Wednesday, December 7, 2011


It’s hard to believe that at my age, I’d be considered a virgin. Well, I conquered that label recently when I attempted for the first time the NaNo challenge. For the entire month of November, I wrote my fingers to the bone (not really), making certain to reach the 50,000 words (almost didn’t) by November 30th. The experience was…stressful.

I’d always wanted to do NaNo. I felt a strong sense of community with other writers while challenging myself to write during the start of the holiday season. I don’t know what I was thinking. It was hell!

Except for a short story I wrote earlier this year, I haven’t written a new full-length book in 3 years. Life was a major reason for the lull. Losing my confidence was the other. And yet a third came in the form of brain death, which I had mourned far too long. When I decided to finally take the plunge, I was nervous, uncomfortable and terrified, and that was just the day I entered my book before the November 1st start date. There was still a month to go! I’ve had a horrendous 2011, health- and otherwise, so why was I intentionally setting myself up for more stress?

The answer: I needed to find out if I could write again or if I should hang up my keyboard and call it a less-than-stellar writing career. In other words, could I rebuild my confidence in myself and my storytelling? Oh, and could I find my creativity, which seemed to abandon me 3 years ago.

The morning of November 1st, I was up early, steaming coffee at my desk, eyes wide open and staring at a white screen. Blank screen. No words. Had I expected come the start of NaNo I’d sit at the computer and my fingers would fly over the keyboard? Apparently. My little bit of positive thinking bombed, and it was only the first day.

I write historical novels. My research was somewhat complete, although when I write, I’m always referring back to my files and searching the web for answers not in my notes. Unfortunately, to “win” the challenge, I had no time to waste on looking up details I knew were beneficial to the story. Almost immediately, I came up with ways to get around the use of research. In places I needed a name, I’d write “whatshisname” or “whoeverthisis.” For the details of the period (15th century Italy ) I didn’t know, I’d write “lookthisup” or “whatsitcalled.” I thought, okay, this isn’t going to be so bad. That thought came back to bite me in the…well, “youknowwhere.” Why did I run the words together? It would make replacing them with the find and replace easier when the time comes.

I threw some words down on the first page. Actually, it wasn’t so bad. My fingers didn’t fly like a flock of birds with a purpose, but I wrote those 1767 words each day. Until the 4th day. Understand, I’m a detail-oriented writer. I have to know what “things” I can use in the story. For that, I needed my research. Desperately. Remember those substitutions above? I discovered they didn’t work a lot of the time. My creativity already stalled, and I was only 4 days in. Panic set in. I fell behind in word count. But by some minor miracle, I caught up on day 5 and surpassed the count by 500 words.

Until day 6. Yeah, my creativity didn’t last. So for the next 24 days, I developed a love-hate relationship with NaNo. Losing my (NaNo) virginity became as painful as it is for my heroines when they part with their virginity. Of course, in a different part of the body, but the kind of pain I suffered through was real.

The most difficult thing for me to do was turn off my internal editor. She has a habit of sitting on my shoulder when I type. My first draft of any book isn’t submission ready when I’m finished, but editing while I write is a habit I developed years ago, somewhere in the 30 years since I began writing. Every time she crept in, I tried my best to shoo her away. I really hated chaining her to the lamppost. I was afraid the police would notice.

My muse was a different matter. For most of the month, she decided to go AWOL. I could have strangled her for leaving me stranded without a clue. But then, the police would definitively take notice. Instead, I struggled to find motivation and conflict for my hero and heroine. They weren’t helping either. Non-cooperative characters tend to rub my temper the wrong way. To blow off steam, I’d take a break and cook or bake, play with my dogs, decorate for the holidays. And procrastinate.

Being a stubborn Italian, I refused to quit. No matter the rubbish I’d written, I determined to work through memory and creativity lapses (every single day). The stress overtook the enthusiasm I’d built long before NaNo started. No way is my story fit for anyone’s eyes but my own. At the end of the 30 days, I figured I’d trash it all and start from scratch. You know, that blank page.

It wasn’t until a few days before the end of NaNo that I realized my goal was in reach. I turned into a madwoman, just one step short of being committed. On day 29, I surpassed 50,000 words. When I clicked on word count, I stared numbly at the number: 50,423. Whew! I did it! Proudly I followed the links to the certificate I was to receive, filled in the blanks and printed it out. My husband pointed out that I’d misspelled Petska. I had typed Petwska (after nearly 40 years, you’d think I get it right). The perfectionist that I am was not happy with the error. I tried to go to the certificate to fix it but couldn’t. Apparently, once you’ve printed it out, there’s no going back.

I doubt I’ll do NaNo again. The stress combined with other factors in my life became almost unbearable. For a while, I dreamed of finding the guy who came up with the idea for NaNo and dropped it into November. Really? He’s probably single and doesn’t have holiday cooking, baking and cleaning a house for company to do. Holiday shopping for gifts. No concept of how busy life is for everyone at this time of year. Is it bad that I woke up several mornings with my fingers closed around an imaginary neck, squeezing the life out of the faceless creator?

Now that it’s a good week behind me, I can be a bit more objective. For one, NaNo got me writing again. And two, I can say I joined the NaNo challenge and won. It feels good. Now, where is the TV news camera and announcer telling me and the world, “Jannine Corti Petska, you’ve just won NaNoWriMo. You’re going to Disneyland ?”


  1. I tried it but wasn't as successful as you. I did have ideas and managed over 20,000 words Trouble was,I would also get ideas for other things I was writing.
    Life interferred. I am going to try to get a book finsihed again-- though not with NaNoWriMo. I didn't take part in any activities and found the frequent e-mails a distraction.
    I didn't succeed but I can't quite say I was a failure. I am easily distracted by research.
    How poeple with families and jobs manage , I don't kow.

  2. Jannine, what an accomplishment for you! I'm so glad you kept going and found you could write again, even on the days you really didn't want to! That's an amazing lesson to take away. Congrats!

  3. Jannine - you didnt need the pressure of writing whether you felt like it or not, to find out that YOU ARE A WRITER! We all know that you are.
    I sometimes write 5thou words a day, and then there are days when I write maybe 1thou. NO one is going to stand behind me with a whip to make sure I do xxx words a day!
    We are our own slave-drivers, as you well know, cara Giannina! (had to add that....)

    xoxo KATE

  4. Welcome to the asylum, Jannine! By Nov 2012 you'll be champing at the bit and ready to join the rest of the lemmings sky-diving from the clifftops ...
    I've managed to complete NaNo every year since I first tried - that's eight years on the bounce BTW ...
    From this, I managed to write a childrens' book which I've since had published - I'm currently trying to sell a sequel,and have started writing a third in a planned series [pirate-themed].
    Last month, a US publisher contacted me and have since offered me a contract to publish an Adult novel which also started life as a NaNo project.
    Believe me, there ARE definite advantages to be gained from the (self-)discipline you learn from the NaNo challenge!
    My NaNo this year was a new genre for me: I tried Historical Fantasy and posted 52,612 - I reckon the tale is going to be AT LEAST twice that, as I'm planing a "there and back" journey,and I've barely got "there" so far ...
    Well done with your first attempt: now starts the Editing process ...!

  5. 20,000 words is nothing to sneeze at. That's great! Like you, I am easily distracted. I swear I'm ADD, lol.

    Glad you made the effort and tried. As long as your writing, that's good. No one is a failure at NaNo. Sometimes life has a way of steering us away from what we want to do.

    Good luck with your writing.

  6. Kristen:
    I am so glad I did NaNo. It's nice to know I did have it in me to write everyday, even through my father-in-law's passing. Challenges make us stronger.

    Thanks for commenting.

  7. Kate, yes, we are our own slave drivers. In a way, that's discipline. But I had to prove something to myself with NaNo, and I did. Finishing, regardless of how the first draft reads, is a proud moment for me personally.

    Thanks for commenting.

  8. Paul:
    Congratulations on your 8 year success at NaNo. That's quite an accomplishment. And you're right, when next year's NaNo comes around, I bet I'll do it again. But I'll know what to expect and will make certain NOTHING is going on during the month of November!

    Thanks for commenting.

  9. I've never attempted NaNo because I've always been in the midst of editing something else in November, but you should be proud of yourself, Jannine, for taking it on and completing the task. If nothing else, it's a fabulous exercise. Maybe I'll attempt it next year. It will take me that long to gear up. LOL.

  10. Congrats on completing the challenge, Jannine, and all of you diehard NaNoers. I'm still recovering from NaNo hell. Even reading this post was painful. My nails are just now starting to recover from being chewed to the quick. I quit on day 19, ahead of schedule with 35k of what I knew had to be complete crap, convinced this was all a secret hazing for gullible new writers - I'm still suspicious there are veteran authors out there having a good laugh. But amazingly, reading back over my NaNo crap, there is something to be salvaged from those 19 days of insanity. So, next fall when the NaNo announcements start coming, I think I'll ... run in the other direction!!! Again, congrats on quite an accomplishment.

  11. LOL and congratulations! I don't think my scattered life could withstand the NaNo challenge unless I really do retire, which is looking less and less possible. But how I admire you for doing it, Jannine. You stayed the course, you rose to the occasion and all of that. Now, where's that bottle of aged brandy?

  12. Congratulations Jannine! I'm also no longer a (NaNo) virgin. OMG - what a month! But - I did complete the 50K and I'm so proud to say I'm a winner too.
    I found it was so good for me. Just the having to get in front of the computer every day, no matter how I'm feeling. And it was also so good to be able to say to children and hubby, this is my time, leave me alone. (Not always easy to do with a 3 year old!) : )
    I'm just in the process of having it printed and sent to me by Createspace. I figure it'll make a great first draft and I can write and cross out to my hearts content. What fun!
    I'm thinking I might do it all over again next year - if I've recovered by then that is!

  13. Jannine, I didn't officially do NaNo this year as I knew I had too much going on but wanted to see how I would fare. The answer to that is not too well. I came in well short of the 50,000 word mark but the process helped me find writing time which I'd been struggling to find since my hours at work changed in late October. Congratulations. I'm sure it's an amazing sense of accomplishment.

  14. Congratulations Jannine!!!!

    I'm so happy you found your writing mojo again!!! :)

    You rocked Nano!!!


    Lisa :)

  15. Thank you so much to everyone who commented and to those who read my post but didn't comment. I appreciate every one of you taking time out of your busy schedules.

    And thanks to Marie for getting this up so quickly. I always love coming to your blog.

  16. Thank you so much for blogging Jannine! I love having you and I LOVED this blog! I think you captured the insanity of NaNo perfectly :).

    Thanks again for guesting!