Tammy’s Top Ten Things I Learned at Camp NaNoWriMo

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is a freebie! Which means, we can pick whatever Top Ten Topic we want. I wanted to do something completely different this time, and since I recently participated in Camp NaNoWriMo, I’ve decided to share some things I learned while writing a novel. For those of you unfamiliar with NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), it’s a novel-writing program that takes place during the month of November every year. Participants who write a 50,000 word novel during that month *win* the bragging rights and special “badges” to place on your website. The philosophy of NaNoWriMo is simple: you have a limited amount of time to write 50,000 words (approximately 175 pages), and to reach this goal you need to focus on quantity, not quality. That’s right, throw quality out the window and just get the words out. Hey, that’s what revision’s for, right?

Last year Camp NaNoWriMo (held in the months of June and August) was created, and this year I caught wind of it just in time to register and start writing. And yes, it was hard. Added to the stress of having to write every day, I went on vacation and lost five days of writing. So technically, I wrote my novel in 25 days, not 30. But I persevered, I wrote when I didn’t want to, and I made myself sit down at the computer for 1-2 hours a day and work on something that may or may not actually be a novel. And at the end of the month, I had written 50,017 words. Here’s a screenshot of my progress. I loved watching the daily count bar go up! But you can see the flat lines on the days I didn’t get to write:

I learned a lot while writing, and I wanted to share what I learned for those of you who may be interested in taking a shot at the August Camp or this November’s NaNoWriMo Challenge:

1. Plan your novel out ahead of time, and outline it if you can. It will be much easier to get your word count down if you know where you’re headed.

2. It’s OK to write your story out-of-order.  When I sat down each day to write, I decided what I was in the mood to write about, and concentrated on that particular scene or character, no matter where it fell in the story. The fine folks at NaNoWriMo may consider this cheating, but I did it anyway.

3.  Don’t waste time stressing over the names for things, like characters or places. If you haven’t come up with cool names by the time you start writing, use something generic for now, like “Bob” or “Sally” and go back and change the names later. Likewise, if you have a brain-freeze and can’t think of a word, instead of spending precious time going through the thesaurus trying to find just the right word, insert a placement word for now. You can always revise it later.

4. It’s OK to break your writing time up during the day. Instead of writing 2,000 words in one sitting, I broke it up into morning, afternoon, and evening writing sessions. This worked really well and kept me from being overwhelmed.

5. Don’t fall behind in your daily word count! Also, try not to skip days. It will be much harder to make up missed days than you realize. Just like the story of the turtle and the hare, keeping a steady pace will get you to the finish line stress-free (well, mostly, anyway…).

6.  Don’t worry about the prose—too much. Get the words out and concentrate on polishing later. Adding imagery, similes and other descriptive phrases later is—or can be—a part of revision.

7.  If you get stuck and can’t figure out where your story is going next, pick a couple of characters and write a scene between them with lots of dialog. You may discover things about your characters that you didn’t know before.

8.  When all else fails, just start typing! This kind of free-form writing can lead you in surprising directions, and you may come up with plot ideas you hadn’t considered.

9.  Don’t go back and fix things during NaNoWriMo! If you write yourself into a corner and realize something isn’t working (which I did many times), just write an alternate scene that solves the problem. But don’t delete the first scene! You want to add to your word count, not subtract from it.

10.  50,000 words is not a novel. It’s about half a novel, so remember when NaNoWriMo is over, you still have a lot of work to do. NaNoWriMo is a motivational tool to get you started, but unless you are an incredibly gifted writer, you will not have a finished novel at the end. That’s OK!

At the end of it all, I am happy to say I earned this badge! The whole thing was an eye-opening experience, and yes, I will do it again.  I want to leave you with a real-life story I just read in Publisher’s Weekly. Marissa Meyer’s Cinder, one of my favorite books so far this year, sprang from NaNoWriMo. Here’s what Meyer told PW during a recent interview:

“I wrote the first draft of Cinder during NaNoWriMo [National Novel Writing Month], in about two weeks…But then it really took a little less than two years of on-and-off revising until I began querying.” — Publisher’s Weekly, July 2 2012

Novels take time to write, but it can be done. Even a best-selling novel has to start somewhere. Like Cinder. Like mine. Or yours.

Join Camp NaNoWriMo now! The next session starts August 1st. Or, if you aren’t quite ready, sign up for November NaNoWriMo.

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Posted July 10, 2012 by Tammy in Ruminations, Top Ten / 9 Comments


9 responses to “Tammy’s Top Ten Things I Learned at Camp NaNoWriMo

  1. Shelby

    I did NaNoWriMo last November, and it was a blast. I agree with you- it was really tough, but it was so worth it. I’ve never felt more proud of myself than when I was sitting back looking at my completed word count at the end of the month. All your points were so true- planning out ahead of time will save you alot of stress and panic. I spend too much time stressing out over my character’s names for the first few weeks before NaNo, and I really shouldn’t have. It was almost hilarious how crazy I was about finding the right names- I looked up all kinds of foreign names and even carried a note pad around wherever I went in case I got inspired. I admit it was ridiculous but I did finally come up with some names that I was satisfied with. Breaking writing up during the day was my salvation towards the end of the month. I was taking a college class along with my regular high school work, so I didn’t have much time during the day, and I was exhausted at night, so taking 15 minute breaks to write really helped during the day. Falling behind in my word count was awful! Having to catch up was soooo hard some days, so after the first couple of times of falling short of my daily word count, I quickly learned to get in those 1666 words each day. I got stuck at some points, and one time I just started writing this stupid scene that didn’t turn out that well, but I promised myself I would fix it later once NaNo was over. Sometimes that’s just what you have to do. I haven’t touched my novel since November, and I should probably pull it back out and work on finishing the story and editing it (it needs soooo much work!). Thanks for sharing your Camp NaNo experience with us! I hope to see you writing with us in November!

  2. Congrats on reaching your writing goal and thanks for sharing your experience. It’s neat to see how so many published books were written during NaNoWriMo.