Prologue: NaNoWriMo is here, and I’m going to write!

Before I start with anything, I wanted to give you, readers, a little bit of background on what I am doing, to hopefully shed a little more light on this project.

As many of you are probably aware—if you are writers, at least—November is NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. While I have not always been able to participate for various reasons, my first time doing NaNo was eleven years ago. Over the course of the years, I failed some and won some. Two of my novels written during NaNo are now published with Bold Strokes books! (Andy Squared and Meeting Chance) Due to grad school the last few years, on top of my already full teaching schedule, I was unable to really participate in the festivities. I tried, but I failed, and failed hard. I am proud to say that many of my students participated, and some of them continue to do so!

This year, however, I am getting back into it. I have the opportunity. With two different jobs that afford me plenty of time, even though I also have grad school, I feel that I can successfully complete NaNoWriMo and emerge on the other side relatively unscathed.

Most of you know that for the last several years, since The First Twenty was published, I have had a case of crippling writer’s block. It’s been dreadful. Not only do I not know what to write (despite having thousands of ideas), I just can’t sit down and focus long enough to do so. Peyton and Nixie are at a standstill with just over five thousand words in their next story. Colby and Enash are chomping at the bit, ready to go. But I just can’t do it.

This is year is going to be a game changer. Instead of doing fiction, I’ve decided to try my hand at nonfiction. A memoir of sorts, if you will. There are several reasons I decided to do this, which I’ve highlighted below:

  1. Maybe something different that isn’t related to school or novels will cancel my block and open the floodgates.
  2. Nonfiction will allow me to play with words without really worrying about structure of plot. I can say what I want and ramble if I need to, in a stream of consciousness style.
  3. I can change methods every day if need be.
  4. My recent diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome has been an eye-opening experience, one which has led me to fill a Moleskine journal with my thoughts and recollections. As a writer, I want to share what I’ve written, even if some of it is personal. I figure if I share it, maybe people will understand me more.


Over the course of this month I will be sharing my posts on a—hopefully—daily basis. Of course I might slack a bit, but my goal is to get out of this rut and share with everyone. To help me focus, I have decided to adapt the list written by Samantha Craft, which can be found on her website here:

I like having lists and checking things off. This list is particularly exciting because it pretty much describes my entire experience. Reading over it triggers so many “aha!” moments that I spent hours writing in my journal. Since then, I’ve had even more, which I intend to share over the course of November.

Please join me my journey of self-discovery. These posts will be as true as I know them to be. If at any point you have questions, please feel free to leave a comment on here or wherever this is cross-posted. You can also email me at writerjenlavoie at gmail dot com. I would be happy to answer your questions.

Book Review: IraqiGirl by “Hadiya”

One particular student of mine has taken an interest in books about girls in other countries and requested I find more after she read I Am Nujood: Age 10 and Divorced, the memoir of a young girl from Yemen who was married off at the age of 10 and was the first child bride to win a divorce in the country. The book was a fantastic look at the lives of girls in this country, and really made her appreciate her life in America. So I went on the search for another book that would interest her – and other students – just as much.

I found IraqiGirl {Diary of a Teenage Girl in Iraq} and before giving it to my student, I had to first read it to make sure the material is suitable for her grade level.

I am pleased to announce that it is, and it is an excellent look at the lives of Iraqi girls during the Iraq War and US occupation. I say girls because readers do not get to see the perspective of a boy, but instead readers get to see Hadiya (a pseudonym) write in her blog.

The entries serve many purposes. First, she is fifteen when the book starts and while her English is good, it is not perfect. There are errors in it, and she seems younger than fifteen. Her entries are short and express her fear at what happens around her and often include pictures. Second, the posts show her changing feelings about her countries leader, the Americans, and the situation around her that she feels at time is hopeless, and other times full of hope. She can be – and admits to it – pessimistic. But can anyone really blame her for what she experiences? She is just writing her life as she sees it. And who can call it a life when every day she hears bombs going off around her and has to worry about that while taking exams in school?

The blog records her progress in the English language, and with her views of the world. She is conflicted when her relatives die but she is utterly in love with her niece, Aya. It is clear that her grandfather was a brilliant man, and she adored him.

From Hadiya I learned a lot about the occupation in Iraq. Before reading this I had seen only what was shown on my television and gave no thought – I’m ashamed to say – to the civilians who wanted to live their life peacefully. Hadiya is a devout Muslim who takes her religion seriously and it is her faith that often gets her through difficult patches. I loved her poetry. While at times it was serious and heartbreaking, it was insightful for a girl her age.

And though it may seem small, I admire her writing the blog in English though she was not fluent. She did not care if peope made fun of her – as she says at the end – and by the end of her book we see that she is very talented with words. Perhaps it was the years of expressing herself in English that helped her. It has inspired me to write more in Japanese and not worry about mistakes I make. Perhaps someone will help me with my Japanese as well. I’m not perfect. I do not claim to be fluent. Maybe writing only in Japanese in another blog will improve my grasp of the language like it did for Hadiya.

If you’re interested in reading more of the blog, you can find it here:

Hadiya still updates, though infrequently. You can purchase the book here.

(And for those who may be concerned about the “accuracy” of the facts as some people seem to be in reviews, she is writing her blog posts as a child. She is writing as she knows things to be. She admits that people are liars and that she cannot trust everyone, but what she writes is from the heart. She does not have the ability check and see if all the information she gets is true because of her age.)