Chiquandra C. Cross

Five Things I Learned During My Very First #NaNoWriMo


For the past several years I’ve wanted to “do” National Novel Writing Month, but let fear and doubt stop me.  This year, with fear and doubt riding shot gun I decided I would do NaNo and at the end of 30 days I would celebrate my word count no matter what.

On Halloween night, I set my alarm, took a three-hour nap and woke up at 11:45 p.m. ready to write and at midnight I sent this tweet and began. I was fanatical about my writing and overly protective of my time. I was like a helicopter parent and my words were my kids.

After a frenzied start I ended week one with a little over 25,000 words.  Once I did, I knew the rest of the month would be smooth sailing, or so I thought. I discovered that finding the time to write wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. What was more challenging was wanting to write when I had the time.

Before NaNo I believed in my muse and I treated her with respect. I wrote when she was inspired and I let her off the hook when she wasn’t. I honored her preferred writing times and only when absolutely necessary did I wake her up butt crack thirtry to write. Well, as you can imagine I had to adjust her schedule and she was not having it. The first few mornings she had a tantrum when the alarm went off at 4:30 a.m., but I got up, sat in my chair and I wrote. It wasn’t always hard, but it sure wasn’t a cake walk, either.

In the end, I began to enjoy getting up early. Once I wrangled myself out of bed and sat down I realized that I muse or no muse, I can write good words at any time of the day, not just during my so-called ‘writing hours.’ This was an important discovery. It freed me from my own self-imposed limitations and my creative brain space expanded. Like a muscle it got better, stronger and faster with use. It no longer took me ten to fifteen minutes to wake up my brain. My brain was waking me up, before my alarm with ideas, and dialogue and direction for my novel.

As the month went on there was a definite ebb and flow of my writing life and the rest of my life, but I kept at it. And on November 20th, I validated and on the 27th my final word count was 65,649.  I have never, in my life started and finished a novel in 27 days. You talk about excitement. I was over the moon proud of myself. This was my New York Marathon and I did it.

So now, on this final day of November 2015 I want to share with you five things I learned during my first NaNoWriMo:

  1. NaNoWriMo is exhausting and exhilarating and these two guys often jockeyed for first place. In my case exhilaration was ‘Charlie Sheen’ winning until I hit the proverbial and much anticipated NaNo wall.
  2. I had to give myself public and private permission to change pace. On the morning of November 12th I tweeted this and did not add another word that day. Burnout is real; thankfully I was prepared.
  3. Obsession, in the right (or write) amount is useful. Obsessed with all things writing I talked about my novel as often as I could to anyone who would listen. The more I talked, the more I enrolled others. I created my own support group and by mid-month I had a group of people cheering me on.
  4. Take lots of notes. Most writers never leave home without at least one journal, a handful of pens/pencils and their phone. So use them and use them often. Notes are a quick way to drain your brain. This helps your brain relax. Do you know how much brain space and energy you save by writing things down? A lot. Remember you need as much energy as possible to create.
  5. Write, write and write. If winning NaNo is your goal, you have to write. Fifty thousand words is doable, iff (if and only iff, you should remember this term from high school geometry) you write. I thought about elephants a lot this month, for two reasons. One, because like eating an elephant, writing fifty thousand words is a huge undertaking. Unfortunately, the corny joke about eating an elephant one bite at a time is apropos in this situation. And two, I listened to The 100-Year-Old man Who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson; an amazing story that includes death by elephant. Now that I have written this sentence, I am no longer sure why I mentioned this, but it is still November and we all know that in November you don’t use contractions and you don’t delete.

Congratulations to everyone who participated in NaNo this year, even if you didn’t officially “win,” you are a winner in my book.

See ya next year, same Bat time, same Bat channel.

Life is What Happens When You are Busy Making Other Plans


Three months ago today I woke up to about a foot and a half of water gushing through my apartment I shared with my mother. After registering what was going on and reverting, temporarily, flood picto a four-year-old child, I screamed her awake. A few moments later I grabbed my dog, and we waded through the river flowing through our apartment to the second-floor landing.

It was around 5:00 in the morning and one by one my neighbors opened their doors to a very similar reality.  There was a sense of community and camaraderie as we watched with utter amazement, as the Blanco River flowed through our apartment complex grabbing everything in its path and taking it along for the ride.

This was my exit. We lived less than half a mile down the access road. (Paul Shelton/KXAN News)

We lived less than half a mile from this exit. (Paul Shelton/KXAN News)

As the sun rose, and the waters receded my mother and I sloshed through our apartment, grabbed a few things and drove to my brother’s house. The next few days were filled with multiple trips back and forth to salvage and pack up what we could and wash loads upon loads of mud-soaked clothes.

This experience was one that I pray I never have to go through again. It was both uncomfortable and inconvenient, and though my mother and I were physically safe, it took an emotional toll on us. In the end, I began to wish that everything of ours had washed away so we wouldn’t have to relive the devastation over again each day as we continued sifting through the apartment.

Fast forward a month and things were quite a bit different. My mother was now living in Houston, something she’d planned for later in the year, and I was wavering back and forth between remaining in San Marcos or moving back to Houston, temporarily. I didn’t want to do either.

Before the flood, I was planning to move to Iowa City in September, but it seemed that the Blanco River and its shenanigans wanted to delay my plans. At first, I thought that I’d have to postpone my move, thankfully, I was wrong. Due to an unexpected, but much appreciated financial blessing I was able to replenish my savings and fund my move to Iowa City with no stress, strain or difficulty.

I was excited beyond words. I began telling more and more people that I was moving to Iowa, and though it was hard to leave my family and friends, I did.  On July 24th, two months after the flood, I spent my first night in Iowa and started my new life.

I spent the next couple of weeks looking for an apartment and getting acclimated to the city. I’ve always been one to enjoy hotel living but living out of multiple suitcases for an extended period quickly ceased to be as enjoyable as I thought it would be. I longed for my space. A space where I could officially unpack, stretch out, cook a home cooked meal and sip multiple cups of tea while doing nothing.

I have fallen in deep like with Iowa City and the University of Iowa. It is a beautiful place, and it is full of literary culture, activities and books, lots and lots and lots of books.

The rest of 2015 will be spent perfecting my writing sample and applying for The Iowa Writers Workshop and immersing myself in the local writing community. My ultimate desire is to teach creative writing and, of course, have a couple of best-selling novels.

Looking back over the past three months and all that happened I sometimes shake my head in disbelief. Things did not happen the way I planned, but they happened, and ultimately that’s what matters.

As I reflect on the last three months, and all that happened, I am honored that God has blessed me with this opportunity and for that I am truly thankful for the flood.