What I Learned By Not Winning NaNoWriMo

In my mid-twenties, I worked as a meeting planner.  Thanks to that job, I traveled the entire USA in about five years.  I rode horses in the Arizona desert, watched surfers from the cliffs of La Jolla, and collected sea shells on Sanibel Island.  I caught a 120 pound nurse shark off the Miami coast, and an 80 pound halibut in the famously harsh waters near Kodiak Island, Alaska.  Will Smith chatted me up in Phoenix; Ed McMahon shared a breakfast table with me in Palm Springs; and Mick Jagger invited me into his limousine in Dearborn, Michigan.  Also, in Dearborn, I saw the red velvet chair in which President Lincoln sat when he was shot and killed, but that was a different trip to Dearborn, because everyone should see Dearborn more than once.  I learned to love grunge in Seattle, and I learned to golf in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.  Coworkers dragged my ass to the Indy 500, and different coworkers convinced me to order my first whole lobster in Boston.

Recently, I was running in the Bois de Boulogne with a friend of mine, and she was telling me about her once-upon-a-time career in Nashville, when she was similarly aged in her mid-20s, and I listened to her stories, and even she was fascinated by them.  “That seems like a different life all together,” she said, “like it wasn’t really me.”  Yes, I thought, like a lifetime of dreams stitched together to create a person you know, but it’s not actually you, because you are 44 and you live in Paris.

I didn’t win NaNoWriMo.  So what.  Also since November, Slush Pile Magazine rejected “She’s the Perfect Babe” and The Black Warrior Review rejected “The Confession, Typed and Saved on my Hard Drive.”

But I’m writing.  Every single day, I’m writing.  Sometimes, I’m lucky to churn out 700 words.  Other times, I delete and dip into the negative.  My outline is evolving, and my story is expanding.  There are times I think I might complete this novel, dammit, and won’t that be something!

In the mean time, I saw Madonna in concert last week.

But enough about me.  Let’s discuss The Bestie.  She experienced angst last week when a poorly planned line for funnel cake held up a holiday light extravaganza.  She schooled me on the Affordable Care Act, and she supported me when I told her I was cutting my hair off.  She responsibly dealt with cyber bullying, and she didn’t judge me when I groped Les Pompiers in my apartment.  She helped her sister and brother-in-law move from the house in which they raised their children, and she hosted one hell of a Thanksgiving dinner.  Also, she had a birthday, which makes her the same age as me for the next six months.

My friends here in Paris tell me they can’t share their experiences with friends in the USA, because no one understands, which is absolutely true.  How do you tell someone the fourth floor is actually the fifth, or that your toilet paper can be purple or orange, or that Cou Cou means Haaaay Giirrrrrrrll, not Um You’re Crazy?  How do you explain that dogs are allowed in restaurants and wine tasting is a chore without getting de-friended?

Anyway, it doesn’t matter.  The Bestie is the girl who wasted months of her life roller skating with me in the corner parking lot and riding bikes with me along Ridge Avenue because that was how we got from here to there.  We built Barbie mansions out of couch pillows and wooden pallets, balanced our butts on a tall stone wall hoping we wouldn’t fall, and talked about boys for hours hoping we would fall.  We took long drives to the Jersey shore, to the Pocono mountains, to nowhere in particular.  Those parts of my life seem real, somehow, not scenes from the never-ending dream.  Maybe because it’s a shared experience.  And after all these years, nothing has changed.  I mean, for the most part, anyway.

I can tell The Bestie that recently in Paris, I saw a movie with a French lady, and I saw a movie alone.  (P.S. Vue Sur Mer?  For the love of God, skip it).  A German girl taught me how to bake an apple strudel.  I finished a handful of books, including two on the subject of writing, and I’m reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, because The Bestie told me to read it.  I forced myself to jog an average of twice per week, with a chick who is a far better runner than I am, and probably a better writer too.  For reasons I can’t explain, I walk to the 8:30 AM Mass a few weekday mornings every month and clam up when it’s time for the sign of peace.  I’m waiting impatiently for my older son and my stepchildren to arrive for the holidays, drinking too much vin chaud at holiday parties and Christmas markets all over town, and indulging in hot chocolate at places like George V, which I seriously can’t afford right now, considering the ski trip we’re planning in Chamonix.  I can also tell The Bestie, if I wanted to, that recently in my novel, my protagonist stole a stash of electronics from the mob, outgrew his dress shoes, and escorted a rich girl to a dance.  But I don’t necessarily have to tell her that, because she doesn’t ask but she will read it someday, and that’s awesome.

So what did I learn during NaNoWriMo?  I learned to outline but write freely.  I learned to write the things I’m afraid to write, but not to take it seriously.  I learned I don’t have to meet my word count goals, but writing every day is monumentally important.  I remembered that I love it when my characters do things that surprise me, and they can only surprise me if I’m writing.  I reached 12,300 words, and that’s nothing compared to the 50,000 words my online buddies churned out.  But for me, it’s a fucking miracle.

Yanno the most important thing I learned since NaNoWriMo?  I don’t know the girl who traveled throughout the USA in her mid-twenties or who independently raised two boys in her mid-thirties, but I do know how to stitch together moments.  Writing is stitching together moments.

2015 is almost over, people.  Did you have good moments?


  1. Wow! You make my week sound very interesting. The Bestie Loves when you write about The Bestie. I especially love the line about your character growing out of his dress shoes. My calendar arrived in Le Post, thank you!!!


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