What I Learned from My First NaNoWriMo

Hey guys. It’s December already – can you believe it? 2017 is heading out the door.

Crazy. I know.

December means winter, but what’s most important here, is that December marks the end of the craziest month for writers – NaNoWriMo.

Crazy. I know.

I wrote about my story at the beginning of last month, and I mentioned that I might do a sort of “wrap-up post” because this was my first year, and everything. I was super excited to start NaNo for the first time that I couldn’t wait to get up and write. And I thought I could just write and write, and everything would be great.

Not true. Here’s a breakdown of the first week.

Day 1 = frustrating. I hardly wrote anything today!
Day 2 = better, but still frustrating. Why can’t I just making time to write?
Day 3 = still frustrating. Why is this so hard?
Day 4 = I wrote all morning today!! IT WAS THE BEST FEELING.
Day 5-7 = [some combination of all of the above]

The rest of NaNo alternated between good, great, and really stressful. I wanted to get so much writing done, but life just wouldn’t cooperate. My average time spent writing was 2-3 hours a day, sometimes less if the goats wanted to be milked before 7:30 (I live on a farm, so…).

Let’s get into it, already.

Lessons Learned
– or, lessons that hit me in the face because I haven’t learned them yet.

Routine is important – I remember that I spent one night checking social media instead of writing. I know it messed up my rhythm for the next day. If you’re going to write in the morning, do it. If you’re going to write in the evening, do it. Don’t let the internet tempt you – TURN OFF THAT WIFI, for goodness sakes.

. . .

Get up and do it no matter how you feel – because that’s called perseverance and perseverance is good for you.

. . .

Don’t be distracted by everyone else’s progress updates on Twitter – I had to learn this lesson the hard way. It was the first day of NaNo. Everyone was posting about how they killed off x and x characters, and hitting their 5k word mark before lunch – and I didn’t feel like I’d even started yet. But here’s the thing: you have to remember YOU ARE THE ONLY ONE WRITING YOUR STORY. They are writing their stories. Stories are not written by comparison. People are going to be better than you, write faster than you, write better first drafts than you. It means we’re all different and we write different stories. The sooner you accept it, the better.

Community is great, man, but still – we write our stories alone.

. . .

It’s okay to deviate from your outline – There were several times when I left out or rearranged parts of my outline, because I felt they didn’t fit the story anymore. One day I found a way to add tension between characters that I hadn’t noticed before (that made me super happy, because I was worried that this character was too flat). There are things that will happen – ideas that come to you while you’re writing that can’t possibly be thought of ahead of time. They can’t be preplanned because they are birthed out of natural creativity. Go for those moments. They make more honest stories.

. . .

It’s so much better to write in chronological order – I don’t think I need to embellish upon this one.

. . .

The more you work on your story, the more it motivates you to work on it next time – I thought that leaving my story alone was the best thing I could do, but it’s actually the opposite. The more time you spend writing, the easier it is to get up and write the next day. It’s like working out, in a way. Every time you do it, you get stronger. You can do ten squats instead of five. You can lift eight pounds instead of six. Writing is a muscle to be worked.

. . .

Back up your writing – for the love of all things, just do it.

. . .

Write in a comfortable spot – Before NaNo, I had made a special desk in my room with an inspiration board full of hand lettered quotes and a neat little banner that read – NaNoWriMo 2017. I thought it would be a great writing spot because it was quiet. It didn’t work out one bit. I ended up writing on the recliner in my living room, with a view of my piano, and the bookshelves. (see above photo). I was far more productive there (and definitely less frustrated). Write where it’s comfortable, ya’ll.

What I Liked About NaNo
yes, I actually enjoyed myself for all the following reasons

One word: community. Hundreds of thousands of people all over the world are doing this with you, and they are all starting at the same place as you – ground zero. It makes you feel apart of something bigger than yourself. Not to mention all the lovely comments you guys wrote, asking me to publish my story so you can read it. I’m honored.

NaNo also teaches perseverance – you’d be surprised how art is more perseverance than anything else. It teaches you to keep going even when it sucks, even when you show up and the page tells you that you suck and have nothing at all to offer. It teaches you to remember that great things aren’t made in a monthremember the director who went through 13 drafts of his script before it was made into a movie. Or the composer who had such a difficult time with the final track of his score, that he said it was the most difficult piece he’d ever done. Or the author who got over 100 rejection letters before she found her agent.

#truestories, guys

NaNo teaches community, consistency, and commitment. Lessons we all need to learn.

What I Didn’t Like About NaNo
– or, what I still don’t like about NaNo

I know that NaNo is all about word count. Word count, word count, word count, word count. And I feel like this is a one-size-fits-all approach to writing. It’s okay, I get it – NaNoWriMo can’t possibly be tailored around every writer’s unique style and approach. Some writers might feel intimidated by having to churn out 50k words in 30 days. And for other writers, the pressure is good for them. They love word count.

And that’s fine. Everyone has their own way of doing things. But I wonder if the emphasis on word count is a replacement for storytelling.

My Story’s WC – total manuscript

Week 1 = 12,623 words
Week 2 = 22,114 words
Week 3 = 28,807 words
Week 4 = 40,540 words 

Maybe you’re thinking – uh, Keira you said you didn’t like word count. But I see you…you are counting words.

Okay, I’m backpedaling a little.

I understand that it’s possible to have a word count goal, and write a wonderful story. Story and words aren’t mutually exclusive. Most of all, I want my story to make sense. It’s true, my story doesn’t make sense right now. It needs A LOT of work. It’s not even worth reading or sharing with anyone.

What I’m saying is that I didn’t want word count to be my only writing goal. It’s okay that I didn’t make it to 50k, even though I would have liked to. I don’t think it’s bad to count words. Although I’ll admit, counting your words gets to be a little addicting once you start doing it.

Moving on….

What I Wish I’d Done Differently
– see the word count stats above

Wrote more.

Of course, I wish I could have written more. I feel like I really could have made it to 50k. I was so close! But I was lazy and I slacked off.

I also wish I would have waited to blog about my story until the end of the month. Abbiee suggested it in her November vlog, and I instantly wished I’d done it that way. Here’s why: it’s really easy to get caught up in reading + commenting on everyone else’s NaNo projects, that you lose sight of your own project – that you really should be writing instead of looking at what everyone else is writing. If I waited until December to post about my story, I could have spent NaNo just focusing on writing. I’d know that I could have talked about my story in a month when I was all spent out of words.

Besides, I love the secrecy of it all and the idea of “revealing your novel after you’ve written it.”

Exciting Things that Happened During NaNoWriMo
– or, things that I am now freed up to focus on.

I GOT A NEW CAMERA. It’s a Canon EOS M5, and with a 15-45mm lens.
I’m already so impressed with the quality of the photos + the ISO range is SHOCKING – 25600. The screen flips out and down, to record video and there’s even a port for an external mic (you can be sure that’s next on my wish list). Be prepared for higher quality Instagram photos once I figure out how to use all the settings. AAAHHHH.

I started a 731 page biography on Alexander Hamilton. I’ve seen this Hamilton-obsession unfold on the internet for the past couple years, and I wasn’t sure what all the hype was all about. And then I saw this book at the library, and I thought – well this is where I’ll start. It’s too early to say tell you my opinion of it, but you can be sure I’ll update Twitter when the day comes.

– *insert cringing motions*

It seems to be traditional to post snippets of your novel, so here I am to do just that. Based on the comments I received saying “I want to read your novel,” I feel like I owe you guys sneak peeks. Also, you all asked to see these on Twitter so…here goes.

. . .

I try hard to connect with Mother, I really do But when you have been rejected again and again and again, eventually, you stand at a distance and allow space to grow between you. You stop trying. You tell yourself, this is all there is and all there ever will be.

– Willow

. . .

The lie of war is clear: you go around killing each other until one side decides that enough lives have been lost. The problem is that surrender should have been made, the white flag raised, the moment the first round was shot. One life lost is too many lives lost.

– Rowan

. . .

I live in a world of contradictions. Between two generations who say different things. My parent’s generation who says we must carefully guard against repeating the past. And my generation – which says only stupid people repeat the past.

– Willow

. . .

When I get home that night, my brother is sitting on the table with his schoolbooks. The house is quiet – still except for the rustling when he turns pages, and the soft scratch of his pencil.

I knock my boots together on the threshold. It’s snowing softly outside. “Why aren’t you at Hazelle’s?” I ask, as I shake the snow from my coat.

“Shut that!” he insists. “It’s freezing!”

– Chapter 7

. . .

In the grass, my bare feet. Side by side with his.
The next day, he is gone.

– Alma

. . .

Stephen created stories out of his head, and that surprised me. I was not the child who played pretend. I didn’t think about what would happened if my life were different. Stephen did think about those things.

Maybe that’s why we became friends. I was drawn to the part of him that asked questions I’d never thought of.

– Chapter 6

. . .

Their home has no decoration or expensive furniture of any kind. Compared to my house, it’s painstakingly bare and simple. Poverty because I know Alma can’t always make the rent payment on time. But there is a warm presence here that my house doesn’t have. It makes you feel safe and loved. It’s been a long time since I felt like that. So if I had to choose between spending my time here or at home, and if I’m honest, I’d choose here. And it’s not because Stephen and I are friends, it’s because the Rivers make you feel like you don’t have to be related to be family.

– Chapter 13

. . .

The questions I really want to ask, come rushing to my mind. All the questions that I can’t ask: how long were you out there without a coat? What were you thinking? Are you stupid? Why can’t you just wake up and function for once? What is so wrong about living your life as if War hadn’t happened? Why can’t you realize that Rye needs you, that Father needs you? That I need you to be strong because there are times I can’t be strong. I don’t need you, Mother, but I do.

– Chapter 5
Soundtracks That Kept Me Sane
– not that I was going insane, mind you. It’s just a thing people say.

Amazing Grace || David Arnold
Lady in the Water || James Newton Howard
The Village || James Newton Howard
Saints and Strangers || Hans Zimmer
September Dawn || William Ross
The Great Debaters || James Newton Howard, Peter Gould
Snow Falling on Cedars || James Newton Howard
Asthma Attack + The Hand of Fate pt. ii || James Newton Howard

(obviously, it’s easy to tell
who my favorite composer is)
(also, I could go on
for pages and pages
about how INCREDIBLE
Lady in the Water +
Asthma Attack are,
but I’ll spare you.
The Summary
– so did I enjoy NaNo, or not?

I said that I wanted NaNo to spark a writing habit. And it think it has done that. I’m really glad I chose to do NaNoWriMo, even though I doubted that I could stick to it for 30 straight days. My story isn’t finished, but I am still working on it. Maybe I’ll cut my writing time in half (you know, because life is distracting), but I know I’m going to keep writing because writing should be a lifestyle that continues after November ends.

go forth and write

|| Let’s Have a Conversation ||

Tell me about your NaNo experience. • What soundtracks did you listen to most often / or what other kinds of music? • What is your favorite part about participating in NaNo?



20 thoughts on “What I Learned from My First NaNoWriMo

  1. This is probably the latest comment on planet earth, but I just found your post saved in my inbox, just waiting to be read, and had to pop by. I definitely agree with you that sometimes, word count seems to take over storytelling. I know that I wasn’t happy with how my story turned out, partly because I was just fighting so hard to hit that 50K.

    Your snippets are absolutely gorgeous. I love your writing style so much- it’s so fluid and beautiful.

    Never stop writing, my dear. xx


    • Your comments are always welcome no matter how late they are. : )

      I know the feeling very, very well.

      And awwwww, thank you so much! No no, I won’t. Writing is kinda “my thing” : )



  2. Wow why have I never come across your blog before?! o.O CONGRATS ON DOING NANO you did amazing – 40k WOW you should be so proud. I 10000% get you about comparing yourself to others, this year I set myself a mental goal of just 25k, so wasn’t really trying to reach 50k yet still felt jealous when I saw Twitter updates from other amazing writers.

    And yes yes yes about community though, I think that was what made NaNo a bit more special than just writing (although at times I did spend a *little* more time than I should on Twitter searching the hashtag #NaNoWriMo2017 rather than actually writing my NaNoWriMo2017 (whoops – I am known to procrastinate eek).

    Are all the photos in this post yours? Because they are gorgeous photos (and totally sum up the aesthetic of my NaNo novel – particularly the coffee one (my book is pretty much based around a vintage-style, rustic vibes coffee shop soo..!)

    I will def be visiting your blog again:)

    Lexie x

    (also sorry if this posts like 10203393958200 times – the comment didn’t seem to be going through!)


    • Ahhh Lexie, your comment made me smile. Thank you!!

      Internet comparison is real, man. It seems like no matter how much you write, you still feel left behind.

      Oh, you did that too?!? Twitter is a curse to writers, let me tell you (kidding, of course, I love Twitter). But still, the NaNo community is awesome.

      Not all of these photos are mine, no. Just the ones of the computer screen, with the piano in the background are mine. The rest are from a free stock photo website. I’m glad you found one that fits your novel! – that’s awesome.


      p.s. your comment only came through twice, so you’re good. : )


  3. “Maybe that’s why we became friends. I was drawn to the part of him that asked questions I’d never thought of.” <– THIS.

    Allow me to congratulate you on participating in NaNo, you are amazing. ❤ And SO IS THIS POST. Your blog is so lovely- I could hang out here all day long.

    I agree about that word count thing with NaNo. It was often that I found myself too busy worrying about my word count to care about what I was actually writing. I do like having the goal of writing so many words in so many days, it definitely keeps me motivated! But I feel like my writing wasn't my best. You know? Oh well, hopefully that is what editing is for!

    Your photography is absolutely stunning! I can't wait to see those instagram posts and hear more about your novel! 🙂

    xx Kenzie


    • AAAAhhhh, Kenize. You lovely human. ❤

      Right?!?! I feel the same way – word count has this ability to me motivated and depress me all at the same time.
      Oh, editing…that’s another challenge altogether.

      Awww girl, you’re kind.


  4. Kudos to you for giving NaNo a shot! I only attempted it once and failed miserably. It’s just not for me at this point in my life, but maybe some day. I’m always super impressed by all the fabulous writer who participate. I really loved reading your perspective of it!


    • I feel ya. I had my doubts about NaNo too. NaNo isn’t for everyone. It’s fine because we don’t have to participate in a writing challenge in order to BE writers.

      I appreciate your comment so so much, Hannah. All the best to you,


  5. So, confession, I didn’t do Nano this year. But I kind of did last year, and it turned into a 135k word manuscript that is currently being edited & revised. I could start a new book during Nano, so I put that on pause till next year.
    Comparing can be so terrible! I just try to not to think about my own writing and celebrate other people’s progress.

    And you’re starting HAMILTON! That’s amazing! I love this founding father, we have very similar personalities. I read that biography in 2012, and just adored Hamilton. Then along came the musical, and ALL MY FEELS – all wrapped up in the most beautiful thing on earth, arghghhhghghgh. I love Hamilton. 🙂

    Keep writing! That’s the most important task of being a writer. Keep writing. And you’ll get there.


    • GO YOU! 135k is quite a feat, gosh wow.

      I feel you. Comparison is THE biggest struggle for writers, I think (and all artists).

      Yay for Hamilton! *fistbump* I’m learning so much about him that I didn’t know before. And maybe I’ll watch the musical one day.

      AHHHH thank you. Keep writing – YOU TOO. We got this.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I didn’t do NanoWrimo, but it sounds super cool! I think I could use it but you inserted some great tips into this post. Than you! ❤ ❤


  7. Hi Keira! I am new to your blog and I LOVE it! Thank you for inspiring me! And I love your name too, by the way 🙂 Thanks for sharing your NaNo experience, I think I’d like to do it some year. Can’t wait for your next post!


    • Hey Lydia, welcome!
      I think every writer should try NaNo at least once in their life. It’s a lot of work, it’s fun too.

      Thanks so much for your kind words. : )


  8. KEIRAAAAAA. I ACTUALLY DID A LITTLE HAPPY DANCE WHEN I SAW THIS POST!!!! Like seriously your blog is one of my absolute favorites to read. :’) I LOVE IT. Anyway, yes. Onto the post. I LOVE THIS POST AND I HAVE SO MANY THOUGHTS so I guess I’ll just make a list again.

    1. WHAT YOU SAID ABOUT OTHER PEOPLE’S PROGRESS. wow. yes. I can relate 10000%. Even though I wrote much more this year than I did last year and I also wrote faster…there are always going to be people who write faster than me! And looking at other writers’ progress on Twitter…it definitely brings me down too. I MEAN, I’M HAPPY FOR THEM DON’T GET ME WRONG. But it’s easy to feel like you haven’t even started when other people are already so far ahead. :’’’)

    2. COMFORT OVER AESTHETICS. HAHA. I mean, I do love aesthetics. But I spent most of my time writing my novel away from my desk, too! AND MY DESK IS SO PRETTY BUT… my dining room is more comfortable. So yes I REALLY APPRECIATE THAT.

    3. “There are things that will happen – ideas that come to you while you’re writing that can’t possibly be thought of ahead of time. They can’t be preplanned because they are birthed out of natural creativity. Go for those moments. They make more honest stories.” PREEEEECH!!! I LOVE THIS SO MUCH. Especially as a person who is very strict about her outlines, hah… *nervous laughter* but it’s so important to be open to new ideas!! And I did change a few things about my novel while I was writing it too and IT FELT SO GOOD.

    4. I also LOVED what you said about perseverance. I feel like I didn’t really HAVE perseverance (when it comes to writing) until I took NaNoWriMo on. AND YOU’RE RIGHT IT’S SO MUCH EASIER TO KEEP WRITING WHEN YOU GET INTO A RHYTHM. It’s like a snowball effect, almost. The more you write, the easier it becomes to get up and do it again the next day. I feel like that also has a lot to do with breaking down the intimidation of it?? Like it seems so scary when you haven’t written in a long time. I always feel like “OMG WHAT IF I CAN’T WRITE ANYMORE?? WHAT IF I LOST MY TOUCH???” So doing it a lot day after day helps me to feel like “yeah bro cool I got this all day.” xD

    5. OH MY GOODNESS HAHA I’M SO GLAD YOU LIKED THAT IDEA OF REVEALING THE NOVEL AT THE END OF THE MONTH INSTEAD OF THE BEGINNING! :’) although I’m glad you posted about yours at the beginning because IT WAS SO GORGEOUS AND INSPIRING AND WHOA I just look up to you so much as a writer and a person and YOU’RE AWESOME OK !!! hKJSLKJADSHAKDH

    6. CONGRATS ON THE NEW CAMERA!!! That’s so exciting omg. Canon is lit. 😉 Also the lens looks awesome!



    9. I totally agree about sparking a writing habit with NaNo…and I feel the same way!! At the beginning of November, I kind of doubted my ability to write as much as I wanted to. But then it sort of just…happened. AND I FINALLY FELT CAPABLE OF DOING WHAT I REALLY WANT TO DO. So wow yes it was a wonderful empowering yet humbling experience and I’M SO GLAD YOU ENJOYED IT TOO !!!!

    10. I think I’m going to shut up now since I’ve WRITTEN ANOTHER NOVEL IN THIS COMMENT HAHAHAHAhahahem… but I will shoutout the soundtracks I listened to the most while writing: Gifted by Rob Simonsen, Brooklyn by Michael Brook, and Stronger by Michael Brook. Also The Book Of Henry has a good soundtrack!!! EEEP.


    *many hugs*

    rock on,


    • ABBIEEEEE. Your comments make me want to write my replies in all capitol letters(and capitol letters are things I worry too much about overusing). And since we’re using lists…

      1, 2. I’m so happy you can relate to all these things! Comfort > aesthetics, not comparing ourselves to other people – yes and yes again.

      3. I have never been strict about outlines, no matter how hard I tried. It made me frustrated until I realized that I was writing from natural creativity instead of something pre-planned. It gave me a lot of relief.

      4. Ahhh, perseverance is hard, but so so necessary to any creative endeavor. Yes and I think it is a lot about that intimidation – GREAT POINT.

      5. GAH, your compliments. AND GOODNESS GIRL, it’s me who looks up to you, not the other way around!

      6. I love my camera and that’s all I have to say. : )

      7. Seriously, though. Stop it….But real, what you said about my snippets is exactly what I want my writing to accomplish – that human, raw complexity. And if you see that through just a little bit of writing, maybe I’m on the right track after all. So your words are so encouraging and also I’m blushing because well…it’s too much.

      8. It makes me happy that people actually listen to my soundtrack suggestions. And yes, I know we’ve talked about how great the The Village is – PURE GREATNESS.

      9. Same, okay. Thank you for summing up what I felt about NaNo.

      10. I love when you write “novel-length” comments, because then I don’t feel bad when I write my own on your blog. LOL. I listened to Gifted last night, and gosh I LOVE IT. It’s so beautiful and human sounding – exactly what I look for in music. I’m going to go listen to all the others this week. Many thanks for the suggestions!!

      Do not be sorry about long comments. I love them.

      *send hugs*


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