Lessons from Camp NaNoWriMo, 2018


Last post, I talked about randomly deciding to jump into Camp NaNoWriMo on July 2nd. I set a goal of 30,000 words, hoping to start my long-in-coming rewrite of my primary novel, Machine. I reached my goal with 30,644 words on the 21st.

I also learned some valuable lessons on the way. So without further ado, let’s check them out. These are the lessons I learned from Camp NaNoWriMo, 2018.

I have good instincts

I wrote the first draft of Machine nearly a decade ago.

Since then, there have been a lot of plot problems I’ve chosen to ignore.

So what a surprise it was to discover that not only are the bones not nearly as bad as I thought they were, but many of them are actually good. The deep bones of the story, the tale I want to tell, isn’t awful, and the vast sweeping changes I thought I was going to have to make are actually by and large unnecessary, little bunnies I have to chase down the majority of the problem.

And that might sound a little silly or even arrogant, but for me, someone who has often called her skills into question–especially with plot, this is important, because what it really translates into is confidence.

I’ve spent a lot of time comparing myself to others, thinking I’ll never be a good enough writer, and this experience has shown me, truly, that while I still have a long way to go, I have the instincts. I can tell a story, and it can be good.

I hope this is a lesson I never forget.

My story matters

In a similar vein, I also learned how much this story matters, and not just for me.

For those who aren’t familiar, Machine has always been, in some ways, my story. It’s not autobiographical in a strict sense (though starring in a portal fiction novel would be pretty fun), but there are definitely themes in it that have resonated with me and my life for many years, most importantly in the emotional journeys of the two main characters, Rick and Cog.

For a long time, I thought this was a bad thing. I felt I was too close to the work, and indeed in many ways I was. I did have to take a step back and separate myself, because in editing it for as long as I did, I was reliving or at least re-processing things in my past, things I needed to let go. For a while, it got a little unhealthy.

But, now, coming back, I see the value my story actually has.

This came in a couple of stages, one personal which I’m not going to share here, and the other in a much more practical sense. See, Rick, the main character, has always scaled a little young for a sixteen-year-old, and indeed his character was originally going to be only fourteen. For some, that’s been a problem (I have one friend who regularly clocks him in at twelve, haha), so this time around, doing my rewrite, I was going to address it. I was going to make Rick grow up. After all, that’s what I’ve done in the nine-ish years since I started this project. Why, now that I have a more adult perspective on the complexity of humans, shouldn’t my semi-autobiographical character do the same?

But in actually doing the rewrite, in scaling not only Rick but a few others upward, I realized that the story just wasn’t the same. The jokes didn’t transfer, they’d already dealt with a few different issues, and honestly a lot of the drama that came with them being in that younger, more turbulent time disappeared as a result.

That’s when I realized: It’s important to tell their story when they’re in that place.

My story, the processing and healing I went through at that stage of my life, matters.

Because I’m not just writing it for me. I am writing for an audience, many of whom may still be in that place, or at least have been in the past. I want to share and connect with them, and if I can, bring healing, or at least reflective thought, human connection.

So even if Rick scales young, that’s okay. Because his story matters. Now I know it does.


Now, that’s not to say Machine is perfect, or that I don’t have a lot of work to do, because I do, but I hope this does inspire you in your own work and encourage you to press on, no matter what your creative project. I’m not going to go into detail about any of the more practical lessons I learned about my craft, of which there were several, but I just wanted to share a bit of my journey with NaNo this year, and encourage you in these last five days.

Have you learned anything during your Camp? What else have you been learning or studying about? Let me know in the comments below and if you want to keep following my journey, please follow me here or on social media using the sidebar links. Thanks for reading!

Camp Nanowrimo 2018

Hey all,

I’ve got a fun/scary announcement to make.

I’ve started working on Machine again.

To be honest, it came somewhat out of the blue.

I told God I wasn’t going to start working on it again until I had the answer to a tricky, longstanding problem from chapter one. I know there’s a lot of reworking to do, but it didn’t make sense to start until I had an answer to that question. Plus, I knew God had some things for me before I started up on it again, so that felt like a reasonable green light to ask for.

Then, talking to a friend about it recently, I had a few sparks, what very well might have been the answer.

Then today, I felt like God wanted me to work on it. I’ve been working on another book lately, diving deep into some edits that need to happen.

But the whisper today was for Machine, and it was so tender, so excited, that I knew it was right.

I’ll admit, I was a little freaked out. I knew God had wanted me to let Machine go for a while. Had it really been enough time? Had I learned enough?

But the call remained. Just try it. Trust me.

So I did.

And, I signed up for Camp Nanowrimo. Similar to Nanowrimo, it’s a call to work on a writing project for a month. It’s not as intense as the November version, with goals you can set yourself, but it’s still a challenge. I thought, if God wants me to work on Machine, I’ll give it a shot.

But of course, what goal to set? 50,000, the usual requirement for Nanowrimo didn’t seem right. It’s too busy in the summer for me to go for that, and I didn’t feel like adding such a heavy load to my stress levels.

Instead, I thought 30,000. That sounded good.

Except then I thought, what if this is a fluke? What if God just wants me to work on it today or I’m wrong in what I’m hearing at all? What if I can’t do it or it gets too hard or hurts? As any regular reader of this blog will know, Machine has always been “the book.” Putting it aside hurt like crazy, and to pick it up again, to fail, would be even worse.

Plus, 30,000 words in a month is still a lot, nearly 1,000 a day.

So I changed my goal. I set it to 20,000.

And I worked and I wrote and pumped out a little over 2,000 words before I felt it was time to stop.

Except, something about that 20,000 still didn’t feel good. It felt like a lack of trust, like God wouldn’t deliver, and, to be more direct, that I wouldn’t. I’m finding trusting God is getting easier. Trusting myself is getting worse.

And something I realized was this.

My results will, to some extent, match my dreams. God can do amazing things, but if I don’t believe He can (or me with Him), if I don’t dream big, well, that’s going to be reflected in what I do.

God wants me to dream big.

But, I also know that timing is important, and it’s quite possible that I won’t have time or strength or energy to get in that full 30,000.

So my goals are as follows:

  1. Set the goal for 30,000. Dream big.
  2. Trust God. I already tried writing Machine on my own and it turned into a disaster. I know with Camp Nanowrimo, the same will be true. If I try to do it in my own strength, it’s probably gonna consume me, and I don’t want that.
  3. Don’t be stressed. Tied very directly into the second item on this list, I’m not going to let stress overwhelm me. If this is what God wants, He’ll provide. If not, if I’m doing it out of my own power, it’s gonna get stressful.
  4. Be okay with failure. If I don’t reach my word count, that’s okay. It’s a stretch goal, and it’s honestly just might not happen. That’s okay. I’m still learning, God’s still with me, and it’ll be fine.

And, just in case you’re wondering, yes, I’ve already been learning a lot, as follows:

  1. The Machine I thought I knew was not the real story. I’m a little freaked out to discover this, and certain I haven’t found the real thing yet, but I’m on my way to get there.
  2. These are real people (well, sort of). Machine, in a lot of ways, was a huge part of my process, an integral part of me healing and growing up from being a kid. Now that a lot of that purpose has been met, the characters in it can truly be who they’re meant to be. There’s a distance between me and Rick and Eyna and Cog now, and while part of that is painful, there’s a greater part of that that’s freeing. I’ve already seen some of the fruits of this in how Eyna responds as a character. I’m seeing it in Rick too, and am sure it will come up with all the others.
  3. We’re all growing up. I wrote the first draft of Machine in high school, almost a decade ago. I’ve grown so much from them, and now coming back and re-writing it, not just editing it, I’m seeing that my characters have grown too. Even though they’re still the same age, my understanding of people and story is making them richer, deeper, and yes, even a tiny bit older (Rick always skewed young. We’ll see how he does now). I’m discovering them more, and it’s great.

Anyway, I’m sure there are more lessons to be learned here, but I think I’ll leave it there for now. I’m not sure I’ll get in a second July post while I hammer out these 30k words, but I’ll try to keep in touch when I can.

Thank you for reading. If you want to track my progress stay tuned here, on Facebook, or Twitter (links in the sidebar). Thanks for the support, and as always, questions, comments, and stories always welcome!