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?



What I’m Writing | NaNoWriMo 2017

So here’s something crazy: I’m trying out NaNoWriMo for the first time. << A year ago, I thought that was the most impractical sentence I could ever write about myself. Writing an entire novel in a month? Me? I could never write consistently for 30 straight days. Impossible.

But I’m doing it.

I won’t go into all the specifics of what made me change my mind, but mostly it was the frustration I feel everyday that my story isn’t finished. I have attempted to get this story out of my head, for almost least three years now. But it seems determined to stay put where it is. I’m in love with the story and I feel duty bound to finish, but that hasn’t helped me finish. Imagine my embarrassment when people ask me this question:

“You’re a writer. Great! How many books have you written?”
Yeah. About that.

You might have already guessed that this isn’t going to be a first draft, blank-slate story. (that might mean I’m breaking some NaNoWriMo rule, idk) It’s a story I’ve written scenes to, grown frustrated with, and let it sit untouched on my computer for months. It’s something I want to finish, but haven’t committed myself to actually finish. I hope NaNo will be the start of a cure for that.

The Water is Widemy story. Secretly, it’s inspired by a movie I saw. I stole some characters from it, but it won’t matter because it’ll never be published.The title is based on this songbut I can’t tell you how it relates to the story.

okay now, enough with the secrets. what can I tell you?

T H E • P L A Y L I S T
T H E • P I N T E R E S T • B O A R D

My story is set deep in the Appalachian mountains, in a country rebuilding itself after a civil war.

It’s a story about war and family, joy and suffering – how beautiful those things are in the world together. It’s about how devastating war is – how it leaves the children to pick up the broken pieces and make homes for themselves among the ashes. It’s about the fear of repeating history, and the fear that comes with realizing you can’t control the world.

(do not ask me how long it took for me to decide which characters to include)


• daughter of war heroes • struggles with bravery • feels like she has to hold her family together • wants to be apart of something bigger than herself • runs the family bakery • hunts in the woods and gives the meat to poor families • seventeen •


• lost his father and sister to the war • fierce pacifist • struggles with admitting he’s wrong • singer/songwriter • apprentices at the butcher’s shop •


• Stephen’s mother • works with herbs and medicines • lost both husbands and a daughter in the war • struggles with loneliness • believes isolation from joy is poison •


• next door neighbor • lost her husband years before the war • mother to three sons and a daughter • raises geese • struggles with the loss war brought to her family •


• works in the medicine plant just outside the city • becomes head of the city’s defense efforts • understands the need to rebel from inside • struggles with compromising for the greater good • solid • trustworthy •

M O T H E R (her name is irrelevant)

• war hero • suffers severe PTSD • struggles with living • believes the world has nothing meaningful left in it • taught her daughter the woods are a safer place because animals are never as dangerous as humans are •

F A T H E R (his name is also irrelevant)

• war hero • POW • suffers from PTSD • owns the family bakery • struggles with his role as father • believes that suffering can make you stronger •

So that’s my story – condensed as I can make it without giving anything away (I’m terribly secretive about my stories, sorry). I love where I want to take it, but I don’t know exactly how to get there. This story asks a lot of questions about duty, loyalty, sacrifice and suffering – questions I certainly don’t have the answer to. But the story won’t leave me alone. It’s grown in the past three years, when I thought it wouldn’t. I take that as a good sign.


I read once that writing is an act of listening and naming what you hear. That’s probably the best writing advice I’ve ever heard. And I’m keeping that in mind for tomorrow when I get up to write.

I’m going to listen. Not make things up. Not pull something out of me that isn’t there. Not worry about how much my writing will suck – because it will and that’s an okay reality – for now. I’m going to make progress, whatever that looks like.

I won’t worry about word count (I like quality). I won’t worry if I miss a day (or two). I just want to form habits. I just want all the scenes down on paper, start to finish.

I want to listen and forget that I’m the one writing.

postscript #1: I’ll be taking off the month
of November from blogging. Writing a book
is going to take up enough of my head space
as it is. You understand, I hope?
Good. Now go forth and write.
postscript #2: I owe a lot of my inspiration
to Aimee, Abbiee, and Katie’s posts.
Thanks, guys.

|| Let’s Have a Conversation ||

Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year? • Is it your first time or are you a pro? + What are your writing goals? (for NaNo, or in general)• Tell me (or link to somewhere I can read) all about your WIP. • Do you want me to write a wrap-up post after NaNo about my progress + lessons learned? • What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?