How a Mermaid got Entangled and Lived to Tell the Tale

The Savvy Authors Entangled NaNoWriMo Smackdown is winding down, and I am one of the lucky writers who participated.  I had an entire month to achieve a book, just for the Entangled Line!  How exciting is that?

Entangled Smackdown

I confess, I didn’t take this challenge seriously until I had an email telling me (surprise!) that my badge was waiting to be claimed.  Once I understood, I spend a couple of days being just plain scared.  I even ordered a workbook, Susan Alderson’s The Plot Whisperer Workbook (worth every penny, imho).  I splurged and went to Staples for a new paper notebook.

Then I got to work.  Then a hurricane came and took away my power for four days.  But I kept working, charging up (and showering) at a friend’s house, and working some more.  In fact, I worked even harder.  I was determined not to let a measly power outage stop me from writing!  I also knew a terrible truth:   These days off were my only chance to write full time! I also knew I have a tendency to panic.  Perfection, procrastination, panic, paralysis. 

Yes, spending a month with the NaNo challenge for Entangled was exciting.  Until I realized I have a habit of doing those four P’s mentioned above, and probably wouldn’t make my personal goal.  So I had to start getting a grip on some home truths, and the month wasn’t all about writing 50,000 words any more.

Friends, I did not make 50,000 words.  My personal goal was just to finish the story.  At forty thousand words.  Okay, maybe thirty thousand.

My final tally, as of 10:00 p.m., November 28?  18,260 words.  That’s right.  I didn’t even break 20,000 words. 

And it really sucks that I couldn’t keep up the pace with all those other fabulously prolific writers (Hi, Pin! *waves*).  There.  I feel better just saying it.  I am not prolific.  Still, it’s valuable  to look back at the mistakes I made, celebrate what I did accomplish, and acknowledge the reality of my life and commitments. Admit some truths about myself.  About my writing.  About my own temperament and tolerance for pressure.  And maybe, possibly, someone out there will see some reason in my ramblings about this past month.  Maybe there’s someone just as crazy as I am.

The most important lesson is one I have resisted for years.  But, let it be said, now and forever, once and for all.  It’s hard to say, and I have hated learning this:


There.  I’ve said it.  I can’t write by the seat of my pants.  Somehow, I was behind the door when that gift was being handed out. 

I am more intimately acquainted with my writing personality than ever before.   With Act One of my work planned (thank you again, Martha Alderson), I achieved a thousand words a day. Sometimes I made the full 1667 word the Entangled gods were asking for. When I tried to double that output in response to a promise of double points, though, I burned out.

Worse,  not having planned Act Two brought my output to a measly three to five hundred words a day.  Or none.  I needed two weeks to finally see the center of the story.  One evening last week, it finally clicked while I was eating sushi at a new restaurant in town (note to self: sushi is an effective writing tool).  I rushed home and blocked out the action for the rest of the book that evening.

So, now I can tell the truth.  If I have a clear idea of my story and what needs to be written, I can spit out five hundred words a day.  If there’s more time and I’m more motivated, a thousand.  I don’t want to do NaNo again.  I like taking my notebook with me when I go out to dinner with my sweetie, and calling it a “business dinner.”  I like online chat with other authors.  And I really, really like Martha Alderson’s books.

Not a bad set of lessons to learn in a month, huh?

About Susan Jeffery

I am loving the challenge (sometimes) of re-entering the contemporary romance market after a lifetime of raising two fantastic children (it never ends, btw). Just when I thought I was done with kids, I accepted a position as librarian to 900 boys in a Bronx private school. I'm a vintage published author, Harlequin American #206 Fair Game (1987). Winner of the Golden Heart, 1986. Currently exploring the possibility of indie publishing under my new pseudonym (see fresh name, above).

15 thoughts on “How a Mermaid got Entangled and Lived to Tell the Tale

  1. Susan, those are fabulous lessons to have learned! I especially like the one about sushi being an effective writing tool. 🙂 I think NaNo has also taught me a lot about my writing process, specifically that I need to write a really crappy first draft (my so-called “zero draft”) to figure out my story. The funny thing is I’ve known this for a while. But I have the opposite problem as you: I *really* want to be a plotter. So with each book, I try really hard to figure it all out beforehand and this time, I even got as far as writing a broad outline. I want so badly to be able to write those super-clean first drafts. So much more efficient! So much time saved! But this past month has taught me that maybe that’s just not the way I write. So thanks for this post, Susan! It is very thought-provoking.

    1. Thank you! I don’t think I’ll do another NaNo, but I learned SO MUCH about myself as a writer this month. I’m going to work much harder on planning the story before hand. I always thought the pantsers had it good. With the good handbooks I’ve acquired this year, and with the Entangled month, I know so much more! Next time, I’ll be ready.

  2. Thank you, Diana! I wanted to talk about ballrooms because the Victorian home where the action occurs had been subdivided into apartments, and one of them was in the ballroom. So I needed something that might be discovered and become a point of controversy. The answer took a couple of weeks of thought until a comment from Himself yielded the answer: the ceiling, its decoration and the chandelier. Voila!

  3. Hi Susan,
    Nice post. Congratulations on your word count! And how amazing to now know act two of your story. You’ve shown so much tenacity writing through difficult circumstances. I reckon that alone’s worth more than a 50K wc. Thanks for reminding me about sushi. Could be just what I need to get me through this last day of Nano. 🙂

    This Nano has taught me a lot about my writing process, too. I’ve learnt that I can do 1667 a day if: I know where my story is going, use Scrivener, ignore typos, stop being a perfectionist, have the support of other writers doing writing sprints, and don’t care what my house looks like.

    I was lucky enough to be in a Savvy Entangled Smackdown team with Denny (which has been great fun). I think, being part of the Dead to Writes team helped get me over the 50K line, as I’ve never been able to do this before.

    1. Thank you, Sue – isn’t it great to realize you’ve gotten so far in a single day? Reaching 1,000 words in a day stunned me, and getting to 1,167 was an absolute blast. One day I did manage the 3,400 words, but it turned out to be too much of a haul. I know I can, but the cost is too high.

      But still, let’s do it again! On our own!

    1. Thank you, it was more a “damn it, power outage, you’re not gonna get the best of me!” plus “this is my chance to be a full-time writer, and make it count!” I was by turns a mad writer and a hunter-gatherer of electricity. (As was much of town, which was 100% blacked out at first).

      I’m also somewhat of an expert now at packing a freezer for an extended lack of power, and advanced patience techniques for waiting in line for dry ice.

  4. I think this month should be renamed “The Month When All My Heroes Were Mermaids!” Susan, you know what I love about you is your honesty. Yay for honesty because it helps the rest of us who might be a little ashamed to report that we didn’t quite make that 50,000 NaNo goal either 😉

    I also don’t think I’ll do another NaNo but I’m likewise grateful for the knowledge that I can do a first draft in a month if I need to.

    PS–loved this section of the comment by Sue BT “This Nano has taught me a lot about my writing process, too. I’ve learnt that I can do 1667 a day if: I know where my story is going, use Scrivener, ignore typos, stop being a perfectionist, have the support of other writers doing writing sprints, and don’t care what my house looks like.” 🙂

    1. I loved the scrivener mention especially. I’m still such a beginner with it, but love its promise. And, just so you know, having someone say they appreciate your honesty in New York is not always a compliment! But I know what you’re saying it is true. Most won’t make the word count. May as well claim the shame and celebrate what we DID do.

  5. Congratulations, Susan! Sounds like you had a successful month. I think we all have to figure out and embrace our own writing processes. I was just having this chat with some of my writing pals. Some are plotters, some can write the story out of order, some say that the chapters they write fast in one fell swoop are the perfect ones. Not me. I’m a slow, plodding pantser, happy if I can get five pages a day. The thing is to keep at it, in whatever way is YOUR way.

      1. Sally, you are so funny, and I am incredibly glad you remembered me from Aspen Hill all those years ago. I’m glad to know there’s another person who will confess to plodding. I am working hard to embrace the plodding/plotting writer locked within. Let’s compare notes in the spring!

  6. Thank you so much for your kind words, Susan! So, I’m checking in. How is your story coming/ You were enthusiastic and positive here. I hope you still are. Happy plotting, Martha

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