Surprising Lessons from NaNoWriMo

NANOWRIMO Blog Post - Julie the Writer at a Cafe

NaNoWriMo – No, it’s Not a Rude Word

I have just written ‘The End’ on the first draft of my very first novel. I wrote it during National Novel Writing Month. This is a mouthful so it gets abbreviated to NaNoWriMo, which really is only slightly less of a mouthful. Each year, in November, thousands of writers all around the world take up the challenge to write a 50,000 word (approximately 180 page) novel for NaNoWriMo.

I can now count myself as a NaNoWriMo ‘winner’. Winners succeed in getting 50,000 words written before the end of the month. Other participants have varying levels of success up to that magic number.

The point is quantity of words, possibly organised in sentences and paragraphs and hopefully in some semblance of a story with characters, settings, dialogue and maybe even a plot. You are to ignore your inner editor and critic and plough on regardless. Just get those words down. My silly little romance may never be seen by anyone else but it more or less contained these essential elements that make it a complete work of fiction.

I understand that doing something like this seems perhaps too ambitious or too ridiculous or certainly quite pointless, but that is exactly why I did it. And I must say, I am extremely proud of achieving this big, hairy, audacious goal.


The Big 4-0

In the middle of this big challenge, something significant occurred. Yes, the next leader of the free world was elected; there were earthquakes here in New Zealand and around the world and possibly some other major news events that I only caught a whiff of as I was locked in my office. But the most important thing to me was…

I TURNED 40!!!

I wanted to write some sort of blog post on what I had learnt in my first 40 years on this planet but quickly worked out that not only would that be dull, but I can’t remember much of it anyway.

Then I realised that the insights I gained from doing NaNoWriMo were actually the main points of wisdom I wanted to share. Here they are:


Goal Setting and All that Blah

That entire goal setting stuff really makes sense. Set a goal, write it down and commit to doing it. I heard about NaNoWriMo seven years ago didn’t make it a must until this year. Seven years – I could have seven novels by now!

Also all that guff that goes along with goal setting – having a deadline (30 November), taking action every day (writing some words even though I would regularly think they were crap), focused commitment (unimportant things like the watching TV, interacting with my family and showering were reduced to a minimum) and rewarding milestones (mmmm chocolate, I have never loved you more) are essential facets to achieving a huge goal.


Accountability is Key

When you aim to do something big, hairy or audacious, tell everyone about it. They don’t have to understand or even like it, but by golly they will have a great time holding you accountable to your lofty ambitions.

Doing NaNoWriMo was part of the ‘Top 40 Bucket List’ of 40 bucket list items I am ticking off throughout the calendar year of 2016 to coincide with turning 40. I tell everyone I meet about this list. There was no chance of backing out of NaNoWriMo this year.

Telling people may even mean you get a little support for your wacky endeavors. Here is my public great big THANK YOU to my family and friends and especially to my husband who at various times pulled tiny humans off me while I was tapping at the keyboard and entertained my kids well out of earshot.

But I got a lot more out this challenge than being reminded of how important the goal setting dogma of deadlines, focus, action, rewards and accountability can be. Three of the more unexpected learnings were:


State of Flow

Creating something, anything at all, feels great. Sometimes it is frustrating, sometimes it is fun, but the great feeling comes from being present with your creation. Yes I have written non-fiction books and blogged now for years, but it took writing a big hulk of a novel to really drive this point home.

Being in this state of flow is what humans want and need more of and it is becoming increasingly rare these days with constant distractions only a tap of the finger away. Flow is always there for the taking. In the throes of creativity you can’t help but be in flow, be really present. And it feels amazing.


Leap Off the Cliff

It is perfectly okay to start something with absolutely no idea of how the process will go, how it should look or how on earth you are going to finish it. This doesn’t just apply to creative projects, but a lot of things in life. As the old adage states: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

Sometimes it is better not to have the whole thing perfectly mapped out. Trust the process; let yourself be pleasantly surprised by where the project takes you. I am a very organised person and thought I would have a perfect outline and screeds of character notes before I started NaNoWriMo. In fact all I did was draw a giant mind map which I then proceeded to ignore and instead ‘pantsed’ my way through my novel – essentially wrote it from the top of my head or from my proverbial, if you prefer that image.

After all, the journey never goes exactly how you think anyway, so why try to control it? I thought I would be god-like in maneouvering my characters through the plot, but instead they took on a life of their own and surprised me with things they said and did. I thought writing every day would be a hard slog, but instead I had a really awesome time.


Creating IS the Point

Sometimes you just need to create. It doesn’t have to be important, you don’t have to think of a monetary reason for it and you certainly do not need to show it to anyone. As a society we consume, consume, consume, so it is important to re-address that balance by allowing ourselves the gift of pure creativity.

Putting your stamp on the universe, even in some tiny, perhaps frivolous way, not only makes you a better person, fills your tank and allows you to want to contribute in other ways, but makes the world a richer, fuller place for having you and your creation as a part of it.

Sure, all I have is one gigantic Word document sitting on my computer, but it feels darn good.



I wanted to impart all this newfound wisdom onto my children. But then I realised that tiny humans already know this stuff. They are easily able to be in flow many of the hours of the day – look at how they play, eat, laugh. Kids live entirely in the present. Our 18-month-old daughter, Eloise, does everything without thinking of how to finish it, like climbing up onto the kitchen table. Dylan, at four, spends days at kindergarten creating artwork that no one sees but him, just because he enjoys doing so.

I don’t need to teach this, I just have to find a way to not forget it like I did 30-something years ago. And I need to be vigilant to ensure our beautiful tiny humans never lose this essential knowledge at all.



No Plot? No Problem! – A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days – Chris Batey (USA, 2004)

NOTE: If you wish to see some of the things I have done for the Top 40 Bucket List, friend me on Facebook and look for that photo album

NANOWRIMO Blog Post - NANOWRIMO Winner Screen Shot


My Family’s Secret Language

Family Language Blog Post - Playing Cards

The Conk

When I was growing up, in our family, the third game or round we played to work out the overall winner – if for example I won one and my sister one the other – was called ‘The Conk’.

Yes, ‘The Conk’.

I guess it is some shortened form of conqueror but I don’t really know and I am sure if I asked, no one in the family would know either. It was normal thing to say ‘lets play The Conk to decide the winner’.

Unfortunately I had no idea that this phrase was unique to my family’s lexicon and not widely known. After a couple of fierce lunchtime games of 500 with high school friends, suggesting ‘we play The Conk’ was met with lots of serious mocking and laughter.

Teenage humiliation now far behind me, I really like how we had made up words and used them naturally between us. We have even started to do this in my little family with some of the mispronunciations and cute ‘kid-made’ words that Dylan has said.


Correct Pronunciation

Like any young child, Dylan often gets words and phrases wrong and not all of these have ended up as part the natural language of our family. Sometimes we make an effort to correct his speech.

So, par-cark has been changed around to car park and bake-cano has slowly been corrected to volcano. I thought it important to teach him not to say ‘eel’ instead of ‘seal’. We are still working on putting an ‘n’ at the start of ninja.


Cute but Short-lived

Some of Dylan’s interpretations on words and phrases are too cute and we have repeated them back to him and even used them ourselves sometimes. But over time, they have corrected without much help from us. Cute but short-lived words and phrases uttered by Dylan include:

  • ‘parrot shute’ instead of parachute
  • washing lion for washing line
  • eye growl for eye brow
  • swimming gobbles for swimming goggles
  • flag instead of tag (the label inside a t-shirt)
  • machos for nachos
  • chicken pops for chicken pox

My four and half year old boy can now clearly tell me that he loves me, and that is exceptionally nice to hear. It is just not as cute as the first couple of times when Dylan said “I Bove You Mummy”.


Our Family’s (Now Not-So) Secret Language

Some of the things Dylan says have stuck. We have embraced them as a family and now say them as well. Why do we have to use the proper word when Dylan’s altered ones are so much better? I like how we have started our own family traditions. I can not only pass down ‘The Conk’ to my children, but they can pass a unique lexicon onto theirs – a kind of inter-generational secret family language.

So in our home if we play pretend shops and want to buy something, we use our ‘money-dollars’. When we hear an insect buzzing around, it is probably a ‘shoo-fly’. And when there is a loud noise, Dylan goes off to find his ‘ear-mupps’ to wear over his ears.

A few times when either my husband or I were going out, Dylan would ask us in a slightly worried tone ‘but who is going to keep me?’ It took us a while to realise that he was asking who was going to stay at home with him or look after him.

I now think this is a lovely turn of phrase and sums up what he asking perfectly. Well Dylan, who is going to ‘keep’ you? My darling, gorgeous boy, I will always ‘keep’ you.

I would love to hear your ‘kid-made’ words that have made it into your family’s secret language or unique lexicon. Post them in the comments below.

Family Language Blog Post - Money Dollars


What Kind of Parent Am I?

Parenting Approach Blog Post - Tiger

Personal Labels

Over the years I have taken a number of personality and behavioural surveys and profiles. You too may have done some of these at work or as part of a team building exercise or perhaps on a lazy afternoon when flicking through an old Cosmo magazine. Here are some of my results:

  • Myers Briggs: ISFJ
  • DISC: C and I dominant
  • Tendency: Upholder
  • Love language: Quality Time
  • Kolbe action style: High on ‘Fact finder’ and ‘Follow through’
  • VIA Strengths: Highest – Love of Learning, Lowest: Humility (well I do write a blog about myself!)

Check out the references to find out your results (note some websites may charge for the report).

Maybe these survey results tell you a lot about me. Or maybe the fact that I absolutely LOVE ticking all those boxes tells you all you need to know. I realise that these are just tools, and that no test sums up me, or anyone else, perfectly. However, I relish in the structure they give and the knowledge that there are other people quite similar to me in this world.


Parenting Labels

So when it comes to parenting, I thought I would also like to try and fit into a category, to find other mamas just like me. All I would need to do is research the key points of the main parenting approaches and slot myself in to the one that resonates the most with me – voila – instant community.

Here are a few I tried on for size. These are major philosophies and I do not want to trivialise their importance, but to keep things short, I have summarised their main tenets into a couple sentences. Check out the references for more information.


The Tiger Mother

I initially liked the sound of this – who wouldn’t want to be associated with these majestic beasts? This parenting approach places a huge emphasis on academic success and non-academic structured activities that garner awards such as classical music practice.

Unfortunately I cannot lay claim to being a tiger mother. My four year old now does soccer practice because he told us he wanted to. And my 18 month old daughter has been barely exposed to anything remotely structured as an activity, except for the occasional sing-a-long during Rhymetime at the library.


Slow Parenting

I then thought perhaps I am the opposite of the tiger mother – have I embraced ‘Slow Parenting’? This advocates a lot of free play, less toys and places emphasis on a child using their imagination and being out in nature. It sounds idyllic, plus I would love to have less toys cluttering up the house.

The issue I have with ‘Slow Parenting’ is its name. In the 1980’s when I was growing up, this ‘movement’ would have been simply known as ‘Parenting’. I spent many hours on the weekends with my sister and our friends making huts out of the gorse bushes or bamboo strands in our neighbourhood, and I am pretty sure my parents have never heard of ‘Slow Parenting’.

Plus it discourages kids from watching TV so it is ruled out of contention for me on that count alone.


Natural Parenting

I love the idea of natural parenting with its emphasis on being as close to your child as possible, natural childbirth and what is best for the environment.

My second child went onto solids via baby-led weaning. Not because I was trying to be a natural parent, but because, well, it was baby-led. Eloise refused mush off a spoon almost straight away.

But I just never could get the hang of baby wearing – I always thought my baby would fall out of the sling. And anyway, I believe I have a life-long ban from this movement for the 100% use of disposable nappies (diapers).


Conscious Parenting

With its emphasis on empathy, understanding and tolerance along with self-regulation and mindfulness, ‘Conscious Parenting’ sounds more like an aspiration rather than something I can adhere to 24/7. It seems kind of obvious that we would all want to be conscious parents, but I am fairly sure that people who (although only occasionally) drink wine in the shower are excluded from this category.


Good Enough Parenting

So if I give up striving to be the perfect parent should I then instead embrace the concept of ‘Good Enough Parenting’? The basic argument here is that no more striving to be the perfect parent means less stress, which is good for the whole family.

However, this may lead to no attempt to improve us as parents or to develop our kids as potential leaders. I would rather try – and possibly fail – to be a conscious parent, if this is the alternative.


Where To From Here?

These are all perfectly valid and legitimate forms of parenting, backed by scientific research and anecdotal stories of parenting success.

But they are just not right for me. Actually that is incorrect. They are all right for me, in different circumstances, but not a single one is exactly the right fit.

Then I realised what I was searching for, the structure I have been craving, is something I have already started creating: I am a ‘CherishMama’.

My website, is a sanctuary. But for who exactly? This is still evolving, but currently it is for parents like me. Ones who do not fit easily into other parenting categories.

We are an eclectic bunch of flawed Mamas (and Daddies) who cherish the fortunate and privileged position we have of being a parent, but sometimes huff and snarl at our kids. We do strive to do our best, but sometimes end the day by drinking wine in the shower. At last, I have found something that ticks all my boxes.




Myers Briggs:






Love language:


Kolbe action style:


VIA Strengths:


The Tiger Mother:


Slow Parenting:


Natural Parenting:


Conscious Parenting:


Good Enough Parenting:

Parenting Approach Blog Post  - Eloise in Highchair


What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?


Pirates and Lawn Mowers

What do you want to be when you grow up? Can you remember being asked that as a child? How did people react to your aspirations?

I have asked Dylan – who is a typical boisterous four-year-old boy – a few times now – what he wants to be when he grows up. The latest response was, per usual, esoteric and convoluted. Dylan wants to be an army tank driver who mows lawns on a pirate ship.

What would you say to that? I loved everything about Dylan’s answer and here is why…



Firstly, I loved the imagination in his response. Being creative is not just a cherry on top to cultivate in our kids when the time is right. It is an essential skill that needs to be encouraged daily.

In fact, it’s already a key competitive advantage at work. Whether we like it or not, we live in an unfair world where the privileged few in first world countries can get the opportunity to do interesting and advanced work. This involves all the imagination and creativity that can be conjured up. Mundane and repetitive jobs will be increasingly outsourced to computers, robots and people from less wealthy countries. Creativity will equal pay cheque in the future economy.


The End of Jobs

Secondly, Dylan’s answer implied a succession of different skills and hence not one job. A straightforward, upwards trajectory of a single career is a rare thing nowadays, and will become even less common in the future. I was relieved to know that not having one true calling is actually a thing. Check out Emilie Wapnick’s TED talk on ‘multipotentialites’ to hear more about this.

It is becoming less common to even apply for a ‘job’ as such. A working life is likely to consist of different opportunities to earn income via freelancing, being an employee, or owning a business. It could involve stints at home or travelling or re-education and picking up casual work where it arises. There is likely to be a fading out of the notion of retirement, so our children will have to think about how they will earn a living over the space of 50 years or more.


The Start of Jobs

But being a lawn mower man and army tanker driver on a pirate ship is not even a JOB, you say. It simply does not exist. And you are probably right.

However, there are some reputable sources that state that at least 65% of the jobs and work opportunities available ten to twenty years in the future do not exist at all today. Think of the impact that virtual reality and artificial intelligence will have on our lives in the not too distant future.

After all, the first employees of Facebook, ten years ago, certainly did not grow up with the desire to work for that company. And who would have thought even five years back that regular people would have the income opportunities now available thanks to Uber (driving people around) and AirBnB (renting out rooms in your house)? The inventor of the selfie-stick probably didn’t have that as part of his life plan when he was four years old, but he currently must be pretty happy with his ability to monetise a growing trend in a timely manner.


Show Me the Money

Also, it may be argued that even if there was such a job, there does not seem to be a way to actually make money from it. How would you actually generate a revenue stream from lawn mowing on a pirate ship?

Actually, people can make income from any opportunity, especially if they are passionate and apply a great work ethic to it. A recent newspaper story discussed a 24-year-old Pokémon enthusiast who has been hired by the gaming company behind Pokémon Go to be a Pokémon Go coach. His first task is to find and capture all the Pokémon in New Zealand. Now think about this for a second – this guy is being paid to hunt for game characters. If you can make money doing that, then very little seems impossible in the way of income opportunities.


Dream Big

I really loved how passionate Dylan was about his future occupation(s). There were no limits, no holding back, he had a vision, he was dreaming big.

As parents we need to keep our children safe, but try not to limit them. We need to move out of the way. Let them think anything is possible. Let them fail. Let them pick themselves back up and try something new. This is one of our core conflicts as parents and I know it is hard! But at the very least, never ever, ever, ever tell them that what they want to do is impossible.

After all, someone’s child is now earning good money to chase after imaginary monsters.



TED Talk:

Job Statistics:


Grow Up Blog Post - Pokemon