Why I’ll Never Participate in NaNoWriMo Again

I have dreamed of successfully completing at least one NaNoWriMo competition since 2011, and this past year I finally realized that dream. I wrote 50,014 words of This Dread Road, Book Three of The Bennett Series, in November 2015.

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I was so proud of myself. Not only had I finally managed to complete a challenge, I did it in the same month my husband and I purchased a home and moved.

For several months after I finished, I was convinced that participating in NaNo was a great thing that everyone should do. After all, I’d never managed to write so much so quickly in my life. But now that I’m finished with revisions, I can look back and say with all manner of certainty that NaNoWrioMo, while well-intentioned, did me far more harm than good.

 

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For one thing, it ushered in a horrific period of burnout. I never stopped working on This Dread Road, but it took nearly six months for me to finish the second half of the book. I went through several weeks of just not caring about the story anymore. Working on it was painful and torturous. For a while, I worried I wouldn’t finish it in time. Or at all.

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Our trip to South Carolina in March forced me to rest and rejuvenate. I came home more excited about the story than ever, having seen places like Stella Maris Church (pictured above) that were connected to the story of This Dread Road. It took another month after our return, but I finally finished the draft. I was so happy to finish, and still eternally gratefully for NaNoWriMo. If I hadn’t written that 50,014 words last November, how much further behind schedule would I be?

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But when I started revisions a few weeks ago, I realized that those first 50,000 words were essentially useless. That section of the book was packed with filler words, unnecessary characters, and subplots I hadn’t taken the time to flesh out. I could almost map my exhaustion during the month of November just looking at that first half.

I had to rewrite the first twenty-seven chapters.

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I don’t wish that I hadn’t participated in NaNo last year–it was a fun experience, and I enjoyed the camaraderie and solidarity that I experienced all across the Internet. It was finals week, but without the stress of grades hanging over my head. I got a lot done. Had I not participated, I most likely wouldn’t have taken a break to redesign all three of the covers for The Bennett Series. I wouldn’t have been able to let my experience in Charleston influence my descriptions nearly as much.

Most importantly, I wouldn’t have learned a valuable lesson: what works for others does not necessarily work for me.


This Dread Road is currently in the editing stage and is tentatively scheduled for a December 2016 release. I will hopefully have a firm date for you soon! 

Molly Marshall’s Top 10 Journalistic Ethical Dilemmas

This blog post was written by Olivia Folmar Ard from the perspective of her character, Molly Marshall. The Marshall Plan is now available in Kindle and paperback formats from Amazon.

I’ve wanted to be a journalist for years now, but I never realized how hard it would be to do the job the right way. As it turns out, journalism is so much more than writing interesting stories, and it takes more than a good person to be ethical. Whether you dream of having a community column or penning a dramatic exposé, there are rules to follow when you’re responsible for disseminating information to the public. I break more than one of those rules on my quest for glory in The Marshall Plan. Here are my picks for the top ten ethical dilemmas facing young journalists today.

1) Truth should be your guiding principle.
This might seem like a no-brainer—it certainly did to me at first—but it’s harder than it seems. It’s one thing to be honest about the facts you present; it’s another to have anything other than the truth motivate your search for a great story. Pesky little things like jealousy and desire for revenge like to sneak in when you’re not looking. No matter how tempting it is to follow them, don’t! They’ll only hurt you in the long run.

2) Stories should be completely, 100% unbiased.
There’s a reason jury selection is such a long, drawn-out process—the courtroom process only works if the jurors come to a decision based on the evidence presented them, not on any prejudices they may have. This is why I should have never tried to write that exposé—I had entirely too many personal connections and biases.

3) Journalists should respect the individual’s right to privacy.
While snooping is sometimes required when looking for the truth, there’s a right way to do it. When I was trying to gather information for the exposé, I did some bad things. Not only were some of my actions unethical, they were highly illegal and violated more than one person’s right to privacy. Thank goodness I had some sense knocked into me before I kept going down that road!

4) Accuracy of stories should be confirmed early on.
Like #1 this seems a bit obvious, but I still managed to slip up here. In journalism, as in a courtroom, circumstantial evidence alone isn’t enough. Before I started investigating such a he said, she said story—especially one so scandalous—I should have gone straight to the people involved to get their accounts. I didn’t have confirmation that my story was correct until after I dropped the story. If I’d published it without knowing for sure it was accurate, I might have ruined someone’s life for no reason!

5) Concern for the public does not justify distorting the facts.
Despite my personal biases that played into my investigation, there really was a part of me that thought I was doing the right thing for the Bennett community. Unfortunately, wanting to help others doesn’t justify unethical practices. Putting an intentional slant on a story for any reason is not okay!

6) Avoid conflicts of interest like the plague.
If a story has the potential to cause you benefit or harm, you’re probably more interested than anyone else in seeing to its outcome, but trust me—drop it on someone else’s desk. The moment your primary concern becomes personal welfare, it’s impossible for you to follow guideline #1. This is one of the few rules I didn’t violate while trying to write the exposé. Ethics: 5, Molly: 1.

7) Don’t insert opinion into a piece being presented as news.

Editorials have their own sections of the paper for a reason—opinions have no place in a news story. This is a crucial mistake I made over and over again. Instead of gathering all the evidence I could, I cherry-picked so the story would match up with my opinion of the people involved. It seemed like a good idea at the time. . .

8) Stories shouldn’t be written expressly for accolades.
Once again, in case you’ve been snoozing—in journalism, the TRUTH should be your primary motivation at all times. Technically I didn’t violate this during my investigation, since I wasn’t trying to win an award. Even so, the hope that the story would launch me into a successful career was a major factor in why I pursued it in the first place.

9) Make promises only if you can keep them.
This goes back to #4. Accuracy matters! I almost turned in a story proposal to my editor without even getting firsthand accounts from the people involved. What if I’d written the initial article and then hadn’t been able to follow through? Not only would my credibility (rightly) be damaged, the reputations of others would be called into question without resolution. Bad all the way around.

10) Don’t use your position to manipulate outside business interests.
Writing stories encouraging people to invest in or patronize your business is wrong, for obvious reasons. They didn’t pick up a newspaper to read an advertisement in disguise? Unfortunately, I did this to an extent with my community column. Since I wasn’t manipulating a news story, I suppose it wasn’t so bad, but still a little sketchy.

You’re probably thinking, “Hey Molly, maybe you shouldn’t be a journalist after all!” I thought that for a while myself, but honestly I think I’ve learned my lesson. Don’t judge me until you’ve read my story!
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Items on this post were based on the Associated Press Media Editors’ Statement of Ethical Principles. Thanks to all the ethical journalists and correspondents who keep us informed!

The Marshall Plan Dreamcast

As some of you might know, my second novel, The Marshall Plan, is scheduled to release next month! I’m so excited for everyone to read it. I know I’m a little biased, but I think you all will love the story and the characters even more than Partition.

In anticipation of the release, I’ll do what I think most authors secretly do–“cast” the movie version of The Marshall Plan. This is usually pretty difficult for me, since my characters usually have pretty unique appearances in my head, but it’s a fun exercise and I’ve been exposed to some pretty great actors this year. So, drumroll. . .

Molly Marshall

Mae Whitman

This was a hard call to make. Molly has a very distinct appearance in my mind–two, actually: the way she sees herself, and the way others see her. I considered Ginnifer Goodwin for a while, but she isn’t the right age. Plus, she’s entirely too sweet-looking to play someone as feisty and angst-ridden as my heroine.

Mae Whitman won my vote a month or so ago on a particularly emotional episode of Parenthood. Like Molly, Whitman’s character on the show, Amber, has issues with anger and parental neglect, and she does a fantastic job of portraying such a complex, volatile character. If I had to pick anyone, it would be her.

Gavin Reue

Chris-Hemsworth

This one was pretty easy. Other than green eyes, Chris Hemsworth looks exactly as I picture Gavin in my mind. At 32, he’s a few years older than the character, but I think he can pull it off. His only competition was Chris Pratt, whose acting in Jurassic World captivated my attention.

Alexis Britt

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Aubrey Plaza is without a doubt my choice to play Alexis. No one can be more sarcastic and deadpan.

Leo

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 09: Actor Jon Huertas attends the 39th Annual People's Choice Awards at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on January 9, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

Jon Huertas plays Javier Esposito, one of my favorite characters on the hit TV show Castle. He’s probably too talented to play such a minor character, but hey. I’m dreaming here.

Dex Myers

Miles Heizer

I’m borrowing a lot from Parenthood here, but Miles Heizer is one of the few young actors I know. He also does a great job of being clumsy, awkward, and bumbling on that show, so I know he could be a great Dex.

Hattie Wolcott

Emma Roberts

I’m sticking with my earlier decision to cast Emma Roberts as Hattie. She’s still the best lady for the job.

Cameron Wolcott

Colin Hanks

Colin Hanks is still my pick for Cameron. He’s not very well-known and I’ve not actually seen him in anything, but he looks exactly like my vision of Cameron, and his dad’s Tom Hanks. Surely the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.

Tobias Reue

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Because Stanley Tucci. Seriously though, he’s one of the best actors I know–I’ve never seen him play the same role twice. He’d make a great Toby.

Stacy Reue

Jennifer Aniston

For Stacy, a woman in her forties who still looks fabulous, it’s hard to pick anyone besides Jennifer Aniston.

Jenny Reue

Blake Lively

Blake Lively has that effervescent, sparkling summer quality I imagine Jenny having. I really can’t think of anyone else who could do the character justice.

Malcolm

James Franco

James Franco looks like he could be a sculptor and give pretentious talks on British food. I’ll put aside my negative feelings for Harry Osborn for this.

Gayle Weatherspoon

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Whomever plays Gayle would have to have a soothing, lilting voice. For me, that means Sissy Spacek. I’ve been in love with her since I listened to her narration of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Sidney Campbell

Monica Potter

I’m changing my original choice for both of the Campbells. Monica Potter is a very talented actress, and through her character Kristina on Parenthood she’s shown herself capable of being believably angry and jealous.

Samson Campbell

Patrick Dempsey

I’m not sure if it’s because of his character in Valentine’s Day, but Patrick Dempsey looks like the kind of guy who would do all the horrible things Samson does. (Sorry, Patrick. I’m sure you’re a nice guy IRL.)

Andi Jensen

Abigail Breslin

Whomever plays Andi should be young, spunky, and enthusiastic, and I think Abigail Breslin would bring that kind of energy to the role. I’d probably want her to have darker hair, but other than that, she’s perfect.

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Who do you picture in some of these roles? Let me know in the comments here, or on Facebook or Twitter!

Haven’t read The Marshall Plan yet? Preorder the Kindle version now or add to your Goodreads shelves.

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