Wednesday, January 16, 2013

NaNoWriMo Spotlight: Sarah aka packedsuitcase

Introducing my favorite writer from our write-ins this past year - Sarah, known on the forum as packedsuitcase. She's an internationally traveled writer and her story this year, "The Story of a Year", reflects that. I quite enjoyed our conversations each week even if it distracted me from writing.

Who are you?

My name's Sarah. I'm a hopeless wanderer and mini adrenaline junkie, a rootless whoknowswhat who would be quite content to live with just the contents of a backpack and two cats. And a laptop. And a comfortable couch. And probably a bed, if we're pulling furniture into the picture. Actually, I kind of like furniture. I would miss it. And dishes, I have a mild obsession with mismatched plates. And, frankly, semi-permanent hostel living doesn't sound thrilling. Plus they don't usually allow pets.

Why did you pick NaNoWriMo to consume your November?

I've wanted to write a novel since I was 14, but I only ever got short story ideas. I finally got the first taptaptap of an idea in May and by October it was insistently pounding on the door to my brain demanding to be let in, so I decided to welcome it home in November and see how we got along. Plus, I had surgery in October and so I finally got a break from my overscheduled life and realized I had time to both do NaNo and get a full night's sleep.

What was your novel about this year? And why did you pick that?

My novel is about a girl who finds herself smack in the middle of a life she hates who gets coerced into taking what becomes a very long vacation. She spends a year traveling around the world, meeting new people and trying to figure out how to survive on her own.

The story came about in a few ways. A couple of years ago I went through one of those soul shattering break-ups where I had to end a relationship with somebody I loved but who wasn't the right person for me. At the same time, several of my friends were going through the same thing and we were all trying to figure out what our lives were supposed to look like. At some point each of us said, "What if we could just run away and start fresh? What if we didn't have to be here, dealing with the pain of reconciling what we want our lives to be with the choices we made to stay with this person?" And then I spent the summer living in Copenhagen, and while I loved it, I experienced some of the most acute loneliness I'd ever felt. I spent my birthday on my own, feeling sorry for myself, and I thought about my main character, Jess, in a really concrete way for the first time. That she would experience that same loneliness, that it would be magnified by the break up and her lack of conviction in both what she is doing and what she has done.

What is your typical writing process like?

At night: Drink. Swear. Type a hundred words or so. Pour more wine. Look at the clock. Push the cat off of my lap and type for about an hour. Roll my eyes at myself, but keep typing. Type until I'm finished, whether because I have come to a good stopping point or because I am so exhausted I can barely keep my eyes open or because it's midnight and I'm sick of doing this.

In the morning: Wake up. Laze around in bed. Pour a cup of coffee. Enjoy the coffee. Pour another cup of coffee and fire up the laptop. Drink half of the cup of coffee while getting set up. Put on a CD. Pound out 1500 words without too much effort. Realize the coffee has gone cold. Drink it anyways, and write another 1500 words.

Both processes start around 9.

How did your month go?

It went well! Surprisingly well, actually. I got a lot written. But. (There's always a but.) A lot of what I wrote isn't really true to the character, and the story is very episodic. I'm focusing on a few other projects right now with more pressing deadlines, but once they're done I'm going to do a very manual timeline and really focus on what Jess would do and not what I would do in the same situation. I think there's a little too much of me in there, and most of that is in what I wrote in the last third of the month where I was so desperate to finish that I stopped being as critical of my writing. I need to spend more time with Jess. I think I need to think through (and write down!) a lot of her backstory and figure out what makes her tick.

What did you learn from NaNoWriMo this year?

That I am happiest when I write. I hate writing because it's hard and it's scary and it's risky, but I love it. I love telling stories, and I love challenging myself to tell them well and beautifully and to show the world at its best and its worst and everywhere in between. I learned that I can't let myself stop writing both because I need as much practice as I can get and because it is the best way for me to process the world. I also learned that it is possible for me to ignore the voice that chants "Not good enough not good enough not good enough" and throws popcorn at the back of my head. And that that voice only comes out at night - when I could write during the day I never heard it. Things are always scarier at night, I guess.

Where else can we find you online?

You can follow my ridiculous adventures and random musings on life at


  1. This was so much fun, Anna! Thanks for letting me be a part of it.

  2. Best writing process I've ever read.


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