I’m Going to Camp!

I’m going to camp next month! Camp NaNoWriMo runs the month of April and it’s sure to be fun. It’s a virtual camp, so I can work in a temperature controlled environment, I don’t have to worry about bugs, and I can still share an evening glass of wine with my husband. I’m going to be assigned to a ‘cabin’ with other writers with similar interests.

I’ve requested placement with others who are also editing their novels. All month, I’ll work with writers who are doing what I’m trying to do. Beyond that, there’s talk about campfires, hikes and getting lost. I’m not really sure what I’ve gotten myself into. But then, that’s not the first time I’ve said this during this journey . . .



November Begins

November 1, it was time to write. I sat down that morning to write my 2,000 words. I stared at the blank screen trying to figure out how to begin. What was I thinking? I arranged and rearranged my desk as panic rose in my throat. I thought about starting a game of Bejeweled or checking Facebook again.

November 1Instead, I took several deep breaths. Then I looked again at the project I had created and read through the preliminary list of scenes I planned. Since I wasn’t sure how to start, I decided to just pick a scene to write, any scene. I just needed to start. I picked the one that seemed the easiest.

I continued that way the whole month of November. Each time I finished a scene, I picked a new one to write. Often, writing one scene would make me realize there was another I needed to add to the list. Sometimes, I wrote something that meant something else had to happen in an earlier scene. If that scene was already written, I’d make a note to make the change later.

I made it a point not to revisit scenes I’d already written except when I needed to be sure the story transition was right. I didn’t go back and edit anything in November. I was trying to write 50,000 words in one month, for goodness sake! I saw no sense in erasing or deleting even one word.

The program made it easy to add and move around scenes and also to make notes about changes to be made during the editing process. I kept the scene list open in front of me on the screen. Unlike some people who like to write on a totally blank screen, I liked having my scene list and document notes right in front of me. It gave me a sense of control and, as the scenes were written, I could see I was accomplishing something.

In the beginning, I was keeping a manual list of words per scene. That got to be a hassle when I started adding more detail into scenes which changed the word count. Then I learned the Scrivener Target tool could track my progress both daily and for the project as a whole. At the end of each day, I charted my word count on the NaNoWriMo website. Watching the line on the word count graph line move up kept me going — along with my determination to succeed (or fear of failure!) It was like any journey; it began with a single step.

Thank you for following the journey! I welcome feedback and suggestions.

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If you’re new here, you may want to scroll down to the bottom of the page to start the story at the beginning. If you don’t have that much time, check out the “About the Journey” tab at the top of the page.

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From the beginning of this blog, I’ve talked about the novel I am writing which is loosely based on my father’s experiences. I mentioned that I have to write this as fiction because no one really knows what happened. My father was missing when his boat was found unmanned.

This blog serves as a transition. It is the last blog where I will mention my father. From now on, I’ll focus on building the story as a novel. I’ll talk about characters (not real people) and choosing an ending. I won’t be constrained by facts or reality. I still need to choose venues for many scenes and homes for different characters. I’ll probably use some real places, but I’m likely to create a few of my own.

CharactersThe leading character in this story is a man named Jake Chambers. I’ll tell you more about him as I get to know him. I’ve read some writers struggle naming characters, but so far these characters have pretty much named themselves. While some of them may have started out based on real people, I find they’ve shaken off such limitations and developed their own identities. Honestly, since I really didn’t know many of the real participants, it’s been easy to let them become their own people. I’ll introduce you to them as they come into the story.

Thank you for following the journey! I welcome feedback and suggestions.


If you enjoyed this post, please consider subscribing to my blog using the link on the right side of the page.

If you’re new here, you may want to scroll down to the bottom of the page to start the story at the beginning. If you don’t have that much time, check out the “About the Journey” tab at the top of the page.

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Scheduling Time to Write

As I considered committing to National Novel Writing Month(NaNoWriMo), I knew I had a major obstacle. I planned to be out of town for fifteen days at the beginning of the month and then, a few days after we returned, we would drive ten hours each way to spend Thanksgiving weekend with family. And while I believed I could write while I was gone, I also knew I would be distracted by family, friends, and opportunities to play.

I decided the best way to accomplish my goal was to set higher word count goals for the days when I thought I could accomplish more. 50,000 words works out to 1,667 words per day. I set a goal of 2,000 words for most days knowing that some days I wouldn’t be able to write much at all. For instance, the days I flew to and from California, I really didn’t think I could get much done and set a goal of just 500 words for each. While I was visiting family for Thanksgiving, I planned to write a 1,500 words each day since I knew we would want to do other things. For the last day of November, when we would spend ten hours driving, I set a lowly goal of 250 words. On a day when many writers would be hard at work morning to night to finish, I knew that wasn’t logistically possible for me. Committed or not, I knew I couldn’t write much balancing a laptop on my lap in a moving car.

Daily targetI created this calendar as a visual reminder of my plan. The NaNoWriMo website (nanowrimo.org) has a tool where I would post the number of words I actually wrote each day. I also logged my progress in my planner so I could track the days I was most productive. If I did it again, I would add a cumulative word count on each day of this calendar.

The calendar was a sobering visual of the crazy commitment I had made. I certainly had my work cut out for me in November!

If you enjoyed this post, please consider subscribing to my blog using the link on the right side of the page.

If you’re new here, you may want to scroll down to the bottom of the page to start the story at the beginning. If you don’t have that much time, check out the “About the Journey” tab at the top of the page.

Planning (Just a Little)

24155520_sIn the little time after I returned from my conference, I worked to plan my novel. I wanted to be a planner, but in November I would mostly be writing by the seat of my pants. I knew I had valuable information but I had no road map. I did what I could in the time I had.

The first thing I did was scan all the materials I collected. The originals were old and precious and I didn’t want to damage any of them. Some were already in bad shape and there were a few pages from the log that were folded, partially mutilated, and unreadable. I saved them, but I didn’t try to unfold them for fear I would damage them further. Scanning also made it easy to share what I had with my siblings, my father’s other children.


I printed out everything I had scanned. I could have stored it all in Scrivener, but I wasn’t familiar enough with the program then to feel comfortable doing that. Now I realize it would have been really helpful to have everything in one place.

After that, I created a timeline. It was the beginning of my rough plan. At first, I used Excel to make the timeline. I’ve since discovered a program called Aeon Timeline and expanded my timeline there. (Maybe I’ll discuss Aeon Timeline in another post.)

My timeline gave me enough information to create the project in Scrivener. I used those events to make a list of scenes I planned. I knew that as I wrote, I could easily add new scenes that would be necessary to develop the plot.

This was the extent of the planning I was able to do before November 1.


If you enjoyed this post, please consider subscribing to my blog using the link on the right side of the page.

If you’re new here, you may want to scroll down to the bottom of the page to start the story at the beginning. If you don’t have that much time, check out the “About the Journey” tab at the top of the page.

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When I signed up for NaNoWriMo, I learned about a computer program called Scrivener. It’s designed for writing. It’s not a word processor and it doesn’t have powerful formatting features to generate an attractive document. Once a writing project in completed in Scrivener, it can be moved to Word for formatting.

Where Scrivener excels is the ability to plan, develop and re-organize ideas. I can plan the scenes I envision in the novel and then easily move from one to another. If I have an idea for a scene I’m not writing now, I can make a note of it right where I will see it when I start that other scene, without losing momentum.. If I realize I need to plant a seed in an earlier scene for my current scene to make sense, I can do that without opening a new document, making my work flow much smoother.

Within my Scrivener file, I have places to store and easily access research, character studies, and settings for my story. I keep all my discarded scenes in case I want to add or modify them later. Everything is at my fingertips, without needing to open multiple files or programs. The program also takes a ‘snapshot’ of my project regularly so I never worry about back-ups while I’m working. I still make sure to back up my work in the cloud at the end of each session to be protected from machine failure.

When I want to review the flow of my story, I can look at the chapters and scenes like note cards on a corkboard. It reminds me of the 3 x 5 note cards I used to prepare term papers when I was in school. The best thing is that I can re-arrange them, just like I used to shuffle my note cards back then.

Probably my favorite feature as I was writing was the ability to set a daily word count target and easily monitor my progress right in Scrivener. If I had been working in Word, each file would have had a separate word count and edits or additions to existing files or scenes would have needed to be tracked manually.

I love the Scrivener features I use and I know there’s more to love that I haven’t yet discovered. I’ll continue to use it for my novel through the editing and re-writing process. I’m also using it to plan and keep track of this blog. I want to be sure to tell the whole story and not miss any key ideas!

For more information about Scrivener, go to literatureandlatte.com.

Full disclosure:  I have no connection with Scrivener or the company, Literature and Latte. I just love the program and writing 50,000 words without it would have been much more difficult!

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The Ship’s Log

shipslog1Once I got home, I shared my excitement with one of my half-sisters, my father’s youngest daughter. At the time, she was visiting with her brother, my half-brother. When she told him what I had, he remembered he also had the original ship’s log from the journey and he offered to share it! Before the end of her visit, my sister sent it to me.

When the FedEx package arrived, I gingerly removed the thirty-seven year old log. After all these years, and significant time in the salt air, much of the glue has dissolved and the log has fallen apart. There is mold on the pages. Some of the ink and pencil has deteriorated, but most of it is still readable.

A ship’s log typically documents navigational and mechanical information. But, it turns out my father used the ship’s log as a combination log of the journey and a journal. I don’t speak “sailor” so I will need help translating some of the sailing passages. The journal-like entries add humanity to the content and when I read them, I learn a little about the father I never knew.

shipslog2Now I had my stepmother’s journals, official correspondence from after my father’s disappearance, letters he sent to his father during the journey, the private investigator’s report, and the ship’s log. No one person ever had all that information before!

But there was still that all important missing piece. How did the journey end? How was my father lost?

Before I started down this road, I shared my plans with my father’s other children, my half-siblings. I assured them what I would be writing would be fiction, loosely based on my father’s experiences. I wanted to be sure I had their approval before I began. Each gave their blessing. Along the way, each has also shared memories and materials. In turn, I’ve shared what I’ve discovered.

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And Then I Found . . .

Shortly after committing to NaNoWriMo, I left town for a week long conference. After the event, I planned a visit a nearby cousin afterward. Since she is the daughter of my father’s sister, I shared my writing plans with her.

As we talked, she mentioned she might have some information that would be helpful. Her mother had been the keeper of all the family documents once our grandfather was gone. When her mother downsized, my cousin took possession of everything.

Together, we went through some of the boxes in her attic. We came upon a treasure trove – letters sent by my father to his father during the journey. There were seven of them and they provided a wealth of information about his route, his schedule, and, most importantly, about his feelings. They are fascinating and will be invaluable to me in my writing. I scanned the letters with my portable scanner.

She also had a copy of the report from the private investigator who was hired by my grandfather after my father disappeared. I wanted to scan that, too, but it was held together by a rusty staple I was reluctant to remove. She encouraged me to take the report and the letters home. I was eager to read everything!


nanowrimologoLast year, a colleague introduced me to National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Each November, over 300,000 people worldwide attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in a month. That works out to 1,667 words per day, every day for 30 days.  The four day weekend that is Thanksgiving falls in November, last year ending on November 30. We drive ten hours each way to spend the holiday with family.

I was reluctant to participate because I’m highly competitive and I wasn’t comfortable making a commitment like that and not finishing. I also knew that besides Thanksgiving, I was going to be out of town for two weeks. I could write a lot of that time, but some of it was vacation and I had to take the rest of my family into consideration.  Still, in early October, I took the plunge and signed up for NaNoWriMo. Then I left for a weeklong conference.

As I found out later, of the 300,000 who sign on, approximately 12-14% actually get to 50,000 words. People who do finish are considered winners. I knew that not everyone made it, but I’m glad I didn’t know the success rate was as low as it is. I think I might have given myself permission to not finish. As it was, I didn’t consider coming up short an option. (Note to self: forget those statistics for next time!)

Once I made the commitment, I had to figure out what I was doing. Writers will tell you there are essentially two kinds of writers: plotters and pantsers. Plotters plan ahead, figuring out how the story will go, preparing character studies, determining settings, and creating an outline. On the other hand, maybe they have a vague idea of their story or a character whispering in their ear, but mostly pantsers sit down to write ‘by the seat of their pants.’

People who know me realize I would be a plotter. Unfortunately, the schedule I committed to did not afford me the luxury of a month or more of planning. I had the beginning of a story idea and some characters and some scenes in mind. Mostly, though, I would be writing by the seat of my pants. At the end of November, I hoped to have a 50,000 word rough draft. A very rough draft, but at least a start.

For more information about NaNoWriMo, visit nanowrimo.org.

The Wheels Started to Turn

The idea of writing a book rolled around in my head for a couple of months. How much did I know? Who could tell me more? My father disappeared in 1977. That was a long time ago.

I know nothing about the Bahamas. I don’t know much about New England where he spent most of his life. And, by the way, I didn’t even know my father.

I left the box on the floor of my office, unopened, for most of two months. Then, in late September, I pulled it out and went through what I had. Once again, I was taken by the story, the reality and the potential. The reality is my heritage, unrealized and forever unknown.

The potential, though, called to me. That was real. The immediate problem was that I’ve never written fiction. I would have to make up a lot of the story, as well as the characters in it.gears

Thinking of the project that way actually made it seem more approachable. I did have some rough information as a foundation. I would invent what I didn’t know and create the people myself. I knew I would alter many of the facts I did have to protect the privacy of the people who are still around.

The wheels were starting to turn.