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!

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