Camp NaNoWriMo for April just wrapped up, and if you’re like me, you were too busy to participate. But, don’t fret! We’re nearly done with May, and that means summer is fast approaching, so Camp NaNoWriMo for July is almost here (sign up here). Will you be joining me to write your novel this summer?
You may ask me, what on earth is Camp NaNoWriMo? I’ve heard of NaNoWriMo—that dreaded month-long writing quest some authors (maybe even yourself!) attempt to conquer—but you’ve never heard about this “camp.”
Camp NaNoWriMo happens twice a year: once in April for the month and once in July. It’s a little more flexible, allowing writers to choose their word counts, and you don’t necessarily have to write a novel. I prefer to participate in the classical NaNoWriMo sense, and on July 1st I will begin to write a novel that I will finish in a month, and it will be at least 50,000 words.
And as a veteran camper, I want to give you my best advice if you so dare to participate.
I think a lot of writers go into the month with a project that they’ve already started, thinking that this process will help motivate them to finish it. I never recommend this for new participants. The first week is always the hardest, and if you don’t start with a brand new project, you’re probably going to be too limited to your plot. This limitation will make it harder to succeed. Writing something new lets you have all the freedom you need during the first week.
Tell other people! I always tell my friends and family that I’m participating in Camp, or just NaNoWriMo, for a number of reasons. First, I use it to warn my friends and family members that I’ve started a pretty big project, and it’s going to take up my time. This way, they are willing to give me some more space and respect my writing time. Secondly, it’s nice to have a support system in place. When I’m writing in school, my roommate often checks in on my progress and motivates me to keep writing when it starts getting hard!
This is going to sound a little weird, but at the end of that first week, and the beginning of the second week, I find that it gets really hard to keep writing. You have all of those initial ideas out, and you’re desperately searching for inspiration. So, what I like to do is make a playlist of songs that inspire me to write my story. It’s great to listen to, because it gets me in the mindset to write. I also like to make a Pinterest board, filled with quotes, clothing, and scenes, anything that helps inspire me to write more!
This is critical as a newbie to NaNoWriMo. And it’s a rule I live by during any of the NaNo seasons. That first week is hard, but the key is to write every day of it. Even if you only get a few hundred words written. You just have to keep writing. If you write every day, it starts to get easier and easier, and you’ll be able to catch up. The mistake is dropping out when you can’t hit the word count during the first week.
At first, 1,667 words a day sounds crazy, and you panic, writing every free second you have. Which is fine those first few days, but that would drive you crazy by the end of the month. Everyone has an hour and a half somewhere in the day; you just have to find it. For me, it’s a couple of hours late in the evening. But no matter what time it is, find it, and clear it out everyday for yourself, so you get into routine.
Towards the end of the second week, I like to start making a framework for myself, so I can see the end. At this point, you’ll have nearly half of your novel written, so it’s an okay time to really think about where the rest of it is going. I don’t plot it out in extreme detail, I like to just jot down notes for big events, where my climax is, and maybe, if I’m really confident, I start writing down how many more chapters I will write, and what the main event of each chapter is. This still leaves a lot of room for me to be creative, but it does give my novel healthy structure.
This may seem odd given what I just wrote above, but I believe that when you are writing the first draft of your novel to always say yes to ideas that come to you, especially during a NaNo event. You don’t know when your next stroke of inspiration will come, so write down what you get! It may lead your novel in a really exciting direction you didn’t initially think of. All of the best parts of the drafts I’ve written have come from sudden ideas I’ve gotten while writing – and thankfully I said yes to them!
During the NaNo process, it’s easy to lose motivation, and I think this is where a lot of NaNo-ers struggle. I know it’s one of my biggest issues; the process is so exhausting that I often lose motivation to write. That’s why it’s so important to be aware of your NaNo resources, and to take advantage of them.
Camp NaNoWriMo offers something rather unique: “cabins.” These are small, online group chats between you and 4-6 other writers. You choose your cabin, either based on your age, genre, word count, or even random. You don’t have to join a cabin, but a support group through the month can’t be underestimated. I’ve enjoyed one each year.
Secondly, each week, the website sends you “care packages” while you’re at camp. These “care packages” work like the regular NaNoWriMo “pep talks” giving you advice, inspiration, and motivation to keep writing. I love reading the care package each Wednesday.
Finally, when you find yourself stuck, whether it’s about a title, a character, or low on ideas, go to the forums on the website. There are tons of forums where writers are supporting each other and pushing each other to keep writing. They also have forums to pick up new characters, ideas, or anything you could be looking for. When I get writers’ block or a little stuck, it’s the first place I go to!
This is the most important rule. When you get to that second and third week, you have so much written, it’s tempting to reread it, and to start editing the little mistakes you notice. Do. Not. Do. This. You simply don’t have time to pause your work and edit. And that’s not the point of the event. The point is to have a first draft, no matter how rough!
Just keep repeating this to yourself when you fall behind. You will fall behind. Everyone does, I do it every year, often several times in the month. But the month isn’t over until it’s over, so keep working, keep writing. You can catch up if you persevere!
This is something I always have to remind myself in that final week. Often, I’m staying on track to get to that 50k, but I’m not on track to finish my novel. The point of any NaNo is to finish your first draft, so you might find yourself working overtime that final week (I know I always do!) to finish your novel. But the great thing is, by the fourth week, you’re usually in a good rhythm, and it isn’t as hard to write as it was that first week. Just keep chugging along and make sure you’re finished by midnight on the last day!
Make sure you have some chocolate for yourself at the end of the month, or a celebration scheduled for the day after finishing NaNo. You’ve been writing every day for a month, so hyper-focused on your novel, and to stop cold turkey the next day is going to be uncomfortable. So celebrate, have some extra dessert, whatever it takes to push yourself through those next few days of May, August, or December, because you will go through a sort of withdrawal after NaNo. That’s okay though, because now you have a finished first draft, and you’ve only started the novel-writing process!