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My Camp NaNoWriMo 2017 Experience

Today, April 30, 2017, is the last official day of this Camp NaNoWriMo session.  So, I thought it would be a good day to share my thoughts on how it went, my camper experience, so to speak.  If you’ve read some of my other blog posts, you may have noticed that I participated in Camp NaNoWriMo in April 2016.  I wanted to draft The Company Game, a story with the potential to be my first novel.  Long story short, I only managed to get through about 3,000 words.  But that first attempt in Camp NaNoWriMo was not a compete failure.  No, far from it.  I learned!

Camp NaNoWriMo

If you are not familiar with the whole NaNoWriMo concept, it is founded on National Novel Writing Month, which is November of each year.  In that month, the NaNoWriMo event is held.  Unlike Camp NaNoWriMo, which I’ll get to soon, the annual NaNoWriMo event requires participants to write 50,000 words during the month.  If they do, they are considered a NaNoWriMo winner.  Thus, all participants are potential winners, and if each of them completes the 50,000 words, they will all indeed be winners.

Camp NaNoWriMo is like a kid sister to the annual event.  Camp is held twice during the year, in April and then again in July.  I tend to think of camp as a warm-up for the annual event.  However, unlike the annual event, you can set any goal, from 30 to 1,000,000 (according to the Camp NaNoWriMo website).

New in April 2017, instead of a word count goal, campers (writers/participants) can now choose to count hours, pages or lines, whatever works best for the camper’s project.  I didn’t see anyone in my cabin counting lines, but there were campers counting hours or pages.  However, I think most campers still count words.  I did.

drawing of a cabin in the woodsA Camp NaNoWriMo cabin is exactly like a writing group.  You can choose to create your own cabin, join a specific cabin, or be assigned to a cabin based on some simple criteria.  I think people tend to think something is more do-able if they are part of a team, instead of being an individual.  Within your cabin, you can see a list of all your cabin mates, as well as their project and camp goal.  There is also a message board, so you can all provide encouragement and support.  I think cabins are a pretty cool idea.

The “Camping” Experience

My experience this time was much better than a year ago.  That’s actually pretty funny, considering that last year I planned in detail for camp.  I told my friends, created a blog post, created a mechanism on my blog for followers to keep up with my progress on a daily basis.  All for what?  Three thousand words?

This year, I didn’t tell anyone until camp was almost halfway done.  There was no planning.  To be honest, I didn’t even decide to participate until two days before camp started.  There was a story I had been wanting to write for a while, and then decided at the last minute to use that plot for my camp project.

Instead of a standard 20-camper cabin, I was placed in a cabin with 12 other writers, for a total of 13.  (I know, right?  How lucky for me!)  Initially, I wasn’t very active in my cabin.  There were maybe a handful of campers that kept the message board going.  For some reason, I just wasn’t feeling it when camp first started.  But that changed, as you’ll see.

The Story

man holding half empty bottle of alcoholJust before Christmas 2015, a good family friend lost her 30-year-old son to cirrhosis of the liver.  Although I never met the man, it was very tragic.  That event inspired a story within me.  During that holiday season, and specifically because of his death, my wife and I discussed what Christmas in heaven might be like.  Thus, Christmas in Heaven became the working title of this fiction.

I changed all the names, of course, and I even changed some of the particulars.  For example, in my story the son is an only child.  The mother, our family friend, is obviously the main character (MC).  The crux of the story is how anger and hate from the senseless death of a child can profoundly change the salvation of the MC.

I previously tried to write this (several times) as a short story.  My short stories are usually around 3,500 words, but I had a hard time cramming this storyline into such a short piece.  However, I didn’t really think I could expand it into a novel (40,000+ words) or even a novella (17,000 to 40,000 words).  That left the novelette, which is 7,500 to 17,000 words.  Some people may consider the novella and the novelette to be the same, but my source showed a difference.  Nevertheless, they are both pretty useless lengths in the world of publishing, but I wasn’t doing this to have it published.  I was doing this because I felt the story needed to be told.

The Writing

I completely disregarded my previous attempts at writing this story and started with a blank page, although I did keep the character names the same.  I needed to establish a word count goal.  (Even though I could have used pages or lines, I was more comfy with words.)  I knew that 3,500 was too small and 17,000 was too big.  For no particular reason, I settled on a word count of 16,000 words.  I made a spreadsheet to track my daily word counts.  For each day, I showed how many words I should write, as well as the number of words I actually wrote.  Another column kept track of how many words I was ahead of or behind schedule for any particular day.

Spreadsheet showing word counts for 1-14 AprilThe first day of camp dawned, and I was just not feeling like writing.  However, I managed to get about 200 words down just so I could say I started.

The next day came and went, and then the next, and then the next after that.  There were so many “nexts” that by April 14th, I was almost 4,500 words behind schedule.  It was beginning to look like Camp NaNoWriMo would be another bust.

On the morning of the 15th, I was on Twitter (Yes, I know.  Don’t say it!), and I came across a post that said something like the best time to write is now!  It had quite a number of likes and retweets.  So, I decided to close ALL my browser windows, opened Scrivener in full screen mode, and got to writing.

graph showing project statisticsApparently, all I needed was that gentle kick in the behind.  After several writing sessions on that day, I posted a word count of over 1,200 words.  I was back at it the next day, and the day after that.  I kept going.  I kept writing daily.  By the 24th, I had completely made up for the first half of the month, and I was finally ahead of my recommended word count.

I forgot to mention something that’s kind of important.  I don’t want anyone to think I’m cheating the word count god.  Up until the 20th of the month, you can change your project goal.  On the 20th, that goal gets locked in for all time.  On the 18th, I decided that 16,000 words were too many for the story I was telling, so I reduced it to 11,000 words.

My biggest hurdle in participating in this Camp NaNoWriMo was to hold myself back from editing.  My mantra had to be don’t edit, keep writing, don’t edit, keep writing.  If I would have taken the time to edit, there is NO WAY I would have made goal!  Editing will come later.

As far as the story goes, I will now let it sit silently in my Mac for several weeks, untouched.  When I next look at it, I will have my red pen in hand and will edit the crappola out of it.  I’m thinking that by the time I’m finally happy with it, it will likely be back to around 16,000 words.  I know; go figure!

As far as Camp NaNoWriMo goes, I am a winner this year!  I might participate in the July camp.  I’m undecided.  I am also very seriously considering the annual 50,000 word event in November.  I think I can, I think I can!

As for me, right now?  I am a happy camper!

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