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On Discipline: NaNo, Exercise, and the Value of Encouragement (plus a bonus recipe!)

My husband and I like to take walks together. In a house with two children, it’s hard to have a chance to connect with each other since some little human always needs something. So, because we have a park behind our house, we leave the kiddos with a walkie-talkie and spend a half hour walking the park as often as possible.

It’s much easier when we’re away in Cape Cod. Although I am a self-proclaimed workaholic, I am good about leaving my day-job-work at home when we escape to our Cape house for long weekends or school breaks. Hubby and I will wake up at our leisure, give the girls a walkie and let them watch TV for an hour while we take a two-mile walk (which includes a stop for coffee).

It was on one such recent Cape walk that my husband made a joke: “Okay,” he said. “You’ve had some exercise, and you’ve already gotten in a writing session today. So is it fair to assume that today will be a good day?”

He knows me well.

It’s taken me 44 years, but I have finally grown into the kind of woman who knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to pursue it. On a daily, regular basis, I need exercise and writing time. Exercise gives me endorphins. It fuels my body. It makes me feel physically good. I enjoy walking (whether outside in nature or briskly on the treadmill) for at least 30 minutes a day. Similarly, I need strength training daily. Nothing crazy. 25 minutes, six particular exercises, two reps of each. By doing these two things, I nourish my body with about an hour of self-care every day.

I also need to write, and if for some reason I can’t write, I need to at least read. This is fuel for my mind. I need to dive into a creative space and swim around there for a couple of hours. The time I spend with art every day develops my imagination and brings me joy.

Without these two critical elements, I can become a real pain in the ass. I liken it to a plant that isn’t able to get water and sunshine on a daily basis. The plant feels strangled, gasping for the ability to breathe. That is how I feel when I have to miss out on one, or both, of the two things that bring me fulfillment.

NaNoWriMo came at an interesting time this year. I’d been struggling since early September. Once my editor told me my sophomore novel was no bueno, I had to dig deep to come up with a solid replacement idea – and a complete manuscript – by my new deadline of January 1st. Writing started to feel like work, which is to say that I was less than excited to show up for it. Similarly, exercise threatened to go by the wayside in favor of a daily dose of poutine (for those who aren’t familiar, that’s French fries with cheddar cheese, brown gravy, bacon, green onions, and fresh cracked pepper). The kids were back at school after a long summer of joyful, warm days outside and the day job was presenting its own struggles. Everything felt a little… harder than necessary.

Never one to back down from a good challenge, I cleaned off the chalkboard in my office and decided that November would be the month where I would conquer the sophomore slump, finish the new manuscript, and get back to the daily workouts. To prepare for this, I sent the 125 pages I’d already completed off to my writing group. God bless them (shout out here to Sam Price and Dane Sawyer); they took the time to read all of those pages and offer really awesome, useful feedback and encouragement. I also really leaned on my husband to alpha-read for me, one chapter at a time, as I wrote. We brainstormed plot lines and talked about my characters on our walks together, and he’d give me a much-needed “Attagirl” when I’d share my daily word count with him. I would never be the writer I am without his love and support.

All of the ingredients were there, and suddenly I found my groove again.

Every day started with a 5am workout – a solid hour of endorphin-boosting cardio and weight training.

Then, no less than three hours of writing per day.

Logged on the chalkboard.

Productivity creates motivation: it took me 23 days to finish the manuscript. It’s funny, good writing, and I am proud of it.

NaNo creates a community online that promotes discipline. People post about their progress and cheer each other on. Sure, the community of people who participate in such endeavors is present online all year, but something about the idea of writing together is both powerful and uplifting. Discipline yields results, and you can feel pride in what you’ve accomplished along with thousands of virtual cheerleaders out there who’ve accomplished something similar right alongside you. I realize that if NaNo was every month, it would lose its novelty, but now that my manuscript is done, at least for the time being, I already miss the idea of having to show up for it regularly. For December, I guess I’ll just show up for work and holiday shopping instead. Not quite as much fun, but I’ll manage.

And so, yes, Hubby. Today is a very good day.

Recipe for KJ's Poutine


- Seasoned French fries (I like the frozen bags from Checkers or Arby's curly fries best)

- 3 strips of pre-cooked bacon, cut into small pieces

- 1 cup of Ellsworth Cheese Curds (purchase these here)

- 2 tablespoons of finely chopped green onions

- Fresh ground salt and pepper, to taste

- Beef gravy (Campbell's works fine, but Heinz or McCormick's are also good - or if you're feeling bold, make your own with a Knorr's gravy mix)


1) Air fry or bake a hearty serving of fries. In my air fryer, this takes about ten minutes total - make sure you shake 'em up good halfway through!

2) Meanwhile, microwave your 3 strips of bacon for 15 seconds, then chop up into small pieces. Measure out your cheese curds and break them into small pieces. Chop up your green onions.

3) Heat the gravy - microwave, stove top, whatever's easiest!

4) Place the fries on a nice, big plate. Top with cheese, bacon, and green onions, evenly distributed over the top. Grind fresh salt and pepper over the plate.

5) Microwave for one minute - or if you prepare this in a cast iron pan, you can broil it for about 30 seconds.

6) Top with gravy.


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