Last updated on March 27th, 2019 at 11:58 am

“Fifty thousand words. What a huge number,” was my first thought when I read about Camp NaNoWriMo, a one-month novel-writing challenge, which is a spinoff of National Novel Writing Month that takes place in November. “I can’t do that,” immediately popped into my head after figuring that 50,000-words, once divided into chapters, would be about 200 pages. Reading further, I found out that if I didn’t quite make it to 50,000 words, that was fine, as long as I got to at least 10,000. Even that sounded like a stretch, but I remembered that I had written 6,000-word papers in school and a 5,000-word manual for a past freelance client, and none of those assignments had killed me, so I decided to head over to the first “camp” meeting at my local library. After all, I asked myself, when would I ever have time to do something like this again? It just so happened that in late winter 2014, the steady stream of freelance work I had trickling in had started to die down a bit, leaving some holes in my schedule.

To be honest, when going to that meeting, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would there be a bunch of people there who had never written before? Alternatively, would the room be full of people who had published multiple novels, looking down their noses at me? Even worse, might I be the only one who showed up? Before that point, I’d met very few writers in my local area. Luckily, there ended up being a mix of experienced and inexperienced writers of various ages in attendance, and no one was looking down their nose at anybody else.

I must admit that I still felt a bit insecure as I was signing my informal contract with myself and the group, committing me to one book-writing attempt during the month of April. Starting to work on my piece, which I decided would be a fiction novella, was no easy task, either. As I was writing my first 10,000 words, which I surprisingly completed by less than halfway through the month, I cringed at many of my paragraphs, and had to fight the urge to go back and “fix” them. At the first meeting, we’d drawn pictures of our “inner editors” —mine was a stern old lady shaking her finger—and then stuffed them in envelopes to symbolize temporarily getting rid of them, but mine kept trying to talk.

Fortunately, writing became easier after that first stretch, as I found my voice and my characters’ personalities became clearer. At the very beginning, I had only been writing the daily target amount set for the challenge, about 1667 words, but by the second week I was averaging between 2,000 and 2,500 words per day, with the odd day off to focus on other projects.

As I write this, I’m at 30,000 words, and I’m a bit more than halfway through the challenge, so I’m on target to meet the 50,000 word goal. While I know my book is going to need some serious editing, and a continuity error between the first and second half recently occurred to me while I was in the shower (a good place to get a lot of thinking done!), I’m proud of what I’ve done so far. In the past, I’ve started writing books, but never finished, so I believe that I have the “camp” to thank for playing a large role in keeping me motivated and accountable.

That being said, I’ve also come to realize that Camp NaNoWriMo isn’t only about producing a good finished product; it’s about growing as a writer, and even as a person, even if you don’t end up with 50,000 words in the end. I’d like to mention some of the fringe benefits I’ve incurred so far, due to my participation in Camp NaNoWriMo:

Meeting other writers in the area – The chance to meet other local writers has been the biggest benefit for me. When the eight of us gathered in a conference room for the first meeting, I looked around at all the unfamiliar faces, pleasantly surprised that there were actually quite a few writers living nearby. As mentioned, I had met very few before. One writer there remarked, quite succinctly, that we writers tend to stay in our holes, so we don’t get to interact with each other that often. However, it’s important for us to develop a community network in order to share opportunities and possibly even collaborate on local projects in the future.

In addition to the in-person networking Camp NaNoWriMo encourages, participants can also use the online forums to share tips, tricks and experiences, although that’s not something I’ve done yet. In recent days, though, I’ve become active in the Facebook group.

Being exposed to different writing styles – While most Camp NaNoWriMo writers choose to write fiction, that wasn’t the choice of everyone in my local group. Two of the participants are writing memoirs and within the popular category of fiction, the genres we’re writing in range from historical fiction to science fiction to chick lit (personally, I would classify my novel as chick lit, but with a fantasy element). An experienced scriptwriter, who has had some scripts performed by troupes of actors, was a recent last-minute addition to the circle.

In the past, I’ve always stuck to writing certain kinds of stories. While I did choose to go with the familiar for this project, too, hearing about the others’ experiences with different genres has given me a better idea of how to write within them and has prompted me to consider giving it a try in the near future. If any of us are brave enough to share our books before possible publication, I’m sure that will also be a valuable learning experience.

Receiving writing and editing advice – The librarian running the Camp NaNoWriMo program at my library, Heidi Sinnett, is a young adult fiction author herself, so receiving writing and editing advice from her has been another helpful part of the program. I do have some people who give me advice and feedback in regards to my writing online, including a couple of people from The Mindful Word itself, but it’s always great to get yet another perspective. Heidi’s advice has consisted of coaching the group regarding issues we may be having with our individual books (some of which we find we have in common), giving us random plot suggestions when our minds have gone blank, and offering us daily doses of inspiration through email. After the writing month is through, she’ll also be helping us with editing and giving us some advice on self-publication.

Gaining confidence – Since embarking on my Camp NaNoWriMo journey, I still have my moments of insecurity, but I’m much more confident than I was when I started. During the first few days of novel writing, I’d often sit in front of my word processor for quite a while, wondering if I could even eke out two or three pages and considering giving up. Now, I start writing almost immediately, knowing I’ll be able to rattle off at least 2,000 words before my hands start to throb.

"Just Write It" notebook - Camp NaNoWriMo experienceI’ve also learned that every piece of writing that I save doesn’t have to be perfect right off the bat. Immediate perfection is virtually impossible to accomplish when writing a piece of up to 50,000 words—making things as close to perfect as possible is what the editing period is for.

I’ve been able to transfer some of my newfound confidence and more relaxed attitude to my article and short story writing as well. I know I still have to put in a valiant effort when writing these shorter pieces, but after writing 30,000 words, writing a 2,000-word article seems much less daunting than it previously did. Getting in the habit of going with the flow and just writing, leaving editing to worry about later, makes the process much more enjoyable than when I meticulously examined every word as I went along, too.

*****

I hope I speak for all participants when I say I’ve had a positive experience participating in Camp NaNoWriMo, and I’m hopeful that everyone else has been or will be able to reap the same benefits from the challenge as I have.

Acting as orchestrator, Sinnett has certainly found the experience to be a worthwhile one, commenting, “This experience has turned out to be just as beneficial to me [running it] as I hope it’s been for those participating. I had no idea… how widely this program would be embraced and how dedicated the participants would turn out to be. I love hearing from everyone and getting together for our weekly meetings in hopes of solving problems, boosting morale, and generally just keeping everyone motivated. Writers of every age, experience level and genre are the most supportive people I’ve ever met, and I’m thrilled to be able to call each and every one of our participants a friend at the end of this.”

After the challenge is over, and we’ve reached our goals, or at least can pat ourselves on the backs for giving it our best shot, we can all breathe a short sigh of relief and get back to our normal lives, whether those involve writing frequently or just once in a while. However, May, June, and July have unofficially been deemed our editing months, and in November, there’s likely going to be another official session of “camp.” Will I go back for another round? Well, I’m hoping my first novella will be a bestseller by then… as you can see, I also have a sense of humour. As for my future plans, you’d have to check back with me in the fall—I may be out of bug spray.

image 1: re_birf (Creative Commons BY); image 2: aliennation (Creative Commons BY-ND)