It’s hard to believe it’s been over a year since I wrote here; ironically, my last post was about discipline. Conversely, I also know it’s easy to get swept up in the daily commitments of life and lose track of the things that are important to us.
A lot has happened for me in the last year; a lot has been on my mind. After all, it was my senior year of college, and I was working to complete three simultaneous degrees without taking any extra semesters. I served as editor of a literary journal as well as on the executive board of my fraternity, and worked 9 hours a week on top of the rest. It’s a lot to accomplish, and I’m proud of every bit of it.
And yet, I feel as though for much of the last year, I’d lost sight of where I was heading. Despite the constant pressure every senior college student feels to know what their next step is, I was too focused on tomorrow every day, or even five minutes from now, to really think any further forward. I stopped putting emphasis on the goals that had long-term meaning to me in favor of things that were urgent, but not necessarily important (check out Franklin Covey’s quadrant planning for the difference between the two).
That, more than ever before, is the reason why I’m so hyped for this July’s Camp NaNoWriMo session. Now, I know you’re thinking “Isn’t that a bit drastic? Isn’t NaNoWriMo a big commitment?” And yes, it is – in November. But for two other months of the year, April and July, the people who bring you the crazy “50k words in 30 days” challenge offer you the freedom to choose your own word count goal.
I’ve participated in the last two sessions. I was wildly successful in July 2015, meeting my 20k goal in the first 10 days and then, unfortunately, made the mistake of upping my goal to 30k and fizzling out before I could achieve it once the drive of the first week and a half was gone. This April, I was less successful, with the end of my final semester looming, but since I still managed to put together a good portfolio for my creative writing adviser at the end of it all, I was okay with that.
This July, I know I need to refocus on my writing. I’ve been working on the same novel periodically since my senior year of high school. The concept has evolved dramatically since then, as I’ve matured as an adult and as a writer, but the core of the story and the characters are the same. Now, four years later, I think it has marinated enough. I have the time, and I want to have at least a preliminary manuscript before I go off to grad school.
That, I’ve found, is what Camp NaNo is perfect for. I’ve set a 25k goal for the month, which breaks down to just over 800 words a day. The freedom to choose your own word count prevents the immediate bitten off more than I can chew feeling that inevitably comes with November’s full 50k, not to mention that with approaching holidays and final exams, November is just downright inconvenient. For me, at least, July is far more amenable to creativity.
Here are five reasons to take up the Camp NaNoWriMo challenge this July, if I haven’t convinced you yet.
- The daily motivation to up your word count.
Watching the arrow on your target move ever closer to the bullseye can be kind of addictive. The visuals on your stats page are highly satisfying, and that’s just part of the fun. Knowing that every word you write moves you closer to your goal – heck, just having a tangible goal for the next 31 days – drives you to keep moving that pen, or tapping those keys.
- It’s the perfect jumping off point for a new project you’ve been meaning to work on, or for that novel that’s been stagnating for a while.
Sometimes when we sit down to a new project, those planners among us get caught up in outlines, character descriptions, and whatever else, and forget to actually write. Camp NaNo is the time to write. So set aside those elaborate plans and just move forward. All the planning in the world won’t get you a novel if you don’t eventually transition into the writing phase, and this is the opportunity to just buckle down and put all of those outlines to proper use. If, like me, you’ve been writing (or rewriting, and rewriting, and rewriting) the same novel for a while, but can’t seem to actually make any progress, this is a great opportunity to get that forward momentum back, as well. Stop trying to perfect those same four chapters and write the rest of the book. Revision is important, but it can come later.
- Your cabin-mates will serve as friends, advisers, and/or accountabilibuddies.
Extrovert that I am, I prefer my writing to be at least slightly social. Camp NaNo organizes its participants into 12-person “cabins,” which are little mini-forums in which you can discuss any aspect of your project, your progress, and cheer each other on. Just remember that your cabin is only as active as you make it!
- 2 words: WORD SPRINTS
I love word sprints. These are a great way to indulge any competitive tendencies you may have. The idea is to write as much as you can within the time frame allotted. There are generally five minute breaks between sprints to allow for bathroom and coffee breaks. If you’re short on writing time, these are especially great, because they help you to hit your daily goal in as little time as possible. I follow @NaNoWordSprints, which is the official page for them, but you can also participate in smaller sprints with your cabin-mates, or the various other people on Twitter using #NaNoWordSprints, or just #WordSprints.
- Daily Care Packages
Okay, so it’s not quite the same as the box delivered in the middle of your week at summer camp, full of yummy candy bars and cute pens your mom sent. What these care packages do contain are pep talks from well-known writers and other helpful tools for reaching your word goal. And hey, if you want to read it with a chocolate bar in hand, go for it.
BONUS: It’s fun!
Most of the time, we enjoy our creative endeavors, but it is possible to get bogged down in the feeling that we will never finish, or turn our beloved projects into dreaded chores if we approach them with the wrong attitude. Camp NaNo offers a fresh perspective on your writing, and the challenge is enlivening. I love the community that comes together around shared writing goals like this, and social media has made it more enjoyable than ever. My Camp NaNo experience last summer was some of the most fun I’ve had writing in the last couple of years.
So go ahead and try it! Create your account, set up your project, and watch your word count rise. I’d love to hear how you did at the end of the month if you participate, or any advice you might have for other campers if you’re a NaNo veteran.