A Blythe Coach

Let’s Write! Camp NaNoWriMo & Creative Structure

Back in the year 2019, having freshly moved from Honolulu, Hawai’i to Cologne, Germany, I began integrating into a new country, learning the language, and teaching. It was still prior to global pandemic, before I started publishing this blog in 2020, and with I wanted to do something to inspire my creativity as well as take steps toward a few long-held goals, such as a full-length ballet idea and the desire to publish books.

Knowing that due to years of higher education, I’m much more practiced with writing essays and dry academic writing (regardless of how scintillating I may find the topics) than more creative compositions, I decided to jump into fiction writing for a change. Thanks to social media, I learned of National Novel Writing Month and took on the challenge to write a novel in a month.

Although I didn’t “win” the challenge that November according to the standard 50,000-word goal, I came closer than ever before with a 18,600-word partial novella and the experience spurred me on to participate in and host further creative challenges, ultimately nurturing lasting habits, inspiration, and a growing body of work.

In 2021 I went on to write a Haiku poem every single day, this year I doodled my way through an Inktober adventure which I also discuss in my Charming Chosen Challenges article, and this July I’m excited to join Camp NaNoWriMo, a more casual writing challenge that takes place in April and July.

What is Camp NaNoWriMo?

According to nanowrimo.org, a rich resource for writing, both novels and other genres:

Camp NaNoWriMo is your next, great writing adventure. Each April and July, tackle your own creative goal in the company of our global writing community.

You can create your own online profile for free, set and track your goal, connect with other writers, and receive motivation and accountability on your journey as an author. NaNoWriMo also have a very informative YouTube channel.

My Camp Goals

For Camp NaNoWriMo I’ve landed on a new challenge to develop true stories from my life that could form the beginning of a memoir. I started by announcing my intention to participate on Instagram (@ablythecoach), opening up a new Evernote document and Bullet Journal spread dedicated to brainstorming for the challenge, and will continue to update my social media and email newsletter subscribers on my progress.

This time around, on the official website, I set my project up as a 1,000 Words goal. What that really means on a daily basis, is that I plan to develop the skill and habit of nonfiction storytelling through the following habits:

  • Keep reading and working exercises from Storyworthy book by Matthew Dicks, for story ideas and crafting techniques
  • Collect Daily Acorns / story ideas (31+ in July) using Homework for Life (noticing story moments in everyday life, in memories), Crash and Burn (which is a freewriting exercise a lot like Morning Pages from The Artist’s Way that I already do weekdays but can always use more effectively), and First Last Best Worst from Storyworthy
  • Craft weekly Short Story Drafts (4 in July)
May our creative efforts be as fruitful as these Lychee from Ka’u, Hawai’i Island

Notes from NaNoWriMo 2019

As I mentioned in the introduction, in 2019 I participated in National Novel Writing Month and began to write my first novella! At the end of the month I still felt that it’s far from complete, but I did write fiction every single day and produced the bones of my first longer work of fiction. I wrote this reflection at the time, in December 2019, but didn’t get around to sharing it here on the blog until now:

“The plotline and characters in their current form are already serving as a libretto for a ballet that I’m choreographing, and I also will go back and edit and add on to the story to flesh it out as a standalone work once I’ve had a break to get perspective on it.

I took on the NaNoWriMo challenge in order to fuel my daily writing habit and to stretch myself creatively in a new way. It worked splendidly! With all I had going on last month, I committed to working on my book for one hour per day, every day, and not to the full official word count of at least 50,000 words. Maybe next year… It was thrilling to go around imagining characters and settings, key scenes, and dialogue. Getting inside the heads of different people and their relationships, what’s important to them and the events of their lives was a magical way to spend any spare thinking moments I had, and to produce work on this project consistently. 

In the end, I came up to about 18,600 words, which is a whole lot more than any other fiction I have written in the past, and to be honest I haven’t written a creative story since I was a child. Academic papers? By the boxful (I can prove it). Books and books of personal journaling, plus some scattered poetry, sure. But to pursue a work of fiction this deep, this fast, was all new to me. It was a huge challenge to show up to write every single day, and I did miss a couple of sessions due to illness, the hours for which I subsequently made up. 

I got Chris Baty’s (one of the NaNoWriMo founders) book, No Plot? No Problem! A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days for my Kindle and it was a fun and inspiring read. Next time I take on NaNoWriMo, I’ll follow the his suggested schedule for preparing in October to jumpstart my month. As it was, I just did a tiny bit of research and thought about characters and point-of-view and then jumped right in. I also indulged in Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear and it is providing ongoing encouragement to realize my creative imagination. I love books about writing and making art, as well as nonfiction on all the topics that interest me, and of course novels, fine and performing arts. I’m great at taking in inputs and information, consolidating, organizing, and cross-referencing, the challenge is to then create my own output. There’s a balance to strike between the two, always learning from written and live sources and also sharing my own ideas and impressions. 

I definitely needed a bit of a break after my intensive stint of writing, and now I will direct my writing time to reflecting on 2019, brainstorming for the new year and decade ahead, this blog, my German writing skills, and poetry. 2020 excites me greatly and I believe there are wonderful things awaiting all of us. As a sort of teaser for the novel I started, which will be born once it’s good and ready, I thought I’d share one of the poems I wrote to accompany the text, perhaps at the beginning of each chapter. It’s a pirate story, and I don’t want to share too many details yet, so here is just a hint:

Let’s light this wretched world on fire,
Flaming out against the dark.

Refusing to get caught in the mire,

Facing consequences stark.

Let’s cross the rugged ocean deeps

When destiny’s siren calls,

Sleeping restless dreaming sleeps

After darkness falls.

Let’s overcome those in our path,

Then gather up the plunder.

Fools who fight us feel our wrath,

Before we send them ‘sunder.

Let’s savor freedom’s pungent tang,

And all we can of life.

Sing the songs our heroes sang

Find bounty amidst strife.”
– Blythe Stephens, 2019

Reflection Questions

  • Which skills and habits are you working on currently? 
  • What do you dream of writing or creating?
  • What tends to prevent you from taking on or succeeding at challenges?
  • What support do you need to take your next creative plunge?
  • How might a month of focused effort move that project forward?
  • Which tiny habit(s) could you practice to invite inspiration?

Resources for Further Exploration

Not yet sure when or two what extent I may share the stories I write during Camp, we shall see where the practice takes me. Would you be interested in true stories from my life?

You’re always more than welcome to reach out to me via email or on Instagram​ @ablythecoac​​h​, I’d love to hear what you’re creating, and I’m grateful we’re connected.

Blythe Stephens, MFA & Bliss Catalyst
she/her or they/them
A Blythe Coach: ablythecoach.com @ablythecoach

helping multi-passionate creatives

dance through their difficulties

WordPress Cookie Plugin by Real Cookie Banner