Kelsey Pitcairn: Having a community of thinkers and creators is really important

From the time she could string words together, English teacher Kelsey Pitcairn has had a burning passion for writing. When an opportunity arose to study at the Faber Academy in London, Pitcairn seized it.

In November of 2016, Pitcairn started a novel in honor of National Novel Writing Month, better known as NaNoWriMo, a challenge to write 50,000 words (a short novel) in a month. Writers upload their word count every day to the NaNoWriMo website, so they can track their progress. In addition to writing nearly 2,000 words a day, Pitcairn taught several classes a day at WHS.

“I think [NaNoWriMo is] really great system of accountability,” Pitcairn said. “It was great to have a community of writers to encourage my writing on those days when I otherwise might not have wanted to sit down and put my fingers to the keyboard.”

After a month of hard work, Pitcairn reached her goal of 50,000 words. By Nov. 30, 2018, she uploaded her novel to the NaNoWriMo website.

“I had [written] 50,000 words, not all of which were great by any stretch of the imagination, but I had something that I could really work with,” Pitcairn said.

Pitcairn pulled inspiration from her literary idols: Ray Bradbury, Jeff Vandermeer and Ursula K. Le Guin, but her true inspiration came from a family member. Pitcairn’s grandmother wrote a novel, and although it was never published, the idea of writing a novel was intriguing to Pitcairn.

“To see her so invested in this creative project made me realize that even if nothing ever comes of this book, it was something that I felt I needed to do,” Pitcairn said.

In addition to writing nearly 2,000 words a day, Pitcairn also taught several classes a day at WHS. The teaching and the writing were overwhelming, so Pitcairn decided to pursue her writing.

“I had [my] book on my mind, and realized that in order to really do the book justice, I needed to take a substantial chunk of time to focus on it,” Pitcairn said.

“My brother told me [that] even if this book never gets published I still wrote a novel, and I think any writer should take pride in the products they created regardless of what else really happens. That really resonated with me.”

— Kelsey Pitcairn

Pitcairn decided to pursue her passion farther by taking a sabbatical in England. After visiting a friend in London, she started to think about a year abroad in early 2017, then applied for a year’s leave and was accepted.

Though Pitcairn was not a newcomer to living abroad, the move across the pond had its challenges. Though she was following her passion, Pitcairn missed the classroom and realized that teaching was the right path for her.

“[A few months in], I realized how much I missed Wayland and the students I was teaching,” Pitcairn said. “It was a way of stepping back and getting perspective on how important teaching is to me. I think it makes me value what I’m doing even more in those moments when I might get stressed or tired.”

Although she missed WHS, Pitcairn took advantage of her geographical location while living abroad.

“I wanted to take advantage of being in Europe, so I did quite a bit of traveling while I was there,” Pitcairn said. “I wanted to experience life in a different country, so I traveled to Ireland, France, Italy and Hungary.”

Aside from traveling, Pitcairn spent every day at the Faber Academy, which is located next to Faber Publishing, who published classic works by T.S. Eliot, James Joyce and Sylvia Plath. There, Pitcairn met a group of writers that shared the same goal of refining their works.

“Having [a] community of thinkers and creators is really important,” Pitcairn said. “We text daily about our writing process, encourage each other to apply for competitions, and congratulate each other [when a goal is accomplished.]”

Since arriving back to the states, Pitcairn has sent her book to various agents. However, she believes there is still much work to do. Pitcairn has several methods of editing her book. Though her instinct is to nitpick the grammar, she has other approaches to refining her work.

“I print [my novel out because] I need to have it in front of me, in paper,” Pitcairn said. “I need to go through it with a colored pen. It helps me visualize what I might need to move around [and] where I might need to expand.”

The synopsis of Pitcairn’s book is based on her roots in Florida. She often draws inspiration from real life but uses fictional characteristics to fully shape her characters. She also draws inspiration from her love of Latin American literature, from which she pulls elements of magical realism from.

“[The main character] experiences a trauma then moves back to Florida,” Pitcairn said. “In the midst of all this, she starts to lose her grasp on reality in the swamp behind her backyard.”

Pitcairn tweaked and work on her manuscript for over 18 months, and in June of 2018, she felt her manuscript was ready. Though at times Pitcairn struggled to complete her book, she was happy to have a completed novel that she could call her own.

“My brother told me [that] even if this book never gets published, I still wrote a novel, and I think any writer should take pride in the products they created regardless of what else really happens,” Pitcairn said. “That really resonated with me.”

Pitcairn encourages people who have started any kind of writing to push through writer’s block and complete their manuscript.

“Keep writing,” Pitcairn said. “There are going to be times where [pushing through] is hard, and you lose faith in what you’re doing. [Remember that] you started [your work] for a reason, and trust that your reasons are worthy.”