In 2010, I did NaNoWriMo for the first time. The Census had completed its work, so I was unemployed and ready to write until I’d exorcised this dark lesbian ghost story from my head.

I did, basically. My brain was on fire, and my hands weren’t far behind. Parts of my life I had barely begun to process floated up: the incandescent experience of first love; the lure of New Orleans, (which I had left in August 2005, days before Katrina); almost-all-powerful authority figures who became violent at the drop of a hat. This was when YA Paranormal Romance had its own giant section in every Barnes & Noble, but I couldn’t find a single gay ghost story. In fact, there weren’t many ghost stories at all, which stunned me — what could be more compelling than a human who has experienced death? What if ghosts don’t have answers? What if their point of view is as limited as ours?

My first novel braided all of my early-20s fixations together. Juvenile reform camps, where kids have no legal autonomy over their bodies. Teen runaways; I had wanted to be one but couldn’t due to my medical needs. Ironic Boy Scout shirts. Compulsive shoplifting. Healthy relationships that still must end. I crossed the 50,000 word threshold on Day 13 and finished the first draft of THE WOMEN OF DAUPHINE on November 15. I had never felt so accomplished.

In 2020, I did NaNo for the seventh time (eighth if you count the one that was just for revisions). I had three books out already, including DAUPHINE, which I had shelved for five years after a bad experience with an agent and then surprise-sold to an indie. When the month began, most of New Orleans was still powerless after a giant hurricane. Instead of unemployed and dreamy in the desert, I was in the process of switching from one full-time job to another, and I was up to my eyes in logistics with both. Oh, and I was transitioning. Did I mention the election? And the pandemic?

I finished November off with 24,000 words.

THIS IS AN ACCOMPLISHMENT, TOO.

NaNo can make me feel like I’m in a race with myself that I’ve already lost. I beat myself up on reflex, but then I remember I’m proud of what I wrote this year. YA psychological thrillers became my balm during Covid, a safe place to put my anxiety, but no one’s more surprised than me that I’m writing one. My protagonist has Type 1 diabetes, like me; I’ve never done that before either. It’s a perspective the world still needs, between the mainstream that willfully misunderstands our needs and the “medical culture” manufactured by ableds who want our money. There’s a mysterious death, queer intrigue, commentary on minors’ lack of legal rights. I have 24,000 words I didn’t have before, and I’m thrilled with the story taking shape.

I might never again write as quickly as I did when I was twenty-four.

But you know what?

I’m better at it than I was then.

Blue-and-red spines of the book THE WOMEN OF DAUPHINE by the author, then named Deb Jannerson

Award-winning author of the novel THE WOMEN OF DAUPHINE (NineStar Press, 2019) and two poetry collections, published as Deb Jannerson. On Twitter @djannerson.