NaNo 2015 Update

Well, I won. I wrote 50,000 words in November.

On the evening of November 1st, after my son was in bed and the kitchen was cleaned up from supper, I remembered I’d joined NaNo at the last minute and I needed to do my word count.

Even though evening is not my best time for writing, I walked into my office and sat down at my desk. In less than an hour, I’d banged out just over 1667 words on the short story I’ve been thinking about for months.

That was easy, I thought.

Then: Why was it so easy? That’s never happened before.

On November 2nd, the same thing happened. At the end of my day, I just sat down and wrote the words I needed to write to meet my goal. I loved watching my little bar of words meet the slanting line that showed I was on track with my word count.Screen Shot 2015-12-10 at 5.28.12 AM

If I compared my previous NaNo wins (and attempts) to the story of the tortoise and the hare, I was always the hare. This year, I was the tortoise.

The first weekend of NaNo I didn’t meet my word count goals, but by the end of the next week, I’d caught up again. Toward the end of the month, I had more “no words written” days, but I’d already completed so many words I wasn’t willing to give up.

Luckily, I hosted a Write-In at my local library on November 28th, so I was able to really boost my word count while in the company of fellow writers.

Winning NaNo this year was a little anticlimactic. In previous years, I was behind (really behind) most of the month and the question of whether or not I could write 50,000 words in a month took up a lot of room in my mind.

  • When am I going to write?
  • Can I really catch up if I’m this far behind?
  • Why did I sign up for this?
  • Why did I tell people I was doing this?

This year, I just sat down and did it, day after day. No drama, no angst—just get it done.

For the first time ever, I was able to shut off my inner critic, my internal editor, and just write—which made the writing go much faster than my usual pace.

I haven’t looked back at what I wrote yet, but I doubt much of it is usable. But some of it will be.

And that’s the whole point, right? To have something to edit, rather than a blank page.

Which I do.

Thank you, National Novel Writing Month, and all my fellow Wrimos, who did it before me and with me.Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 10.20.54 AM

Now it’s time to rewrite!

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: is a writer, blogger, life coach, and family physician. I’m ready to look back over the year and see what I’ve accomplished and what’s on tap for 2016. You?


Overhelmed and Not Finding Answers? Maybe a Change of Venue Can Help

This post is prompted by this image I came across on Facebook the other day:


As I’m actually at a beach this week, it seemed timely.

But it’s also relevant to how there are times when work is so piled up or a project is so challenging that we’re stymied with how to proceed.

And when I get stuck, or stymied, my frustration level tends to rise and nothing good comes from getting upset – I know my mind seems to stop trying to solve the quandary instead of resolving it, at least.

A change of scenery generally does the trick. Sometimes it’s as simple as walking out to the end of the driveway and back. Simply stepping out the door, taking a few deep breaths, realizing the issue isn’t all that complicated to solve, and a few steps (literally) away from where the tension was mounting can kick ideas free.

Anything that gets oxygen circulating and endorphins kicking up their heels, is a good thing.

Of course we can’t always hop on a plane and go to a nice beach to ‘escape reality’ for a while, but the concept is one to keep in mind.

For me, the beach is a great getaway – virtually or in person. Your perfect place may be the mountains, the lake, a foreign country, your garden, a park — whatever it is, if you find yourself stuck or struggling and need a break, get to that place if you can.

A different perspective can shake answers free — and fresh air never hurts any one, right?

Being at a New England beach in December is a bit on the chilly side, but I can’t think of anything better (for me) than walking on the beach any time of the year to get me back to being grounded. November was crazy-busy for me (in a good way), and although I’m working while ‘away’, knowing the beach is right outside my door is comforting in a way my home is not.

So, the beach may not have the answers, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to check!

Where is your getaway location?

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with manufacturing, software, and technology businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

When You Feel Like Quitting… Consider This

You work hard toward your writing and business goals.

You spend time on the big picture and getting daily tasks done.

You make strides, you celebrate milestones, and you continue working and building your dream.

But there are hiccups and stumbles along the way.

And sometimes, whether it’s a bad day, a tough client, a technology snafu, or some other “last straw,” you might think about quitting and walking away.

Success isn’t always a breeze — if it was easy, everyone would succeed at whatever they tried. Success takes works.

If (or when) you find yourself thinking about quitting and moving onto something different, think about why you started.

Go back to the spark. What was it that started you on your current path? Take some time to remember how it felt, how inspired and fired up you were. Remembering that first spark might help you refocus and keep moving forward today.

Robin Sharma said, “When you feel most like giving up is when you most need to keep going on.” I think it’s usually at this moment, the moment right before saying “I quit”, when you make the most critical decision.

I experienced this unadulterated moment years ago and I can put myself back in that moment in an instant.  I was climbing Mount Washington in NH, making good time, enjoying the beautiful day, the exercise, the challenge.

Then I got above treeline and fog moved in. I couldn’t see anything. I lost track of the markers on the stone and I only knew I was still climbing because of the incline, but I had no sense of how far I was from the summit or the tree line. Totally lost and blind. After a couple of discouraging and frustrating hours, I reached the point where I was absolutely done. I didn’t want to think, I didn’t want to move, I was just done trying. I’d been pushed beyond my limits and wanted to curl up and hide until life was easy again.

I sat down on a boulder and said, “I quit.”

And it turned out the universe was teaching me a lesson.

No sooner had I uttered those 2 words of defeat, the fog lifted and blue sky appeared. But not only that, I was seated beside the tracks for the Cog railway (which leads directly to the summit). But not only THAT, I was literally sitting a few feet below the summit house.

I had achieved my goal after all. I was at the summit of the mountain. I did it all under my own power, and yet, because I felt lost, because I had lost my focus, because I didn’t push just a little bit further, because I couldn’t see what was right in front of me, I quit.

I had a goal. I prepared and planned. I executed on the goal. I took one step at a time toward my goal.

But then challenges popped up, and I got tired, then frustrated, then angry. Instead of stopping to refocus, remember what started me up the mountain to start with, take a breath, and come up with a new plan of attack, I went with the easiest choice – quit.

Now, whenever I feel the word “quit” moving into my thoughts, I go back to that moment on the mountain and I have to say, I have never regretted taking one more step toward my goal – writing, business, personal, or otherwise – being so close to quitting is when you need to push just a little further, a little harder, and with a little more determination.


Wishing you the greatest success with your writing and your business dreams!

Have you ever regretted taking one more step, pushing just a little harder toward your business goals?

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with manufacturing, software, and technology businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedI

My Take on Crime Bake 2015


As my fellow bloggers, Lisa and Julie, have mentioned, the mystery writer’s conference, New England Crime Bake , took place this past weekend. I wasn’t able to go last year so I was thrilled to attend the conference this year.

I had a wonderful time. I was inspired by all the first-time authors in attendance, as well as the famous authors who were there after publishing their fourth, tenth, or even thirtieth bestseller.

I got to sit in on a round table with an agent and a published author, both of whom listened as eight writers read their loglines and the first pages of their manuscripts. Each person got individual feedback from both. It was a wonderful opportunity.

This is the fourth time I’ve attended the Crime Bake conference and it was the best conference yet. Some of that had to do with the organizers—everyone on the Crime Bake Committee make a real effort to make everyone, from readers to unpublished authors to the famous, feel welcome. It also had to do with my own state of mind. I was thrilled to be there and engaged in all the panels I went to, while also giving myself permission to skip an event to go running when I couldn’t absorb any more information.

I’ve been writing for years now but this is the first year I attended Crime Bake and felt like I belonged. I think something has shifted for me. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and I’ve been writing for years, so I’m a writer. I know I just need to keep at it and I will improve in the art and the craft of writing.

One of the insights I gained from the weekend was that each author’s process is unique. Elizabeth George creates her characters and researches the setting of her novel before she ever sits down to write the story. Hallie Ephron said her writing process was really ugly and that she tended to be a “seat-of-the-pants” writer. I admire both of these women and love their books. They’ve both created suspenseful stories that read seamlessly. It’s hard to believe they work so completely differently.

I’m so glad I went to Crime Bake, if only to learn that the way I write is right for me. I’m just going to stick with what’s working and keep racking up my “10,000 hours” to master this writing craft.

I’ll end this post by saying the inspiration and motivation that comes from hanging out with a group of people who love words as much as we do cannot be measured. It was a priceless weekend and I can’t wait for next year’s Crime Bake!

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: is a writer, blogger, master certified life coach, and family physician. I’m working on my NaNo project and I’m not behind. This year I am a turtle, slowly marching toward 50,000 words, while in years past I’ve always been a hare, ignoring my word count and then sprinting forward to write 10,000 words in one day. I have to say, being a turtle is much more relaxing than being a hare. I hope I can keep it up!

Weekend Edition – Idea Math for Writers Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

Writer = Idea Machine

From "a little market" via Pinterest

From “a little market” via Pinterest

If someone asked you to name your stock in trade as a writer, what would you say?

Your knee-jerk response might be “words.” Words are the building blocks of our stories. They are like the painter’s pigments or the sculptor’s clay.

But, are they really your stock in trade? No.

As a writer, your stock in trade is your ideas.

Without ideas, there are no words. Ideas are where the process starts. They are the seeds that blossom into word-laden forests. My dad has always told me that the ideas -not perfect execution – are the thing. Anyone can learn to do a thing well, whether that thing is painting a picture, taking a photograph, or writing a story. These are technical skills you can practice and hone until you achieve a high level of mastery. But, without a good idea to drive your technical excellence, all you have is an empty exercise in rote execution. What you create will have no purpose, no meaning, no soul.

And, that’s no good.

··• )o( •··

So, ideas. Where do they come from?

The Muse, you say? Really? I like to think the Muses are kind of like Sharon Stone’s character in Albert Brooks’ film, The Muse. (If you haven’t seen this, please watch it. It is fabulous from any angle, but from the writer’s perspective it’s especially funny.) Stone plays Sarah Little, a modern day Muse whose tactics are more than a tad unconventional. She is petulant, feisty, demanding, and – more to the point – she never actually gives anyone ideas. She doesn’t consider that to be part of her job.

So, if not the Muses, where do ideas come from?

They come from you, silly.

And, like any other skill, idea generation is something you can practice. It’s not magic or a creative gift or the whispers of those pesky Muses. Idea generation is about treating your brain like the muscle it is and working it out to improve flexibility, stamina, and strength.

··• )o( •··

Though he is sometimes a little over the top for some people, I kind of adore James Altucher. He’s more of a business/finance/entrepreneurship blogger, but many of his ideas apply beautifully to writing. One of my favorite posts of his is The Magic of Idea Math, in which he outlines seven different ways to generate ideas:

  • IDEA ADDITION: Take a big, popular idea and add something to it.
  • IDEA SUBTRACTION: Think you’re stuck in a situation with no options? Consider your situation without the roadblocks. Just take all the “can’ts” out of the equation, and see where you go.
  • IDEA EXPONENTIALS & SUBSETS: Start with ten ideas and then add ten ideas for each of your original ten, and so on. (This, as Altucher points out, is a good recipe for writing a book.)
  • NEGATIVE IDEAS: Look at opposites and opposing forces to get a completely different perspective that opens your mind to new possibilities.
  • IDEA MULTIPLICATION: Take a good idea and figure out how to scale it through replication.
  • IDEA DIVISION: Take a good idea and divide it again and again in order to break it down into its component, “niche” parts. I picture cell division that breaks one big cell down into dozens of smaller, more specialized cells.
  • IDEA SEX: This is similar to idea addition, but more integrated. Altucher uses the example of “sampling” in the music industry. The popular term “mash-up” also applies here.

Go ahead and play around with these ideas in the context of your writing or your writing career. This is all about “thinking outside the box,” as the tired cliché says.  It’s about training your brain to think about problems (and possibilities!) in different ways.

··• )o( •··

I use the word “training” intentionally. As I mentioned earlier, you need to treat your brain like a muscle. You need to exercise and stretch it constantly. It’s the old “use it, or lose it” idea.

My daughter and I recently discovered, courtesy of another mom, a great show from the National Geographic channel called Brain Games. The series is a fascinating exploration of how our brains work. Much of what we’ve learned by watching so far has surprised the hell out of me.

One thing that didn’t surprise me, however, is the fact that our brains are amazingly adaptive machines that learn at an incredibly fast rate, but will atrophy if not properly exercised. I’m no expert, but it seems to me that brain training falls into two categories: strength and flexibility.

Strength exercises help you hone your memory, analysis, observation, and problem solving skills. I subscribe to a great brain-training tool called Lumosity to help me with these kinds of exercises. Using my desktop computer or their handy mobile app, I play fun games that are scientifically designed by neuroscientists to help me improve these basic mental skills. It’s easy, fun, and kind of addictive.

Flexibility exercises are the ones that help you improve how creatively you think. This is where the “outside the box” stuff comes in. One of the best ways to increase your thinking agility is to “think like a kid” by removing any assumptions you have about how a certain problem “should” or can be solved. A Brain Games episode we watched recently demonstrates the power of thinking like a kid by asking adults and kids to describe what they see in an abstract drawing. Adults can usually only come up with one or maybe two ideas, while kids can go on and on (and on!) as their imaginations rev up.

··• )o( •··

That’s kind of what ideas are all about, right? Imagination. And isn’t imagination the domain of a writer?

We writers ply our story trade by repeatedly asking the all-important question, “What if?” This deceivingly simple question is the key to opening a world of possibilities. Though the process may start slowly with a grinding of the wheels in your brain, once you get going all kinds of ideas jump out at you.

“Possibilities” – you may notice I’ve used that word a number of times in this post. That’s because ideas are about possibilities. Ideas aren’t intrinsically right or wrong, they are just potentialities to be explored and tested.

And they aren’t just for stories, either. There are countless possibilities to explore in your real life, too. We often get stuck thinking about our world and our lives from only one perspective and based on one set of assumptions. But, what if we looked at our situation with the eyes of a child?  What if we used Altucher’s negative ideas mind math to remove the obstacles that we assume are keeping us from achieving our goals? What if we let our imaginations uncover new solutions to our problems?

··• )o( •··

Your stock in trade as a writer is your ideas. They are what set you apart from everyone else. They are what capture a reader’s attention, whether you are writing fiction, nonfiction, or marketing copy. As much as you practice the craft of writing – style, voice, syntax, and all that good stuff – you must also practice the craft of idea generation. Give your brain the opportunity to stretch and play. Make coming up with new ideas part of your daily writing routine. Drop your assumptions and inhibitions and see how bizarre and silly you can get. You never know what bit of brilliance will emerge from the chaos.


What I’m {Thinking About} Writing:

Wall art by spellandtell via Etsy

Wall art by spellandtell via Etsy

As I mentioned above, considering “what if?” possibilities isn’t an exercise that’s only good for writing stories. It can be a powerful and transformative tool for shaping your life and your writing career.

I have been working as a freelance marketing writer for almost the last decade because I asked myself, “What if I gave the copywriting thing a whirl?” I’m so grateful that the answer to that question turned out to be the successful business I’ve got now. But, even while I deeply appreciate each and every client and project that enables me to keep a roof over our heads and Boboli pizzas on the table, I can’t quite seem to stop asking, “What if?”

  • What if I tried my hand at nonfiction … maybe writing a book about writing?
  • What if I did a self-publishing experiment around a serialized story?
  • What if I offered custom stories about people’s pets?
  • What if I …

You get the idea. Sometimes we get too tied up in thinking about “writing” in only one way. We think that being a writer means being a novelist or a journalist or a screenwriter. We stop seeing other opportunities, we forget that there are all kinds of species of writers and all kinds of different ways that stories and information permeate our world and our lives. If we stop assuming that, as a “writer,” we can only exist within the confines of a very specific identity, all kinds of new possibilities open up to us.

It’s something worth thinking about.


What I’m {Remembering About} Reading:

Jessie Willcox Smith - Mother and Children Reading

Jessie Willcox Smith – Mother and Children Reading

Last week’s Friday Fun was all about early influences on our writing. My response took me on a walk down memory lane where I recalled the books I’d read as a child. It was interesting to look back on my long list of favorite children’s and young adult reads and see some patterns in the kinds of stories, characters, and themes that I’d been drawn to. It’s also interesting to see how my preferences have evolved over the years.

But, one influence I thought of after the Friday post was published was how my mom read aloud to my sister and I right through our teen years. Though the specific stories she shared with us did influence me, what was more important was simply being exposed to and enveloped in my mother’s love of books and reading. Experiencing that passion first hand made a lasting impression that has sustained my own reading and writing ever since.

Now that I’m someone’s mom, I have spent countless treasured hours reading aloud to her, starting with picture books and graduating over the years to easy readers and novels. Now that she’s almost too old for bedtime stories (at least, she thinks so), I’ve introduced her to the wonderful world of audio books. She has spent dozens of hours this summer, listening to fantasy novels while coloring or doing some other creative activity. I just love knowing that her head is filling up with stories and adventure.


A Personal Announcement:

By SusanBlackArt on Etsy

By SusanBlackArt on Etsy

So, in case you missed my post about the influence of “place” on writing, my daughter and I have been dealing with some upheaval in our housing situation.  I am excited to share with you today that as of this past Monday I am, once again, a homeowner. After nearly three years of house hunting, the demolition-driven crisis we were in turned out to be  just the thing to push me out of the nest, or … er … into the nest?

Either way, we found a charming cottage-style cape that is in the same neighborhood we’ve come to love over this past eighteen months. My daughter is over-the-moon thrilled, and – even though there’s some work to be done and money to be spent – I’m pretty much right there with her.

So, if my posts over the next month or so start to wander off into home-related tangents, you’ll know why. I promise to stay as focused as possible on writing-related topics, but I’m sure that some domestic themes might sneak in there. At the very least, I’m sure our mini renovation adventures will yield some worthwhile anecdotes.



And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:

Finally, a quote for the week:

Image from Pinterest

Image from Pinterest

Here’s to lots and lots of new ideas, having fun playing with possibilities, and finding (and making) your own, sweet home. 
Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.

Friday Fun – Early Writing Influences

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

QUESTION: What writers and stories influenced you early in your life and/or writing career and how did they do so?

hennrikus-web2Julie Hennrikus: Nancy Drew was a huge influence on my mystery writer brain. I would say Carolyn Keene, but since Carolyn was several people and I don’t know who wrote which books, I can’t point to a specific Carolyn. I liked Hardy Boys, but didn’t read Trixie Belden back in the day.
JME5670V2smCROPJamie Wallace: Since I started writing when I was a kid, I have to go back quite a way to find my early writing influences, and boy were they many and wildly varied! I was a pretty voracious young reader. I kept to myself a lot, often preferring to spend time with my German shepherd dog, Boomer, than with other kids. I read myself to sleep, often began my day reading (still in bed), and carried a book with me pretty much everywhere I went.

Mostly, I read fantasy – Tolkien, LeGuin, Peter S. Beagle, C.S. Lewis, and Lloyd Alexander. I also loved more classic children’s literature like A. A. Milne’s tales from the hundred-acre wood, Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows, and – a special favorite – The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden. And then there were the books that were not quite fantasy and not quite children’s stories, novels like Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell and Julie and the Wolves by Jean Craighead George. As I grew a little older I started to enjoy some science fiction: Anne McCaffrey’s Pern, Herbert’s Dune, and Heinlein’s world of Lazarus Long. From there, it was a quick leap to writers like Douglas Adams, Vonnegut, and Tom Robbins who taught me much about satire, social commentary, and general wit.

Looking over this list of first loves, it makes me smile to see so clearly how these childhood reading experiences have influenced the kinds of stories I like to read and hope to write as an adult. It’s no wonder I grew up to love books that blend real life with the magical, humor with sentiment, and include elements of mystery, surprise, and good overcoming evil. Most of all, I think each of these early influences inspired me to value stories that can not only capture our imagination and pull us into another reality, but also give us new eyes with which to see our own reality.

LisaJJackson_2014Lisa J. Jackson: I read a lot as a kid and am so grateful for that time I had! My first influences were series of books… Hardy Boys mysteries, Nancy Drew mysteries, Little House on the Prairie. And as I hit my teens it was J.R.R. Tolkein, Stephen King, and John Saul. And thanks to reading Jamie’s entry above, Wind in the Willows was memorable, as were stories about Rip Van Winkle. Time travel, mystery, and other worlds/alternate realities have always appealed to me.

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: My first writing influences were similar to my fellow writers. I loved the Nancy Drew books, but before those books I read and loved the Encyclopedia Brown books. Remember him? I just loved how you could figure out the solution to the mystery if you just thought about it enough, or did a little research. I also loved Harriet the Spy, by Louise Fitzhugh. I started keeping a journal after reading that book when I was 11. I read (and reread) The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkein, but I also loved Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maude Montgomery.

When I was 9, I was placed in an advanced reading group and we read classic literature. I hated Pride and Predjudice, which I thought was just a bunch of silly girls who wanted to get married (I never really got into that book, not until college, when I loved it,) but I loved Jane Eyre.

wendy-shotWendy Thomas: As far as writing goes, E.B. White – he is my great-Uncle and you can’t help but be inspired when your early reading material are classics in the making. I was also heavily influenced by the Sunday night TV Disney show (those of us who are of a certain age well remember that highly anticipated weekly event.) That show taught me how to pace a story, how to make it entertaining, how to include life experiences, and how to end my writing on a positive and hopeful note. To this day, I’m still a sucker for happy endings.


Inspiration for Non-Fiction

This month, I’ve been working on a nonfiction book that’s been in my mind for many years. I have a (self-imposed) word count deadline that is pushing me to get back to it (click here to read post about this), but I wanted to pause that project to write a little bit here about my inspirations.

With fiction, it seems like inspiration can come from anywhere. Many authors have written about where they get their inspiration, including my colleagues here at Write to Live—Live to Write.

But with nonfiction, where do you start? I’ve been thinking about this book for many years, and have notes scattered in many places. How do I begin to put it together?

I started with all the reasons I feel inspired to write on this topic:

  • I wrote about who I think will benefit from this book (that’s still in my head.)
  • I wrote about how I hope the reader will be different after they read my book.
  • I wrote about why I want to write this book.
  • I wrote down my highest intention for writing this book.
  • I wrote down some of the memories of times when I could have used a book like the one I’m planning to write.
  • I wrote down some of the coping mechanisms, tools, skills, and resources I’ve used that might help my reader.

After that, I looked for inspiration in more concrete ways:

  • I went back to my old journals and used what I wrote in the past to springboard new thoughts for the book.
  • I reread articles I’d saved that inspired passion, disgust, or wonder in me and resurrected those emotions as I reread them. I wrote (fast and furiously) as I experienced those emotions again.

Lastly, I just turned off the internal editor and let it all flow.

Back in June, before I started Camp NaNo, I made the decision to let go of needing to know how the book will look in its final form. I don’t know if it’ll be a memoir, a self-help book, a combination of the two, or something completely different than either. For the moment, I don’t need to know.

All is need is a little inspiration.

Where do you get your inspiration for your nonfiction project?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: writer, blogger, life coach, family physician. You can read my life coaching blog here.