creativity · On Writing

Slinking Home from Camp NaNoWriMo…

Success was inevitable.

I had the story, the energy, the time, the cabin mates, all that I needed to have the best darned Camp NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) experience imaginable. I’d leap from the cliff into the deepest part of the lake! I’d hike deep into the forest and not have to blow the rescue whistle! I’d start a fire with two sticks!

All the elements in place, I set an aggressive goal and glowed in happy anticipation of winning my first-ever Camp NaNo badge. This effort integrated perfectly with my own personal, real-world deadline. The winner certificate would hang in the middle of all the others from previous November National Novel Writing Month challenges.

Come July 1, I started strong, laying down the words every day with dedication, flair, and creative brilliance. Soon enough, I skidded into days that were harder than others, when I veered into word goal deficit territory, and when I doubted my ability to get anywhere close to my goal. I knew to push myself up from the dirt trail, brush off the twigs, and remind myself that I have won NaNo for years and this was the way of the journey.

Halfway through camp, I knew that I was in deep, serious trouble and at risk of failing to meet the stupendously aggressive and stupid goal that I had set for the month. While I could slam words to make the goal, I couldn’t bring myself to to do it as I had in other complicated NaNoWriMo quests, finishing the manuscript in stunned horror, celebrating the win, shredding the project, and heading out for a super long walk.

By my own old standards, this July 2017 Camp NaNoWriMo was an epic fail. I did not:

  • Hit my 50,000 word goal
  • Type “THE END” by July 25 (because I like to finish early)
  • Participate, support, encourage my fellow writers thrashing their own ways through thickets, swamps, and chasms
  • Do all in my power to work on my novel every day

Looked through this set of lenses, this was indeed a spectacular fiasco. Shaking my head, I tried to come to terms with the bungle. This is not like me! How could I make up for not keeping my word?

Then, a timid, small voice piped up. There’s another set of lenses you could use to evaluate the enterprise, it skittered, ready to bolt. Seeing that I wasn’t going to throw something at her, she stood taller.

First of all, she declared, her voice becoming louder, ringing distinct, perfectly pitched bell tones. This wasn’t a fail. Look at all you did accomplish — and it never would have happened any other way. Second of all, see it the way that I do. Here, she commanded, try on these glasses.

I thanked the voice. She sparkled a smile and scampered off to help another NaNoWriMo camper slinking back home by way of desolate wilderness. I slipped on the glasses.

Things really did look different, more glowing and powerful. Frustration and its fellow doomsayers melted under the new light.

Here’s what I did accomplish:

  • Changed the POV and narrative voice to one that I had never used before and that tells the story in a more powerful, compelling, and engaging way
  • Listened to a webinar that yielded the answer to a long-suffering mystery ruining the narrative arc and character motivations. Knowing the answer makes each scene, every action and subsequent result flow naturally, logically, and easily into place. That sudden, shocking epiphany changed the story (and its writing) for the better.
  • Learned how to set a scene firmly into place with a few phrases rather than following a specific format or checklist. I also played with how a character experiences and reacts within settings and to other characters.
  • Read hard and deep and well into different genres than I typically read — and discovered some new favorite writers. I fell profoundly in love with villanelle poetry’s lush, agile, vivid imagery.
  • Learned how to revise, how to tighten and strengthen chapters — and to gently set aside the lovely darlings sitting on their hands, being useless.
  • Attended readings by many accomplished, talented writers including Beatriz Williams, Christina Kelly, Sara Goff, and Alysin Camerota. These events were confirmation of my passion for the written word, inspiration for my own storytelling, and also a great deal of fun (getting out of my head and out into the world).
  • Profoundly understood characters and their relationships. While I’ve known them for awhile; they are now more fully realized, well-grounded, complex, and real to me, making the story flow.
  • Blogged every day, no matter what — and let the horrible blank days be what they were — and learned from the incomparable Anna Sabino to write the next day’s blog the prior day, then clean it up and polish it before publishing.
  • Learned that blogging contributes mightily to writing long prose, even dialogue. It enriches rather than distracts. The crossover between the two enriches and enlivens both endeavors. Who would ever have believed this to be possible?
  • Read terrifically creative, well-wrought work by so many talented campers (again, learning about different types of prose, poetry, and story).
  • Wrote 24, 381 quality words that I can feel very proud of and put to immediate use.

July’s Camp NaNoWriMo wound up being a month of tremendous learning and accomplishment although it was not to the typical checklist nor the original word count goal. It has forever changed me — and I am thrilled.

Thrills aside, how wonderful that it’s finally July 31 and this month of anxious urgency is nearly over!


…There’s just this one last little tiny bit of business to take care of before I sit hard on my treasure-stuffed camper trunk to lock it closed….

There’s 619 more words begging to be written so that I can hit the 25,000 word mark — then I’ll use my nifty new basketweaving craft techniques to work it into all else I gained this month….


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