NaNoWriMo, Self Care, Writing

A NaNoWriMo Discovery: Why I Quit

This is not another NaNoWriMo (NNWM) story, and it is. When I say it’s not, it’s because I’m not touting the achievements I’ve made and that I’m all into hitting that 50,000-word mark by November 30th.


And this is not to discredit anyone who can and will hit that mark. Best wishes to all of those writers.

To tell the truth (as I should), I hesitated to use the word ‘quit.’ Using the word smacked of failure and I’m not a failure. It’s simply that I did not meet my personal contract and expectation of 1,1667 words per day.

Instead of ‘quit,’ I’d say I surrendered.

I started out with the best intentions, replaced my Twitter banner with the one above, and tweeted encouraging messages to fellow NNWM’s. I sat down every day to write until my wrist and back hurt.


this is not an NNWR story because I won’t hit the intended mark, and I don’t want to do so.

I’m a few days behind the daily word count. That would be 40,008 words by tonight, and I’m at approximately 35,000 words.

“The road to hell is paved with works-in-progress.”

Philip Roth

Along this writing way, I’ve learned some interesting things about my writing self. I learned to plan more and ‘pants’ less. I enjoyed writing out character sketches and delving into the world of the characters. I use, and this helped me a lot.

I also learned that the expectations I had for myself didn’t consider my feelings or emotional state while writing. When writing about psychologically heavy topics, the NNWM exercise can’t be sustained over the long haul.

Not that NNWM says this word count can be. They’re actually very realistic about the exercise and have loads of tips to help a writer write.

I’ve written four novels, three YA and one Adult, and two are in varying stages of revision. Three novels took a couple of years, each, but the longest one (several years) is also the YA novel that deals with violence, attempted suicide, and immigration. The novel, Strong Women Grow Here, is due for publication in Spring 2023.

This NNWM novel I’m writing deals with a likewise emotional topic, for me, and that is one’s survival of cancer, and another’s death from cancer.

As I began writing the chapters about cancer, the memories came alive in my mind. I began to rethink all the ‘what ifs’ and the questions (in the novel, a character asks the questions):

Why did I survive, and why didn’t a friend live?

I had to explore the questions so I could write the scene. I asked these questions of myself sixteen years ago, but they were covered with the joy of achieving remission and being grateful to live and see my son and daughter graduate high school.

So, I’m typing along daily, making my word count for twenty days. Then I hit a wall, and my subconscious said enough.

After forty-eight hours of not writing, I realized that November 23, 2005, was the date of my last chemo. I knew this date on the calendar, but I didn’t ‘feel’ this date until I hit that writing wall.

When I was writing the character’s experiences (based mostly on my own), I remembered that three months after that last chemo was the date of my last radiation. A year later was my last monthly Herceptin drip, and nine years later was my last daily pill of aromatase inhibitor.

Everything that I’d buried came to the surface as I wrote the character’s experience with cancer, and I didn’t want to deal with it.

I had insomnia, my stress level went up, I was emotionally eating, and I just wanted to binge another K-Drama on Netflix.

My favorite K-Drama

I realized I was reliving my diagnosis, my chemotherapy, and radiation. And I was also reliving my emotional, mental, and spiritual state. This returned me to the state of my relationships, the battle with my body, and my perception of what it means to be a woman and be me.

When that realization hit me, I surrendered. I said no more daily word count, no more burying my emotions at the expense of my health, and no more typing out emotional experiences like they didn’t mean something to me.

What I learned was to check in with my mind, spirit, and body. I needed to sit with myself and think through the why’s of not writing.

When I write lived experiences of ‘survival,’ I need to take a break. It’s okay to write for shorter times, and I am gentle with myself.

Some days I’ll have 1,667 words, and others, I’ll have zero. I’ve reset my expectations for NNWM, and I’m good with the word count I’ve written because I’m further ahead from November 1, 2021.

I count this NNWM exercise as a success because my lived experiences have found their way onto the page, and that’s a good thing for me.   

“The road to heaven is also paved with works-in-progress.”

Grant Faulkner

Best wishes for a happy holiday weekend. Be well.

Latina, Latino culture, Mexican traditions, NaNoWriMo, NaNoWriMo Music, Strong Women, Writing

Butt in Chair, Hands on Keys for 30 Days of #NaNoWriMo

I Wrote 50,000+ words in 30 days and lived.
I Wrote 50,000+ words in 30 days and lived.


Like thousands of other writers across the globe, I did a BICHOK (Butt In Chair, Hands On Keys) for 30 days.

Instead of being a complete pantser (writing by the seat of my pantalones), as I have in the past, I did a half and half of pantser and plotter. Like having one leg into my jeans.

The plotter part consisted of character exploration by journaling, creation of a Pinterest storyboard, and created a logline and premise for the story.

After 30 days, I have a story in a first draft mess which finishes around the 3/4 point. Which means I’ll need 15,000-20,000 more words to complete this New Adult story. 

What helped me to write faster was what I learned in a free online workshop from the University of Iowa’s How Writer’s Write Fiction Course. This is a combination of video, reading, and quizzes, which you can take for credit or no credit.

If you take the course for credit there are writing assignments and peer reviews. A certificate of completion is available for $50 if you meet all the requirements. The course is well worth your time.

An exercise I found helpful to start my NaNo writing was to ask my characters questions and write the answers out in longhand in my journal:

1-Who am I?

2- Who do I love? Who or what do I hate?

3-What do I want the most?

4-Who or what do I fear?

My story has three generations of Mexican American women so I needed to explore all of them through these questions.

There are hundreds of character sketch templates available, but I found that these questions opened my mind up to think about emotional issues, not just physical characteristics.

I used most of the answers in the character exploration to type onto my first pages. (Yes, I counted the words for NaNo). This was helpful so I could re-read what I wrote and stay in character.

The other motivator I used, for the first time, was music. Since the main character has just gone through a broken engagement at 22 years old (many moons past for me) I listened to music from Lana Del Rey and Adele.

One of the locations in the novel is Oaxaca, Mexico where the main character visits a curandera (traditional Mexican healer). I selected some indigenous music to help me when I wrote scenes about walking the pyramids of Monte Albán and listened to music by Lila Downs for cafe scenes.

Singer/Musician/Songwriter Lila Downs, born in Oaxaca, Mexico
Singer/Musician/Songwriter Lila Downs, born in Oaxaca, Mexico

I wish I had printed out my Pinterest storyboard since I found myself going back to the photos every time I sat down to write (distracting and time-consuming). The colors, people, foods, and objects helped to center me as I wrote.

For NaNoWriMo 2015, as for any of my next novels, preparation is the key: premise, concept, logline for the story. Explore the characters through journaling. Listen to music for help to create the setting. Create a storyboard of interesting colorful photos to stimulate the eye. And find a consistent time to BICHOK.

Share your writing tips. So how did you NaNo this year?