Thursday, November 16, 2023


Wendall-- every other Thursday

I cannot tell a lie. Actually, it turns out, I can.


I first attempted National Novel Writing Month—i.e. NaNoWriMo—years and years ago for three reasons. One, I heard a piece about it on NPR, two I had wanted to try to write a novel for thirty years and hadn’t had the nerve to do it, and three, my husband was going to be in England for the first two weeks of November.


Also, I always loved the logo...

Even though the idea of writing 50,000 words in a month, or even 10,000 words in a month, seemed absolutely impossible to someone who second-guessed themselves as much as I did, I decided to try.


And I astounded myself by actually writing more than the required 1667 words a day for the first few days. There was something about entering my word count and watching what it did to the graph they provided that was inspiring and invigorating. I wanted to get ahead of the curve. So the words piled up, I made progress. Actual progress. On a novel.


First title page of my first NaNoWriMo draft

It only happened because I couldn’t go back. I couldn’t revise. I couldn’t change my mind. And I definitely couldn’t delete anything—that would cost words. I could only go forward. I’d been a screenwriter for twenty years and I’d never done that before. It was a revelation. I kept thinking, if I can just write another hundred words, if I can just write another two hundred words, I’ll be ahead for tomorrow. It involved, of course, plenty of coffee, working in restaurants, and more than a little wine. But it worked. 


Sometimes the coffee worked. Sometimes the wine.

So, by the time my husband came home I’d already surpassed my 50,000 words, and by the end of that 30 days, I had 300 pages of my first novel, Lost Luggage. Back in those days, you actually had to submit your novel on the NaNoWriMo site, so that meant, for copyright protection, you had to “scramble” it to verify the word count. It looked like this:


Lost Luggage, scrambled.

Lost Luggage, published.

Granted, it was a hot mess, and it would take another year and a half to get it even close to something other people could see, but it existed. And I was hooked. It had been the thing I needed to, for once, get through a first draft without getting in my own way.


I have done the November challenge every year since, as well as an occasional “Camp NaNoWriMo” in April or July. I’ve used it to do first drafts of all my novels, as well as their rewrites. 


The beginnings of Cheap Trills.

To date, I’ve earned nine “completion” certificates, bought a variety of coffee vessels, gotten half price on Scrivener, and lots of other perks of “winning.”


The very first coffee cup I bought on my very first try.

A newer incarnation

As the years have gone by, of course, it’s transformed itself into something that’s much bigger—and hipper—than it was when my first time. I remember mentioning it at a Sisters in Crime LA meeting when I first started and no one had any idea what I was talking about. Now, almost every mystery writer I know participates. The National Chapter of Sisters in Crime does daily “write-ins,” writers post their word counts on Twitter, and it feels almost uncool not to participate.


See what I mean???

So, this year, I signed up, registered my book, and took a deep breath, waiting for the November 1 start date.


Since Cheap Trills came out on October 30th, I was still in the midst of writing guest blog posts and trying to create very amateur graphics, so the first few days were a struggle. 



Marketing was never my strong suit.

Still, I managed to do the daily words. Barely. Then, the fourth day, I fell behind—only 500 words. And the next day, I got nothing done at all. And the next day, nothing again. And the next day, 200 words. The equivalent of nothing.


Suddenly, the graph was no longer my friend. How was I ever going to catch up, especially since I seemed to have no energy for writing? At all. My status page just sat there shaming me. The guilt! The embarrassment! After so many years of succeeding at the 50,000 word challenge, the idea of failing was devastating. How could this happen? How could I live with myself? Plus, all my “buddies” could see my word count. Did I just look like a lazy jerk?


On the sixth day, in a moment of weakness, I just added to my word count with words that didn’t exist. That I hadn’t written. For the graph. For my what I mistakenly thought was my self-respect. Flat-out lied. On NaNoWriMo.


The graphic illustration of an epic fail.

For the love of God!


The irony was not lost on me. It was horrible. I took the words off the next day, but the fact that I did it at all made me take a real look at myself, at my writing, and at what the hell I thought I was doing, anyway.


First, who was it I was writing for? Who cared about my word count? Anyone? Did anyone even care that I was writing a novel at all? I had always seen myself as a non-competitive person, so where had this ludicrous ego come from all of a sudden? Had it morphed with my crippling sense of responsibility, to rationalize such bad behavior? Was I horrified at myself, or just not willing to deal with the fact that, this year, I wasn’t up to it.



In the end, I realized the only person I needed to write for was myself. I was the only one I'd let down. Which meant I was the only person who could let me off the hook. So, in the end, I did. The new book is still burbling in my subconscious, where, right now, it belongs. And that’s okay. Novel writing is a long game. And it’s not all about the word count.


I still love you, NaNoWriMo, I just think we need some time apart.




You can hear Wendall talk about writing, movies, music, songbirds, and all things Cheap Trills on Baron R. Birtcher's THE WRITERS BAR here:








  1. Wonderful blog post, Wendall. I think you did wonderfully to even START a new novel while trying to market Cheap Thrills. But it's about much more than NaNoWriMo. Thank you.

  2. That's very kind of you, Michael, thanks very much.

  3. Very high wisdom word count on this one, Wendall, thanks for sharing it!

    1. Ah, EK, how kind of you to say! Thanks for reading it.

  4. Wow, Wendall, I had never heard of NaNoWriMo. I have in the past demanded from myself 2000 words per day, seven days a week. And I was able to keep to it, pretty much. But now, you and are are twin sisters in crime. I am stalled by the complexity of what I am writing about. I talked the plot over with my go-to writing buddy, to answer the question, "Am I up to the task of writing about about a topic so profound? He said that I am. Percolating , lots more percolating is what my story needs. Each evening, I say goodnight to my subconscious, with plea that it give me what I need in the morning. So far, I have awakened with new questions I need to answer. But no more words for the MS. Your final words above are a GREAT encouragement to me right now. THANK YOU!

    1. The above from AA.

    2. Blogger is giving me trouble today, AA, so apologies if you see this twice. I completely identify with that and am sending every good wish and every ounce of magic I can to your subconscious! I haven't known you long, but my odds are on your being absolutely capable of any level of profundity. Sending love! xxxx

  5. The new book wasn't ready to be born. You hadn't had enough wine. Life got in the way. I am very good at excuses!!

  6. I love this! I had a little trouble with NaNo this year too--but I still like the gentle pressure. I feel like I'm behind all the time anyway. The NaNo graph just gives me an idea how far behind I am...!

    1. The pressure has always been good for me, just not this time, but I am glad you are perservering.xx