I tried. I really did. But I am not a novelist. I squealed to a stop fairly early on in the NaNoWriMo process, floundered among sentences and images that could not quite come together. Before Thanksgiving, I knew I was done with this particular effort. My main character, a stalled artist utterly disenchanted with her partner and daughter, fled her home, found a lover, battled with guilt, and then got stuck in Chicago where I left her.  She had over 200 photos on her camera that were supposed to inspire her along with that lover who had to go back to Mexico City on the next flight. Funny, with all that going on, I still couldn’t pick up a story line that I really wanted to follow. I couldn’t figure out how to get her back to where she needed to be. Unlike my story from last year, which I did finish, there was no character to kill off  – a method I’ve learned is a sure-fire way to perk things up.

So I worked on poetry instead. I was going to anyway. I’m up to 66 poems in my virtual pile now and there are only two days out of those 66 that I can think of in which I had any trouble putting something on paper. And for those two days, I still did put words on paper with the knowledge that any poetic value might be severely diminished within those efforts.

Which is, in part, what NaNoWriMo is all about anyway. Showing up, putting the words on paper, not caring whether they are right the first time through. But what really struck me this year was – is – my inability to focus on a longer form of writing. My attention span and the structure of my life right now seem suited only to short forms. I cannot, at this point, imagine sinking into the creation of something that will take me months or years to complete. I already have parenthood as my life-long project, thank you very much. I crave seeing a finished product, a completed piece of writing that somehow justifies the time spent in front of my computer.

But that’s just me. Short narratives. To the point.  I’m truly a product of a multi-tasking society and multi-tasking life: I only have so many minutes of undivided attention on a daily basis. I usually like it that way. No time to kill anyone off.


As a writer, I have a ton of books. Every once in a while, I have to do a purge and find somewhere to donate the books I don’t need to keep. I benefit and so does whoever takes the books that move out of my house. This year, I donated books to the book drive that NaNoWriMo organized. But where might I have sent them otherwise? One option is Open Books in Chicago, which defines itself on its website like this:

“Open Books is an award-winning nonprofit social venture that operates an extraordinary bookstore, provides community programs, and mobilizes passionate volunteers to promote literacy in Chicago and beyond.”

They’ll take your extra books if you can find a way to get those books to them. Check it out here.

No Plot? No Problem!: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days

Search Amazon.com for structuring a novel


  1. I was definitely the same with NaNoWriMo. Plain disaster. I am not a novel writer…I had just thought I might be able to boost my writing efforts. Ah well. I was recently in England (on my honeymoon!), and stopped by the Lake District to see if the landscape of the Romantic poets could inspire me. Absolutely beautiful, but no such luck. Not sure what inspires me these days, but short narratives, like you say, sounds like a stable plan. I like your daily poem idea. Maybe I should try it.


  2. Hi Clare – I hope you do give daily poems a try! It's working well for me. I had the goal of 100 poems in 100 days when I started, but have been thinking lately that this should just be one of my habits well beyond 100 days. Thanks for stopping by.


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