NANOWRIMO Blog Post - Julie the Writer at a Cafe

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


Extraordinary Ordinary Blog Post - Grandma Wedding Day

Extraordinary Ordinary


Extraordinary Ordinary - Grandma Wedding Day

In Loving Memory
On the 5th of January 2015, my grandmother passed away suddenly but peacefully. She was my last grandparent and Dylan’s last great-grandparent still living. Although obviously shocked and saddened by her death, I was comforted by the fact that my Grandma had lived a happy and fulfilling life in her almost 88 years on this planet.

A Brief Biography
Grandma was the fourth child and first daughter born into a family of twelve (yes 12!!) children. Her only other sister was born the following year and then came a succession of seven more boys. As an illustration of the innocence of that era (or perhaps just of Grandma herself), she remembers asking the nurse who came to the family home when her mother was about to give birth, if the nurse could possibly “bring a girl with her this time”.

Typical of a large family in the 1920’s and ‘30’s, they were extremely poor, a kind of poverty that is unimaginable in the first world in the 21st century. Only Grandma and her sister ever had shoes as children – the boys simply went without. Throughout her childhood there was no electricity in the home. From a young age after school she would sell flowers just to add a few extra pennies to the family’s income each week.

However, they were a close and loving family who really did not know any different. They had enough land to grow a large vegetable patch for all the hungry mouths. Grandma always recalled her childhood with warmth and happiness while I would wonder how all the washing could be done for 12 children with no washing machine.

My Grandma, Marj, met my Granddad, George, just after World War Two finished and they were happily married for almost 60 years before his passing a few years ago. She is survived by her three children, three grandchildren (my sisters and I) and four great-grand children (Dylan and his cousins).

Wise, Grateful and Kind
A short history of someone’s life doesn’t really explain who they were or what they really mean to people. Grandma was unreservedly and unashamedly my absolute favourite grandparent. Why? Let me tell you about the real Marj:

Grandma, despite not being able to finish high school, was one of the most intelligent and wise people I have ever met. Until a few months before her passing, she did the crossword puzzle every day. She had a love of books and read prolifically, a love that was passed down to me. It was at Grandma and Granddad’s home that I first read the classic ‘Little Women’ and it was at their home that I read it another four or five times.

Grandma was really good-natured, appreciative and grateful of her life. She always said she was thankful for all the simple things – her family, where she lived and the things she had done and seen in her lifetime. After she celebrated her 80th she would say to us: “every day is a bonus”.

In addition, Grandma was kind and loving. She spent almost 60 years with Granddad and often said to us: “if he had two heads I would have married him”. We always thought it was funny imagining Granddad with two heads. She would go out of her way to help those less fortunate, active in various charities and community endeavours. I very rarely heard her say an unkind word about anyone.

My sisters and I were even luckier than most to experience her kind nature from the unique and privileged position of being her grandchildren. We have a childhood full of fond memories of visits at Grandma and Granddad’s place. Memories such as picking fresh beans and peas from their garden, splashing around with the hose and buckets of water, of building huts out of blankets and cushions in the lounge and being taught how to bake simple treats. It was a wondrous and amazing time.

I have always thought of Grandma as an ‘extraordinary ordinary’ human being. She didn’t change the world, but with her wise, kind and appreciative traits, she made her little corner of it a great place to be.

A Little Message
I get sad when I think that Dylan, who is now almost three, is likely to have no proper memories of his great-grandmother, so to him I have this to say:

Reach for the stars, achieve as much as you can in your life. Become the neuro-surgeon, Olympic athlete, environmental warrior, successful business entrepreneur, rock star or anything else you aspire to.

However, know that it is your character that you will be remembered for. Grandma somehow managed to effortlessly beam her timeless qualities of being wise, appreciative and loving. If you can capture even just a little of your amazing great-grandmother’s spirit and use it to enhance your corner of the world then you will be the man I want you to be.

Extraordinary Ordinary - Image of Dylan and Grandma