Camp NaNoWriMo (April) Recap

There you have it, ladies and gentlemen. Another NaNoWriMo event come and gone in a whirlwind. If you’re unfamiliar with NaNo, I highly recommend you check out their website. It’s both an event and an organization that brings writers together. Those who participate in the event pledge to write 50,000 words in 30 days (or set their own goals for the smaller events in April and July) and anyone who visits the site can donate to the writing programs that NaNo uses for funding inspired young writers across the country.

So how did Camp go this April?

My goal for Camp NaNoWriMo was the same 50,000 words as is expected in the regular event in November. I wrote five days a week Monday-Friday, and then used Saturday and Sunday for side projects to give myself a break since I was knocking out 4,000 words each day. Then I learned a few things and realized taking the breaks were a bad idea on hindsight. Whoops! It was still nice to take a little time to talk to the chat for a few hours.

I accomplished my goal on day 16. Then I extended my goal to finishing the novel by the end of the month. That’s where I really needed to pay attention because I had a lot more to write than I expected, but I was still taking breaks. So on day 30, after losing a day to recover my health, I hosted a seven hour marathon stream to finish the last three chapters and start the epilogue which I finished off stream that evening and successfully completed NaNo! 

What a friggin’ rush!

Obligatory “I won NaNo and now I wanna collapse!” picture.

Every time I tackle NaNo, I always underestimate it. Every single time. I know it’s a challenge, but what I constantly fail to take into account are my own personal challenges. That’s not to be self-deprecating; I’m a constantly changing person. I’m learning new things about myself daily, let alone every time I take on NaNo. It’s exhausting, but also exhilarating. If I can work out these wrinkles in my style and personality as a writer and as a person, oh you just wait. I’ll be knocking out my new goal of two books published every year.

So what did I learn this time around?

1. Outlines are necessary (for me at least!)

Now matter how much I want to let new ideas inspire me, I have to put a stop on that when I’m working on a larger project. It needs to be planned in advance for me, and it needs to be detailed. I want the important themes highlighted, I want hints towards the end game noted, and characters should have a place and purpose wherever they show up.

Cracking the whip much? Yeah, well, if I don’t, everything kinda falls apart. That’s why this is my second attempt at a re-write of this particular novel. The outline wasn’t up to snuff.

Also, no matter how much I want to just keep plowing ahead because we’re timed, I need to reference that outline so that I don’t fly off on a tangent by accident. I definitely learned that during Camp this year. I’ll find a place for those random scene additions that made my word count creep up to 100k+

2. Balance is key.

Don’t get caught up. Not on the word count and not on the perfection of portraying a scene. None of it. Don’t get caught up! Events like NaNoWriMo can be a double-edged sword. The goal is to hit a specific word count (or page count or number of hours worked if you’re participating in Camp) and the catch there is you could end up with 50,000 words of literal garbage by the end. That’s not what you want. Anyone can sit and write “clickety clackety” 25,000 times each (as some folks in my live stream like to point out) but while you may be completing the goal of the event, you’ve done nothing to progress yourself as a writer.

On the other hand, you want the words to be at least relatively decent or else what were you doing for 30 days? You want to tell the story you meant to tell. But to craft the perfect tale takes time, and you may only end up writing 20,000 gorgeous words after obsessing over it. 

NaNoWriMo is about shutting off your inner editor and letting the story come forward. It won’t be perfection, but keep in mind that you can’t edit a blank page.

Balance is your friend. Balance leads to growth.

3. Mental tasks can be physically exhausting

Oh. My. God. Writing is hard. It’s tiring. It involves a lot of focus. It involves a lot of planning for many of us. I said I would stream every day in April, four 30-minute sprints each time. 

Yeah, no. That wasn’t happening. 

By the end of the first week I was already exhausted, and my wrists were cramping. Top it off with the energy of maintaining a relatively active live stream chat and I thought my brain was going to explode. In fact, my eyes gave out by the end of the month. I woke up on day 29 and literally couldn’t see straight!

Please don’t do that to yourself. Please take care of both your body and your mind. 

I’m keenly aware now that I need to take time away from the computer screen, even during marathon months. I need to take care of myself so I don’t collapse. Dead authors don’t write more stories. So what are good ways to take care of oneself?

Well…

4. Get away from the writing!

Obviously you need to sit and work during these marathons. Obviously you need to write to…write anything. However, what I learned is that, as stated in point 3, your body needs a break. During the live stream, I take breaks after each of our thirty minute writing sprints. I stand up, I walk around the house, I bend down and touch my toes, I drink water, sometimes I eat. 

But the live stream only lasts 3-4 hours, and there’s more writing to do off stream. How can I bare to sit down to more writing later? 

In the in between, I take nearly daily walks, often with my brother. We talk about a lot of different things, and often it’s inspiring for when I get back to my writing. Have a person in your corner. Turn to family and friends. You can talk about writing with them if you want, but take time to enjoy the sunshine and enjoy other human company. It’s really not as scary as people who unironically say “adulting” make it sound.

When I do get back to sitting down to write or if there are other chores to do, I look out the window to let my eyes rest on far off sights so they’re not so constricted all the time. And at least my other chores often have me standing and moving, very different from when I’m writing.

So there you go. I experienced a lot and learned a lot in April. I haven’t decided if I’ll be participating in July’s Camp NaNo since I have a book launch to prepare for, but November…oh November. I’m comin’ for ya!

I hope you all had a great April, and I hope May brings more exciting challenges from which you can grow. Life would be boring otherwise. 

Happy writing!