioning look. She shrugged. “I’ve been studying different things with the microscope you bought me last year. Dirt is mostly what I’ve studied since that’s all there is around here.”

We laughed, but held the jar out for the kids to see. “The thing is, sweet pea, this wasn’t solid when we found it and put it in the jar.”

“Yeah, it was liquid. Which is why we thought it was oil.”

“How did it turn hard so fast?” she asked, reaching out a hand to touch the jar.

I pulled it out of her reach before she could even graze it with her fingertips. I shot her a warning look that made her pout. “We don’t know what it is, and now this turn of events is mysterious.”

“Sorry, Em. It’s just not safe.”

“But it’s in a jar.”

“And it seems to have changed within the jar. Who knows what could happen if you touch the container now,” I said.

“You’re touching it,” Dylan pointed out.

Sean gave him the mind-your-tongue look. “We’re grownups.”

Dylan rolled his eyes.

“Well, what if the grownups put a sample under my microscope and let me take a look?” Emily flashed her sweetest smile.

“Oh, no sweet pea, I don’t think that’s a great idea.”

“Pleeeeeaaase?” Dylan and Emily pleaded together, clasping their hands and dancing in place.

I looked to Sean for backup, but should have known right away that was useless. He merely gave me the same puppy eyes as our kids.

Georgia popped her head in from the kitchen. “Alright, you lot. Have fun with your science experiments. I’m out.”

We all waved goodbye to the kids’ grandma and heard the screen door slam behind her as she left. I listened to her car engine turn on in the driveway and the crackle of the tires over the pebbles. I’d have no backup from her.

“Maybe we could just put a little piece on a slide.”

“Sean—”

“We handle the sample ourselves, with gloves and tweezers, slide the glass onto the microscope, and supervise her as she looks through the lens.”

Emily nodded vigorously and looked at me with wide eyes. Dylan followed suit until finally even Sean was begging for the experiment.

I let out an exasperated breath. “Okay, we’ll take a look under the microscope, but no touching, either of you.” I emphasized the point with a severe finger wagging.

They nodded in unison. Sean and I grabbed the materials while the kids went to Emily’s makeshift lab in the tool shed to prep the microscope.

“Sean, are you sure this is a good idea? What if the stuff is radioactive?”

“It would probably be glowing if it was radioactive.” His sweet smile that had first enticed me to marry him played across his face.

“Sean, I’m serious. We don’t know what this stuff is.” I held up the jar and squinted at the substance. It was still in the new solid form it had taken almost an hour before.

“Honestly, Phil,” Sean said, “I think it’ll be fine. It might just be some kind of fossil thing. Like the tar pits, but once we removed it from its environment, it solidified. Change in temperature and pressure and all that.”

I smiled. “So you’re a scientist now?”

“I’m just trying to be practical. Not let our imaginations get the best of us. Besides, we’re always encouraging the kids to be curious and discover the world.”

“I know, I know. But telling them to be curious in theory is great. Letting them do something that could be dangerous is different.”

“I’m sure it’ll be fine. Now let’s get out there before Em starts shrieking for us.” Sean leaned in and kissed me, pouring in every ounce of reassurance he could offer.

Out in the tool shed, the kids had cleaned the desk space, sanitized the microscope, and pulled out fresh glass slides. They both wore gloves and greeted us with big grins.

Emily reached out a hand with a slide. “Here, put a sample on this.”

Sean and I glanced at one another, having one of those moments that said oil or no oil, we have all we need right here. I opened the jar and let my partner chisel off a piece with the tweezers. It came off easier than expected, like it was a clump of dirt.

He placed the fine powder onto the slide and placed it under the microscope. Emily started to adjust the slide, but I stopped her with a stern glare. She paused and let her dad do it for her.

“Alright, Em, just the microscope and its controls,” Sean cautioned.

She nodded. Dylan stood nearby and followed his sister’s instructions when she asked for more or less light and help adjusting the lens.

“Well, what do you see?” Dylan asked eagerly.

“Definitely not dirt.” She kept her eye on the microscope lens. “It doesn’t have the same composition as what’s in our backyard.”

“What composition does it have?” I asked.

Emily looked up at us and shrugged. “Not sure. Nothing I’ve seen, but then again, I haven’t seen much.” She laughed.

Dylan nudged his sister to let him take a look. He pressed his eye to the microscope. “Whoah, cool.”

“What’s it doing?” Emily pushed her brother out of the way again to see into the lens.

But even Sean and I could see what was happening. The sample from the slide radiated a blue glow. I grabbed my partner’s hand and took a step forward to pull the kids away, but Sean stopped me.

“Relax. It’s probably a microbe thing, like the Bioluminescent Bays.”

“Fascinating,” Emily exhaled.

“What is?” Dylan peered around the microscope at an angle, trying to get a look at what his sister was seeing.

“Its composition changed. I still don’t recognize it, but it’s different than before. Almost like a kaleidoscope.”

Emily stepped back and let Dylan look again. She turned to me with bright eyes almost the same as the sample’s glow. “Papa, look.” She pointed at the jar we’d left on the desk.

The substance had changed once more to liquid, but this time almost translucent, and also glowing blue. It didn’t just glow though; it pulsated, like it was sending out a beacon.

“That’s…odd.”

“Okay, we’re definitely in a sci-fi flick now, Phil. This has gotta be alien.” Sean’s face was lit by the jar’s blue light, giving him almost a panicked expression.

“Enough science project for the night. We’ll find a lab to send this to in the morning.”

The kids began to protest, but I put a hand up in silence, indicating the final word.

“Your papa’s right, kids. We’ve played enough with this new thing for one day. Let’s get you both to bed now.” Sean turned to me. “Wanna lock it up in something for now?”

I nodded. While Sean escorted Emily and Dylan back to the house to get them ready for bed, I emptied out an old steel toolbox to put the jar in. With my hands still in gloves, I picked up the sample slide from the microscope and looked around, unsure of what to do with it for a moment. Before I could decide though, it began to squirm and move on its own.

This is a continuation of a short story called “Better Than Fiction” which I serialized for my blog. See the other parts here: Part 1 | Part 2

Let me know what you think in the comments!

Mixing Genres

This is the second installment in a short story called “Better Than Fiction” that I’ve decided to serialize. Let me know what you think in the comments! See the first installment here.

Pile of carbon fuel (Image by SeppH from Pixabay)

“I really thought we’d finally caught a break,” Sean whispered.

I kissed the scruffy cheek of the man I’d married so many years ago. “This is just a bump.”

We climbed into the rusted, old Toyota Tacoma, its doors squeaky with good use. “Who knows,” I beamed, “maybe we discovered a new element. That’d be even better.”

Sean rolled his eyes. “You watch too many sci-fi movies, Phil.”

“It’s only fiction until it becomes true. Then it’s just science.”

Sean laughed, grasping the jar in his hand. “Maybe we should get a second opinion. I mean, we don’t know how oil is supposed to move in a container. Maybe the prospector was just trying to swindle us. Get us to tell him where we found it and take it for himself.”

“I think you’ve watched too many mystery thrillers.” I grabbed his hand as we drove back to our little shack on the countryside.

“But seriously, Phil.” Sean furrowed his brows, concentrating his stare on the black sludge in the jar. “If it’s not oil, then what is it? We hit a pool of it at our drill sight.”

I shook my head, keeping my eyes up ahead. “What if it’s alien? And the government was trying to cover it up.”

Sean let out a snort and squeezed his partner’s hand. “Mixing genres now?”

“Hey, it could happen.”

We pulled into our driveway, laughing at all the ridiculous possibilities of what the black sludge could be. The kids were already waiting for us on the front doorstep and came running as we got out of the car. Emily jumped into Sean’s arms and Dylan embraced me around the waist.

“We missed you.” Dylan’s voice was muffled as his face was buried in my stomach.

“We missed you, too.” I ran a hand through my son’s hair, thinking he needed a cut.

“What’s for dinner?” Sean asked Emily.

“Nana made chicken pot pie. And I helped.” She threw us both a proud smile.

“That sounds great. Can’t wait to eat it.”

We walked back together and found my mother in law prepping the dinner table. “I’m sure you boys are hungry and tired.” To the kids she said, “Go wash up now. Let your papas breathe.”

Sean hugged his mother and kissed her on the cheek. “Thanks for all the help, ma.”

She touched a hand to his face and smiled. “Of course, sweetie. Anything for the family.”

I gave her a hug as well. “Georgia, you’re an angel.”

“Hush now. Sit down and eat.” She gave them each a playful pat on the shoulders and put the meal on the table.

Emily and Dylan came back, hands still moist from the wash. They helped their grandmother by setting out the pitcher of tea and the basket of dinner rolls. We all sat down and joined hands to say grace. Sean led the prayer as he always did.

“Dear Lord, we thank you for this hot meal we are about to receive and the home you have provided. We thank you for the family that keeps our house warm and the love and joy we share with one another each day. We ask that you keep us safe and never wanting for anything. May we be able to pass on your blessings, in your name Lord. Amen.”

The kids, Georgia, and I echoed the, Amen, just before the hot dishes got passed around. Sounds of laughter filled the dining room while Emily and Dylan told us about their days at school the past week we’d missed. They told us of their friends, their homework, their upcoming science fair projects, and the quarrels between cliques.

“Papa, did you find what you were looking for out in Fairmont?” Emily turned her inquisitive face to me.

I looked to Sean for a moment before answering. “No, sweet pea. Not quite.”

“So what did you find?” she persisted.

I chuckled. “What makes you think we found anything?”

Emily smiled wide. “Dad put his bag in the closet right as soon as he got home. And you just said, ‘not quite,’ which means you found something.”

Sean gave a hearty laugh. “C’mon, Phil. You know nothing gets past Em. She’s the smartest in the family.”

I sighed. “Alright, we found something, but we’re not sure what. We thought it might be oil, but the prospector said it wasn’t.”

“Can I see it?” Their daughter’s eyes lit up with curiosity.

Sean put a hand on the girl’s shoulder. “I’m not sure that’s safe, Em. We don’t know if it’s dangerous.”

“Aw, c’mon dad. Let us have a look,” Dylan chipped in now.

Sean and I looked to Georgia who merely shrugged and began cleaning up the dinner table. I glanced at Sean and raised an eyebrow. He put his hands up in surrender.

“Okay, but it stays in the jar. Don’t open it.” The chair gave a low screech as I pushed it back, away from the table, and made my way to the front door closet to retrieve the jar from Sean’s pack.

I removed the jar from the bag and nearly dropped it. In the time since we’d found the liquid and put it in the container, it had solidified. “Uh, Sean?”

He walked over, the kids close behind. “What’s wrong, Phil?” I revealed the jar, filled with a now rock-solid substance.

A Bump in the Road

Green blue oil film wave (Image by PIRO4D from Pixabay)

At first, we thought the black liquid was oil, that we’d struck it rich and that we’d be able to retire and live in leisure. We actually started writing down all the ways we’d spend the money.

Our first choice was an estate out in the country, with wide open spaces for the kids to run around. We had such grand dreams to finally get Emily the Little Laboratory Kit she always wanted. We reveled in the vision of seeing Dylan’s face when we brought home the Fender Stratocaster he’d looked at with longing every time he passed Moe’s Music Store window.

All those dreams shattered though when the local prospector said, “Sorry, gentlemen. Not oil.”

Sean’s face fell. “What?”

The prospector shook his head. “This isn’t oil.” He tapped the mason jar my partner and I had brought in.

“Well then, what is it?” My heart sank to my stomach.

He shrugged. “Don’t know, but not oil.”

Sean looked at the prospector with suspicion. “How do you know?”

“Been around oil my whole life.” The prospector leaned forward. “This looks like it, but see how it moves when I tilt the jar?”

The prospector tipped the container to the side and showed us the slow, sludgy movement of the black liquid. “Oil don’t do that.”

I grabbed the mason jar back from his hands. “Where can we find out what this is?” I took Sean’s hand and gave it a squeeze. The look I gave my partner said, Don’t give up hope.

The prospector gave another apathetic shrug. “Some lab, I s’pose. I’m no scientist.” I pursed my lips and nodded. “Thank you.” We rose at the same time and walked out to our truck.

This is the first installment in a short story called “Better Than Fiction” that I’ve decided to serialize. Let me know what you think in the comments!

Wanderlust: Ireland, Galway

Finally, I come to the end of my travel log from Ireland, 2017. The trip itself only lasted one week, but the experience will stay with me for a lifetime. Our last stop on the tour was Galway, a harbour city on the west coast of the country.

By the time our group arrived in Galway, I was exhausted. My new friends and I took the time to simply stroll along the harbour and enjoy the scenery. At night, there is a lively bar scene for the young and young at heart.

It’s a colorful, but relaxed environment as we walked through Shop Street checking out the local wares and restaurants. We even managed to squeeze our way through a bar packed with football fans screaming over a soccer match on the television that night.

We stayed in Eyre Square at Kinlay Hostel. It was my first ever experience with a hostel, and it wasn’t terrible, but after the great hotels we’d stayed in throughout the rest of the trip, it was certainly different.

I didn’t so much mind the sleeping accommodations. We were six in a room with three sets of bunk beds. The top bunks were a bit high and close to the ceiling, so I had to duck my head to climb up and couldn’t sit up, but we were really only there to sleep, so no big deal.

I think the worst part of this hostel experience for me was the bathroom. It was only the six of us sharing our bathroom, but its construction was nothing I’d ever seen before, and having traveled a little in Europe, I’ve seen some strange bathrooms. This one had one level floor, with no barrier or separation between the toilet and the shower, which meant when you bathed, water got all over the floor. So if someone needed to use the toilet after you got out of the shower, they had to get their feet wet. It was a little gross. But I guess that’s part of the travel experience, is to be a bit uncomfortable sometimes.

After the whirlwind Grand Tour of Ireland that EF Ultimate Break offered, I was glad to have a low-key night, enjoying the sights of beautiful Galway with my new friends.

Though I didn’t get to experience them myself, the Salthill Promenade is a walk I’d like to take next time I’m in Ireland. Yes, I definitely want to go back and catch all that I missed the first time around.

Have any of you been to Galway? What were your impressions? Let me know in the comments! And check out the rest of my travel adventures here.

Meagan Reads YA Fantasy: “Every Exquisite Thing” by Cassandra Clare and Maureen Johnson

I’m excited to share that I will be contributing monthly reviews to The Lesbrary book review blog, dedicated to talking about books by and about women/femmes who identify as queer.

Image from Goodreads

The first review I wrote for the blog is for “Every Exquisite Thing,” a short story part of the Ghosts of the Shadow Market collection from Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments universe. Follow this link to see the review. Let me know your thoughts if you’ve also read the collection or the story!

Wanderlust: Ireland, Aran Islands and Dún Aonghasa

We’re coming close to the end of my adventures in Ireland from 2017. The next to last place we visited on this trip were the Aran Islands and Dun Aonghasa (pronounced Don Angus, if my guide is to be believed).

First came the early morning ferry ride across a glorious blue and cold sea and sky.

But the true stunner was the sight at the top of the old fort Dun Aonghasa. Yes, another set of cliffs, which Ireland is rife with. But there’s a reason tourists like myself go for the view. Nothing humbles you more than staring straight down into the sea and rocks, knowing these structures have been around thousands of years before you, and that they’ll continue existing thousands of years long past your passing.

It’s an invigorating little hike up a rocky path to make it to the windy top of the fort. I recommend bringing those sturdy hiking boots you used for the Cliffs of Moher for this site as well.

During this part of the trip, we were given a bus tour of the island, allowing us to take in the natural sights, as well as the people. The tour guide provided a comprehensive and fascinating history that made this an absolute must when visiting Ireland.

For those who live in or visit many cold places, the Aran Islands offers its famous Irish wool sweaters. These handmade pieces were a bit pricey for my taste (running up to $125 for a top), but if you’re from the New England region or other places with freezing winters, then it might be a worthwhile investment. For a Floridian like me, I just couldn’t justify such a purchase. But be sure, the scarves, sweaters, and other wool goods are beautiful.

Have any of my readers been to the Aran Islands or Dun Aonghasa? What were your impressions? Does anyone want to go visit it now after reading this? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

For more of my traveling adventures, look for the tag “wanderlust” on my blog, or visit my Travel page.